Hello, flight-report community, and welcome to another of your humble flight-reporter’s signature quickly jaunts to Asia, this time, sampling the business class offerings of Hainan and China Eastern, as well as my first Asian LCC flight, with Cebu Pacific.
HU7976 YYZ-PEK - 1/22/2018 - 787-9 - J - Check it out here HX313 PEK-HKG - 1/23/2018 - A330-200 - J - Check it out here 5J151 HKG-CRK - 1/24/2018 - A320-200 - Y - Check it out here MU5046 CRK-PVG - 1/25/2018 - A320-200 - J - You are here MU207 PVG-YYZ - 1/25/2018 - 777-300ER - J - Coming soon
At last, we come to the flights that started this trip. This whole thing started when I stumbled upon a really solid business class deal from Angeles City or Cebu to… well, many places in North America to which China Eastern flies.
It appears that this was because the PVG-CRK route was brand new at the time, and not selling very well. The Philippines has big goals for CRK, which today is a fairly small airport, but is about to become quite large, and is being positioned as an alternate to MNL for Manila-area passengers. So, credit to China Eastern for trying to get in on that. The timing of this flight — which pretty much screams “we had some extra hours on our A320s in the dead of night, and figured… ehhhhhhhh, let’s see what happens!”
What happens is that the flight doesn’t do so well. Launched last fall, it’s already being cut down by several days a week as I wait to fly it tonight. And, in fact, when I fly the other direction — PVG-CRK in just over a month, it will be the last direct PVG-CRK flight from MU for now. So…. my first anti-inaugaral. Yay! There were stories on the Flyertalk thread about this deal where other folks had their PVG-CRK or vice versa converted into PVG-MNL or vice versa, due to the flight being cancelled on their scheduled dates. Perhaps MU found something better do with their spare A320 time. Like… leaving them on the ground in Shanghai.
Check in, etc.
It was a little after 10 when I got to the departures hall for Clark — just feet away from the arrivals hall. At the door, a security guard asks for my passport and flight information. I’ve got the former, but I can’t seem to produce the latter. Just when I’m thinking he’s going to require a printed copy of my itinerary (which I don’t have) or something like that, I say “I have the PNR for the flight.” And to my surprise, he responds “Ahhhhh, that’s good enough, friend.” He mentions that I’m here awful early for China Eastern’s flight, and I say I just got in, and I don’t really have anywhere to go. He nods and says “It’s hot anyway.” It’s not really overly hot, but it’s not cool either.
Anyway, I’m allowed in, and after a quick security check, I’m in the departure hall at Clark. It’s a pretty simple layout — one big room with a few seats here and there, and about 25 check-in desks, which seem to be mostly dynamically provisioned. It’s pretty empty when I show up, but over the next couple of hours, it fills in, mostly with a couple of flights to Soeul, and one to Busan.
Partway through my stay, I finally pick up the Free WiFi available throughout the airport, which helps kill the time. It allows me to get some work done, and check in on my plane, on its way down from Shanghai - lookis like we should be on time based on the inbound.
About 1:30, things start to stir around the middle of the bank of check-in desks, between the now-closed Cebu desks, and the just-wrapping-up operations of Asiana and Jin air. Almost instantly, there’s a huge lineup, and seemingly everyone is bringing at least a couple of massive suitcases, and one or more big taped up boxes. I don’t think the cabin’s going to be full, but the luggage hold is.
Two queues form up — one much shorter with mostly wheelchair passengers, and one snaking around through cordons. I ask one of the agents setting things up if the shorter line is business class, and he responds with “Business class? Yeah… you can stay here.” The signage, now activated, doesn’t help — all of the desks show as “all cabins,” and there’s no mention of either business class or Sky Priority.
But then a few minutes later, he stops by again and says “Are you in business class?,” and I respond in the affirmative. He points me to the other end of the stands MU is using, and says, “You can go line up over there.” There’s no one else in that line, so as soon as the agents start accepting passengers, I’m processed, and boarding passes issues through to Toronto. I’m also issued a lounge invitation for the PAGSS (Philippine Air and Ground Support Services, I believe — they are also the contract check-in agents) Lounge. “It’s right by the gate,” the agent tells me. Good on MU for having a contract lounge on this seemingly low-priority flight.
Boarding pass in hand, I go through the process — first, pay the 600-peso “terminal fee.” Then very quickly through immigration. Security takes a few minutes because there’s only one of the two available x-ray machines up and running, but it’s not too long before I’m airside. Up a small set of stairs, and I’m in the large departure hall, which hosts the three jetway-equipped gates at the terminal — the other three “gates” are at ground level, so I presume their holding pens for the jetway gates.
The terminal is an interesting contrast. The architecture makes it look very modern, but it also some of the hallmarks of an older, smaller airport — one big room with a bunch of communal seating for all the gates. It kinda captures Clark in its current state, a little airfield that has aspirations to become the secondary air hub for a major nation.
PAGSS Lounge CRK
The PAGSS Lounge is located at the far end of the terminal space. A company agent, wearing the same uniform as the check-in agents, takes my lounge pass and welcomes me inside.
The lounge is obviously new, but is very small. In fact — here’s a picture of the whole thing.
On the plus side, the seats are decently comfortable. And there’s basically no one else in it. The one person in it when I arrived would leave shortly afterwards, and the only other two passengers in the lounge during my stay are a 50-something couple who I would guess will be joining me in the business class cabin on tonight’s flight. Also, there’s a small table between each pair of seats, and it has a couple of universal power outlets — so that all-important lounge feature is checked off quite nicely.
There’s a very limited number of reading options available.
There’s also supposed to be lounge-specific WiFi, but I can’t get it to work for me — I connect, but it doesn’t “go” anywhere. Fortunately, the generic airport WiFi is plenty fast, especially as the terminal itself clears out as flights depart. Ye olde corporate shot anyway, just for effect — but I’m grading the lounge as not having functioning WiFi, since it’s supposed to have its own, but it doesn’t seem to work.
As one would probably guess, catering is not extensive. There are a few drink options, including a red and white wine, vodka or whisky, coffee, orange juice and ice tea available. There’s also a cooler with canned soft drinks and bottled water elsewhere. There are also some little sandwiches, and some desserts.
The rest of the spread consists of a pasta dish, congee, and a couple of types of dim sum.
I’m kinda hungry, so I decide to check it out, taking a sampling along with a glass of water. I was right — catering is not their strong suit. The pasta dish is cold and bland, the smaller dim sum item isn’t very appealing, and the sandwich is quite stale. I have no complaints about the steamed bun, though. That was pretty good.
They fare better on the desserts options. Nothing outstanding, but they’re all pretty good.
By this time, it’s closing in on 2 am, and I’ve been up since about 6:30 am in Hong Kong, and the concepts of sleep and time zones aren’t really my friends. So I’m feeling pretty tired at this point. It’s a good thing the lounge is so small and there are so few people in here — if I fall asleep, I probably won’t get left behind. I see the other couple in the lounge are having a similar challenge — the lounge is playing the Justice League movie, and several times I notice one or both of them has dozed off. Occupational risk of 3:40 am flights, I suppose.
They follow the Justice League film with Wonder Woman, so I’m guessing our lounge attendant is a DC Comics kind of girl.
Equally fortunately, there’s also some coffee available. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either… and at this point, it’s most welcome — especially since the air conditioning in this lounge is VERY on.
All in all, it’s not a great lounge, but it was comfortable, and quiet — and could have served as a semi-private cinema, were I in the mood for a superhero movie. Given that I wasn’t really expecting a lounge at all unless there was a Priority Pass option, I was pretty pleased with it.
Around 3:15, the lounge attendant lets us know that boarding is starting. I step out of the lounge, and head towards Gate 5, where I see this mob scene.
There’s an agent holding up a paper sign, that shows they’re boarding people traveling with children, the elderly, and business class and Sky Priority. So I make my way towards the part of the line that’s moving, and pretty quickly, I’m on my way.
Once my boarding pass is scanned, a first look at our ride up to Pudong, wearing that oh-so-exciting “new” China Eastern livery.
The Flight Report
Flight: MU5046 From: Angeles City (CRK) To: Shanghai Pudong (PVG) Date: 1/25/2018 Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 Registration: B-6600 Seat: 6L ATD (STD): 03:57 (03:40) ATA ( STA): 06:40 (06:55)
My listed seat is 7L, the starboard window seat in the second row of the massive two-row business class cabin on MU’s narrowbodies. Really! Eight seats in the premium class? I guess the only reason they bother is for connectors in business class.
However, when I step aboard, I find that 7G (the aisle seat) is occupied. A bit disappointing, given that I was expecting a pretty light load up front based on ExpertFlyer. But the female purser comes up to me as I’m putting my luggage in the overhead and motions towards the first row, saying it’s empty, and why don’t I sit up there. Why not, indeed? I take my place in 6L, and we’d end up with four of eight seats occupied — one to each pair.
A pretty basic pillow and blanket are provided.
Headset (for the overhead IFE) and slippers are provided, even on this short narrowbody hop. Standard issue for both, which is pretty good (the slippers) and not at all good (the headphones).
Legroom isn’t fantastic, but it’ll do.
A look out the window as boarding continues — yep, now much going on at 3:30 am at Clark.
A hot towel is offered next by the main flight attendant — a twenty-something male — working business class, as well as PDB — water or orange juice. He mentions that a snack will be served after takeoff — quite a surprise, given the late hour — and if I’d like to have it. I’m not tired yet, so sure, why not. He asks what I’d like to drink with it, and I request just water. It takes me a minute or two to understand his follow-up question, but it turns out to be he’s just confirming I’d like my water cold, like the weird Westerner I am.
Audio controls and a headphone jack are in the side of the centre console.
Despite my earlier throwing shade on this route, we’d end up pretty much packed to the gills in the back. I don’t think there are any empty seats. So why is MU axing this route, then? We push back at about 3:45 am, and I’m the only person awake in business class as we do. For having just started allowing cellphones to be used in-flight, the crew was pretty laid back about Bluetooth accessories — I wore my AirPods throughout the flight and nothing was said.
After about a ten-minute taxi to the end of the runway, we took off just before 4:00 am.
Once we reach altitude, I check out the forward lavatory — not much to write home on.
Quickly, the male flight attendant jumps into service — setting the tablecloth for me, delivering me (cold… well… cool-ish) water, and another hot towel.
The snack, of some dim sum with some fruit, is then delivered — all in all, not a bad light snack. The hamburger and rice item was pretty tasty, as was the steamed bun. The other dumpling was not great. The fruit, while not my favourite mix, was perfectly acceptable as well.
As I’m done that, the female flight attendant — who doesn’t seem to speak English quite as well as her male counterpart — hands me a brown paper bag (printed in Chinese characters with the MU logo on it) with a couple of pastries in it. I’m not sure why these are being presented — or why in this seemingly to-go format — but I try one and am not terribly impressed. Perhaps it’s a pastry designed for Chinese taste buds and not Western?
After that, the male flight attendant returns, with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. I had not requested it, but he asks if I’d like it, and I’m not one to turn that down. Not the best I’ve ever had, but a nice little post-snack treat, and an appreciated gesture.
Meanwhile, something was being played on the overhead screen — I did not pay much attention to what it was, but it seemed to be about a couple of classmates trying to start a band at school.
About this time, I drift off to nap-time, and sleep for about 90 minutes, in other words, most of the rest of this short flight up to Pudong.
As I wake up, we’re on our descent, and the sun is just starting to rise over the horizon.
I doze in and out for the rest of the descent — the other business class passengers are served their snack at this point, or left to sleep, depending. We spend a lot of time descending through clouds, and by the time we break through, we’re pretty much on the ground.
And touch down.
We taxi for a moment, and then come to a rest on the tarmac. The captain comes on to let us know that we’re just waiting for a place to park. Is anyone surprised?
It takes us about twenty minutes to get cleared to a parking spot, and when we start moving again, we’re shown to our parking spot by a follow-me car. I haven’t seen one of these in a looooooong time.
Eventually, we come to rest at a bus gate — is there any other type at Pudong? — just after 7:00 am.
Arrival into Pudong and transit
I’m the first person off the plane, and after stopping for a quick photo of our ride at its remote gate, I board the first bus I can find.
To my surprise, when no one else comes off the plane in about half a second after I get on the bus, the attendant on the bus just tells the driver to go — I guess assuming I was the only business class passenger? Anyways, I got a private bus trip back to the terminal, where things are pretty quiet.
Even more quiet upstairs at the transfer desk. But transit security is open, and thanks to the SkyPriority line — and a Chinese aviation security agent who actually seems to have a personality — I’m through and back airside by just after 7:30am.
Now all that remains is to head upstairs to China Eastern’s main lounge just up the escalator from here. We’ll pick up the story from there on the next flight-report.
Thanks for joining me for the penultimate leg of this trip, and I hope you’ll check out the final segment, heading home from Shanghai to Toronto. See you there!
Clark - CRK
Shanghai - PVG
This wasn’t the “highlight” of the trip, to be sure.. but it was interesting. My first Chinese narrowbody J experience, my first time at CRK.
The cabin on MU was nothing special, but adequate for the short missions these planes got, and I did get some sleep, so that counts for something. Overhead IFE just seems like such an anachronism at this point, though. Catering wasn’t bad for a 3:40 am departure, and I appreciated the little bit of proactivity shown by the flight attendants.
I was surprised to have a lounge covered, given that this is about the most “out” of any outstations for MU, and the lounge was adequate for a third-party lounge.
All in all, a perfectly average flight, but a somewhat interesting one due to the circumstances for me.
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