Summer 2010 I visited China for a second time with my Chinese teacher and students from around Arizona. 2009 we toured Beijing and flew onward to Kunming, Yunnan province where we took Chinese language classes, culture classes, and stayed with host families. I decided to apply to return to China as I hope to some day be fluent in the language. This time, however, a visit to Shanghai and the World Expo 2010 was attached onto the trip before our Chinese language/culture trip began in Beijing and Henan Province. As if that wasn't enough upon returning from China, rather than fly back to Tucson, I would depart from the group, take UA from SFO-HNL, and spend a week in Hawaii.
Though I have plenty of pictures from my TUS-LAX-PEK trip in 2009, the 2010 trip was a little more interesting.
Check-in at Tucson was simple. Ticketing for UA now reads "United Express" ever since the quite convenient direct connection to IAD was dropped and the last of UA's 737-300s were retired from service. Two years ago Tucson had two red-eye flights to New York (JFK on Jetblue and EWR on CO) and a red-eye to Charlotte on US as well as the UA service to IAD. It is tragic but understandable that all four of those services have since been cut. But I digress......
United has made some progress since its days of bankruptcy in terms of marketing, seats, premier services, and in-flight food. I noticed through my entire trip, however, that their "people skills" need some work. I approached the ticket counter and the man behind the desk did not look up from what he was doing. When I said politely "I would like to check-in for my flight" he mumbled, without looking up "self-service is over there". I explained "I don't have a confirmation number". The man sighed and interrogated me "why not? Did you book online?" I felt like I was checking in at Fawlty Towers. "I was booked in a group. My final destination is Shanghai Pudong." I handed him my passport. He silently types away, frowning. "I would like window seats please if at all possible" I say it as polite as I can. No response. He hands me my ticket. I say "thank you". I look at my boarding passes for LAX-PEK and PEK-PVG. No window seats. He says "We aren't Air China so talk to them in LAX". I say politely "Thank you" restraining condescension as much as possible. I would think nothing of it looking back however I felt this attitude from United employees in San Francisco and on the flight to Honolulu. I usually fly American or Delta when I travel and I can honestly say their customer service and "people skills" are much better. I hope United will find solutions to fixing what seems to be an attitude problem. I am sure they will since UA has made so many improvements otherwise.
Security was a breeze on a Tucson afternoon when we were the only flight departing. Boarding was just as quick and our flight departed out of scorching Tucson for LAX. The TUS-LAX flight was uneventful with a drink service (I had ginger ale) and a smooth landing in LAX at 17:30.
Our CRJ-700 to LAX
Tucson's exciting ramp. Basically the terminal layout is a miniature Seattle-Tacoma without the satellite terminals.
LAX's much more exciting ramp action. SQ taxiing in after direct flight from SIN. VA, Air Tahiti Nui, LH, Air Berlin.
BA to LHR blasting away.
After deplaning we walked from Terminal 8 down the line of terminals to TBIT.
Last year when my Chinese teacher was not travelling with us to Beijing we took the airport bus to Air China in Terminal 2. When the overhead announced "China Airlines" upon our stop at the International Terminal my fellow travellers started getting off. I told them to stay on and they all yelled at me to get off. I told them it wasn't the right airline and they said "no they just said China AIrlines!"
Even the lady driving the bus told me "sir you need to get off now!" I quietly explained to them that China Airlines flew to the Republic of China on Taiwan. We wanted Air China which flew to Beijing. They all silently reboarded the bus. I admit it confused me for the longest time...before I discovered airliners.net!
This year my Chinese teacher, who is a seasoned traveller, knew where we were going. We had dinner in the International Terminal and then got in line for the Air China check-in counters to open in Terminal 2. By 22:15 we proceeded through security and entered the compact Terminal 2 which was allive with red-eye flights departing to , Central America, Canada, Minneapolis (Sun Country), and of course our flight to PEK. For the next three hours I walked around the terminal watching the various flights depart to arrive at dawn at their destinations. CA to PEK was one of the last red-eye flights out of Terminal 2, departing at 1:30. Only one more flight followed us out of the terminal, Taca to SJO at 2:15. CA and BR (Eva Air) also seem to be the last two Asian carriers to depart LAX for the evening bank of flights.
The view during dinner. AA to LHR
LH, SQ, and MS. Evening bank begins.
LX, MX, SU, while KE taxis to a remote stand
On our way from TBIT to T2
I ventured over to NZ check-in to look around. Their flights had already departed to the South Pacific.
Hawaiian check-in became Air China check-in at 21:30
Makali'i arriving into LAX at midnight. I will see it 3 weeks later in HNL.
ETE: 12 hrs
Boeing 747-400 Combi
At 1:00 we boarded CA984. My seat, 36A was in the forward section of economy just behind first class and adjacent to the staircase leading to the upper deck. Air China's cabins are simple and, in many aspects, worn. The seats were frayed in areas and the overhead bins had cracks in the material. Media equipment consists of a projector-type screen. The flight attendants were brisk with getting passengers to their seats. In 2009 our flight had a number of empty seats and I had the fortune of a vacant seat between my window seat and the woman in the aisle seat. This last flight was full. Despite this I found my situation very comfortable. The seats are wider than on most planes and pitch was generous. I could stretch my legs out over my bag which made the flight quite comfortable. The pillow and blanket I found on my seat was a nice touch. Oh how I wish US airlines felt the same way about pillows and blankets. Oh well.
As we pushed back from the gate the quiet, soft safety video was played and I realized at that moment how excited I was for the flight. Once the vid was finished we taxied past the cluster of Taca, and Alaska Airlines planes at T2, T3 readying to depart to Mexico and Central America. TBIT was dark and quiet except for the radiant green of a BR 777-300 and the pink and blue of a China Airlines
) 747-400 ready to push back and follow us to the runway. Our taxi took longer than expected due to construction around TBIT and we took remote taxiway past the AA maintenance hangar and around past TBIT and Terminals 4-8. We were first in line of the Chinese departures (CA, BR, CL, CX). Our plane roared down the runway and climbed steadily into the night.
CA 747 Y class cabin
blurry pics of the LAX ramp at night.
Climb-out was pretty smooth and steady. The FAs came around with drinks and the plane started to cool down a little bit. I have noticed that, CA doesn't worry as much about cooling the aircraft as US airlines do. Once we were enroute however the temperature went down.
The two choices for dinner were beef or fish, both served with rice and vegetables in a stir-fry sauce. Throwing caution to the wind I chose fish. I recieved an abundant tray of food. The fish had a rubbery, cube-like quality to it and I ultimately avoided it. The rice and vegetables however were very tasty and flavorful. On the side came a dinner roll and a pineapple pastry-like bar which was...meh. Watching the Office certainly made the meal even better.
After dinner tea and water were served, lights were turned off, and windows were shut. Unlike many people I talk to I have never had problems sleeping on a plane and actually woke quite rested (well, as rested as one could expect for a plane flight). After about 6 hours of sleep I had several cups of water, which the flight attendants brought around the cabin frequently. Sunlight began to show Kamchatka and then gradually dimmed as we made our way south toward Manchuria. Breakfast with a sole choice of chicken with rice and vegetables. This meal was a large improvement over dinner in both quality and taste. An excercise vid was played for Y class passengers.
40 minutes away from PEK the FAs prepared the cabin for landing. We descended through the layers of clouds into a very dark, gray, and foggy Beijing Capital Airport.
Touchdown was at 5:28 and very smooth. We landed on the "remote" runway near Terminal 1. Our taxi to the opulent, modern, Terminal 3 was slow past the many planes parked overnight in PEK. Terminal 3 was deserted apart from our CA984 from LAX and another CA flight from MAD. Customs was brisk and the train system from the International end of T3 took us to baggage claim where we collected our luggage and stood in line for transfers with large number of people speaking Chinese, English, and Spanish.
AA's new service long-awaited ORD-PEK
Transfer was brisk and we entered the domestic terminal for our flight to Shanghai Pudong. I was expecting a Boeing 767-300 but we ended up on a bus to a remote stand where our 737-700 was waiting for the departure to PVG.
ETE:1 hr 40 min
Our flight to PVG was full, mostly with foreigners off to see the Expo 2010. Many of the American passengers on our flight from LAX were connecting with us. After a swift taxi we got in line with the several other CA 737s departing on domestic flights for the morning bank. We took off through the layers of smog, haze, and clouds and had a smooth ride to Shanghai.
Breakfast was served 30 minutes into the flight. The choice was between Chinese rice porridge or an American style breakfast of crambled eggs, sausage, hashbrowns, fruit cocktail, and a croissant. The FAs automatically gave all of the Americans the American breakfast. Go figure! The eggs were a little rubbery and the sausage was flavorless but the hash browns were tasty.
The approach over flat, wet Jiangsu Province was smooth and gradual. We landed near terminal one and, after a slow taxi, arrived on the other side of the airport at Terminal 2, the Star Alliance Terminal. Terminal 2 is well designed with domestic on the lower level and international on the second. The floor is carpeted with various sculptures and paintings on display. While PEK T3 is showy and monumental, Shanghai's Pudong T2 is sleek with a more comfortable feel to it.
After picking up our luggage we boarded our bus, jet lagged and weary, and drove to the Shanghai Respond Hotel to begin a wonderful four days in Shanghai.
DL to DTW