Hello! I'm here to share one of the most thorough and intense trips I've taken in a while. I'm an avid traveller but until a couple of years ago, I'd limited my explorations to NA and Europe. After visiting Japan, HK, China's Guangdong province, and Singapore in high school, my dad and I decided to embark on a guided tour of mainland China in the summer after my first year of university. We had heard good things about Viking Cruises, especially as we were interested in an intellectually stimulating trip and also because they offer a highly rated land and cruise tour along the Yangtze River and across the country, and felt that having a guide would give us more historical context on the places we were visiting.
In any case, a very exciting part of the tour was not just the cruise and land tours but also the flights within China. I've flown AC and other Star Alliance partners too many times to count but here would be an opportunity to fly on a variety (actually two) of China's many domestic airlines. Additionally our tour guide didn't give us any details for our domestic flights until the day before each flight, adding an element of suspense. The tour would also give us a look at some of China's biggest airports, and so I'll spend a bit of time discussing each airport's merits and challenges.
Without further ado, let's get going!
The boarding time for our first flight, AC25 from YVR to PVG, was around 10:30 and so we could afford to sleep in before departing for the airport. Vancouver (the city proper) has no freeways and so almost every trip to the airport ends up on the 99 'highway' (a wide avenue with vehicle right of way unless pedestrians request a crossing). An uneventful trip took us to YVR's Terminal 3, still one of my favourite terminals - even if the colour scheme of green carpets and reddish walls is a bit dated for my tastes. Passing through security we were confronted with the common annoyance of the closed NEXUS lane. I can understand why an airport would close this priority lane if there's low traffic but in this case, there was still a decently sized lineup. Right behind international security is the AC Maple Leaf Lounge for T3, which is still being renovated. Having seen some truly bothersome temporary lounges at other airports l didn't have my hopes high, but upon entering the lounge I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the already completed areas. These quite closely approached the standard of a complete Maple Leaf lounge in my view, although the space was quite cramped. In any case, it wouldn't be a long wait in the lounge until the flight. One incident worth noting was that someone smoked in the lounge's bathroom, despite the entire airport being explicitly smoking-free. As a result, the stench in the washroom was so strong that it was effectively unusable.
The lounge was a short ways from gate 64 where we boarded AC25 bound for Shanghai Pudong. Now, I was especially excited for this flight because, although it wouldn't be my first flight on an AC 787, it would be my first flight on one in AC's new J! I'd flown a few times in J in AC's old 'pods' and was impressed, so my expectations were high.Flight #1
Vancouver (YVR) - Shanghai Pudong (PVG)
Departure: 11:12 AM PST
Arrival: 14:10 PM (+1) CST
I took my seat in 2K. The first thing that came to my attention was the screen, a MASSIVE upgrade from both Y and old J on AC.
Crucially, the screen is fixed in one spot - this is bittersweet, because while you don't need to stow it for takeoff and landing like the foldout screen in old J on AC, you also can't adjust its position. As it turned out, the screen was large enough that the latter wouldn't be necessary. If you look on the right you might be asking yourself, "Is that another screen?" and the answer is yes, AC now packs VERY useful mini-tablets/controllers to control the larger screen's content!
The remote felt solid in my hand and it was impressively responsive (considering that AC's old IFE was very slow and unresponsive, this is greatly appreciated). I've always liked AC's remotes in J, but now you can load up movies/TV/music and navigate all menus, including movie selection, with a GUI without touching the main screen - a great touch! Inside the controller's compartment I found the power outlet and headphone jack, and the compartment also is big enough to store the provided noise cancelling earphones. Speaking of those:
They're certainly higher quality than the ones provided in old AC J - they did a very good job of blocking out the din of the aircraft. It's worth noting that AC came up with an...interesting way to protect them from theft:
Yes, that is a THREE-PRONGED male headphone jack - perhaps an evolution of the double-pronged jacks common on aircraft of a certain era. I've never seen this arrangement on other airlines - I'm not sure if this strategy is commonplace. In any case, the bottom single jack is 3.5 mm and so its corresponding port fits standard headphones too.
But wait, there's ANOTHER screen!
At this point the screens became a little unnecessary - the seat adjustment buttons in old AC J worked perfectly well. Tapping the screen opens an interface which allows for individual adjustment of each segment of the seat, as well as massage control for each segment! The buttons on the left are useful for quickly shifting into landing or sleep modes. A bit much, but hey it works!
Also waiting for me at the seat were the obligatory toiletry kit (I never use it) and a much appreciated bottle of water:
Soon we were taxiing along, which means last-minute planespotting! The highlight was definitely B-LRJ, one of CX's new A350s!
Considering HX's new YVR-HKG route, now competing with the mainstays of CX and AC, it's only fair that CX would bring out their new birds here.
Up next was KE Cargo's HL 8226. a 777:
And lastly, a spy shot of one of AC's 787s in the brand-new, loon-like livery:
Lifting up, we were greeted with a rare stint of clear Vancouver skies!
The bay is filled by silt flowing out from the Fraser river.
Next to the main ferry port for the Lower Mainland area is a small bulk port:
Enroute over Alaska's Inside Passage, it was approaching lunchtime for most; alas, not for me. My nut allergies and my extreme caution with food prepared in close-knit spaces precludes me from eating airplane food, and I alway have to bring my own food. Nonetheless, I perused the J menu waiting for me.
Certainly an appetizing selection. Soon I turned my attention to my favourite new feature of AC's IFE - the vastly improved map feature.
Finally, AC has a map that's up to par with the world standard of airline IFEs. Although panning around the impressively detailed satellite imagery is smooth and endlessly fun, the IFE also offers a virtual window and cockpit view. Basically this is a 3D view of height-mapped satellite imagery from what seems to be a fixed altitude. It's a cool feature, but the fixed altitude makes it not very useful for comparing the true window view with an annotated map, which is one of its best uses in my view. Still, for someone in a middle seat I can also see this being used as a nice if incomplete replacement for an actual window.
Some nice touches, like mood lighting (not sure if it correlates with the cabin LEDs):
And this cool maple leaf design on the back wall:
Afterwards I settled down to watch a movie. AC's selection on transpacific routes is arguably the best of all its routes, as there's a good mix of Hollywood blockbusters, contemporary films, and a HUGE selection of various East/South Asian films. After looking for a bit I settled on Harmonium
, a recent Japanese film which appeared to have some film festival accolades on the poster.
Note the useful movie control interface on the remote to the right (no more fumbling with onscreen controls which always manage to kick those with pudgy fingers out of the movie). Fair warning: it is an extremely depressing film. Also, the remote control fell asleep during the film and sadly never woke up again - there are some kinks to work out.
About four hours in I was getting tired and, anticipating a long afternoon of sightseeing in Shanghai, set the seat to lie flat. This took a bit of doing because I like to keep my bulky camera bag under the ottoman at the far end of the seat, and it ended up not fitting under the fully flat seat. I then tucked in for the best sleep I've ever had on a flight, without question! The pillow was an improvement from the one found in the old AC J pods - it was larger and more substantial.
Goodnight, clear skies and bright sunlight! Gotta love the dimming windows on the 787.
I woke up as we were approaching Japan - the great circle route displayed on the IFE, which would've taken us over S. Korea, was of course subject to massive change. I craned my neck as we passed over Tokyo, hoping to catch a glimpse of my favourite city. Unfortunately, East Japan was heavily overcast, but once we were west of Osaka the views improved dramatically. Soon I could make out the port district of Hiroshima:
Followed by an even bigger treat: Shimonoseki on the western tip of Honshu island (right) and Kitakyushu on the northern tip of Kyushu (bottom)! The bridge on the right is the point where bullet trains cross from Honshu to Kyushu.
Almost there! I could've sworn that I saw Cheju, S. Korea (Jeju) from my window.
At last, the delta of the Yangtze came into view. I can only imagine how much money went into land reclamation here - incidentally, something that the Chinese are very good at
The Shanghai Changjiang Bridge across the Yangtze was next (apologies for the reflection):
Followed by some impressive and seemingly untouched marshland:
After a decently bumpy landing at PVG, it was time for a bit more planespotting. We were greeted by a line of three fellow 787s from EY (A6-BLJ), VN, and a third unidentified airline.
Deplaning took a little longer than expected because of an error that I had never witnessed before: the ground crew apparently misdirected the aircraft and, as a result, we parked too far from the terminal for the jetways to attach! So a plane full of impatient passengers who had been unloading luggage from overhead bins were asked to sit down as we soundlessly jerked about a meter forward, at which point deplaning resumed as usual.
I had high hopes for the quality of PVG's Terminal 2 because I knew that most of China's largest cities had shiny new airports or terminals. However, I was instead greeted with a clean but bland and very empty terminal, with some glaringly poor carpet work!
It seems as though renovations for this terminal had been enormously rushed, and someone messed up on the measurements
. I can see this posing a safety risk for rushing passengers as well.
Immigration was smooth, well-organized, and benefitted by the large number of agents. Soon we were in the arrivals hall (which was extremely busy), waiting for the other people on our cruise who were arriving around the same time. Mercifully they were quite quick. As we left the terminal building we were hit by intense heat and humidity (basically East Asia in the summer) and faced a very uninteresting parking structure with not a tree in sight! Clearly the architects went to town with the scale of the building but neglected all greenery (or perhaps they just didn't want to hire a landscape architect). The result was a massive concrete structure straight out of a dystopian novel:
Thanks to the traffic it took some time to get to our hotel, near the downtown district. After resting for a bit in the hotel, we took the (excellent) metro over to Lujiazui, home to some of the most famous skyscrapers in the world (L to R: World Financial Centre, Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai Tower).
We settled on visiting the brand new Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world and home to the highest observation deck in the world!
A smoggy sunset - we'd come at just the right time!
So ends the first day and the first part of this trip report! It's my first one. See you soon with the rest of Shanghai, the flight to Wuhan, and the start of the Yangtze cruise!
A319 A320 A321 A330 A388 B727 B737 B744 B767 B777 B789 E175 E190 DH1 DH3 DH4 CRJ200 CRJ700
Longest leg: YVR-HKG