This is the fourth segment of my 2019 January trip to China. Since I decided to fly back to the U.S. via Taipei, I figured I might as well spend a few days there to visit before heading back. I had never been to Taipei before and was looking forward to the visit. Luckily, there is a direct flight from Hefei to Taipei. I booked this a little over 2 weeks in advance on Ctrip.com for ¥1,480 (~$216 USD). Interestingly, this flight is offered as a codeshare with China Airlines. If you book it through them, however, it would cost almost ¥2,000 more.
2019 January Trip
Lufthansa, ORD-FRA, 747-8I, First, United Polaris Lounge (Click Here) Lufthansa, FRA-PEK, 747-400, Business, Lufthansa First Class Terminal (Click Here) Air China, PEK-HFE, 737-8 MAX (Click Here) China Eastern, HFE-TPE, A320, Economy (You are here.) EVA Airways, TPE-ORD, 777-300ER, Business, EVA The Infinity Lounge (Click Here)
Hefei Xinqiao International Airport
I arrived at the airport a little past 7:00am - early if I was in the US, but I am departing on a quasi-international flight (let's avoid the politics here) and there's nothing like TSA Pre. This turns out to be a good decision. I ask at the ticket counter what the price for an upgrade would be (I've heard you sometimes can get a nice price for an upgrade on China Eastern) - it's ¥3,000 (~$444), no thanks. I think it was only about ¥3,400 to purchase business class outright originally. Maybe because it was bought on Ctrip…
The lines were short for check-in, but it still took a solid 20 minutes for me to get checked in. I asked the agent if I could select my seat, preferably a window seat. She asked if an exit row seat was okay - more than okay thank you! Then I headed over to the "International/Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan Departure" area. That's one way of dodging the political issue.
No pictures allowed in the security area, but the lines took forever, around 25 minutes. There was a single security screener and everyone got wanded down afterwards regardless. Normally I love smaller airports, but not so much so in China. Right after the security area were a few duty free shops.
Here's my gate: A18.
This part of the terminal appeared to be completely separate from the rest of the airport - it has own few restaurants, shops, and lounges. I do not have Priority Pass so I did not have access to any of the lounges.
The China Eastern A320 waiting to take me to Taiwan for the first time!
Boarding began a minute early at 8:09am. There were only two priority passengers before economy boarding started. Amazingly, not a single gate lice to be found. Bravo my fellow passengers!
China Eastern's A320s have 2 rows of business class seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration, followed by economy seats arranged in a 3-3 configuration. My seat was 38L, the starboard window seat in the 8th row of economy.
China Eastern A320 Business Class
I did a double take when I saw my row. I haven't flown in an exit row (except on an UA CRJ-200, and those seats are the same as every other seat) in a while. I quickly looked around to compare with other seats and realized I had way more leg room. There are two consecutive rows of exit row seats on this A320 and I was in the first row. There are pluses and minuses to both. For one, the first row has noticeably more leg room than the second row (which appeared to be about the same as normal economy seats).
However, the first row seats cannot recline while the second row can. This is to prevent any possible obstruction of the exit rows themselves. I was also told by a flight attendant I could place any bags underneath the seat in front of me to avoid any possible obstruction. This was not a problem given there was plenty of overhead space to go around this time. It might be a problem on a full flight, however.
Overall, the plane seemed about 80%-85% full, but for whatever reason, only other passenger was in my row - in 38A on the other side of the plane. I got an exit row to myself!
Compared to other seats, the window seat in the exit row does not have a normal armrest alongside the fuselage. Instead, you can rest you arms on the bottom handle for the emergency door.
The windows closed from the bottom up.
Like the Air China 737 I flew a little over a week ago, there was a volume adjustment and hole for headphones so you can listen in on the drop-down IFE screens.
During the boarding process the flight attendants were all smiles and directed each passenger to their seat. One flight attendant was station in my row to help customers. As soon as I sat down, she turned and gave me a quick overview of the emergency exit procedures. I noticed that as passengers walked by her - many passengers would hand her their boarding pass and she would point out their seat and exactly how many rows they had left to go. Nice, though unnecessary service.
Boarding was complete at 8:23am. We pushed back at 8:30am and they started the safety video around this time. Like on Air China, there is no individualized IFEs or streaming - just a video monitor that flipped down every 3 rows or so.
There was a little bit of plane watching to do on our way to the runway. I apologize ahead of time for the poor quality of the photos - it was quite smoggy outside and the window itself was rather dirty.
A WestAir A320
I don't recognize this livery.
MU9631 (a Boeing 737-800) arriving from Taiyuan
GX Airlines A320
MU5077 (an Airbus A320), scheduled to depart later for Kunming
Not nearly enough of an AvGeek to know what this:
We sat for a while on the tarmac and finally took off at 8:48am.
View from the window:
There was quite a bit of turbulence at the beginning of the flight. The purser came on to let us know there was nothing to worry about and that service would be starting as soon as the turbulence was over. It did, service began at 9:18 (30 minutes after takeoff).
A total of four attendants operated two carts, providing meal and beverage service at the same time. There was no option for the meal. The hot (in reality, lukewarm) portion contained a small roll, a vegetable baozi, a tiny sausage. There were some cookies and fruit. Overall, rather bland, but the cookies weren't bad. I had hot tea with the meal.
At the time I remember thinking, whoa this is pretty nice for a 2 hour regional flight! Then I immediately remembered a conversation I had with someone else who flies a lot of domestic Chinese routes. He had just flown a regional route in economy on ANA and was telling me that the food served was way better than the food served on Chinese carriers. Yet here I was thinking it was pretty nice. Oh how U.S. carriers have conditioned us to have low expectations!
Flight attendants came around to collect trays around 20 minutes later and simultaneously offering refills.
It was around 10:11am that the captain gave us the announcement we are descending. Interestingly, the IFE screenns, which were stored and not active the entire flight, came down at this time to provide some flight information. We were about 37 minutes out of Taipei according to it.
Descending towards Taipei Taoyuan
We landed at 10:57am and quickly taxied to a remote stand area where we sat for a solid 15 minutes - maybe we were waiting for a gate to become available? No announcements were made regarding why we were just sitting there. I was annoyed at first at the wait, but at least I got to see some planes taxi by…
First there was a Thai Lion Air Boeing 737 Max 9.
Then there was the Hello Kitty Jet! I'm glad I was by myself in my row so no one could see me frantically scrambling for my phone to take pictures.
Ahhh, even if I could not get to fly on a Hello Kitty jet this trip, I could at least see one.
A line of China Airlines planes, including a few 747-400Fs.
A Cathay Pacific 747-8F
A Cathay Pacific 777-300
We finally parked at a gate at 11:18am. Then it was a long walk through security. I had the misfortune of arriving right behind a massive Japanese school tour group and an even larger tour group from mainland China. Overall, security took about 30 or minutes. From there, it was a short walk through baggage claim to the outside and I was on a taxi to my hotel before Noon.
Bonus : Click here displayhide
Din Tai Fung
I went to a Din Tai Fung branch before I even checked into my hotel. Very good, and the wait was only 20 minutes. I had 10 normal xiaolongbaozi, 5 Crab roe xiaolongbaozi, 8 spicy shrimp won tons, and 5 chocolate xiaolongbaozi. Service was very efficient and polite.
Here's the menu:
There's also a window area where you can watch the chefs in action.
Hefei - HFE
Taipei - TPE
It was an uneventful flight and I was happy to score an empty exit row to myself. Since this was a quasi-international flight, the prices were a bit more expensive than normal regional Chinese flights, but this is the only direct flight from Hefei to Taipei that leaves in the morning (I wanted to maximize my time in Taipei). I think Far Eastern Air Transport also operates a direct flight (they are the only other), but that is an evening departure.
Cabin & Seat: The exit row seats had quite a lot of legroom and it's even better when you have the row to yourself. Otherwise, China Eastern's A320 look to have fairly standard economy seats for a regional plane.
Service: The flight attendants were fairly polished and always smiling. Service was efficient - which is all I ask for on regional flights.
Meal & Catering: A hot meal is definitely welcome even if it is only lukewarm. Is it up to the regional standards of Japanese airlines? No, but I'd take it over a US Big 3 2-hour flight any day (even in First, because I don't care that much about alcohol on a 2-hour flight).
Bottom Line: I think I have to reevaluate my previous thoughts about Chinese airlines for short-haul flights after these two trips. Providing that they are on-time, I think it's a good-enough product with usually very good prices.
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