Hello everyone, I am a long time lurker here and decided to post my first flight reports as promised to Kevin. I have been doing flight reports for a while but on youtube where I have my own channel AsiaTravels. I fly mostly between China and the US for personal and work related reasons, however I am willing to take very big detours just to try out a new product or carrier. My channel has flight reviews on carriers that are well known and frequently reviewed here so I will not be reporting on those. Rather I want to take the opportunity to write about unusual or interesting carriers/experiences. For this report, I will be reporting on Xiamen Airline's inaugural flight to JFK. It will be the first that Xiamen is featured here on flight-report.com! This flight report is adapted from the video I took so they are not the same high quality photos you expect. My original video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1oSAcrM4Xw&t=1015s I think the video showcases the sounds and the atmosphere a lot better than my screen shots.
I had several domestic Chinese flight experiences with Xiamen. Before my grandmother passed away from heart failure, my family decided to take her out on a trip to the big Chinese cities. When I think about it is pretty sad because my grand ma is from the rural villages in China so she never been to the big cities like Shanghai or Guangzhou. She wanted to see it before she passed away. She has also never flown on a plane. We ended up booking a last minute flight on Xiamen to Hangzhou that required a technical stop. Throughout the journey the Xiamen ground staff were extremely polite and handled her wheelchair with care. They were also extremely patient in their attitude dealing with a first time flyer. They helped her every point of the way and politely addressed her as "grandma" in Chinese. Onboard, the staff were absolutely amazing and always took care of my grandma first. Whether it was drinks or food even though we weren't in first class or the first row of economy, they came to ask her first. Most importantly during the technical stop, the FA informed us before landing that we can stay onboard the plane while the rest of the plane had to get off. She and the flight crew agreed that it is not in her best interest to have to get up and off the plane. During the 1 hour stop, they continue to take care and chat with her and even walk her to the bathroom. Honestly I don't recall the last time I have read any experiences on the big 3 US carriers that comes close to this level of care and humanity. Fly the friendly skies in China.
That being said I was very excited that I would have the opportunity to fly on the inaugural flight to my home NYC. Little did I know I would have an unforgettable experience and share a toast with their CEO. The only regret I had was that I did not select my seat early enough so I missed out on a window seat. I saw a few passengers who dimmed their windows rather than peer out at that beautiful wing and engine >.> If only I had that seat.
You can sense the excitement even before the airport opened. The inaugural flight is prominently displayed on a huge LCD screen by the international departures check in. Of note, China Eastern actually does run a Fuzhou - NYC route on their 777-300ER. However it stops in Shanghai before continuing on.
Fuzhou Changle Airport is rather small and a huge distance away from Fuzhou city. I highly suggest if you are transiting in Fuzhou Airport to book a hotel next to the airport. There are no brand name hotels like Hilton next to the airport, however Fliport Fuzhou Airport hotel was recommended by a Xiamen FA I spoke to. On the day of the inaugural flight, I got to the airport around 5:30AM in the hopes I can be the first in line so I can get a window seat. However, the airport was not open until 6AM so we were blocked from going to the check-in counters.
I was the first in line for check in but I was told that all the window seats are full and there was only one seat left for me. Oh well, no amount of avgeek tears can change this. I was given a certificate for the inaugural flight. Security and immigration was fast despite a New York bound 777 and several Southeast Asian departures. An hour later the lines seem much longer.
A gorgeous stage was set up for the press conference. Again I arrived too early to witness the whole spectacle. I was told all of the celebratory shows both at the gate and at the main stage was put together by Xiamen FAs. I wondered why they put the press conference between immigration and security, but as I walked around the terminal I realized that there is simply no other place in the airport for them to put together that big of stage. At one point the crowds completely blocked the security lanes. Either way I wanted to go check out the Xiamen lounge. Here is where the only major hiccup occurred. Xiamen has a very elegant but small lounge at the international terminal. It is designed like a cozy cafe and the furniture is very distinctive. However I was told that I could not stay in the lounge because they were not ready to accept passengers even though I was admitted and getting ready to film. I was told that they would take me to the "First Class Lounge" which was a priority pass lounge while they get ready. When we went to the "First Class" lounge I was told that I was suppose to stay at the Xiamen Lounge. I went back to the Xiamen lounge. They were apologetic but sent me out again with a very apologetic ground staff. He got them to accept me. However when I asked if I can go back when they are ready, I was told I can just stay at the First Class lounge… I guess no one wanted me…
I chilled at the priority pass lounge although the staff there were certainly very nice and helped clear away any mess I made. Rather than ignoring me as I was the only passenger at the lounge, they actually looked after me. So thumbs up for the staff.
The shows at the gate had a bunch of dances (they really love old school Michael Jackson in China), and a trivia contest with models of the 787. I won a 1:400 787. The grand prize was a 1:200 787 which was too big for my taste. Flowers were handed out to passengers and there were some picture taking at the gate.
Soon it was time to board and a flood of journalist surrounded the tiny gate. The gate is seriously small just look at what it took to separate the priority lane from the economy lane lol.
The 787-9 is the first in Xiamen's fleet (B-1566). Onboard we have Xiamen's 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seats by BE Aerospace Super Diamond. It is an excellent seat and doesn't look that bad in blue. The seat is leather which I am not sure is better than cloth seats since it sticks to your skin. The interior was full of nice decals celebrating New York. It certainly felt exciting to be on board.
While I was filming the FA came by to welcome me. We soon started talking about my journey to be on this flight and she was so amazed I made a trip to China just to be on this flight. This crew would turn out to be the best crew I have ever encountered. Of course they chose the best to be on this flight with their senior management and CEO, but it also showed the level of training that Xiamen is capable of. If you watch my video, you can see how friendly, courteous and professional they all are. I will go into detail about this later.
The amenity kit is quite good. It is a soft shell and large enough to store things. I like the fact they included a Xiamen branded phone pouch. At each seat in business was also a red pouch. Inside was a small ceremonial tea pot and tea cup!
Soon we were up in the air. The crew quickly came by to serve us our post departure cookies and drinks. The cookies were amazing. Super buttery and mildly sweet and nutty. The tea that they served was apparently a very expensive tea made from very young tea leaf buds. I thought it was white tea but I was told it wasn't. After I finished one of the FAs, who was very playful, came by and asked me if I like it. She told me to sit tight because she will bring me more but warned me not to fill up on tea. Every interaction I had with her, she had a joke or something funny and cute to say. We would later on have a long conversation about my travels.
I love the textured chinaware. Very luxurious and distinctive.
After the tea I got up to walk around and saw this cute little bar they had already set up. The crew had some help from the plain clothes FAs who will fly the return trip, so everything was done quickly.
As we settled in, the man sitting in 1A started walking down the aisle and he seemed to know everyone on the flight. I had a hunch he was either the CEO or someone really important. Either way he came down the aisle sharing a toast of champagne with every passenger. I was very curious if he would share a toast with me since we don't know each other. Soon he was by my seat and said "lets share a toast!" The purser, who I had already had several conversations with, immediately came by and introduce the CEO to me. She told him that I flew to China just for this flight and he was very shocked. Apparently he never thought they had a crazy fan/avgeek like me. He suddenly took out his wallet and gave me his business card. He told me if I had any comments/suggestions to please let him and his staff know. He also apologized that it must be awkward for me since everyone knew each other. A CEO apologize for this?! Munoz took a few days to apologize for dragging a paying passenger out of his seat lol. We then chatted briefly about Xiamen Airlines, my job, and my interest in airplanes. It was then that he called over their chief 787 pilot/instructor to talk to me, and he also gave me his card. Mr. Chief Pilot told me that an empty airliner is no fun to fly and welcomed me onboard. Mr. CEO also told me that our purser is a very accomplished women herself. She is the company chief purser and in charge of the training of their 5000 FAs. I have to thank the purser on this flight because she was an incredibly easy and patient person to talk to. I had some suggestions and she took them seriously and even mentioned it to their CEO and VP. I can't remember if I asked for a picture or the CEO offered, but he immediately agreed and got his staff to take our picture. (I will upload our toast picture later. I don't have it on the computer I am using). He then told me: "We are all friends in the air." Lol fly the friendly skies in China.
Here is a picture of the CEO (second man from the left sharing a toast with Xiamen staff)
The FAs had also put a show for us in the air. It was a small dance routine in traditional Chinese qipao. They must have been so tired after this flight.
Afterwards more gifts were handed out. The goodie bag had a raffle ticket, a stuffed Xiamen airplane, a commemorative silver coin celebrating Xiamen and the Year of the Rooster, and a Xiamen luggage tag. I wasn't sure what the raffle ticket prize was but the man sitting next to me, who is also a senior manager in Xiamen, also come by to share a toast with me and offered to win a prize for me with his raffle ticket. He didn't win either but I don't think I have ever heard of or encountered the senior management of an airline treat their passengers so well.
We had the obligatory cake cutting ceremony. Since it was near Valentine's day, chocolates were given out to all the passengers including economy. The chocolates are apparently made by Xiamen's own catering unit and they were quite good!
I love this photo in particular of the crew making Xiamen's signature drink. Her concentration looks intense and she was so precise. The purser came by to show me their drink. She encouraged me to take a picture of it by the window because the colors look really good in the intense blue sky.
For the meals I went all with Fuzhou cuisine since I never had it. As the meals were being taken, the young FA showing me the teacup before came by and whispered: "I wanted to take your order before some choices run out." I was seated all the way at the back which mean I had last dibs. In essence, she was skipping some of the staff so I can have more choices and get my order in before them. It was so sweet of her.
Xiamen has always had one of the best caterings in mainland China. I asked CEO about this and why China Southern catering is downright disgusting… He told me that unlike the big 3, Xiamen does not contract out their catering to the local airports. Rather they have a very large catering department and so open their own kitchens instead. This allows quality control and standards to be maintained. The savings they have made from maintaining a simple fleet has been invested into this aspect. I thought this strategy was absolutely brilliant.
The food was not bad. It is fresh and the quality was good but mostly not my type of taste. Fuzhou cuisine is very light. I personally grew up eating food drenched in salt, chili, and sesame oil so I am pretty sure my taste buds have been burned to oblivion and my blood pressure is high. I did enjoy the noodles. The second bowl of noodles I had was very unique. It was not your typical flour noodles. It was incredibly thin, yet textured and somewhat spongy so it sucked up the broth. I really enjoyed it.
Anyway things got quiet after dinner and PJs were given out. The PJ packaging and the PJs themselves are pretty good quality and comfortable. It reminds me a lot of EVA's PJs in texture. A thick blanket was given but no seat covers. The more I fly the more I think seat covers rather than PJs are important. It feels more sanitary with a seat cover and bare skin on leather for long periods of time is not particularly comfortable.
I couldn't sleep for long. I just was so excited. I think I slept for about 1 hour or two before waking up. The FAs setup this cute cart in the galley. The bookmarks look machine made right? They are all hand drawn by one of the FAs on this flight. She is an artist turn flight attendant and made some to commerate this flight. She later came up to speak to me and apparently she got commercial offers to turn her designs into something big. However she turned it down because she draws as a hobby and to relax. She made a design of my name on an envelop and I was offered a bookmark to keep with me.
The playful FA was still working and we chatted some more. She offered me some more drinks and ice cream. She teased me: "Do you like [haagen daaz]? Well don't eat too much." The other FA was also still working and I shared with her places to visit in NYC. For almost all of the crew and staff this would be their first time to NYC.
The IFE is one of the better Chinese IFE I have come across. It is very nicely laid out and the background is beautiful. The UI is modern, yet with Chinese flair, and easy to use.
Soon it was time for breakfast. The food again was high quality although the soup was definitely not my taste. I had this chicken and tea soup on other carriers and I have never liked it.
Before I knew it my trip is pretty much over. As soon as we landed there were applause everywhere. The FA happily announced that we have safely landed at the famous Big Apple. It is a new beginning for Xiamen but home for me. The landing is where I regretted not having a window seat the most. I knew there would be a water cannon salute and so completely missed out on it. The view I had werent that great for filming…Either way it was a once in a life time experience. Being able to get a seat on a sold out flight is already amazing enough. Plus I met some amazing crew and staff and I hope I can see them in the future again.
I did not stay for the press conference because I was simply so tired by then and I am sure they are tired of seeing my face. Anyways it was amazing flight and I really got to see the best of the best by Xiamen. It was a historic day in the history of this company and I am confident they will have a bright future if they can attract and keep crews like this. I am sure they won't have a problem with such a customer oriented CEO and management.
Thanks for reading through this very long FR. My next FR will likely be the inaugural Asiana A350 flight to Hong Kong on May 9th. Otherwise I will be lurking here and active on my youtube channel. Safe travels!
Fuzhou - FOC
New York - JFK
Xiamen Airlines has fast become one of my favorite airlines to travel with. I have flown with them twice in business and 4 times in economy and I have been nothing but impressed by the quality of their FAs. Of course there are good and bad FAs at every airline but having met the senior management of this company, I am very confident they are a very consistent airline. As a matter of fact one of the conversation I had with an FA is that Xiamen has slowly been refining its service domestically and regionally. It knows it doesn't have the brand recognition outside of China so it is very focused on quality as a long term growth strategy. In this aspect it makes sense why it took nearly 30 years for they to initiate their North American routes. There were some service issues to be ironed out, specifically the massive amount of English errors I spotted in their menu. However I pointed this out to their Chief Purser and she immediately took noticed and promised this would be corrected. Before landing she came by to tell me that my suggestions have been passed on to the CEO and he is now aware of the problem. Their VP also took notice of the errors I pointed out. Their catering department makes the menu and those staff have less foreign language experience than their front line staff. Either way the fact this company is so willing to protect their image by taking in customer feedback is ultimately the sign of a successful airline to me. After all, their chief 787 pilot did remark to me that an empty airliner is no fun to fly. I hope that Xiamen sticks to these values and I hope I will also have the time to fly on their inaugural LAX flight!
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