Review: China Eastern Business Class A330 Shanghai To Colombo

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While our last flight on China Eastern was extremely underwhelming, based on our layover we figured out that China Eastern was on to us. I was curious to see how this flight would compare, as a result.

China Eastern 231
Shanghai (PVG) – Colombo (CMB)
Thursday, July 28
Depart: 2:05PM
Arrive: 7:00PM
Duration: 7hr25min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 3C (Business Class)

This flight was operated by one of China Eastern’s outdated A330s, featuring a total of 24 business class seats. The cabin was in a 2-2-2 configuration, with four rows of angled business class seats. This immediately reminded me of Malaysia’s former 777 business class, which had similar seats.

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China Eastern A330 business class cabin

We had assigned ourselves seats 3A & 3C, on the left side of the cabin in the third row.

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China Eastern A330 business class seats

The seats had plentiful legroom, though the cabin did feel a bit outdated.

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China Eastern A330 business class seats

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China Eastern A330 business class legroom

The personal televisions were located on the seatbacks, as well as coat hangers, magazine racks and pockets.

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China Eastern A330 business class seats

There was a small privacy partition between seats that could be extended.

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China Eastern business class A330 privacy partition

The seat controls were located on the aisle-side armrest, and were easy to use.

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China Eastern business class A330 seat controls

Meanwhile the entertainment controls, as well as power outlet and headphone jack, were located underneath the center armrest.

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China Eastern business class A330 entertainment controls

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China Eastern business class A330 entertainment controls

Waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket, which weren’t nearly as comfortable as the ones on the previous flight. The blanket in particular reminded me of what you may get in longhaul economy.

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China Eastern A330 business class, seat 3C

Also waiting at our seats were headphones, though they were flimsy ones that I assume are the same as in economy.

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China Eastern business class headphones

While the hard product on this flight was extremely underwhelming, the service wasn’t. This crew was incredible. Let me say right off the bat that clearly they were “briefed” on us, but they provided a level of service that I imagine the crew on our previous flight couldn’t have provided even if they wanted to. So while it was clear we were getting special treatment, I don’t know if they almost somehow staffed this flight with an “A-team” crew last minute, or what.

Upon boarding we first took some pictures of the seats, and then moments later Wendy came by to introduce herself, and even addressed us by name. She seemed to be a bit confused by our picture taking, and said “is there something special about this seat?” We laughed, and just explained that we loved trying new products.

Shortly thereafter she offered pre-departure beverages, with the choice between water, champagne, and orange juice. We were also offered warm towels.

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China Eastern pre-departure beverages and hot towels

The cabin filled up pretty quickly, and eventually 21 of the 24 business class seats were occupied. In the center section of the last row were two pilots in uniform.

We asked Wendy about this, and she explained that the crew does a same day turn from Shanghai to Colombo, so they have two sets of pilots — WOW! The flight is seven hours in each direction, with the outbound flight departing at 2PM, and the return flight getting back to Shanghai at 6AM the following morning. The crew had to be at the airport at 11:30AM for their briefing. That’s a long day!

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China Eastern business class cabin A330

The boarding door closed at 1:55PM, and the jet bridge was pulled. While there were no announcements from the pilots, about five minutes later Wendy came by our seats and said “I have some bad news…”

“…we are delayed by maybe one hour due to weather.”

Okay, of course I wasn’t happy about a delay, but I was expecting something much worse when she said she had bad news. For example, if our flight were canceled the rest of our trip would be thrown off completely.

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Shanghai Pudong Airport weather delay

The flight attendants still screened the safety video, and I found it pretty funny that they made a special announcement saying “anyone who smokes severely violates law and takes criminal responsibility.” Hear that, pilots? 😉

Since we were looking at an hour plus ground delay due to a thunderstorm, the crew closed the curtains between cabins and served us a snack, starting with setting tables.

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China Eastern business class snack during ground delay

I ordered a glass of champagne, and we were offered some sort of a salmon sandwich, grapes, and mixed nuts.

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China Eastern business class snack

The dish itself wasn’t nearly as good as it looked, but I appreciated the effort.

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China Eastern business class snack

What impressed me most was that they closed the curtains between cabins, and throughout the ground delay there were two flight attendants standing behind row four observing the cabin to see if anyone wanted anything.

After the snack we were offered more refills, though just requested some water.

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More pre-departure drinks on China Eastern

I checked out the lavatory at the front of the cabin, which was spotless. The toilet paper was even folded over, as you’ll find on some premium airlines (and every subsequent time I visited the lavatory, it was equally spotless).

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China Eastern A330 business class lavatory

While the personal televisions were active on the ground, we got all the entertainment we needed from the lady seated across from us, who probably spent 30 minutes trying to get the perfect business class selfie.

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Selfie game on fleek!

She even gave us a spot in about half of her selfies.

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Selfie game on fleek!

After about 90 minutes, Wendy announced over the PA that “this flight has now been released due to weather conditions.” Moments later we began our pushback, and after that I noticed that the ramp agents were waving at us, just as you’ll find in Japan. Perhaps it’s standard in China as well, but I’ve never noticed it.

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Pushing back Shanghai Airport

Our taxi to the departure runway was quick, as we taxied past a China Eastern A330 in the new livery (which I think looks much nicer).

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China Eastern A330 Shanghai Airport

At 3:40PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 35R.

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Taking off Shanghai Airport

We hit some light chop on the climb out, but then the ride quickly smoothed out.

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View after takeoff from Shanghai

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View after takeoff from Shanghai

The seatbelt sign was turned off about five minutes after takeoff.

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View enroute to Colombo

Shortly after that we were handed immigration cards for Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka landing form

After that the crew distributed some basic amenities, like a toothbrush and eyeshades.

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China Eastern business class amenities

Then we were presented with the menu for the flight, which Wendy proactively told us we could keep.

Much like on the last flight, there was an entire year worth of menus on this flight. However, this time it wasn’t strictly sorted by month, but also by whether it was the first or last half of a month.

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The menu read as follows:

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The beverage list read as follows:

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Service once again began with warm towels.

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China Eastern business class hot towels

After that tablecloths were distributed.

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China Eastern business class table setting

Then mixed nuts were served — I just had a still water to drink.

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China Eastern business class mixed nuts and water

After that the entire meal was served at once. I find this a bit puzzling, given that it’s a daytime flight lasting over six hours. Even in the US the meal would typically be served in multiple courses.

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China Eastern business class dinner

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China Eastern business class dinner

Matthew had the steamed bossa fish.

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China Eastern business class dinner — steamed bossa fish

Meanwhile I ordered the bolognaise with spaghetti, simply because I wasn’t especially hungry and figured I’d get a picture of the other option. The spaghetti was about as good as you’d expect.

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China Eastern business class dinner — bolognaise with spaghetti

There was no dessert, other than the fruit.

While the meal itself was underwhelming, this crew really was top notch. Again, I realize the crew was probably on their best behavior, though this crew was next-level excellent, so I almost feel like they weren’t just a “normal” crew.

After the meal, Wendy presented us with an adorable handwritten note telling us how important our suggestions are, and several times during the flight emphasized how she appreciated feedback on their service.

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Note from crew on China Eastern

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Note from crew on China Eastern

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Note from crew on China Eastern

How cute!

After the meal I briefly browsed the entertainment selection. The screens were really grainy, so the quality was horrible.

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China Eastern entertainment system A330

In terms of the selection itself, it also wasn’t very good.

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China Eastern entertainment system A330

There were a few western TV shows and movies, though that was about it.

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China Eastern entertainment system A330

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China Eastern entertainment system A330

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China Eastern entertainment system A330

We were rather tired at this point so decided to nap. I reclined my seat into the bed position, and saw just what horrible shape the seat was in. Usually I can’t sleep in angled seats, but in this case I was tired enough that I managed to get some shuteye. However, this was one of the bumpier flights I’ve had in a while, so I woke up every so often due to turbulence, along with the seatbelt sign going on.

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China Eastern A330 business class seat in bed mode

When I woke up there was a bottle of water on the center console.

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China Eastern business class bottled water

The airshow didn’t work for most of the flight (when I’d select it, the screen would just go black). However, prior to landing, as we approached Colombo, it worked again.

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Airshow approaching Colombo

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Airshow approaching Colombo

We had a smooth touchdown in Colombo at 7:25PM, and from there it was just a five minute taxi to the gate. Despite our 90 minute delay on departure, we ended up arriving only about 30 minutes late.

Upon arrival in Colombo we technically had to get a visa on arrival, though managed to get that waived since we were connecting within 24 hours. However, that required talking to the “chief immigration officer.”

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Colombo Airport upon arrival

China Eastern A330 business class bottom line

China Eastern’s regional A330s feature outdated seats and are in really bad shape. The food on this flight wasn’t very good either, with everything being served on one tray (which perhaps was a blessing, given the quality of the food).

However, the service on this flight was spectacular. It’s not just that the crew was on their best behavior, but they were so polished that I can’t imagine they had just received the standard training. I felt like I was on Singapore Airlines in terms of the friendliness, attentiveness, and poise, of the crew.

Too bad we couldn’t get a crew like this on our previous flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai…

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Comments

  1. It isn’t just the seat that’s similar to Malaysia – China Eastern’s color scheme and logo are also very similar to Malaysia’s.

    To your comment about whether they might have made a last-minute change to a “special” crew, given that the flight departed from the airline’s main hub that seems entirely plausible.

  2. Looks like you opted for the champagne and passed on the “finest wines”‘on their list. Excellent decision. The Night Harvest sells at Walmart for about $6.50 and the Jacobs Creek about the same.

    As a wine broker I’m never too impressed with the wine offerings in premium cabins but frankly I’ve never seen anything this laughable.

  3. @Donna – You haven’t seen Lucky’s report on China Southern, with $5 sparkling wine in first class?

  4. Seats look like the same as on TG’s 772. Flew it on a one hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai; made for a great ride!

  5. Dear China eastern marketing person,

    Because we know you made special arrangements for Luckys flight we realize that this flight is an anomaly. The real experience is probably a few factors worse.

    So we can conclude from this review that China eastern sucks big time. Next time don’t single out people to give special treatment. You will just increase the distrust towards your airline.

  6. Hey Ben, were the crew also as hospitable to the other passengers? Could be a good indication if they were generally an ‘all-star crew’;)

  7. I think that’s the same seat Thai has on their 777-200/200ER’s. When I flew from BKK-KTM and back I flew a non-ER and ER 777-200 in different directions (I can’t remember which flight had which plane). Strangely, the two planes had slightly different seats, the differences being how the tray table stowed and other minute differences. For all intents and purposes they were the same seat though; 2-2-2 configuration, 60 inches of pitch, angle-flat seats. MU’s a330 business class seats in this picture look identical to the ones I had from BKK-KTM, while the flight from KTM-BKK had the slightly different ones. Again, I can’t remember which direction had which plane though.

  8. The ground crew waived goodbyes on my MU A330 SHA to TPE too. I think it’s normal practice. Also, I didn’t mind the angled flat seat and I kinda prefer this sleeping posture, at least for a power nap. MU has updated A330 with the 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seats on flights to Australia, New Zealand and Europe. But for Asia, it’s this older version of A330 to NRT, TPE…etc. They do run the new B777 to BKK sometimes. MU also ordered B787 and A350 so those are coming soon.

  9. I was considering taking MU for a flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt, because it is the only flight leaving late at night. But I really have doubts after these reviews. Anyone has experience with this particular flight? The airplane seems to be A330, but with full flat-bed 2-2-2 seats. So at least sleeping should be OK…

  10. Hi Ben,

    It seems that you absolutely was treated in a special way in MU flight. I have taken their long-haul and short-haul business for many times and never did I receive a thank you card like that.

  11. @Credit – good, keep flying your American Airlines and their genuine all-star crew, I’m sure China Eastern will really miss your whining and moaning on your cheapo Skymiles award

  12. With the exception of the handwritten card, I’ve experienced pretty much all of the above on China Eastern flights. But maybe only about 50% of the time, as they’re inconsistent. In fact, I had a flight yesterday that was quite good. So while I’m sure you did receive extra care and attention, your readers shouldn’t assume that their flights will be completely different either.

    By the way, some of these posts really do bring out the biggest bigots on the internet. A lot of really demeaning racist stereotypes on the comments here about Chinese people. Anything positive about Chinese is quickly shot down as “propaganda.” Unbelievable how naive and brainwashed some people are about China actually.

  13. But Jim, what if I happen to get in that 50% ? Nobody wants to risk a long flight on a 50% gamble with that kind of service. Well, maybe some… but not me.

  14. @Dee – well it’s really up to what your other options are, and how much you like Chinese food/tea. On US-China routes, the American carriers are not great either.

    My main point was actually that MU service is typically not at the extremes that Lucky experienced. Usually not as “noxious” as the first flight, nor as good as the second, but somewhere in between.

  15. Hi Ben, did you have any issue with your usual two carry-ons? Flying china eastern next week (J) and I’m slightly afraid as their website says one carry-on of 5kg max

  16. there’s 1.3billion people in China and they couldn’t find one that knows English? Ffs. That’s embarrassing.

  17. Lucky,

    Do you know if this flight has since been suspended. I can’t seem to find any CMB-PVG revenue flights in late may at all. thanks

  18. I flew China Eastern business class from JFK to Shanghai and then returned on the same route. I can assure you that the treatment this person received was not what the normal Joe Blow gets. The service is atrocious and the food is disgusting. The flight back to NY was worse than on the way over. The flight attendants could give a rat’s behind about you. I would take a cranky 70 year old Delta flight attendant over these people any day. It seems like a chore for them to even acknowledge you. I actually had a flight attendant tell me I could not listen to music on my iphone when it was in airplane mode. Sorry lady, but China’s top ten list, or songs by other various “never heard of you before” singers from their pathetic excuse for on-board entertainment is not gonna cut it. I won’t even go into the equally crappy movie selections. Needless to say, I tucked my headphones into my shirt and hid them with my hair so the music nazi would not see them. After the flight attendants served their horrid excuse for a meal (which seriously had me longing coach food on delta), they disappeared never to be seen again until we were about to land. I shutter to think about having to fly this airline in coach if this is their idea of business class. Thankfully this was a work trip so it was not on my dime. Do yourself a favor and pay the extra money to fly another airline. If you insist on flying CE, pack your own food, entertainment, and anti-depressant because you’re going to need it.

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