China Eastern Airlines is one of the growing number of Asian carriers that you have probably heard of, but may not know much about. If you are like me, you likely confuse it with China Southern and wonder what the difference is.
Last week, the Shanghai-based carrier worked to change that with a behind-the-scenes media tour of Los Angeles International Airport, and an up-close-and-personal look at its big B777-300ER parked at the gate.
First a few of the basics…
While it’s the second largest airline in China, China Eastern ranks among the 10 largest in the world in terms of revenue, fleet size (nearly 500 planes), and passengers flown.
From North America, it flies to its Shanghai (PVG) hub from Los Angeles (2x), San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Honolulu, Vancouver and Toronto. China Eastern’s two-letter code is MU.
Current round trip fares between Los Angeles or San Francisco and Shanghai for November flights are about $750 (an okay deal, but other carriers offer fares as low as $500), and $2,900 in business class (a very good deal). First class is steep at about $15,000 round trip.
On most US-China routes, China Eastern flies the Boeing 777-300ER, which is pretty much the standard when it comes to long-haul flying these days. (It also uses A330s on Honolulu, Vancouver flights as well as on SFO-Qingdao.) Its average fleet age is very young– less than seven years old. Its B777-300ERs are all less than two years old.
China Eastern is a member of the SkyTeam alliance and has a code share partnership with Delta Air Lines. This means you can buy a Delta ticket (and earn Delta SkyMiles) to Shanghai from from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but you’ll fly on a China Eastern jet. (To make things even more confusing, China Southern is also a member of SkyTeam.)
To help distinguish the two airlines, keep this in mind: China Eastern is based in Shanghai– on the eastern side of China. China Southern is based, as you might have guessed, in the southern part of the country in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong.
Each China Eastern 777-300ER has three classes: first, business and economy. There is no premium economy. There are 316 seats: Six in first class, 52 in business class and 258 in economy class. Check out the layout and ratings of its 777-300ER on Seatguru.
ECONOMY: China Eastern is one of the growing number of airlines (including United) that uses the high-density 10-across (3-4-3) configuration in economy class. While that’s tight at the shoulders (each seat is 17 inches wide), the good news is that it offers slightly higher-than-average seat pitch at 32-33 inches.
BUSINESS: The biggest portion of the B777 is the business class section, with a whopping 52 seats set in a reverse herringbone configuration 1-2-1, offering aisle access from every seat. (Made by Zodiac, the seats are similar to those seen on B777s from American and Cathay Pacific.)
FIRST: First class cabin is very intimate with just six seats– all with sliding “doors” for privacy. In the middle is a single pair of seats that fold down into a double bed (or two singles with privacy screen). There are no overhead bins in the first class cabin, which gives is a big airy feel, but it does not feel as sumptuous as what I’ve seen up front on the likes of Singapore Air or Cathay Pacific.
All its U.S. flights have Wi-Fi– however, since this is a government-run Chinese carrier, using it is reportedly a somewhat unwieldy experience, with access to vital sites like Google blocked.
China Eastern first and business class passengers use the KAL/SkyTeam Lounge at LAX. It’s nice and roomy with a big deck overlooking the shopping mall, but surprisingly for its age, furniture is looking a little worn out. First class passengers get special private suites to relax in while waiting to board flights. At SFO, China Eastern shares space with SkyTeam partners in the Air France/KLM lounge, which gets mixed reviews.
Business and first class passengers get free limo service to and from the airport in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Shanghai.
Read more about China Eastern on its website
Have you ever flown China Eastern Airlines? How was it? Please leave your comments below.