China Eastern Airlines A320-200 Economy Class04/10/2012
BACKGROUND: Shanghai-based China Eastern (MU), set up in 1988, has grown into one of the country’s major aviation players with listings in Shanghai, Hong Kong and the New York security stock exchanges. In July this year, Shanghai Airlines (FM) became its subsidiary, which created a combined fleet of 306 aircraft and more than 600 routes.
CHECK IN: To my relief, I arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport to a short passenger queue for the MU flight 502 departing for Shanghai at 1115. Before I knew it I was negotiating with the counter staff for an aisle seat in the front section of the Economy Class cabin. This midday flight was full, the young man informed me, but suggested I take advantage of an ongoing promotion and pay HK$1,000 (US$129) to upgrade to Business Class. For a two-hour and 40-minute flight? Not really, I said. With all aisle seats occupied, I opted for a window seat and was assigned 4A.
As the magazine had to be put to bed the night before, I chose to leave at 1115, otherwise I would have gone on the 8.30am time slot as I like to spend some down time exploring a destination before I conduct official business. MU has evening schedules: 1735, 1835, 1930 and 1945. There are other flights during the day but code shared with FM.
BOARDING: In the new HKIA set up, passports are shown to security personnel to verify boarding passes through scanners – unlike the previous ocular inspection – followed by an x-ray examination of carry ons and immigration clearance (previously immigration preceded bag checks). Being a Hongkong resident, I used the e-channel where a swipe of my ID card and thumbprint impression got me through.
Our Airbus A320 was parked along Gate 24, which was located in the main concourse, not too long a walk from the retail arcade and HSBC ATM where I had to withdraw some cash for my five-day Shanghai trip to attend the ATP Masters 1000 tournament. Since the time on my watch showed 1020, and boarding time was 1035, I walked leisurely to the gate where I found no queues had yet formed.
Knowing how slow Hong Kong airport’s free WI-FI service can be to get started, I debated whether or not to turn on my laptop to clear emails, but I did so anyway. At about the same time I logged on is when they started calling people to come forward. I answered some correspondence and let the crowd clear before I packed up and headed for the aircraft.
THE SEAT: This A320 is in a two-class configuration of Business and Economy. Business was arranged in two rows of four in a 2-2 layout (A-C-D-F) and Economy was laid out in 25 rows of 3-3 (A-B-C and D-E-F)
A gentleman was already occupying the aisle seat on my row and had to stand up to let me through. The seat between us was empty just until push off when a lady, who came from checking on her companions at the back, showed up to claim it. My laptop and tote bag fitted nicely under the seat in front of me as there was no IFE box to pose any obstruction.
We pushed off at exactly 1125, but by that time I had already drifted off, drained from production work the night before.
THE FLIGHT: I woke up when the aircraft was in cruising mode to a flight attendant making an announcement in Mandarin, followed by English, but the sound system was so muffled and that I gave up trying to decipher what she was attempting to say. Her heavily accented English spiel also made it difficult to understand anything. I gave up
Wanting to relax my back, I pushed the recline button on my left armrest but managed to push the seat only very slightly. It refused to go any further so I tried to make myself as comfortable as possible. (The seat upholstery is quite tired looking, even in Business Class, so perhaps some major refurbishment is in order.)
By this time, the cabin crew were coming around to serve lunch so I was asked to put my seat upright, which was a pain but I had no choice. There was a choice of fish with noodles or beef with rice – I went for the beef, which I rued instantly. I could have been chewing pencil erasers which it tasted and felt like. Surprising, I consumed the meal. Perhaps, having skipped breakfast, I was ravenous.
Forty minutes before landing time, more unintelligible announcements were made.
ARRIVAL: We descended to a hazy Pudong area. It was obviously a peak period when we arrived some minutes after 1.30pm because buses came to ferry us to the main terminal.
Improved immigration procedures at Pudong International Airport have resulted in more counters open, unlike during many of my past visits. I was surprised though to be queried for the first time in my over 20 years of visiting China about the purpose of my stay. A English friend, who came also came in from Hongkong but on the evening flight, was also questioned.
Although we were both let through eventually, the unexpected interrogation was a bit unsettling.
VERDICT: The cabin crew were quick to serve and very friendly. A pity the product doesn’t complement their efforts.
PRICE: A current online rate for a return Hongkong-Shanghai in Economy Class starts from US$496.
Margie T Logarta