China Spring Airlines (9C) HKG-PVG | LCC, Chinese Style | Video TR + Pics

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by westernways, Feb 26, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    China Spring Airlines (9C)
    HKG-PVG
    Airbus A320
    Video Trip Review + Bad phone photos


    Whilst I was in Hong Kong for a month, I had decided that it was a good chance to go checkout Shanghai which i've always wanted to visit.

    I had contemplated taking the overnight train, but airfares cost just as much as the train, and I wouldn’t be losing nearly 20 hours. Plus it was a chance to try some of the anonymous Chinese carriers that serve the vast country.

    China Spring Airlines is a relative new kid on the block, a low cost carrier started in 2004 with just a single A320. Now they have a whole 21 A322’s which are mostly being used for domestic routes. In 2010 they were approved for international flights, and now operate two international routes. Hong Kong, and Tokyo (through IBR).

    The route is great news for Hong Kongers who don’t really benefit from any LCC’s operating to mainland china. For a long time, it was much cheaper to take the half an hour train ride to Shenzhen (the closest China border city) and fly out from there. Spring Airlines launched their HKG-SHA fares from only $29USD. Great I thought! Either way when it came time to booking, the fares had gone up in price (a lot) and were now nearly just as expensive as the equivalent China Eastern Airlines fares (which were sold out). Strangely the multiple flights on that day varied from SHA, or PVG. I purposely picked the flights to PVG so we could try the Maglev.
    Annoyed, our tickets were booked and we were on our way to HKIA. Checkin was a bit confusing, unlike the other airlines at T2 at HKIA, Spring Airlines don’t put any signage near their desks. Checkin staff is contracted out at all other airports except for PVG and SHA. Also when checking in, they needed to verify the card that the fares were booked with online (lucky I actually bought it with me, their website says nothing of this requirement).

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    Check-in at HKIA

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    We were boarding at the very remote Gate 68, which you’re required to catch a bus to once you reach the end of the west hall.
     
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  2. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    Flight Details
    Flight No. 9C 8922
    Aircraft Type: Airbus A320-214
    Registration: B6561
    Delivered to 9C: 27/03/09
    First Flight: 23/02/09
    Seating Config: Y174


    10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to board, there was no aircraft at our gate. I asked one of the gate agents if the flight was running late, to which he replied “uh, no I don’t think so”. Er, okay. Weird. Anyway, a few short minutes later our bird taxi’d in, and pax from PVG started to pour out fairly quickly. Fast forward 10 more minutes and boarding was called. Yep, a 10 minutes to offload pax and their baggage, clean (if they did…) and call boarding for the next flight. That’s quicker than AirAsia!
    Anyway as soon as the majority of the pax caught wind that the flight would be boarding soon, they all rushed to the gate. I know this is typical behavior nearly everywhere, but the Chinese seem to do it with more shouting and noise (a lot like Italians, weirdly). I was enjoying my Chaa Siu Bau (BBQ pork bun), so I would not be moved. After the line had cleared a bit we boarded.
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    The Dirty Bird

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    The aircraft itself (for equipment delivered only in 2009) was really, REALLY dirty on the outside, looks like it hadn’t been cleaned once. On the inside it was pretty dirty as well considering its age. When we stepped out of the Galley and into the aisle, the plane was absolutely chaotic!

    It’s kinda hard to describe the scene, but children were running up and down the aisles, people were standing up having a chat with one another, the FA’s were desperately trying to get past people in the aisles mucking around with their overhead luggage, whilst simultaneously shouting instructions in mandarin. Yes, shouting, and I don’t blame them one bit cause that’s pretty much the Chinese way. There was no mistaking that all the PAX were mainland Chinese, probably a lot of them from the rural parts of shanghai. Hong Kongers would have more common sense and decency than the people on this flight. That’s not a complaint, however, just an observation (I love china).

    We were seated in row 13, me and my two travelling companions. When we went over to our row, there was a stern-faced and elderly looking Chinese woman sitting in my window seat. My Chinese is bad at the best of times, and I’d been up partying quite late in Lan Kwai Fong the night before, so it was a real test trying to ask her to move.
    She shouted at the passing flight attendant, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. The woman was told to move and she shouted more at me. All I could understand was YUCHUN WAIGUO (which means dumb foreigner). Whatever, I’m kinda used to sassy Chinese people by now.
     
  3. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    [​IMG]

    Super Slim Seats

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    When we got into our seats (I should say, squeezed into our seats) the first big shock was that there was NO LEGROOM AT ALL! Like, normal LCC’s have nothing on the space saving measures of Spring Airlines. Basically the only form of movement that you have with your legs is this indentation that’s in the seat in front of you, where a seat pocket would really go.

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    This makes the seats themselves quite thin. And to be honest, they weren’t that comfortable. The seats are all in a pretty nice green leather, but the seats themselves are really hard, and have very little lumbar support (or any other).

    The second shock came when I desperately felt around for the recline button. No recline. At all. Most likely this is more of a cost saving measure rather than a space saving measure, the recline mechanism would shave a nice bit of the seat manufacturing costs. Lucky this flight was short because the seats aren’t pleasant to be in.
    With no announcements or warnings from the FA’s, the aircraft began to push back from the gate. With people still standing around and chatting, adjusting their luggage, etc. Something I’ve never ever experienced before. The FA’s didn’t seem too concerned either. It was only once we were getting closer to the runway did the flight attendants actually come around and tell people to sit down. Even during takeoff, most of the pax had their tray tables down, seatbelts off, and were using their phones or eating food. Surely a violation of a raft of rules and regulations? The only time where I’ve experienced something similar is on regional flights around Italy with Alitalia.

    A few announcements were made, all in Mandarin. Once we had reached cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign was switched off (don’t know why they actually bothered), the FA’s came down the aisle with a drinks trolley. I bought my favorite Hong Kong unsweetened wulong ice tea (not very tasty, but good for your skin!).
    The Flight Attendants were all male, and they were all dressed like the captain basically. Their uniform was very smart, just a little… military. Check out the video to see what I mean.
    But the best part of the flight came about 1 hour in, when one of the FA’s got over the PA and alerted the cabin that they would now be demonstrating in flight exercises that they recommended everyone do. Of course, every single person on the flight did in fact follow their instructions, and every single person on the flight was waving their hands in the ear, massaging their temples, or stretching their arms. I seriously recommend that you watch the video, because it’s priceless! I could barely contain my laughter. For those familiar with Chinese culture, this kind of stuff isn’t that weird, given the cultural importance of Tai Chi Chuan, and other longevity focused exercises.

     
  4. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    What could be found in seat-compartment-pocket thing

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    My reality is that the way I chose was cheap, and not very comfy.

    Anyway upon landing in freezing cold, wet PVG, we taxi’d over to terminal 1, which handles most of the internal domestic traffic. Nearly all international flights go to T2, with the exception of KLM I think. Pretty much as soon as the wheels had touched the ground you could hear the clinks of seat beats being unbuckled, and an elderly couple a few rows ahead of us actually stood up (the reverse thrusters hadn’t even been deployed!)
    It’s quite easy to see which airline dominates PVG. China Eastern birds were EVERYWHERE. It seems like we weren’t getting a skybridge today. We deplaned and got loaded onto a bus, which there were a couple of. We were at a REALLY remote parking spot, with another 9C A320 parked next to us.
     
  5. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    [​IMG]

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    Once on the bus we drove about 50 metres across the taxiway until we had to come to a stop, for a MU A320. We waited a good 10 minutes on that damn bus before the MU jet finally was at a safe distance not for us to get jet blasted.
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    Not so sure what to think about PVG to be honest. The airport is modern, that’s certain, but it seems rather cold and dimly lit put next to a fantastic airport like HKG. Baggage claim reminds me a lot of bag claim at NRT, but of course without so many people, or that tentative Japanese politeness.

    As soon as we got our bags, we followed the well marked signs to the MagLev train. The tickets themselves were pretty expensive (for Chinese standards), and didn’t really take us anywhere near where we needed to go. A lot of people remark that the MagLev is totally a showoff thing, so china can say to all the foreigners who come in for the first time “look at us, look at our amazing technology, we’re so advanced!”. Yeah, the technology is amazing, and yeah the train goes unbelievably fast (430 kph), but the terminating station isn’t anywhere near the center of the Puxi side of shanghai, where most of the hotels and shopping is located.

    As soon as we got off the MagLev, we were preyed upon by a million (yes, a million) touts trying to offer us private taxi’s. We found ourselves the official taxi rank, and from then on it was me and my buddy trying both to use our bad mandarin to get us places. All things considered, we didn’t do so badly. We pretty much used Taxi’s from that point on. Sure, the metro is inexpensive and pretty good in shanghai, it was so cold outside (minus 5 centigrade), that walking to stations was too painful. Taxi’s are so abundant and cheap in shanghai that it was worth it just for the comfort to be able to sit down. However, driving in shanghai is borderline suicidal, there ARE rules, but no one actually follows them. Over 5 days, we were in more near misses than I care to count, and an actual crash. We were okay, but it was scary none the less.
    We stayed in the Grand Mercure Zhongya on the Puxi side of Shanghai. I had achieved A|Club Gold status just a few days before, and this got us a room upgrade (normally nothing less than platinum gets you an upgrade, but the hotel didn't seem too busy). The hotel itself is immaculate, and very modern, and the rooms are extremely well appointed.

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    Upon entering the room, there was a personalized card signed by the general manager welcoming us, and a plate of macaroons (ah, French accor…). Our stay at the Grand Mercure was top rate, and I’d recommend the hotel to anyone travelling to shanghai.
     
  6. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    Here are some photos from the trip:
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  7. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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  8. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    [​IMG]

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    On the day of our departure we were running EXTREMELY late for our flight. One of us decided that it’d be better to catch the metro all the way to the airport (since there was a station right outside our hotel) instead of catching a taxi. Bad idea, we left 2 and a half hour before our scheduled departure. Checkin closes an hour before the flight departs. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1600, boarding closes at 1500, and we arrived the airport station at 1505.

    Luckily, most of the other Chinese passengers were also late, so when we arrived at the Spring checkin desks, there was a long line for people on our flight. I got a bit emotional because I had just ran through a busy airport shouting at people (once again in bad Chinese) to move out of the way, and you feel a little conspicuous doing that when you’re white, in a Chinese city.

    Then when we got to checkin, all of our baggage was overweight so we had to pay some rather hefty fees. Having not planned for this, all of us had used all our Renminbi, and the checkin desk didn’t accept credit card. Once I had gone to an ATM, withdrawn money, lined up again so I could pay the extra fees, I was then given a piece of paper which I had to go take to a desk down the hall so I could have my credit card (which I booked the flights with) identified. UH WHATS WITH THIS WHOLE CREDIT CARD CHECK THING? After that, I lined up AGAIN and was finally issued our tickets. By this stage I was a little moody.

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    Checkin

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    Interesting design of departures hall at PVG T2
     
  9. westernways

    westernways Active Member

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    We went through customs really quite quickly (lines at PVG not as bad as people suggest). We were at an extremely remote gate, one that’s on the tarmac level (because you get bussed out to the aircrafts remote parking bays.

    The A320 that we were on today, was very, very different to the one we’d come from HKG on. This bird was the bird that Spring Airlines started off with, formerly owned by Egyptian Charter airline, Lotus Air. When registered with Lotus it was SU-LLB. The great thing about this aircraft though was that the seats hadn’t been changed over, just reskinned. The legroom was the most generous legroom I had ever encountered on an A320 in Y, and the recline was great too! Unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures of the flight back to HKG, but you can sort of see the different seats in the video of the inflight exercises.

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    Legroom on Ex-Lotus Air jet is much better

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    Reskinned older seats in ugly livery
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    Conclusions

    Whilst my fares weren’t that cheap (fairly close to the price of the equivalent China Eastern flights), I think if you book well ahead in advance then cheap fares can be had with Spring Airlines. For one thing, Spring Airlines have filled a void that previously didn’t exist: an LCC flying between Hong Kong and mainland China. This route was previously dominated by Cathay, Dragon Air, Hong Kong Airlines, Shanghai Airlines & China Eastern, all of whom’s fares are very pricy for a 2 hour journey. If anything, competition from Spring Airlines should drive the ticket prices for the other airlines down.
    In terms of their product on the ground, better signage (at both PVG and HKG, not sure what SHA is like) needs to be improved at the checkin desks. Also, partly the reason that our baggage was overweight on the way back is that in HKG, our carry on’s were not weighed, but in PVG they were. I understand that in HKG the ground operations for Spring Airlines are handled by Subcontractors, but it’s the airlines duty to ensure that important policies (especially baggage restrictions with an LCC) are enforced across the board, and not just at their hubs. Also, Spring Airlines operates 2 different websites, one in Chinese and one in English. The English website is clunky, confusing, navigates poorly and has a lot of dead links, whilst the Chinese site runs perfectly. Now that they’re operating international flights, they should expect more foreigners who can’t read Chinese to be booking online (the only way you can book!).
    In the air, their new style seating on their more recent aircraft is really uncomfortable. Though most of their flights don’t extend longer than 3 hours, their new seats aren’t even comfortable for 10 minutes. In this respect you definitely get what you pay for. If you strike lucky and get one of the leased aircraft, then you’re definitely in for a treat with great legroom and huge seats with lots of delicious recline.
    All in all, I have no problems with Spring Airlines. Really, they’re just another anonymous Chinese carrier that’s offering slightly cheaper fares than the rest of them.
    This Trip Report is part of a wider trip report of my recent trip around Asia. The other parts aren’t finished yet, but I’ll attach links here when they are. Hope you enjoyed my first Trip Report, and I look forward to writing more!


    6/10
     
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  10. kiwi
    Original Member

    kiwi Gold Member

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    Thanks for reporting on an airline rarely seen in a trip report.
     
  11. savydog
    Original Member

    savydog Gold Member

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    I flew a domestic from Beijing to Xian return and from what I could see was the only westerner. It was with Air China or China Air, a bit confusing those names and nearly 2 years ago. Leg room was good, I enjoyed your descriptions of the in flight antics as I saw some similar stuff. I had trouble at the check-in as I only had my printed receipt and eventually found that I just needed to go from the counter to a nearby check-in kiosk and follow simple instructions to get my boarding pass. Another YUCHUN WAIGUO (dumb foreigner) as you said. Thanks for the report.
     

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