There are some aircraft that have hundreds of them built every year like the Airbus A321, with thousands in existence…
Trip Report: China Eastern Domestic First Class
I recently had the opportunity to experience an ‘authentic’ first class flight in China mainland. ‘Authentic’ as the airplane isn’t one of its flagships and the route isn’t one of he signature routes like between Beijing and Shanghai. Those are merely the minority of what China Eastern is and not the most accurate picture of the airline.
As an airline whose fleet is mostly narrow bodies and whose network has an overwhelming focus on domestic routes, this is the experience that most China Eastern customers are getting.
On the Ground
My flight departs from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport, one of the main hubs of China Eastern. The airport serves domestic and selected regional destinations and is the smaller one of the two Shanghai airports.
Shanghai Hongqiao is one of China Eastern’s main hubs and therefore has a sizable premium check-in area. There were separate areas for business class passengers and frequent fliers, specifically its own members and Skyteam members. Skyteam elites and elite plus are able to use the check-in area.
The area is carpeted and fenced off from the rest of the check-in hall. Sofas are offered only for the business class section while the members would need to unfortunately stand while checking in for their flights.
China Eastern operated multiple lounges in the airport, with all but one of them on the airside of the terminal. The exception is the V21S lounger which I was ‘assigned’ to as per the sticker on my boarding pass. The lounge is on the floor above the departure hall and is operated and used solely by China Eastern passengers traveling in business class.
The lounge has its own security checkpoint with no line at all. Another highlight is the view of the lounge. It overlooks the two concourses of the terminal and the central taxiing area of the airport. The outdoor terrace would be a great spot for plane-spotting but was not open when I visited the lounge.
The lounge has more than enough seats but does get crowded during peak hours. Only selected seats had power outlets though it is not difficult to find one.
The food selection in the lounge is understandably oriental as the airport serves mostly domestic destinations and had no major international connection traffic. The signature item at the lounge is ‘MU NOODLE’ a noodle bar where noodle dishes are freshly prepared as you order and a nice selection of Chinese condiments are available for customers to add.
Salad and sandwiches were available as well as a pasta dish and they were admittedly terrible. You are strongly advised to always go for the local options in Asian countries as they are almost certainly the better one.
Red and white wines are available free of charge, along with a selection of beers and soft drinks. A selection of tea is nicely presented as well.
China Eastern’s A321 features 12 business class seats in a 2-2 configuration. The seats were retrofitted several years ago with a new color scheme and it is in good condition.
A pre-departure drink was served alongside a hot towel.
Pillows and blankets were available for the short hop; slippers are also available and passengers are encouraged to bring them home. Earphone was also provided though not noise-canceling.
Food and Beverages
The flight departed a few minutes after eight so no meal was served. Snacks and fruits were still served on a beautiful plate alongside metal cutleries and a hot towel. I do appreciate some Asian and European airlines serving snacks in business in proper dining wares, which always feels way more premium than the bags of chips and cookies on Delta and United for flights of similar length.
There was also a physical drink menu, titled ‘enjoyment,’ with a good selection of drinks for the flight.
The IFE was nothing too impressive; some foreign movies were available and a couple of Hollywood movies in English. It is sufficient for the two-hour flight while any flight longer than two hours might prove the system insufficient. There were no games available despite a games category and barely any TV shows.
The cabin crews were extremely friendly and addressed me by my last name. They were attentive and despite not speaking the perfect English, communicated to the best of their ability.
Inconsistent is how I would describe this flight and China Eastern in general. The service was the real highlight and is absolutely on the level of world-class carriers while the entertainment seriously lacks quality content and the hard products are average at best.
For the short two-hour hop, the service onboard was outstanding and the catering was great as well. Though improvements on the hard products and entertainment can be made, it is overall an impressive flight.
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