Part 1 featured the Qantas flight from Sydney to Shanghai in Business class. Now we continue on the journey with my 18 month old toddler and wife to Hong Kong, then onwards to Kansai International Airport on Cathay Pacific. This report actually features three flights, but only two with an airline…
I can’t say that I was disappointed to be leaving Shanghai. There was still plenty to do – another day at the Expo would have been great – but I was looking forward to a place where the water was drinkable and the toilet didn’t stink.
It's very difficult to travel light with a child in tow. Nappies, clothes, books, toys and other amusements have to be carried along. So it was that we were dragging two big roller bags, a heavy daypack and, of course, Alex in his backpack, along the streets of Shanghai. It was probably quite a sight for the locals.
After dragging the luggage down the stairs, we caught the metro from East Nanjing Road to Longyang Road. We could have continued on to Pudong Airport, but instead I wanted to give Alex a new transport experience: maglev!
We had caught the maglev on our last visit back in 2007. The tickets are expensive (for China – not in comparison to Sydney’s airport train), the city end of the terminal is nowhere in particular and the journey time is only around 10 minutes. Magnetic levitation trains are expensive to build. However, I was reading a recent Scientific American article which said that they can handle steeper gradients (not an issue in Shanghai) and require less maintenance than conventional high speed lines. The Japanese Shinkansen requires an army of thousands of workers to go over the tracks each night. You begin to wonder if countries like Australia, Britain and the US are prepared to engage in that kind of infrastructure maintenance.
It seems like every station in China, down to the subways of Shanghai, has an x-ray machine. Once we were through the security we joined the crowd on the platform as the Maglev train glided in. Despite the tour group crowds we got a three seater row to ourselves. Then we glided off with barely an indication of the acceleration (unlike the Shanghai metro, which jerks you off your feet each time it starts up).
It took about 4 minutes for us to reach the maximum speed of 431 km/h. That may sound like slow acceleration compared with a sports car or an aircraft, but there was only a small sense of acceleration in the Maglev. The ride wasn’t entirely smooth, with a feeling of some oscillations, though they were minor in comparison to an ordinary tracked train.
Unfortunately, we were soon slowing down again as we arrived into Shanghai’s Pudong airport. At least there was enough time for Alex to stand up at the window and say “Wow!” so that we knew that the journey was worth it. It was certainly far faster than catching a taxi.
Pudong airport appeared entirely different today, despite departing from the same Terminal 2 that we had arrived at a few days ago, very shiny and clean. The check in area was bright and spacious. We checked in without any problems, then bought some last minute expo souvenirs from one of the shops.
Security and immigration were both simple, with allowance given for Alex in the backpack. As with entry to Shanghai, we were processed by a smiling female police officer. We gave her an extremely satisfied on the little performance rating device on her desk.
Terminal 2 is very long, very straight, with views out across one of the airport's runways and out to the flat ocean. The runway was very busy, primarily with smaller domestic jets, but also quite a few international aircraft.
Before I could do much spotting, B’s and Alex’s hunger had to be sated. Up the escalators was the restaurant level. There were Italian, Korean/Asian and dumpling eateries along with a couple of others. B had dumplings, Alex a broccoli and chicken pizza; he loves broccoli. It was a slow process of picking off the toppings and feeding him. I was only thirsty, so in-between feeds I listened in to the United pilots chatting at an adjacent table.
Once the food was eaten I had a bit of a chance for some spotting. I was particularly taken by the attractive orange and blue livery of an Aeroflot A330. By the time I managed to extract B from the (expensive) shops our flight was already being called.
An AA meeting?
CARRIER: Cathay Pacific
SECTOR: PVG - HKG
ETD: 12:25 (local)
ETA: 15:05 (local)
AIRCRAFT: Boeing 747-400
I was under the mistaken impression that we would be flying a 773 today. I’ve only flown a couple of Asiana 772’s before, when I didn’t really care much for civil aviation, and was curious about the 777 experience. However, I wasn’t too disappointed, because the aircraft at the gate was a 744, probably my favourite to fly in.
Somehow, the Cathay 744 doesn’t elicit the same anticipation as boarding a Qantas 744, but maybe it’s the knowledge of only a short haul trip. Having arrived at the gate too late for any preferential boarding we joined the very long queue through the gate.
I had not realised at the time of booking, but we had been assigned bulkhead seats. I was initially disappointed at this, because I couldn’t put my bag under the seat in front of me, until I realised that there was now extra legroom and space for Alex to stand on the floor, and no seats for him to kick. His presence (or the threat of his presence) must have annoyed the aisle seat passenger, as he took his iPad and moved to an empty seat.
The Cathay attendants were very helpful and unexpectedly brought us the kids Lilo & Stitch pack of stickers and colouring in materials. Unfortunately, it was not age appropriate, with sudoko puzzles and other old kids items. In fact, it says on the pack “Not for children under 3 yrs”. He did enjoy using the crayons for a short period of time.
The Mustela nappy (diaper) pack was more welcome, though I’m not certain of the age/weight suitability of the contained items. Inside were two nappies, barrier cream and some moisturising cream, but it lacked the essential moist bottom wipes.
Shortly before the door closed Alex needed a nappy change. The flight attendants actually let me do it while we were taxiing, saying that I could read the safety briefing later.
I certainly had plenty of time before take-off, time enough for Alex to fall asleep on my lap. I was nodding off myself with our slow pace. It took forever to reach the further of the two runways as the runway outside of terminal 2 was being used only for landings. The Australian accented pilot blamed our late take-off on airport congestion.
Once we were finally in position, the 747 took off with confidence and plenty of power, up over the paddy fields and canals, over housing developments that looked like they belong in a different country entirely. Then we turned out towards the ocean, past round Dishui lake and over a muddy brown sea dotted with inhabited islands.
The flight was a little bumpy, maybe due to the topography and the weather. We hugged the Chinese coastline and below us were some fantastic views of China from above. Cities and mountains, rivers and dams, estuaries and islands. And when we flew above the clouds it really looked like we were flying intercontinental. I love the 747!
Lunch was served, chicken and rice for B, fish and spinach fettucine for me. We had to eat separately as there was not enough room for a tray table and Alex on the lap. The food was rather ordinary and flavourless, especially in comparison to what I've had recently on Qantas (and no, I'm not just talking business class!).
Alex was given jars of baby food, which really were too young for him as he now eats pretty much as we do, only more finely chopped. He insisted on feeding me spoonfuls of cold pureed chicken and corn mix. It was dreadful! Yes Alex, now I know how you have suffered!
We were seated in a renovated Cathay cabin. Their hardshell seats were comfortable in the upright position, but awful reclined. At least the widescreen StudioCX inflight entertainment system was fantastic, with a lovely high resolution screen and at least three decent soundtrack CD's to listen to. I setup a playlist of Thomas Newman's Revolution Road (*yawn*), James Horner's Avatar (good flying music, had intended to listen on my MP3 player), and Nicholas Hooper's Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (good music I already own). Pity that the random function wasn't very random and they used the old moving flight map that has been seen for a decade on inflight entertainment screens big and small.
Probably a valley of smog over Xiamen(?)
When he was awake, Alex was very difficult on this flight. He cried and complained, struggled to get free, everything we feared with flying with a toddler. It was a relief when we descended through the thick grey clouds into a wet and miserable looking Hong Kong airport.
There was another long taxi around the airport, though it gave plenty of spotting opportunities, including a chance to see a JAL 744 take-off, something that likely will not be possible soon.
Once inside the terminal we were ushered through a priority lane for immigration, though the official with the silly haircut was rather unsmilingly in comparison with his mainland counterparts. Then we were into the arrivals area and ready to catch the minibus to our hotel, the Novotel CityGate.
We stayed three nights in Hong Kong, all at the CityGate. I would recommend the hotel as a relaxing transit stop, adjacent to the CityGate outlets mall. It’s not really convenient for downtown Hong Kong and Kowloon and don’t think you can see airport operations from it either: stay on the poolside rather than airport side if you can as the views are nicer.
MTR ride into Hong Kong from Tung Chung
Hong Kong was basically shopping/resting/eating for us. We found it cheaper than Shanghai, although the food failed again to impress. I suspect that we get access to better Cantonese cuisine in Sydney. At least there was open access to the internet and decent tap water.