China Eastern flies its A320-200 between Hong Kong and Hangzhou six times a week (skipping Mondays).
I arrived at HKIA just after 1500 for flight MU596, scheduled for a 1700 departure. Business class travellers can use the Sky Priority lane, (as can first class passengers and Eastern Miles Platinum members). I had to wait about ten minutes while the lone member of staff handled a problem with the people boarding ahead of me, but security and immigration was fast.
China Eastern offers access to the Skyteam Lounge by Gate 15 in the East Hall (about five minutes’ walk from immigration). This facility is separated into two sections, the first having buffet food (including a noodle and rice cooking station) and the second offering more living room-style sofa seating. There were no announcements, so you must keep an eye on the status of your flight.
My departure gate was 523, a short five-minute walk away. All airlines departing from the 500s require passengers to ride a shuttle bus from the gate to the aircraft. If you wait until boarding starts to leave the lounge (as I did) you risk missing the first shuttle and having to wait for the second, which doesn’t depart until all other passengers have got on. Even though I arrived at the gate at 1625, I wasn’t actually on the aircraft and in my seat until 1655.
The seats on China Eastern’s A320 are quite standard for regional aircraft into China. Width is comfortable (around 21 inches), though as I was in a bulkhead aisle seat (6D) I had slightly less legroom. There’s no IFE screen and as Chinese carriers are typically strict about smartphone use (though new government regulations mean this could change), it’s worth bringing a laptop or tablet. Fortunately the seats come with universal in-seat power outlets.
Eight business class seats are laid out 2-2 in two rows. The bulkhead seats have less legroom, while the back row has reduced recline due to the wall dividing business and economy cabins. It’s a toss-up based on preference; I tend to favour space over recline, especially for short flights.
We departed behind schedule at 1730. This being a short flight (1 hour 45 minutes) food was served shortly after take-off. It was a pretty mixed bag: my main of chicken rice was pleasant and the presentation was good, but the garlic bread served separately was stale – almost impossible to bite into.
Without any IFE to explore, I listened to music on my phone, which was secreted away in my pocket. So long as it’s not visible, you shouldn’t run into much opposition from the flight staff.
We landed almost on time, despite the 30-minute delay, arriving in Hangzhou at 1920. Again we were required to board a shuttle, but this time there was a separate bus for business class passengers, which provided a valuable head start over other travellers. I was through immigration in mere minutes with a short wait for my luggage.
For a short-haul journey this is a perfectly adequate product, but China Eastern could go a long way to improving its offerings, particularly the speed and efficiency of check-in and boarding. The seat product and F&B offering would also benefit from some attention. The ticket price is less expensive than the likes of Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines – the other two carriers to fly this route –
but the difference in quality corresponds.
Internet rates for a return business class ticket in mid-January start from US$577 including tax and surcharges.
1 hour 45 minutes