This Is What It’s Really Like To Fly China Eastern Airlines
By Leroy Tyler
Back in April 2017, word spread that the Thai government was going to shut down all of the street food vendors in Bangkok by the end of this year, and while it didn’t actually happen, I wasn’t going to take the chance of missing out on trying the food Thailand is famous for. I searched for a flight to Bangkok from Chicago in November and I found a one-way flight for $280 dollars on China Eastern Airlines. I booked a flight right away, but when I read the reviews, they were TERRIBLE.
After reading the reviews, I considered canceling and rebooking the next cheapest flight with EVA Air via Taipei but decided to bite the bullet and give China Eastern Airlines a try.
My first clue MONTHS before departure about what I was in for was being unable to view my flight on the website since I didn’t book directly with the airline. Even with my confirmation number given to me by Expedia, I couldn’t access my itinerary. I couldn’t choose my seat or meals until the day of departure, and I was left not knowing where I was going to sit.
Fast forward to my departure date on November 1st and I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport at 11:30 a.m for a 2:50 p.m departure to Shanghai. Check in was quite smooth for me, but a woman in front of me was traveling to India via Shanghai and was denied a boarding pass because she didn’t have a visa. ALWAYS check the entry requirements of your destination to avoid such a rookie mistake.
Upon boarding, I couldn’t help but notice how new the aircraft was. The plane couldn’t have been more than three years old. The seating configuration in the economy cabin was laid out 10 abreast in a 3-4-3 format. As an aviation junkie, I hate this configuration on the triple 7. It takes away the roominess of the cabin’s original design and adding an extra seat in each row makes a big difference in comfort.
The seat itself wasn’t the most comfortable seat I’ve sat in, but when you recline, the seat cushion moves forward as the back of the seat reclines. The seat pitch (the distance between you and the seat in front of you), was good if you’re 5’5 or shorter.
After take-off, I made myself comfortable to watch shows I downloaded on my phone, but as soon as the flight attendant walked past, she scolded me in Chinese then in English, telling me to turn my phone off. When I I asked why she continued to scold me. Apparently, on Chinese airlines, cell phones aren’t allowed to be on, even in airplane mode, but laptops and tablets are fine to use. The logic behind that makes ZERO sense to me.
An hour after take-off, lunch was served. I had fish, rice, vegetables, a piece of cheesecake, a small chicken salad, and a Coke. The fish was ok, even though it was chewy, but the cheesecake was too dry! After lunch, I watched three episodes of Stranger Things, then crashed for the next six hours as the mood lights illuminated the cabin. When I woke up, a light snack consisting of a chicken salad sandwich was served. As I was eating, I decided to check out the entertainment system. The screen was wide, but the resolution and touchscreen were horrible. On most international flights, you have a selection of movies, games, both American and foreign TV shows, music, and your flight tracker, but the selection of movies wasn’t that extensive for such a long flight. There was also a “dining” option, which was supposed to allow you to choose a meal shown on screen, but let’s just say it was false advertising to its finest.
Another thing I disliked about the entertainment system was that every time the pilot or any member of the crew made an announcement, the system would reboot after the announcement was over. So if you were in the middle of a movie or show, you have to pick up where you left off manually. It got to the point where I gave up and just kept the screen on the flight tracker.
90 mins before landing, a mediocre breakfast was served, but by the time I was finished, we finally started descending into Shanghai. Taxiing to the gate took 10 mins, but it felt like an eternity after being on the plane for 15 hours. This flight was so long, I saw the sun set, rise, and set again!
Overall, I’d give China Eastern a 5 out of 10. Not being able to use your phone, even in airplane mode or to take photos really killed it for me since I love aviation. The lack of attentiveness from the crew, the lackluster entertainment system, and being unable to view my itinerary on the website because I didn’t book directly with the airline also didn’t sit well with me.
Would I fly them again? Nah, not unless I didn’t have a choice. I’d rather spend the extra money on airlines like Qatar Airways or Eva Airways for a better flying experience.