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Flight Review: China Eastern Business Class LAX-Shanghai

by on July 19, 2012 · 19 comments

in China Eastern, skyteam, Trip Reports

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Earlier this week, TPG Managing Editor Eric winged his way from LAX to Shanghai aboard China Eastern Airlines business class. Here’s his review of the experience.

Before flying them on Monday, the only thing I knew about China Eastern Airlines was that it is a member of SkyTeam, and that it’s based in Shanghai. I occasionally see their plain white planes with red and blue lettering at Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, but I’d never had the chance to fly them before now.

The Lounge
I was booked in business class, so upon arriving at LAX, I was given a lounge pass. Mistakenly, I thought it was a pass to the SkyTeam lounge, but the Korean Airlines ladies who man the reception desk there told me that my pass was actually for the general International Lounge on the other side of the terminal where various airlines including China Eastern and Air Pacific invite their passengers to relax before the flight.

The lounge was pretty standard–good free WiFi, some beer, wine, sodas and water, a few snacks including mini sandwiches, chips, cookies and nuts, a small cafe-style area and a television section of the lounge, and then a lot of free outlets so I could make sure my electronics were fully charged before the flight.

The Flight
Like many flights from LA to mainland China, mine departed in the early afternoon and would arrive in Shanghai in the early evening the following day. My plan was to work for the first part of the flight, have a meal, watch a movie and take a long nap, then try to stay awake for the rest of the flight so I would be tired enough to sleep when I got into Shanghai that night.

The Seat
When I found out that I was booked into business class aboard the airline’s A340, I went to China Eastern’s website to see what service onboard might look like.

I found the following picture of a business class seat, which seemed like a standard angled lie-flat.

It turns out that this is actually the business class seat aboard the airline’s A330-200, which flies on the Shanghai-London route. That plane has just 24 of these seats with 59 inches of pitch and 169 degrees of recline.

As I said, though, I was aboard the A340. I couldn’t find any information on the seats specific to that aircraft, though SeatGuru told me the seats were angled lie-flats as well. SeatGuru also said there were 40 of them, though even the diagram of the plane on SeatGuru showed there were 42–I’ve found that the site has gotten a bit lax on providing accurate, up-to-date information both about configurations and routes on which you might fly certain aircraft, so I’ll be looking around at other similar sites  from now on–arranged in seven rows in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration.

What I found aboard the plane were actually recliner-style business class seats. Granted, they very spacious and did angle quite a lot, but they weren’t bed-style angled lie-flats, so they weren’t ideal for sleeping. I did manage to get a few hours’ sleep very comfortably on them, but it still didn’t compare even to the angled lie flats they have on other airlines like Lufthansa and Air France.

Though this isn’t one of the airline’s newer planes, the cabin was clean, and there were plenty of flight attendants handing out juice and water, taking meal orders and helping passengers get situated.

The seats had handrest-stowed personal television screens with a selection of about two dozen Chinese, American and European movies both recent and a little outdated. There weren’t any television shows loaded on them, though, and the music selection was scant as well. The screen was controlled by a handheld remote, which was a bit unwieldy and hard to control fast-forwarding or rewinding. Flight attendants handed out noise-canceling headsets about a half-hour into the flight for passengers to use.

My seat also came with a large duvet and medium-size pillow, a personal AC power port where I could plug in my laptop and work through much of the flight, a pair of blue China Eastern slippers, and a Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit with Tuscan Soul lip balm and hand lotion, toothbrush and paste, mouthwash, brush-comb combo, a shaving kit, eye mask and ear plugs.


Meal Service
Because of the timing and length of the flight, there were two full meal services–one at the beginning and one at the end, as well as a late-night snack served to passengers who asked for it right around the middle of the flight.

During the first meal service–lunch–they unfortunately ran out of the Chinese menu with choices like three-color egg and double-boiled chicken soup for starters, and mandarin chicken or vegetables with bok choy and rice. Instead, I had the Western-style menu with a scallop salad with sundried tomato in sesame dressing, truffle-infused cauliflower soup, smoked pork belly with braised apple cider sauce and sour cream crushed potato, a cheese plate, and fresh fruit for dessert.

The same thing happened at the meal service 2 hours before landing (which was like a full dinner), so I had the small arugula salad with walnuts and cranberry, and chicken breast with applewood smoked bacon and potatoes.

The meal in the middle of the flight was basically a huge Chinese version of Cup O’ Noodles with shrimp and bok choy and a small fruit plate.

I was pleasantly surprised by the wine choices they had onboard including Taittinger and a selection of Australian and French wines such as Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet, DeBortoli Family Selection Cabernet-Shiraz and Tyrrell’s Old Winery Chardonnay.

Service
The flight attendants all spoke English perfectly, and they were all neatly dressed and made up, which made a good impression. There were a few shortcomings, like the fact that they never gave me a napkin during my meals and they even forgot silverware, but all in all, they were quick, friendly and several of them acted as informal babysitters to kids flying business class with their parents so that during the long middle stretch of the flights the parents could get some rest while the kids who were wide awake didn’t keep other passengers up.

Mileage
My one-way ticket cost about $3,000, though it was purchased for me on behalf of a consulting project I’m doing in China. Because China Eastern is a SkyTeam member, I could have used Delta miles to book my flight, though it would cost me 120,000 miles since Delta charges the same amount of miles for a roundtrip as for a one-way award. Another option would be to book a one-way through Air France Flying Blue, but they levy taxes/fees of about $600 on partner flights to Asia. Expertflyer shows China Eastern award availability, though finding business class seats is very difficult. However, coach is readily available, with over 9 seats available on many days.

Since my ticket was paid for, I earned miles on this flight and credited them to my Delta SkyMiles account. The base miles were 6,485. As usual, there is a class-of-service bonus. Unlike many of Delta’s other partner airlines such as Alaska, Aeromexico, Air France KLM and Virgin Australia, which would have given me a 50% bonus for flying business class for a total of about 9,700 miles, Delta will only give me a 30% bonus for flying China Eastern business class for a total of 8,400 miles instead. I’m not sure why the partnership is limited in that way, but because of it, I missed out on about 1,300 miles.

So if you have Asia travel coming up and are looking to make the most of your Medallion status bonus and class-of-service, you might consider other partners such as Korean Air, where you will get full value for both.

All in all, the flight was pleasant and smooth, and though 14 hours in an old-school recliner-style seat wasn’t a world-class experience, it sure beat coach!

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  • http://twitter.com/MECarreno Marcos Carreño

    This is a great review. Ive been monitoring flights to Sydney from JFK in Business class and noticed that both China Eastern and China Southern have business class pricing ~$2000 less than that of the other carriers. This helps me understand why.

  • Jeff Rose

    Favorite line in the review: .”My one-way ticket cost about $3,000, though it was purchased for me on behalf of a consulting project I’m doing in China.”

    Hope the project goes well . . . it’s a long walk back!

    Seriously, I have to remember this for future consulting contracts: Buy them ONE-WAY tickets! Yes — of course!! (head smack).

  • Dwt

    I had a very pleasant Chinese domestic flight (Shanghai to Beijing) on China Eastern last month in first class– it was definitely a surprise as I still had the perception that Chinese carriers are subpar in both hard and soft product. Compared to domestic first class in the United States, the food was slightly better than what you would find on American (which I believe has the best first class catering for short and medium haul domestic flights), and the service was much, much better than what you would ever find in the U.S. The flight attendants all looked impeccable (one may think appearances shouldn’t affect the level of service on a flight, but I believe it is representative of the level of dedication flight attendants have to their jobs), and were extremely polite and attentive. When I boarded the flight, I was asked for my boarding pass, and a flight attendant actually personally escorted me to my seat and adjusted the pillow on the seat before I sat down. Imagine that happening here in the U.S.!

  • arcticbull

    Don’t lump China Southern into the same bin. They have 4 stars on SkyTrax whereas China Eastern has just 3. They’re different product and you should look up reviews for them separately haha.

  • arcticbull

    That looks like a generally sub-par experience. Too bad, I was considering redeeming on them. Running out of food, forgetting napkins, forgetting cutlery and domestic-F seats for one of the longest flights on earth? That’s just unfortunate. They’ve earned their 3 star rating on SkyTrax haha. Right up there with United!

  • Lanny

    I flew China Eastern PVG-BKK-PVG in May on their A330-200 in Business class and was extremely disappointed. The checkin desk clerks were grouchy. The Business lounge in PVG is a complete joke. It stinks in there, service is poor… the main airport terminal is far more acceptable. The service on the plane was very poor also, and the flights were late. The only redeeming factors were: 1. both flights arrived safely and I never felt in danger. The newer seats as described in this report are relatively comfortable compared to other Business class seats on mediocre carriers. If at all possible I’ll avoid them in the future and recommend to any travelling friends to do the same.

  • thepointsguy

    That sounds like an awful experience! Too bad it was aboard their newer planes too. Did the business class look like the photo in the post? My experience on an international flight seems like it was much better than your intra-Asian one.

  • Eric

    That sounds awful–did the business class aboard the newer planes look like the picture I had found? Sounds like service on my international flights was much better.

  • Eric

    Yeah, not the best, but the plane was clean and the staff very friendly, so it could have been worse. Plus, we arrived ahead of schedule, which I haven’t experienced in a long time aboard US carriers!

  • Eric

    I’d actually like to try China Southern myself–their newer planes and classes of service look pretty good actually.

  • Brian S

    This is a silly question but I couldn’t find the answer on delta’s website but how did you credit the china eastern miles to your skymiles account? Did you email delta with the flight itinerary or did you just provide your delta skymiles account # when making the China Eastern reservation? Thanks!

  • Eric

    I just gave my Delta # to the check-in agent when I got to the airport and asked her to put it on the itinerary.

  • tivoboy

    Just the words “china eastern” make me shudder. at 6’5″ (and I know you are taller) having flown domestic CE in mainland China, I can only say it was the worst experience on an airline I have had since Aeroflot ca 1988. If they say business, I’m really not surprised you were lumped into the general “international terminal”… you’re lucky you didn’t get mystery meat on the flight.

  • Howard

    Thank you for the review. You should definitely try China Southern, it will give you different experience.
    For the Chinese big four carriers: Hainan Air>China Southern>Air China>China Eastern

  • Adpage

    Gotta watch the MQM percentage accrual for Eastern China and China Southern with Skyteam. It’s only 50% and 40% respectively on most coach fares. And if you fly China Southern on its A380 routes, you get no accrual at all. They are usually the cheapest on routes into Asia (like BKK) so don’t be fooled.

  • Woodnglass2002

    Am I understanding you correctly, that if you fly China Southern on their A380 service, Delta does not credit you with any MQM miles?

  • thepointsguy

    No, that’s not the case. You can find the mileage accrual rates here: http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/earn-miles/earn-miles-with-partners/airlines/china-southern.html

    But depending on your fare class and class of service you earn between 40-150% of MQMs until March 1, and then between 50-100% MQM’s after March 1.

  • Al

    I’ve traveled a lot between America and Asia in the past 5 years. I’ve been using China Eastern Airlines for about 2 years, however my most recent trip from South Korea to Hong Kong was the worst experience in my life. They boarded me on a plane to a small airport in north China to connect me to Hong Kong, when I got there I was told the flight connecting to Hong Kong had already left. This change was made more than a month ago, but I was never informed. The worst part is, there was another couple who had the same itinerary, but the staff at the check-in kiosk told them there wouldn’t be a connect flight (it was cancelled) however they let ME board it. I wasted a whole day traveling to China and being escorted back to South Korea because I did not have a visa for China. Luckily the people at the small airport in China paid for my ticket back to South Korea. HOWEVER it gets worse. When I flew back to South Korea, the China Eastern Airlines staff told me I had to pay for another ticket, since I already used my connect flight to go to China. They MADE me pay another $1,000 because of their mistake! They are the worst.

  • garry

    China Southern is world’s apart from Eastern

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