This series of four flight reports is an oldie that I post for several reasons : - the routing is an interesting part of the local history - there are few reports on Xiamen Airlines, although they have expanded since - MD-90s are a disappearing breed.
TSA - KNH : Taipei - Kinmen (Mandarin Airlines 1267) Embraer 190 You are here XMN – WUS : Xiamen - Wuyishan (Xiamen Airlines 8083) Boeing 737-700 WUS – XMN : Wuyishan - Xiamen (Xiamen Airlines 8365) Boeing 737-800 KNH - TSA : Kinmen - Taipei (Uni Air 898) Mc Donnell Douglas 90
It had been years that I had been dreaming of taking the short ferry between Kinmen (Taiwan) and Xiamen (Mainland China), one of the Three Small Links (Xiǎosāntōng 小三通) which are part of the stormy history of this region. The opening in 2001 of direct ferry links between Taiwanese outposts and the Mainland were the first giddy signs of the gradual improvement of the relationships between Mainland and Taiwan : Nangan-Fuzhou, Kinmen-Quanzhou and Kinmen-Xiamen, the latter having by far the most traffic. It was a historic event : the first time one could travel from Mainland China directly to Taiwan without going through Hong-Kong or another country since 1949
At the time of printing of my 2007 Taiwan Lonely Planet tour book was printed, these links were still for Chinese and Taiwanese citizens only. Charter direct flights started in 2008; ten years later, there are scores of direct flights between Taiwan and major Chinese cities and tourist destinations, but in 2011, they were still few and expensive, so that the Kinmen-Xiamen route was a major one for private individuals and budget business travelers. I had taken Friday afternoon off; my young Taiwanese female colleagues were all excited and envious when they discovered my destination when I left the office at noon :
You are taking the Xiǎosāntōng? How lucky you are ! I have never done it yet !
This FR begins therefore in TSA around 12:45 ; I had booked a seat on the 14:00 flight to KNH.
The domestic terminal hall was quite empty; an airport staff came up to me immediately and told me in Chinese : You have a reservation on Flight AE1269? Hurry up, you will be re-booked on the 13:00 flight; it is leaving in 10 minutes ! This was the magic of Taiwanese waiting line management: Flight AE1267 was no longer on the FIDS, but I had still a chance to board it.
Boarding was actually slightly late - the FAs apologized about it - which gave me time to take a picture of the E-190 which was the one with a special livery.
A private A318 in the background.
I had the additional treat of having Seat 1A; a window bulkhead seat which like on most aircraft meant extra legroom and fast deplaning.
Note that standard Taiwanese passengers had indeed LOTS of legroom.
The bulkhead was around 10 cm further aft on the left side, which means that Seats 1A and 1B have slightly less legroom. My legs were slightly longer than those of the passengers sitting on the right, too, but don’t worry: it was still reasonable. The overhead bins are very low everywhere, but the passengers at Seats 1C and 1D did not seem to mind this.
It was quite comfortable behind, too.
Before our own pushback, a view on a Uni-Air MD-90, hiding an ANA 767 which has arrived from HND.
Take-off and view on Yangmingshan National Park (the mountains towering south of Taipei), before climbing above a layer of clouds.
The catering was as usual on Taiwanese domestic flights limited to coffee of the Taiwanese domestic flight kind, i.e. awful. I tasted authentic Taiwanese coffee and I can vouch that it was never served on domestic flights – small wonder given the price, which was in turn small wonder, given the limited acreage of land devoted to cultivating coffee in Taiwan.
There was not coffee only on board, but also tea (announced as “oolong” in Mandarin, and “Chinese tea” in English), orange juice and water.
Arrival 10 minutes late (which meant 50 minutes early for me, with regards to my original booking) in Kinmen. The plane is slightly warped by a panoramic joining of two pictures.
A handicapped person was wheelchaired to the foot of this Uni-Air MD-90 and then helped up the stairs.
Now comes an unusual bonus : the transfer between the airports of two countries which each claims to be legitimate authority on the other one.
It started with a fifteen minute taxi ride. Having landed at 14:00, I could not expect to catch the 14:30 ferry.
I of course needed to show my passport to buy the ticket (750 TWD, slightly less than 20 EUR then). The immigration control was undistinguishable from that in an airport, but the safety check was different because the weight and dimension constraints are much less severe, as exemplified here in the duty free shopping area.
The ship was a sister ship of this catamaran.
This is your last chance : do you want to enter Kinmen (Taiwan) on the left, or leave to Xiamen or Quanzhou, on the right? Note that in that latter case, the Taiwanese do not mention China, since both Taiwan and Mainland China keep the official pretense that there is only one China, and agree to disagree about minor details on the administration of this one and only China. Fuzhou province in the Mainland is therefore part of Taiwan’s concept of one China.
If it was an aircraft, it would be rated as a widebody with a total of 298 seats (in 2-4-2 layout on the lower deck, 3-3 on the upper deck).
It was free seating and I made the mistake of choosing the lower level where the windows were covered with salty deposits. I could not expect taking any pictures and I was too lazy to bother my neighbor, go upstairs, and possibly find no available seat and remain standing. The IFE was substandard, with a single screen in the background showing soppy karaoke videos at barely hearing level. I vaguely saw that it might be possible to buy food on board.
A glimpse of the cockpit – the door is not reinforced unlike those of aircraft because commandeering a ship of this size to ram it against a quay is not a valid terrorist option.
Arrival to the Mainland Chinese side, which had a typical airport configuration, with oversized facilities to deliver pseudo-visas on pseudo-passports for the Taiwanese who cannot receive real visas nor use their own passports, since when you are in Xiamen, Taiwan is considered to be part of China… sort of.
But I had a real visa on a real passport which received stamps seldom seen in a French passport: leaving Taiwan from Kinmen, and entering Mainland China through Dongdu, Xiamen’s harbor.
All lugged are X-rayed and then I was landside, and inquired at the information counter. No, there was no bus, I had to take a taxi which should cost around 40 RMB (around 5 EUR). But there were only illegal taxis, and I brushed them off when they demanded 50 RMB, and so did a Taiwanese businessman on his way to Shanghai. But then came a smarter illegal taxi driver : - I’ll take you to the airport for 30 RMB each ! - You have a deal ! On the way back, I took a legitimate taxi from the airport back to the harbor, and it cost me 33 RMB.
Taipei City - TSA
Kinmen - KNH
With the additional comfort of Seat 1A, the only possible comfort grade was a 10. There was nothing in terms of entertainement, but a window seat on the left side (the one providing a view on the island of Taiwan) was enough for me. The FAs were as good as usual and the coffee as bad as usual.
TSA is ideally accessible, being in the center of Taipei and served by a subway line. How many airlines would deliver you a boarding pass on the previous flight, scheduled to leave within ten minutes and actually in eighteen minutes ? Fluidity and services were top level.
The buses serving KNH are few in between and you would need to connect in Kinsheng, the main town to reach the harbor, but the taxis are plentiful and cheap. Fluidity is optimal in KNH : no bus transfer, no hassle.
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