This is the return leg of a triangle to Mainland China :
Taipei - Zhengzhou (738 - China Southern) : You were there Zhengzhou - Chengdu (733 - China Southern): then you were there Chengdu - Taipei (1321 - Air China) : and now you are here
Air China's in flight magazine is quite similar to that of any flag carrier company, with a few interesting differences. For instance, it is entirely in Chinese, which exemplifies the minimal share of international flights and foreign travelers in its traffic, even though it tries to convince readers of the reverse in its communication. The map of its international flights speaks for itself: zero flight to Africa, only one to Dubai for the Near and Middles East, a single Beijing – Madrid – Sao Paulo for South America. Not much.
Four routes are missing there, because it is politically (and actually legally) impossible to Air China to label any flight to Taiwan as being international: the second map shows (in English) its Comestic & Regional, Taiwan Routes. In Chinese, it is the Domestic and Two Shores Routes. Understand there the two shores of the Straits of Taiwan.
Flight CA417 is one of these Two Shores flights which multiplied when the China-Taiwan relationaship improved. But multiplying nearly nothing by three yields nearly nothing: one single daily flight is ridiculous between two cities having eight and two million inhabitants, respectively, especially if the former is one of the airline's hubs.
But Chinese citizens could not board these flights unless they were part of the group (the restriction has been lifted since, but the daily quota of individual visas to Taiwan is in turn ridiculously small), which reduces the demand. In the line to check in, there were a few European Union passport holders, using on their cellphone a language that I did not identify (the EU has grown so much recently!), and mostly groups of Chinese citizens holding the thin mauve booklet that serves as a passport when they visit Taiwan.
My neighbor on the plane was a group leader, possibly new on the job: she had as such three different travel documents (her dark red Chinese passport, her mauve travel document to Taiwan and her light blue multi entry Taiwanese permit), and for half an hour continusouly considered each in turn, obviously wondering which document number should be written in the Taiwanese immigration form, until she asked for a second one to the flight attendant.
Once checked in, there was zero waiting at the passport and security checks, and the international section of the terminal was quasi deserted.
The A321 had probably parked in the domestic section, before taxiing to the international section at gate A10 , and unloading a large quantity of freight. It was likely to be based in Chengdu's hub, from its Sichuan decoration, with the inevitable pandas and bamboos decorations.
Take-off half an hour late, dus to air traffic control: business as usual in China. Two unusual planes parked close to the end of the runway: an Air China Falcon 7X, probably for Chinese officials.
And a Jade cargo 747
The A321 had started operation in the end of 2008 and was in mint condition. Load ratio was about 80%. Two hours fifty minutes of flight time, following a route which is nowhere close to the great circle trajectory, because the Chinese air space is littered with military restricted air spaces. This gave time to have an interesting meal.
Air China saves on butter: the portion is 7 grams, versus to that on the China Southern flight CZ3024 from Taipei. Both are from the same provider in New Zealand, some 10,000 km away, but only the larger one had enough space to write it on the label. This faraway origin is a guarantee of the absence of melamine in the product.
You can't see it in the picture, but exceptionally, there was no choice, whereas on any short haul flight in China, you have the eternally cruel dilemma between chicken-rice and beef-noodles for the warm (no hot) dish. Another peculiarity is the absence of a plastic knife. It makes sense: the Chinese seem to have learnt that in Italy, you eat your spaghetti with a spoon and a fork. When they are tightly glued to each other due to excessive cooking and topped with morsels of beef and sauce, you need to improvise and stray away from the etiquette in Italy (or France, for that matter). I also suspect that the creator of the strange salad of corn + carrots + mango was more interested in matching colors than taste.
On the other hand, what you can see on the picture is the cup of coffee. BLACK coffee!! Do you realize the underlying cultural revolution, compared to the watered down milk coffee that I had for two years in domestic China flights? I did not go so far as to require good coffee, because you should not be too demanding. It was actually as awful as the instant coffee available in my hotel bedroom in Zhengzhou.
The plane landed at 17:30 in Taipei and parked pier side very quickly. Granted, I had no checked luggage, but 28 minutes later, I was leaving the airport in an express bus towards Taipei's central station.
Chengdu - CTU
Taipei - TPE
From the aeronautics point of view, it was a bland flight. But at the check-in (and the arrival too), you could see if you wanted to that all travelers are not equal. My Mainland Chinese could not board this flight for business purposes like I did. And now that my Chinese resident visa has expired, it has become difficult for me to board it.
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