Shanghai Airlines is a wholly owned subsidiary of China Eastern, that being said I'm now confused about who or what we are reviewing. Considering most of the branding was China Eastern; we'll go with that. However, the aircraft itself is from Shanghai Airlines.
When they announced the new 787 (which features 4 first class seats) would be flying on the Singapore to Shanghai and Shanghai to Melbourne routes I immediately booked a ticket 1 day after the SIN-PVG inaugural flight in first class to test it out…
How to book China Easter with Qantas Points
Both China Eastern and Shanghai Airlines are part of the Skyteam alliance, but for some reason, they also have an individual partnership with Qantas. Their award space inventory is also shared with Qantas Frequent Flyer now so for Australians collecting Qantas Points it opens up yet another option.
Flights can easily be booked online, and for the Singapore to Shanghai leg, a one-way ticket in first class will set you back 56,000 Qantas Points + $142 in taxes. Shanghai to Melbourne, on the other hand, will cost 78,000 QF points + $150 in fees (one way).
Ground & Lounge Experience – Singapore
Check-in was quiet and considering no other passengers were around it only took a few minutes before I was on my way.
China Eastern doesn't have its own lounges in Singapore, so they make use of the SATS Premier Lounge (Terminal 3).
The lounge is ok but by no means outstanding. Knowing that the lounge choice would probably be very limited, I opted to arrive at the airport as late as possible.
Seat & Cabin – Shanghai Airlines 787 First Class
Boarding was efficient, and I soon realised why. Walking through the front door of the 787 it turned out no one else was flying business, let alone first class.
My initial thoughts were: hang on, where is the first class cabin? At first glance, one might think that business and first are exactly the same. However on closer inspection, you can see the difference between both seat designs.
In the first class cabin, the seat looks exactly like the one found onboard Malaysia Airline's A350 in first class; although it's not as stylish and they didn't go for the inflatable seat padding.
The middle seats supposedly turn into a quad-pod for 4 passengers to work or dine together (a clear attempt to copy Qatar Airways Qsuite).
The reality however is that the other passengers are just sitting on the ottoman which isn't even at the same level as the chair. I can't see this being used in a real-life situation.
Both business and first class seats are styled in almost the exact same way with very similar colour palettes. Although I prefer the attention to detail and design on the Malaysia Airlines seat, the Shanghai/China Eastern Airlines 787 is far from ugly.
The only visual difference between business and first is the amount of legroom you get and the size of the TV (which is enormous in first class).
I think they should have put a segment between first and business, just like Malaysia Airlines did on their A350. After all, first-class passengers usually pay for the privacy the seat offers.
Talking about privacy, both business and first class seats have sliding doors which you can close after take-off. This is yet another similarity between business and first class.
The privacy doors only really work when you're fully reclined in bed mode. While seated, the doors only reach just above the waist so fellow passengers and crew can look straight in your "suite".
Storage space is plentiful and of course there everything you need to charge your phone or laptop.
Entertainment & Amenities
Let's start with the TV; a huge 32inch touch screen display which is excellent. A separate touch screen remote is available to control the situation so hardware wise it's an A+.
In terms of entertainment on the IFE, it's somewhat limited, so I was stuck watching The Meg which has an average rating of 3.1/5 on Rotten Tomatoes…
The headset provided was most likely something they handed out in Economy class; I didn't make use of it but it looked terribly cheap.
No amenity kit, pyjamas or mattress padding was provided on this flight.
Food & Beverage – Or Lack Thereof
The China Eastern food & beverage selection in first class was a depressing affair…
As it turned out, the first class menu was, in fact, a business class menu; which would closely resemble what other airlines would serve up in economy class. Same was the case for the wine list; nothing about it was first class.
The champagne on offer was fake (at least from what I could tell) since I've never heard of the brand and I couldn't locate anything on Google either. Apart from that, it didn't even taste nice so I quickly abandoned the "champagne" for one of the other wines they had on offer.
The food menu was equally uninspiring and far from first class. I opted for the "Hand cut noodle with pork loin". The loin was of course way overcooked and considering it was still on the bone, could probably be used as a weapon.
For dessert there was a "Blessings" mixed berry purple velvet cake… naturally, I was intrigued. After placing my order, the crew also came out with a massive tart which was a special due to Chinese new year.
They then asked if they could take a picture of myself with the cake next to the crew. I obliged, and all 3 got a picture each.
Although they were very friendly, I thought this was strange. I didn't realise taking a picture with a foreigner was still a big deal in China…
Both cakes were rather bland, and I didn't finish them as it seemed like a waste of my calorie allowance.
Service & Crew
The crew onboard my flight were very nice, and their English was good. Considering I was the only passenger in both first and business class, I had their full attention.
Other than the weird cake photo part of the flight, I didn't interact with them a lot since there was nothing on the menu that really appealed to me so for most of the flight I just relaxed with a bottle of water and movies.
I knew this flight would be interesting, but I was somewhat disappointed with the food & beverage choices. I've read other reviews of China Eastern long haul business where there's at least a proper first-class menu and real champagne.
The seat was ok, but I think if you want value for money, business class is a much better choice. Considering availability on China Eastern through Qantas is very good, I would definitely consider it as a last minute option if I really needed to be somewhere and couldn't find another option.
Chinese airlines are quickly playing catchup with their more established rivals, but although they can quickly implement a new cabin layout featuring the latest seats, their main struggle always seems to come down to service, food and beverage. Maybe one day they will get there, but in the meantime, there's a lot of learning that needs to be done.
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