Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Welcome Aboard Comrade

Knowing how much Savoir Faire is an airliner geek, on our recent trip to China, one could not miss this opportunity to fly with a little known airline. The more obscure the airline, Savoir Faire is right there for the experience. From flying Petroleum Air Services in Egypt several years ago, to China United Airlines in China I am always up for the experience.

China United established in 1986 was the civil transport division of the People’s Liberation Army. After several suspensions in operations, due to governmental regulations prohibiting the Army from being directly involved in commercial activities, they are now flying again (Personally this was a bit of a mystery to me. After all isn’t the army run by the government?) Due to the airline’s military connections they fly out of Beijing’s Nanyuan Airport which is primarily a military airfield but also equipped with a terminal capable of handling 1.2 million passengers per year and the base of China United Airlines.

I knew I was up for a bit of an experience when we arrived at Beijing’s Nanyuan Airport and there was an amazing display of Russian built airliners with government markings sitting on the tarmac. The huge big billboard picturing members of what I could only guess was the Chinese Air-force and a couple fighter jets didn’t do anything for the main man’s feelings on my choice or airline for this portion of our journey.

Inside the terminal was another story. Every man and his dog seemed to be checking in with a large number of the traveling public seeming to be older Chinese peasants flying for the first time. This was confirmed when later on in the aircraft across the aisle were three old men who were obviously on their first flight as they could not get enough of looking out the window during pushback, taxiing and take off. Under the stern gazes of some young women dressed in military style uniforms, checking in and security was a breeze.

The three gates and waiting area was all one central area, and one had to keep one’s wits about one as all announcements were in Chinese. We were the centre of attraction as there were only a handful of foreigners in amongst about 1000 locals. Looking out the plate glass to the tarmac, I was a bit disappointed to see that we would be travelling by Boeing and not one of the Russian airliners I had seen previously. Boarding was via a quick walk across the tarmac (which I love) to our waiting jet, again under the supervision of some rather serious young men in uniform.

Another incident which caused the main man to question my choice of airline happened during mid flight when some of our flying virgins tried to remove the plastic cover to an emergency exit handle during mid flight. Trying to make one of charming young flight attendants try to understand that this was not a wise thing to do ended on us demonstrating what the old man was trying to do. However two hours later we were touching down after a rather pleasant flight in Hangzhou, to continue the rest of our journey. Service was actually far superior than what you get on a lot of major air carriers these days.

So another airline goes into the Savoir Faire book of firsts!
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