China Eastern showed today its potential to offer industry-leading ground and air service while at the same time showing that it has so much that it can improve upon.
In an earlier post I discussed our pre-flight VIP treatment in Shanghai. After completing passport exit formalities, I was met by a China Eastern representative who greeted me by name. (Lucky still was in line behind me)
“Hello Mr. Klint. Welcome to Shanghai. I am the Airport Duty Manager for China Eastern. I understand you arrived yesterday?”
Yes, my heartbeat did quicken when I was identified by name. Who was this guy and how did he pick me out in a huge crowd? What did he want?
Lucky and I later connected how — when we checked in minutes earlier, the agent oddly picked up the phone and made a very brief phone call after scanning my passport. I wish I could see the remarks on our PNRs, but there was clearly something noted.
He escorted us through security and then to a China Eastern first class lounge, even though we were only entitled to use the business class lounge. On the way to the lounge he made small talk about airport terminal construction, China Eastern’s partnership with Delta, and a new two-story China Eastern lounge that will open in September.
Inside the lounge, we were welcomed in and shown to a table that had been reserved for us. Moments later a lounge agent knelt beside our table to offer us a glass of water and a cold towel, as well as an offer to bring us the beverage of our choice.
There were several people in the lounge, but the lounge soon cleared and we were left alone. The people sitting at the table next to us had left a mess and the duty manager aggressively motioned for one of the lounge agents to clean it up when he saw that we were eyeing it.
The lounge was soon immaculate and all the food was restocked. Another agent came over with an iPad menu to offer us a choice between two Chinese hot dishes. The duty manager, standing nearby, nodded in approval as we ordered a “Shanghai specialty”. The lunch was good, delicious actually.
The duty manager waited outside the entire time, sometimes with two or three colleauges. Boarding time drew near and I stepped outside to ask what time we would leave, noting that we wanted to be among the first to board to take pictures of the seat. Interestingly, another female China Eastern staffer who was now standing with the duty manager stated, “Your seat today is different than the Los Angeles flight.”
We boarded slightly late, but it would end up making no difference as thunder and lightening meant no traffic was leaving PVG.
While we were disappointed to see that our A330 to Colombo had only a regional business class product that was not fully flat, the difference in service between this flight and Los Angeles to Shanghai was almost beyond words. Not one, but two cabin managers were onbaord and the whole crew provided flawless, refined service every moment we were onboard. Each FA was beautiful and impeccably groomed and dressed — we were addressed by name and made to feel very special. And they smiled!
We tried to find out how we were labeled — was the crew just told we were VIPs or were they aware of what had happened on the previous flight? The crew wouldn’t say. They also did not appear frightened, as if their jobs depended upon it. One cabin manager did say, “I told my crew that you pay very close attention to the service, so service should be extra good.”
No less than five times during the flight we were presented with cold or warm towels. Our cups were never empty and during the 90-minute ground delay we were offered a snack, served on a tray and table linen.
We were even presented with this lovely note–
What a difference a crew makes! What puzzles me is whether this crew was hand-picked, a last-minute sub, or just a standard crew on good behavior. Truly good service is generally not something that can be faked and the crew did a masterful job at small touches like cleaning the restroom after each use (folding the toilet paper into a triangle and spraying perfume in), constantly checking up on us, and addressing us by name.
But the whole “lipstick on a pig” thing resonates here. Although the crew was truly remarkable (on the level of Singapore Airlines’ best), the flight still showed that China Eastern has a long way to go to viably compete. I already mentioned the tattered seat but that wasn’t all — the food was once again underwhelming for a 7.5hr flight (and this time I even ordered a Chinese entree). No appetizer and no dessert other than fruit? Only one small meal served on one tray? That is just not competitive, even with Sri Lankan on the same route.
There is no doubt we received super VIP treatment today, but the great thing is that at least for today’s flight everyone onboard received VIP treatment — the crew was pleasant to each passenger (and the cabin left with only two open seats) and thus I consider this whole epic a victory: China Eastern showed today that in terms of service it can compete with the best of the best.
Oh, and we didn’t smell smoke. At one point I thought I did, but it must have been my mind playing tricks. We did smell orange peels and something scented like Febreze. If the crew smoked, they did a good job of covering today…
While I have flown just the second segment of ten on my trip with Lucky, today will probably go down as the most interesting day of the trip. China Eastern showed today that it has so much potential — but it has a long way to go.