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.

Cathay Dragon, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Hong Kong to Shanghai Pudong

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Introduction

Originally, we were supposed to continue to Shanghai on Sunday, the day after we arrived in Hong Kong. But then Typhoon Ampil had other ideas, our flight to Shanghai was cancelled and instead, we ended up staying in Hong Kong until Tuesday afternoon. Still, it was a pleasant stay and I managed to get quite a bit of work done.

In Hong Kong I stayed at the Novotel Citygate, which is only about ten minutes away from the airport by shuttle. It’s also a great location if you want to explore Lantau island or visit the Tian Tan Buddah. The station for the cable car that takes you up to the Buddah is only about ten minutes away from the hotel.

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Getting into Town

The Novotel provides a regular, complimentary shuttle service between the airport and the hotel. Busses leave the hotel every twenty minutes, starting on the hour. The journey time to the airport is ten minutes, and the driver will drop you off at departures on the upper level.

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Check-in

Cathay Dragon checks in at terminal 1, which is where most of the airlines serving Hong Kong seem to be located. The counters for Cathay Dragon are conveniently located on row H, which is at the far end of the terminal building, opposite the entrance to security.

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There is a separate queue for Business Class and OneWorld card holders. The check-in agent tags my suitcase to Shanghai and issues an invitation to the Cathay Pacific lounge together with the boarding pass.

Luckily, since my last visit, Hong Kong has introduced biometric passport scanners, which significantly speed up the process of leaving the city, even if they do work rather slowly.

The Cathay Pacific Deck Lounge

I was not aware of the fact that Cathay Dragon is an ‘associated’ member of the OneWorld alliance through its affiliation with Cathay Pacific. Which means that I can access the lovely Cathay Pacific lounges and I can even take along the valiant M. as a guest.

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I’ve never been to this particular lounge though, and I’m wondering if it’s only here provisionally. It’s located at the west end of the ‘T’ of Hong Kong’s terminal. It’s a nice lounge, but it’s definitely not as large as their lounge on the east wing.

The lounge is situated further along from the gorgeous QANTAS lounge in Hong Kong. Although to access the lounge you will need to go down one level first.

The lounge is nicely laid out and has good facilities, including showers, a dining area and a quiet zone, and good wifi. More importantly though, the food selection is very good. Apart from a fairly wide selection of hot and cold dishes, there is also the much loved noodle station, where you can have a variety of different Hong Kong style noodle dishes made to order.

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Boarding

The flight to Shanghai will depart from gate 504, which is in the satellite to the west of the terminal facility. Because you have to head downstairs to get across, I was kind of expecting that we would need to take an underground train or something of the sort. But in actual fact there’s just a normal bus that runs frequently across the apron between the main building and the satellite.

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I can’t really say I had much time to explore the satellite, because no sooner had we arrived, we realised that our flight was already in the final stages of boarding.

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The Cabin

Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 320 in the new Cathay Dragon livery. The first thing I notice upon entering the aircraft, is that it has new overhead bins that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on this type of aircraft: the bins fold down instead of up and the opening and closing device is a button with a small light in it. The bins also seems to be smaller, because I happened to see quite a few passengers struggling to stuff their belongings into the bins.

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Other than that though, the cabin is nice. It’s clean and even in Economy Class the seat pitch is good and comfortable enough for the flight of two hours and ten minutes to Shanghai. Pillows and blankets are also available.

Cathay Dragon does not use overhead screen, but wifi and video streaming is available. Although I’m not even sure if that’s such a good thing. Because the two guys in front of me have decided to watch some god awful Chinese history/fantasy/action film together, which looks like a heap of crap to me and sounds so too, judging by the hideous and copious amounts of yelling and flying through the air sound effects that I’m sure everybody, and I really mean everybody in the aircraft can hear…

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Oh yes, and don’t worry about your seat assignment. Cathay Dragon has a rather strange system, whereby they leave out certain numbers of rows. I was seated by the window on 39K, which is right behind the wing.

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The Crew

There are six crew on the flight today, which seem a tad exaggerated but kind of helps to highlight the difference between the European carriers for example, who usually just fly around with the minimum crew complement, and the Asian airlines, where salaries are low enough for this not to be such an issue. Admittedly, none of the crew seem overly friendly. But they’re efficient and they get the job done.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the service begins. In all honesty, I wasn’t really expecting to be given anything. Which is probably why I’m even more surprised when the trolley stops at my aisle and they ask me if I’d prefer the fish with potatoes or the pork with rice. I decide to try the fishy.

The meal service is pretty old school and consists of a tray with:

  1. a bowl with pasta salad,
  2. a cup of still water,
  3. a pre packaged bun with butter,
  4. a cup of Hägen Dasz strawberry ice cream,
  5. the hot meal.
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The hot meal is not very good, even by Economy Class standards. The fish is rather gross and the potatoes are all soggy from the sauce. The veg is bland and tasteless. And the ice cream is just too sweet. But that’s not the airline’s fault.

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During the meal service, the crew make three drink runs though, which is much appreciated. The trays are removed fairly quickly once the meal service has been completed.

The rest of the flight passes quickly, while the valiant M. tries to teach me geology 101. It’s riveting, I’m telling you…! In all fairness though, it really does put the average eighty or so years a human spends on earth into perspective, when you compare that to the millions of years it took to produce something as magnificent as the Alps, for example. It also makes me hopeful that earth will continue to exist, even long after the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.

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Arrival

But enough of geology and philosophy. By the time we turn on to the final approach, it’s already dark in Shanghai. The approach is fairly stable, right up until the end when we suddenly start to roll and yaw. But Mr. Pilot keeps it together and eventually we land about twenty minutes behind schedule.

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Immigration doesn’t take too long, even though it looks as though we just arrived behind a full flight from Japan. By the time I exit immigration, the suitcases have already been removed from the belt and deposited at the collection area for premium passengers.

In Shanghai I’ll be staying in the Fudan area of the city. The journey from the airport will take about 45 minutes to complete in good traffic and will cost about RMB160.