At the end of May 2011 I decided to have a break and spend a few days in Beijing sightseeing. My residence during my stay in China’s capital city was the Aman at Summer Palace, a lovely hotel which sits adjacent to the Imperial Summer Palace and was built in what used to be one of the palace kitchens.
The history of the Summer Palace is very closely linked to that of the Empress Dowager Cixi who, for all practical purposes, ruled the Qing Dynasty for nearly 40 years. The Empress Dowager is referred to by the Chinese as the Dragon Lady. Her reign is known as the reign of blood because of all the people she had murdered to retain power.
Cixi became the Empress Dowager following the death of her husband during the second Opium War in 1861. The idea had been for her to reign until her son was old enough to take over power. But when the time came, the Empress Dowager was reluctant to hand over power and instead had her son murdered. She then appointed one of her nephews to be the new emperor. He was only three years of age, which bought her some time before he too would make a rightful claim to the Dragon Throne, requiring her to relinquish power. Tragically, the little boy did not last very long and the Empress Dowager eventually had him murdered as well.
Dragon Lady then nominated a little boy that went by the name of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, also aged three at the time, to ascend to the Dragon Throne. Which eventually he did, but only because the Empress Dowager died a little while after she made the nomination. Pu Yi went on to become the last Emperor of China. He died in 1967 in Beijing, as a simple gardener of the People’s Republic of China.
Date: 04. June 2011
Flight number: SK996
Aircraft: A 340-300
Cabin: Business Class
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I leave the hotel at 12:00. The journey to the airport takes us a little less than one hour, mainly due to the fact that traffic in Beijing is really bad and crawling most of the time. Having said that, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Chinese drive live mad men. The day before my departure I visited the Great Wall at Mutianyu. As soon as we left the inner city behind us, traffic became lighter. My driver kept swerving in and out of the traffic and left me wishing for a traffic jam to slow him down. But all that is another story.
In any case, upon arrival at the airport I am already being expected by a young lady from the hotel’s escort service. She takes my bags to the SAS Business Class check-in counter and then guides me to the shuttle to take me across to the satellite of terminal three, from where all international departures seem to leave. The journey is quite long and really impressive. The new Terminal 3 at Beijing really is amazing. Once we arrived at the satellite, my escort shows me the way to the immigration counters where she bids me farewell and a safe journey home.
Immigration takes about 10 minutes to complete, as there is quite a queue. At least behind immigration there’s an express line through security. In order to take advantage of the express lane at security though, you need to show your boarding pass to some official, not sure who he works for, who stamps your boarding pass no less than 4 times with the same stamp before letting you through.
Once you pass security there really isn’t that much to do, except gape in awe at the magnificent and impressive architecture of the building.
There are a few shops, but there is not really anything appealing there so I head to the Air China Business Class lounge one floor up. The lounge is okay, nothing special but with a good selection food and beverages. By the time I leave to get on my flight it’s getting rather busy and the reception area is a complete mess, with people pushing and shoving their way forward to be served first. What fun!
I arrive at the gate where boarding has already started. There is a dedicated line for Business and Economy Plus passengers and a separate airbridge for premium passengers. I am greeted at the door by an elderly but ever so stylish flight attendant. As soon as I settle in, a male flight attendant come round offering orange juice, water and champagne.
THE CABIN & SEAT
The cabin on this bird shows some signs of wear and tear but is still generally in good condition.
Our A 340 has rather unusual overhead bins over the middle row of seats. They’re same ones Royal Jordanian has on its A 330. They dropped open, pretty much like the bins on the Tripple Seven.
As we taxi to the active runway I suddenly spot a large dot gradually growing bigger. At first I figure it must be a B 747. A look through the lens of my camera however reveals it’s an A380. ‘What a great location for a photo’, I think. But alas, as the aircraft draws nearer I get tangled in the strap of the camera and by the time I free myself and have an opportunity to take a picture, the thing is already too close and too fast. And this is the outcome.
Take-off is another one of those painfully undignified A 340-300 departures. Such a lame duck! Accordingly, it takes us a while to climb through the pollution of Beijing.
Once we are airborne, the crew come round handing out earphones, slippers, menus and vanity kits.
They then distribute the much appreciated hot towels. Check out the rather funky decoration with dry ice smoke coming out of the glass with the flower.
We begin with a drink run, served with dry pretzels and a shrimp and scallop on a toothpick with veg. The presentation in the plastic cup is not exactly the epitome of the much acclaimed Danish and Scandinavian design, but what will you?
What impresses me most about the service is the timing of the crew. Throughout the flight they make sure that they pass through the two aisles at the same speed, rather than having one side served way ahead of the other, as often happens on other carriers.
The meal tray duly arrives and has a a mixed salad on it, which comes with a bottle balsamico and olive oil.
The first course is Gravad Lachs with cucumbers marinated in dill. There is also a plate with cheese for dessert on the tray. But I demolish that before the main course arrives. Which however, does not mean that service is slow. Quite the contrary, it is very well timed.
And then comes the main course. I have the chicken in a tomato and basil sauce with polenta and grilled vegetables. And it isn’t bad either. My neighbour has the ravioli with mushrooms and vegetables and says it is also very nice. Thanks for letting me take a picture.
After the meal I have a lovely port.
This is followed by dessert: apple and rhubarb pie with fruit and vanilla cream. I have a Sauterne and coffee with this. Lovely!
After the meal the blinds comes down and the lights are switched of. This is also when the crew set up the tremendously well stocked self service bar. Even so,the crew pass through the cabin regularly with drinks, sandwiches and ice cream.
I don’t usually ‘do’ a section on the toilets in my trip reports but I think I’ll have to make an exception this time. The SAS A340toilet is absolutely huge. There are even two windows including a shade for those of us who worry that they might be seen in an unflattering position by another aircraft passing close by…
And then, surprisingly quickly, it’s already time for the second service: we have a beef salad to start, followed by a buffet with a choice of either chicken or pork with rice and vegetables. The portion of the second serving is rather substantial!
As they say, time flies. Shortly after clearing the trays from the second service, we’ve already started our descent into CPH. We make a beautiful approach over the Öresund, with the bridge connecting Denmark to Sweden coming into view just before we touch down.
In Copenhagen I have a connection onto the Swiss flight to Zürich. I have two hours to kill. The lounge in Copenhagen is nice and very typical of what I would call Scandinavia design. But perhaps all I’m trying to say is that it reminded me of an IKEA show room.
I was going to include my connecting flight to Zurich in this report. But as things turned out, I think I’ll save them the embarrassment and not comment. Save to say the flight was not one of Swiss International Air Lines’ finest moments.
I must say that SAS was a big surprise. I was not really expecting anything much but found their service to be excellent and very professional. Sure, it is not fancy and more functional than elegant. But they get the job done and rather well at that. I would choose them any time for another long-haul trip. In fact it’s a pity their network is not that extensive.