Review of China Southern flight Beijing Ürümqi in Economy

Airline China Southern
Flight CZ6918
Class Economy
Seat 39K
Aircraft Boeing 757-200
Flight time 04:15
Take-off 26 May 12, 19:40
Arrival at 26 May 12, 23:55
CZ   #41 out of 132 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 121 reviews
marathon
By GOLD 4165
Published on 23rd October 2013
Marathon in the Chinese Far-West, Book 2

Taipei – Beijing (A333 - Air China) The Great Wall from the sky in French here in English there
Beijing – Urumqi (B752 - China Southern) Beijing by night in French there YOU ARE HERE
Urumqi – Kashgar (E190 - China Southern) Invalid boarding pass in French there 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

This FR begins in the subway which links the terminus of Dongzhimen, at the north-east corner of the Second Ring Road (the first ring road is purely symbolic, being only the avenues bordering the Forbidden City) with the airport

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It first serves Terminal 3 below, which was opened in 2007, before backtracking to go around the runways and reach Terminal 2, where the international flights are that of Skyteam and of a ramshackle of other airlines like Air Koryo, the North Korean airline.

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A China Eastern A330 seen from the subway

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I arrived at the international arrivals of Terminal 2, where the entire team of Marathon Travel International (i.e. me) welcomes all its customers (i.e. my wife) arriving on Flight AF382, which was nearly on time at 15:17.

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And then we go down to the Departure level, at the domestic end of the terminal. These are four of the five displays of departing flights.

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We had all the more time to check in for the next flight that I had received the following message a week earlier:

Regarding the flight you reserved going from Beijing to Wulumuqi, the airline has informed us that the original flight CZ6910, leaving at 19:25 has been cancelled and replaced with flight CZ6918, leaving at 19:40, arriving at 23:55, May 26. Please let us know if this change is acceptable to you.

We did not have much choice, did we? Once I had checked that AF was aware of the change, and had already changed her CDG-PEK-URC reservation on that new domestic flight, the only option was to kill four hours, first landside.

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But then I discovered a CZ lounge for checking in Elite FB PAX, and yes, our FB silver cards made us eligible to wait more comfortably until we could check in no earlier than à ETD-2h.

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Checking in was an interesting stage which showed that the Chinese airlines still have a long way to go until reaching international standards. My wife and her luggage had been checked in CDG all the way to URC, which in Chinese parlance meant going through the Chinese immigration, recover here luggage which despite its URC tag was not going to change plane by itself, go through customs, and check in at the domestic counters, where I recovered that French luggage tag from the waste paper basket. And receive a boarding pass, not available in CDG.

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A foreign PAX in J, on going in Y on CZ, meeting a foreign PAX in Y who came from nowhere was definitely a novelty to the check in staff who spoke only Mandarin (it is a lot more fun to use Mandarin for this explanation, a lengthy one since this situation was definitely not in her book). But once we had confirmed that my wife did not mind to forfeit her right to the Premium Economy seating (that was not accessible to me), we did receive our boarding passes.

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After the usual security checks, I reconnoitered the area while my wife waited on a seat. An automaton delivering a free wifi access code: you must scan your passport, because the police wants to know who tries to surf on evil websites, like Flight Report which is blocked in China.

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There are here and there corridors which create double glass walls, but altogether, a plane spotting addict can find his usual drug, even though Terminal 2's domestic section is used mainly by CZ and MU.

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At the end of the terminal, an essential children playground.
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Jetbridges are sponsored by a bank from Guangzhou (Canton) here.

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A Xiamen Airlines aircraft passes by

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And another pier side

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CZ A330



Arrival of a CZ whale

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Another kids' playground at the other end of the terminal

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Next stage was interesting, because my wife is supposed to have access to a CZ lounge (since she just landed from a Skyteam in J and continues on a domestic Skyteam flight), but not I, and my wife's Silver status is not enough for her to invite me in. I try to bluff it, and show our to PEK-URC BPs, two FB Silver membership cards and an AF CDG-PEK BP in J. The first lounge where I tried was actually first class only (it was hard to tell, from the outside), but after some discussion, the staff of the other lounge lets us in. Of course, they could not imagine the situation where a foreigner on a domestic flight would join his wife landing from abroad, and I did not bother to clarify that. Of course too, the staff spoke Mandarin only: that was part of the trip. Good luck to connecting foreign passengers on the biggest airline of the biggest country in the world, if they only speak English.

CZ's lounge in PEK? In the Skyteam selection, it is decent – of course, do not try to compare it to more prestigious alliances in other countries. Quite quiet and comfortable.

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The choice of food is rather limited: the only hot meals are rice and noodles.

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If chopsticks are a problem for you, you will have to do with a spoon only: forks and knives are unknown here. There again, the hypothesis of foreign passengers in a domestic CZ lounge does not seem to be taken into consideration.

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Coffee (with milk, because black coffee is too exotic), tea of course, and two kinds of fruit juice. There are also fresh beer cans.

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What is often missing in other lounges is a play area for kids

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And for older kids, there is a good view on the tarmac, with Terminal 3 in the background behind a runway, which provides a good sample of the traffic.

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This is the international extremity of Terminal 3, and to the right the intermediate section which has never been used so far and collects dust since 2007. The domestic extremity is symmetrical, beyond the limit of the picture on the right.

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I gathered the aircraft by airline – overwhelmingly Chinese. Granted, this is no time for European and American flights, but where are the aircraft from other Asian countries ?

Let's start by China Eastern (MU)

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MU 737 behind a CZ tail

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Hainan Airlines (HU)

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Air China, in flower livery

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An American ! United Airlines (UA)

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He's flying home

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Xiamen Airlines in the distance

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And in the foreground, a PAXbus which stopped for a long time

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Shandong Airlines 737

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Two Hainan Airlines A330s

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And a 738

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Gulfstream G550, probably for Chinese high ranking officials, because private jets are extremely rare in China, due to extremely restrictive flight plan regulations.



In the distance, a somewhat blurry Air Macau aircraft

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Sichuan Airlines A320

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And an A321

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Landing of a Fedex MD11

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And last, China Southern (CZ), plentiful since it operates from Terminal 2.

A321s

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This is not the whale that I saw landing

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Pushback of an A330

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Arrival pier side of a CZ A330 CZ which will block my view.

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It does not really matter, because it is time to reach Gate 25D, which is in front of the CZ lounge. If you did not guess it form the view of that stern looking annex, Gates 25x serve the aircraft which are parked away from the terminal.

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Another kid playground on the way. These three children will be in our flight to Urumqi.

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Beyond this point, it is a rest area for airport staff. A bronze reading woman settled on this bench (the Chinese love life size statues in realistic poses in public places)

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We reach this wide hall with bus boarding gates on all sides.

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These are the flights boarded by bus

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A few dozen passengers gather at the gate at the theoretical boarding time, then disperse. Actual boarding eventually starts.

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This signs announces that the flight to Guangzhou is late due to the late arrival of the aircraft, but ours is late too.

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As usual, part of the boarding pas is torn off, but the staff gives to each passenger a non nominative plastic card which will be collected at the aircraft stairs. I never saw that anywhere else in China.

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The aircraft is this 757



Two rows of J class, in 2+2 layout, as always in China.

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The seat pitch before the arrival of the second passenger bus – the aircraft will be full.

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The cabin, still quite empty

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This flight will give me the most spectacular night view of Beijing that I ever saw. We reach the north-east of the fourth ring road.

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The lightly more shiny spot, close the reactor, is the Olympic Park, and we can see the cut corner of the second ring road which rune diagonally to the left…

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We are turning clockwise around the heart of Beijing, east of it here. The leftmost avenue is Chang'An Avenue, leading to a flood lit place, which is … ?

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We are now at the south –east corner of the fourth ring road, and the aircraft turns again, heading now due west.

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Again this flood lit square in the distance

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This square around which the plane has made a full half circle clockwise is of course Tian'Anmen Square, beyond which lies the Forbidden City.

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We are here due south of Tian'Anmen Square

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This is more difficult to recognize for those who do not know Beijing well: the lake of the Summer Palace, with the bridge which splits it in two in the foreground.

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A friendly gesture towards the two foreigners on board: a flight attendant brings us an English language newspaper. In China, we have the choice the China Daily (politically very correct) and the Global Times (a lot more xenophobic, although toned down compared to its hardline Chinese version). This issue machine guns the US on a visa problem of the Chinese language professors of the Confucius Institute (the Chinese cultural center aboard, part of China's soft power).

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The safety card

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According to the flight time, I guess this is Datong

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On a four hour flight in China, you can expect to have dinner, even we dealt a serious blow to the lounge's supplies. It does arrive, in the shape of a cardboard box and a a choice of two hot meals: fish+rice on the left and beef+noodles on the right.

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The same, unwrapped

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This is the time that I ever have fish on a Chinese aircraft: it is nondescript, with drenched bread crumbs, and the rice is badly overcooked. My wife is equally severe with regards to the beef. The rest is a small piece of bread, some salad, fruit salad and dried apple chips.

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And all that is guaranteed to be halal, because we are flying to Xinjiang, which is an autonomous province, or more accurately an autonomous territory with a Muslim majority.

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All that with mile coffee with sugar, which was not bad, but watered down (there was also fruit juice, tea, mineral water, as usual).
Lights out to allow the passengers to get some sleep, and a brutal switch on of the lights (there is no mood lighting on 757s) for a relaxation on the collective IFEs, as also usual on long domestic Chinese flights, like PEK-KMG.

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Arrival in Urumqi, where the tarmac is wet



All the signage is trilingual in the airport, like on the poster of a travel agency.

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The top line uses the Arabic alphabet, but that language is unrelated to Arabic: Uighur, spoken by the vast majority of the population is an Altaic language, related to Turkish and Mongolian.

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Note that there is Russian too, here

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We only need to recover the luggage now

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We waited forever, and only when the delivery was nearly over did I discover that our luggage bearing priority tags had been delivered on a specific chute where thay had been waiting for at least half an hour.

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Now we only need to take a taxi to reach our hotel at 1:30am. We are in Urumqi, the city the furthest way from any open sea: the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Bengal are both 2,250km away. It is also the hub of all transportation in Xinjiang, where there are no transverse flights, which means that we'"/>photo heuresXinjiang

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Verdict

China Southern

7.8/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew8.0
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Meal/catering7.0

BGS Premier Lounge - 2

7.2/10
Comfort7.0
Meal/catering7.0
Entertainment/wifi8.0
Services7.0

Beijing - PEK

7.8/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.0
Services6.0
Cleanliness8.0

Ürümqi - URC

8.0/10
Efficiency8.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

No matter if it was Beijing time or Xinjiang time, we reached our hotel horrendously late for the first night of our vacation, because our initial flight was cancelled and it was unclear that our luggage was delivered in a specific chute. The fact that check-in started only at ETD-2h was detrimental to our comfort.
The flight attendants were OK. The meal on board was below Chinese standard, but we had eaten at the lounge, and food on late evening flights are usually minimal in China.

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