To get from Europe to Urumqi there aren’t an awful lot of options, it’s possible to fly directly to another Chinese city say on CA, CZ, HU, MF or MU, but considering that most flights between Europe and China arrive in cities in the east of the country resulting in one having to get a 10 hour+ flight and then another reasonably lengthy flight with the whole journey taking quite a while and costing quite a lot. Another option would be to fly via Almaty on Air Astana which is a much more direct and convenient route however I found tickets on this service to be expensive. CZ on the other hand offers direct links to URC from LED on a 752, SVO on a 737 and IST on an A332. Suspecting these flights to be expensive I was pleasantly surprised to find these very reasonably priced. Wanting to fly on their 752 the LED route was my first choice however taking into account visa costs, I opted to go for their IST A332 service.
CZ operated three weekly services to IST, these A332 flights flew from PEK-URC-IST and back again however these services appear to have ceased flying. Booking via the CZ website was largely trouble free and I was able to select seats for no extra charge at the time of purchase. Following the months after the booking I received two emails informing me in a change in departure and arrival times however these didn’t cause any problems for me.
I arrived at IST with buckets of time to spare, a good few hours before check in opened. I had been hopeful that the airport would have offered me somewhere to sit, charge my phone and surf the Internet with reasonable free wifi however I had no such luck. The airport was rather busy that evening and so seats in the check in hall were rather hard to come by, plug sockets seemed to be virtually nonexistent and so I opted to pay 2TL to charge my phone from one of the phone charging port, this managed to raise my battery from 11% to 13% in around 6 minutes before claiming that charging was compete. In terms of wifi, if you lack a Turkish phone number, it will be impossible for you to connect to the free public wifi and there are few if any alternative wifi spots to connect to here. I purchased a drink in Starbucks in order to use their wifi although I following my purchase I was informed the wifi was not working.
Check in began at 22:30, however queues at the check in desk were created by eagle eyed passengers when CZ branded items began appearing around the desks well before the desk numbers appeared on the screen. Having been located near the front of the individual check in queue, check in was relatively quick and painless although the staff seemed to be a little unfriendly. Although maybe I would be too if I had to be working at this time on a Friday night. On a side note, the check in staff seemed to be pretty surprised I was going to Urumqi. I guess most passengers on the flight are heading to PEK. The passengers on that
evening’s flight seemed to be mostly Chinese with a few Turkish and other foreigners. The latter all seemed to be heading to AKL via URC and CAN.
Crowds starting to form at check in, well before any staff appeared
Having seen the never ending chaos that was the immigration queue only an hour before, I was dreading heading there although I knew that it was better to join it sooner rather than later. Surprisingly there was virtually no queue whatsoever here and so I headed straight through to departures where I bought a bottle of water at a cafe in order to use their wifi. Past security, IST is a pretty decent airport albeit with poor wifi. There were some pretty interesting aircraft outside including an Ariana Afghan A310 bound for Kabul, Somon Air 739, Taban Air MD-80 and Meraj Air A300.
From – Istanbul Ataturk, LTBA
To – Urumqi Diwopu Intl, ZWWW
Aircraft – B-6077, Airbus A330-242
Flight no – CZ680
Dep time (Sched/Act) – 01:45/02:28
Arrival time (Sched/Act) – 12:55/12:41
Flight time – 5H13
Despite my boarding pass claiming that our flight would depart from gate 210, the screens showed otherwise claiming our flight would depart from gate 304. I arrived at the gate at 00:45, the scheduled boarding time however I was greeted by a final boarding message, although this was no cause for concern as most passengers seemed to be only just arriving at the gate. I boarded a rather empty bus bound for our A332, as one would expect we waited for some time until the bus was full. Once this was the case the doors were closed and the engine was turned off, waiting for around 20 minutes until we finally left the bus stand. However we weren't bound for the aircraft but rather another bus stand where the engine was then turned off for another 20 minutes or so. We didn't actually arrive at the aircraft until our scheduled departure time of 01:45 which meant I had been stuck on an airport bus for an hour!
Our aircraft for the flight was domestically configured A330-243, B-6077 which made its first flight in Toulouse in February 2007 and has been flying for CZ ever since. Most photographs of the aircraft show it on the ground in China however there are also some showing the aircraft in Dubai.
Climbing up to our A332
Upon arrival at our aircraft our bags were given a swab (presumably by a CZ security guard) and a cabin crew member was standing on the steps advising passengers to hand in any lighters that they had been able to get past security. Being a domestic A330, our aircraft was devoid of any PTVs. Oh well, I had planned to sleep on this flight so this wasn't a massive problem for me anyway. After a pretty mediocre welcome from the crew I made my way to my seat. The interior of the cabin appeared to be pretty clean and tidy however there were visible signs of wear on many of the seats. The legroom was certainly far from desirable, something which was made worse by the presence of large metal footrests on the seats. The aircraft filled up very quickly although the seat next to me remained empty for quite some time.
Standard CZ domestic economy class seating onboard
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After a welcome announcement we began our pushback after 02:00 and the safety video was played. Our taxi to the runway was rather short however we held for around 15 minutes whilst mostly TK heavies departed. At 02:28 began our takeoff off roll which seemed to be rather unimpressive and slowly climbed up into the night sky above Istanbul. Our climb offered us fantastic views of Istanbul before heading for the nation's northern coastline. Eventually the cabin lights were switched on and the pre meal drinks service began. I wasn't too keen on this because by this point I just wanted to sleep however credit to CZ crew for being able to do this and the meal service so quickly. The meal service consisted of beef or chicken with rice, an olive salad, fruit and a bread roll. I opted for the chicken and it was served in a delicious tomato/cream sauce. The chicken itself however was a little dry and rubbery. At this time the inflight entertainment began on the overhead screens, this consisted of Zoolander 2 and another Hollywood movie. It was a good job I wasn't bothered about watching these as either the headphones or the headphone jack was broken as no sound was being played.
I slept rather well for most of the flight and by the time I woke up we were over far eastern Kazakhstan crossing into Chinese airspace. Unfortunately clouds covered up our view until we began our descent. We eventually began our descent which took us over the industrial areas surrounding the city. Admittedly the approach into Urumqi does not do the area any justice and is not representative of the area’s fantastic scenery. Perhaps if I knew nothing about the area and was just transferring here I wouldn’t be too keen to visit Xinjiang judging by the approach views.
Somewhere over eastern Kazakhstan
Descending down over some industrial areas
And more industrial areas
Despite our late departure we arrived into URC ahead of schedule and made a short taxi to gate 23. Boarding seemed to be pretty slow and upon disembarkation passengers for PEK and CAN were filtered off leaving only a fairly small number of passengers at immigration meaning that immigration and baggage collection all happened fairly quickly.
Overall, my flight with CZ had been pretty so-so. Being kept on an airport bus for an hour was not a positive experience at all however this is most likely not down to the airline themselves. The crew seemed to be pretty cold and I was surprised at the lack of any breakfast snack. The cabin was worn and the seats had pretty poor legroom.
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.