The long journey from Phuket to the US began with the flight to Bangkok (BKK) on  a subsidiary of VietJet Aviation, a.k.a. Bikini Airlines.  Next was a China Southern flight from BKK to Shanghai (PVG) where I connected to a Delta Air Lines flight to the US.  The flight to PVG left the Thai capital early in the morning of December 23, 2019.

Bikinis are no longer optional for VietJet flight crew.  Ah, the good old days. *

Coronavirus – What Coronavirus?

As reported in Axios, on December 10, 2019, a worker in a wildlife market in Wuhan, China started feeling ill.  She was hospitalised on December 16 with an infection in both lungs that was impervious to therapies for the flu.  On December 27, Wuhan health officials were officially notified of a novel coronavirus.  By then at least 27 coronavirus cases were being investigated.  China did not notify the World Health Organization until December 31.  I’m glad I didn’t know anything about a virus otherwise I would have been very concerned when I got sick on the Delta flight to Detroit.

On December 23, the world was blissfully unaware of the coming pandemic.  On the redeye flight to Shanghai my only concerns were getting a little sleep and not missing the connection at PVG.

China Southern Flight CX8203

The distance between Bangkok and Shanghai is 1,798 statute miles, 1,562 nautical miles or 2,894 kilometers.  The equipment was an A320.  Scheduled flight time was just over four hours.

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In 2017 American Airlines bought about 3% of the outstanding shares of China Southern.  Last year, American and China Southern agreed allow members of their frequent flyer programs to earn and burn miles on each other’s flights.  I used 17,500 American miles for this flight in coach.  I would have preferred using 22,000 miles for business class but it was unavailable.

The flight boarded at Gate G1 at 01:40.  Departure was set for 02:30.  China Southern recognized my status with American by assigning me a coach seat in the extra legroom section of economy.  My seat was 31K, a bulkhead window seat on the starboard side.  This is China Southern’s seating chart.2020-03-26 (5)

Economy seats are nearly 19 inches wide.  Extra legroom economy seats have 36 inches of distance between seats.  Regular economy seats are 30 inches apart.  Economy seats can recline six inches.  The good thing about bulkhead seats is there is no seat in front that can be reclined into your space.  Drawbacks for bulkhead seats include  no underseat storage for takeoff and landing and slightly narrower seats due to having the tray table in the armrests.


Seats 31A, 31B, and 31C

Economy amenities were a pillow, thin blanket and headphones (non-noise cancelling).

Row 31 is the first row of economy.  I walked past my row expecting it would be much farther back.  The flight was mostly full, but there were no other passengers in my row of three seats.  The pilots pushed from the gate a few minutes ahead of schedule.  Takeoff was at 02:38

With abundant legroom in the bulkhead row, I reclined the seat and used a couple of pillows and blankets to make myself as comfortable as possible for sleeping.  Another drawback of bulkhead rows is the location of the tray table makes it impossible to raise the armrests and convert a row of three seats into the cherished lie-flat economy seat.

Overhead video screens showed TV comedies for those who were awake.


Two hours before arrival, flight attendants offered beverages and then breakfast.  They returned with another beverage service right after the meal.

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The sun was coming up over the East China Sea as we approached Shanghai.


The pilots parked at a gate in Terminal 1 just after 07:30.


Oblivious to what was happening in my own gastrointestinal tract, much less the unknown illness confounding authorities in Wuhan 450 miles to the west, arriving at Shanghai my only thoughts were about getting to Terminal 2, checking in with Delta, and finding a lounge to await the flight to Detroit.


*Because of its racy advertising campaign, some may be surprised that the founder and CEO of VietJet Aviation is a woman.  When she took the airline public in 2017, Nguyễn Thị Phương Thảo became Vietnam’s first self-made female billionaire in US dollars.