Sunday, May 26, 2019

China Eastern Airlines Business Class Adventure Singapore to Shanghai to Xian - Flight delays and Cancellations!

Welcome to our China Eastern Airlines Business Class adventure!  We fly on their Business class from Singapore to Shanghai, onward to Xi'An.  Our original flight schedule was as follows:

1. 17 May MU 566 - dep Singapore 2310, arr Shanghai 0440
2. 18 May MU 2335 - dep Shanghai 0645, arr Xi'An 0930

Baggage Checked through to Xi'An
Our baggage would be checked through.  We were looking forward to arriving in Xi'An on 18th May morning, and still have sufficient time to spend the afternoon and evening doing some touring.  We had planned for this holiday for a while now, so it was very exciting and it would be a trip of many firsts.

MU 566 Re-timed to 0800hrs the Next Morning
We arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 3 before 9PM on 17 May (Friday).  We headed straight to the SKY Priority queue, but was only to be greeted with this sight.  (see video).  There was a long line for the normal check-in, and it wasn't moving, which was strange.  It didn't take us long to realise that the flight was re-timed to 0800hrs next morning.  After speaking to one of the check-in staff (who also didn't really know what was going on), I left my mobile number and we decided to go home, even though we were told that the Airline would arrange for passengers to stay over in a hotel that night.   We decided against that since we would be more comfortable sleeping at home.

2 Flights were Re-timed
Note that both China Eastern flights to Shanghai MU 566 and MU 544 had been re-timed. Apparently, there was some weather over Guangzhou/Hong Kong area, and the Shanghai aviation authorities had decided that our flights would be re-timed. Oh well.....

Next morning - Check In at Terminal 3 
We got to the airport in good time next morning.   As we would have missed our connecting flight (MU 2335), the China Eastern ground staff re-booked us on MU 2162 departing 1730hrs.  We were quite glad that we managed to get seats on a later flight! With the revised MU 566 timing, we would only get to Shanghai around 1330hrs.  So a 1730hrs onward flight would still be ok.

Also, we could claim the taxi fare (from Airport to home and back to Airport) at the counter (so remember to keep your receipts), and we got that in cash.

SATS Premier Lounge Terminal 3
With our baggage checked through, and boarding passes in our hand (for both MU 566 and MU 2162), we got through immigration and headed to the SATS Premier Lounge at Terminal 3. China Eastern Airlines uses this contract lounge.  It was super busy that morning, and it got a bit unsightly because the staff couldn't clear the used plates quickly enough.   Anyway, we managed to find a seat, and I got some breakfast.   The food wasn't too bad - got some laksa, noodles, porridge and even otah-otah.  I didn't eat too much as I expected more food on the plane.

Departure from Changi Airport Terminal 3
We got to our departure gate at Changi Airport in good time.  But when we got there, I noticed that the cabin crew was still seated near the gate! Not a good sign.

Missing Plane?
Where was the plane?  It was just being towed in!  So what happened was that the plan was likely parked at some remote stand overnight, and now it was being towed to the gate in preparation for departure.  The video below shows you the plane being towed in, and some footage of takeoff.

Travel Insurance Documentation
Oh yes, before I forget, we had bought travel insurance for our trips and in this case, I believe we could claim some money due to trip delay.  However, as with all insurance claims, you need the proper documentation.  For trip delays, you definitely need a letter from the Airline to prove that the plane was delayed.  We were told by the check-in staff to get these letters at the boarding gate.  We got 2 copies.  They looked like this.  You need one letter for every passenger, so we got two of such letters.

Retimed MU 566 - Singapore to Shanghai, departing 0800hrs 18 May
A short while later, we boarded the aircraft.  Finally, we were on our way! This was our first ever flight on China Eastern.  This Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner was almost brand new [Serial Number B-209N].  The business cabin was gorgeous, it was in a 1-2-1 staggered formation.  My wife sat in front of Seat 7L, while I was in seat 8L (picture below).  Take note that the window seats were alternate, that means some of the window seats (like 8L) were truly window seats, but others were slightly away from the window (like 7L and 9L).  Reason was that they needed sufficient space to allow the seat to be deployed into a flat bed.  If you watch the video below from the 1 minute mark, you can see the staggered formation - 6L, 7L, 8L.  The Business class starts with row 6.  In front of row 6 is called Row 1, and that was the First class seating.  I didn't see anybody seated in 'First class' though.

Seat 8L

Flight Review Video - Singapore to Shanghai on China Eastern Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Here is my flight review video for the Singapore to Shanghai leg.  We enjoyed the service.

Smooth Flight on New Aircraft
The flight was very smooth, the experience was wonderful.  We were served a pre-departure drink (champagne included) as well as a hot towel.  Before take off, the stewardess came around to take our meal orders.  There wasn't a menu though placed at the seat, though the stewardess carried one with her.  I chose the assorted Dim Sum.  She also asked whether we wanted my meal to be served immediately upon take-off, or just before landing.  I said to be served straight after take-off.  She also asked for permission to wake me up for the meal service if I fell asleep!  Interesting.

Entire Breakfast on Single Tray
The meal was served on a single tray - efficient.  This was what my Assorted Dim sum meal looked like.  The bowl was sweet potato porridge, which was rather flavourful (i.e. not plain).  I ate it all.  Later on, the stewardess also came around with warm bread/croissant.   Meal service was quick and efficient, which I didn't mind.

After my meal, I converted my seat into a bed (push button, very easy) and I took a nap for about an hour or so.  Well, since I had a seat with a flat bed, might as well!  Landing into Shanghai was smooth and overall, it was a very good flight, the delay notwithstanding.

Part 2 of Adventure - Flight Cancellation! 
At Shanghai Pudong, the aircraft was parked at an aero-bridge and we got off the plane very quickly.  This was the first time that we were flying through Shanghai (international to domestic) and we didn't really know where to go.  So we asked around and realised that we had to clear Immigration.  That was quite simple and straightforward - the lines weren't long.  After clearing Immigration, we were told to go through the baggage collection area, clear Customs, enter the Arrival Hall and then proceed upstairs to the main public departure hall and enter the restricted area for Domestic flights again.  We didn't need to collect our luggage as they had been checked through.

It was quite easy to navigate and then we got a shock.  As my wife tried to clear security to enter the restricted area for Domestic flights, the security officer who checked her boarding pass informed her that our flight MU 2162 dep 1730 for Xi'An had been cancelled!  What???  We were just booked on that flight that very morning, at around 6AM while still at Singapore Changi!!  It was now past 1PM, and the flight was cancelled.  We were told to go to the China Eastern reservation counters to get ourselves rebooked!

Goodness, this was getting crazy.  We were originally supposed to arrive in Xi'An before 10AM on 18 May. But now, we weren't even sure that we would be able to make it to Xi'An on that day!  Thankfully, my wife spoke very fluent mandarin. We had to go speak at several different China Eastern counters (because they said different departments took charge of different things!).  In summary, we had to

1. See whether we can get rebooked on another flight to Xi'An on that same day, otherwise the Airline has to put us up in a hotel for the night.
2. Get another letter to prove our onward connection was cancelled
3. Retrieve our luggage (they were supposed to be checked through... where were they now??)

Rebooking to a later flight
Fortunately, the counter reservation staff said that he could book us on the last flight going to Xi'An, which was MU 522 departing 2110.  We needed 2 seats in Business class, and there were 2 available.

We also had to find the Duty Domestic Manager (different from reservations) to get another cancellation letter for the missed flight.  This time, it looked like this.

For good measure, my wife took a photo of the departure board - MU 2162 to Xi'An, dep 1730hrs, was cancelled.  Why the sudden cancellation?  Frankly I have no idea.  No reasons were given to us either.  Well, cancellations were not uncommon, so the ground staff we spoke to didn't seem surprised.

Retrieving our Luggage, returning back to Baggage Claim area 
What about our luggage? The duty manager told us to go back to the Arrivals Hall, and find the entrance back into the restricted area.  The guard there asked us (in mandarin of course) why we wanted to go back in.  We had to explain to him that our flight was now cancelled (showed him our boarding pass for the flight that was cancelled) and we had to go back to the luggage area to collect our luggage.  He let us in without any problems.

Once inside, we headed to the China Eastern office, and there was a short queue to see the staff.  One staff told us to go back to the baggage claim carousel for MU 566 to check if our bags were there first, before coming back to see him if we couldn't find our bags.  So I went to the luggage claim area and thankfully, both our bags were still there. So it appears that the Airline would send the bags out to the luggage claim area, even though they were checked all the way through originally, because the Airline could tell that the flight had been cancelled.

Check whether your onward flight is cancelled when you arrive
In retrospect, what we should always do next time (if we fly through Shanghai) is to check whether our onward flight was still running, before we leave the luggage area.  If indeed our onward flight had been cancelled, then we would need to collect our bags from the luggage carousel anyway.

No meal vouchers?
We had also earlier asked whether the Airline would provide meal vouchers to cover the time in between. One staff at reservations counter in the public area said we had to get them from the baggage claim area!  But when we checked with the staff at the baggage claim area, they said that there was no need to provide vouchers for us because we could gain access to the Business class lounge.  But we explained that the staff earlier said that we could only check in 3 hours before departure!  The supervisor at the baggage claim area looked at us incredulously and said there was no such rule.  Anyway, he got his staff to make a call somewhere, and confirmed with us that we could check in and use the lounge.  The time was about 1500hrs and our flight MU 522 wasn't departing till 2110hrs.

Checking in for MU 522 dep 2110 to Xi'An
And after we got our luggage, we had to bring everything back to Departure area, and look for the check-in counters.  China Eastern has a separate area for premium customers at the far end of the terminal for Domestic check-in, near the domestic check-in security counters.  When we got there, there were no queues.  The counter staff looked a bit stressed though.  He had to call his supervisor to verify that he could check us in for the MU 522 flight (without imposing any additional charges on us).  We had to explain to him (and showed him all our boarding passes) that it was not our fault that we were in this predicament. Surely, the Airline had to send us to our final destination!  He was rather apologetic and explained that this issue straddled several departments, so he had to check.  Finally, he was given the green light to check us in for the MU 522 flight, departing 2110 for Xi'An.  Well, the good news was that it now looked like we would be able to get to Xi'An after all!

China Eastern Shanghai Pudong Domestic Business Class Lounge
Clearing security was smooth (hardly any line) and we headed straight to the Domestic terminal lounge.  Here is the video of the lounge experience.  This lounge is not to be confused with the Business Class lounge for international departures.  This was the business class lounge in the Domestic section of Terminal 1 at Shanghai Pudong.

Thankful that all issues were sorted
Thankfully we sorted out all the issues with our onward flight, and since the departure to Xi'An was now 2110hrs, we had plenty of time.  I recall when we got to the lounge it was only around 1630hrs.  Never mind, it was time to rest and get some food! I went straight for the noodles, which was very comforting.  Also had a glass of white wine, which wasn't too bad.  Took a nap, and then woke up to eat dinner.  They started dinner service at about 1730hrs and there was rice, with some meat and veggies.  I must say that the food was all very local, and not international oriented.  But it worked for us since our Singaporean tastebuds were somewhat similar to the local Shanghai cuisine that was being served. (or put in another way, we weren't fussy eaters!)

Boarding Announcements were made
There were boarding announcements and indeed, we waited till our flight was announced to be ready for boarding, then we left for the departure gates.  Upon reaching the gate, we realised that we had to be bussed to the airplane.  This was our first bus experience in Shanghai (when we arrived, it was an aerobridge).

Premium passengers get to board a separate mini-bus.  When we got to the boarding gate, general boarding had already begun.  So what you do is to go right to the front of the line (yes, cutting queue!), show your boarding passes and they will let you through first.   Of course, other passengers in line may give you stares, but so be it!

When you get to the bus bay, board the small bus (enough seats for all) and not the big one.  Since we all had seats, the bus ride to the plane would be comfortable.

Arrival at Remote Stand
When the bus arrived at the remote stand, other passengers were already boarding (Economy passengers who had arrived via an earlier bus).  No hurry to board.   The weather was good that evening, however, if it was raining, I think most of us would get wet!

Once boarded, we quickly settled into our seats on this cosy Airbus A321.  There were only 3 rows of Business class seats in a 2 by 2 configuration.  Thank God there was space for us!

Flight MU 522 Shanghai to Xi'An Flight Review
Check out my flight review video of this 1hr 50min flight below.  I titled this video 2 Tarts and 5 Fruit Slices because we were literally served this light snack of 2 tarts and 5 fruit slices on this flight!  Wow.  Granted that this was only a 1hr and 50 minute flight, one would still have reasonably expected some type of supper.

Well, you have been warned... eat your dinner before you get on-board!  Thankfully, I had my fill in the lounge.  We arrived in Xi'An slightly ahead of schedule, but we had to take a bus from the airplane to the terminal.  That took a bit of time, but by this time, we were just going with the flow.  At least we made it to Xi'An!

Well, this wraps up our exciting China Eastern Airlines Business Class adventure, from Singapore to Shanghai, onward to Xi'An.

This was our first time onboard China Eastern Airlines in any class.  Overall, the actual Business class product was very decent given what we had paid.  However, what wasn't so fun was all the delays and hiccups.  First, out of Singapore (9 hour delay), and then the onward flight getting cancelled only when we arrived in Shanghai, and the fact that we were pretty much on our own in terms of trying to sort out the luggage and re-booking.  We were literally running from department to department within the same airport, from restricted baggage area (level 1) out to public check in area (level 3), back to restricted baggage area to retrieve bags and again to domestic check-in area.  Felt like we knew the airport very well after this experience!

Thank God my wife spoke excellent Mandarin and she could navigate her way through the China Eastern system.

We got to our destination safe and sound, so can't complain.  Yes, we were supposed to have landed in Xi'An at 0930hrs on 18 May and we ended up arriving only at 2350hrs, i.e. 14+ hours behind schedule.  We lost a day of sight-seeing, but hey, at least we made it.  We went on to have a very fun holiday in Xi'An, and would fly back to Singapore some days later.

We are in the process of claiming travel insurance.  Will update again when I get news on whether the claim is successful!

Thanks for reading and watching my videos!

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