So… How Was My Second Flight On China Eastern?

It has been an interesting 48 hours of travel, to say the least! For those of you not caught up on the China Eastern saga:

As I began to talk about in the previous post, our experience took a very drastic turn with our Shanghai to Colombo flight. We were met by the China Eastern duty manager at the airport, and he escorted us to the lounge. He and two other people closely observed us at the lounge, and we saw the lounge transform before our eyes. All the garbage around the lounge slowly disappeared, all the food was restocked, we were proactively brought warm towels and water, etc.

They even put out Thursday’s “For The Edible” selection — how did they know that’s my favorite type of food to eat on Thursdays?!?

Edible-Food

Then we were escorted onto the plane. Obviously they had singled us out at this point, but I wondered how well they communicated with the flight attendants in terms of explaining the “situation.” I put that in quotes because I don’t know how any of this went down in practice.

Did someone call from head office and tell the duty manager just to take care of us and not let us out of his sight? Or did he know everything that was going on? Similarly, I wondered how well that would all be communicated to the flight attendants.

So let’s talk about the good and the bad of the flight…

The bad…

Our flight was operated by an A330 featuring China Eastern’s oldest business class cabin. The seats were angled and lacked padding…

China-Eastern-Business-Class

…and they were also quite beat up.

China-Eastern-A330-Business-Class

The flight was blocked at over seven hours, and was in the air for over six hours.

There was just one meal service, and everything was served on one tray, with the only dessert option being fruit. It was the most underwhelming airline meal I recall having in a long time.

China-Eastern-Business-Class-Meal

The flight was also delayed by 90 minutes due to lightning, but that was outside the crew’s control.

The good…

The crew was spectacular (and obviously we were getting special treatment, but I’ll address that further below). Just to give a few examples:

  • The crew was constantly smiling, and throughout the flight they basically had two flight attendants standing behind the cabin observing to make sure everyone was happy
  • I really felt like I was on Singapore Airlines — every time I went to the lavatory they checked to make sure it was clean, the toilet paper was folded into a triangle every time, etc.
  • The service was so attentive — we were addressed by name, constantly offered drink refills, etc.
  • During the delay we were proactively offered a small snack and several drink refills

China-Eastern-Business-Class-Food

The crew even presented us with an adorable handwritten note telling us how important our suggestions are, and several times during the flight emphasized how they appreciated feedback on their service.

China-Eastern-Business-Class-5

The service was simply flawless, and as good as I’ve had on any airline. I’ll also note that other passengers were getting great service as well, so it’s not that they were treating us amazingly well, while ignoring other passengers. None of which is to say we didn’t get special treatment, but rather that I’m happy that our special treatment at least led to better treatment for others as well.

What about smoking?

Unlike the last flight, which felt like a smoking room, I don’t believe the crew smoked on this flight. A couple of times I smelled cigarette smoke, but that was quickly overpowered by the smell of something like Lysol combined with orange peel. If they did smoke, they at least did a decent job covering it up, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously we got special treatment, but…

It goes without saying that we got special treatment on this flight, though I wonder what that looked like in practice.

Here’s the thing — if management just threatened the crew and said that if they don’t do a good job they’d be in trouble, I would have expected that the crew would be smiling and friendly, and perhaps a bit nervous.

But this crew performed their service with such grace and precision, and I really don’t feel like China Eastern trains their average flight attendants that well. Did they somehow staff this flight with a “special” crew last minute? If so, do they just have those kinds of crews standing by, or…? It seems farfetched, but the service was so flawless that I can’t imagine this was just an average crew on their best behavior.

We tried to see what the crew knew about us, though the only thing the cabin manager said is that “I told my crew that you pay very close attention to the service, so service should be extra good.”

Bottom line

I’m amused by this whole situation. The first flight featured a great hard product and horrible soft product, while the second flight featured a bad hard product, incredible service, and terrible food.

Matthew also wrote a post about our experience today, which is a bit more detailed, so check that out.

I’m still trying to decide what to make of all of this…

Comments

  1. oh silly and naive ben. the chinese government knows everything. everything. and they won’t let you out of their sight again. ever.

  2. Their obviously concerned about their image for them to give special treatment. Hopefully this will be a change for them. They have to realize that while such service may be standard in the Chinese market, it won’t fly if they want to compete in the western markets. They’ll probably start paying close attention to western bloggers to see what kind of reviews they are getting.

  3. Ben,
    Before this year you had a bit of exoticness I.e. China Southern but, when you’re not flying AA, BA, SQ, Cx etc. you should be prepared for a bit of the abnormal

  4. I love it! So fun to read. I’m sure they told the crew about what you blogged on your earlier flight. I hope this makes them improve their service overall, but probably not. Strange that they might still have been smoking. Seriously??

  5. @Leo
    We learn that in China there is NO SUCH THING as privacy, and that apparently they take very seriously anything that potentially damages their credibility/ reputation

  6. Is it possible they used the crew that they have reserved to work flights for “normal” VIP’s (government officials, company CEO’s, celebrities, etc…) Since the flight originated in Shanghai, their hub, it should be easy for them to get one of these special crews on short notice!

  7. wth is this white privilege nonsense. as for making fun of broken english? can you speak another language? no, you just expect others to accommodate you wherever you go. christ.

  8. All this shows is that China Eastern only cares about optics. It doesn’t change my opinion about China Eastern at all. They will treat the average consumer like garbage so these “remedial measures” mean absolutely nothing. They’re kidding themselves if they think this fixes anything.

    It’s funny that getting VIP service on China Eastern almost lives up to getting average service on Singapore.

    Yuck.

  9. Ben- is this the first time that you have received special service due to your blog? I am honestly curious as you advertise in advance the flights you will be flying on (in many cases), while I know SQ and EK always have great service, many airlines can be hit or miss, is this the first time you think someone knew you were going to be on the flight and make a good impression?

  10. They just put the most senior and crew instructor staff on your flight, that with a little hint that your are important VIPs to the company, bingo = great service.

  11. @Jeff what’s the appeal of snapchat over Instagram and Twitter for on the fly trip reports? Innocent question, I’m trying to work out if I’m missing out by not having it.

  12. Next time you fly, put on a fake mustache. That way no one can recognize or point you out!

  13. Ben and his old trick, complain, cry, when there is no special treatment. Once the special treatment arrives, Ben is a happy little boy again.

  14. LOL!

    I think this is really funny too.

    Okies, MU step up their game, and did recovery job. Kudos that that effort. Do not doubt their sincerity, but hopefully what happens from now onwards is consistency.

    I hope that from Lucky’s previous review, MU does something to really change its culture around.

    Lucky, I think you DO need to fly China Eastern AND China Southern again, to see if their game has really changed after your feedback.

    Or maybe get Tiffany/Nick to fly it, since they probably note your details already.

    I am glad that your reports are making a difference.

  15. The Chinese government must be monitoring this blog 24-7 and so quickly they reported your smoking story to China Eastern. All of the sudden, they sent the best crew to your next flight. The new crew treated you and your friend like royal so they could win back all American frequent flyers who use miles to get in their premium cabin. LMFAO. Seriously? What a drama. Get over it!

  16. Geez, you must be a Gen X/Y’er with all the ‘saga’ and sensitivity stuff. You make yourself out as a modern day Felix Unger, only at a younger age. Did Matthew play Oscar? I think the escort and the attention you received in Shanghai was to ensure that you two actually left the country. They must have seen the Chinese language version of the Odd Couple. What a joke, the smoking sleuths. And I’m sure this puts the South China Sea dispute to a lower level. Get real.

  17. And the flight crew from your first China Eastern flight is somewhere in Outer Mongolia performing hard labor…….

    Joking aside, at least they’re paying attention. Maybe someone from your staff should do a future check flight and see if they take this seriously.

  18. Special VIP crew called up and told to be on that flight, or moved from a normal non-VIP flight that they were scheduled to fly that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if this crew normally works private flights for Communist Party Bosses, who demand the best service at every moment.

    Remember it wasn’t some flunky they sent to accompany them to the lounge, and then the flight, it was the Duty Manager. The Corporate Culture of MU didn’t change overnight, and surly FA’s didn’t start singing ‘happy, happy’ in their minds just for the fun of it. This was damage control, big time damage control. But done superbly well. And they were smart enough to not single out Lucky and Matthew for special service, and ignore other passengers, as that would have been transparent. Everyone worked very hard to make it seem that this is the normal service on a MU flight, but we all know it isn’t.

    I will fly MU long-haul in the future, but only if Lucky prominently posts on his blog that he will be on that very flight. 🙂 Otherwise, not a chance.

  19. I’m just glad to know that you’re safe and made it out of China.
    Biggest takeaway for me: stay away from Chinese airlines.

  20. After reading your flight review from LAX I was horrified. My previous experiences within China on China Eastern were all in coach and all quite good, including one with a long delay where they gave out big noodle “dinners” to everyone. It will be interesting to see how they (hopefully) progress.

  21. @Mark I don’t think skin color has anything to do with it. Fact of the matter is that this is a super well read blog in Western countries, which has a significant impact on how people perceive China Eastern, and thus can affect their business. They don’t want to be know as a crap airline, because it prevents people from booking their flights. Look at the number of people in the comments of these articles alone who have already said they’re never going to fly MU, or will think twice before doing so. Image matters.

  22. I second the idea of sending Tiffany on a MU trans-pacific flight in a few months. It would be fascinating to see if service standards had improved.

  23. After many years I’m giving up reading the blog. Too much clickbait, growing entitlement despite being a freeloader much of the time, lack of respect for other cultures, and despite the China Southern episode apparent disregard for the fact that some breadwinners in Chinese homes may have to live with the consequence of your increasingly banal posts years after you’ve flounced on to the next effete cocktail.

  24. If it was American Airlines,
    They would have just booted you off the plane and took your money.
    So be grateful.
    American companies are the worst when it comes to customer satisfaction.

  25. @Bob Its not entitlement if you spend thousands (or miles) on a business class ticket. You have purchased a product tier. Expectation of a superior product at that point is not entitlement. I am chinese and I will be the first to point out shoddy and gross behavior by another chinese person or staff on a plane. That has nothing to do with lack of respect. And if that poor chinese breadwinner’s life is dependent on that job they would not be a d-bag employee. And for the record I see this not just in chinese flights so if you translate this article about china eastern as an attack on race then you should see any negative article about any other airline as an attack on those races as well. And if you do, you’re nuts.

    There is such a thing as constructive criticism and this article was constructive. You assume that the poor breadwinner was fired but maybe china eastern is now overhauling their service and all future passengers will benefit from it.

  26. I too have enjoyed this entire episode. My one thought would be to hold off on your “live” blogging updates. If you had waited to publish info on the first flight, they most likely wouldn’t have known about Mathew and you, and thus you could have had a second more unbiased (or unaffected) review. Just a thought. I do love how quickly you’ve been posting about your flights, but in an instance in which you have back to back flights, perhaps hold off until you’ve completed both.

    Either way, truly enjoy the blog. Thanks for all of your work.

  27. I love reading your posts with great interest. Sure you were getting V V I P treatment. The whole event won’t change a thing, and officials in airlines and governing bodies will just prevent you to see the real life/operations wherever you travel in their networks in the future.

  28. @Bob …. If the food sucks and the cabin smells like cigarette smoke then I want to know about it so that I do not fly that airline. This is a huge value to me of this blog.

    How you stretch that to entitlement is beyond me. And your homophobic “effete cocktail” remark back to the stone-age where you belong.

  29. There is ZERO doubt corporate management at China Eastern is following your review series extremely closely. You do realise you’re talking about China.

  30. I’m Chinese and would definitely not like to fly on a plane in any class of service that allows smoking! I was considering flying China Eastern, but I am now having second thoughts.

    I see a niche market for China Eastern. They can offer a smoking flight.

  31. Think about the time you’ve spent writing emails to your beloved American and only got canned response.

    And then when another airline proactively tried to respond to your compliant- and BTW please credit that to Chinese social media- your title is “Chinese Eastern is on to us” rather something along the line of “WOW! American is finally proactive” that you would have wrote had it not be China Eastern.

    And how in the world do you justify your claim that “I really don’t feel like China Eastern trains their average flight attendants that well.”, as someone who barely knows anything about Chinese carriers or China in general?

    People are right, lucky, you are biased, and you don’t travel, you just fly from airports to airports.

  32. Very entertaining as always. One correction though. Those are not the oldest type of business class seats on China Eastern metals. There still exist some prototype seats that seem to be from the first half of the last century.

  33. Really enjoyed your entertaining piece. I was a little bit worried about you when you blogged about your first leg on China eastern. I was afraid they might give you “special treatment “, especially for your food and drinks if they found out

  34. This is far far from the true vvip service most Chinese airports provides, it is just the 125 dollar expedite service PVG provides that anybody can book. Ben got overwhelmed by this and thinks he got some special treatment really shows he has never really experienced any true special treatment in China.

    Most Chinese airports have separate vvip terminals or areas where check-in and security are completely separate from the main terminals. Check-in is done by representatives and security is done within the privacy of your resting room. In these secret areas, over the top resting rooms and fine dining are provided. Boarding means a private vehicle takes you straight to the plane. These services are reserved for people who have accounts with minimum of tens of millions of dollars of assets with major Chinese banks, or true VIPs of Chinese society. If you are neither of these like Ben, you can pay 3000 US dollars for an international vvip service at pvg. http://www.shanghaiairport.com/cn/gbfw/info_53524_itemid_54952.html
    If you don’t read Chinese, I can’t help you. Apparently this kind of service they only target Chinese reading people.

    So Ben, relax, your complaints do not get you the real vip thing.

  35. So China Eastern saw your postings and gave you VIP treatment, but that didn’t stop the crew (i.e pilots from not smoking while on duty.) typical Chinese it’s all Smoke (pun intended) and mirrors.

  36. Fascinating series of posts, but the only prominent flight attendant service failure I took from your initial post was the cappuccino. Pilot smoking and poor food quality is not the fault of the cabin crew. So am a bit surprised you seem to be taking this out on the cabin crew.

  37. ** Official business of communist party of China **

    Mister Lucky we are very distressed to hear of your bad experience on our airlines. We try to control everything our citizens do to ensure good experiences for tourists but they mess up sometimes. They will be dealt with appropriately. Their parents are already working on the farms. We trust your next flight will be better. Would you like being smiled at 5 times or 10 times during the flight? We need to tell the flight attendants. You have our permission to slap anyone you catch smoking on the planes.

  38. As someone who flies China Eastern quite a lot, I can tell you that their service is generally attentive, but you could get bad service from time to time just like on any other airlines. And unfortunately you encountered a bad crew. Plus who do you think you even are to get the airline to change the crew for you? That’s ridiculous.

  39. Ben, you do realise that this is just a temporary measure. In the long run, they will quietly eliminate you and replace you with a propaganda bot that will have nothing but good things to say about their airlines and their service. Then all the ciggies will come back out and the air crew will go back to having cappucino parties in the galley.

  40. Hi Lucky, just a quick message from a French reader who travel to China often (never in premium unfortunately). I just want to tell that you are doing a great job with your review, keep it that way. You have much more flying knowledge that all of us and people should respect that. I’m surprised you received so many bad comments… perhaps people are right saying they are mostly Chinese ” trying to protect” their pride… Anyway don’t listen to them and don’t change anything.

    PS : I have a lot of respect for China and the Chinese culture (I’m married to a Chinese Citizen for more than 7 years) but we have to be honest with our-self. When French airlines suck I’m the first one to complain about it.

  41. i thought they’re going to bring out caviar, krug/dom and cappuccino for you to make up for the first leg of your trip lol

  42. Well, you asked them to put on a show, so they put on a show. The real question here is, does it matter?

    Like others have previously noted, their company policy did not change overnight, the fact that their main hub lounge was riddled with garbage is a true testament to that, lest we forget the fact that they were probably smoking inflight again while attempting to cover it up with some room (cockpit?) deodorizer.

    It was a good show, but a show nonetheless.

  43. Maybe you shouldn’t be posting in real time on trips. It would stop an airline’s P.R. people from going into crisis control and ‘fixing’ a problem that would never get fixed for anyone without a widely-read frequent flier blog.

  44. I’m all for a gofundme page to finance Nick a trip in J on that dumpster fire in the sky. The review would break the internet.

  45. Ben-

    As I just commented on Matthew’s post, the orange/disinfectant combo meant they were probably using Ozium (or the Chinese equivalent). I’ve worked in several five-star hotels and we always had a couple of bottles on hand. It’s a spray to kill the smoke smell in the air, even for the “special” kinds.

  46. @Kim Of course they didn’t get ‘vvip’ treatment. That would have been counter to the entire intent here. The idea was not to apologize, it was to give the impression that the first flight was an unfortunate anomaly, whereas this superb service is the norm for regular passengers. Taking them to a secretive Elite lounge would have made it clear they were having a Potemkin Village experience, and that was the last impression that management wanted to give in this case. .

  47. Wow, I must be old, because I remember flights when pax could smoke in the 1980s. Amazing that we all lived through that!

  48. As a rule, no self respecting Asian person would fly on Chinese airlines unless they are forced to.

  49. They admitted they knew who you were in the handwritten note. They call you a travel talent. That’s what they would call you in Chinese as a writer on travel and flying.

  50. I should have read this first !! Just got off MU LAX-PVG-BKK. Crew on first flight was worst ever , 2nd flight they were excellent (SQ excellent ). Business class on the 777 seat was great , 737 much more legroom than Domestic 1st. Very happy

    Food – swill- disgusting – sickening – gross -smelled so bad I almost vomited . On the way home I will just carb it up and eat Bread , fruit and ice cream. I can’t explain enough how bad the food was

    Smoking -Yup. The whole flight from LAX-PVG I was so disgusted. I want to switch my return flight home so badly. How yucky. PVG-BKK was smoke free and the captain was very friendly. Gave us route updates which we never heard a word from the crew LAX-PVG

    Timeliness – perfect. Both flights on time

    Lounge – NEW!! Sky team lounge at PVG is just fine for speedy wifi and relaxing . As with the airlines meals, food was gross. Coffee and water make it fine though. IGNORE all the little ice cream feeezers in front of the stores in PVG. One Ice Cream bar is $9USD! That’s boerline stealing !!!

    Arrival in BKK – the most important thing about arriving here is arriving in business class and having access to the Premium Lane. I have flown into BKK on over 15 airlines and always received a Premium Pass in J (CX sometimes in Y as an emerald ). Well don’t count on it!! This airline is too cheap! So I waited 75 minutes to clear immigration. I would have paid $35 US for the arrival service had I had known. Never imagined a SkyTeam full service airline would be that cheap.

    I got 30,000 MQM and $6800 MQDs for my $2300RT biz class ticket. NEVER again. I’ll fly PE on China airlines any day over J on China Eastern. Lie flat bed is nice but when the food makes you want to vomit and the cabin is filled with cigarette smoke, it’s very hard to be comfortable.

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