After receiving exceptional service (over-the-top, perhaps?) on Hainan’s inaugural flight from San Jose, California (SJC
) to Beijing (PEK
), will an ordinary flight on the return hold its own against the special flight? Let’s find out.
Read my inaugural flight trip report here:
Hainan (HU) Inaugural SJC-PEK - 787 Business Class (by aal151heavy Jul 13 2015 in Trip Reports)
I will leave out the small details. I covered them in depth (along with lots of photos) in that trip report.
Ten minutes before the appointed time, a black Mercedes sedan was already waiting for pick up at my hotel. The airline had sent multiple emails confirming the ride time and location, which was reassuring.
It was midday Sunday; there were no traffic issues leaving Dongcheng (“East City”). Compare that with the weekday during my stay: traffic was consistently heavy and congested. Then again, what would one expect in the capital of China? For some reason, traffic slowed when we got onto the Airport Expressway. Nevertheless, we made it to PEK
in 40 minutes, a distance of 30 km. Not too bad.
The driver called ahead to ensure someone picked me up at Terminal 2. When we pulled up to the curb, a petite female Hainan ground agent was waiting for me with a luggage trolley. Feeling chivalrous, I decided to lift my own luggage out of the trunk instead making her perform manual labor.
She did push my trolley the rest of the way, though.
There was a security and x-ray scan right at the terminal entrance. At the ticket counter, agents were just opening at departure minus three hours, so I had to wait for a few minutes before they were setup and ready to accept passengers. After checking in, my escort dropped me off at passport check. She pointed out the lounge invitation and reminded me to use the lounge. With a hearty “thank you”, I proceeded on. Passport control itself was quick and efficient. Strangely enough, there was a second check right before security screening. There, the agent was decidedly more intimidating. He scanned my passport, checked my boarding pass (being photographed all the while), and typed a bunch of stuff into his terminal before letting me into x-ray screening. It took 20 minutes to go through the entire passport/security process.
Beijing’s Terminal 2 had seen its glory days. There were just two Duty Free stores (both seen here at the left and right). Everything was overpriced.
Many stores were either closed or under renovation and there was just one restaurant that I could recall. At least there was a nice and recently remodeled Starbucks doing brisk business.
In addition to serving Hainan, BGS
Premier Lounge is also contracted to serve SkyTeam alliance airlines. Air China has its own dedicated lounge elsewhere in the terminal. After checking in with the receptionist, I picked up my wifi password receipt and proceeded into the lounge.
Inside, the lounge appeared dated and is in need of a remodel. Restroom facility was not contained within the lounge itself, which required one to exit and reenter.
Wifi splash screen promoted Hainan’s new flights – including SJC
Beverage selection, including alcohol, soft drinks, and juices, was excellent. Having an espresso machine was great as well – really what one would expect at an international lounge. Food selection, however, was rather paltry (same can be said for the quality). There were pastries, small sandwich squares, curry noodles, and steamed dumplings. The most popular item was congee (rice porridge) with all the fixings.
Being the lunch hour, I was in no mood for congee. I opted for noodles and dumplings. The Nestlé Milk Tea unfortunately was watered down, despite being delivered through its own-branded dispenser.
View of Terminal 2 from the lounge.
Interestingly enough, flight announcements were made by one of the receptionists walking around the lounge shouting out flight information.
San Jose, Hanoi, or Ashgabat? Your choice!
Upon the shouting announcement of my flight, I proceed to Gate 1. Its entrance, a narrow corridor, was hidden in between two shops. Gate 1 is actually a holding area for the remote boarding. Despite being there at the exact boarding time of 2:15 pm, there was no one in line. I received one last bag check and my can of souvenir Chinese Coke obtained at the lounge was confiscated. I was told I could not take it with me. Rolling my eyes, I said, “fine…”
After proceeding through the door towards the big bus, I was directed around the corner to a small van. “Ah”, I thought with a smile, “a special VIP bus for Business Class!”
After waiting for everyone in Business Class to show up (in the end, there were just seven of us), we made a long trek around the terminal and across field to remote parking near the Hainan hanger to our awaiting Dreamliner
It was quite an exciting moment for this 787 fanatic to walk across the open ramp with my favorite airplane in sight! At the foot of the steps, there was another security boarding pass check, and up I went to aircraft B-2728.
August 2013 (age 2.7 years)
Hainan Airlines (HU) 7989
Beijing Capital (PEK) – San Jose International (SJC)
Scheduled Departure – Arrival:
2:45 pm – 11:30 am
Actual Departure – Arrival:
2:36 pm – 11:34 am
Runway 19, 2:56 pm
Runway 30L, 11:28 am
11 hours 30 minutes
Flightaware Flight Track:
Those of us in Business Class were the first to board. Just like the outbound flight, service started immediately after I got to my seat, preventing me from exploring the back cabin. Flight Manager Li introduced himself and said the expected flying time would be 11 hours and 10 minutes. Drinks, nuts, and towel were offered. Once again, I went with Hainan Passion, the airline’s own fruity concoction.
Unlike the outbound flight, the seat was already stocked with blanket and amenity kit, instead of being handed out prior to bed-making.
Another flight attendant presented the menu. Once again, I went with one of the Chinese options for lunch and tea – this time, tieguanyin.
I looked ahead to preview the pre-arrival meal, but the flight attendant took away my menu. I was surprised. “Okay...I thought”, maybe I will get it back before the next meal.
Pre-occupied with my meal order, I didn’t notice how many busloads of economy class passengers boarded. Either case, it could not have been many, because we closed the door ten minutes early and started our taxi five minutes later. Ah, the joys of remote stand!
Unlike the outbound flight, the map on my In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) did work correctly on this plane. Total distance was expected to be 5934 miles with 11:03 duration.
Once again, I was asked to put away my camera. You can’t blame the flight attendants for diligently following company policy.
We took off from Runway 19 at 2:56 pm, made a hard left bank, and headed northeast across Manchuria with California in our sights.
Twenty minutes after takeoff, service began with canapés and hot tea.
As expected, the carefully orchestrated table-setting show followed. The appetizer was very tasty. The octopus was tender, cooked just right - not chewy at all.
Having condiments for the soup with its own small bowl was a nice touch. However, you will note the empty dish from the previous course remained on my table. Unlike the outbound flight, empty dishes were not picked up prior to the following course. The crew seemed to be uncoordinated here.
There was a choice of three salad dressings, poured in front of you.
Utensil changes were performed as appropriate per course; however, they were not changed out 100% each time (which led me to believe the outbound crew went above-and-beyond the call of service).
Main course. Not having a menu to reference, I really can’t recall the exact name of the dishes. Left to right: crispy fried beef, vegetables, shrimp with dragon fruit along with condiments. The beef was dry and hard to chew, though another traveller thought it might suppose to be that way. It’s always dangerous to order something that does not re-heat well (in this case, fried), but I was curious to see whether they could pull it off. Not so much. The shrimp was mushy but the flavor was unique. Overall, I rate the main course as just average.
For dessert (served from the cart), I was offered both fruit and cheesecake. I gladly accepted both. Fruit was plated individually. One of the grapes escaped from the flight attendant’s tong. “Sorry”, she muttered.
Looks like this fork got on to the wrong plane!
Less than one hour after takeoff, while flying 35,000 feet over Harbin, lunch service was complete. Even though the service seemed rushed, by no means was the crew trying to finish their job just to hide from the passengers. The flight attendants remained attentive and responsive.
Bottled water was then handed out as well as custom forms. Flight Manager Li returned and inquired of the pajamas size required. He informed me that once I was ready for sleep, the crew would be providing turndown service.
I then realized the entire second business cabin was dark: no one was seated there and the lights were turned off.
Another flight attendant passed out a meal order card for the pre-arrival meal. It listed food generically (soup, noodles, rice, etc). You were to check off the desired items and leave it by your seat for pickup prior to retiring for the night. I asked to see the menu so I know what to order. However, the flight attendant said I didn’t need it (or somehow implied the menu was not applicable). Despite the card saying it was for the pre-arrival meal, I asked if it was for the mid-flight meal. She replied, “yes”, so I just left it unfilled.
Not seeing anything interesting on the IFE, feeling drowsy, I asked for my turndown service. I went into the lavatory and changed into my new PJs while flight attendants made up my bed.
Wearing eyeshades, earplugs, and fresh PJs, I comfortably settled into my bed. I lined up my body with the appropriate cushions in order to get proper support. I thought using the back massager might be helpful. But all that did was create a buzzing sound in the seat that resonated in my plugged-ear head. I quickly turned it off.
Eight hours later…
I vaguely hear talk of food around me. I then get a tap on my shoulder from my travel partner: “two hours to go!” “What the heck?” I thought. I did not realize I had slept that
I got up in a daze. The flight attendant picked up my meal card, but it was not filled out. Now I was a bit upset about not given a chance to see the menu for my breakfast - as well the miscommunication regarding that meal card earlier. Now under duress, I was asked to choose between the western meal or Chinese meal consisting of fried or soup noodles. I went with soup noodles. I recall seeing the menu earlier that I wanted one of the noodle dishes. I had a 50% chance of getting the one I wanted.
Beverage choice followed. I went with latte. Supposedly there were fresh coffee drinks made with an on-board espresso machine. But not the latte, apparently. It was a powder mix and it was overly sweet for my taste buds.
At 37,000 feet over Gulf of Alaska, breakfast opened with a selection from the steamer: bao (steamed bun), steamed cake, and yam.
Like lunch, the used appetizer plate was not picked up when my main arrived. I waited for minutes for the dirty plate to be picked before taking my photo. The flight attendant spilled the small soy sauce dish upon pick up. “Sorry”, said she.
Rice vermicelli with bok choy (Chinese broccoli) and pork with condiments on the side. I apparently made the “wrong” choice. This was the lighter of the two options and the one I really wanted was the fried noodles. Oh well…
I didn’t finish all of my soup. The flight attendant picked up my bowl and some of the soup sloshed on to the tablecloth. “Sorry”. I think she truly felt bad at this point and quickly took away my tablecloth.
My fruit arrived from the galley behind by another flight attendant. She asked, “what happened to your tablecloth?” “She took it away,” I replied – with a bit of attitude – “soup got spilled on it”. The tablecloth was quickly replaced so I could finish my breakfast elegantly.
After completing my meal, I went to the middle cabin snack bar, curious to see whether snacks were different on the return flight. Alas it had already been cleaned. A flight attendant saw me and asked whether I wanted anything. I said, “nah – I just wanted to see what was available”. She remained quiet and walked away – which made me wonder whether they cleaned up the snack bar prematurely?
As with the outbound flight, I was asked to complete the questionnaire booklet. Given the service was lacking, I gladly accepted the invitation.
Thirty minutes to arrival, everything got picked up and the cabin was ready for landing. We made our descend and approach from the Golden Gate before turning base near Mt Umunhum, a well-known landmark for us local San Jose residents.
Center – home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
At 11:28 am, we touched down at San Jose International’s Runway 30L, making my first landing at SJC
in the 787. At 11:34 am, we came to a stop at gate 18. In sight two gates down was the ANA 787. It was a glorious seeing two Dreamliners
at my home airport!
After deplaning, there was a hold up at the door into the terminal. Either immigration was not ready for us or the sterile arrival corridor was not closed off. We waited for five minutes or so before the doors opened. A Chinese tour group of about 50 people waited with us in the small foyer. Not sure if there were more economy class passengers waiting behind.
At immigration, there were about four or five open windows. There was not a line; I breezed through. At baggage claim, my checked bag was already waiting for me. After going through one last x-ray at customs, I was out at noon. Plane side to curb side in less than 30 minutes. Ah, the joys of flying into an uncongested airport. I was impressed!
Right outside customs, the limo driver holding my name was waiting. We crossed the street to his black Cadillac sedan parked curbside. Eighteen hours after leaving my hotel in Beijing – with a full and restful sleep enroute (which rarely happens for me) – I was back home.
B-2728 flying back to Beijing later that afternoon as flight HU
After experiencing exceptional service on the inaugural flight, my expectation was set very high for the return trip. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Having only seven passengers in Business Class with 36 seats, the crew might have been operating too efficiently which caused mis-coordination such dirty plates not picked up prior to the next course. Also, having to hear “sorry” three times on one flight was a definite low light. Finally, having my menu taken away at the beginning of the flight after the first meal order was a big let down in my book.
On the positive side, despite the unpolished service, the crew was genuinely caring, extremely responsive, and patrolled the cabin frequently.
Comparing notes with another frequent traveller flying in the same cabin, that person agreed with my assessment. She thought this crew was inexperienced, which explained the rough edges. We both thought the service was only average
, not on the level of a “five-star” airline. While the special (western) meal she ordered was only average
, I rate my Chinese meals as good
. To be fair, I noted all of these issues in my questionnaire response back to the airline. In the end, it was eye opening to see both ends of the spectrum for this stellar airline.