My trip to Shangai included a domestic roundtrip between Beijing’s Capital and Shanghai’s Hongqiao airports. Flying Air China on the outbound leg and China Eastern on the return leg allowed me to experience Chinese domestic air service on two carriers and to compare the service offered by China’s second (China Eastern) and third (Air China) largest airlines (by passengers carried).

AIR CHINA BEIJING-SHANGHAI

Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: Air China 1549
  • Route: Beijing Capital-Shanghai Hongqiao
  • Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
  • Airplane registration and year built: B-1468 built in 2017
  • Miles flown: 670 miles
  • Flight duration: 1 hour: 39 minutes
  • Class of service and seat: Y-Economy
  • My 691st flight
  • First flight on Air China
  • 2nd flight on a Boeing 787-9, 10th flight on a 787 series aircraft.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

After 24 hours on the road including 17 in the air, I was ready to board the 1-year-old Boeing for the last leg from Beijing to Hongqiao airport in Shanghai. The mood lighting and signature 787 cabin contour gave the aircraft a nice, homey feeling.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I was impressed to find pillows on every seat in Economy class on a domestic flight.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The seatback entertainment screens were also impressive and there were footrests built into the seat in front.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

All of these niceties were probably a collective mea culpa on Air China’s part for the rockhard seats and abysmal pitch. I’m 5 feet 11 inches and my knees were literally touching the seat in front of me and that is before it was reclined.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The older I get, the more claustrophobic I become and this tight space was really making me feel anxious and trapped. Of course, the flight was full and the two seats next to me were occupied making the confines even tighter. I literally had to fight the urge to flee, but with a flying time of less than 2 hours, I would just have to persevere. I’ve only had Xanax once before a surgical procedure and at that moment I was really wanting a Xanax or three!

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The seatback contents were pretty basic, the safety card and…

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

the in-flight magazine. For an international carrier, the English language portion of the magazine was minimal.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Decided to give the in-flight entertainment a whirl. Despite having a bunch of categories (TV, movies, audio, games, kids, etc…), there were not a lot of choices within each category.

 

We pushed off of the gate on-time and had a slow taxi to the threshold of the active runway. You can check out the full flight video including taxi and takeoff above. There will be another link to this flight video and the return flight video at the end of this trip report.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

We took off to the east and…

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

made a beeline toward the south. The sun began to set soon after takeoff.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I love the curve of the 787 wings. Is it me or do you only find the name of the airline printed on the wing of Asian airlines?

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

We traveled a total of 758 miles over 99 minutes.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The man in front of me was kind of enough to recline his seat as soon as we took off. Between the tight pitch and the generous recline, the back of his seat was literally directly in front of my face. I watched a few episodes of the sitcom Mom to pass the time and try to forget where I was.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The dinner service started soon after takeoff while the mood lighting was set to either dawn or sunset, I honestly can never tell the difference.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Options were chicken or noddles and I opted for the chicken. Traveling abroad is like time traveling for Americans, back to a time when you actually got hot meals on domestic flights.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The chicken did look a little bit off but I have to say the meal was surprisingly okay. Soon after the meal trays were collected, we thankfully began our descent into Shanghai.

 

You can check out the full flight including the descent and landing in the flight video above. This video and the return flight videos will also be at the end of this trip report.

 

Flight Review:

While Air China provided great amenities for a sub-two hour domestic flight (hot meals, large seatback entertainment screens, pillows), the seat itself was horribly uncomfortable for even a short flight. I wondered if this may have been a higher density domestic aircraft until I got to my hotel and checked Flight Aware and found my aircraft primarily flew long-haul, international flights.

  • Experience/Total stars:  The overall experience was 3.45 of 5 stars, so pretty average.
  • Check-in: N/A
  • Lounge: 2 of 5 stars. The Air China Beijing lounge was pretty utilitarian.
  • Boarding: 4 of 5 stars. Long lines due to the minimal gate area seating but otherwise nice and organized.
  • Seat: 2 of 5 stars. Two feels generous but the seatback TV was huge.
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 3 of 5 stars. Big screen, offerings could be better.
  • Meals: 4 of 5 stars. Impressive for such a short flight, quality could have been a bit better.
  • Cabin Crew: 4 of 5 stars
  • Cabin ambiance: 4 of 5 stars. Nothing beats a 787. The ambiance probably took a hit because the cabin overall felt cramped.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 5 of 5 stars
  • Price paid and value for money: 3 of 5 stars
  • Thumbs down: The seat, the seat, and the seat. Very hard with horrible legroom.
  • Thumbs up: New aircraft, polite crew, hot meals.

 

CHINA EASTERN SHANGHAI-BEIJING

Aviation Geek Details:

  • Airline and flight number: China Eastern Airlines 5137
  • Route: Shanghai Hongqiao- Beijing
  • Aircraft: Airbus A321
  • Airplane registration and year built: B-6643 built in 2010
  • Miles flown: 670 miles
  • Flight duration: 1 hour and 56 minutes
  • Class of service and seat: Economy, seat 31L (bulkhead)
  • My 692nd flight.
  • First flight on China Eastern.
  • #19th flight on an A321 aircraft, 104th flight on an A320 series aircraft.
Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

B-6643, the 8-year-old A321 flying us from Shanghai to Beijing was apparently suttling back and forth between Shanghai and Beijing.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

After an early morning drive on deserted roads, I arrived at a pretty empty Hongqiao airport.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I quickly checked in, passed security and headed to gate 60, where our Airbus A321 was waiting. On the way, I spied this China Eastern A330 and a China Southern B-787.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I arrived gate 60 with about 30 minutes to spare before boarding for our 7 AM departure.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Our flight was operating as a Delta codeshare.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I was in boarding group C and for some reason row 31 was the first row in the economy class cabin.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

You know I had to save this for posterity. I don’t think I have seen an airline ticket jacket in at least 15 years! Nice touch China Eastern!!

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Boarding started right on time at 06:30. The Business class seat looked pretty (non-European) standard with large recliner seats and footrests.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I was happy to find that there was no one sitting next to me. As boarding progressed I kept my fingers crossed that this would continue.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Thumbs up! Boarding complete and I still had no neighbor. A bulkhead seat and no fight for shoulder space, things were looking up!

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Legroom in the row 31 bulkhead was definitely adequate, especially for a 2-hour flight.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Much like my Air China domestic flight, each seat had a pillow waiting, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I love the livery on the China Southern 787! I wish more airlines actually kept some color in their liveries.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

As we pushed off of the gate right on time at 7 AM as I checked out the seatback contents including the safety card and…

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

the China Eastern in-flight magazine.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The 8-year-old A321 had retro drop-down screens which showed the safety video.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

There wasn’t much activity this early in the morning which meant a quick taxi to the active runway.

 


Check out the full flight video including the take off right here. You can also find the flight video at the end of this trip report.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

The meal service started soon after takeoff and like the Air China flight from Beijing to Shanghai, this China Eastern flight also featured a full, hot meal. In this case breakfast.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

There was only one option which made choosing pretty easy.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I opted for the congee which is a type of Chinese rice porridge. This was my first time having congee and it will likely be my last time. While it looked like grits (which I love), the porridge literally had no taste. To be fair I probably shouldn’t judge congee for the first time from an airline meal but still, I think I will have to pass next time.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

Like a good boy, I finished the congee as well as the yogurt that came with the meal. Hopefully, my mom is proud.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

A second round of beverages was offered and the meal trays were collected leaving about 45 minutes to sit back relax and enjoy the rest of the flight up north.

 

Check out the full flight video including the landing here.

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

I spied this interesting 787 as we taxied to the gate but I couldn’t see the name of the airline. Does anybody have an idea what airline this is?

 

Dr. I decides, Air China versus China Eastern for domestic flying?

We landed a few minutes early which was great because China Eastern operates from terminal 2 and my connecting United flight to Chicago operated from terminal 3. Transfers between terminals 2 and 3 take a good 45 minutes including the walk from the gate to the transport buses and the 15-minute bus ride that goes off of airport property before reaching terminal 2.

 

Flight Review:

  • Overall experience was 4.03/5 stars, so an all around good experience.
  • Check-in: 3. Check-in itself was quick and efficient but things went south when I enquired about a paid upgrade. I was sent from desk to desk to desk and after 20 minutes of people who didn’t seem to know how to process the upgrade, I just gave up.
  • Lounge: N/A
  • Boarding: 5. Boarding was quick, efficient and organized.
  • Seat: 4. Seats were comfortable and light years ahead of modern slimline benches. Built-in in-flight entertainment would have made the seats a solid economy 5 of 5.
  • In-Flight Entertainment: 2. No individual entertainment screens and drop-down screens that didn’t show anything during the flight were a major let down. The only plus was an in-flight magazine with an English section.
  • Meals: 3. The meal was abysmal but airplane meals are hit or miss. The fact that they even offered a hot meal on a 2-hour domestic flight and the fact that they offered two beverage runs were pluses.
  • Cabin Crew: 5. The crew was polite, professional and well put together.
  • Cabin ambiance: 4. The cabin was bright and airy and looked well cared for.
  • Cabin cleanliness: 5. It was the first flight of the day but the cabin was clean from front to back.
  • Price paid and value for money: 5. I purchased my ticket a day in advance for $90 US so no complaints there.
  • Thumbs up: They offered a full, hot meal, the plane was clean and modern, the flight operated on-time and the crew was professional and kind.
  • Thumbs down: The meal sucked and there was minimal entertainment on the plane.

 

Despite the Air China flight being operated by a Boeing 787-9, the China Eastern flight was definitely my favorite of the two. The Air China aircraft was cramped and uncomfortable, even for a 2-hour flight, which totally marred the experience for me. By contrast, the China Eastern A321 provided much better personal space (granted I had a bulkhead seat with nobody seated directly next to me) though Air China’s meal was definitely better. Both flights were light years ahead of what you would get on a comparable domestic flight here in the US.

 

You can checkout my time in Shanghai here:

 

You can checkout my flight from Chicago to San-Francisco here:

 

You can checkout my United Polaris flight from San Francisco to Beijing here:

 

You can checkout my Air China flight from Beijing to Shanghai here:

 

You can checkout my China Eastern flight from Shanghai to Beijing here:

My United Polaris flight from Beijing to Chicago is coming next week, stay tuned!

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