Sydney to London…the long way!

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  • Anonymous


    This is part of a marathon journey to London, taking twice the length of time…in the name of personal airline research!

    SYD-PEK CA174 B77W First Class 19 Dec 2014

    Forbidden Pavilion is more apt than tongue in cheek. This trip was a one-way United Mileage Plus award booking to Singapore via Beijing flying Air China and Singapore Airlines. Yes it’s a long way to get to Singapore but I wanted to try out Air China and they were operating the larger 77W over the Australian summer peak period.

    If on certain F tickets a limo service to the airport is available for Air China first class passengers. Mine being a partner award ticket was ineligible.

    Check-in opened 3.5hrs before departure and was manned by Qantas agents. No special ground service for first class passengers. The Qantas agent didn’t know the star alliance lounge access rules….we were invited to use the temporary Air New Zealand lounge whilst the main one is refurbished but I knew I could use the new and very nice KrisFlyer lounge though the QF agent said I couldn’t.

    No queues at immigration and security. My flight was at 9pm and the SQ lounge closed at 7pm after their last of 5 daily flights so I didn’t have much time. I had heard the lounge dragons at the SQ lounge in Sydney usually try and direct passengers to Air NZ but the agent at the door couldn’t have welcomed me more and as I moved to go to what I thought was the lounge he kindly directed me to another door into the first class section…”No sir, you go this way!” Very stylish lounge with very good food and beverage options, a shower suite, magazines, a TV and tarmac views. Definitely the home away from home concept that SQ has premiered in Sydney and now at HKG too. I also tried out the new AMEX lounge operated by Plaza Premium. It’s quite a way from the Star Alliance departure gates but next to the new Skyteam lounge. Small lounge but nice though the food and beverage offerings were average. I finally had a brief stint at the Air NZ lounge which is temporarily housed in the former MH lounge. Very drab and in the basement with no views outside and pretty crowded. Same okay F&B options as per their previous lounge.

    Boarding was swift for premium lanes though only one jetbridge was used and we boarded through 2L. I was pointed, not escorted, to my seat 2A.

    The first class suite though it looks nice is starting to age and getting pretty worn out with a panel falling off one seat throughout the flight. They weren’t thoroughly cleaned either and frankly were pretty grimy especially in the nooks for your books and other small items. There’s a small wardrobe at each seat. The chair is wide and in bed mode comfortably fits my 2m frame with lots of room to spare. You essentially get two duvets, one to lie on and one to cover you. The cabin got quite hot during the night. A L’Occitane kit was offered as were slippers and a sleep suit (which was probably the best thing about the whole experience!) Not the most comfortable sleep but I was so tired I managed 7hrs in total, waking up a few times. Flight time ended up being 10.5hrs.

    Menus and newspapers were distributed pre take off and a drink offered. The champagne was unrecognisable and dreadful. There was hardly any difference between the Chinese and Western meal options. Our main course and breakfast orders were taken as well as our drink with dinner choice.

    Whilst many entertainment options, most were (as expected) in Chinese. Headphones were Air China branded noise reduction type. The safety video was of an old 747 so some of the areas being referred to clearly didn’t apply to us! There is a USB port I used to charge my phone as the AC socket didn’t work.

    The service was functional and perfunctory. The chief disappointment for me was not being able to engage with the cabin crew. Secondly the dining experience was way below expectations. Thirdly the seat as a bed wasn’t that comfortable. I had to take the pillow from the one spare seat in F as we weren’t given full sized pillows, just what we had on the seat to start with. The table if desired isn’t big enough for two to dine together.

    I really cannot say much positive things about the food and drink offering. The Riesling was served warm…so bad that I had to ask for ice to put in it! Towels were barely warm and very soggy and napkins and cutlery only handed out when the main course arrived. The dinner service was hurried and unpolished. No checking back and you had to ask for refills and I had silent rejoicing if I got a smile from the crew.

    We could only have one of the six amuse bouche options on offer and she was firm in that! The appetiser and soup courses were forgettable. The salad was tasty and crisp. I chose the pork main course but couldn’t finish it as it was pretty bad and way spicier than expected. Bread rolls were offered. There were two choices of cake for dessert or cheese. I avoided those and just got the small portion of fruit offered.

    The Chinese breakfast option was a mistake (for me)…I picked at it and then just had some fruit and a piece of pastry and some Chinese tea.

    There was one toilet at the front of the cabin and one at the rear though that was used by business class passengers as well.

    On landing at Peking two jetbridges were used but it took ages for 1L to open and by then business class had already disembarked. I was hoping for the (apparently) limo ground transfer for F passengers if at a remote stand but what would have redeemed the dismal experience wasn’t to be.

    In summary, it was all down to expectations and had I expected less it wouldn’t have been so bad. Probably best to fly with someone on this airline as misery loves company or try and sleep through most of it like I did. Bring your own entertainment or books if you want to stay awake. Eat in the lounge before the flight.

    Side note. There was some commotion soon after boarding at Sydney involving a passenger in handcuffs. This left a few passengers distressed and one in tears. After pushing back late we had to return to the gate. I didn’t have a problem with the nuts which were served in a bowl but someone could have taken offence. 🙂 Alas immigration officials boarded and removed the passenger who presumably was being deported. We ended up being delayed by 90mins and just made it out before the curfew.

    Transferring at PEK could be so much better. It wasn’t all bad but there are no clear directions for transit passengers so I and others wasted an hour waiting for a desk to open only to be told to go elsewhere. For some reason I couldn’t be given my connecting SQ boarding pass at Sydney. After getting it at PEK I then joined a long but fast moving queue to get our boarding passes stamped. If you have a long transit they ask whether you’d like to leave the airport which was nice. The weather was a below freezing -6C so I doubt many took up that offer. We then queued up again for security and had to have our boarding passes stamped yet again before proceeding.

    PEK-SIN SQ805 B772 Business Class 20 Dec 2014

    I would have had three hours transit at Beijing but we arrived an hour late and I had wasted an hour waiting for my boarding pass. SQ uses the BGS lounge which has separate F/J sections. I was in the J section as my connecting flight was in business. The lounge was basic and even the F section looked drab. I only had 20mins in the lounge before boarding. I didn’t eat anything, just had a glass of juice.

    Well, what a difference boarding Singapore Airlines! Even though it was business class on an oldish 777 with newish seats I really couldn’t find fault with the whole experience. In fact just boarding through the dedicated business class jetbridge I had a huge smile on my face as I approached the attendants welcoming us on board. I was escorted to my seat and offered a drink (no alcohol offered pre take-off). The service was flawless and the crew wonderfully engaging. Such elegant uniforms. It had been a few years since I last flew SQ.

    Brunch was served on this 6hr flight. Starter of scallops, four choices of main (I chose beef ribs), dessert and fruit. Champagne was Taittinger Prelude Grand Crus which went down well enough. Two choices each of red and white wines, one French and one Australian. I had the 2012 Dandelion “Lioness of the McLaren Vale” Shiraz as recommended by the stewardess. Lots more spirits and beers and cocktails and soft drinks on offer. Service was excellent. The wine bottles were presented first before pouring and the meals were served gracefully with a little theatre involved in pouring the dressings. I rounded off my meal with a cup of excellent TWG Grands Crus Prestige Paris-Singapore tea…again on recommendation by the crew. I had never had it before and now I am hoping to purchase several boxes in London.

    Lots of entertainment options and magazines were also offered. The angled lie-flat seat is great for this daytime flight. Comfortable, wide and long enough so your feet don’t hang off the edge. I had an empty seat next to me which helped as on this aircraft the seats are 2-2-2 in business so not all direct aisle access.

    Summary: even if the crew had slapped me I would have overlooked it! Singapore Airlines service is flawless! So wonderfully engaging. I had the feeling they were about to faint because they couldn’t satisfy a request I had immediately. The captain announcing our descent into Changi was the worst bit. I have never flown SQ in first…an experience that would probably leave me speechless!

    I now have a few hours at Changi before continuing this marathon trip to London on Sri Lankan Airlines via Colombo. 19hrs just to get to Singapore from Sydney!


    Interesting. Looking forward to the next updates….

    Hope you make it back for Christmas Day!


    SIN-CMB UL309 A320 Business Class 20 Dec 2014

    Landed in T2 at 3pm then had to collect my bags and go on the skytrain to T3. I then had to wait till 5pm as UL only opens up check-in 3hrs before departure. I am on a paid one-way flight as UL had great fares ex-SIN to London.

    I was first in line so swift check-in. Given the QF lounge is in another terminal I was directed to the DNata lounge. Small and pretty basic but at least it had showers which was uppermost in my mind. Food and drink offering okay…curry and rice, sandwiches, fruit and cakes. Selection of wines, beers and soft drinks. The lounge is on a mezzanine floor with tarmac views.

    Boarding was swift. Dedicated line for business class. The A320 was completely full. A couple of passengers had been bumped off the earlier overbooked flight.

    Business class comprises 20 seats over 5 rows. Large leather recliners with good legroom. Fine for the 3hr flight but much longer flights will see tall people struggling. I tried nodding off for an hour but just couldn’t get comfortable. The blanket provided was huge and snug and the pillow a good size.

    We were delayed slightly leaving due to cargo being loaded. Once underway around 8.45pm we made up some of the lost time.

    The welcome was warm and friendly. This continued throughout the flight though one observation is the crew were far too quick in clearing glasses away when clearly there were contents in them and passengers hadn’t finished. They simply took the glasses and you had to ask for them back to finish your drink.

    There were four main course options plus a starter and fruit dessert. The whole meal service came together on one tray. There was a food menu offered but not a drinks menu. I had the champagne on offer (Jacquart) and wish I hadn’t. I later had a peppermint tea. Bottles of water were handed out. Scented hot towels offered before and after the meal.

    There’s a small video screen at each seat affixed to the back of the seat in front of you though I didn’t browse what was on offer.

    We landed into a pleasant 23C (so far I left Sydney at 28C then into Beijing where it was -6C followed by Singapore at 31C with London to come at whatever it decides to offer!) We parked at a remote stand and business class passengers were bussed to the terminal ahead of economy class.

    Transit passengers can use the Sri Lankan Airlines Serendib Lounge where I am now. It’s fairly big with lots of armchairs and a dining area and a sleep zone with recliners though this zone is open to the rest of the lounge with no door so the noise from the lounge can be heard. Appreciable amount of food…several curries plus sandwiches and cakes and other sweets. There’s a bar area where an attendant serves a variety of drinks. The spirits and beers are more we’ll know than the wines. The washrooms have showers.

    The lounge attendants walk around with an iPad to get passenger feedback. They seem quite persistent in getting it and I have so far declined twice as given I have a 5hr transit I want to see how I feel towards the end before giving feedback.

    I have three hours to go before the final sprint…12hr flight to Heathrow. This is one time I’d appreciate an aircraft swap from the A340 to the A330 especially the brand new one…wishful thinking!


    CMB-LHR UL505 A340 Business Class 21 Dec 2014

    I am torn between seething annoyance (not quite rage) and kindness. Given I can isolate the source of my annoyance it would be unkind to tarnish the whole experience with it. I am ready to beg the forgiveness of Air China.

    We were called from the lounge at Colombo an hour before departure for a final security and passport check at the gate. Business class was last to board as they were still cleaning the cabin so we had to wait at the gate long after economy had boarded.

    The source of my annoyance is the aircraft. My disappointment didn’t help when even though I knew what was rostered on I secretly hoped for a change of aircraft…right up to boarding. Walking in and seeing the antediluvian seats and cabin interior, I could have cried. Those seats belong in a museum or scrap heap. I cannot understand why Sri Lankan put this aircraft on their longest route and a premium route at that! They could have at least refurbished it. They have much newer aircraft so why not roster those on this 12hr sector? I tried to sleep through my misery but that was impossible in this seat so only managed about 4hrs of interrupted sleep and so my plan to arrive in the morning in London refreshed are now dashed. I was even originally booked on the later daytime flight arriving into Heathrow in the evening but changed it (for a fee) so I could have a full extra day in London. Don’t look for any power sockets in these seats but there’s an ashtray! I was in row one and could prop my feet up on the wall.

    To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem to be about capacity as on this flight a few days before Christmas, whilst business class (I use the term loosely) had all 18 seats full (though one seat was occupied for a few hours by a reserve pilot) the massive economy cabins were at best a third full! Many passengers essentially had a flat bed as they were sprawled comfortably in the middle section of the 2-4-2 configuration and even those at the windows had nobody next to them. This tipped me over the edge.

    One of the two toilets in business class was out of order before takeoff and thankfully two of us spotted it as they were ready to pushback but we insisted they fix it and so maintenance was called. It was only a temporary fix as it kept blocking throughout the flight. Towards the end of the flight the all the toilets in the whole aircraft had no water in the sinks and those toilets on the right side of the plane were blocked and furthermore the hot water system broke down so we couldn’t have hot drinks.

    Nobody bothered with the entertainment system as the screens were so tiny and picture quality terrible and wasn’t on-demand and very little choice anyway…for those that were working. The headphones were rubbish…80s Walkman style ones…not reducing or cancelling out any noise! Not that you could watch a movie if the person in front reclined their seat as then the screen was at your feet. We all just tried to sleep. When that failed people ended up chatting to each other and moaning about how other airlines they’d flown on were so good! A couple had taken up the bid offer that UL runs and paid £400 to upgrade to business and wished they’d stayed in economy! Misery does love company and this was probably a nice outcome in a way as some passengers ended up having good camaraderie talking about their travels and working out who at Sri Lankan Airlines they could send their complaints to!

    So yes, my petulance comes off the back of dashed expectations made worse by the very recent excellent flight on Singapore Airlines.

    However, putting the above aside, the crew were really nice, friendly and hardworking and it is obvious they are doing their best with what they have and how much they’ve been trained. They were profusely apologetic about all the problems with the aircraft.

    A Crabtree & Evelyn amenity kit was handed out and there were slippers at each seat.

    A light meal was served soon after takeoff. I didn’t eat the main course as I just wanted to sleep. I had the chicken satay sticks which were nice and some fruit and a glass of dreadful champagne and passable wine and a cup of tea then tried to sleep through my misery but failed. The tea was served in individual silver pots which was nice but the handles were scalding!

    Interestingly, the reverse route section of the menu had quite appealing choices. They had Beef Wellington on the LHR-CMB sector. Maybe if you close your eyes you could be transported to a bygone era of PanAm and their dining car at the end of the golden age of travel…something I missed as I wasn’t flying much then and certainly not in a premium cabin.

    The lights came on almost 4hrs before landing into Heathrow and the breakfast service commenced. There were juices, fruit, cereal, yoghurt, a choice of traditional Sri Lankan breakfast or omelette, poached egg or vegetarian plus bread and hot drinks. Really nicely presented.

    In summary, the flight seemed interminable and I just couldn’t wait to get off and that was a similar sentiment to most others. We were tired, creaky and cranky. I am scarred by this experience but I know it was all down to the aircraft and UL are getting 7 new A330-300 aircraft. I will wait till I am sure where they are definitely flying those before using them long haul again (I have a short haul sector on my way back to Sydney). The service is warm and friendly and food more than passable.

    At least it’s dry and warmer than I expected in London. Safe travels and Merry Christmas.


    A very interesting sequence of reports. Thanks FivestarFred.

    I know this has been spoken about before on numerous occasions, but it really is wrong that a company can sell a premium product and have no consistency in what is being offered, especially for a 12 hour flight. I looked at the web site for Sri Lankan and it only shows the new product, with the standard not on all are like this..

    However, I also looked at the Air China website and to give them credit, they present both their styles of business class (by aircraft).

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