BEIJING – BAOTOU
October 1, 2001
Flight CI 1108
Scheduled departure: 1940
Actual departure: 1946
Scheduled arrival: 2040
Actual arrival: 2050
Aircraft: Boeing 737-300
I have to admit I was a bit nervous about this flight before I reached the airport – especially with China’s botched safety record. But, reaching Beijing’s new Capital airport changed that and it changed from nervousness to excitement at the thought of the unknown, flying aboard Air China! China’s new capital airport is outstanding and I would certainly rate it as highly as Kuala Lumpur’s KLIA and Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok. The architecture is very similar to the latter in that the roof looks kind of like waves. It is meticulously pristine and really is a world-class facility. Check in was handled for me so all I did was wait behind the counter. Luckily I’d been assigned a window seat which was certainly welcomed. By this time it was only about 1930 so had an hour or so to kill. But, not sure of the boarding policy and procedures for Air China, sat in the departure lounge on the ground floor until about 2025 when we were called out to the departure gate which led to busses. So we headed out across the tarmac travelling pretty fast for what seemed like an eternity and eventually pulled up beside a 737-300 out in the middle of nowhere. Up and into the cabin was of course by stairs and I was greeted with a couple of stewardesses who appeared to speak very little English. Oh dear. I continued walking through a very comfortable First Class cabin, certainly to a higher level than the Qantas or Malaysia Airlines 737s I’ve been aboard. My seat today was 15F, a window seat right over the wing.
The aircraft cabin looked extremely clean and well kept. Pitch certainly isn’t tremendous but is nonetheless adequate. The cabin is all green and the seats do feature winged headrests. The captain welcomed us aboard in English with an announcement which really said very little. Next it was the cabin crew’s turn as we began our taxi. The Air China announcements are very similar to the old SIA versions. I much prefer them as they tell you everything about the flight, the aircraft and who is actually flying it. On this evening, Beijing was dead quiet. There was no traffic at all as we taxied to the furthest end of the furthest runway and immediately took off. I had forgotten what a thrill the 737-300/-400/-500 gives on take-off. I love the sound and sensation that is so much better than the RR 777s. After a relatively short take-off we began an amazingly steep climb that really had me hard pressed in the back of my seat and a bit nervous at the thought of a stall! Especially with all the China Airlines stall incidents. . .
We climbed to an altitude of 24,000ft for the short hop to Baotou located in Inner Mongolia. The cabin crew came around with drinks including juices and bottled soft drink plus a packet of nuts. They even came back again. I thought the service was excellent as they really didn’t sit at all during the flight. The only problem was their lax English diction but I wouldn’t have thought there would be many foreigners flying this route at all. We began our descent into Baotou at about 2020 and touched down at around 2046. The approach was relatively steady and smooth and touch down wasn’t too bad either. I was quite impressed actually. We taxied for a while to the airport terminal and parked at a remote stand. We were the only aircraft there and there were 5 aero bridges but we didn’t use them! Hmmm. I really dunno what the logic is there??? Disembarked the aircraft to a cold evening to find that Baotou has an excellent new airport. By the time I was off the aircraft my bags had arrived at the carousel. Not bad I thought.
BAOTOU – BEIJING
Flight CI 1107
Scheduled departure: 0750
Actual departure: 0750
Scheduled arrival: 0840
Actual arrival: 0845
Aircraft: Boeing 737-300
Baotou is an amazing place located in Inner Mongolia where I enjoyed absolutely sensational food and amazing cultural experience! I’d highly recommend it to anyone! Baotou security is extremely tight due to a highjacking last year on the route so it took an eternity to actually get past the security. Stupidly, I had again packed my nail clippers in my cabin bag but I was surprised when they actually let me through with no problems! My friend lost his jet lighter. Hmm?? Logic? I really don’t know. By the time I was through, the aircraft was boarding and I was straight down onto the tarmac to board to find the same aircraft that had carried me on the inbound flight. How interesting…how boring!
Boarded the flight again and waited for what I thought would be a push back. Surprisingly we headed straight forward and initiated an extremely fast left turn to turn around. First time I’ve seen that! Obviously Air China are trying to keep costs down on this route! We taxied all the way down the runway with about 40% power which took us pretty fast. It sort of reminded me of the way I fly on flight simulator. I don’t know whether that is a good thing or not! We turned around and began another 737 takeoff but this time initiated a more gentle climb into the crisp Baotou air to an altitude of 29,000 feet. This is a fantastic flight during the day as it gives you a really exalted view of Northern Chinese countryside. The drinks cart came around and this time we were served a whole packet of biscuits (cookies for all you Americans). Quite remarkable I thought. The drinks came around twice again. Qantas cabin crew really should see just how Chinese cabin crew work on such short haul flights. All commendations to them! We passed over the great wall while descending into Beijing Capital again. We commenced about 3 right turns with the power constantly changing. Flaps only to 25 and the undercarriage lowered fairly late, touching down just behind schedule. I was interested to see a Swissair MD-11 sitting on the tarmac which I thought was odd considering they had apparently folded. This time we parked at an aerobridge to a China Southern 777 and deplaned into the airport terminal. This time it was bustling with traffic both inside and out and we again set out for the Great Wall Sheraton.
I don’t have any real hesitations in flying Air China again. I was quite happy with the level of services aboard and it was an interesting experience. They are streaks ahead of Qantas so they certainly need to learn some things. They tried hard and that’s all I can expect so I was happy!
BEIJING – SHANGHAI
Flight SQ 811
Scheduled departure: 0845
Actual departure: 0901
Scheduled arrival: 1515
Actual arrival: 1450
Scheduled aircraft: Airbus A340-300E
Check in at Beijing’s International airport terminal was absolutely appalling on this morning. There were about 200 Kiwis from Philips electronics travelling on the flight who had been given the free trip for reaching their sales targets. The stupid check-in people had 1 First Class, 1 Raffles Class, 1 group and 2 Economy Class counters open so where were all the groups told to go? The group check in while nearly all the others were left empty. The Singapore Airlines staff were wandering around putting stickers on everyone. They were friendly but the horrible China Eastern staff were dismal and rude. I was carrying 2 large suitcases with a combined weight of 48 kg and naturally it was a bit of a struggle to try and get them up on the counter to be weighed. So she starts shouting at me to hurry up so I really was furious with her but to give her credit, she didn’t charge me overweight which was extremely kind I suppose. I really don’t know why. By the time everyone was checked in, it was 0830 and the flight was due to depart in 10 minutes. No way was it going to get out on time. Immigration clearance is appalling and took 20 minutes for me to get through. The SIA staff were waving and trying to get us priority clearance as the flight was already late but eventually I got through with about 20 others behind me and hurried to the gate past a UA 744, LH 744 and an Alitalia MD-11. I saw an Air France crew who did look very elegant and had 5 cockpit crew. Not sure why. Went through the boarding lounge and saw that SJL was operating today’s flight. One of the newer. Down through the aerobridge to door 1 where again I was met with the Singapore girls and an aircraft full of rowdy kiwis! I think there were only about 15 Chinese / Singaporeans aboard the whole flight. My seat wasn’t a window let alone an aisle but the Chinese people I was sitting next to asked if I would change seats with their daughter who had an aisle further up in the cabin. That was a fair swap to me and I took my seat next to a nice Kiwi couple. The hairdryers were started and we taxied out to runway 17? For a long and slow take-off. While we were on the ground for a very long time, the climb was reasonably steep but smooth, much more interesting than the 777. Flaps were returned from 15 to 0 and we continued our climb.
The A340 is an amazingly quiet aircraft, there is no doubt about it and I also prefer the ride to the 777. The cabin had changed since my last A340 flight on SIA in 1999 from a blue/green colourscheme to a purple/blue. The new colours look much better and the aircraft’s condition was as usual top notch. However, I must have grown considerably since 1999 because I have never been so bloody uncomfortable. With a seat pitch of 31”, I really couldn’t fit and therefore had no choice but to put my legs in the aisle. As can be expected, the poor cabin crew would constantly stumble over them but I had no choice. It is a pity because the A340 seats are quite good. I prefer the headrest to the 777s as it is much more supportive. Krisworld was on and I watched for the first time “who’s line is it anyway”, fantastic show that I really enjoyed. Also tuned into my old favourite Something about Mary before the breakfast was served. Omelet with bacon, sausage and tomatoes was very nice. I really enjoyed it and settled in to try and sleep. Too hard. Not enough room so I just sat and looked at air show.
At about midday the cabin crew came around with Fried rice for a snack. A hearty snack that I thought was generous. Headed back to the aft lavatory which is located right next to the rear left door. It is in a bad place because it won’t fully open. Inside, it’s small and no where near as nice as the 777s but was well stocked. When exiting I opened the door and hit a seedy Indian steward who looked like he was still hung over from the night before. He didn’t take warmly and gave me evils! Hmm. I returned to my seat to again be bored and headed back to ask for a snack. They gave me nuts and I asked for a comment form. I tried to start conversation with them but unfortunately they weren’t such a friendly bunch today and I returned. I pressed the call button for a drink and I don’t know what the problem was because they didn’t come. Hmm. Very unlike SIA. I went back and they got me a drink with no problem. The girls were very friendly but must have just been busy. Started descent into Singapore which was smooth and steady with flaps 40. There was a fair bit of power on the final approach but the landing really wasn’t too flash. It was a long way down the runway when we touched and it was quite rough with maximum braking power that slowed us down just at the end of the runway. “ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Singapore….we hope you’ve enjoyed your flight with us today and we look forward to seeing you again soon. Thank you for flying Singapore Airlines, a member of star alliance”.
Disembarked through First and Raffles Class to find that stupid Anthony had left his tickets in the seat pocket. Went and asked the SIA ground agent who took me aboard to grab them from the seat pocket. Sure enough there they were. Would have been a bit of a problem having no passport, no tickets, no boarding pass. The aircraft later departed to Bangkok I think.
With 5 hours to kill in Changi…the fun began. NOT! It was a bloody boring occasion unfortunately. I went down to T1 to check out the aircraft down there and watch the planes take-off and land. Only 3 Air India A310s down there and saw a couple of TG and SQ A310s / A330s take off. Nothing exciting. Meandered around looking at all the lovely Singapore girls and settled down for dinner at about 1800. Ate a great foot long hot dog for only S$5 up at the T2 food court near the premier lounge. At 1945 we made our way up to E52 which is right at the end. While on my way, I passed my SIA steward friend Faizal. He recognized me first which was surprising and came up to say hi. He asked about my trip and said that he was now going to be aboard SQ 225 to Perth. Great…lots of ice-cream for me! I got to the boarding gate at about 2010 and went straight through. At 2020 boarding was called and for only Raffles Class and families. But, rules are for everyone else so I was first to board.
SINGAPORE – PERTH
Flight SQ 225
Scheduled departure: 2050
Actual departure: 2050
Scheduled arrival: 0145
Actual arrival: 0135
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
9V-SRI was assigned to my flight this evening. This is one of SIA’s newest aircraft delivered only in August. There was only 1 aerobridge for the flight and that was positioned at door 2. I was welcomed aboard by Faizal who said to go and see him after take off up the back. Everyone was boarded at 2040. 9V-SRI is fitted with Ultimo raffles Class seats which look much better than the old ones. The aircraft was looking absolutely pristine inside as you’d expect. Welcome aboard was from a very broad Queenslander captain and our Singaporean first officer. We pushed back at 2049 and headed out to the runway behind an Emirates 777-300. The EK gold titles looks fantastic at night when the lights shine on it and after it took off we began another 777 takeoff roll. We lifted off into the air and at about 1500ft the right engine began to spool down. Everyone looked to the right of the aircraft with a distinctive expression of fear then it spooled up and down again. Our climb immediately halted and I we began a right turn. I was sure we would be returning to Singapore. But, the seatbelt sign turned off and I ran down to the back of the aircraft to speak to the crew to find out what was wrong. They immediately phoned the captain who said “nothing is wrong yet!” The crew tried to suggest it was because we were banking. Hmm. I’m sure I didn’t imagine it and neither did any of the other passengers. But, we climbed to 37,000 ft and headed downunder. Krisworld was turned on and the meal arrived. Yet another chicken dish. Not bad but again nothing to write home about. SIA catering out of Singapore does need to be improved from my opinion. I fell asleep before the ice-cream arrived but I was awoken! Trays were tidied away and I headed back to the galley to speak to Faizal. Today there was another guy called Jason I think and a Singapore girl called Mimi. Jason was very interested to find out what I thought of SIA and what I thought they could do to improve. After another couple of ice-cream tubs, I filled in the comment form and continued speaking to them about SIA. Spent another couple of hours there before returning to my seat with a huge bag of SIA stuff.
I really like SIA cabin crew. They really are outstanding and they really do try hard and are very customer focussed. We began our descent into Perth at 0110 when the captain spoke to us for the final time and thanked us for flying SIA. Continued our descent and touched down beautifully at 0134 a few minutes ahead of schedule with full flaps, spoilers and a little reverse thrust. Taxied to the airport terminal and disembarked into the PER International terminal. The terminal is meant to be substantially upgraded with about 10 new gates but it hasn’t happened yet. Just after we arrived, a Garuda A330, Thai Airways A330 and Qantas 763 from SIN touched down. My bags took an eternity to actually show and some of the GA passengers got ahead of me! Arggghh. I had to go in the yellow line which took hours upon hours. I eventually lot through at 0305.
Consensus on Singapore Airlines: Fantastic. They truly are. I still have my quibbles but they certainly are, from my perspective, a better airline than CX or MH and unarguably the world’s best!