This is my first trip report. Even though I despise trip reports without pics -- here is a trip report without pics, hehe. It's also really long - soz.
When I first began searching for flights to Australia for Christmas, Hainan had a great routing with several legs on 788/9s. Somehow I still had not flown on a Dreamliner so this was a dream come true, especially for just over AUD$1000 return!
However when I was ready to book that fare had disappeared and was replaced with boring but comfortable A333/2s and B738s, but the price was still several hundred dollars cheaper than the next (Qatar and Arkia via Cyprus and Doha) so I booked it.
Check-in at Ben Gurion Airport had a huge queue built up even though I was 3.5 hours early. I paid USD$80 for an exit row window seat (weirdly, returning from Australia the price was AUD$120 (about USD$100). Since my security sticker number got downgraded to a '3' I no longer have to go through the extra security screening so that was all dandy.
I charged my devices in the departure gate and ate a haloumi salad.
Aircraft for TLV-PEK was an A330-300. Boarding was on time from memory. The cabin was clean and very red. The passengers seemed to be mostly Chinese and Israeli tour groups, with a few people like me connecting to Australia. Load was maybe in the seventies %.
Service was overall good. The following things were true of almost all my Hainan flights over the next month:
- Food tasty but not amazing; big servings
- Amenity kits with socks, earplugs, eyemask etc really appreciated (if anyone knows how to open the toothpaste tube you deserve a Nobel Prize for Physics -- I used a toothpick once and the stem of a plastic rose the other time).
- Cabin crew hardworking but English skills fairly limited
- Very measly drink servings (like, less than half the cup)
- Chimes ring constantly, sometimes 5-6 in a row. I think it's pax who do it by accident. It was really annoying.
- Great legroom
- IFE is decent on the A333. They had the entire season 6 of GoT so I re-watched that.
- Phones are to be turned off at all times (I presumed this was law but then on PEK-TLV the captain turned the "no phone" light off and the crew did not enforce it, so who knows).
The guy next to me never got out his screen but watched two episodes of GoT on mine, which was very weird. Also two Chinese passengers had a huge argument two hours out of TLV. No idea what it was about. Breakfast was served two hours from Beijing. There's always an Asian and Western option.
By the time I got to Beijing I was really tired. My layover was six hours but Hainan use Terminals 1 and 2 which are very dumpy and lots of harsh, unnatural light. I also neglected to print out my itinerary before departing so I had to wait an hour to get my transit visa. I spent the layover playing Airlinesim. I only realised on the way back that they have a transit lounge in Terminal One. It was never mentioned to me.
Beijing-Xian was on a 737-800. The flight was chockers. They serve a decent meal. One of the crew was a European male. I found it weird that he was on a domestic leg when he apparently couldn't speak Mandarin.
X'ian airport is huge but the international section is still fairly small (can't wait to see it in 10 years). There was a huge queue for check-in for the Melbourne flight, which had been upgraded to an A333. There were no window seats left and so I got really grumpy but then went back and offered to pay for a window. They only accepted cash so had to go find an ATM.
I can barely remember this flight. When I arrived in Melbourne I was a complete zombie (and had another domestic leg on Jetstar to go). Fast forward four weeks...
A month later, check-in was completely empty when I arrived at MEL at 0630 for the 0900 flight to Changsha, which was operated by an A332. The flight had a good load though, almost entirely made up of tour groups, it seemed. On board the luggage compartments were overflowing with duty free, including typical Chinese buys like Tim Tams, baby formula, chips etc.
The A332 was an old jalopy, very worn down. The IFE was much more limited and (by that time I had left my headphones in a bakery) the sound quality was crappy. The seat was pretty hard too, but still good leg room and meals. However of the 4 toilets I used, 3 had no running water. And by the look of the signage on them, it had been that way for a long time. Pretty bad.
Landing in Changsha at dusk had fascinating scenery. The airport was large and clean. There seemed to be a lot of fashionable twenty-somethings around. After checking-in (I think by a China Southern agent, I was very tired and didn't realise til afterwards that I wasn't even at the right counter) I went airside and tried unsuccessfully to get the wifi working. I also got some free noodles because the shop wouldn't accept my card. There are hot & cold water stands everywhere for making noodles in all the airports I visited. Loved it. I also tried to pay for lounge access but they only accepted cash.
The flight was due to leave CSX at 2130 and arrive in PEK at 2350. My flight to TLV was at 0155. at around 2030 an automatic announcement said there was a delay but no new time was given. In fact, no new time would be given for the next two hours, no info from the gate agent. At some point I was excited to see a 788 pull up at our gate. Looked like I would be on my first ever Dreamliner flight. However it unloaded and sat empty.
Eventually we boarded at around 2245 so I knew my connection was probably a goner. It was great to be on a 788. Would be happy to fly long-haul with Hainan on one of these. However I was so tired I slept almost the entire way, in fact it was the first time I have ever slept up until the point of touchdown.
We disembarked at a remote gate and an agent had a sign with the TLV flight on it. All she could/would say was "take luggage!" so I got on the bus. There were two other pax, Israelis, in my situation. We were escorted by her to the luggage belt and it became clear she spoke no English and would communicate by a translation app (like most other Hainan staff). With the help of a bystander we worked out that we had been put on an El Al flight the following night and would be taken to a hotel.
The hotel is called Wansi. It is pretty basic but has a good view of a/c on final into PEK. The breakfast for me was very exotic as I have never been to China before.
From here things got very interesting but also so exhausting that I don't think I can relive them. Maybe just in dot points.
- El Al security took over an hour due to my previous visit to Iran (they were nice though)
- Ticket cancelled by Hainan but partly due to an error of my own, was booked onto the NEXT night's Hainan flight
- Fleeced mind-bogglingly by taxi driver from PEK to hostel in city (seriously, if taking a taxi from PEK, be on your guard!)
- Hostel informed me I had only been given 24 hour transit visa, advised me to turn self in to cops
- Went back to airport and received advice
- Hung out at the airport (mainly T3) for 24 hours
- Realised that almost no-one in China, particularly employees of Hainan, speak English. But kind of understand it because it became clear that we (speaking as an Australian) really need to learn Mandarin.
- Hung out in the Hainan transit lounge which is basic but quiet
- Got a letter from Hainan to give to immigration
- Waited for 90 mins in check in queue
- Was allowed out of China with a half-hearted word of warning
Got lots of sleep on the way back and had the best inflight meal of the trip, fish with curried mashed potato.
One more complaint before I finish this exhaustive novel: Hainan charges a fee for the first 3 rows of economy. On the PEK-TLV flight almost none were occupied when boarding completed so people around me started moving into them to snag a whole row for sleeping etc. When I asked an FA if I could do the same she said no because they are paid seats, completely ignoring all the people who had already moved, including one old Israeli dude who literally just walked onto the plane and sat down in the first seat he saw. In the end I nabbed myself a window pair vacated by one of the freeloaders.
Landed in TLV on time, after passing through some spectacular clouds on approach.
Thanks for reading. Next time I promise more photos and less words.