Scandinavian Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 340-300: Shanghai to Copenhagen

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Introduction

I think the presentation went rather well, and I even had a bit of a fan-boy moment when I chatted with two gentlemen at the conference that I’ve quoted more often in my papers than I care to remember! It is kind of odd when you finally meet somebody and realise they don’t just exist on paper but also in the three dimensional world…

Getting to Pudong Airport

The flight to Copenhagen will be leaving at 13h20 from Shanghai Pudong’s terminal 2. To get from the university in Fudan to the airport will take approximately fifty minutes by car, which is why I order a taxi to pick us up from the hotel near the university at 10h00 on Saturday morning.

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Check-in

To enter the building you first have to undergo a preliminary security screening. Although to be honest, given how sloppy and uninterested the staff go about their job, I’m not really quite sure what the point of this check is supposed to be…

SAS checks in on row H of terminal 2. When I get there, my heart nearly stops, because the queue is endless. How many people fit in a bloody Airbus A 340 anyway? Luckily though, there is a dedicated queue for Business Class passengers, which is much shorter.

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From what I can gather on an A 4 sheet of paper lying on the counter, SAS gives you the option to do a last minute upgrade at check-in from Economy to either Economy Plus or Business Class. An Upgrade from Economy to Business would be something like RMB3500, which is a bit less than EUR500.

The cases are labelled all the way to Zürich and so, the next stop is immigration and security. Fortunately, the queue is not too long there either and within twenty minutes I already find myself airside.

The departure gate for the SAS flight is right opposite the exit from security and the escalators leading up to the lounge are just off to the left. So I take a few photos of my aircraft and then decide to escape to the lounge.

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The Air China Premium Lounge

In Pudong, SAS uses the Air China First and Business Class lounge, lounge number 71, which is located one level up from the public airside area.

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The lounge is spread out over two floors. The lower floor is mainly for lounging about (and surreptitious smoking, by the smell of it…) and there is only a bar with drinks available but no food. The main area of the lounge is on the upper floor, which is also where the buffet with the food is.

There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes, including Western and Chinese dishes, pastries, etc.

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The lounge is nice enough, and even though there’s a Lufthansa A 380 being readied for its return to Frankfurt outside, it’s not too crowded. And the wifi is not bad either.

Boarding

Boarding for the 13h20 departure is expected to start at 12h35, so 45 minutes before departure. There are three different lanes to queue for boarding: one for Economy, one for Business Class and a third for families with children and other disabilities and misfortunes…

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The boarding process is completed on time. But no sooner have the doors been closed that the captain informs us there will be a delay of at least thirty minutes due to heavy traffic in Pudong. Eventually, we depart with a delay of an hour. However, given that the flight time is announced as ten hours and twenty minutes, which is one hour less than scheduled, we’ll probably still be arriving in Copenhagen on time.

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Getting airborne from Pudong is the usual undignified and somewhat embarrassing spectacle you get on the Airbus A 340: we line up on the runway, we wait, the excited anticipation starts to rise, the throttles are pushed forward to the TO/GA position, the engines start howling…

… still howling…

… and then there a gentle bump and the beast slowly lumbers into motion, slowly gaining speed. Terminal 1 goes zooming past the window… well, passes at a slightly faster pace than taxi speed, then the new terminal still under constructions and then, only then, seemingly in slow motion Astrid Viking raises her nose into the air and reluctantly cuts the ties with earth. We actually made it, we’re finally airborne.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is identical to the one I had on the outbound flight, so I think it hardly needs an introduction. Instead, this time I tried to focus on taking pictures of some of the smaller details of the cabin. I must say though, I really like the seat and I think it offers a lot of space and comfort.

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On this flight the complimentary wifi is available. But it is turned off the entire time we are flying over Russia. Which is a very long time if you consider the size of the country.

Amenities

The service on the ground begins with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of water, orange juice or champagne. After that, the menus for the flight are distributed.

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After take-off, the slippers and the hot towels are handed out before the start of the lunch service.

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The crew on this flight are really excellent. They’re very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel at home, for example by suggesting things for them to sample from the drinks cart. There’s something very efficient but still unrushed about their service, which makes the experience very pleasant.

The vanity kit comes in a stylish black bag. It contains socks, eye shades, ear plugs, a Colgate toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, as well as some lip balm and hand cream by REN. The toothbrush is the same model Emirates uses and it’s very good. The earplugs are also comfortable to wear and good at blocking out the noise.

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The Meal

The meal service starts with the warm nuts and drinks. I decide to go with a Danish, Belgian-style ale that’s quite strong at 9% and has a somewhat disturbing hint of tropical fruit. I’m not sure what to make of it, I’m not even sure I like it either.

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The crew make two bread rounds and encourage passengers to take more than just the one piece. The bread is served with a small ramekin of butter. I always find it’s the little things that make the difference between a normal crew and a stellar one: by the time he’s finished the first two pieces of bread, the valiant M. has already demolished all the butter. When the crew come by for the second bread round, one of the flight attendants notices and brings him some more butter without him even having to ask for it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call service.

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The First Course

For the first course, there is a choice of two starters. I have the crab and salmon mouse with the tomato timbale, which is very good and flavourful, but without being overly fishy. The first course is accompanied by a small mixed salad, which is served with a small flacon of balsamico and olive oil.

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The Salad

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The Main Course

For the main course there are four dishes to choose from: chicken, fish, beef or vegetarian. Seeing as I’m not much of a carnivore at the best of times, I decide to try the polenta, served with goat’s cheese, broccoli and a very tasty tomato and bell pepper sauce. The meal is served with shavings of parmesan cheese on it. I really like this dish. Especially the tomato sauce is excellent and tangy and goes very well with the parmesan.

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Dessert

For dessert there is a choice of cheese and crackers, a warm cheese cake with berries and a selection of fruit. I have the cheese cake with a bit of dragon fruit and kiwi on the side. And then to conclude the meal, there is coffee or tea.

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By the time the meal service ends and the table wear has been removed, we’ve only been airborne for just over two hours. Not bad!

Being a daytime flight, the crew only dim the lights but do not switch them off completely. Throughout the flight they regularly pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks.

The Second Service

I miss the second service, mainly because I’ve kept myself well fed and well hydrated from the snack bar during the flight. From what I could gather from a glance across to the valiant M.’s tray, the meal consisted of a shrimp salad, a fruit salad for dessert and a choice of salmon or proc for the main dish, which was served with Anna potatoes and veggies.

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Arrival

Our arrival into Copenhagen is five minutes ahead of schedule. The only thing I think SAS could do better is to provide arrival information for connecting passengers. As it is, there is no information provided until you’re on the ground.

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Conclusion

Other than that though, I think SAS has a solid and consistent product. Their main selling point, I’d say, is the crew. On both the outbound and inbound they were really friendly and very hospitable. The meal service is also very nice. There’s something old-fashioned about it but that’s kind of nice. And the seat is also very comfortable. I’d fly them again any time.

China Southern, Business Class – A 380: Beijing to Guangzhou

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Introduction

This flight nearly did not happen. To all good intent, the only reason I chose this routing was to get another flight on the A380. At the time of booking there were two daily flights from Beijing to Guangzhou operated by China Southern’s A380: CZ3000 at 09h30 in the morning and CZ3104 in the afternoon at 15:30.

Originally I booked the earlier flight. However, about two weeks before departure, I checked my itinerary again, only to find that there had been an aircraft change and the flight would be operated by an A330-300 instead. Please do not get me wrong. I think the A330-300 is one of the most elegant airliners out there, while the A380’s looks are – quite frankly – sinful. But that is not the point.

And then the saga began. I shall spare you the gory details. But what I will say is that it took me no less than six calls to the Frankfurt office and another seven phone calls to the Beijing office before eventually I was able to rebook my ticket. I must say though, that while the process itself is absolutely atrocious and not at all passenger friendly, China Southern’s staff were friendly and very polite at all times.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Car provided by the hotel. It is a BMW, but I have no idea what model.
Journey time: 40 minutes.

The journey back the airport is fairly smooth. There is a bit of a traffic jam right outside the hotel, but that soon eases up.

Check-in

Location: Terminal 2, domestic departures.
Facilities: Web check-in is available.
Counters: There is a dedicated check-in area for China Southern’s VIP customers. Unfortunately, the place is not signposted in any way, so eventually I have to ask at one of the airline’s ticketing counters for directions to the premium check-in area.

The VIP check-in area is quite large, with six or seven counters and chairs for passengers to sit while they wait to be checked in. There are no conveyor belts for luggage, just the scales. A porter will then take your checked luggage and put it on a belt for you. In theory it is a nice idea and is very similar to the dedicated First Class area many other carriers have. Quite frankly though, the place here just looks grimy and filthy. The carpets are tread bare in some places, while in other places there are stains and lumps of dust that look suspiciously like the fur balls my cat Boozey used to wretch up.

The exit from the check-in area is to the left. From there a red carpet will guide you to the security check for First Class and Business Class passengers.

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The China Southern Domestic First Class Lounge

Location: Opposite gate 21, from where the A380 flights depart.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated China Southern First Class lounge.
Facilities:
A limited selection of food and drinks, no toilets or showers available.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is provided by the airport authority. However, you need a Chinese mobile number to receive the password to access the internet!

I am issued a lounge invitation together with my boarding pass. There is a small map on the invitation, indicating the location of the lounges. There is the ‘normal’ VIP lounge and then there is the ‘A380 high-end passenger lounge’ next to the departing gate for the A380 flights.

I think somebody is missing the point here. Actually, I think somebody is missing quite a few points here. First of all, of course it is nice to have a lounge adjacent to the departing gate, but that really only makes sense if there is a direct access from the lounge to the aircraft, similar to what Lufthansa or Emirates have at their hubs or like what BA used to have in Heathrow’s Terminal 4, where passengers had direct access from the Concorde Room to the aircraft. But this is obviously not the case here. Secondly, you would have thought it is a simple enough calculation: the number of Business Class seats on the A380 dictates the capacity of the lounge. But this is clearly not the case here and at some point the staff actually start setting up folding chairs for all the passengers wishing to enter the lounge.

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Boarding

Boarding is chaotic. Even so, by 15h30 – our scheduled departure time – the airbridges are removed from the aircraft. That is when the captain comes on the loudspeaker to welcome us aboard and inform us about an ATC delay of thirty minutes. Eventually by the time we push back from the gate we are running more than an hour later.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1.
Seat: I am sitting on 20A, which is a window seat on the port side of the aircraft. China Southern has the Business Class cabin on the upper deck of the aircraft. There are seventy seats in total. There is a smaller cabin with six rows in the forward section, with the main section behind the second galley. The seat itself is very similar to the one Emirates has installed in Business Class on its A380. It is a comfortable seat and offers a lot of privacy. In the smaller cabin, the window seats on uneven numbered rows offer more privacy, because they are farther away from the aisle. In the larger cabin however, the opposite is the case and the seats on even numbered rows are the ones away from the aisle. Stowage space is excellent, especially if you are sitting by the window. This is mainly due to the curvature of the hull. There is quite a gap between the wall of the cabin and the seat. Airbus has put in extra storage bins in this space which are quite convenient. The seat extends into a fully flat bed. I am 184 cm tall. In the fully extended position I can lie stretched out and even have a little space left above my head.
Pitch: 77 inches.
Width: 24 inches.
Facilities: AC and USB power ports are available in Business Class.
Audio and Video: Audio and Video on demand. The system can be operated either using the touch screen or the remote control.

Just a word of warning here. China Southern has the same strange policy that the American carriers have. Their domestic Business Class is labelled as First Class. As a result, even though I booked First Class I am in fact sitting in the Business Class cabin of the beast. Apparently, the international First Class seats are not available for sale on this route.

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The Crew

There is not really very much I can say about the cabin crew. They are courteous in the way they go about their duties, but other than that, interaction with the crew is somewhat limited by the language barrier.

The seat looks as though it has been set up for a long-haul flight. There are two pillows and a thick blanket at every seat. Slippers, a shoe bag, water and noise cancelling earphones are also available.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Apple juice.
Towel before the meal: Cold, unscented towel served with the welcome drink on the ground.
Pre-meal drink:
Still water and a bowl of nuts.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main dish.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Early dinner.
Menu:
A menu is available, which the cabin crew will let you have a look at, if you ask nicely. However, she will wait by your seat until you have made a choice and will then disappear again with the menu.
Meal:

  1. Noodle soup with braised beef and pak choy, condiments.
  2. Fruit
  3. Coffee.

Much to my surprise, the meal is excellent! The beef is incredibly tender and tasty. The noodles are chunky and chewy and the spicy sauce and the chilli give the soup a fragrant touch.

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Arrival

We fly a circuitous route into Guangzhou. Apparently there is a thunderstorm in progress. We do a few en route holding circuits at 38’000 feet, which looks pretty cool on the map, and as we start our descent into Bayun airport we are zigzagging around big towering CBs.

Eventually we land with a delay of 75 minutes, which seems pretty good by Chinese standards. Our aircraft is parked at the international pier in preparation for its next flight, which means that all passengers will be bused to the terminal. There are dedicated minibuses for First Class passengers. Most importantly, I get to see the A380 at ground level!

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Metro line 3.
Departs from: Airport basement.
Journey time: 55 minutes.
Fare: RMB8.- per person for a single journey. The ticketing machine only accepts cash and only note of RMB5 and 10.

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Baiyun airport is served by the number 3 metro line. From the airport it is about 45 minutes to Tiyu West Road, which is the terminus station of this branch of line 3. If you need to continue your journey on the line 3 in the direction of Panyu Square, exit the train on the right side at Tiyu West Road. The train bound for Panyu Square calls at the opposite platform. From there it is only one stop to Zhujiang Station, where my hotel is.