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Seoul (ICN) to London (LHR) with China Eastern.

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  • Seoul (ICN) to London (LHR) with China Eastern.

    I arrived in Seoul on the evening of Friday 19th January and transferred from Gimpo (Seoul’s second airport, dealing mainly with domestic flights) to Incheon (the main airport of Seoul, with lots of international and domestic services). I had arrived on Korean Air flight KE1310 from Gwangju, operated by a Boeing 737-900. The buses between Gimpo and Incheon come every couple of minutes and various companies and airlines have different bus services available. I opted for the most basic bus as it was the first to come along. It costs less than 2.50GBP to get from one airport to the other, and takes about 40 minutes.

    I was booked into one of the airport hotels at Incheon as my flight to London (via Shanghai) was at 9:15am on Saturday morning. As I walked through Incheon airport, which was looking very empty, I noticed that the China Eastern Airlines counter was open. I decided to query my checked baggage and hand baggage allowance. I had just traveled up from Gwangju with a 27kg suitcase and 12kg of hand baggage. Korean Air tolerate excess baggage on domestic services, but I wasn’t expecting China Eastern to be quite so understanding! The friendly lady at the counter didn’t speak much English, so I couldn’t understand completely what she was saying. She said my baggage allowance was 20kg, but the airline would accept 24kg without charge. She checked a wall-chart and then said I was entitled to check in 2 cases, each weighing 24kg. 48kg of checked baggage for an economy passenger – that was pretty good! I went off to my hotel and re-packed the contents of my case into my other smaller case, just to even out the load.

    I arrived back at Incheon at around 6:35am and was surprised to see that it wasn’t especially busy. China Eastern was checking in at zone H and J, so I made my way there. A row of no less than 20 desks had been set up, complete with the logo etc, but these were not opening until 9:00am. For now, we had to use just four desks on the opposite side. Only one of the desks was in use, so I didn’t have to endure queues, unlike the JAL passengers next door!

    China Eastern flights are handled by Asiana, so the member of staff who checked me in was working for this particular airline. She accepted my baggage and told me I had to wait whilst it was screened. I’ve been unlucky enough to have to go the baggage inspection room on many occasions in Korea. On this occasion, I didn’t have any problems, despite having two pressurised containers (deodorant) in my case. I was handed only one boarding card for flight MU5052 to Shanghai/Pudong yet my baggage was checked all the way through to Heathrow. I was told that I would have to go to the transfer desk in Shanghai in order to be checked in for my next flight. Fair enough, I thought. I was assigned to seat 9A on the 1 hour and 40 minute flight to Shanghai, operated today by an Airbus A330-300 aircraft – a new one for me!

    With much time to spare, I went to Burger King in the check-in area and had a look around. Incheon airport is a great airport and brilliantly operated – I’ve never had to join a queue at the airport, not for check-in, security, immigration or customs, so it takes no time at all to get to where you want to be. After gulping my last few hash brown bites, I headed off to security and was quickly processed. Next was immigration, where my passport was stamped. And from there, I was in the massive departures area! It was full of shops, restaurants/cafes and much more. There were also windows looking out onto the apron everywhere and plenty of seats, too. This airport was perfect and in order to keep it in tip-top condition, you’ll also see a countless number of cleans, walking up and down the airport, polishing whatever they can. It looks brand new.

    I went and sat at the gate, but at 7:15am, it was still dark outside and there was no sign of our A330. Our flight was due to depart at 9:15am and my boarding card said that the boarding process would begin at 8:45am. I sat and waited for the aircraft to arrive on the stand, and shortly afterwards, it did. It was registered B-6127 and looked a little bland in the boring China Eastern colour scheme. I then took a walk until boarding time, stopping for yet more food on the way!

    I return at around 8:30am and took a seat. The Asiana staff were preparing themselves to begin boarding. And sure enough, bang on 8:45am, the doors were opened and boarding began. There wasn’t a major rush, which was a surprise. I walked down the airbridge and onto the aircraft, greeted by three stewardesses. I was pointed in the direction of my seat, which was only the second row of economy class, next to the window. Boarding was complete within about 10 minutes and the flight today was only 50% full, so the crew encouraged passengers to move around, including the Korean man next to me, although he never did.

    As stated on the boarding card, the gate did close ten minutes before departure. Our doors were closed shortly after 9:00am and we spent the next 10 minutes sat at the gate. At 9:15am, on time, we pushed back and began our taxi to the runway. It took about ten minutes to reach the runway and we had a few aircraft ahead of us, including a Cathay Pacific 777-300, a Korean Air 737-900 and other common Seoul traffic.

    Because of our light load, we were airborne in no time at all and climbed out over the ocean, enjoying some great views of the surrounding islands in the morning sunshine. As we continued our climb, the television screens in the very new looking cabin were switched on. This was quite a surprise that we were able to enjoy inflight entertainment on such a short flight. Headphones were not handed out for this short flight, instead, the entertainment was subtitled in both Chinese and English.

    The crew took a moment to explain the flight to us, telling us that our flight time was 1 hour and 40 minutes. They then had a quick drinks round and told us that we would be served a “light meal”. I was very surprised at this meal. There wasn’t a choice, but for such a short trip, I wasn’t expecting anything fantastic. We were offered a full-blown hot meal, consisting of some watermelon, a bread roll and butter, a king prawn salad, a coconut cake and the main course was a decent-sized portion of beef noodles, which were very tasty. As we ate our meals, a further drinks round took place. And after our trays were collected, duty free was offered to the passengers.

    Prior to beginning the descent into Shanghai, the crew handed out the immigration and customs forms (all 3 of them) and I wasn’t sure if I needed them or not. After all, I wasn’t stopping in China. The stewardess didn’t speak much English, but she asked me to wait whilst she went and checked. She shortly returned and told me that I needed to complete two of the three forms, of which one was completely in Chinese! She took my passport and both the forms and disappeared into the galley, completing the forms for me. That was good service!

    Before I knew it, our descent had begun and the captain switched on the seatbelt sign. He took a moment to explain the latest weather in Shanghai – 8 degrees and overcast and told us our arrival time.

    We landed in Shanghai about 10 minutes late and taxied to the terminal. Both the terminal and the taxiways and surrounding grassy areas looked shabby and old. First impressions of the airport weren’t good and it looked to be in some serious need of some work. As we got closer to the terminal, that too started to look a bit grimey. We pulled onto our stand and were very quickly disembarked. I followed the signs to “Transit” and reached a set of double doors. They were locked and I stood there, baffled as to what I should do now. A security officer came and told me that I needed to go somewhere else. She pointed had me in the same direction that all the other passengers were going. After quite some walking, I arrived at immigration, but it wasn’t where I wanted to be. Before heading through immigration, I asked another security officer where to go for flight connections. She pointed to immigration! Before joining the lengthy queue, I asked one last time. I was pointed to a poorly signposted transfer desk for China Eastern Airlines. They issued me with a boarding card for seat 12A on flight to London. The staff then explained that I needed to clear immigration and customs, then go up to departures, before going through security and immigration again. What an absolutely ridiculous process for somebody that was in transit!

    I had a four stopover in Shanghai and I wasn’t looking forward to all that time sat around doing nothing. After joining so many long queues at Pudong, the time passed quickly. In fact, from the moment I stepped off of the flight from Seoul to the moment that I sat down in departures, 2 hours had passed. I had to enter China, get my passport stamped and also had to complete six different forms, some of which were not even in English! Pudong was a nightmare and my trip through the airport was far from easy. And worst of all, nobody seemed to want to help me.

    I sat down by gate number 15, the gate that our flight would be departing from. A couple of hours before our flight was due to leave, there was only an A340-600 parked up. Since I already knew that Heathrow flights are nowadays operated by the A340-300, I knew this wasn’t my carriage. Time ticked by and I watched as the British Airways 777 and Virgin Atlantic A340 departed to Heathrow. Then, an hour before our 2:00pm departure, a Scandinavian A340 arrived from Copenhagen and parked at our gate. Clearly, flight MU551 to Heathrow wouldn’t be going from this gate after all!

    The airport then started to get into even more chaos. An announcement was made to say that flight 551 to Heathrow would now depart from gate 14, exactly the same gate that the delayed KLM flight to Amsterdam would be departing from. Looking out of the window, I could see our A340-300 parked up alongside the KLM 747. There were no empty seats at the gate and huge queues had formed of anxious passengers desperate to get on their aircraft. Boarding for both of the flights began at exactly the same time (not a sensible move, especially considering that were about 600 people all trying to move at once!). As we all bundled down the stairs, it was clear that our flight was actually going from gate number 12.

    This looked to be a very full flight, so with boarding having begun just 10 minutes before scheduled departure, it was very unlikely that we’d be on our way, on time. Before booking my flight with China Eastern, I did some research into punctuality and also read a lot of reviews. According to, the Shanghai to London flight has an on-time rating of just 2% (obviously meaning that only 1 in 50 flights runs to schedule!). And the majority of the reviews I read were not at all good. Previous travelers complained of delays and cancellations, lame inflight service and crew that didn’t speak English.

    I was greeted at the door of the A340 (registered B-2382) by two members of crew. They again pointed me to the first few rows of economy and row 12 was only a couple of steps away. I was one of the last to board, and with the flight being full, I had to put my bags in an overhead locker some way away! On my seat was a set of headphones, a cushion and a blanket

    At approximately 2:20pm, the doors were finally closed and we were welcomed on board (in very broken English) by the cabin crew and then by the captain, who tried to give us more information about the flight. He apologised for the delay and then explained we would be delayed further due to no available takeoff slots. The estimated delay was an extra half an hour, so we sat at the gate, with all the doors closed for 25 minutes and then pushed back and waited a little while longer. At 2:55pm, we began our taxi to the runway, leaving behind the KLM 747, which should have departed at 12:45pm. When we arrived at the runway, there wasn’t an aircraft in sight, so we were able to takeoff without any further delays. We finally departed at 3:05pm, one hour and five minutes behind schedule. The scheduled flight time was to be 12 hours and 10 minutes.

    Immediately after takeoff, I fell asleep and woke up about 45 minutes later, just as the crew were serving drinks. The inflight entertainment had also started, although PTVs don’t exist in economy class, so you have to watch the overhead screens. To be honest, the first three hours of entertainment wasn’t worth watching – the first 90 minutes was identical to what had been shown on my flight from Seoul to Shanghai, and it wasn’t particularly interesting!

    Approximately 2 hours into the flight, a hot meal was served and we were offered a choice of two meals – beef noodles or pork rice. Since I was bored of rice, having eaten so much of the stuff in Korea, I went for the noodles, and they were very nice. Also on the meal tray was a bread roll and butter, watermelon, a green leaf salad and a rather suspicious looking dessert. I didn’t fancy it.

    After the three hours of terrible entertainment, the film ‘Duma’ was shown and it wasn’t too bad. And passengers could enjoy the film with a constant flow of drinks. The crew were coming around with trays of drinks every ten or fifteen minutes! After this, we were shown ‘L’Homme Du Train’ (The Man on the Train). Being a fan of foreign film, I was very keen to watch. The French dialogue had been dubbed into Chinese and there were subtitles in English. The English subtitles were so badly translated that watching the film was impossible as no sentence ever made sense!

    In between the various films and programmes being shown, the moving map popped up and showed our current whereabouts. It seemed strange that we spent quite a few hours at 31,500ft and that the estimated arrival time changed a lot. At one point, the ETA was 6:20pm, but it kept moving from that to as late as 7:50pm. Our scheduled arrival time in London was 6:10pm, so we were going to be late, but just how late was anybody’s guess.

    We were fed and watered once more, again being able to choose from two meals – an omlette or yet more noodles! I went for the noodles again and they were really nice. This time, we were also served a croissant with our meal.

    Our confirmed arrival time was confirmed by the captain and we could expect to land at 7:55pm, 1 hour and 45 minutes late! The cabin was prepared for landing and we slowly circle above London for a little while before finally touching down on runway 27L at 8:10pm – two hours late. What should have been 12 hours and 10 minutes turned out to be exactly 13 hours, so I was feeling a little tired when I finally disembarked the aircraft at terminal 2. There was no apology for the late arrival.

    Overall, China Eastern is a good airline, despite what various other might say. Their short-haul product is excellent, although I would say that their long-haul product needs improvement, especially the inflight entertainment, which was pretty bad for the first few hours. None of the crew that I came across could speak English and I was amazed that one particular stewardess couldn’t understand my requests for Coke and water – she instead offered me coffee! Even the announcements that were read from a sheet could not be understood at all. The flight connection process in Shanghai needs serious changes to be made. It isn’t fair to expect passengers to spend 2 hours entering China, completing forms and queuing and queuing again and again.

    I would use the airline again. They are very cheap and they do get you where you want to be (although rarely on time) and they have an extensive route network. I booked a one way flight from Incheon to London at a cost of 401.00GBP (inclusive of tax). The next cheapest fare was with Korean Air/Virgin Atlantic and also via Shanghai, at a cost of 490.00GBP, so that was quite a saving.

  • #2
    Great Report!

    I'd like to use them from Moscow to Sydney but I can't find anyone in Moscow who sells their tickets!


    • #3
      Great report and a good read.



      • #4
        Originally posted by tsv
        Great Report!

        I'd like to use them from Moscow to Sydney but I can't find anyone in Moscow who sells their tickets!

        Are you from Moscow ? Russia I mean.


        • #5
          Well, I agree with you! MU is a nice airline, they have very cheap fares from New Zealand to China, but I don't really want to try their long haul flights, I was told their long haul is really bad, like really really really bad, same as Air China. I agree that their crews don't really speak English, I don't understand why, it seems like they are trying hard to impove their English but no result. On the other hand, their domestic flights are really good, no doubt at all, better than Air NZ domestic flights. To sum up, just like you said, MU does take you to the place you want to go and it is cheap, so what more should we ask lol..... these days people use Easyjet, cheap and no service, but MU has the service even though it is sometimes crap.

          Thanks for your trip report! Really enjoyed reading it!


          • #6
            Thanks for the comments, guys.

            I was delighted when I opened my credit card statement the other day, only to discover that the travel agency didn't charge my the tax on my ticket, so I actually paid about GBP350 in total, saving GBP50!