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.
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.
After getting dropped off, we head towards the 3U counters at Terminal 1.
Terminal 1 is primarily used by 3U along with a few other carriers. Everyone else is using the newer Terminal 2.
The domestic check-in area is eerily empty.
It was so empty that it was hard to even find an open counter and we finally found one for Y check-in.
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.
With boarding passes in hand, we head off towards the security checkpoint.
Walking through the quiet lobby.
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…).
The FIDS exiting security.
We head off to find Gate 109.
There it is.
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.
Our 3U A319 that will take us on this short 150-mile flight up to JZH.
With some time to kill, I wandered around our concourse for a bit.
A stop in the bathroom with this urinal signage. The English translation doesn’t do the Chinese meaning justice. Quite a comical message.
Some limited spotting on this hazy day.
CA A321 in Beautiful Sichuan special livery, complete with panda^^
3U A330 to HGH and then on to LAX, which could sure use a new paintjob.
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.
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.
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.
Seat pitch is on the tighter side, probably 31”.
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).
The safety card for this A319.
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.
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.
The antimacassar. I might be scrutinized for saying this, but the 3U logo actually looks quite good (their livery, not so much…).
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.
Some spotting as we wait to pushback.
EU A320 and 3U A321.
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.
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.
As we taxi out, a KL B789.
CA B738 in Dalian Airlines livery.
TG B772 departing ahead of us.
The entire queue we skipped in order to take off on time.
We align onto the runway.
As we bolt down the runway, a rare QW A320.
We then rotate as we pass Terminal 2.
And then soar over Terminal 1.
We then vanish into the haze…
…until we pop up above the cloud layer.
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.
And with that we begin our in-flight entertainment out of the window as we cruise over mountainous western Sichuan province.
These snow capped peaks look beautiful down below.
A brief glimpse into Jiuzhaigou, a lake is visible in the top right corner.
We make a turn to the south as we prepare for our bumpy landing and we start to get closer to the peaks below.
Possibly this is Huanglong (highlighted in Marathon’s bonus here).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Down into the baggage claim.
Your last chance to buy winter clothes^^
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
You could try your luck with the taxi vultures outside, but their rates would probably be closer to 300 RMB ($43.50).
We get the last two seats on the bus and get to sit in the front seat with the driver.
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.
A Mosque in Songpan, a reminder of how far west we are.
Driving, we pass some locals working and tons of yak and horses grazing on the side of the road.
Getting closer, we get more mountainous landscapes.
Welcome to Jiuzhaigou^^
The trip is almost 80 minutes to cover the 60km drive.
Reminds me of the Rockies.
We eventually arrive at our hotel and begin our 2-night stay in Jiuzhaigou. I’ll leave off this series here.
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.
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.
***TOURIST BONUS***:Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
We arrived around 8:00 to make sure we were there just after sunrise.
Some giant pandas being lazy.
The baby pandas were quite active and were playing with each other.
I heart China.
Chengdu - CTU
Jiuzhaigou - JZH
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.
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