BACKGROUND Having started operations in 2006, Juneyao is still a relatively nascent airline. Nevertheless, it’s aiming high and in May 2017 it became the first airline to join Star Alliance as a Connecting Partner – a scheme designed to enable low-cost and hybrid airlines, among others, to join the alliance without all the requirements placed on full members.
The partnership with Juneyao enables improved connectivity for travellers, particularly Star Alliance members, to, from and through Shanghai, which has long been a gap in the Star Alliance network.
The scheme also gives members certain earn-and-burn privileges for mileage, lounge access, priority boarding and check-in, and other benefits when travelling on Juneyao Airlines.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport at 1730 and headed to the Juneyao counters, located in aisle J of the main departures terminal. Business class passengers can use the “Business/Platinum/Gold” counter to check-in, which was fast and efficient, and left plenty of time before our 1815 scheduled boarding time to get through immigration and security.
While Pudong Airport doesn’t have a dedicated Star Alliance fast-track immigration lane, the queues were surprisingly short at this time of the evening and I was through security in about 10 minutes.
Juneyao Airlines shares its lounge with Hainan Airlines and is located next to the Cathay Pacific lounge by gate D69 – roughly in the middle of the terminal. Despite my fare class being D (business class), as media I was invited to the first class area (Juneyao’s lounges are separated into business and first class sections).
The first class lounge has about 40 armchairs along with a number of smaller chairs and two massage chairs. Its age is certainly beginning to show from a style point of view, and some of the premium elements you’d typically expect are conspicuously missing; for example, disposable plastic cutlery in place of metal utensils.
Two food options were available in the F&B offering – a buffet with dishes such as seafood fried rice, Korean spicy noodles and stir-fried asparagus, and a soup noodle bar (arguably the better option). While not massively extensive the buffet was regularly refilled and service staff at the noodle bar were friendly.
Sockets were available next to the armchairs, though adapters are required for international plugs, and there were none near the tables and chairs areas.
A password-protected wifi connection is available at the lounge, though a phone number is required to receive an access code. From a security perspective, the lounge wifi is likely the better option, however the speed was no better than the publicly available wifi throughout Pudong Airport (which still had a strong signal in the lounge).
Flight HO1305 was scheduled for an 1815 boarding and 1900 takeoff, however the announcement that the flight was ready to board didn’t go out until 1945. Prior to that, information had been slim, with initially no information on the boards or from staff. Eventually a simple “Delayed” icon was posted next to the flight, though there was no indication of a new estimated departure time.
The gate was also changed from D80 to D230, which was located about 10 minutes from the lounge and required bus transport to the plane on the tarmac. Perhaps most notable was the lack of a dedicated premium class/Star Alliance priority boarding queue, despite priority boarding apparently being one of the key benefits involved in Juneyao’s joining the alliance as a Connecting Partner.
This could have been redeemed by the fact that there was a separate van for business class passengers (though it wasn’t clear whether this was open to Star Alliance members also). However, herein lies a major flaw – the van couldn’t leave until every premium class passenger had arrived. In the end, the main economy class coach departed more than 10 minutes before the premium class van, which was stuck waiting at the boarding gate until it closed at 2010 (the choice by the driver mid-way through the wait to start playing ’80s pop music did little to help soften the blow). By the time we arrived at the aircraft at 2013, all of the economy section had already boarded. So as it turned out, Juneyao did offer priority boarding, just to the wrong passengers.
Our flight was operated by Juneyao’s A321, which comes with 12 business class seats in a 2-2 configuration. From a comfort standpoint, the leather seats are perfectly adequate. Width is generous at 28.5 inches and the pitch never felt restrictive. Then again, there was a rather lacklustre recline of just 110 degrees.
Compared to other Star Alliance carriers, the seats undeniably still have a way to go. There were no in-flight entertainment (IFE) screens, which was even more inconvenient given the restrictions on using smartphones in-flight while travelling in China, even when in flight mode. Juneyao’s business class seats also lack USB and power sockets for charging mobile devices. For those looking to get some work done, pre-charging at the lounge is advised. For those looking to unwind, a tablet and pre-loaded content won’t go unappreciated.
I was given a hot towel and the option of a glass of orange juice or water when we boarded. Take-off took place about 30 minutes after the business class section had boarded, at 2042, and about 20 minutes after that an announcement came on indicating an estimated arrival time of 2250.
This was followed shortly after by the cabin crew coming through and asking for food orders, which were conveniently presented with photos on a tablet device, and the meals arrived shortly before 2130. The choices were either beef or shrimp with rice, and I opted for the former. Meals were nicely presented and overall were enjoyable, though the accompanying sweet soup and cordyceps fungi may be a little unusual for international palates. A second course consisting of a fruit platter and cake rounded off the meal, and overall meant there was plenty of food offered.
A brief announcement was made later in the flight marking the official joining of Juneyao as a Connecting Partner of Star Alliance. Having managed to take care of some work at the lounge while waiting for boarding to be announced, I opted to rest my eyes for the remainder of the flight, waking up as we were already making our descent into Hong Kong.
As estimated, the flight arrived in Hong Kong just after 2250 and disembarkation was efficient. The arrival gate was quite far away, with the walk to the shuttle taking roughly 10 minutes, though immigration and baggage collection were swift.
Star Alliance’s newest and youngest partner still has a fair amount of work to do with regards to its premium offering, particularly when it comes to updating its products and improving the efficiency of its on-the-ground services. However the convenience of finally having a non-stop service between Shanghai and Hong Kong within the alliance help to make up for it.
JOURNEY TIME 2 hours 10 minutes
SEAT WIDTH 28.5 inches
SEAT PITCH 40 inches
SEAT RECLINE 110 degrees
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong in mid-August start from US$494.