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 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 ) there YOU ARE HERE 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
As soon as you had opened this FR, you had discovered a three day gap in my schedule, and you know that there is not much to see in Urumqi, apart from its interesting Xinjiang Museum. I hardly dare admit that I went to Turpan by bus. A real Chinese bus that travelers of Western packages will never see (it does not stop them from claiming that they have “done China”), with XL sized vomit buckets in the aisle, of intensive use when going through mountains (not this time), and with a driver capable of the wildest maneuvers on Urumqi’s expressways.
The real Chinese rules of the road can be summarized in five words : the heaviest is always right. A heavy Chinese truck can carry cars two abreast, for instance.
This does not explain why I committed the anti-FR crime of going from Urumqi to Turpan by bus, rather than by plane, since you know like me that there is a brand new airport in Turpan, which I saw from the expressway:
The problem is that you do not only need an airport, but also a flight, and despite intensive search of the Chinese cyberspace, I did not find any. This airport has been inaugurated, but they apparently do not quite know what to do with it, since Urumqi – Turpan needs less than 250 km on an expressway.
Why go to Turpan, then? There are many reasons (an oasis, painted grottoes, ruins in the desert and not in the desert), but there is one which tops them all. “Tops”, maybe not, actually, since the Turpan Depression is the lowest area in China. At 151 meter below sea level, Lake Aiding is one of the lowest on earth.
OK, it is only a puddle compared to the Dead Sea, but it was then closer to my home. For ruins amateurs, there is Jiaohe, which is best not visited in summer.
Because Turpan is not only the lowest point in China, but also the hottest, with an unofficial 49.6°C record. It was already searing hot in June.
The little I found about Turpan Airport on the net included summer restrictions, because hot air does not help keeping planes aloft.
This introduction on a ghost airport is meant to pad this FR, on a known aircraft, a known airline, a known aircraft, a known airport, above a desert because this is all they have there, to an oasis because you want to have water in your hotel. The only peculiarity is that we are leaving Xinjiang to enter neighboring Gansu, but you can hardly tell the difference. To sum it all, I’ll have a tough job being up to my usual length standards.
One day, there will be many visitors in Dunhuang, but for the time being, there are few flights. From URC, it is simple: there is a single daily flight, which continues to XIY (Xi'an), and flies back to URC via XIY in the afternoon. We therefore had no choice: wake up before dawn and a fast taxi ride to Terminal 3 where the line at check in moved quickly. When I took this picture afterwards, the line was gone.
There was a very long line at the security check of zone A, but we were fortunately boarding in zone C.
Going to the other end of the terminal
And there, zero waiting at the security check of zone C which has no objection to the legitimacy of my boarding pass.
You must remove your shoes, but the airport managers were kind enough to install an authentic Uyghur carpet.
The windows are not very clean, and plane spotting on the way after the security control is difficult.
Furthermore, this terminal is only used by CZ.
Well not quite only: there are a few Xiamen Airlines flights here and there in the schedule, but not in this display, because Xiamen Airlines is a subsidiary of CZ.
Anyway, CZ 757s are quite repetitive.
The entrance of the CZ (and Skyteam) lounge. I did not try to bluff my way in.
Another CZ 757, without the reactor lids.
Nobody imagines that a father could travel with an infant, or that he may want to have a separate area.
A general view of the terminal; it is quite ordinary, but well lit and has many seats.
Room 26 is in fact at the lower level, which announces a transfer by bus. Its aesthetics are quite ordinary, and it has enough seats.
A small cafeteria
And a bookstore, of course 100% in Chinese
Trilingual (Mandarin / English / Uyghur) boarding announcement of Flight CZ6895, three quarters of an hour before ETD ! It is actually completely premature: the staff is far from being ready .
It is even more of a caricature for the flight to Kuerle, also listed as « Boarding », even though there are neither passengers nor airport staff.
Meanwhile, I snap this 757, the only aircraft visible from that room. I have never seen as many 757s as during this vacation.
Eventually, an employee announces the real boarding, using a microphone and a belt amplifier like those used by tour guides in China. She is alone there, but try to imagine five tour guides doing the same presentation each shifted a few minutes to five different groups in a 1,000 square foot room of a historical building: this too is China, and you have to experience it to realize how exhausting visiting can sometime be there.
Again the same 757, this time from the PAXbus
One more tourist visit of URC, because CZ’s E-190, when they are not pier side, are parked as far as possible from Terminal 3. Let us start with this CZ 737
Another CZ 757 (I really know them, now)
Two CZ E-190s
Tianjin Airlines Embraers
A Shanghai Airlines 738
A Hainan Airlines 738
Tianjin Airlines E-190
Again another Hainan Airlines738
The Tianjin Airlines E-190
The livery of that China Eastern A320 looked rather bland by comparison.
A rarity: a Xinhua Airlines738
Even more unusual: a Hainan Airlines 738 with a Lenovo ad
This Chang’An Airlines 738 is another choice morsel. Chang’An was the name of Xi’an, at the time it was the imperial capital in China. This is an essential piece of information for historians, less so for plane addicts considering the size of the airline.
And last, not least, the masterpiece of that day’s plane spotting: this 727 of Ariana, the Afghan flag carrier. You can imagine that I shot at it machine-gun like (shooting at planes machine-gun like is very Afghan), because I may never have a chance to visit the hub of the airline.
What is more, this very plane made history when it was hijacked on 6 February 2000, as it operated Flight FG805 KBL-MZR. Refueled at each stop, it flew KBL-TAS-AKX-SVO-STN, where 89 of the 166 persons on board took the opportunity to ask for political asylum. During the trial, it was revealed that some had actually planned it that way with the hijackers.
I have no notion why this plane was in URC, actually.
And we eventually reach these half dozen CZ E-190s
The first one is entirely equipped with lids protecting from the sand, an essential precaution on an airport lying a few kilometers from the desert.
Our E-190 will be this one
Not this one in this alignment of aircraft!
Take-off of the China Eastern A320…
… and wheels up
A view from the stairs
As usual in China, the cabin has two rows in 1+2, and the rest is in 2+2 layout. And as usual with CZ, row 46 does not mean that there are 45 rows in front of us (which would be difficult in an E-190) : economy starts at row 30 in all CZ aircraft.
The aircraft is not full : for mass centering reasons, the last five rows are empty, which allow several passengers like me to go to the window on the other side.
The essentials of a Flight Report: the safety card, again this unusual Uyghur – Chinese - English trilingual model.
The seat pitch: I have the impression that it is no different from Mandarin Airlines’ E-190s.
… and the winglet. I make savings here by showing both left and right winglets on the same picture, but better warn you, you are going to be force fed winglets by dozens in this FR.
A minibus brings late passengers
Note the decoration to the glory of CZ’s A380s.
And we have another tourist visit of URC, because the runway threshold is on the other extremity of the airport, not very far from the boarding gate, actually.
Again the Ariana 727
A view of Terminal 1
… and Terminals 2 and 3
Again the parked Tianjin Airlines Embraers
Take-off before the CZ 737
North of Urumqi, the plain is cultivated
A future expressway interchange
A reservoir to water all this
But quickly, we are back again over what makes the essential of the surface of Xinjiang : the desert.
A short left winglet pause to make up time
I am not quite sure, but I believe that these are oil industry facilities – the main industry in Xinjiang.
On the right of the aircraft, there is a winglet too, but also snowy mountains.
Eternal snow with a winglet
…without a winglet…
… and the desert on the lower slopes.
Distribution of the meal: the same bread than on the URC-KSG flight, but only tea (hot or cold) or water.
Right side winglet with a window …
…and without a window. There were a few clouds above the desert.
… which does not stop this Japanese tourist to look attentively …
… and shooting with application. There is a market for a Japanese version of Flight Report. Note the securing of her hat to the collar of her shirt.
The flight attendant is looking at the landscape too, but that does not imply any insufficiency in his service: as soon as I approached, there has been a quick visual dialogue which meant something like: “do you need anything?” “I only want to take pictures of the landscape” “Please do”
A small town in the desert. Any volunteers to teach foreign languages there?
This looks like a stream, but it is completely dry.
Another winglet pause.
And more graphic tests in the desert
On the left, it is similar, with a less favorable lighting.
Sun on the wing, a classic view.
We are getting close to the Dunhuang oasis
This is the limit of the desert
The route of the aircraft is somewhat strange, for it will fly beyond Dunhuang, then turn around 180°, and fly alongside the airport in the other direction and turn around again 180° to align at last on the runway. A little like in LHR, only that the airspace is here even less crowded that space on land.
This stream is usually dry
The desert in the background
This is not a river, but the desert that you can see in front of a mountain range.
Did I forget to mention that this aircraft is equipped with winglets?
Dunhuang airport, just in front of the wing.
We fly beyond it…
There it is, after enhancing the image.
Another river which seldom has water
The sand dunes next to the oasis. They are very photogenic at sunrise and sunset, so much so that the time was posted at our hotel.
Another turn. By now, you should be disoriented. To make matters simple, in this FR, the desert is on the south side (the north side too, but the oasis is too large to see it in that direction).
The plane lines up on the runway that you can see on the right.
The construction site of the future terminal of the airport. It is gigantic, compared to the present traffic.
This is not the airport’s terminal, but the end station of the brand new high speed line Dunhuang – Lanzhou – Xi'an. It is within walking distance of the airport, but 12 km from town.
Taxiing up the runway and arrivl next to the present terminal
..seen here from the stairs
In front of the terminal, it is desert only
I did not take a panoramic picture, but you can imagine the landscape on 180°. This is another airport which did not cost much in land purchase.
Unloading of the luggage, which are few, so delivery is fast
And a pre-arranged, a comfortable van of the hotel is waiting for us at the exit, for us two only, with a chauffeur and an another staff. This is the closest thing to travelling first class… while flying in economy.
Why go to this remote place in the desert? This curious lake in the sand dunes is not enough of a good reason.
The reason is the grottoes of Mogao, which are one of the most spectacular sets of painted Buddhist grottoes in China. This picture was taken in a secondary site, the Western Thousand Buddhas grottoes, where visitors are very few.
Ürümqi - URC
Dunhuang - DNH
A plane on time, a 2+2 layout where there are enough empty seats to be able to shift from side to side at will to look at the landscape, deserve the maximum comfort grade. The flight attendants were also slightly above Chinese average. The meal was less than usual, but nevertheless decent for a one hour flight.
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