My business class seat on China Eastern – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
China Eastern is not an airline I ever really expected to fly. With a fleet of new Boeing 777-300ERs, the opening of a new route to Chicago, and a small investment from Delta Air Lines, China Eastern is modernizing and becoming a real player in the North American market. When I saw a fare posted of $650 round-trip between New York and Japan, I jumped at the opportunity to give this airline a try.
My routing was New York JFK to Osaka, Japan via Shanghai, returning from Tokyo Narita back to New York. On the first leg to Shanghai, China Eastern graciously upgraded me to business class in order to experience the new product.
A Boeing 777-300ER at Paine Field showing China Eastern’s new livery- Photo: Bernie Leighton
At JFK, China Eastern departs from Terminal 1 and uses the recently renovated Air France lounge. Although this flight departed at 2:00 am (thanks for nothing, daylight saving time), the lounge was actually surprisingly crowded. As boarding time neared, I headed to the gate to find utter chaos. Lines of passengers extended in every direction with no signage to tell anyone where to stand. Eventually, gate agents put up a few signs, but that should have been done much earlier. A hectic boarding process sets a negative tone for a 15-hour flight. The same hectic process was applied to all four of my flights, indicating that China Eastern has a systemic problem with orderly boarding.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to fly Qatar Airways on their (current) longest flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Qatar’s home hub in Doha – about 16 hours. Given all the talk about them being named a “Five Star Airline” by Skytrax, and our previous coverage of flying Qatar, I was really excited for this flight. It would be my first experience on Qatar, and it would be in business class. Unfortunately, I was let down by my experience, at least on the flight to Doha (my flight home to the states was much better at least).
I arrived at LAX via a quick domestic hop from Denver on United. Getting from one side of the airport (T7) to the other (T2) was a mess. I walked outside, on foot, as I had a long layover and it was a decent day out. While the south side of LAX is now fully connected post-security, the north side is still old-school separated.
The LAX Terminal 2 (T2). My wait started out a floor below this.
Surprisingly, Qatar flies out of the newly-renovated T2, which seems to be the terminal of bastard airlines at LAX. Hawaiian, Air Canada, Virgin Atlantic, and other low-frequency carriers are based there, as opposed to the excellent Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Although the actual terminal is updated, getting there did not seem equipped for prime time. Even with a business class ticket, I was held at the lower level of the terminal. Once enough room cleared on the next level at the packed security checkpoint, I was allowed to take the escalator up to join the queue.
Security was an absolute mess. The older facility just wasn’t designed for modern-day TSA security. The floor was sloped towards the gates as my bag was constantly rolling off — it was pretty comical.
My TAM Airlines Airbus A350 in Sao Paulo
Recently, I had the opportunity to fly on my first Airbus A350 and I was excited. It was on TAM Airlines from Miami (MIA) to Sao Paulo (GRU), which is an eight-hour flight — enough time for me to put it to the test. It was also special, because this was the first international commercial flight for the TAM A350 (when it flew to MIA).
Over two and a half days, I would fly about 14,000 miles and stay in Brazil for one night to take this flight. When I did something very similar (minus the sweet A350) back in November 2014, I thought I would never do something like it again. But when invited, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. The ability to fly on my first A350 — on TAM? Yes please!
My flights that I took over a 2.5 day period – Image: GCMap.com
Going into it, my big question was, “is the A350 better than the Boeing 787 and/or the 777?” In the end, the answer to that question was not so easy.
United Airlines’ first 787 at Paine Field – Photo: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter
THIS is the route that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was built for. Flying between Tokyo and Denver, you need a special kind of aircraft. Something that is super-efficient, able to deal with Denver’s high altitude and summer heat, and right-sized for the market. The 787-8 checks all of those boxes.
Luckily, the 787 has the legs for some wonky routings from Denver due to winds – Photo: Blaine Nickeson | AirlineReporter
Recently, I planned a trip with friend (and fellow Denver-based AirlineReporter writer), Dave Delagarza. Our wives were not thrilled to care for the young kids during the trip, but we’d be gone for less than 72 hours. In that period of time, we flew nearly 20,000 miles to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and back, all on 787-8s (of both the United and ANA variety). This helped us both re-qualify for our elite status levels with United, our dominant carrier here in Denver.