Review of Sichuan Airlines flight Chengdu Jiuzhaigou in Economy

Airline Sichuan Airlines
Flight 3U 8607
Class Economy
Seat 14E
Aircraft Airbus A319
Flight time 00:50
Take-off 16 Mar 17, 15:25
Arrival at 16 Mar 17, 16:15
3U 15 reviews
NGO85
By 1145
Published on 30th March 2017
Background:

This series covers a recent trip to China with stops in Shanghai, Chengdu, and Jiuzhaigou. As a reminder, the routing is:

Part 1 – LAX-PVG [DL 185, Boeing B777-200ER, Comfort+] – Here
Part 2 – PVG-CTU [CZ 3359, Airbus A320, Economy] – Here
Part 3 – CTU-JZH [3U 8607, Airbus A319, Economy] – You are here
Part 4 – JZH-CTU [CA 4482, Airbus A319, Economy] – Here
Part 5 – CTU-SHA [FM 9404, Boeing B737-800, Economy] – Coming soon
Part 6 – PVG-LAX [DL 186, Boeing B777-200ER, Comfort+] – Coming soon

This report will cover the flight from CTU to JZH aboard an A319. The bonus at the end will be of Chengdu, so check that out if you like pandas^^

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first FR to JZH. Our China adventurer Marathon publish a report in English (on the return sector): here, but I think a lot has changed at JZH airport based on his descriptions in that report. Check out his brief account as well.



Pre-flight:

The original plan when this trip was booked was to spend the entire 3 days in Chengdu and surrounding areas during this portion of the trip in Sichuan. That plan quickly disintegrated in the weeks leading up to the trip when we saw the air quality index of Chengdu hovering above 200 consistently. We made the decision to just spend 1 day in Chengdu and immediately leave to go to Jiuzhaigou for the other 2 days. That proposed problems since there are limited flights between CTU and JZH during the low season. There are just 2 flights a day CTU-JZH (3U and CA) and 1 flight daily CKG-JZH (3U). During high season, there is no shortage of flights between these airports and from the further reaches of China, but that also means more crowds and less fun ;)

We checked around and Ctrip had the best fares (almost half of what was being sold on CA’s website and slightly less than what was on 3U’s website). I should also mention that the fares on Ctrip’s Chinese website are cheaper than on their English website (foreigner luxury tax^^). CA’s flight leaves around 11:30 and that would kill our day in Chengdu so we went with 3U whose flight leaves around 15:30, which would leave us until after lunch to spend in Chengdu. The fare was booked for ~850 RMB ($125), which seems high for a 35-minute flight, but that’s capitalism for you with only 2 flights daily. The return flight was again selected based on flight times and this time we went with CA to better fit our schedule and that ticket was similarly booked for ~900 RMB ($130).

After spending the morning at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We had a lunch in downtown Chengdu before grabbing a car with Didi Chuxing (China’s uber) around 13:00. The fare was around 45 RMB ($6.50) to CTU, which was only marginally cheaper than the 55 RMB ($8.00) we paid to get to Chengdu from the airport. There is a toll to enter the highway to enter the airport so that probably should be accounted for the in the price difference. The ride took ~30 minutes and we were soon approaching the smog covered terminals of CTU.

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After getting dropped off, we head towards the 3U counters at Terminal 1.

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Terminal 1 is primarily used by 3U along with a few other carriers. Everyone else is using the newer Terminal 2.

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The domestic check-in area is eerily empty.

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It was so empty that it was hard to even find an open counter and we finally found one for Y check-in.

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After the PVG experience in Part 2, I just let Ms. NGO85 do the check-in and she did so quickly requesting a window seat behind the wing (important details for a flight like this as I’m sure Marathon can agree). China is probably one of the most unique countries in the way etickets are tethered to your national ID so I find it weird to have my passport number printed all over my BPs.

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With boarding passes in hand, we head off towards the security checkpoint.

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Walking through the quiet lobby.

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FIDS.

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Sichuan is proud of their pandas and they are plastered on anything and everything they can put them on including this security notice. Document checks and security are rigorous as always, but also efficient (TSA should take notes…).

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The FIDS exiting security.

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We head off to find Gate 109.

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There it is.

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Better yet, our plane is already waiting outside. If there is going to be a delay today, it won’t be on the departure side, only the arrival side so here is praying for clear weather in JZH.

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Our 3U A319 that will take us on this short 150-mile flight up to JZH.

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With some time to kill, I wandered around our concourse for a bit.

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A stop in the bathroom with this urinal signage. The English translation doesn’t do the Chinese meaning justice. Quite a comical message.

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Some limited spotting on this hazy day.

CA A321 in Beautiful Sichuan special livery, complete with panda^^

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3U A320.

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3U A330 to HGH and then on to LAX, which could sure use a new paintjob.

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KA A333 in old livery.

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CZ B738.

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EU A320.

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3U A320.

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The seating areas in CTU Terminal 1.

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Free newspapers (Chinese only).

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————————-

Sichuan Airlines, 3U 8607
Equipment: Airbus A319 [B-6173, delivered April 2007]
Departure: 15:25 (ATD: 15:36)
Arrival: 16:15 (ATA: 16:12)
Flight time: 0:36


Right on time, boarding is called. There doesn’t seem to be any priority boarding and everyone is called at once. We join the back of the queue.

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Entering the plane, 2 FAs are in the galley and greet me in Chinese and then English. Some strafing shots of J, which actually had a 1/8 load factor^^ Very unique pillows.

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The cabin was very full already so just some strafing shots as we make our way back to our row. 3U’s seats don’t have any ads on them, which is quite refreshing for a Chinese domestic carrier.

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Seat pitch is on the tighter side, probably 31”.

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Seatback contents.

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At first I was confused by the presence of this water bottle in the seatback, but then realized that this was the in-flight catering pre-placed in the seatback. 3U branded (388 mL).

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The safety card for this A319.

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SCAL magazine.

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Domestic and North American route maps. As I mentioned in Part 1, 3U has service to LAX from both HGH and TNA now. With more Chinese carriers entering the LAX market, the US carriers will continue to scramble to stay competitive in these markets.

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A Chinese crossword puzzle and this really awesome “spot the difference” puzzle. Definitely one of the more unique in-flight magazines that I’ve seen in China.

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The antimacassar. I might be scrutinized for saying this, but the 3U logo actually looks quite good (their livery, not so much…).

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View of the cabin as boarding completes. It looks close to 100% load in Y on this flight. The previous day’s flight was cancelled due to fog, so there were probably some rebookings.

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Some spotting as we wait to pushback.

EU A320 and 3U A321.

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3U A321.

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NX A319.

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The safety video fires up. It is really long since they do it in Chinese, English, and sign language (the PIP in the top right corner). The English accent is almost like a Southern drawl the way they talk so slow.

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While the video is playing, a FA comes up and approaches me. She asks me directly in English, “excuse me sir, do you have a newspaper?” I quickly process that in my mind, and figure out she is asking if I want a newspaper so I do the right thing and say “yes” instead of actually answering the question with a “no.” Needless to say, she returns with a China Daily. I definitely hold no status with 3U so I assume she was just targeting me for being an obvious foreigner.

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As we taxi out, a KL B789.

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CA B738 in Dalian Airlines livery.

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MF B738.

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3U A320.

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8L B737.

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TG B772 departing ahead of us.

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The entire queue we skipped in order to take off on time.

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We align onto the runway.

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As we bolt down the runway, a rare QW A320.

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We then rotate as we pass Terminal 2.

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And then soar over Terminal 1.

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We then vanish into the haze…

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…until we pop up above the cloud layer.

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As soon as we reach cruising altitude, there is an announcement for preparation of the cabin for landing. No service on this hop and the FAs only leave their jump seats to perform safety checks. The pre-arrival exercise video plays, which is a bit unnecessary on a 35-minute flight.

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And with that we begin our in-flight entertainment out of the window as we cruise over mountainous western Sichuan province.

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These snow capped peaks look beautiful down below.

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A brief glimpse into Jiuzhaigou, a lake is visible in the top right corner.

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We make a turn to the south as we prepare for our bumpy landing and we start to get closer to the peaks below.

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Possibly this is Huanglong (highlighted in Marathon’s bonus here).

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You really can’t get better than this as we are treated to stunning views of the eastern portions of the endless Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.



With the thin air, we have lots of zero gravity moments as we stay on course for JZH, but the valley is now visible below.

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We come down and bounce once as we come to a stop at an elevation of 3,500 meters (11,300 feet), which is definitely the highest airport I’ve landed at. Probably only Bolivia and China have airports at this elevation.

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Not very surprising; no taxiways at JZH so we make a U-turn at the end of the runway and taxi back to the terminal.

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JZH’s terminal.

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We get the run of the airport for ourselves with the only other flights of the day operating at 13:00 and pull into Gate 4.

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Deplaning and heading towards the arrivals area. Having gained 3,000 meters in elevation in the matter of 30 minutes, I could definitively feel the thin air.

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Down into the baggage claim.

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Your last chance to buy winter clothes^^

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We then head over to figure out how to get to our hotel. We take a shared van up to our hotel, which is 50 RMB ($7.50) per person

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You could try your luck with the taxi vultures outside, but their rates would probably be closer to 300 RMB ($43.50).

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We get the last two seats on the bus and get to sit in the front seat with the driver.

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I apologize in advance, but all subsequent pictures were taken from the moving van as were driving. So be patient with some blurriness.

Driving from the plateau on which the airport stands down into the valley.

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A Mosque in Songpan, a reminder of how far west we are.

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Driving, we pass some locals working and tons of yak and horses grazing on the side of the road.

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Getting closer, we get more mountainous landscapes.

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Welcome to Jiuzhaigou^^

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The trip is almost 80 minutes to cover the 60km drive.

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Yak grazing.

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Reminds me of the Rockies.

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We eventually arrive at our hotel and begin our 2-night stay in Jiuzhaigou. I’ll leave off this series here.



***HOTEL BONUS***: Intercontinental Resort Jiuzhai Paradise

Not up to western standards, but given the fact there are very limited hotel options, we felt it was the best on offer. A new Hilton resort is opening this summer so that will probably be a much-improved offering.

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The rooms are older; not just in décor but also based on wear and tear. It was sufficient enough though for a short stay.



View from our balcony.

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***TOURIST BONUS***: Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

We arrived around 8:00 to make sure we were there just after sunrise.

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Some giant pandas being lazy.



The baby pandas were quite active and were playing with each other.

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Red pandas.

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I heart China.

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See more

Verdict

Sichuan Airlines

6.6/10
Cabin6.5
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi6.0
Meal/catering6.0

Chengdu - CTU

6.8/10
Efficiency8.0
Access4.0
Services7.0
Cleanliness8.0

Jiuzhaigou - JZH

4.3/10
Efficiency8.0
Access1.0
Services3.0
Cleanliness5.0

Conclusion

This is my first time on 3U and it was a decent experience. They checked all the boxes since they got me from A to B safely and on-time. For a 30-minute flight, there really isn't a whole lot to judge them on, but the ground staff and crew seemed decent (including going out of their way to ensure I had an English newspaper). The catering was fine for a flight of this length. I'm not going to extrapolate anything from this experience given my small sample size with 3U and don't anticipate rushing to buy LAX-HGH or LAX-TNA tickets anytime soon since a long-haul experience would differ greatly from this short hop.

Related

17 Comments

  • Comment 391914 by
    marathon SILVER 9602 Comments

    You are too kind to describe my archive report as "brief". Nobody would dare post a report this short nowadays !

    I vividly remember that the JZH flights were horrendously expensive in high season too.

    Mrs Marathon would probably sympathize with Mrs NGO85 on the plight of being a Flight Reporter's wife.

    Chinese train tickets with your passport number are weird too (I once had my visa number instead - the station agent apparently did not know the the difference).

    The Americans step on the moon, the Chinese step to the loo.^^

    I never understood why the Chinese bottles have so weird volumes.

    Taiwan is "of course" a domestic destination in 3U's network ;)

    I was always targeted as a foreigner in Mainland China with a dedicated China Daily (or Global Times) copy, despite being a pan-Chinese airlines nobody (trying all the airlines I could did no good towards reaching a status).

    Dalian Airlines is actually a subsidiary of CA - there is a subtle hint in the livery on the tail. Quite eclectic plane spotting, BTW !

    No, this does not look like Huanglong, IMO. Good try, though, and stupendous landscapes anyway !

    Thanks for sharing !

    • Comment 392055 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Bonjour Marathon, thank you for the comments!

      "Nobody would dare post a report this short nowadays !" <== You even called it expanded from the original French version^^

      "The Americans step on the moon, the Chinese step to the loo.^^" <== We all have different perspectives on what is the biggest step for mankind^^

      "I never understood why the Chinese bottles have so weird volumes." <== 388mL is a much luckier volume than 390mL ;)

      "I was always targeted as a foreigner in Mainland China with a dedicated China Daily (or Global Times) copy" <== It's good to know that you get better service based on race than on status. Never received newspapers on any of the ST flights. CA was the only carrier to recognize my status.

      "Dalian Airlines is actually a subsidiary of CA" <== Aren't all airlines seemingly subsidiaries of another airline in China ;) I feel like everyone owns shares of everyone else.

      "No, this does not look like Huanglong, IMO." <== It looked like a bunch of close tidal pools from the sky, but I guess Huanglong would be farther south of the airport.

      • Comment 392067 by
        marathon SILVER 9602 Comments

        How dumb of me to not think about this brilliant explanation for this 388 ml volume ! Thanks for providing the solution to this riddle !
        Pictures are often less clear than what you see from far above. You may be right about Huanglong, after all.

  • Comment 391916 by
    757Fan 595 Comments

    Nice report, Michael. Beautiful photos from this leg of your trip!

  • Comment 391921 by
    anaknegeri 55 Comments

    Nice report, sir. I've never been to Jiuzhaigou, but there are so many Indonesian travel agencies offering holiday packages to that beautiful city. The views before landing were amazing. And finally, I'm glad to see the pictures of one of my favorite movies from Disney, Tangled, on the Sichuan Airlines' magazine. Hahahaha.

    • Comment 392058 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      "I've never been to Jiuzhaigou, but there are so many Indonesian travel agencies offering holiday packages to that beautiful city."
      - At least during low season, we only had Chinese tourists and some possibly Taiwanese (maybe were just Cantonese) while we were there. High season probably sees a larger influx of foreigners to see the fall foilage. But the crowds swell in the summer. They say there are only 5k tourists per day during low season, but more than 50k per day in the high season.

      Glad you enjoyed the report and thanks for stopping by!

  • Comment 391938 by
    Numero_2 9986 Comments

    Thanks Michael ! ^^

    "That plan quickly disintegrated in the weeks leading up to the trip when we saw the air quality index of Chengdu hovering above 200 consistently." -> The official one or the US Embassy index ? :P

    Not much to complain about for this flight.

    • Comment 392059 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Merci Clement, thank you for your comments!

      "The official one or the US Embassy index ? :P" <== The real one, on the return flight you will see how bad the air was in Chengdu. It is a really nasty city since it sits in a valley and the smog gets trapped by the mountains.

      "Not much to complain about for this flight." <== Boring domestic flights in China, so lucky^^

  • Comment 391964 by
    AK SILVER 850 Comments

    Amazing views ! And the pandas are sooooo cute (or dare I say they are とても かわいい !!). Thanks for sharing

  • Comment 391966 by
    Razza_Pr 216 Comments

    Hello, NGO85, and thank you for this FR.

    Thanks for the tip regarding foreigners luxury tax and Didi Chuxing! Will try Chinese websites in the future to try and drive costs down for when I need to journey within China :D

    I'm a huge fan of Sichuan food, so Chengdu as the capital of Sichuan has been on my list for quite awhile now. I'm not sure yet if I want to fly in from Europe (most likely taking KL. Seems like a solid option), or from Jakarta with my brother's family. Did you get to try many notable local restaurants?

    "We take a shared van up to our hotel, which is 50 RMB ($7.50) per person"
    -Where does it stop? A terminal or multi-point at the behest of the passengers along the way?

    Thanks again for the FR. Cheers!

    • Comment 392061 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Hi Razza, thanks for stopping by!

      "Will try Chinese websites in the future to try and drive costs down for when I need to journey within China :D"
      - It was very remarkable how different the fares on CA's Chinese website versus English website as well as Ctrip's Chinese and English websites. You would pay nearly 3x more to buy the ticket from CA's English website versus the Chinese Ctrip site. I guess its a subtle way to exploit foreign markets and by no means illegal. Sometimes it always pays to be more thorough and check out local options when booking things.

      "I'm a huge fan of Sichuan food, so Chengdu as the capital of Sichuan has been on my list for quite awhile now."
      - Just be warned that air quality is really bad for most of the year in Chengdu. Both Chongqing and Chengdu lack a lot of tourist sites. We only stayed for a half day so didn't get much time to explore the city since we wanted to get to the fresh mountain air as fast as possible. Jinli Pedestrian Street was a good place to get local food. When done right, Sichuan food is really good. KL is the only European airline that I know of to have direct flights. UA has their new SFO-CTU service, but can't imagine that being a very crowded market.

      "Where does it stop? A terminal or multi-point at the behest of the passengers along the way?"
      - They go to different places (multi-point), but in our case the whole van was going to the same place.

  • Comment 391991 by
    Rl 777 810 Comments

    Thank you for sharing this FR with us!

    Thanks for the information in the beginning!

    “CA A321 in Beautiful Sichuan special livery, complete with panda^^“
    - It seems like this particular plane usually operates flights to/from CTU, which is probably perfectly logical.

    Stunning spotting shots at CTU!

    It may be a short flight but an extremely scenic one.

    Absolutely wonderful shots, while on the way to the hotel.

    The pandas are so cute, thanks for sharing.

    Have a good one, see you!

    • Comment 392063 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      "Thanks for the information in the beginning!"
      - It's important to look around. At first we were thinking it would be $500 for the round trip tickets, but then looking around, the price came down a lot using Chinese websites to find better fares.

      “It seems like this particular plane usually operates flights to/from CTU, which is probably perfectly logical."
      - CTU is a big western hub for CA, they operate a lot of international routes from here to both Europe and Oceania. I can't figure out why this plane was at T1 though, all of the other CA planes are at T2...

      "It may be a short flight but an extremely scenic one." <== The views from the plane were worth the price of the ticket, at least that's how I see it^^

      "The pandas are so cute, thanks for sharing." <== I've only seen them once before here in the US, I think only 4 zoos have them on loan here so it was good to see a more diverse sampling of them. There really aren't too many wild pandas left (you supposedly can find some in Jiuzhaigou).

  • Comment 392626 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5378 Comments

    Hey Michael, thanks for sharing this exotic report on a lesser known Chinese carrier! That's a lot of awesome scenery for such a short flight! I love me some good aerials. Nice bonus too. Red Pandas are adorable. C ya!

  • Comment 400617 by
    tn92 167 Comments

    Hi! For a 35 minutes flight, you have done up a really really nice FR! Cool sceneries out of the window too, makes me want to go there one day. Maybe I should start planning my China trip soon... Thanks for sharing!

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