Welcome to my second trip report!
November last year, my girlfriend and I began planning our Easter Holiday. All we knew at this stage was that we would be heading to Asia. In the past years, I repeatedly travelled to Hong Kong which will forever be my number one city in the world. It's a fascinating megapolis which has preserved the best of two worlds. As our best friends would be coming with us this time, we planned a trip including HK
. It would have been really cool to show them my favourite city, and as it was their first long haul trip, we thought HK
would have been a smooth first encounter with Asia. Unfortunately, fares to HK
were pretty high at this time, and our friends weren't sure to get these days off from work either.
So we continued planning our holidays alone. I've always had a soft spot for China, and that's probably why I started my studies of sinology some years ago. I never finished them, as they focussed too much on traditional Chinese, which I found to be barely useful for my later life. But I never lost interest in the language, the country and its people. As much as I love HK
, I've always had the feeling that it comes not even close to the real China of which I had steered clear for too long. So this year, I would set foot on real Chinese soil for the first time.
As I am a city boy, I thought it would be best to start off with two cities. I had desperately wanted to try Finnair on this trip, so I thoroughly searched their website and they indeed had some very good offers to Chongqing and back from Shanghai. But as it would have included a night in Helsinki, and given the short time frame for our holiday, I backed away from flying Finnair this time.
We finally stumbled across a very good offer by Lufthansa for a flight to Beijing and back from Shanghai at 630 Euros. Well, I'd never tried Lufthansa long haul before, and to be honest, I wasn't keen either. But apart from the price, they had some very persuading points: flying the A380 via Frankfurt to Beijing and the A340-600 back to Munich. I'd had the pleasure of flying the A380 in 2010 on Emirates to Bangkok, and I could not resist flying it again. And for the A340-600: I love the A340 series, and that would be my opportunity to finally log the -600 which I'd always wanted to be on. Well, given the price and the planes I would be flying on, this was a no-brainer. Booking through Lufthansa's website was a breeze and we could even select our seats for the long haul segments. For the A380 flight, we chose the mini cabin in the rear. Booked!
For our stay in Beijing, we chose the Regent in Dongcheng, while for Shanghai, we booked the Langham Yangtze Boutique Hotel near People's Square.
We had just booked our flights and hotels, when our friends all of a sudden decided to come with us after all. We were really happy, but unfortunately I could not get them the same fare on Lufthansa anymore. In the end, they went on Qatar Airways through Doha on both flights and stayed at a different though nearby hotel in Shanghai.
For the Beijing-Shanghai leg, I searched ctrip, which obviously is the most reliable website for domestic flights. I'd wanted to go on Hainan Airlines but their fares were comparatively high and their schedule not favourable at all. So we chose China Eastern for a flight to Hongqiao at some 75 Euros. As the icing on the cake, our 11.30 flight would be operated by Shanghai Airlines on one of their 767s.
Some weeks in advance, however, I was called (!) by ctrip and they informed me that our flight had been cancelled and we had been rebooked on a China Eastern flight 25 minutes later. Well, so there went my FM
24/3 LH113 MUC
24/3 LH720 FRA
Y 380 Seats 93AB
30/3 MU5110 PEK
02/4 LH727 PVG
Y 346 Seats 55HK
AT THE AIRPORT
On the day of departure, I checked in online, which couldn't be easier on LH
Our flight to FRA
would depart at 14:00, our friends' flight to DOH
We were at the airport at 12:15 and decided to use the DIY baggage drop at one of LH
's self service kiosks, as the queue at the counters seemed incredibly long. Our friends arrived at 12:30 and headed over to QR
's baggage drop counter. All in all a matter of five minutes. We passed security and bid farewell to our friends who went upstairs to the non-Schengen departure level. We proceeded straight to our gate G18.
It's a nice touch that LH
is still offering free coffee and newspapers in the gate area.
24th March 2013
14:00 - 15:05
Off blocks 14:05
Take off 14:13
Touch down 14:59
On blocks 15:10
del 10 Oct 2007
20th flight on Lufthansa
28th flight on A320 series
4th flight on A321
Boarding started at around 13:40. We were welcomed at door L2 by two friendly stewards offering chocolate bars. Today's flight had a light load with the aft cabin nearly empty. The overwing area, however, was pretty crowded, so the crew tried to persuade passengers to move to the back. My seat mate in 24D gladly accepted to get a row of her own down the aisle.
I must confess that I like the new short haul cabin. It's a clean and simple design, well and truly Lufthansa. I find the seats quite comfy, they seem to offer a bit more legroom than their predecessors. I'm not quite sure about longer legs like TLV
or AMM, but they are perfectly comfortable for flights under two hours.
A welcome from the cockpit. Our captain wished us a pleasent stay on board. We left the gate at 14:05 and made our way to runway 08L. After a swift taxi, we took off at 14:13, leaving MUC
to the east, with a quick turn to the northwest shortly after take off.
Although this was a short flight, the cabin crew wasn't forced to hurry, given the light load. So they made their way through the cabin offering relaxed sunday afternoon service. Perfect timing, as they had just finished service when the flight got a bit bumpy.
Cabin crew was a nice bunch of people. The one steward serving our row, however, was a poster boy of his occupation: he was noticeably enjoying his job and the interaction with passengers, professional and easygoing at the same time.
We soon started our decent into FRA
, and the flight got even more turbulent with some stronger crosswinds on final approach. We touched down on the northern runway 07L at 14:59 and crossed the Autobahn A3
. We could have made it an on time arrival, but a departing aircraft was obstructing the area between Terminal A and B. We finally made it to gate A15 at 15:10, just five minutes behind schedule.
CONNECTING IN FRA
It was my first time connecting on LH
, and I was pleasently surprised how easy it was. Sure, it's a stone's throw from concourse A to concourse Z, but it took us less than 15 minutes from A15 to Z62. Passport control was deserted, and the laid-back and cheerful officers wished us a great time in Beijing.
Boarding commenced at 16:15 sharp and was somewhat unorganised. Two long queues formed around gate Z62 and turned completely chaotic after some time, making it hard for other passengers to pass on their way to gates behind. I seriously wonder why they don't board a big plane like this by seat rows. Airlines like Cathay Pacific do manage this pretty well: boarding by seat rows and strictly turning away passengers. I would have thought Lufthansa would demonstrate some more German accuracy here
24th March 2013
17:00 - 09:30+
Off blocks 17:13
Take off 17:31
Touch down 09:05+
On blocks 09:12+
D-AIMH "New York"
del 07 Jul 2011
21st flight on Lufthansa (1st long haul)
2nd flight on A380
We boarded the big beast through door M2L and were greeted by the flight attendants.
For this flight, we had chosen seats in the mini compartment at the very back of the cabin. With only 7 rows and 70 seats, it's quite cozy. And welcome to the territory of Madam Lufthansa, a flight attendant in her late 40s or early 50s (well, maybe she was younger?). She was pretty much the prototype of what I had always imagined as the typical Lufthansa flight attendant: Friendly, but not overly welcoming; courteous, but rather reserved. She had some very meaningful looks and while she was smiling from time to time, her eyebrows seemed to reveal so much about what she was really thinking of this and that. She had a fascinating way of looking annoyed, she seemed like she was doing this job just for the sake of escaping from the bordom of her villa in Wiesbaden, where she's living with her husband, who is mostly on business trips. I got to really like her when I saw she was watching fellow passengers trying to put way too large luggage in the already full overhead bins. She was mostly standing idly by and her looks were speaking volumes! She noticeably enjoyed the drama and only stepped in to assist shortly before luggage was to drop down.
16:56, boarding completed. Load factor was very high, jugding from the fact that there was no empty seat in the aft cabin. Very warm welcome from the cockpit, followed by cabin crew.
We pushed back at 17:13 and taxied down to runway 07C, following UA933 to IAD
(I guess). At 17:31, it was our turn. Take off on the A380 is amazing. It's powerful without feeling violent, smooth and remarkably silent.
We turned northeast shortly after take off, allowing a nice view of Mainhattan in the evening sun.
Menu cards were handed out, followed by hot towels and a first round of drinks and snacks.
We had just passed north of GDN
when meal service started. I took the poulard, my girlfriend went for the beef. Both meals were quite tasty, well above standard, I'd say. The mango creme cake was delicious!
During meal, the crew offered water, followed by tea and coffee, followed by brandy and Baileys. All in all, service was very efficient, but not rushed at all. Well, it's a rather 'short long haul flight', I think they tried to give their passengers as much time to rest as possible. Some 3 hours into the flight, passing south of LED
, lights were dimmed. For the next few hours, I tried to get some sleep. The crew did water runs every half an hour. The curving of the wall makes it difficult to lean against it, which is the downside of the spacious cabin.
I woke up over Mongolia, just in time for breakfast. Lufthansa offers a full breakfast on this 9,5 hours flight to Beijing. I didn't expect this, to be honest. I'd thought we would be served a snack at best. I went for the noodels with poulard, which were, again, quite tasty.
For the rest of the flight, I enjoyed watching the landscapes. The closer you get to Beijing, the more it is self-explanatory why the city has a serious smog problem: chimneys, chimneys, chimneys, one after another in the middle of nowhere. Add some westerly winds...
We passed south of Beijing, made a last turn and approached Beijing Capital from the south. Sunny, but hazy.
We touched down on the eastern runway 01 at 09:05 local time. Wow, this terminal is looooong. Not a long way to our gate though. We reached our parking position at 09:12, well ahead of schedule.
BEIJING HUANYING NI
Terminal 3 is a spectacular building. The cealing is of huge dimensions, its design is a bit tacky though, imho, as it looks a bit like a bed's slatted frame.
Although we had been the last to disembark, immigration was a matter of only 10 minutes or so. We took the train to the main building, where our luggage arrived just minutes later.
I really needed a cigarette, so we went upstairs to departure level and looked for a smoking area at the curbside. Well, prior to this trip I had done some research on Beijing's air pollution. I'd read some reports, watched the pollution index...but I only got to know what smog means when I stepped out of Terminal 3. It was like standing in front of an open-hearth fireplace and taking a deeeeep breath. For a second, we both had regrets about visiting Beijing.
We went back in and headed over to the information counter to find out more about our friends' flight from Doha, which was delayed by 2 hours. So we catched a taxi to Dongcheng.
We had booked 5 nights at the Regent in Dongcheng.
It's a nice hotel in a good location with beautiful rooms, but the Regent seemed overly focussed on the Asian traveller. Their staff were nice and polite, but they all seemed pretty uneasy interacting with western guests, most notably because their language skills are beyond good and evil. It really hampers them to deliver good service. It's a good choice overall at a reasonable price, but I'm not too sure I wouldn't look at another hotel next time.
We took a shower and decided to explore the area until our friends would arrive.
We strolled around for about an hour and I can tell you, we were exhausted! We felt like after a boozy night, our lungs were burning like we had smoked a packet of cigarettes, and our heads were aching. We were clueless how to survive the coming days. But we had great luck as the wind veered the next day, blowing from the east for the rest of our stay, allowing us pretty smog-free days in Beijing.
Our friends finally arrived at around 6pm, pretty exhausted and somewhat p*** off from their first long haul flight
Beijing is a must-see destination when it comes to historic and cultural sights. We did all the must-visit attractions: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall at Mutianyu... We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, Beijing is a great sightseeing destination. However, we agree that the city itself lacks atmosphere. Well, we didn't feel the 'vibe' or 'peculiar charm' of it, but - in defence of Beijing - we've barely left the beaten tracks.
LEAVING FOR THE BCIA
On the last morning, we got up at 7 and left for the airport some three hours before departure. On this saturday morning, traffic was light, so it only took some 35 minutes to Terminal 2. We were let off at the curbside and grabbed our luggage. When I checked my pocket, my mobile was missing... So I chased after our taxi like crazy and got it back! Well, I shouldn't have laughed at a friend of mine before who had once lost his mobile on a taxi in Beijing
Terminal 2 is nothing to write home about. We made our way over to the China Eastern check-in. Well, let's say, queue-jumping seemes to be a rather accepted behaviour in China, done without the slightest qualm. I'm pretty sure this old gran was well aware of what she was doing...
I should have done some research on baggage regulations in China prior to our flight. No lighters allowed, not even in your hand luggage. I was even asked to remove my beloved hotel matches from my luggage
Chinese authorities really do fear the fire...and for a reason, I suppose, but well, their country, their rules.
Security was very thorough and took some 10 minutes. Once we were airside, there was not much to do. I wasn't particularly looking forward to this flight. I had booked a Shanghai Airlines flight on one of their 767s, but it had been cancelled and we had been rebooked on China Eastern metal. Hey, an A330 after all, love that plane, but FM
would've felt more 'exotic' and I hadn't heard the best about MU
Some 40 minutes prior to departure, our A330 pulled up to the gate. Our ride today would be on B-6126, painted in special 'people.cn' colours. Well, one of these rather tacky designs. I'm not against special colours, not at all. But those are rare that manage to combine the airline's branding and the special design elements - and this MU
bird looks pretty cheap, imho. Nonetheless I was pleased to fly a special livery for the first time
30th March 2013
11:55 - 14:10
Off blocks 12:05
Take off 12:17
Touch down 13:56
On blocks 14:06
B-6126, special colours "people.cn"
del 23 Sep 2006
1st flight on China Eastern
8th flight on A330
3rd flight on A330-300
As I said, I didn't expect much of China Eastern.
Boarding started about 25 minutes before departure and went surprisingly orderly.
We boarded through door 2L and were greeted by a very friendly flight attendant. The cabin was spotless clean and in very good condition. Load was good on this flight, pretty much every seat taken in Y. There are plenty of flights every day between Beijing and Shanghai, China Eastern alone operates hourly flights between PEK
, up to two flights per hour at peak times. Add CA
to the list... And it's mainly a widebody route.
The crew was very proactive in helping passengers to stow their hand luggage, with great care for older people. My first impression of MU
actually was pretty good (apart from the horrible music played during boarding, a mix of instrumentals of hits from the 80s, would've prefered some traditional chinese music).
Legroom was more than sufficient for this flight. Next to us, a China Southern A380 pulled up to the gate, what a great sight! I quite like their livery. Well, our windows were pretty dirty, so it was hard to get some good pictures.
No welcome from the cockpit, not a single word during the whole flight. We were pushed back at 12:05 and the safety demo was played on the overhead screens. On our way to runway 36R, we overtook SU
's A330-300 to SVO
and a CZ
's A320. We entered the runway at 12:17 and off we went towards SHA
. I've never experienced such a steep climb before, we were litteraly pressed into our seats. Only 6 minutes after take off, seat belt signs were switched off.
Service started after some 30 minutes with a combined meal and bar service.
Both the male and the female flight attendant serving our row were very friendly. And you could really tell a difference in interacting with Chinese passengers and us. While they dealt in a 'typically chinese' way with their fellow countrymen, they showed a much more direct and casual approach to us westerners, albeit not artificial at all. That's what I'd call professionalism and some sense of intercultural competence, something I had missed all these days in Beijing. Moreover, their English skills were quite good.
Meal choices were chicken with rice or beef with noodels. We were all quite hungry and really looking forward to getting something to eat (as far as someone can look forward to economy class plane food). I took the chicken, my girlfriend went for the beef. Didn't look too bad, actually...
Well, it was by far the most disgusting stuff I've ever got served on a plane, and it's pretty high on the list for the nastiest meal wheresoever on this planet. But we were starving, and hunger is the best sauce... The beef was slightly less disgusting
I couldn't wait for coffee service to wash it down. Well, China might not be the best place on earth for a good coffee, I was pretty much aware of that. But MU
also wins a medal for the worst coffee in the world. MU
's version was some kind of sweetend dish water, a lukewarm mix of coffee (?), milk and sugar. Ugh!
We swiftly started our descent into Hongqiao Airport, overflying the industrial outskirts of the Shanghai agglomeration. After preparation for landing, the flight attendants stood in the aisles and bowed to their valued customers. Very nice.
We touched down on runway 18L at 13:56. Our captain slamed like hell on the brakes. We crossed the other runway over to the domestic terminal. Our gate was still occupied by a fellow MU
333, so we had to wait for around 5 minutes. We reached the parking position at 14:06, perfectly on time. Next to us a FM
767 I had hoped to be on. 'The Power of Love' was playing in continuous loop, which might have accelerated deplaning enormously
Hongqiaos domestic terminal is a nice building. It certainly is no architectural highlight, but it's clear and simple, with wide alleys, designed for the masses. Our luggage arrived after 2 minutes and off we went to the subway. Hongqiao is well connected to Shanghai's subway and railway system. There is a direct metro line to People's Square, where our hotels were located.
From the minute we stepped into the train, we all could tell that Shanghai is totally different to Beijing. Everything looked faster and busier.
30 minutes later, we arrived at People's Square. It's a connecting point for at least 3 metro lines and I can tell you, it's like a anthill. Thousands of people in a hurry, every which way. It's well-signposted, though, so we quickly found the right exit which was just in front of our hotel.
We would be staying at the Yangtze Boutique Hotel (Hankou Rd.), whereas our friends chose Le Grand Méridien at Nanjing Donglu, just a stone's throw from our hotel.
The Yangtze Boutique Hotel used to be a Langham property. They had changed just weeks prior to our stay, and we were a bit nervous what to expect (they not even had a proper website for a very long time, they are back online in the meantime, their new website is tacky and unprofessional imho, and they still use the Langham name in their URL though it's definately not a Langham property anymore).
We received a very warm welcome from the staff, they had definately upheld to Langham standards. It's a lovely hotel. I had always wanted to stay at this hotel! It's an old Art deco building with wonderful retro rooms, really cozy yet elegant. Like a trip back in time into Shanghai's Golden 20s. Attentive staff, wonderful service, great location. Perfect!
We had a great time in Shanghai. To be honest, we found Shanghai to be the more vibrant city. I loved its Art Deco architecture here and there, the Bund, the skyline of Pudong (which really is a ghost town at night, talk about urban planning)...
NO MAGLEV FOR ME
We were really sad to have to leave Shanghai and our beautiful hotel. On the other hand, we were glad to escape, as first news on bird flu deaths in Shanghai were going around. Our friends would be flying one hour later, so they decided to stay a bit longer in the city. We would meet at the airport later.
I wanted to use the Maglev train to Pudong Airport, so we prebooked a taxi to the Maglev station. Our taxi arrived on time, the bellboy told our driver to take us to the station (at least what I could understand) and off we went. Our driver was heading southwest and at this time, I was sure he would be bypassing traffic congestion. We then entered a highway south of Shanghai and now it was clear that he wouldn't take us to the Maglev station. I told him that we didn't want to go to the airport, I even tried in Chinese, but he didn't...well, he wasn't particularly willing to understand. He actually did understand my Chinese when I told him which airline we would be flying on. Not the very best last impression of Shanghai...
Terminal 2 is a nice but pretty ordinary building. I was still angry that I was deprived of my Maglev ride, so I didn't really enjoy the airport. So what...next time.
Lufthansa check-in is handled by China Eastern which I found strange since they do have Chinese partners. We were waiting in line when a German family arrived. Their daughter queued up behind us and was promptly advised by her dad:
"Come here! As if we would be flying Economy! We don't have to queue!". Don't get me wrong, he has every right to enjoy the benefits he payed for, but it's just condescending to yell so that everybody can hear. "Welcome back to Munich", I thought to myself.
Check-in was a quick affair, the China Eastern agent was friendly and pretty efficient.
Our friends should have arrived by then. We got a bit worried and tried to reach them. They had taken the subway and wouldn't arrive before 22:45. So we agreed to meet the next day in Munich.
We disposed of all lighters we had bought in Shanghai and headed over to passport control and security, which was a matter of 15 minutes or so. Our flight would be departing in about 90 minutes, so we strolled around the duty-free shop and looked for a smoking room, though I had some doubts about how to light my cigarette.
Now why didn't I think of that?!
Well, it was time to head over to our gate. A long queue had already built. On the tarmac, our A340-600 D-AIHZ "Leipzig" was waiting for us. Boarding started 40 minutes prior to departure, relatively orderly.
What a funny sight: two female China Eastern agents were holding up signs with our flight number and destination. Good idea...NOT, as they were both standing stock-still right next to the counter and beneath a large screen showing our flight number and destination. Big fail.
02nd April 2013
23:35 - 05:35+
Off blocks 23:35
Take off 23:52
Touch down 05:42+
On blocks 05:49+
del 06 May 2009
22nd flight on Lufthansa
7th flight on A340
1st flight on A340-600
I finally had the chance to fly the beautiful A340-600, my favourite aircraft. We boarded through door 2L, went through the galley and all the long way down to the aft cabin where we were seated in 55HK
. I found the older seats quite comfortable, a bit better than those on the A380. Leg room was...ok.
23:22, boarding completed. Again a very healthy load. Very nice welcome from the cockpit and the cabin. We were pushed back on time and made our way over to the other side of the airport where we lined up for runway 35R. Our captain informed us that we had to wait some 5 to 10 minutes due to air traffic congestion over China. We entered the runway at around 23:52 and I thouroughly enjoyed the sound of the engines. Unfortunately we were seated on the wrong side, so no views of Shanghai.
We headed west after take off. Some 15 minutes into the flight, the crew sprang into action, distributing menu cards, followed by hot towels. No amenity kits on this night flight, though. They quickly began bar service when we were just passing over Nanjing. I chose a gin and tonic.
Our row was served by a Chinese girl in her early 20s and an Austrian woman in her late 30s. Both were not particularly warm, the Austrian rather chilly, but friendly enough. In defence of the Chinese girl, she was pretty new on the job, seemed to be one her first flights. Her German was elementary, her English a lot better. She was really nice, but very insecure in what she was doing. She just had no routine, fully understandable.
Meals were served 90 minutes into the flight. The Austrian flight attendant continuosly explained all the small steps and tricks to her Chinese collegue. What I found a bit misplaced was the fact that they chatted about the bird flu fatalities in Shanghai while serving their passengers. I chose the pork with Sichuan sauce, my girlfriend went for the beef. Both were eatable, but definately not on par with the catering out of FRA
Our cabin was supervised by a very pleasant and charismatic purserette in her late 40s. She was continously encouraging the Chinese girl with great patience and warmth. When service had ended, she approached a passenger on the other side of the cabin and signaled her crew to come over. In a group of five, they joined in a birthday song and presented him with a birthday cake. Definately makes a difference, thumbs up!
I tried to get some sleep and snoozed surprisingly well for some 5 or 6 hours. I woke up when breakfast service started. I hate eggs, so I was glad that Lufthansa was offering an alternative in the form of noodles with chicken. The meal was quite ok.
Time to visit the lavatories downstairs. Well, it will take some time till I will be able to afford to walk UP
a plane's staircase, so at least I now went DOWN once
Something took my attention down there: between the toilet doors, there were ashtrays all over the place. And clearly marked as those! Does anybody know why LH
decided to outfit their 346s with ashtrays?
I wonder if this might not lead to some confusion. It's pretty clear that LH
is a non-smoking airline, but to the less seasoned traveller, this looks like an invitation to smoke. This underfloor arrangement of lavatories equipped with ashtrays all over the place might look like a smoking lounge to one or another. Any insights?
Shortly after, we started our descent into MUC
(with the usual run on the toilets). We touched down on runway 26L at 05:42 and went on blocks at 05:49, some 15 minutes behind schedule.
Immigration was a quick affair for us, as the EU-citizen line was by far the shortest.
Our luggage arrived after 10 minutes.
So glad I've finally come to visit China! This country of huge dimensions surely offers so much more than Beijing and Shanghai, but it's a start. I'll come back, not alone for the food
is a must-see destination with its (remaining) historic sights, which are stunning. In some areas of the old Beijing, you can still feel the time standing still, fighting all the modernity around. At large, however, Beijing lacks atmosphere, imho (though much of it might have been destroyed in recent years). The air quality does the rest.
is a vibrant megapolis. I loved the architectural remains from its colonial past, blended with modern skyscrapers. (though I still prefer Hong Kong
was not my first choice. I had hoped to end up on Shanghai Airlines metal (albeit a MU
company). But China Eastern turned out to be better than expected. Cabin in immaculate condition, friendly service, good english and on time flights. On the downside, however, disgusting meals (though always nice to be served a meal on a domestic flight).
, well... Lufthansa did deliver exactly what I expected. And that's the airline's secret of success, imho. Lufthansa delivers what the passenger expects: a safe flight, on time, eatable meals, friendly staff. No more, no less. It's reliable, it's predictable. It's all what a frequent flyer might want.
From time to time, they manage to surprise me (like with the birthday song for the fellow passenger). Most of the time, though, LH
is not a brilliant airline, but a CONSISTENTLY good carrier. Something I come to appreciate.
Glad I had another opportunity to fly on the A380 and finally got the chance to try the A340-600. Great planes!
Thanks for reading!