This was the return part of a trip that started last December, as I flew with China Eastern from Los Angeles to Bangkok. I did like my ‘outbound’ trip, especially considering the low price (really just $170 per direction, so $340 for the round-trip).
I arrived at Bali‘s Denpasar Ngurah Rai International Airport 2.5 hours before the scheduled departure time. I had heard enough horror stories about flights to the Chinese mainland to know to arrive early and indeed the check-in hall was full of huge lines for almost every flight, including the China Eastern flight to Beijing. I was a little worried and finally found the counter for the China Eastern flight to Shanghai Pudong – to my surprise, there was NO line. In fact, the extremely friendly check-in staff told me that all but a few passengers had checked in and those were already on their way to explore the duty-free options the airport offers.
The check-in staff were happy to go along with my gamble to get a full row for my two flights. There were just two rows open with four middle seats on the first flight and a few more for the Shanghai – Los Angeles section. I grabbed an aisle seat on one of the rows and was hoping nobody else would check in and change seats…
Security had long and unruly lines in the steamy and slow-moving immigration hall. After an hour, it was finally done and I walked up to the T/G Lounge which is likely my favorite lounge at Bali Airport now.
The hot food buffet was solid, there were sofas where you could put your feet up and good wines on offer as well.
It wasn’t crowded and it seemed only ANA used the lounge for premium passengers (i.e no mainland Chinese passengers stormed the lounge).
Boarding was right on time and surprisingly orderly – maybe everyone was too sleepy, as it was almost 1AM.
My strategy paid off and to my shock and surprise, I scored a ‘poor man’s business class’ on this almost full flight, with four seats in the middle.
This China Eastern plane was delivered in 2008 and the chairs certainly looked older but the seats China Eastern uses have minimal spacing in-between and you can make it ‘fully flat’ by removing armrests and seat belts.
Just after the long takeoff turns, I ‘made my bed’ and wasn’t conscious before landing in Shanghai. I loved this flight. I can’t remember any turbulence and the meal services were not loud enough to wake me up.
We arrived right on time in Shanghai despite this being a foggy and hazy day. The terminal itself looks brand new and wasn’t crowded most of the time when I was there.
You have to pass security and ‘transit immigration’ at Shanghai Pudong Airport. While it was deserted when I was there around 6PM local time last time, it was buzzing this time. There are automated gates where you can scan your own passport but they did not work for a number of passengers (including me). It took a solid hour of waiting to clear security and immigration.
Only one lounge is currently operating (though more are listed in the Priority Pass guide). It provides a few drinks and snacks (including instant noodles) and a surprisingly delicious cold coffee drink.
Note that you will need to have a VPN like ExpressVPN to use most internet services in China, like Facebook, Google and Twitter.
There are two Starbucks and a number of sit-down restaurants that serve decent food. I opted for Korean food and found it edible.
I wasn’t sure my ’empty row’ would be so empty on my flight to Los Angeles, so I checked with the gate agent. She was surprisingly friendly and showed me the seat map on her phone. While ‘my row’ had filled up, there was one further back that still showed four seats, which is where I would be now.
Boarding was very organized, with a number of attendants forming lines and helping with crowd control. This wasn’t Korea or Japan but it was orderly boarding and the pushing and shoving were minimal. After them checking my boarding pass and passport a total of five (!) times, I sat down in my row and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, ATC delayed us for two hours despite the weather now being sunny (and hazy). That was two hours of sitting with seat belts on and electronics in flight mode (though you can now use your mobile phone in flight mode). Two hours later, we finally pushed back.
Our flight would be straight east 6,500 miles over the Pacific Ocean on a southerly route following the winds that day. As usual with an eastbound Pacific crossing, there would be plenty of turbulence from the winds pushing us at 200-250 miles per hour but it also makes the journey faster – just 11.5 hours for the long trek.
The flight attendants served lunch around 5PM local time (two hours after our delayed departure) and then I was napping gingerly on my 7-foot long economy ‘bed’. The cabin fluctuated between being extra-cold and hot several times during that flight. I wasn’t sure if someone was tinkering with the settings or if it was just the airflow from the outside.
Despite the heavy turbulence, I found the flight to be uneventful, with a quiet cabin, and I slept a bit bundled inside four blankets and jackets before it got really warm again.
I only saw the flight attendants when I pressed the call button to request a water bottle or when dinner was served much later. I liked the seafood pasta but everything else was a fail so I was pretty hungry by the end of that flight.
In sum, this was a solid flight and given my success in getting a ‘poor man’s business class’ on two flights, this was actually awesome. I felt my whole row gave me more space than a business class seat. I still had to live with much worse catering but despite that, I got incredible value for just $170 per direction. This is often the fuel surcharge if you book China Eastern using most award programs and you are still paying 35,000 or more miles per direction. Needless to say, China Eastern discount economy booking classes actually earn 50% with most award programs.