Review of Air China flight Taipei Beijing in Economy

Airline Air China
Flight CA186
Class Economy
Seat 59C
Aircraft Airbus A330-300
Flight time 03:25
Take-off 25 May 12, 13:00
Arrival at 25 May 12, 16:25
CA   #85 out of 133 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 169 reviews
marathon
By GOLD 4797
Published on 22nd October 2013
Warning: this FR is LOOONG, and so are the ones of the ensuing flights. Make sure that you have ample time to read it. For this series of FRs, be prepared to download close to a thousand pictures.

The reason I moved a lot in China in 2011 was that my resident visa was still valid then, because it had been renewed for one year just before I was assigned to Taipei, and that allowed me to come and go in China at will.

It is over now, even more so that due to an obscure diplomatic row, French bashing has been in at Chinese government level in the past few years. When a French citizen living in the not so Chinese island of Taiwan wants a Chinese visa, he is looking for trouble, since there is no diplomatic office in Taiwan. The nearest one is in Hong Kong: you either have to go there in person and be stuck there for one week without your passport (anybody can have a Chinese visa with 24 hour delay, EXCEPT French citizens), or give it to a reputable travel agency, which will send it to Hong-Kong and handle the red tape.

I went therefore to Lion Travel, one of Taiwan's largest travel agencies, which has an outlet in Taipei's central railway station.

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Ms Wang spoke or wrote no English, which made our many communications by voice, phone, fax and e-mail much more fun, but no problem, Lion Travel could get me a Chinese visa. I only needed to provide my passport, a plane reservation (impossible to take the Kinmen-Xiamen ferry: I was wise to use it while my resident visa was valid), a rather simple application form, two ID pictures, a name card and the photocopy of my Taiwanese resident ID. The latter is required to make it impossible for visitors to obtain a Chinese visa in Taiwan: you can obtain one in Hong Kong without being a local resident, but not in Taiwan. The fee was 2700 TWD, more or less the same as in Paris where applications are now handled by a front agency since the Chinese consulate was unable to handle the constant rise of applications.

This seemed too easy; I was probably the first French customer at that Lion Travel agency who wanted to go to China in the past few years (there are few French citizens in Taiwan: around 1,500 names in the quasi-consular office in Taipei, including spouses and children who are not all French citizens). I was not really surprised to receive a call from Ms Wang a couple days later, requesting additional documentation. When you have the wrong passport in the wrong place, the Chinese really make it difficult, for I had to provide:

- A statement of my employer that I had a job in Taiwan
- A statement of my employer that I would be on vacation from that date to that date
- A proof of medical insurance coverage valid for China from that date to that date. No, a worldwide yearly coverage document was not acceptable: it had to state explicitly valid in China from that date to that date. No, it could not be in French, only English or Chinese were acceptable.
- The hotel reservations for the entire duration of the trip
- The transportation reservation for the entire trip (which were unescapable, since I wanted an open-jaw ticket entering in Beijing and leaving from Shanghai)
- The entire program of my trip, listing day by day the tourist sites that I would visit and the hotel name and address

(In Paris, the Chinese consulate only requires the equivalent of items 1, 3 and 4)

With regards to hotel reservations, I used a world class hotel chain which allows booking and cancelling on the internet for free, and I bought a full price plane ticket from Beijing to Shanghai that could be cancelled with zero penalties. And for the list of tourist sites, I copied the list of major sites in my China tour book.

The last document was sent by e-mail on April 2nd, and the visa was issued the next day in Hong-Kong, but the Chinese dutifully kept my passport an extra week, and I recovered it only on 12 April. Three weeks without my passport: I had to be sure not to need to go abroad during that time, by I had my Chinese resident card for domestic flights in the mean time.

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A good point for Lion Travel, because I heard that many Taiwanese travel agencies refuse to handle Chinese visa applications for French citizens: it is too much trouble.

Seems dissuasive to you? My Chinese friend, with her thin sad intellectual's smile told me: This is similar to what they require from us, Chinese citizens, for delivering us a European Schengen visa, and the same for Japan where you went last week without a visa. I envy you a lot. It's a wrong world.

Once I had that Chinese visa, I only needed to cancel all these reservations, for if I did have a good idea of my route, it was not set that precisely two months in advance.

My route was this:

Taipei – Beijing (A333 - Air China) The Great Wall from the sky in French there YOU ARE HERE
Beijing – Urumqi (B752 - China Southern) Beijing by night in French here in English there
Urumqi – Kashgar (E190 - China Southern) Invalid boarding pass in French here in English there
Hotan – Urumqi (B738 - Air China) Crossing the Taklamakan in French here in English there
Urumqi – Dunhuang (E190 - China Southern) Winglet story in the desert in French ) here in English there
Dunhuang – Urumqi (E190 - China Southern) Two days after the storm in French there in English there
Urumqi – Shanghai (A320 - Juneyao Airlines) Single aisle across China in French here in English there
Shanghai – Taipei (A343 - Air China) 675 km in a 343 in French there in English there

OK, these are ordinary Chinese airlines, but destinations are definitely out of the way, for Xinjiang is China's Far West, literally so since KHG is the westernmost airport in China. Xinjiang actually means New Border. For readers not familiar with China's geography, this is the map of that trip.

photo map%2520gcmap
(Thanks to gcmap.com)

This FR and the next ones were posted after I had left China, because Flight Report is one of many websites which are blocked by the Great Firewall, a.k.a the Chinese internet censorship. Internet is not the only area where the censorship is active there. When I arrived in Beijing, I met a Chinese friend. Not a girlfriend, a great friend who was had asked me to please bring her a few books that she could not procure in Beijing. Small wonder, because they discussed sexuality matters in rather explicit terms, and you see the only cover which could be decently shown here.

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China is a country where there is a shop for adult articles like this one in each neighborhood, poor or rich, like here on hundred meters from my hotel in Beijing,

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but where sex education manuals appeared for the first time in some high schools in 2010 and where books on women's pleasure are banned, especially if they have been written by a Taiwanese. But in Chinese slang, comrade means gay. The censorship cannot block the webpages which contain this word, because that would block nearly all the websites on the Chinese Communist Party's history! This is an example of how the ordinary Chinese counter the censorship.

Anyway, that 25 May, I boarded as usual the bus at Taipei's central station; I only had time to put my luggage in the hold and the bus left.

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In the end of the morning, the traffic was fluid and I reached Terminal 2 without any problem.

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And there I saw that my flight was posted as leaving at 13:55. I thought I had seen 13:00 on my ticket?

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Better that than a mistake the other way round, and I go to CA's flights check-in counters, where the line is longish. An employee calls the last passengers to Hangzhou to process them in priority.

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Only when I neared the counters did I discover that I had made no mistake: the delay was due to air traffic control (the scourge of flying in China).

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The punctuality rating of CA was going to suffer, but that gave me additional time for plane spotting, since half an hour was dramatically insufficient for that. I informed my friend that I was going to be late.

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I had not pre-checkd-in, and there was no window seat left. The friendly check in staff told me that seating was in 2-4-2 layout and proposes a seat in a pair: OK then for seat 59C.

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For a change from previous FRs, I went upstairs to the restaurants area which overlook the airside area.

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A children area that I did not know of ? that was worth discovering!

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It is really minimal, but I do not know other airports which have on landside.

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After this view of the general flights display, where the only delayed flight is mine, highlighted in red, the safety check, rather quick because it was not required to take my laptop out, and the detector gantry does not beep as the passengers before me go through.

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The Taiwanese immigration! This is part of the pleasure of flying from here.

For those who need to fill a form (I never saw anybody who did, actually), there is a writing stand with near-sighted glasses. I'll be fair: this self serve glasses are very common in Mainland China too.

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What is not common are the immigration officers. At the counter next to mine, the policeman jokes as he removes the passport of a Taiwanese from its cover, where there is also a show ticket stub: Sorry, this is not the correct boarding pass!.

My policewoman first sees my boarding pass: You really want to go there? with a smile which means isn't is better here?. Then after having scanned my passport and resident's ID, she gives a closer look at the latter, where my company's name appears in full:

-Oh, you work in this field of activity!
-Yes I do this and that in Taipei.

… and her smile enlarges to XXL size, because I never met somebody who was dissatisfied with the finality of my work. She hands me both back with her nice smile:

- Your boarding gate is on the right. Have a nice trip!

Isn't life good in Taiwan?

I was nevertheless in Taiwan for slightly less than two hours, and shifted to the second phase of that FR: a guided visit of TPE + plane spotting, trying not to duplicate my previous FR out of TPE.

First, these self-serve internet access stations

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… to take the regulatory corporate picture, which will be the last one of the vacation.

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A flower decoration above escalators

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No, these are not colored stones, but pouffes in a reading area

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.. where one can start looking at planes pier-side here, on the Eva Air side of the airport

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There is a non negligible number of tobacco and alcohol shops.

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All display prominently signs like this one, like in all such shops in Taiwan:

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Smoking is dangerous to your lungs, it is prohibited to sell tobacco or alcohol to minors, and, a Taiwanese peculiarity, it is prohibited to sell tobacco to pregnant women.

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A One World CX 333, shot as I could through tinted window panes.

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A FAT MD-82, which like the other regional Taiwanese airlines operates flights to Mainland China.

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A giant decoration made up of electronic boards

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This shop of kids' toys was already in my previous FR

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On the other hand, this is new on FR: an e-library, with self-use electronic tablets

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For those who are not interested in reading, there is a view on the tarmac.

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Braking of a CX 777ER CX which just landed.

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In the foreground, a Palau Airways 757. Palau is a micro state in the Pacific which may not mean much to you, except if you live in the area, but it is one of the keys of the diplomatic survival of Taiwan in all international bodies. China which clamors that Taiwan belongs to its territory clearly states to all countries: it us us or them. Nearly all countries in the world have diplomatic ties with Mainland China, but not with Taiwan, except some twenty countries which made the reverse choice, like Palau.

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These countries are all small and sometimes downright tiny, mostly penniless, but they hold a precious card that Taiwan does not have: a seat at the UN and in all international bodies. The Taiwanese are extremely pragmatic in this regard: they took their checkbook to secure a blocking minority. A vote at the UN costs around thirty million US dollars of yearly economic aid, and with twenty three countries, Taiwan is statistically sure to have permanently a friendly country at the Security Council and elsewhere which will defend its vital interests.

In this realpolitik, Kiribati, an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, is a unique case which has diplomatic relationships with both Taiwan and Mainland China: the former gives good money, and the latter has a vital need for the Kiribati spatial tracking station. This is the only country in the world which can and does dictate its own conditions to Mainland China.

Checkbook diplomacy is a permanent job, because some countries do not hesitate to raise the stakes, as recalled in this FR Lilongwe - Nairobi (in French) by East African whose complete works all FR-addict should have read.

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Arrival of a Jetstar A319 from KIX.



TG A330 TG, impossible to frame correctly

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A line up of CI aircraft CI

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Some cargo planes faraway, including a CI 747 and this DHL aircraft from Hong-Kong

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A GE A321 de GE arriving from China

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Touchdown of a BR 744

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The end of the terminal is spotter-unfriendly: the boarding room is at the same level as the disembarkation corridor which creates a double layer of window panes.

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From the mezzanine, one layer of windows is removed, but the choice of viewing angles is limited.

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Return in the main part of the terminal with this jumble of aircraft, and the CX One World pushing back in the background.

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The Taiwanese false twins: China Airlines 744 …

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… and Eva Air 744

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CI A343

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Air Busan A321

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Where from in Taiwan is this canoe, used here to display candies?

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One bonus point to those who answered Orchid Island. If I have not translated my TTT-KYD and KYD-TTT flight reports, the others have an excuse.

How many readers noticed that my flight is at gate C2? The next gate is of course C3, dedicated to which flights? There is already advertising for them at the next gate!

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Yeees!, these are Eva Air's Hello Kitty flights!

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Isn't is cute?

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This is the bird

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Some more views in disorder

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Arrival of a Hainan Airlines738

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It's time to reach my boarding gate: this is the 333 which will bring me to PEK, next to three Eva Air aircraft.

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The same, from the lower level

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An Asiana Airlines 767 passes by

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Again the Hello Kitty A330 nearby, from the boarding room…

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… and from my seat

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The aircraft while boarding. This 333 has a regional configuration: mostly in economy, no individual IFE.

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The seat pitch is a bit limited and the seats do not incline

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Both sides of the safety information card

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Push back together with a BR 744

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We taxi along Terminal 2 to reach runway 5R

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At the end of the terminal, an Air Macau aircraft

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The traditional and undecorated winglet, once aloft

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Since I have an aisle seat, I can take this opportunity to visit the economy cabin which is 100% full. The passengers are quite noisy: these are groups of Mainland Chinese who speak Mandarin with a thick Beijing accent.

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The first Y cabin

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In between, commonplace toilets

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In the rear of the aircraft, two squatting flight attendants were eating a quick meal before distributing that of the passengers. Before that, there had been a distribution of drinks (water, fruit juice, coca, tea, coffee). The coffee was bad: this was Taiwanese catering.

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This time the choice of hot meal is between chicken-rice (my choice) and noodles-curry (my neighbor on the left).

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The chicken was very tender, but I did not digest the sauce well. Another quick passage for drinks. The flight attendants were friendly, but did not smile much. Taking this picture did give the flight attendant a good laugh, though (who would take the picture of a 10g package of butter to trace its weight?). I found that the second cup of coffee tasted better.

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Another view of the winglet whose decoration did not improve, but the landscape did improve.

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For meanwhile, the captain who had apologized for the delay in excellent English had apologized again for an additional delay: in order to avoid bad weather, the plane would take a longer route, and increase its delay even further.

What he did not tell was that this approach from the west, unusual for an aircraft coming from the south, was going to give to the lucky passengers having window seats on the left a unique view of the Great Wall, the best that I have ever had in three years of travels in China (it can also be seen when arriving from Europe, but further away from Beijing, and therefore from a higher altitude).

I did not remove many of my pictures, taken by extending my arm behind the back of my Chinese neighbor, and slightly enhanced to improve the contrast and saturation of the colors

This is the mountainous landscape surrounding Beijing about one hundred kilometers away:

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Look at the center of the picture below

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It's the white line on the mountain ridges

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Now that you have located it, let's zoom back



Exactly five minutes from the first to the last picture above: specialist of the speed of a 333 in descent towards an airport can estimate the length of Great Wall which unrolled under my eyes. The best things always have an end: the plane eventually reaches the plain of Beijing.

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And we also park away from the terminal. This is not bad news, since a passenger bus provides picture opportunities while the luggage is unloaded

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A suspiciously high EK tail

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We leave the aircraft towards these waiting buses. The cleaning crew is in the foreground

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An A321 parked nearby

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And our 333

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I do not know what these Chinese were waiting for, but I was the last one to board the first bus, which gave a decent view through the windows.

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Our 333, from the other side

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And a number of pier side CA planes. A 777:

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I have a doubt on this one: 321?

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738 without winglets

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PEK is one of the few airports whose jetbridges have not been colonized by HSBC: ICBC (International Construction Bank of China) rules here.

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A QR aircraft

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The oversize EK tail was of course that of a 388

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The last aircraft seen on the rather short way to the immigration: a CA 332 in flowery livery

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Since I was last to board the bus, I was first to leave it, and therefore among the first to reach immigration which was completely empty of passengers

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The policewoman had a nice smile"/>photo P1150171a

And a driverless shuttle to go from the international section of T3 to the national section, where are luggage is delivered.

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Track changes are somewhat particular when the trains are on rubber tires.

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The priority luggage (with VIP labels) arrives first, but mine which has no priority arrives quite quickly thereafter.

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And a taxi towards Beijing, with a warning of a traffic jam at the level of Wuyuan Bridge.

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It does slow down in the vicinity of the interchange with the 5th ring road.

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It is even really clogged here, but not for long.

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On the other hand, the surroundings of the Dongzhimen Holiday Inn Express are hopelessly jammed: the driver explained me that there is a soccer match at 7:30 pm at the Workers'"/>photo P1150196a

Thank you for having the patience to read me up to here! "/>
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Verdict

Air China

7.4/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew7.5
Entertainment/wifi6.0
Meal/catering8.0

Taipei - TPE

9.0/10
Efficiency10.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness10.0

Beijing - PEK

8.8/10
Efficiency10.0
Access7.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness10.0

Conclusion

Two hours late for a 2h50 flight, it may be typically Chinese, but it is really bad. I would have been a lot more severe if this had not given me time for plane potting in TPE, and if the unusual route had not provided me with that unexpected view of the Great Wall.
Long legged passengers might have objected to the seat pitch, but it was OK for me.

Information on the route Taipei (TPE) Beijing (PEK)

The contributors of Flight-Report published 10 reviews of 4 airlines on the route Taipei (TPE) → Beijing (PEK).


Useful

The airline with the best average rating is China Airlines with 8.2/10.

The average flight time is 3 hours and 14 minutes.

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