For a quick business trip to Shanghai from my base in Kuala Lumpur I needed a convenient flight that would minimise nights in Shanghai. While I prefer Malaysia Airlines from KUL originating flights to Asia they had only times that did not work well for me.
Shanghai Airlines on the other side had perfect timing leaving to Shanghai late night and arriving early morning and back to Kuala Lumpur in the evening. This would allow me to maximise the time in Shanghai for meetings, but little did I know what kind of ride I was in for.
Shanghai Airlines is wholly owned by China Eastern Airlines but does continue to fly under its own brand and with a fleet of Boing 737s from and to Shanghai. I probably should have seen the signs when I started to try booking this and went with another airline but focused on my schedule I went ahead.
Booking Shanghai Airlines flights from Kuala Lumpur is a challenge, one that I can only understand as the dear wish of the airline that no person may ever fly with them. Shanghai Airlines has a website which is under China Eastern Airlines website, but it is only in Chinese language. China Eastern itself has an English website but since China Eastern does not serve Kuala Lumpur directly they only priced the tickets in Singapore Dollar and not in Malaysian Ringgit. I had to book 3 tickets in total of which two would go for a different return date than the first one. It took me literally 2 hours to get this done because China Eastern Airlines recently launched a new website, it looks good but it does not work AT ALL. I had to reload the website countless times because it only loaded half, sessions would end randomly, dates would change from one step in the booking to the next, connections would reset and you had to start over, the website would show a server error, then the website would be completely offline, then the website did not show KUL airport anymore and so on. It was the worst website for any airline I have ever seen and once again I can only imagine it is purposely designed to cut sales for whatever reason because it is so bad that it just can’t happen by accident like this.
Once I finally got the tickets I thought the worst was over but nope, it only got worse. When I showed up for baggage drop there were 2 check-in counters only and the queue was basically from one side of the airport to the other, moving slowly. The boarding pass I got had no branding whatsoever, it merely stated my name, gate and flight number. In retrospective I found that perfectly in line with the rest of Shanghai Airlines operation. Boarding of the Boing 737 for this flight was a bit delayed and started quite chaotic. I don’t like narrow-body aircraft for flights over 4 hours in general but even less for a red-eye like this one.
Sadly Shanghai Airlines seems to be aware that the trip won’t be really good, so they thought why not commit to make it as horrible as possible if it is bad anyway. When I made it into the plane I noticed 2 things, the seat pitch is incredibly little, sub AirAsia I think and to make matters worse exit row which the China Eastern website conveniently did not show, so no recline.
As you can see the seats have no pillows or blankets despite this being a flight leaving at 2am. The cabin crew distributed blankets before push back but they had only around 10 for the whole plane, so no one after row 3 got one…
The seats had significant wear and tear, some cushions came off or were very badly damaged, in the last rows there were seats completely ripped out. I tried to take pictures of that but could not which leads to the next shockingly bad aspect of this flight. The plane had some overhead screens every few rows that were exclusively used to screen the Chinese only safety video.
There was no further in flight entertainment, nothing at the seats, no USB charger, no power outlets, simply nothing at all. Once again Shanghai Airlines was committed to make a already terrible situation worse and demanded that all phones must be switched off, not in flight mode, switched off. They came through the rows multiple times throughout the flight to enforce that and made you shut off the phone in front of them. Got a tablet or a computer? Maybe with WIFI/bluetooh/4G? No problem, go ahead and use it. But a phone? Big no no. Makes sense.
So to sum it up before take off it was established that:
- you will have a hard time closing an eye on this flight
- you are about to experience the most boring and dreaded 6h flight of your life
- oh and the crew won’t be able to understand basically anything you say, unless you happen to speak Chinese
Besides that Shanghai Airlines also doesn’t seem to be so committed to safety as the cabin lights were not dimmed for take off and landing, but then again they want to make sure if you make it airborne you don’t move as the fasten seat belt sign stayed on all the time on both flights. They even had a somehow cute PA whenever there were slight turbulences and told us ‘not to worry’.
A very small and bad meal was served 2 hours after take off, I think it is fair to call that inconsiderate on a red-eye but they probably knew no one would manage to sleep on their plane anyway.
I do have to give them credits tho for giving out small plastic bottles of water and frequently patrolling the aisle with drinks throughout the flight (that was always combined with a check if someone dared to use their cellphone).
For both the inbound and outbound flight at Shanghai a remote gate was used so we had to be bussed to the terminal, you would expect for Shanghai Airlines in Shanghai they might want to invest into a better presentation at their hub but I guess not happening with an airline that doesn’t even print its logo on boarding passes. At least it gave me the chance to snap some nice pictures of the Boing 737 they used for the flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
Concluding this journey was pretty much a complete fail and I hated just about every aspect of the flight. I don’t mind flying economy, not at all. But Shanghai Airlines economy is something that is so bad, it can’t even compete with AirAsia, Easyjet, Spirit and the likes and you can bet the next trip to Shanghai I will rather fly AirAsia. The crew was friendly but what is it worth if they don’t understand you, I got a bottle of water on the flight and that was all I can say that was not bad on this flight. The planes are badly maintained, old, the airline deserves an award for the worst online experience, operates with ridiculous and unsafe policies and provides a horrible on-board experience. If you have the choice fly anything but Shanghai Airlines!