I am very sorry that I am not able to post flight reports for the past couple of months. Many things happened in my life and work has been beyond crazy. Most of the time I am just way too tired or just can't be bothered to draft a flight report after work. I also have huge backlog of flight reports to write as I made couple of short and medium-haul flights during the time I was inactive.
But anyway, enough with the chit chat. Now I am back. Allow me to slowly catch up with the backlog. So this flight report mini-series will cover a trip that I made with my partner from Shanghai to Bangkok to escape miserable winter in Shanghai and catch some sunshine in Bangkok. Little did we know that Bangkok has few surprises for us. My partner also prepared very nice surprise for me to make this seemingly routine Shanghai-Bangkok flights beyond exciting!
The trip will look like this: 1. PVG-BKK February 6, 2016 FM855 "Are we there yet?" 2. BKK-xxx February 10, 2016 xxxxx "Would you like to keep the bottle, Sir?" 3. xxx-PVG February 10, 2016 xxxxx "You can't make me fly in Economy after that!"
Background Now I am someone who is happy to just stay at home, watch TV, cook, hit the gym, etc when I have spare time. I don't necessarily have the need to go out and about. My partner is the complete opposite. So when Chinese New Year holiday was coming fast, he devised a plan to make a short escapade to a sunny place. Several cities are considered but he won't tell me where and when we will be going. The only thing I know is that I should clear my schedule from February 6 till February 10, 2016. I can do that. I can understand his strong resentment towards spending Chinese New year holiday in Shanghai as it is utterly and completely drab. Nothing is happening, everything is close, fireworks and firecrackers 24/7 to the point you can't sleep, and the cold yet wet weather. So, eager to avoid all that, we were heading for the sun. With a twist… of course!
The Flight Route: PVG-BKK Date: February 6, 2016 Flight: FM855 Equipment: B737-800 Registration: B-1740 Load: 100% in both classes Seat: 40A (emergency row) Scheduled Time Departure: 14,30 Actual Time Departure: 15.46 Estimated Time Arrival: 17.50 (BKK is 1 hour behind PVG) Actual Time Arrival: 19.31 (BKK time)
Fast forward to February 6, 2016, I found myself dragging my suitcase and standing at the maglev station. We're well on our way to Pudong Airport but I still don't know whether we will go to Terminal 1 or Terminal 2. As always, maglev train that runs every 15 minutes is empty. You will always be able to find empty seat for yourself even during rush hour.
Upon arrival, we walked toward Terminal 1 and I immediately started to jog my brain which destinations would fit the puzzle. I limit it to SkyTeam airlines as I know T1 mostly hosts SkyTeam carriers with China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines being the biggest operators there. So I ruled out South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong because we wanted to go to a warm destination. South East Asia comes into mind as I will not need visa to enter and that is for sure warm destination.
Terminal 1 is being refurbished and most of the projects are done. Not much has changed in the landside part.
China Eastern has a very nice dedicated area for its premium and elite passengers. SkyTeam's Elite and Elite Plus could also use this dedicated area regardless of the class. I must say it's a very nice set-up though the service is not necessarily faster than normal check-in area and the staff is not particularly nicer toward the passengers. As you can see from my pictures, the setup is a bit weird. There is only one chair per check-in desk so most passengers just stand up with the luggage scattered around.
So after months of agonizing misery trying to guess where we'd be going, the destination is finally revealed when the check-in agent said "Your flight to Bangkok will be delayed by a couple of hours, Sir". When I saw the gate to be three digits, I knew immediately that it would be a bus gate and a small plane. Turns out that flight will be operated by Shanghai Airlines (FM), which is basically owned by China Eastern. I am still very happy to be going to Bangkok again after 20 years or so not coming back. I am not thrilled with the 'couple of hours of delay' because in mainland China, that could possibly mean a) The airspace is closed for the military b) there is a traffic flow control due to bad weather enroute c) the airplane that is flying us down to BKK is stuck somewhere and nobody knows when it will land in Shanghai and the staff don't want to tell you anything because that means they will be held responsible.
Anyway, it's holiday so we'll just take it slow, it is what it is :) Immigration and security are okay except that there are many tour groups (with I assume first time flyers) trying to cut the lines because they get separated and scattered around. Ground staff had to shout and yell at them so it didn't make a pleasant experience but it's China. We didn't have to wait for too long despite the busy holiday season.
As soon as we cleared immigration and security, we were airside. I noticed the changes made after refurbishment. There is now a Starbucks (they are everywhere! seriously!), more duty free concessions, etc
So, even though we are flying in economy class, my partner is Flying Blue Platinum, so that grants us access to wait at VIP lounge #21. To access this lounge, you need to go down the escalator as if you are boarding the aircraft. I believe this lounge is also used by many SkyTeam carriers like AF and KL. Delta uses China Eastern's lounge which is not necessarily better. When this lounge is full, you will be directed to lounge #22. They are both similar in size and offerings.
The hand-written lounge invitation was taken by the dragon, not allowed to be kept. Later I found out the dragon used that to count how many 'elites' passengers she had exactly so when boarding time comes, someone who picks you up will know how many elites to collect for each flight.
Let me tell you something, I think you're better off waiting at a Starbucks (no matter how much you like/despise them) than to wait at this lounge. Let the pictures tell you why
From litter on the floor, dirty plates and glasses on the tables, stained sofas, sleeping passengers (who snored btw!), chipped furniture, limited food, limited drinks, serious over-crowding, and staff who do not speak english well despite there are a lot of foreigners, I really don't know how on earth you could justify this as 'VIP lounge'. My partner said that Lounge #22 is not necessarily any better too.
This flight display is definitely not accurate and updated.
Do you see that empty juice bottle just hanging around on the counter? and the small trash bin next to the toaster?
So we managed to find a corner where we could sit. We ended up buying coffee and sandwiches from Starbucks. We just sat down, read some magazines, newspapers, charged our phones, etc to pass the time.
After about 1 hour delay, finally a staff was walking down the aisle yelling "FM ba wu wu, FM eight five five" to signify that they are boarding. So we gathered our belongings and I jumped the gun to walk outside the lounge and headed straight to the gate. But I was stopped by a staff who said "you need to wait here" (by the lounge reception area). It turns out that the lounge dragon was counting and matching the number of lounge invitation she had for FM855 and the actual passengers waiting. Some passengers were at Lounge #22 because Lounge #21 was full.
So we were finally allowed to go to the gate by following this lady
The lady brought us to a jetbridge. We went down the stairs and I saw a bus with a big VIP sign waiting for elite and premium passengers. I thought this was a very nice touch!
The bus was making a big ramp tour. I was very happy to be able to see many widebodies from up close and personal.
No doubt as to where I am!
After a few minutes ride, I realized that we were not really going to the bus gate ramp. We went to the real Gate 212 where some elite and premium passengers were waiting. Just to be clear, Lounge #21 is located very close to Gate 21-22 which is on the west side of T1 and gate 212 is located on the east side of T1.
Lo and behold, by the time our bus arrived at the remote apron near Cargo and maintenance area, I noticed that we are probably the last bunch of passengers entering the aircraft. well, fine by me! I can take a lot of pictures! Though i couldn't not fathom the idea of how flawed the whole arrangement of what construed as priority boarding for premium and elite passengers in the eyes of China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines.
The obligatory fuselage shot for you guys!
Upon entering the aircraft, business class is the standard recliner chair you will see in Malaysia, Garuda, Silk Air, and many US-based airlines' domestic F. Nothing to write home about. It looks quite comfy though.. The configuration is 2x2 over 2 rows
This particular B737-800 is equipped with Boeing Sky Interior.
Boarding was almost completed by the time I settled down. I traded seats with my partner, initially he was to sit on 40A while I was at 40B but he knows how much I love window seat. We were lucky to be given emergency exit row (overwing exit) because it provides at least 15 cm more leg room. It will do for this slightly more than 4 hours trip down south. The seat itself is standard economy class seat. No IFE, only drop down monitors. Classic tray table too. Good impression of the cabin so far. Seems neat and tidy.
During boarding, I noticed that the flight attendants were professional (at least the female FAs) but rather cold and seemed distant. The male FAs is another story. Case in point, while handing out blanket and pillows, they just come to you, stand next to you and doing this hand gesture (offering you pillow and blanket) but don't really say anything. No eye contact, no "would you like a blanket?" or "thank you/you're welcome". I snagged the pillow as extra cushion because I could feel the padding on my seat is thinning. Had the flight lasted more than 4 hours, my back would have not survived. Notice the China Eastern logo.
These are the contents of my seat pocket. Not a single English based literature can be found. Not even partial… I understand it's a chinese carrier but still…
Another observation I think is interesting is how convoluted the branding between China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines is. Most MU's flights are code-shared with FM's, most FM's flights are code-shared with MU's, MU often 'borrows' FM's metal, FM often uses MU's metals, the pillow case is adorned with MU's logo although it was for FM operated flight, cutlery is adorned with MU's logo, and many more examples. What's the point for having these two hanging around then? Perhaps someone who is in the know could help to elaborate more about this intimate relationship between MU and FM?
I also noticed that the female flight attendants are impeccably groomed, hair tight not a single strain is falling loose, shirt ironed and crisp, etc. The male FAs are the complete opposite. Shirts seemed not ironed (lots of creases), collar unbuttoned and tie untied, hair messy, facial hair not properly groomed. Anyway…. I digress
Let's take a look at our neighbour, shall we?
I really like the deep red winglet! I think it's stunning
We finally departed around 3.50PM, 1 hour and 20 minutes behind schedule. No push back was needed as we just simply rolled and made a right 180 degree turn. During taxi, the safety video was played. First in Mandarin, then in English.
We are taxing to runway 35R so it is not a long taxi at all.
On our way to the active runway, we pass by maintenance hangar and I see some interesting mix of airliners from various airlines parked there. I am surprised to see Aerosvit and Transaero parked there.
We waited for one departure and one arrival, then it was our turn. The captain performed a rolling take-off and in no time we were airborne to a very sunny but very smoggy Shanghai.
We took off to the north and we made almost a 90-degree turn. I was able to see SHA through the haze. After we flew over SHA, we made another 90-degree left turn. I can only imagine we are heading south now since there is no in-flight map being shown. The drop down monitors are only playing TV commercials.
It took 36 minutes from the moment we took off until the flight attendants to be released for service. The seat belt sign was never turned off. It was on the whole flight.
The first thing done was to distribute landing card. The business class cabin was curtained and cordoned off but of course, this did not stop passengers from economy class to just barge in to walk around or use the lavatory no matter how many times the flight attendants explained that they can't go there. As you can see from the picture, there's a gap in between the curtains as someone just walk in there. At some point, the flight attendants just didn't bother anymore.
Meanwhile, it is sunny blue sky outside. I really like the sharp contrast between the huge red winglet with the blue sky
Today's meal choices are either 'seafood rice' or 'chicken noodle in tomato sauce'. I chose for chicken noodle in tomato sauce which turned out to be farfalle pasta with bolognese sauce. Someone in the catering department and passenger service department need to hire better translator!
The appetizer is cold smoked duck salad which taste very watery. Taste rubbery too. I passed on that one. The main farfalle pasta did not fare better. It was very bland and the ratio of sauce and pasta was totally off. In the end I only ate the bread and butter, the cookie, and the watermelon.
I asked for a cup of coffee and I needed to tell the flight attendant explicitly "Qing gei wo meishi kafei, bu yong tang, bu yong niu nai" (I want Americano please, no sugar, no need to add milk) otherwise she would have given me a very sweet and milky coffee which I don't like at all. No alcohol is served, drinks options are water, apple juice, orange juice, tea, coffee, and coca cola. No second round was offered.
And after the meal service was concluded, that would be all of the service we were given for this flight. The flight attendants disappeared all together in the galleys never to resurface again. No water run, no snack, nothing, nada. In fact, I noticed that while they are not rude or giving attitude, their response to passengers was curt and cold. and I have to point out that the male flight attendants simply don't speak English at all. Not that he understands but does not want to, he just simply cannot speak English.
Since there's not much going on, I started to play game on my iPad.
Drop down monitors were playing Fantastic 4, no sound yet passengers were not given earphones too. Another strange logic…
I also made a visit to the lavatory all the way in the back. It was okay, a bit of water splashing here and there and funky smell but I've seen worse.
What's interesting and quite mind boggling is the back last 4-5 rows were occupied by families with babies. So it was quite rowdy and messy. One family brought a potty training seat onboard and placed in in the middle of the aisle. How bizarre!
Anyway, because of our late departure, the sun already set when we were only 1/2 way through the flight. It provided us with very nice burst of colours. Too bad the clouds seem to cover a big part of China that day. I took these shots when we were flying above Guizhou
Mood lighting was on so it was a nice ambiance.
Since the flight attendants never come to the cabin after meal service, nobody asked to close the window shades. That's good because I hate it when FAs insist on closing the window shades for no reasonable reason. The flight was a bit bumpy over mainland China but it became smoother once we entered Laos. According to iPhone's GPS, at that time we were flying on FL355 around 820km/hr.
Once it became completely dark outside, with no magazines to read, no IFE, no snack, nothing, the flight felt to be dragging and I just can't wait to get off the plane. I was so happy when suddenly the flight attendants came out from the hiding cave and started running around the cabin to prepare us for arrival. The captain came over the PA (but only in Mandarin) to announce that we had started descent to BKK. The time was 18:45 in Bangkok (19:45 in Shanghai). We made several turns in pitch black darkness.
While I was recording video of our descent, I suddenly felt drops of cold water on my forehead. A stream of liquid/water just leaked from the the window!
The flight attendants are very strict regarding electronic devices. They would inspect every row, over and over again, to make sure that no one is using their mobile phones or tablets or cameras. Don't even bother arguing that your phone and tablet are in airplane mode, they won't budge. Once they were seated for landing, I took my camera out and started recording :) We came from the north east of BKK, we flew all the way to the bay, made a 180-degree right turn to intercept localizer and ILS of runway 01R.
After a pretty long taxi, we were finally docked at 19.31 (BKK time) at Gate F2.
Deboarding was as always a big chaos as everyone just don't have the patience to wait. seat belts were already unbuckled as soon as we touched down and some passengers already retrieved their belongings from overhead compartment when we were taxing. Anyway, we left the aircraft and stretched our legs. The walk to immigration was not too far.
The first surprise BKK had for us was the extremely long and massive queue at immigration. I saw the ASEAN lines only after I queued for a while. So I made my way there and it was a brisk, a walk in the park :) One of the very few happy moments being a holder of Indonesian passport.
Our luggage was already out so that was quick. We then paid for AOT limousine to take us to our hotel. So after 1 hour delay in Shanghai, 4 hours and 10 minutes in the air, and 1 hour queuing for immigration, we were finally in Bangkok! Pheewwwwww…..
OKay , that's all folks for this edition. I hope you enjoy reading my observations (and complaints hehehehe). Please stay tuned for the next installment and surprises Bangkok has for us :)
Shanghai - PVG
Bangkok - BKK
Mainland chinese airlines is never on my preferred to-fly list. For the past 5 years I live in Shanghai, I have never experienced a real solid good experience flying them. I always avoid flying mainland carriers for international flights even if it means that I have to pay more. My experience is always patchy, some aspects they are okay, some aspects they are bizarre, some aspects they are just downright awful. It is proven here by my experience with Shanghai Airlines.
let me elaborate on the good points 1. Cabin was clean 2. Boeing Sky Interior provides a relaxing ambiance 3. Female FAs were impeccably groomed
Neutral point: 1. The seat. it's a standard economy class seat. We were lucky to be seated on emergency row so we had big leg room. The padding could be replaced as it was thinning out. 2. Priority boarding with the VIP bus. The bus is nice, the ride around the tarmac was a highlight, but honestly, to me this is a pointless exercise because in the end, we were the last to board, overhead bins were already full with belongings from other passengers, the aisle was already choked. 3. VIP check-in lounge for Premium passengers and SkyTeam Elite/Elite plus.
The bad points: 1. Food is downright meeeeeeeeeeh. Taste is bland, quality is bad. Only one round of drinks offered. No alcohol offered. 2. Flight attendants are indifferent, cold, not engaged, only there to do what is written in their manual service book. 3. Male flight attendants can't speak English, also very sloppy appearance 4. No IFE. I don't consider drop down monitors with no earphone given to passengers as entertainment. 5. No reading materials. I managed to read some through my limited ability to read chinese characters, the magazines are just full of advertisements. 6. I think the flight attendants should have been very firm on rowdy passengers that kept on coming into business class section. I would not be happy if I paid for business class cabin and every 5 minutes, someone from the back opened the curtains and walk around the cabin either just to stretch out or to use the lavatory. 7. The lavatory had funky smell. 8. The VIP lounge was an insult to the whole concept of 'lounge' and 'VIP'.
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