After a heavenly experience flying China Eastern’s (MU) First Class from New York (JFK) to Shanghai Pudong (PVG), it was time to fly back home following a quick two-day trip on China’s most fascinating city. But this time, I’d be flying in the airline’s Business Class.
Unfortunately, trying to check-in through the airline’s website proved to be hopeless, again. The site inadvertently switches from English to Chinese, and doesn’t recognize several browsers. Trying to select a seat is therefore mission impossible, so one is left with nothing but hope that a good seat will be assigned at the time of check-in.
This same experience occurred on my inbound trip, and it is one common cause of complaints by Western travelers who are used to relying on technology to enhance their experience with an airline.
After speaking to a China Eastern public relations representative and suggesting that the airline should update its website with a more globalized touch, she said that it has been pitched to them before but that China Eastern prefers to keep its system hosted in China. Disappointing, to say the least.
Regardless, it was time to head back and try the airline’s second premium product on board their new Boeing 777-300(ER), which proved to be an excellent fit for the airline on the inbound leg.
A relaxing 45-minute ride from my Bund-located hotel to the stunning PVG Airport marked the beginning of a long way back home: a 14-hour flight to JFK, a five hour layover, and a three-hour flight to Fort Lauderdale (FLL), totaling 22 hours of globe trekking.
My driver dropped me off at the new, impressive PVG Terminal 1 at 09:45, two hours before the scheduled departure time (SDT). As I stepped inside the gigantic building, I walked to the First and Business Class dedicated check-in area, which is separated from the rest of the counters and is adorned with a gigantic carpet, some plants and several couches spread out for passengers to relax on.
Being such a large and spacious terminal with tall windows and ceilings, the air can get quite humid and the air conditioning is set at ambient temperature—perhaps a little inconvenient for passengers used to much cooler temperatures.
The Business Class line was rather long. I had to wait approximately 15 minutes until a nicely uniformed lady took my passport and checked me in while I sat in a very comfortable chair. I must say it’s nice to be checked in while sitting down—it adds a personal touch that isn’t common in the industry.
Once my boarding pass was printed, I asked her what seat I’d gotten.
“You have seat 6A, Mr. Perrella. It’s a window seat right behind First Class,” she replied.
The best news I could get, since row 6 and 7 are located in a mini cabin between First Class and the L2 door’s galley, making it a more private environment than the 15-row Business Class cabin right behind.
As per our partner website, TheDesignAir, “the mini cabin of just two rows (6&7), situated at the front of the aircraft, just behind first class, is a quieter oasis where you will feel secluded, and more special, compared to the sea of luxurious seats in the cabin behind.” I had done my research, and couldn’t be any happier to be granted one of the eight seats in this private section of the aircraft.
See the aircraft’s seat map by clicking here.
FIRST AND BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGES
The second surprise of the day followed. An escort was called and she took me all the way from the check-in desk through security, helped me skip a few lines and brought me into the impressive First Class lounge, where I was given a complete tour and managed to spend a full hour before my journey back to America.
After requesting to tour the Business Class lounge as well, I managed to explore both stories of the crowded place. Delta (DL) and China Eastern passengers filled up the entire lounge, which not only features an exquisite noodle bar, but also a whole section dedicated to relaxation, with at least 12 massage chairs available at no extra cost to every customer.
Back at the First Class lounge, I was offered the opportunity to take a shower or sit in a private massage chair, though given my short time available until boarding, I had to skip and just enjoy a couple drinks at the bar.
The main difference between both lounges is the fact that the First Class one is completely secluded and there’s practically no other passengers waiting for their flights. The Business Class lounge, on the other hand, was very busy, for which finding an open seat or a more private space to sit was definitely a challenge.
BOARDING THE 777
At precisely 10:45, boarding was called and I was invited to scan my boarding pass through the expedited Business Class lane. My escort grabbed my carry-on and took it all the way to the L1 door of our 2016-delivered Boeing 777-300(ER).
“Mr. Perrella, it was a pleasure meeting you and I hope you will have a wonderful flight to New York,” she said. “Please, remember no photos are allowed with your mobile phone once we close our doors.”
Unlike on the outbound trip, the use of my iPhone was heavily restricted during any stage of the flight. Therefore, I wasn’t able to take photos of the Business Class cabin, which I heavily regretted.
As I entered the aircraft, a Flight Attendant took me to my seat, located right behind the First Class bulkhead. I managed to snap a few photos of the nice and spacious seats.
China Eastern has chosen the same Business Class seat American Airlines and Cathay Pacific use on its Boeing 777-300(ER) aircraft. 52 seats are available in Business Class, which features 14 rows in a 1-2-1 herringbone all-aisle access layout, which has become the norm for premium classes around the world and I have learned to love it.
This configuration not only gives you all the privacy you need, but also provides an aisle access which is key for such long flights.
At each seat however, there is little less space than first class, with 6’3″ of fully flat bed at your disposal and a seat width of just over 23″. The seat also has a wealth of storage spaces, hi tech amenities and a 16″ fully HD touchscreen monitor.
A very basic flight map function shows the typical route information, though it’s as basic as it can get. Movie and TV selections are also quite limited.
Business Class passengers are treated to a Clarins Amenity Kit and very basic non-noise-cancelling headphones. The Amenity Kit, albeit quite austere, has all the elements needed for a comfortable cruising. A pair of slippers were also offered, and at a later stage I was also offered the airline’s Business Class pajamas, which are of a much darker color and differently designed than those in First.
I was surprised to see pajamas being handed out in Business Class, but a nice addition to the amenities nonetheless.
As I settled, the Purser stepped into the Business Cabin from the First to introduce herself and welcomed me onboard. She informed that the total flight time would be 14 hours 03 minutes and said, “Mr. Perrella, if you need something at any stage of the flight, don’t hesitate to call any of us.”
Soon later, a wet towel was brought to me along with a chilled glass of Champagne. The same apple and orange virgin cocktails were offered on my First Class experience.
Another neatly dressed Flight Attendant then came with the flight’s menu. Once again, as on my outbound trip, she read it to me and stood there expecting a rapid answer. The two options were, again, Chinese and Western. I chose the former, anxiously waiting to try the airline’s Shanghai catering service.
Then, she asked:
“Mr. Perrella, what would you like to drink today?”
I said, “I’d like to have some Perrier with ice, please.”
And this was her answer:
“I’ll make sure your Perrier is always available during the entire flight.”
And so it was!
Boarding was completed in a quick pace and the aircraft’s doors were closed. At 11:33, almost 12 minutes ahead of schedule, our heavy Triple Seven pushed back from the gate and turned on its roaring GE-90 engines. A true AvGeek will shiver when a GE-90 is turned on. The vibrations and roar coming out of the core of the world’s biggest engine are truly invigorating.
Taxiing followed and 27 minutes later, we rolled down the runway and became airborne for the next 14 hours. The wing flex during our climb-out was somewhat spectacular. The Triple Seven is one amazing aircraft. I was able to record our takeoff and enjoy the long roll before lifting off from the ground.
Our climb-out to cruising altitude allowed us to enjoy great views of Shanghai’s outskirts, with unusually blue and unpolluted skies.
As we climbed out of Shanghai, the cabin was rapidly prepped for the main service. At 12:40, lunch was served, beginning with a Salmon Roe with Chopped Egg Tart, Parma Ham, and Scallop Skewer amuse bouche—maybe not so Chinese, I thought.
For this flight, I did order a delicious glass of red wine and my usual sparkling water with lemon and ice.
The quality of this first bite was good, though a little far in terms of presentation and quality with regards to my First Class experience.
The next dish was an appetizer of Duck Liver with Morel and Cordyceps millitaris, nicely served with some vegetables and a vinaigrette dressing.
A large selection of breads were brought on a large basket, including some aluminum-wrapped garlic bread which some passengers jumped to get. I chose a basic white bread to pair with the Foie Gras, and wasn’t disappointed. Overall taste was good and the appetizer was more filling than other ones I’ve had in the past.
Together with this dish, a small cup of soup made of Cordyceps millitaris and mushrooms with abalone and chicken broth was presented in a closed-lid glass container. It was tasty and warming, working perfectly well with the rest of the components on the tray.
And at last, the main course arrived, a salted vegetable and pork julienne Noodle Soup with pan-fried egg. Not as good as the soup I had in First Class, but I must admit I still enjoyed it.
At this point, the difference between the catering offered in both classes was indeed noticeable. And I’m glad it was.
A tiny plate of fruit was brought and several deserts were presented on a moving cart along with liqueurs and Port wine. I took a couple bites of fruit and reclined my seat to enjoy the flight and watch a couple movies to try and kill some time.
CRUISING THE PACIFIC
Today’s flight to New York would have us take off in broad daylight, cruise the Pacific at night time, enter the American Continent through western Alaska at dawn, and then fly towards New York through Canadian airspace.
I was able to enjoy a beautiful sunset while watching two movies on the basic IFE China Eastern has to offer. Even though the Panasonic ex3 suite is used by many award-winning airlines, MU has chosen a rather basic interface that limits the interaction with the user to a very few options.
Movie selections were also quite limited and all English-speaking movies had fixed Chinese subtitles.
At one point during my first movie, a Flight Attendant came to check on me and asked whether I wanted to log on the free WiFi network. I gladly accepted and she made sure my iPad was properly logged in. I truly appreciated their willingness to serve.
New bottles of Perrier and fresh glasses with ice were constantly brought to my seat without ever asking during the 14-hour crossing. I was truly impressed as each bottle was brought with a smile and my Flight Attendant seemed very happy to be doing her job.
The WiFi connectivity lasted throughout the entire flight, and the speeds were more than reasonable. I was very satisfied with the connectivity capabilities of our trans-pacific flight, and even better, it was for free.
After I finished my second movie, and with still 10 hours to go, I decided flatten my seat and try to sleep. Even though it was still 16:00 back in Shanghai, I knew I needed to sleep if I wanted to feel well upon landing in New York and make it all the way to South Florida in one piece.
To my surprise, the seat was so comfortable, spacious, and cozy, I woke up with only 28 minutes to go until landing. This means, I had slept for over 10 hours!
PRE-ARRIVAL SNACK AND LANDING
I couldn’t believe I had slept for so long. I managed to break my own sleeping record on board any plane by a long three hours. I was super proud of my accomplishment, and even more so because I’d been flying on a remarkably comfortable seat.
One of the Flight Attendants noticed when I woke up and rapidly came to offer me a snack. I gladly accepted it and she brought it within the minute.
The snack was some sort of a chicken pastry with two tomato-mozzarella sticks. A fresh glass of ice was brought along a new bottle of Perrier for this final stage of the flight.
Sadly, I’m not sure if another meal service was offered while I slept. I believe it was, especially because it was such a long flight. But my snack proved to be filling enough to keep me satisfied for the next four hours. However, for other passengers, a full second meal would have been necessary.
Soon later, our Triple Seven began descending into New York. We shot the impressive Canarsie approach into Runway 31L and firmly touched down, putting an end to yet another impeccable flight with China Eastern.
Our taxi to the gate took 15 minutes and, as I deplaned, I was sent away with smiles and greetings from the wonderful team of Flight Attendants that served me on this flight.
China Eastern has a nice thing going.
My two experiences with this airline were beyond outstanding. This Business Class flight not only offered me a superbly comfortable seat, but also a reliable—and free—WiFi connection, a superb in-flight service, attentive, smiling, and caring Flight Attendants, better than average food, and a wonderful plane that’s truly hard—if not impossible—to mess up.
China Eastern managed to make me fall in love with China. Sure, Shanghai’s charm had a lot of stake here, being a sensational city with lots of things to see, eat, and enjoy; but the overall service provided by the airline’s caring staff, both on the ground and in the air, was the cherry on top of an already succulent treat.
If I had to spend my money and miles in the future to travel to China, I wouldn’t hesitate doing so with China Eastern. I just wish they re-did their website to match it up with the excellent ground and in-flight product that I got to experience on this round-trip to Shanghai, and even perhaps update their livery with something more appealing than a completely white splash of paint on Boeing’s best-selling wide-body.
Again, this airline has a nice thing going and I can’t wait to fly them again.