As if all the running around airport terminals wasn’t enough to exercise my heart muscle on the way to Singapore, there was plenty of running to be had on the return leg. Note to readers: If you are looking to get some exercise done on your way to that dream vacation or after a long business meeting, do visit PEK terminal 3! The distance to each gate alternates between architectural marvel and training ground for marathon and iron man competitions.
Airline: Air China
Flight: CA 970
Equip: Boeing 767-300
Sector: SIN – PEK
Dep (Act): 12:15am (1:15am)
Arr (Act): 6:10am (7:25am)
With a midnight departure, we left our home around 7pm and headed for a nice Italian dinner by the Singapore river. At around 9:30pm we got on a cab to the airport and arrived at Terminal 1, the oldest terminal in Changi, at 10:00pm, with plenty of time to check in, have a drink, and then head to the boarding gate.
As we entered the terminal, I noticed on the FIDS that my flight was delayed by one hour due to late arrival of air craft. Argh! It seems my bad luck at getting delayed is not only limited to trains. I thought of using the Early Check In desk, located at one end of the terminal, but then I figured if I asked for an upgrade there they probably wouldn’t give it to me. Instead we had a cup of coffee at Dome Café and waited for 11:00pm to come around so I could check in.
At 11:00pm I went to the CA check in desk and was asked in which cabin I was traveling. I said Business, which was not true but I wanted to use the Star Gold check in desk, so the guy told me to go to the Sats Premium Check In desk, which I had used once before when traveling on Qantas. To be honest, the Sats Premium Check In desk is in theory a nice idea, as there is an area to sit down while you wait to be checked in. The downside is that the agents are not specific to any airline (they serve BA, QF, TG, and CA among others), so they’re usually a bit ignorant when it comes to status privileges, etc.
I was check in by a less-than-enthusiastic agent. I asked him if the flight was full, and he said yes, so I asked if I could get an upgrade. Since I had done this before on a CA flight to CTU, I figured it might work again. Unfortunately this followed:
Agent: “Are you going to pay to get upgraded?”
Coal: No, but if it’s full in Y, I figured you might want to give me an upgrade since I am Star Gold
Agent: “It’s full but not overbooked, so I can’t do it”
Coal: “Is there any way you could check with CA or your supervisor if this is possible? I just want the bigger seat in order to sleep. I don’t care about the meal”
Agent: “If you want something you have to pay for it, we don’t give out free stuff”
Coal: “OK, I understand. I’ve gotten free upgrades before on CA, so I thought I would give it a try. Can you then please give me a seat closer to the front?”
Agent: “No, I have already printed your boarding pass.”
Coal: “Would it be too much to ask to check for a seat closer to the front and print it again”
Agent: :: sigh :: “Here is the boarding pass I already printed for you”
Coal: “Can you check my bags through to PVG and give me a boarding pass for my connecting flight?”
Agent: “No, because it is on a different airline.”
Coal: “Erm, no, it isn’t, I’m connecting to another Air China flight. I know I have to clear customs first, but you could save me time by tagging it to PVG and by giving me a boarding pass, especially with the delay out of SIN.”
Agent: “I can’t. Computer says no.”
Coal: “Argh” ::walks away::
I have been denied free upgrades many times, but at least the agents have been polite about it. Never have I had someone being so rude and criticizing me for trying to get a freebie. Hardly the attitude of someone working in a Premium Check In desk.
After this my fiancée was quite tired, so we went to the taxi stand, said our goodbyes, and put her in a taxi on the way home. I headed back to immigration and then to the Sats Premium Lounge.
(Construction at T1. Reminds me of what MIA has been like over the last… 10 – 20 years?)
(T1 duty free shops)
(Entrance to Sats Premium Lounge)
I spent about an hour at the lounge, during which I had a couple of beers and made some phone calls to the US. At about 12:30am I headed to the gate to board the flight.
When I got to the gate I asked the agent if it was possible to get an upgrade, since the flight was full. She said OK, let me see what I can do. As she started typing something on the computer, her supervisor asked her what she was doing. She explained she was trying to get me upgraded to C, and then the supervisor said “No way!”, gave me a cross look, and handed me the boarding pass stub. Damn!
Boarding started a few minutes later. I was surprised that First, Business, and Star Gold were called first, as usually for CA flights they just open the gate and let the mob make their way through the jetway.
(Our a/c to PEK)
As I expected, this was an older 763 with absolutely no IFE (not even overhead screens!). The cabin looked quite old, although I was surprised that the seats looked pretty wide. Luckily I had an aisle seat, as for flights longer than 3 hours I like to get up and stretch my legs.
Boarding was generally quick and we pushed back at about 1:15am, one hour late. I was quite tired at this point, so I can’t remember very well which runway we used for departure.
(CA 763 Y cabin)
(A closer look at the seats)
As soon as we were airborne, I put on my Bose QC15 and dozed off pretty quickly. Before I fell asleep I noticed the F/A’s were doing the meal service. I think it would have been a better idea to skip a meal at 1:15am and rather serve breakfast before landing into PEK. By the way, not even drinks were offered before landing in PEK.
As I said, I dozed off and woke up while we were somewhere in the middle of China, as the turbulence was very strong. The rest of the flight into PEK was quite bumpy. That, and the fact that the seat was very uncomfortable made it impossible to get any shut eye.
I guess it must have been the bad weather that delayed us, because we landed in Beijing at 7:25am, a full 1 hour and 15 mins late. As on my flight from PVG to HKG, I got up from my seat as soon as I could (admittedly it was even before we came to a full stop) and rushed to the door of the aircraft. My original plan had been to try to get on the 7:30am flight to PVG so I could make it a bit earlier to the office, but of course that wasn’t going to work out anymore. At least I thought if I ran I might be able to make it to the flight. We parked at the international E gates of Terminal 3, which I believe is the largest terminal building in the world. It certainly feels so. I ran, and ran, and ran. Then I ran more. Then I walked to catch my breath, and then I ran again to the immigration counters. There was a SU flight from Moscow and a S7 flight from Novosibirsk which had just arrived, so the lines were a bit long for immigration. I went to the “Special Lane” (whatever that means) and explained to the immigration officer that I was a resident of China and that I was late to catch my connecting flight. She was nice enough to stamp my passport and let me go. I ran downstairs to catch the connecting train between the E gates and the C gates, where baggage claim is. Unfortunately it took 5mins for the train to arrive, which in this situation was too long! Once we got to the C gates I ran again towards the baggage claim area. I arrived there at about 7:35am, but unfortunately the first bag didn’t come out until about 7:50am. Clearly I had missed my flight.
Airline: Air China
Flight (Act): CA 1883 (CA 1501)
Equip (Act): Airbus A320 (Airbus A330-300)
Sector (Act): PEK – PVG (PEK – SHA)
Dep (Act): 8:00am (8:35am)
Arr (Act): 10:05am (10:45am)
I went to the Air China transfer desk, where there was an obvious disregard for the difference between the Economy and First / Star Gold lanes. Either way, after two other customers I got to the agent’s desk. I explained I had a late arrival from SIN (luckily I retained my boarding pass) and told him I would take the next available flight to PVG. He told me the next flight would be at 1:30pm. I don’t know if he meant the next flight with seats or just the next flight, which would be weird as there are flights nearly every 30mins between the two cities. I panicked and asked him if he could book me to SHA, which would work out better for me since SHA is so much closer to the city than PVG. He said there was a flight at 8:30am and he booked me on that one. I asked for an upgrade again, and he seemed reluctant to look into it (not to mention he looked like he had just rolled out of bed and gone to work without a shower – not quite what you expect of the person manning the First Class desk). In the end he said that an upgrade was not possible because the flight wasn’t full. Then I asked for an aisle seat and he said that wasn’t possible because the flight was full. Sigh. I didn’t have the strength nor patience to argue, so I just took my ticket and headed to the security check.
At some point between taking my laptop out of my luggage and going through the metal detector my mind thought that my flight was boarding at 8:30am and departing at 9:00am. So being 8:05am I slowly strolled towards the Air China First / Business / Star Gold lounge. This lounge is OK. There are some soft drinks, coffee, and cookies and muffins. But it surprises me that PEK being CA’s hub they don’t have better food offerings. I can’t remember what the lounge is like at the E gates, which would be the international lounge. I used it once when taking SQ PEK – SIN, but I can’t remember anymore.
(CA First / Business / Star Gold lounge)
As I went into the lounge, the agent told me that my flight was boarding and she advised me against going into the lounge. I said it would be OK as I just wanted a coffee and a muffin. Then it hit me! It was 8:11am and boarding for my flight would be closed in 9mins. I rushed out of the lounge, nearly jumping down the escalator, and was madly looking for which direction gate C37 was. Well, if you’re familiar with PEK then you know C37, by Murphy’s law, is right at one of the pointy ends of the terminal! Argh! So I ran, and ran, and ran. And then I ran even faster because I could not afford to miss this flight as I had to be in the office that day. Finally I saw some people making their way down the escalator to C37 so I knew I would be OK. Still, I was the last one to board, which normally never happens!
(Last pax to board CA 1501 to SHA)
As I got to my seat I realized that 44F was actually the center seat in the middle section. Argh! Oh well, it was only a 2hr flight. Air China has a very odd way to number their seats. The seats on the right hand side go all the way to L, e.g. 52L, which is a bit odd.
(A333 interior. Much better than the 763!)
At least this plane’s interior was much better than the one on the 763. I keep wondering why CA sends their old metal to Singapore (and elsewhere) and keeps the brand new A330s flying mostly domestically.
The captain, who sounded American or Canadian, came on the PA to announce we would soon push back. This was all done in English and was not translated by the F/A to Chinese.
Off we went to SHA. We had some breakfast, which were a small omelet and a croissant. I didn’t take any more pics of the flight as at this point I was quite tired and dozed off until we arrived in SHA.
The conclusion is that I have learned my lesson and will in the future book non-stop flights to Singapore. As of now I have just booked SQ in June, so stay tuned for that one. I hope you enjoyed both parts and please do leave a comment!