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UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 2:08 am

OK, some brief reports from a recent trip. Flights were on the following:

* Aeroflot (A310-300 and 777-200)
* China Xinhua (737-400)
* China Northern (MD-90)
* China Southern (757-200)
* Hainan Airlines (737-300)
* Air China (777-200)
* Aeroflot (777-200 and A310-300)

Aeroflot SU242 Heathrow-Sheremetyevo, A310-308 F-OGYV
Half an hour delay due to late inbound aircraft. Checkin was calm and deserted, but the flight was full. Seats in Y class were fairly comfortable, and the food acceptable / edible - chicken or beef. The tray only included plastic cuttlery. The drinks trolley came round only once during a flight that lasted 3 hours and 10 minutes, and the only alcoholic beverages available were wine or beer - no spirits. There was a movie on the overhead TVs, but both soundtrack channels were in Russian and in any case the sound on all channels was punctuated by lound crackling noises every 10 seconds or so. Immigration at SVO was a mess and took around 30 minutes (friends on BA the same evening took 2 hours though), so the baggage was well and truely off by the time the formalities were finally complete.

Aeroflot SU571 Sheremetyevo-Beijing, 777-2Q8 VP-BAU
Check in was fairly straight forwards despite a large contingent of Yugoslavs going to the university games in Beijing jumping the queue, and the flight departed on time. The seats on this aircraft in Y class were the worst I have ever had the displeasure to sit on. They were extremely hard and there was a lump in the back rest that jarred the spine quite badly. The lumbar support button was missing from most seats, the adjustable headrest were missing from quite a few, and a number of seats had thread-bare fabric. The seat recline was wierd - you had to push forwards on the base cushion to make the back go back - and once reclined there was so little space in front that I could not even cross my legs. An amenity kit was provided which included toothpast and brush, eye shades, and a shoe horn. The meal was just about acceptable (salad, chicken or fish, cake, cheese and biscuits), but there was only plastic cuttlery and the only alcoholic beverages available again were wine or beer. I finally got a bit of sleep but a friend who stayed awake for the whole flight said the drinks trolley came round only once during the 7 hour flight. The flight was 100% and it felt like being in a zoo. Immigration and baggage in Beijing was very quick and efficient, and we were through it all and land side less than 30 minutes after landing.

China Xinhua XW197 Beijing-Dalian, 737-46Q B-2993
Check in was a breeze - very efficient - and the flight departed on time. Nice and tidily presented airplane with a pretty typical 734 cabin. There were two rows of business class, a curtain, and the rest was Y class. Just after takeoff, the cabin crew stood together at the front of the cabin, all bowed, and the PA announcement said "China Xinhua Airlines are pround to offer you excellent cabin service". The food on the late afternoon flight was a cold snack but was OK, and the drinks service was tea/coffee/soft drinks only. Just before landing, the cabin crew again lined up at the front and the PA said "We hope you have enjoyed excellent cabin service..." and then they all bowed again. Baggage was off fairly quickly in Dalian. All in all a nice flight.

China Northern CJ6401 Shenyang-Xi'an-Chengdu, MD-90 B-2100
A two leg trip where again checkin was fairly easy and the flight left Shenyang pretty much on time. The aircraft, one of only two Shanghai built MD-90s, was fairly well turned out inside with plenty of room (possibly the best of all the Chinese airlines we flow) but had only Y class seats. The cabin crew were good but there was no theatricals at the start or end like there had been on Xinhua. However, shortly after take off every passenger was presented with a rather nice metal keyring with a China Northern key fob on it. Meal service was breakfast (cold) on the 2 hour 15 minute flight between Shenyang and Xi'an, and hot (salad, then beef or pork with rice, and cake to finish) on the 1 hour flight between Xi'an and Chengdu. At Xi'an everyone had to get off and go into the transit lounge for the 45 minute turnround (bus ride each way), after which they decided that they had some mis-directed bags on board so we all had to get off in the rain and identify our bags on the ramp, after which they loaded those that were identified and we all got back on board. The aircraft ended up on a very remote stand in Chengdu, and the baggage took an absolute age to get to the very decrepit reclaim area after the pax got there. All in all, another pretty reasonable flight.

China Southern CZ3436 Chengdu-Haikou, 757-21B B-2824
Checkin was fairly painless once the desk opened 1 hour before the flight, and the plane left on time. The interior was very tatty, the seats not very comfortable (the bases all seemed to sag in the middle) and there was less leg room than on any of the other Chinese aircraft we flew on. There was probably less than 30 people on the whole airplane, so whilst the seats were not good there was room to spread out a bit. The evening food service was cold bread rolls and fruit, and the one run of drinks limited to tea, coffee or soft drinks. A film was played on the drop down TVs and at least there was an English soundtrack / dubbing. The airplane ended up on a remote ramp at Haikou (Hainan Island) and the baggage was off by the time the bus got us to the terminal. All in all probably the least pleasant of all the Chinese flights we made.

Hainan Airlines HU235 Haikou-Guangzhou, 737-3Q8 B-2938
Checkin was only easy because we checked in very early - checkins in China for each flight are only open for specific periods, so if you are early you have to stand at the desk until the appointed time when a staff member shows up. The one-class 737 was absolutely packed full. Boarding was like a zoo with seemingly far too many pax for the number of seats and everyone having large boxes to carry on. Space was average for a 737-300, but there was chaos whilst they seated everyone. After take off, a similar performance with the cabin crew standing and bowing, with the PA announcement, took place as had happened on Xinhua. Food was a cold filled roll (not particularly nice) and a piece of cake, and beverages were tea/coffee/soft drinks only. They ended up passing round coffee flavoured sweets/candies, and then did the bowing routine again, saying that they hoped we would all be new friends of Hainan Airlines. Unfortunately, they were no where near as good as Xinhua or Northern. The aircraft ended up on a remote stand in CAN, but the busses were there and the baggage was off by the time we got into the terminal.

Air China CA1302 Guangzhou-Beijing, 777-29L B-2063
A full 777 for the 2 and a half hour trip. Despite this and the use of a remote stand that meant bussing pax to the airplane, the flight was away within 10 minutes of schedule and arrived on time. The 777 had no PTVs but standard drop down TVs and large screens. For take off and landing, the view out front was shown on the screen from a camera that appeared to be fixed somewhere below the flight deck - it stayed on when the gear was raised so it wasn't on the nose leg. Food service was quick good (salad, chicken or fish with rice, cake), the coffee disgusting, but beer was available. Two runs were made with the drinks trolley. Compared to Aeroflot's 777, the seats were very comfortable and the leg room more than adequate - I'd have been reasonably happy with this airplane on a long haul trip. Baggage was quick off in Beijing.

Aeroflot SU572 Beijing-Sheremetyevo, 777-2Q8 VP-BAU
Two and a half hours late, and no commitments from Aeroflot that they'd hold the connecting flight to LHR for us at SVO - marvellous. Nothing much more to add to the report on the outbound flight, save for the fact that the seats seemed even less comfortable and the flight even more like being in a zoo as the flight was a day-time flight and most of the passengers seemed to want to stand in the isle even when the food service was in progress. At least the drinks trolley came out twice (cold drinks were soft or wine or beer), although asking for a beer the second time round elicited a huge scowl and much mumbling from the cabin crew! At least the food was fairly edible - pork, beef or sausages, with salad to start, fruit and cake, and cheese and biscuits all crammed onto the tray.

Aeroflot SU582 Sheremetyevo-Heathrow, A310-325 F-OGQQ
Well they did hold the flight at SVO. Everyone was on board within 15 minutes of the scheduled departure time after we were whisked through SVO very quickly. Sadly it then took them a further 45 minutes to transfer the baggage so the flight left an hour late. The service was pretty much as it had been outbound, and again only one chance for drinks.

In summary, the Chinese airlines were pretty good on the whole, Aeroflot less so. Everything ran to time except Aeroflot.

Hope you found this interesting. If I think of anything more, I'll add it later.

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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 3:06 am

A very interesting report...I liked it a lot...

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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 11:40 am

Nice trip report. Really enjoyed it. How was your trip in China and Russia overall?
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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 12:25 pm

Yes, very interesting indeed. Were you on a plane spotters' tour, i.e. one of the Pamela Tang tours? If so, how are they? I'd certainly like to go on one, although not with Aeroflot!
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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 12:25 pm

Very informative report. I couldnt agree with you more on the part where the Aeroflot 772 seats reclining funny. I travelled on a 772 on another carrier and it was just as weird. In fact, it was horrible.

what were u doing in China?
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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Fri Sep 07, 2001 5:30 pm

Hi guys,

Thanks for the interest and the comments. To answer the specific questions:

* The trip was a tour, primarily for photographing airplanes and taking in MAKS-2001 in Moscow too, but we also did the Kremlin, Red Square, Great Wall, Tianaman Square, etc.
* The tour was organised by Ian Allan. It went OK but like all such tours there were some successes and some failures.
* The trip was great overall. Leaving aside the airplanes (of which I hope there'll be some pictures in the database before too long) both Russia and China were fascinating places to visit. I was amazed how superficially westernised China has become (with the possible exception of food), and Moscow was somewhat different and more progressive than I expected. The people, particularly in China, seemed veryt friendly although as a westerner, especially outside of Beijing, you do rather attract the attention and curiousity of the locals. It did seem to be slightly more difficult to make things happen in Moscow than in China, but that's life sometimes. I'd recommend both Moscow and China to anyone contemplating a visit, either as a general tourist or to look at airplanes.

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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Sat Sep 22, 2001 1:50 am

Excellent coverage on parts of the world rarely mentioned in  Big thumbs up
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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Wed Oct 03, 2001 5:02 pm

Great report, Andy.

What did you think of SVO? It must be the most dreadful, depressing place I've ever been! I've had the displeasure of going through that place on 8 (yes eight) occasions. Each time through SVO seems to get worse. I've flown in to SVO from JFK, CDG, LHR and just last July I flew there from AMS. The KLM flight from AMS arrived a few minutes early, and I thought we might actually break through customs in a timely fashion. Boy was I wrong. 3 hours later, we got through customs and to my amazement our luggage was still near the carousel. The problem is, Russians have no concept of what it means to wait in line. It is not rude in their backwards culture to cut to the front of the queue. Time and time again, people would jump in ahead of us. Finally, those of us who had enough of this madness bullied any potential line-cutters out of our line. We would have been there for another 3 hours had we not been aggressive.

By the way, I have heard that you can pay USD$50 and walk right through a VIP line instead of waiting to get through immigration in that dreadful smoke-filled dungeon. Did you notice how dark the airport is? Everything is so incredibly austere. The copper circles on the ceiling add a nice flare, don't you think  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

This last visit to Russia, I had about 8 hours to kill at SVO. Talk about insanity. I can still recite the P.A. announcements 9in Russian) that are played every 30 seconds. I remembered stumbling across the observation area (such that it is) a few year ago, so I found it again and wasted some time watching the plans push back and rotate down the runways.

Over all, I would say that Russians are friendly people despite their rough edges. They are simply not westernized and therefore come across as crude and impolite. Moscow is certainly an interesting place to visit. Some parts of Moscow are rather beautiful. St. Petersburg is definitely a beautiful city. I've heard it called the Venice of the north. For good reason I suppose; it is built on many islands all connected by bridges and canals. If you can get past the Russian ‘way’ of life, I think anyone would enjoy a visit there.
They still operate on the level that we operated in America in the 1960’s. Nothing is computerized, and if it is, the computers are older than heck.

As for Chinese airlines, I've had the unfortunate experience of flying China Eastern. That flight was uneventful aside from the time we made an unexpected stop at a rural Chinese airport due to heavy thunderstorms. After spending a solid 8 hours on the plane, the skies cleared and we took off once again. China eastern is definitely not a big customer service orientated airline. If they were, we wouldn't have been cooped up in a hot & smelly plane for that many hours on end. I can understand that the airport we were at had a shack for a terminal and therefore couldn't accommodate an A340 full of pax, but would it have been so hard to have let those of us off who wanted to stretch our legs and breathe fresh air? If they let me off to get some air, chances are I would have walked the rest of the way to Beijing as opposed to getting back on the plane.

That was my first and only A340 flight, so for that I'm glad. And a little adventure when traveling is always a plus in my book, but this pushed the limit.

I don't see myself flying anything Chinese or Russian in the future. Why not pay a bit more, fly a western airline and get much better service?

Did I mention nothing in the way of food or drink was served during our 8-hour ground stop? It was at night, so they merely parked the plane, turned off the lights and didn't say another word (at least in English) until we took off early the next morning. Oh well, not many people can say they spent the night in a plane… on the ground.  Smile/happy/getting dizzy
I love America. I guess that makes me Bush's poodle, but I'd rather be a dog in New York City than a prince in Riyadh.
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RE: UK-Moscow-China And Chinese Domestic Flights

Wed Oct 03, 2001 8:54 pm

Hi Tsully,

Thanks for the comments and the details of your own experiences. You're right - SVO isn't such a nice airport by west European or north American standards, but in comparison to some in one or two other parts of the world it isn't that bad.

I think we were at SVO for about six hours prior to the flight to Beijing, which wasn't the best experience, but the 5th floor restaurant does reasonable food (price and taste) and as you say you get a good view of the airplanes. Our immigration/customs process o arrival at SVO wasn't too bad - 30 minutes or so, if I remember correctly, but others on BA took an age - maybe we had an advantage flying Aeroflot? I know what you mean about queuing though. Despite SVO, I quite enjoyed Russia (there's some gorgeous women in Moscow!) and will probably go again.

The Chinese airlines were all fine and pretty much up to west European or north American standards IMHO, particularly in the air, and I wouldn't particularly be concerned about flying on Chinese domestic flights in the future.

Best regards,


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