It was a late morning on 19.10.2014. Terminal 1 of Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) was empty and calm. It was a real change after being in huge and crowded Terminal 3 at first, where you really feel like you are in the 2nd busiest airport in the world. We went to T1 because it is a facility dedicated for all domestic and a couple of international operations for whole HNA Group a mother company of Hainan Airlines.
Terminals 1 and 2 are connected with a public walkway and it takes 15 minutes to transfer from one to another. If you like to reach the airport with Airport Shuttle train, you should get off in Terminal 2 and then take mentioned walkway to T1. I could not call T1 beautiful, however it was well maintained and tidy, decorated in dark red motives, characteristic for HNA carriers.
We were served well at the check in counter, however transferred from one desk to another due to communicational problems. Our Chinese was not good enough to deal with all the formalities, so we had to be delegated to someone who speaks English. The staff however was not especially nice, but professional and efficient. I had a really high expectations as we were about to fly the best airline in China and one of 7 airlines in the world awarded by Skytrax with 5 stars. The security check was extremely smooth and easy, taking us only a couple of minutes.
We were hungry and we dreamed about some nice place with warm soup or dish. Finding it was not an easy task as although there were around 4 restaurants, none of them was international and didn’t look tempting at all. Despite starving we walked a couple of times back and forth, not being sure which one to choose. Finally we selected the one with steamed dumplings and we didn’t regret because the food was very tasty. To be honest this was the only acceptable course served by this restaurant. Other dishes looked rather scary and we were not brave enough to give it a try.
After the meal, we had to run to catch our plane to Shenzhen. Plane was about to depart at 12:15 and flight number was HU 7709. I was happy because I have seen a plenty of jetways free and was absolutely sure we will use one of them to enter the plane. However, life has prepared a different scenario for us. With the escalators we went down 2 floors and were asked to enter the bus. This was very irritating, especially because the smog level in Beijing was hazardous and we didn’t want to go out again. After a long drive, in the last possible parking place, we spotted our plane, which was new and shiny (on paper, as the grey fog of polluted air was limiting the view) Airbus A330-300 which I was really eager to fly. The oldest machine of this type in Hainan fleet is 4 years old. Ours was also 4 years old and has registration number B-6527.
It looked fresh inside and has the seat configuration I really like in A330/A340 family 2-4-2, which always enables me to reserve 2 neighboring places on the left or right side, next to the window. This gives a privacy and tranquility during the flight and separates a bit from the rest of passengers. Hainan has eight A330-300 in its fleet as well as eight A330-200, eight Boeing 787-eight Dreamliners, more then one hundred Boeing 737-800, six 737-700 and a couple of 767 and 737 classic’s. The airlines is one of the safest in the industry, having no accidents since it was established in 1989.
The flight was smooth and the plane performed extremely well, being both very comfortable and really silent. The seats had plenty of legroom comparing to many other airlines economy class, but some of the finish materials looked and felt very cheap. I have to mention a white seat covers, which was protecting bolster of the seat. It looked awful and reminded me ones in old intercity trains in Poland. The plane was really new and seemed reliable, giving passenger confidence in its performance and quality. During the flight it was stable and comfortable. Didn’t scare anyone with strange or unsuspected sounds. Soon we realized the distant parking spot was perfect for fast departure. We drove only couple of minutes to reach the runway. Not long after, we were in the air, rising above the smog and heading south. The level of pollution was present to much higher altitude I was initially expecting and it took us some time to see a pure blue sky once again. For me it was definitely a relieving experience, giving me energy boost and changing my mood for better immediately. The service was fine but nothing exceptional and honestly I was expecting to experience much more on board the five star airline. The food was rather not tasty but eatable, for me a little bit too Chinese but I guess it is understandable as we were on domestic route. Flight was superbly smooth and relaxing due to perfect weather. In flight entertainment system was elegant but a bit slow in response to touch. Additionally the selection of english movies was not sufficient. Airshow presenting map of flight was intuitive and easy to follow.
When we approached Shenzhen airport we were able to see what was below us. However it was not as clear as I expect. Still, visibility was limited by light fog, which reminded me Beijing smog. As the plane landed in the Shenzhen Bao An airport I immediately checked air pollution index in Air Quality app and read great news. The air was only 2 to 3 times more polluted then in Warsaw which was great achievement for Chinese cities. That meant no masks and an opportunity for a nice walk. Landing was one of the funniest one in my life. Why? Directly after the plane touched the ground and I really mean it, most of the passengers, nearly all of them stood up and prepared for leaving the plane. Whole the flight was rather silent and calm but in that moment everyone started to speak and shout while removing luggage from the overhead lockers. Flight attendants, who in that time were sitting with the seat belts fastened, started to persuade the crowd to sit. They were not lucky. Chinese people only smile and do what they wanted to do. In that particular situation stand and form a line to the plane exit. Once the plane stopped and the jetway was plugged to the door, fight for the exit priority intensified. We decided not to participate in it, because we wanted to do some additional films and photos. As you will be able to find out on the pictures Hainan Airlines A330-300 has rather cozy cabin and generally is a place you won’t complaint to stay while flying. I was worried that the personnel won’t allow us to film, as there is a limited amount of video footage from Hainan plains in the internet and I suspected that filming or photographing is prohibited. No one however said anything and we had our time to make some shots.
With the good mood we entered the new terminal of Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport, which was opened in the end of 2013. We were able to feel this futuristic and minimalistic spirit in every inch of it. It is huge, specious, light, shiny and modern. Has been design by Massimilioano Fuksas and should remind a giant manta fish. I really loved this shape although generally I don’t like animal inspirations in architecture. When I walked through the building, I didn’t spot the similarities with the fish and ocean. I would rather say that the characterisic holes in walls and ceiling were a bit hive like. For my excuse I may say, that I have seen the building from the inside first. The airport didn’t seem very busy. I suspect it has a huge capacity reserves for further growth. Currently with its two runways it handled slightly more than 32 million passengers in 2013, which put it in 6th place in China. Shenzhen is also a growing air cargo hub and in 2013 around 910 000 tons of freight was loaded and unloaded. Both passenger and cargo expansion was also possible due to construction of a new runway. It was built on artificial land and opened in July 2011. What I really liked about the airport services, apart from state of art lavatories, was verification if the checked-in luggage belongs to you. I have never seen this in my whole life on any other airport. After we collected our suitcases they checked if the numbers on the stickers we’ve got in Beijing are similar to those attached to the baggage. On our way to the exit we admired a large tree in the center point of the terminal, beautifully integrated into the structure. From the terminal with a glazed bridge over airport road, we get to Ground Transportation Hub which is gigantic building, which matches the new airport design language, where the travelers may choose between the various ways to continue their travel to the town or other nearby cities. We decided to use metro to get to the city center. The line to the airport is not finished yet and we spent 10 minutes in the shuttle bus which temporary solves this problem. Being in Shenzhen after the Beijing smog was a fantastic experience. The sun was setting and it was around 30 degrees celsius. What a wonderful place!
Date: Sunday, October 19 (2014)
Airline: Hainan Airlines
Flight number: HU 7709 (PEK-SZX)
Duration: 3 hours 20 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300 (B-6527)
Seat: 20H (if I remember well)