The airline with the best average rating is Hainan Airlines with 8.0/10.
The average flight time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.More information
This flight was part of a trip to Shanghai during the holidays to visit family back in 2018. After checking around, we eventually settled on CA via PEK. The fact that J fares get booked into A fare class (200%) on the domestic legs only sweetens the mileage haul with CA. In the current market, it's crazy to look back at how cheap fares were when the TPAC market was diluted by Chinese carriers flooding LAX. I've never had a bad experience on CA, as long as you go in with an open mind, they are just as functional as any other carrier. At that time, CA had 3x daily service LAX-PEK (1x B789 and 2x B77W). Fares into SHA/PVG were the same, so we booked into SHA since it is closer and easier to access. At the time of booking, our PEK-SHA segment was supposed to be a A359 in order to try their new hard product, but got swapped to a B789, which is not uncommon for CA. I can't assemble a complete enough report on the other segments, so I'll only do one flight from this series, the 2 hour shuttle service between Shanghai and Beijing.
I'll start off with some views along the Huangpu River during our cold rainy visit.
Despite the negative image most people have of CA, they do have a very nice perk for J passengers, namely their VIP ground services in China. As part of your ticket, you are entitled to a free transfer to/from the airport in China. Since we had 4 suitcases in total, I e-mailed CA the day before to ask them to send a van since there was no way a sedan could accommodate us and it was absurd for us to travel in separate cars. They responded positively and informed us the pick-up would occur at 7:30am due to the heavy traffic on a weekday morning in the city. The morning of departure the driver called at 7:15am announcing his arrival and quickly had us loaded and on our way to the airport.
Arriving at SHA on a cold, rainy morning.
Inside, we were quickly checked-in and handed our boarding passes. After clearing security, we headed up to the lounge, which sits right above the main concourse overlooking the gates. The lounge was a complete ghost town at this hour so we had the run of the place.
The staff was setting up the buffets when we showed up, so there was plenty of hot breakfast items available. My offering of congee and bao.
After eating some breakfast, we still had an hour to kill before boarding so we roamed through the quiet terminal. Spotting is not too easy in this weather, but there was plenty of diversity in domestic operations: HO B789, NS B738, and XM B738 in ST livery.
Our plane, B-2085, was at the gate, getting its belly loaded with cargo. This plane is now one of many of the CA long-haul fleet taken out of service.
Air China, CA 1832
Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER [B-2085, delivered July 2011]
Departure: 10:55 (ATD: 11:04)
Arrival: 13:15 (ATA: 13:05)
Flight Time: 2:01
We were departing from Gate 46 and boarding started promptly at 10:10 and was an orderly affair.
My boarding pass for this flight.
At the end of the jet bridge was literature, so I grabbed a China Daily for the crossword. Boarding, we were welcomed by a couple of FAs, one of which walked us to our seats since we were in the 2nd row of J. The forward F cabin is not sold on domestic legs and looked to house some crew deadheading.
My seat for this flight (taken on arrival at PEK). Pre-placed on the seat were pillow and blanket. Water bottles and headphones were pre-placed in the storage compartment above your shoulder, and slippers were pre-placed on the footwell. The FA that accompanied us to our row even unpackaged the slippers and put them on Mrs. NGO85's feet as we settled in. PDBs were offered as either water or orange juice and were distributed along with a package of nuts.
At the time of flying, these cabins were the same as what UA offered so are more than fine for a 2 hour flight. Obviously on the TPAC legs, they are not competitive in the current market so we will see what CA decides to do with its fleet if/when they start resuming normal TPAC service.
Over shoulder compartment that had the water bottle and headphones pre-placed.
The center console where almost everything is housed: AC adaptors, tray table, seat controls, IFE remote, and literature compartment.
No menus were offered, the orders were taken verbally (typical for domestic flights) as beef/potato or chicken/noodle dishes. We both opted for the beef option. A picture of the cabin as boarding completed.
Pushing back at SHA, we have a CA B789 and CZ B77W next door.
It's a short taxi out and we quickly align onto Runway 36L.
And away we go…
We quickly break through the cloud layer on a rainy day so there is not much to see other than our GE90s..
Meal service started with linens being laid followed by hot oshibori.
Drink service is done while lunch orders are taken. A cup of pu'er from their extensive tea menu.
I ordered the beef dish, which was served on a tray as a complete meal. I will note that CA now offers real salt and paper shakers with the meal service.
I was battling the blue mood lighting for decent photos, so here is hopefully a clearer shot of the tray. Clockwise, we have the main, fruit plate, appetizer, dessert, and butter.
The starter was a duck terrine, which tasted fine. It's clear CA is making an effort to improve its catering in terms of both quality and presentation.
The main was not as well presented, but it was a braised beef with potatoes and succotash. I was surprised how Western they went with this dish, a very "homely" offering.
Warm breads were offered, so we just took the garlic bread.
The dessert was a chocolate cake. Again, CA is making an effort with its catering with some drastically improved presentation.
Lunch was completed with an oshibori and tea/coffee service, another cup of pu'er for me.
The clouds start to clear up as we approach PEK.
The FAs were quite busy in the cabin and offered another round of drinks prior to arrival. I took a cup of coffee.
We were early arriving into PEK so we had to do some detours east of the city before being cleared to land.
Every time I have been to Beijing in the winter, it has been beautiful blue skies. We approached PEK from the southeast.
Final descent into PEK.
Luckily for us, there was no remote stand. We pulled into a gate alongside a sea of *A tails.
Deplaning was quick through 2L and we were dumped into PEK on our short 2 hour layover, which was just enough time to clear immigration and get back to the gates for US-bound departures.
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CA is in a tough spot, they will never be able to really compete with their Northern Asian rivals, but when compared to the US carriers (formerly) operating into China, they aren't bad. Theirs crews can be all over the place in terms of quality and English ability, but this one was quite good. For a 2-hour domestic flight, I thought the catering was very strong.
- Much more accessible than PVG, but only useful if traveling domestically or to a neighboring capital.
- Efficient and clean, but lacks a lot of amenities and not somewhere you want to kill a lot of time.
- Cabins are outdated for today's standard, but a flat bed seat on a 2-hour flight would be the envy of anywhere else in the world outside of Asia.
- Catering was good with much improved presentation and the service from our crew was very good.
- We had a good CA crew on this flight that went out of their way for passengers and were highly attentive, but obviously lack English ability and needed a couple of tries to confirm requests (I'm not holding this against them since this is a domestic flight).
- The IFE has a decent selection (not going to be an issue on a short flight), but no WiFi offered.
- What can I say, I've never had a smooth transit in this airport when departing China and immigration wait times can be brutal.