I very recently took a short trip to Singapore and Bali from New York. This is the first flight report from that trip. These flight reports will eventually cover:
16/05/2016 MU588 JFK–PVG Business(This Report) 17/05/2016 MU543 PVG–SIN Business 18/05/2016 KL835 SIN-DPS Business 20/05/2016 KL836 DPS-SIN Business 22/05/2016 MU546 SIN-PVG Business 22/05/2016 MU297 PVG-JFK Business
China Eastern had a sale on business class flights ex-JFK (and ex-YYZ—they had J fares from YYZ to PEK for under $1,700 USD at one point, unfortunately an offer that ended before I could nail down dates). My JFK-SIN itinerary was a bit less than $2,700 USD return. Toss in some Chase points, and it was a very, very cheap business class trip.
I'll start with this lovely photo of New York, from whence this trip began.
Where was this photo taken? 30 Rock? Another observatory? None of the above—that's the view from my own office. Unfortunately, due to work, I don't have the time to stare out the window and enjoy too often; else, I wouldn't have an office up there.
At approximately 13:15, a car—arranged by China Eastern as part of its paid business class ticket—picked me up at my Midtown office. The poor driver was only outside for five minutes, but received a parking ticket. The unfortunate moral of this story: Beware if you're double parked in Manhattan. Traffic was fairly swift into JFK.
China Eastern is located in Terminal 1. As you can see below, the airlines in Terminal 1 are all foreign. Most of the resident airlines are European and Asian, with a few Latin American airlines and Royal Air Maroc representing Africa. JFK (like, to some extent, LAX) is unique in that individual airlines or airline consortiums operate each individual terminal, with the exception of Terminal 4, which is operated by the Schiphol Group. (Nonetheless, Delta has a lot of say into the Terminal 4 expansion, given its presence at the airport.) In any event, having Terminal 4 operated by the Schiphol Group is no skin off my back, as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is my favorite airport in the world (even after visiting SIN, as we'll discuss in a future flight report).
Despite lines at some other airlines, and reasonably long lines for economy for China Eastern, check in was effortless. Indeed, it might have been the best international check in experience I've ever had: no lines (despite what was pretty much a full business class cabin), incredibly friendly check-in agent, and superbly efficient service.
Notwithstanding the recent hullabaloo over TSA lines, the line moved fairly rapidly. In Terminal 1, there is not a Pre✓ line, as all airlines in the Terminal are foreign and, to my knowledge, not participants in the Pre✓ program. There is, however, a premium line, which I joined and which moved fairly rapidly.
Terminal 1 is fairly small. There are the usual high-end retailers.
Time for a bit of plane spotting. Here's an Air France 777.
And here's Aeromexico's daily 787 to MEX. Eventually, I will hopefully have a flight report from that flight (from last year) for everyone.
A Lufthansa A380.
A fun treat: an Air China 747-8.
An Aeroflot 777, with my grand city in the background.
And here's the plane on which I'll spend almost fifteen hours.
China Eastern does not operate its own lounge at JFK. Instead, they use Air France's lounge. This is the second time I've visited the lounge. (The first was when I flew Aeromexico last year.) The lounge occupies two levels. I didn't visit the lower level, other than to enter the joint, so I can't speak on it. The upper level has lovely views of the tarmac.
The food spread was a bit more expansive than it was last year. I only apparently decided to take a photo of the cold section. Additionally, there were noodles, soups, salads, and a few other things I can't remember. I remember thinking it was fairly good spread—not Emirates or the nice lounges in Singapore, but for a U.S. airport, it was fine. Also, here's the bar. Note the French wine.
Back to the gate. For horror stories one hears about Chinese airlines, boarding was orderly. Helpfully, the gate agents enforced strictly the First/Business/Sky Priority lane.
From JFK, China Eastern operates nearly new 777s. Here's the first class product, at which I longingly glanced walking back to poor ol' business.
I've flown international first class twice: once on China Airlines, LAX-TPE in 2012, and once on Emirates, BKK-HKG, in 2011. They were very different experiences, both in terms of hard product and soft product. Emirates clearly had the better hard product, with its enclosed suites, versus China Airlines' open seats. China Eastern's first class product, from the small glance, appeared to be somewhere in the middle of the two.
But that's not to say you should scoff at China Eastern's business class seats.
No, at least on its 777s from JFK, China Eastern has a class-leading hard product. J class is arranged in a 1-2-1, reverse-herringbone design, which are easily my favorite business-class seating arrangement—especially on a 777. Ample room at every seat, and every seat has direct aisle access. Under no circumstances does one need to crawl over another passenger to use the lavatory. Additionally, since the design is a reverse herringbone, rather than a herringbone, each seat remains secluded from the other seats—even, to a large degree, one's seatmate, if in the middle. Sure, this could be less-than-ideal if you want to engage in extended discourse with your seatmate, but hey, what can you do?
Each seat came with a nice pillow and blanket. I wish the pillow were a bit larger, but the blanket was more than adequate.
In the storage compartment of each seat there was an amenity kit. Contents were quite bare boned: toothpaste and toothbrush, earplugs, and two small skin products. Conspicuously absent was a sleeping mask. (As it turns out—spoiler here!—sleeping masks are kept in the self-service bar area. There was, however, no mention of this, at least in English.) Not pictured were a pair of slippers. China Eastern did not distribute pajamas, but as I'm just a few centimeters short of 2m tall, query whether any stock pajamas carried onboard would fit me.
I had a glass of champagne pre-departure. I believe it was Tattinger, which is a thoroughly passable bubbly. Cheers!
A pre-departure oshibori was provided. It was hot.
The safety video was played twice, once in Chinese (Mandarin?) and once in English. The video was about as exciting as watching a gaggle of 90-year-olds knit. These photos give you some idea of the size of the video screen.
Looking out the window, there's an Air France A380. I've ridden inside one of these at least twice, if not a couple of times. It's a nice plane on the interior, but lord is it ugly on the outside. I might be in the minority, but Boeing makes consistently better-looking planes than Airbus. I'd stare at a 747 for a lot longer than an A380; a 737 a lot longer than an A320 (I love the shape of the 737 nacelles); a 777 or 767 a lot longer than an A330; a 787 a lot longer than an A350. But, to each their own, right?
In line for takeoff, there's a Delta Connection CRJ900 (or is it a CJR700?) and a JetBlue E190 (I believe, as I'm squinting).
And, for pleasure, one shot of Manhattan and one of the ocean.
Not long after passing 10,000 feet, meal service began. A second oshibori was distributed, this one significantly less hot than the first.
I'd love to provide you photos of the menu, but as has been described elsewhere, China Eastern has a very, very odd policy regarding menus. Instead of printing menus for each flight (or for each month, as is common), China Eastern has printed a color-coded menu, with each color representing certain months (and I assume certain directions of flight). And instead of dropping the menu off to you so you can think about your choice, the flight attendant hands you the menu and waits for you to make your choice. The same applies for the drink menu. This policy is, quite frankly, rather bizarre. I'm sure it's a way to cut down on costs, but this is international business class, after all. If, as we'll see in a few flight reports, KLM can print a menu for a two-hour SIN-DPS flight, China Eastern can certainly do so for people spending a good deal more money on an ultra-long-haul flight.
But back to the meal.
The meal started with canapes and nuts. Note that the nuts are in a plastic pouch, not warmed in a ramequin. This is a constant theme: You will see that pouch of nuts three more times. The canapes were grilled vegetable skewer and a roe/caviar on cucumber and bread. They were fine.
Also note the tea. The tea was a standout: delicate and balanced. Quite tasty. I requested several refills.
Finally, I had another glass of champagne. I actually ordered a glass of a particular white wine (I believe a white bordeaux), but they were out (or, didn't have it to begin with; take your pick).
I chose the Chinese-style dinner. The first course consisted of cold scallops, a beef jelly, soup, and pickled vegetables. Let me go out on a limb here and say that the vegetables should be plated, not served in the same style plastic cup in which I'd receive barbecue sauce. The scallops were okay; I strongly prefer freshly seared scallops, but there was nothing wrong with them. The beef jelly was actually quite tasty. I don't remember anything about the soup, so I assume it was fine.
One of the two forks in the package could have . . . used a bit more cleaning. I used chopsticks, and there was a second fork, so I didn't need to use this bad boy.
After the appetizer (or perhaps during, as I eat quickly), there was bread service. I had garlic bread, which was freshly baked/reheated and quite tasty.
The main course was a Taiwanese chicken dish. It's described in the menu as a "soup." Perhaps it's a very, very thick, deconstructed stew, but it's certainly not a soup. It was, however, quite tasty. The chicken was tender (unsurprising, given the quantity of the thick sauce) and well flavored.
Finally, I was served a fruit plate and cheesecake. The fruit plate looked like any ol' fruit plate. The cheesecake was tasty, but nonetheless disappointing. It reminded me of a no-bake cheesecake, which, given this flight was departing from New York, a city known for its dense, marvelously baked cheesecakes, was a letdown.
After dinner ended, I picked up a book I was reading. I should take this time to comment on the entertainment system; or, perhaps, I should comment that I didn't use the entertainment system. I don't find movies particularly enjoyable, and I had enough music, books, and video games to keep me occupied as long as I needed to occupied.
Now, here are some photos of the rather nice business class lavatory.
Maybe four or five hours into the flight, a snack was served. The congee was congee, the pickled vegetables were picked vegetables, and the cold chicken noodles were cold chicken noodles. The dumpling, however, was almost inedibly hard.
At this point, I decided to call it a night. Thanks to the lie-flat bed, I slept a good eight or nine hours, which made the flight fly by. (Sorry for the pun.) By the time I awoke, we were nearly to PVG.
Here's one bad iPhone shot of the approach, for posterity.
I made my way to the transfer desk, where they stamped my Singapore boarding pass and sent me through to the airside departure gates.
Air France Lounge
New York - JFK
Shanghai - PVG
In all, a fine flight. China Eastern's hard product is class leading. It's clear that the soft product has yet to catch up. But, in the end, for an ultra-long-haul flight, the bed is the most important factor, and China Eastern certainly excels here.
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