Review of Air China flight Beijing Changsha in Economy

Airline Air China
Flight CA1363
Class Economy
Seat 28L
Aircraft Airbus A321
Flight time 02:35
Take-off 11 Jun 15, 17:35
Arrival at 11 Jun 15, 20:10
CA   #63 out of 113 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 183 reviews
marathon
By SILVER 1259
Published on 19th April 2016
This was the first flight of a business round trip to CSX (I’ll post the report of the return flight later). This report starts in a taxi to the airport, as confirmed by this sign

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A police car with a radar on the roof, very unusual contrary to the fixed speed measure portals where you never know which ones are fake.

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A car of diplomats, identified by the character 使, abbreviation of 使馆 (embassy) on its number plate. The code 211 identified it as being from the Sudanese Embassy.

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The fork separating the directions to Terminals 1&2 and 3, respectively, is very far from the airport. A driver who was caught by surprised was checking there. Stopping that way was benign; I have seen here wild maneuvers worthy of video games, especially in low traffic hours.

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The sign overhead says that parking is forbidden alongside the terminals and the adjoining roads, but since we were not close to the terminals there, drivers parked on the emergency lane waiting for free for the phone call of the passenger they will pick up.

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There were kilometers of cars parked this way, up to here in sight of the terminal in the background.

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Arrival at Terminal 3, domestic departures

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The smoking area was 35 m away, but I did not need to go there.

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Going gently down into the inside of the terminal

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We overlook the landside Arrivals area on the right

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Check-in for Flight CA1363 to Changsha (长沙) was at island K. It was not very legible on this FIDS

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… but much more on this one, of a better quality and with a more favorable lighting.

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There was no lack of staff wearing a showy red sash for giving directions to passengers.

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A neat group maybe preparing themselves to take their duty.

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My BP and passport, together with my mass transit contactless card, which I had not used this time since I had come by taxi

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Next time, I should try this self-checking machines. If I managed to use one in HTN , one of the Chinese airports furthest away from PEK, in Xinjiang, there is not reason that it should not work in PEK.

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Going toward the security check ; the mezzanine overhead has various restaurants.

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The domestic departures are over there, with BP self-scanning gates

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An interesting feature of the security check in PEK’s Terminal 3 is that on the right of the picture, there is an access for passengers having only a small hand luggage (I forgot the dimensions, but it was laptop compatible), which should probably generate fewer checks and rejections, and where the line is therefore faster.

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Since I was considerably in advance, I could explore this terminal fully, going all the length of the elongated branch of the triangle.

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This machine to connect to the internet when you do not have a Chinese SIM card (needed to receive a code by SMS) would be a good idea if it worked.

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This machine which did not work earned zero credit to PEK and was a reminder that the Chinese police wants to know who is surfing on the internet and on which websites (which can be hidden with VPN).

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It was nevertheless possible to surf anonymously on the web, on one of these computers for self-use

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I do not know if I should make any conclusion on the speed of the services of the Agricultural Bank of China, but this was all my patience managed to display of the home page of a well known website.

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This dreadfully slow throughput was not going to fill my report with planes, but this terminal is fortunately quite plane spotter friendly (with of course a majority of Air China aircraft).

CA 738, with an ANA 787 in the background

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738 CA in flowery livery on a yellow background

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CA A330-200

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CA B747-8

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This 738 was not a discovery for me, and should not be a discovery for you either, since I flew Dalian Airlines (a subsidiary of Air China) on this CTU-XIY flight.

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In the same alliance, a Shenzhen Airlines738,

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China Eastern A330-200, in the new livery

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Sichuan Airlines A321

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Shandong Airlines 738, in special livery sponsored by the local cultural authorities

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PEK offers free copies of the China Daily. It is quick reading, but better than nothing.

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What does PEK offer to kids in the domestic area of Terminal 3 ? Luggage trolleys adapted to their transport:

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They enoy success : I saw two of them in use

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A standard children play area

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Another in the parallel branch

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And at the extremity of the terminal, a children play area called something like Children Dreamland (I should have taken a picture of the sign), which did not make me dream, a probable proof that I am not a child any more.

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The only advantage of the terminal end was to provide a good view on Terminal 3D (the main domestic terminal, the one with a landside access, is 3C), which is isolated between 3C and the international 3E , and also on the traffic

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The boarding room was at the lower level, which meant we would board by bus

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Unsurprisingly, the comfort was much less than at the main level

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But that was where I met one of my Chinese colleagues : I could receive a wifi code on his cell phone and display a list of recommanded reading Flight Reports – I posted English versions of several of them.

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Bus transfer to reach this A321

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Most passengers immediately wait in line to board

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I was of course not going to do that when there was traffic around.

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SQ A380

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UA 747

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AA 787

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JL 787

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Air Macau A321

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A series of Air China and Shenzhen Airlines aircraft

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The minibus with the J/Elite passengers had arrived meanwhile

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The J/Elite passengers waited for boarding, curiously in a semi-circle some distance from each other. The customary second check of the BPs was at the foot of the stairs (the staff moved between the two takes of the pictures in this panorama).

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The 2+2 layout of the J cabin was no surprise

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Neither was 3+3 layout of the Y cabin

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The seat pitch was standard for a domestic Chinese flight, therefore OK

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The seat’s reclining capability was quite symbolic

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The safety card both sides

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The safety demonstration was on the overhead IFE screens, with a sign language interpreter and English subtitles

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And then, a long, very long wait on the tarmac, followed by a long, very long wait in the line to reach the runway, "due to air traffic control” as usual. The advantage of a window seat was that I could take more plane pictures.

Shenzhen Airlines 738 parked next to us.

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This Dragonair A330 had a curiously two color nose. It was probably replaced with a spare part from its parent company CX.

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Ethiopian Airlines and Air China aircraft

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A TG 777 TG approaches on a taxiway

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But we taxied in front of her

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The SQ A380 SQ was ready to go

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Xiamen Air 787, in front of the VIP welcome building

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This terminal with a typical Socialist architecture is the original terminal built in 1958, at the time when a passenger was necessarily a VIP (only Communist Party of a certain rank were allowed to travel by plane at that time).

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Could the designers of that building imagine that half a century later, there would be a fleet of business jets parked nearby, many owned by Chinese private companies and billionaires ?

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CA 777 in a special livery that I did not know and didn’t like.

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The CX-nose Dragonair A330 flew back to Hong-Kong.

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The TG 777 was behind us, as we were approaching the runway

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Our turn to take off, 50 minutes late: this is the triangular structure of Terminal 3

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And the facilities in the periphery of the airport

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Haze and clouds quickly obscured the view outside

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The beginning of the meal service; as usual, I took the “chicken – rice” option, which was good.

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The coffee was so-so

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There was really nothing notesworthy to see outside on this flight due to the cloud cover, apart from this sunset

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Arrival at the shiny terminal of Changsha, whose name 长沙 in recalled in giant red characters in a not very legible cursive script.

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The air bridge was equipped to orient the passengers of a flight which is making a stopover there : all passengers must deplane in that case, but passengers to the final destination are oriented on the left to a boarding room at the Departures level. It was 20:34, i.e. ETA+25’.

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A last look at our aircraft

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A 737 belonging to OK Airways, a charter airline based in Tianjin

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Arrival in the lugagge delivery room

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An advice of common sense, which was slightly different in Chinese ("Avoid taking by mistake a similar luggage”)

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The toilets in the luggage delivery room were spotlessly clean

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But note that the baby care room is explicitly for female use, in English and in Chinese .

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It is on the female side, but it was accessible to all.

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We left the terminal at precisely 9pm, i.e. ETA + 50’, and 25’ after the plane’s final stop: the luggage delivery had been a bit slow by Chinese standards.

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Changsha is the capital of Hunan, a province famous together with Sichuan and Chongqing for their unlimited use of red hot peppers, like here at breakfast in the hotel where we stayed. Authentic Thai food seems bland in comparison.

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This is the end of this flight report, and the beginning of a lengthy bonus on a neighborhood in Beijing that I know well, but that my readers have probably never heard of, even if have been very close to it.

Less than a kilometer from the hip Sanlitun neighborhood, patronized by expatriates and the children of the most privileged class, slightly further away from this street which is two hundred meters from the Dongzhimen Holiday Inn Express where I use to go now that I no longer live there …

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… in front of these real estate agencies, one Chinese (我爱我家 : I love my home) and the other one foreign

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.. there is a neighborhood which counts more to me than Sanlitun where I would never spend time : Xinzhongjie.

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Xinzhongjie (新中街 : "New Central Street") is simply the name of a small street which ends at the Workers’ Stadium North Avenue, here on the right

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This is the Workers’ Stadium (a dated name !):

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… with this sculpture in pure Socialist realist style, in front of ads for cell phones.

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But let’s focus to my topic. The accesses to Xinzhongjie are rather discreet, but it is not especially difficult to enter it.

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The brick buildings located at the periphery of the neighborhood are numbered overhead this way

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With the wide sidewalks of the Workers’ Stadium North Avenue on the left, this is another access on the right

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Beyond this lane lies a sort of parallel world completely disconnected from the postmodern glass buildings of Sanlitun, which appears suddenly to whoever ventures there.

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The clothes dry outside : this is frequent in Mainland China, whereas the housing often have anti-intrusion grids at all openings.

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The population is active : an ambulant noodle dishes seller parked his vehicle there.

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The Chinese microcosm which lives there is a few hundred meters and a century apart from the residence of expatriates and rich Chinese where I used to live.

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The lanes respect the strictly perpendicular, north-south / east-west layout of a traditional Chinese city, and are sometimes very narrow.

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The lanes of Xinzhongjie are sometimes narrow because its inhabitants have built extensions everywhere, illegally of course.

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But they knew that the trees would provide them a welcome protection against the sun in summer, and knew better than cutting them down.

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There are trees in the middle of some housings, with jury-rigged waterproofing at the roof level.

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This one is the storage room of a scrap collector

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… but most are homes which are no more than a few square meters in surface, without a window. I could see the inside as I passed by, with the meager belongings of the residents, but I of course could not take pictures.

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Contrary to the photographic appearances, this is not a cutthroat neighborhood: I was taking no risks walking through it by day or by night. That is where the small people in Beijing lived, the one which did not go up the social and economic ladder and only receives scraps of the spectacular economic growth of the capital. They are not the worse off in the capital, though: they hold the precious Beijing hukou 户口 (residence permit), where they have health and education rights, unlike the migrants.

Some work in the street, like this shoemaker,

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… and others play, like these kids.

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Seen from the open air galleries of this building,

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… a man is having his hair cut, while other play cards

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No, this neighborhood had not yet been modernized, as a woman living there regretted. I answered that its inhabitants had not been forced to relocate in a distant suburb once the area had become too expensive for them.

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Modernization would not be a luxury, because this makeshift housings are not only very small, but also impossible to heat in winter and torrid in summer, in a city where the temperatures can dip to -20 °C in winter, and reach +35 °C in summer.

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Ths housings had electricity, which was reasonably easy to install with rather makeshift wirings, but the heating with stoves using low quality coal (a significant contributor to Beijing’s smog) and air conditioning are expensive in these insulation disasters.

On the other hand, they have no individual sanitation, which explains the density of public toilets in these popular neighborhoods.

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The toilets are clean, but nothing is more public than a Chinese public toilet. Some people say that this lack of intimacy was designed so that all conversations could be overheard in harsh communist times. Using these toilets with Chinese friends is part of the “Deep China” checklist.

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I did not expect to find this neighborhood intact. See this panoramic set of pictures where you recognize the same toilets, taken in March 2010, in the winter.

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All the walls had warnings without any ambiguity, painted on the walls :
• 拆迁保安全 destroy to protect safety
• 拆迁防火 destroy for fire protection
• 拆迁防盗 preserve from destruction

Even the neighborhood’s school – a symbol - had been abandoned and slated for destruction.

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This other warning was even more explicit:

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There are __ days left until the deadline for compensation before destruction.
There were still a few traces of glue on the left of the last character, where the number of days had been posted every day at that time.

All these warnings of impending destruction had disappeared when I crisscrossed Xinzhongjie again
in 2015 : after a lengthy search, I only found a partially worn out one here.

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This warning was probably obsolete : this shop on the Workers’ Stadium North Avenue was being entirely renovated.

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What happened during these five years ? Was the passive resistance of inhabitants stronger than the promoters? Or did the political support of the latter fall in an internal political feud or in a trial for corruption? I shall probably never know.

Xinzhongjie is not a hutong, these historic neighborhoods of the Manchu city inside the city walls which were sadly destroyed to make way for the Second ring road. Too many hutong have been destroyed at the end of the 20th century, sometimes replaced by copies for wealthy urbanites. It is a witness of Beijing’s popular neighborhoods, which will maybe modernized, instead of being razed like part of was for building in 1999-2002 an ugly modern residence, pompously named Sun City. Contrary to my dire predictions, this neighborhood has not been destroyed. You cannot imagine my emotion when I discovered something that I did not hope:

Xinzhongjie survived !
See more

Verdict

Air China

8.0/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew9.0
Entertainment/wifi7.0
Meal/catering8.0

Beijing - PEK

8.6/10
Efficiency9.0
Access9.0
Services6.5
Cleanliness10.0

Changsha - CSX

8.8/10
Efficiency10.0
Access8.0
Services7.0
Cleanliness10.0

Conclusion

The manual check-in in PEK was reasonably fast, and so was the security check. The domestic terminal was plane spotter friendly, but there was no internet access without a Chinese SIM card, as usual in China.

The inconvenience of the bus transfer was compensated by the plane spotting opportunities that it provided, but the waiting afterwards felt endless, with no information on its expected duration. The captain apologized for the delay.

The catering was in the Chinese good standard, with a menu which was compatible with all tastes.
The luggage delivery was a bit slow in CSX.

Thanks for reading me !

Related

4 Comments

  • Comment 162373 by
    jetsetpanda 2294 Comments

    Perhaps I have said this before but it is worth repeating. Your FR's are not just reports but glimpses into the places that you visit which makes them more interesting and compelling to read, especially told from an outsider with an authoritative insight.

    Great spotting at PEK and those CA planes in special liveries are particularly appealing. Good catch of that Air Macau plane!

    And at the extremity of the terminal, a children play area called something like Children Dreamland (I should have taken a picture of the sign), which did not make me dream, a probable proof that I am not a child any more.
    - We are all children at heart, you just did not find the right playground and toys. ;) :P

    The main dish looks fine but the salad and dessert seem lacking.

    The Chinese microcosm which leave there is a few centuries and a century apart from the residence of expatriates and rich Chinese...
    - In the end, an egalitarian society was just a dream.

    You cannot not imagine my emotion when I discovered something that I did not hope: Xinzhongjie survived !
    - A hopeful feeling. With the destruction of historical places a part of the city's identity is lost forever. Let's hope that more of these distinctive neighborhoods do not succumb to modernization.

    Thank you Marathon for another excellent share.

    • Comment 346179 by
      marathon SILVER AUTHOR 9604 Comments

      “Good catch of that Air Macau plane!”
      - I’ll never forgive myself for having rejected once a business trip travel plan which included an Air Macau flight, on cost reasons.

      We are all children at heart, you just did not find the right playground and toys. ;) :P”
      - Airports are playgrounds, and China is an adventure park for the child in me.

      “The main dish looks fine but the salad and dessert seem lacking.”
      - There was little of them either, but the main dish provided enough food

      The Chinese microcosm which leave there is a few hundred meters and a century apart from the residence of expatriates and rich Chinese... In the end, an egalitarian society was just a dream.”
      - Egalitarian societies seem to consistently fail into highly unequal societies

      You cannot not imagine my emotion when I discovered something that I did not hope: Xinzhongjie survived !
      A hopeful feeling. With the destruction of historical places a part of the city's identity is lost forever. Let's hope that more of these distinctive neighborhoods do not succumb to modernization.
      - My emotion generated many typos that you mercifully did not highlight. Many faces of China that I saw have already vanished for ever. The difference with Western countries is that it happens so fast that you cannot but realize it.

      Thanks for your supportive comments. More reports will be coming, time permitting.

  • Comment 162476 by
    Rl 777 810 Comments

    Thank you for sharing this comprehensive FR with us!

    Fantastic spotting shots from PEK with a good variety of airlines. The Air Macau 321 looks stunning in that livery and nice catch of that KA 333!

    The entree looks good from your picture.

    Overall not a bad domestic flight with CA.

    Very interesting bonus that differentiates from many other bonuses!

    Have a good one, see you!

    • Comment 346242 by
      marathon SILVER AUTHOR 9604 Comments

      PEK has a very diversified traffic because there are so many domestic airlines in China and flights coming from so many countries. Too bad the quality of the pictures is so often degraded by the urban smog.

      I think that the tourist bonus should ideally show the most famous features when the city is unknown to the general public, and conversely places unknown to the general public when the city is world famous.

      Thanks for your comment !

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