I was apprehensive about taking China Eastern. Singapore Airlines cost $1200 to Shanghai, while Malaysia Airlines and Thai cost around $780, with a stop in KUL and BKK respectively.
Also, it would be an Airbus A320. For a 5h15 min flight, that must be the LONGEST flight in the world operated by an A320. And I wasn't entirely comfortable with sitting in such a small plane for such a long time.
Of course it'd be dumb to pay $1200 for SQ, so I really didn't mind MH. However my aunt didn't want to stop in KUL and preferred a direct flight. So I agreed to taking China Eastern.
Flight MU568 was due to depart at 1445 on November 22. Arrived at Changi Airport's Terminal One at 12.45 and proceeded to row one for check in. They now X ray everyone's bags before checkin; it's the first time I saw that happen.
The queue wasn't too long and we were attended to by a SATS staff, obviously a Chinese national from her not-so-fluent-english and accent, albeit pleasant. I did notice an Indian (Singaporean) checkin agent next to us who was a bit "pompous" with some Chinese nationals who obviously did not speak English. One of the passengers was asking why there was a "Miss" next to her name. And the checkin agent went "Oh that's a title we put next to your name, so don't worry about it."
We got our boarding passes and headed to the restricted area which wasn't crowded at this time of the day. Went to a camera shop to get some batteries and film, and noticed the captain of my flight buying some film too. He looked like a pretty young chap, (chinese national) and had obviously done a lot of duty-free shopping, judging from the number of Martell bottles he was carrying.
Half an hour before the flight was due to depart we headed to the boarding gate. At the departure lounge, announcements were made in Chinese then English. The English announcements were made by a Chinese national and it was barely comprehensible. I cannot understand WHY they had to use a Chinese national for this as there are so many Singaporeans who speak good English and would have been more suited for the job. Anyhow, I understand Chinese and did take it as a second language in school.
We boarded the aircraft but there was no one at the entrance of the plane to greet us. No one to show us to our seats. No one. Cabin crew were standing around various parts of the plane but they were basically stoning there and not doing much, or walking up and down and looking busy but ultimately doing nothing.
Got to our seats 17A, B and C. At the headrests there are these paper 'flaps' that hang down the back of the seat, advertiseing some product:
"Bodiseng, Number one sales in China from 1995 to 2001". That's all it said. No indication of what Bodiseng was or did or what we could use it for. But it was hanging down the front of everyone's seats.
All doors were closed 10 minutes before our scheduled departure time and that was great. Never expected our plane to leave on time, let alone early.
The safety video was screened.... and it was a cartoon! Looked pretty cheap too, and very tacky. Needless to say, it was in Chinese.
Nothing in English though, so I guess non chinese speaking passengers were not worthy of knowing the safety procedures (not that anyone cares) As we approached runway 20L, the safety video came on again, this time in English. Even then, the English sounded weird, in a weird accent.
However, this audio-visual delight came to an abrupt end, just as they were teaching us how to fasten our seatbelts, since we were already lined up for takeoff. So the system was switched off.
We took off into Singapore airspace and had a splendid view of the sublimely perfect island nation of Singapore, albeit not on the world's finest airline-Singapore Airlines Limited (sorry, Tony!
I admired the skyline of Singapore before we made a near 180 degree turn to head north towards Shanghai. Till this stage, the pilot never said a word on the PA system.
10 minutes later, the seatbelt sign was switched off. A female member of the cabin crew came on the PA system and said, in Chinese, that our plane would be departing Singapore for Shanghai, passing through Singaporean, Malaysian and Chinese airspace. Over China, we would be passing Hong Kong, Guangzhou, (other chinese cities I had never heard of in my life) then Shanghai. We would be arriving in Shanghai at 1945, Beijing time. I don't know why they couldn't say "Shanghai time" but I guess Beijing is the centre of the middle kingdom and should be the point of reference for the whole of China. A meal would be served at 1730 Beijing time.
She then spoke in barely comprehensible English which went something along the lines of "We'll be passing through Singapore, Malaysia and China and will arrive in Shanghai Pudong International Airport at 1945" So non Chinese speakers were deprived of the details of the exotic Chinese cities they would be flying through.
Soon after, there was the bar service and we were given peanuts and drinks. There was wine-but just one brand of Chinese wine called "Dynasty brand."
It was now 1500 but no meal would be served till 1730. I asked in English if they had any tidbits or sandwiches. No response. So I asked in Chinese. She went "NO". So I asked if they had a drink and she came back with Coke.
So we had to sit there and starve for another 2.5 hours before a meal was served. I had NOT had lunch!
There was a bilingual inflight magazine, but the English bits were mostly in bad English.
The inflight entertainment came on. First it was some Chinese MTVs. Occasionally we would get English subtitles but the translations were not all the accurate, and were grammatically wrong.
There was a movie feature, some 3rd grade Hollywood flick. It was mostly explosions and fighting, so the need to understand English was hardly necessary to know what was going on. I gave up on the inflight entertainment, bitched to my mum about not having Krisworld, and continued reading my Tom Clancy novel. (Red Rabbit is a HORRID book. do NOT buy it!)
Time ticked by very slowly.... but 1730 finally came and the meal service started. The choice was "Chicken with rice or fish with noodles." But by the time it got to us in the middle of the plane they only had "Chicken with rice" left.
The food was yucky but edible and considering how hungry i was I scrapped every bit of rice from the dish. Cutlery was cheap plastic and the dishes were made of disposible, flimsy aluminium. The sun was now starting to set.
There was only about 1.5 hours after the meal before we landed and that was pretty uneventful. Prior to landing, the same female member of the cabin crew told us that in Chinese that we would be landing in Shanghai Pudong international airport and asked us to return to our seats to fastern our seat belts.
Then came the English bit. 'Ladies and Gerwerwer-men, werrrrrrnow going to take off." Pause. Followed by laughter from all the Singaporeans on board. The pause still continued. Then one Singaporean guy shouted "LAND!!!!" Obviously that was loud enough for the whole A320 to hear. Followed by laughter, again, from the Singaporeans on board. Yes that was mean.
".....land, please return to your seat etc etc etc"
Obviously their cabin crew don't speak any English and just read off the page. Just so happened this time round she was reading off the wrong page.
We made a smooth landing and the usual welcome announcements were made. In English, we were "thanked for our support and cooperation" which was a literal translation from Chinese. When you do literal translations from Chinese, things sound weird, and this is evident throughout China! (And it gets hilarious at times)
Saw a Dragonair A330 which just arrived from HKG and UA and NW 744s. All the aerobridges were used and we had to park in a remote bay and take a bus to the terminal. It seems all the planes at the remote bay were Chinese airlines, while foreign airlines got the aerobridges. Perhaps they want to make their foreign guests feel better!
It felt great to be out of that cramped A320 after 5 h 15 mins. The seat pitch was horrible! We then headed for the terminal which looked quite nice, but not warm. Architecturally it was great, but there wasn't enough greenery around.
Anyhow, that's my trip on China Eastern! It's by means NO SIA but since it was nearly half the price of SIA, I guess I couldn't really expect much!
China Eastern should:
1)Remove those cheap ads from the back of their seats.
2)Improve their English. Since they're an international airline their crew should have a reasonable command of English
3)Improve their inflight magazine. It should be outsourced to media company that could edit the english content of the magzine.
4)Stock tidbits on their flights. I can't believe they had NOTHING on board except for the meals!
5)Give a larger portion of food.
Will I take them again? I guess since they're the only airline besides SQ that offers direct flights to Shanghai, I might. They weren't that bad. It's just that I usually use SQ as a benchmark when I travel on other full-service airlines and more often than not I'm dissapointed at the end of my trip!
(Ryanair you might want to know that when I used SQ as a benchmark on my MH KUL-SIN flight I wasn't dissapointed!)
Hkgspotter1 if you read this, you did mention you took China Eastern in the beginning of the year. How did you find it?
Want my return leg?