China Eastern Airlines is one of the newer additions to the SkyTeam airline alliance. As Delta continues to shrink its service out of Tokyo, it has strengthened its relationship to China Eastern and its hub at PVG. Delta puts China Eastern in the top group of airline partners for earning Delta miles, bonuses and qualification dollars.
I booked this trip in business class for 140,000 SkyMiles. Now, thanks to an unannounced, no-notice, mega devaluation, it requires 160,000 SkyMiles for a business class trip to Asia on Delta and a whopping 190,000 SkyMiles on China Eastern.
Other posts about this trip from Charlotte, NC to Bangkok, Thailand via PVG:
I’d flown economy and a short business class flight on China Eastern and was looking forward to a long-haul business class experience on this airline.
MU 588 from JFK to PVG, a China Eastern 777-300ER, was scheduled to depart at 16:25. The flight was delayed slightly. I remained in the Air France lounge in T1 until after the boarding announcement. It was a short walk to the boarding gate on the main concourse at T1.
There was no one in the Priority boarding lane. I presented my China Eastern (not Delta) boarding pass and my passport and went right on board to the business section. Boarding through the second door from the front, a flight attendant (FA) offered a warm greeting and directed me to my seat, 8A.
China Eastern 777-300ER Business Class Cabins
China Eastern 777-300ERs have 52 business class seats in two cabins, a small, intimate cabin of eight seats (two rows) between the second boarding door and first class, and a large cabin of 44 seats (11 rows) just aft of the second boarding door. I prefer the smaller cabin. Those seats were unavailable on this flight when I booked my ticket. From PVG to Bangkok (BKK), I was able to reserve a seat was in the small cabin.
China Eastern 777-300 Business Class Seat
Business class seats are 23.5 inches wide and have 75 inches of pitch. I like these seats. They are essentially the same seats as on American Airlines 777-300s and Cathay Pacific 777-300s that I have become familiar with.
On China Eastern seat 8A is a bulkhead window seat on the port side of the aircraft. In business class, bulkhead seats usually have a flat shelf at the bulkhead that I use after takeoff for things like pillows and blankets.
On night flights, proximity to the galley and/or lavatory can be bothersome. Noise-cancelling headsets block the noise, but light from the galley in particular can be annoying when the cabin lights are off. Seat 8A also has only one window that affords a limited view when seated.
This seat has plenty of room to stretch out when reclined or sitting up right.
The video screen swings out for viewing. Not my ideal arrangement since viewing during takeoff and landing may be denied. The tray table deploys horizontally in a very simple fashion.
Storage was adequate although there were no enclosures for things like wallets and glasses. Seat controls, usb power, reading light, and video remote were within easy reach.
As pictured above, there was a soft pillow and warm quilt on the seat when I sat down. Slippers and the amenity kit were housed in the storage compartments near the footwell.
The Clarins amenity kit was stocked with an eye mask, dental kit, comb, ear plugs, lip balm, and hand lotion.
The slippers were very nice and came in a pouch that said “Carry me home.”
China Eastern also provided bottled water and headphones. The headphones weren’t very good.
Even though the flight would last for more than 14 hours, there were no pajamas or mattress. A mattress would have been appreciated given that the leather seat cushions were hard.
Not long after boarding the FAs offered non-alcoholic beverages.
They then handed out menus. Five minutes later, the FAs returned to take my order. Just before the door closed, the FAs distributed warm towels.
At 16:49 we pushed from the gate and began taxing to the active runway. The taxiways were busy.
Takeoff was at 17:11 on runway 13R (One Three Right), a chunk of grooved concrete 200 feet wide and more than 14,500 feet long. Visibility was over 10 nautical miles with a ceiling of high, thin cirrus. A great day for flying.
The fully fueled Boeing needed much less than half of the runway length to launch itself skyward for the 14-hour journey to the other side of the world.
Two minutes after takeoff, the video screen was activated. It showed a total distance to PVG of 7666 miles and an estimated travel time of 14 hours and 11 minutes.
After leveling off at our initial cruising altitude, I moved across the aisle to seat 8D.
Shortly after takeoff, I contacted a FA to change my dinner order from a chinese selection to a western one. While waiting for dinner, I reviewed some of the features of the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. As I recalled from a previous flight, China Eastern offers on-board upgrades.
To upgrade my business class-seat to first class on this flight, China Eastern charges “only” 30,000 yuan (about $4,350). The amount to upgrade was the same regardless of the amount paid for the ticket or if the ticket was a frequent flyer award. In fact, if memory serves, this is the same amount a coach passenger would pay to upgrade to first class.
After quickly concluding that upgrading to first class was not worth the asking price (although next time I should see if this price is negotiable), I settled in to enjoy the experience in business class.
This was the wine list:
Mixed drinks and liquor:
The dining section of the IFE system displays some of the entrees that are available on various flights.
First Meal Service
Actual service began 40 minutes after takeoff at 17:50. I had a 12-year-old Chivas.
At 18:00 the FAs served the appetizer. There seemed to be a discrepancy between what was on the printed menu, the IFE menu, and what was served. Or perhaps I was confused by which month I was looking at on the menu. In any event this is what was served.
The beef fillet entree followed at 18:26.
The food tasted good and the steak was prepared medium, which is about the most one can hope for in business class on most airlines. The service was professional and courteous. I liked that all courses were served on linen and not fake wood trays as used to be the case on China Eastern’s SkyTeam partner Delta.
The FAs then brought a cart with dessert options.
As usual, I tried a little bit of everything.
There was no porto so I had a glass of Mouton Cadet bordeaux blend.
After the dessert cart ice cream was offered in a small container with a plastic spoon.
After dinner I watched the Accountant and then was able to nap for a couple of hours on the stiff cushioning. Flying above the Arctic Ocean north of Barrow, AK, a FA woke me for “breakfast.”
Breakfast and light meal menus:
This is what the FA brought.
WTF! I had to pinch myself to ensure I was awake. Two grapes, a biscuit, a tiny piece of cheese and a bit of melon. No beverage was offered. Clearly this was not breakfast as the FA claimed. It also clearly was not one of the light meal options. The english skills of the crew were so bad that they could not (or would not) explain what was going on.
I’ve observed that a lack of english skills and a seeming lack of desire to help is a problem generally with China Eastern although primarily in its ground staff. With this crew it appeared that there was only one FA in business class that had had more than a few english lessons and she was off duty.
After “breakfast” I asked for chivas on the rocks, and was told they had no more. Instead I enjoyed a couple of glasses of cognac while brushing up on my thai and learning a little mandarin on the Berlitz World Traveler language system on the IFE.
This was probably the best part of the flight. Not many airlines have this system on their IFE. Delta, China Eastern, Singapore Airlines and a couple of others are the only airlines I know of that carry it. Write down a few phrases and keywords for use after landing. It is amazing how knowing just three or four things in the local language makes a positive impression.
A real breakfast was served with two hours and 17 minutes to PVG. This was the only meal that was as stated on the menu.
It also came with a french pastry and choice of juice. Breakfast was very good.
During the flight I visited the business class bathrooms that are immediately forward of the second boarding door.
The bathrooms were always clean. The only amenities were Goji hand wash and body lotion.
Arrival at PVG
After breakfast there was plenty of time to stow personal items and prepare for landing. The approach to PVG deviated around the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). Not even Chinese aircraft enter that airspace.
We flew past PVG and made the final approach from the south. We landed at 19:38 local time, about 15 minutes later than scheduled and 42 minutes later than the projected time at takeoff. The total flight distance was 7,799 miles.
We deplaned at a remote stand and were bused to Terminal 1.
Given the discrepancy between dinner and the menus, the absurd mid-flight meal, running out of scotch halfway through the flight, and a very hard cushion on the seat, not to mention the problems communicating with the crew, I was disappointed with this flight. Those flying a Chinese airline probably should speak a little bit of chinese, but, in turn, a crew on a SkyTeam airline needs to have a better command of english.
I am extremely happy that Delta chose Korean Air rather that China Eastern as its joint venture partner across the Pacific. China Eastern would get one more opportunity to impress on the next flight from PVG to BKK.
UPDATE: In early 2018, I had several flights on China Eastern trans pacific and intra Asia. Those trips were much better experiences and changed my evaluation of China Eastern. Posts coming.