Hello everybody and welcome to my second instalment in my series of reports regarding the narrowbody aircraft flights I took from Korea to the UK in summer 2017. In the first report I detail why I took this trip and reveal my total itinerary. In this report I’ll take you on an early morning flight on China Southern from Beijing to Xi’an, located 581 miles to the SW of China’s capital. I hope you enjoy the report! FYI for numerous reasons, this is the shortest and least photo-heavy report of the whole trip so for those firm believers of the statement ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ apologies in advance.
Part one to this trip can be found here: Part 1, Daegu-Beijing, Jeju Air Boeing 737-800
I will start this report with a harsh statement (apologies in advance). China Southern is without a doubt my least favourite airline in the world. Up until this point, I had taken nine flights with the airline and at the end of almost every single journey I vowed to never take a flight with the airline again.
Now, this certainly isn’t due to the ATC delays that those who frequent the busy skies of China will be used to. At the end of the day, these are near unavoidable no matter what airline you are flying on. Whilst at times their service may seem a little cold, my problem lies here not. Their catering usually doesn’t seem to be too bad with reasonable meals served on most of my flights with the airline. Finally, my problem is not with their aircraft or cabins. Yes, at times they may seem a little dated and worn, I spent over eleven hours in one of their PTV-less Airbus A330s earlier this year. However their newer aircraft certainly aren’t too bad.
The economy interior of one of their newer Airbus A330-200s - not too bad at all
A reasonable meal served to me between Beijing and Guangzhou
To get to the point, my problem lies with their online services and their response to delays.
Earlier this year, days before I was scheduled to fly a fairly straight forward Seoul-Beijing-Urumqi-Dubai route earlier this year I received a phone call from their call centre in China informing me that the Beijing-Urumqi leg of the journey had been rescheduled and asked me whether this was okay. Despite them not actually telling me of the new departure time of this flight, I just agreed to this, only to find minutes later when I received my new itinerary that they had rescheduled the Beijing-Urumqi leg for the following day whilst my Seoul-Beijing and Urumqi-Dubai flights remained on their original days. I finally rectified this after several calls to China, however in the end ATC delays meant that I was rerouted, arriving around 24 hours late and had ended up stuck in Beijing Airport for thirteen hours. I was offered nothing by the airline during my long stay in the airport, nor did I receive anything in the way of compensation or an apology from the airline when they finally replied to my complaint. I should also mention that I have found it virtually impossible to do anything on their website bar book tickets.
So, what led me to booking flights with the airline I can’t stand? I arrived in Beijing from Daegu at 0110 and I departed Xi’an bound for Almaty at 1715. Knowing full well of the severe delays one can face when flying in China I wanted to depart as early as possible to lessen the chances of missing my flight onwards to Kazakhstan. Plus, the less time I had to spend overnight landside in Beijing’s terminal 2, the better in my opinion. At first there were two flights that stood out, one departing at 0735 and operated by Air China and an 0840 service operated by China Eastern. The prices of the two were both a little high for such a short flight, in fact these were set to be the most expensive flights per mile for my entire trip. After glancing at the on-time performance of the latter, I quickly opted for the former. Just as I was about to book, the first flight of the day, a China Southern service flashed up on my screen with a slightly cheaper price tag as a result of a 71% discount. With only two seats left I quickly booked tickets through ChinaTravelDepot which I found quick and easy to use and received a confirmation email a short while later. As it turned out, it was a good job I did not book to fly on the China Eastern flight as this ended up departing over seven hours late and arrived at 1717, two minutes after my SCAT flight to Kazakhstan was scheduled to depart!
A NIGHT IN BEIJING AIRPORT
My first stop after passing through customs was the pay lounge where I had hoped to book a room for three hours to catch up on some much needed sleep. This is located in the basement opposite the fast food restaurants and, as the name suggests features a lounge and private rooms for rest and relaxation. According to the Beijing Airport website these rooms can be booked online although I found the link provided to do this to be dead. Upon arriving at the pay lounge I banged on the counter in an attempt to wake up the receptionist, this worked but I was met with the drowsy reply of “no rooms”. I then decided to head back upstairs to departures, here I was greeted by full benches and so I took a stroll to the slightly less busy terminal 3. To my surprise I found another pay lounge here, whilst all the rooms were full, the attendant was willing to sell me some space in the lounge for 50 yuan. I took the offer and made my way through to a large dark room with a leaking ceiling. Fortunately, there were a couple of seats left and copying the other passengers I proceeded to make a small bed out of these. At around 0310 I drifted off and was awoke an hour later by someone else’s alarm and loud talking as they left the lounge. Both landside and airside the wifi nor the machines that enable those without a Chinese phone number to use wifi worked.
Looking out at a heavily delayed China Eastern A321
The early morning departures
At 0420 I headed back to the domestic check in area of terminal two, by which time the airport had awoken and the main check in hall was a hive of activity although no staff were checking people in until 0450. To my great surprise, the check in machines seemed to work absolutely fine and I was thus able to select a seat before the check in desks opened. As I was travelling with a suitcase I joined the main queue for the China Southern check-in desks and watched in anger as numerous passengers sneaked in at the front of the queue. The check in desks opened at 0445 and after around ten minutes of waiting I reached the front of the queue and had my bag checked in. After this I headed to security, the queues for which were equally as chaotic as check in and waited here for another ten minutes before getting airside.
The China Southern domestic check in area taken soon after I arrived in Beijing
Airside, the airport was significantly less chaotic and worn looking than the landside area and is a pretty reasonable place to wait for your flight. The airport seemed to be relatively clean as did the toilets and there are ample shops and restaurants that were open at that time of the morning. However, still with no wifi, I had little to do but take a seat and watch the constant stream of departing and arriving aircraft at the world’s second busiest airport. With the passing of time, more and more passengers came to fill the terminal and as expected the area around our gate became busier. Outside the terminal the usual selection of China Eastern, China Southern and Xiamen Airlines Airbus and Boeings of all sizes were preparing to head to destinations across China. Unfortunately, the view of our Airbus A321 was poor from our gate although it was possible to tell we would be flying on a non-sharkletted jet in the standard China Southern livery.
A large China Eastern 77W waiting for its short hop to Shanghai
A Yunnan bound 738
At 0620, boarding was called only in Mandarin which was understandable considering there were only a couple of other foreigners on the flight, both of whom appeared to be able to converse in Chinese. After queuing for a few minutes, I headed down the largely viewless jetway towards our awaiting jet. As with when I had disembarked the previous night, a door was left unguarded and open on the jetway which I deem to be a slight security/safety risk. At the final bend stood the flight’s thin but tall security guard sporting a buzz-cut, carefully watching all the passengers as they boarded the aircraft perhaps trying to figure out which ones would be trouble once we were up in the air. Our aircraft for the flight would be Hamburg built ten year old Airbus A321, B-6317 delivered new to the airline in August 2007 making it the airline’s 21st A321 out of a total of 94 examples of the type (as of August 2017). The aircraft had suffered one notable incident in its life when upon nearing Shenzhen after a flight from Beijing in 2012, the crew detected a low tyre pressure indication resulting in the aircraft holding to burn off fuel before making a safe landing in Shenzhen. In the week prior to my flight the aircraft had flown a total of 25 flights travelling over 21000 miles visiting Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Kunming, Nanchong, Seoul Gimpo, Shanghai Hongqiao, Shenzhen and Wuhan.
After waiting for a while, the aircraft’s main cabin door came into view as did the large Skyteam symbol, a nice reminder that I could collect a few miles on my KE Skypass card on this short flight. The jetway was positioned nicely so that on the left-hand side, the Airbus’ modern cockpit could be seen along with the two pilots responsible for taking us to Xi’an. As I stepped aboard I was greeted in English as I made my way to my seat. I first passed through the three rows of the comfortable looking 2-2 business class cabin, before being hit by the vivid light blue of the economy premium cabin, after passing these four rows of seats with generous legroom and the galley I arrived at the main economy class cabin. One thing I find impressive is that no matter how small the aircraft China Southern always offer three classes onboard their aircraft, even on their smallest Embraer 190s! After waiting for a while in the row, I reached my seat which was covered in the usual China Southern dark blue fabric. Despite being a full service airline, an advert was plastered onto the tray table and imprinted onto the head rest cover, something which tends to be commonplace in China. I always find the contents of the seat pockets on China Southern aircraft to be a bit of a mystery, sometimes containing the airline’s magazine, sometimes a CAAC magazine, sometimes a random magazine such as Men’s Health. Today I lost the CZ magazine roulette and my seat pocket only contained a sick bag, safety card and a pair of old-style stethoscope headphones. The cabin appeared to be clean and there were only a few noticeable scratches on the seat.
No mistaking the alliance
The view from my economy aisle seat
All passengers had managed to board by 0640 and the main cabin door was shut well ahead of schedule, although passengers continues to jump up and down in an attempt to squeeze luggage into the already packed overhead lockers. Five minutes later, the purser conducted their welcome announcement in Mandarin and English and China Southern’s long safety video played. On a side note, many people have been complaining at the length of the British Airways safety video however I’m sure this one is longer. A few minutes later we pushed back leaving Beijing’s terminal two behind and started our engines. Our taxi to the nearby 36L took us past a bunch of Hainan heavies including the Airbus A330, Boeing 767 and a sleek Boeing 787 which was currently being boarded using the airstairs. Lucky passengers! After holding for a few minutes whilst a Xiamen 738 took off and a Hainan 738 landed. After this we taxied onto the runway and our engines were promptly spooled up. We powered down the runway eventually gently rotating upwards into the skies above Beijing. During the climb I could not keep my eyes open much longer and I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up just before the cart reached me and I was given the usual Chinese domestic offering of a box containing picked vegetables, a yogurt pot and a bread roll as well as a main meal of beef noodles. On top of this I was also given a foil dish containing two steamed buns and a piece of pumpkin. The meal was certainly edible and was also plentiful keeping me pleasantly full until that afternoon. After eating I once again fell asleep. At 0840 I was awoken by what I thought to be a rough bit of turbulence, however I then turned left to see a United 787 and a Finnair A330. After a long taxi we pulled into stand 303 next to a Ruili Airlines Boeing 737. After disembarkation it was a long walk to the luggage carousels. After waiting for ten minutes my bag showed up and I wearily carried my tired self off to the Xian Airport Regent Hotel.
Thanks for the ride!
Waiting for bags to appear
Despite the chaotic scenes on the ground in Beijing before heading through security, this flight ended up to be one of the better flights I have experienced with China Southern. The flight departed on time, the aircraft appeared to be in a reasonable state and the amount of food provided on the short flight was good.
OTHER TRIP REPORTS
Please note, the photos of many reports seem to no longer be working however these photos can be viewed on my blog Forever in Y
Korea DomesticAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju
Short HaulCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Daegu-BeijingJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiLucky Air Airbus A320 Lijiang-KunmingSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketTibet Airlines Airbus A320 Kunming-LijiangUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingKorean Air Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.