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Sunday 5 June 2016

Blast From The Past: Flying Air China from Shanghai Hongqiao to Beijing Airport

Welcome to my trip report on Air China! 

*Aircraft photos are credited to the respective photographers from Airliners.net and Jetphotos.net

This is Air China's Boeing 777-200, registered as B-2068


I have been doing lots of Saigon trip reports lately so decided to break away from that beautiful city this time and do a trip report from the past. I reminisce about this trip during the early 2000s during the Chinese National Day week on the first week of October. At that time, I was working in Shanghai for a year and a half and it had been an eye-opener for me. Initially, I had a culture shock but gradually I managed to settle down and got used to the working life after 4 months. About a month before the national day week, my former company gave us off during that period and because we did well in our performance, we were allowed to travel anywhere within China as long as its reasonably priced, all paid by the company. Thinking back then, I should have gone for the Boeing 757 which was a common sight, now only Xiamen Air is operating a few and I missed that chance when my scheduled aircraft was changed to the 787 Dreamliner. You can check out that trip report over here.

China Southern Boeing 757-200

Air China Boeing 757-200

I decided to go to Beijing as I always wanted to visit the great wall of China. A Chinese friend agreed to accompany me there but he will be meeting me at the hotel as its more convenient for him to travel by train from his home town to the capital. Looking at my choices, I decided on Air China, the national carrier of China and the airline have lots of flights on Shanghai Hongqiao to Beijing using both narrow-body and wide-body aircraft. I decided on the Boeing 777-200 as it was a 2-5-2 seater and would be my first time flying on a Pratt and Whitney powered 777 aircraft. Airlines can choose one of the 3 engines to power the Boeing 777-200 and -200ER. They are General Electric, Pratt and Whitney and Roll Royce. 

General Electric GE-90

Pratt and Whitney PW4000 engine - engine start-up in cold condition gives you this result

Roll Royce Trent 800 engine

History of Air China 

Air China is not to be mixed up with China Airlines. Air China is a star alliance from mainland China while China Airlines is a SkyTeam member from Taiwan. 

This is China Airlines Airbus A330-300 with Taipei city background, it is the national carrier of Taiwan. Credit to this photographer, Hung-Hsin Hsu

This airline is based in Beijing and was set up on 1st July 1998. At that time, the Chinese government decided to split the operating division of CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China) into 6 airlines and Air China was given the intercontinental and long haul flights. In 2001, the government wanted the smaller airlines to merge with the bigger ones and for this airline, it merged with China Southwest and China National Aviation Corporation a year later. 

The airline joined the Star Alliance in 2006, making it the first Chinese airline to do so. Shanghai Airlines joined the alliance for a short while and quit to join Skyteam along with China Eastern. Air China increased its stake of Cathay Pacific to 30%, that's why both airlines are codeshare partners on certain routes even though they are in different alliances. Air China wants a presence in Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific provides just that. 

With a huge fleet of modern aircraft, the airline is certainly going places and is the only airline in China to operate the Boeing 747-8I. This airline has recently taken delivery of the first Boeing 787-9 and will soon be operating the Airbus A350-900 as well. 

Airline's current fleet (June 2016)

33 Airbus A319 (128 seats - 8 J 120 Y)

41 Airbus A320 (C8 Y150)

52 Airbus A321 (F/C 12 Y173 and C16 Y161)

30 Airbus A330-200 (C12 Y271 and C30 Y207)

This aircraft is in the Star Alliance livery. 

23 Airbus A330-300 (C30 W16 Y255) 

21 Boeing 737-700 (C8 Y120) including a BBJ version (Corporate Jet)

118 Boeing 737-800 (C8 Y159 and C12 Y147)

This 737-800 is in one of the special liveries

3 Boeing 747-400 including 1 VIP (F10 C42 Y292)

7 Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental (F12 C54 Y233) 

10 Boeing 777-200 (C49 Y296 and F12 C49 Y253)

20 Boeing 777-300ER (F8 C42 Y263) 

Special Livery 

When I flew this airline in the past, it wasn't in an airline alliance and operated an older fleet with the likes of Boeing 737 Classics, Boeing 757, Boeing 767 around. At that time, the airline's airfares were expensive (public holiday period) but my former company managed to book my desired flight (one way) to Beijing from Shanghai for a corporate rate. 

The plan was to fly to Beijing with Air China's Boeing 777 and spend a few nights there. After that, I would take the train together with my friend and head for his home town, Wuhan and stay for a few nights. Before this trip, I had been to Wuhan a few times for business so it was also good to check out that city. Unfortunately, I didn't take photos at that time so I have to use whatever that is available on the internet to share this trip report with you. Photos are credited to the respective photographers of course! 

About Shanghai Hongqiao Airport 

An overview of SHA airport! 

Shanghai Hongqiao Airport is used exclusively for domestic flights with limited international flights, while the other airport, Shanghai Pudong Airport is used for both international and domestic flights. This airport is the hub of China Eastern, Shanghai Airlines, Juneyao Airlines and Spring Airlines. This is the 4th busiest airport in terms of passengers traffic in China. 

In late 1963, this airport was built for civilian use, before that it was for military use only. The airport was opened in April 1964 and a couple of expansion took place in 1984 and 1991 which means the airport doubled its original size and improvement to the terminal and facilities were done. This airport was Shanghai's primary airport until 1999 when the completion of Shanghai Pudong Airport completed around that time and was opened. Most international flights were moved to that airport. The terminal 2 was built and was completed in 2010 along with a 2nd runway, this was to prepare for the Expo 2010. This terminal is 4 times the size of terminal 1 and is now hosting to majority of the airlines flying to this airport. For Terminal 1, it is used for international airlines and Spring airlines use it for domestic flights. The 2 runways are 18 Left/36 Right and 18 Right/ 36 Left. 

Airlines currently using terminal 1 

Air China - To Taipei Taoyuan only
Air Macau - Macau 
All Nippon Airways - Tokyo Haneda 
Asiana Airlines - Seoul Gimpo Airport
China Airlines - Taipei Songshan 
Dragonair - Hong Kong 
EVA Air - Taipei Songshan 
Hong Kong Airlines - Hong Kong 
Japan Airlines - Tokyo Haneda 
Korean Air - Seoul Gimpo 
Shanghai Airlines - the above routes 
Spring Airlines - domestic flights 
TransAsia Airways - Taipei Songshan 

Airlines currently using terminal 2 

Air China - domestic 
China Eastern - domestic 
China Southern - domestic 
China United Airlines - domestic 
Hainan Airlines - domestic 
Hebei Airlines - domestic 
Jungyao Airlines - domestic and to Seoul Gimpo and Tokyo Haneda 
Lucky Air - domestic 
Shandong Airlines - domestic 
Shenzhen Airlines - domestic 
Tianjin Airlines - domestic 
Tibet Airlines 
Xiamen Air - domestic 

Some photos of the terminal 1 in 2005 (International terminal)

I recall the terminal at the domestic was quite tired looking. I did a thorough search through the internet, I couldn't find any photos of it. 

I checked out at my apartment around noontime, took the taxi to the domestic terminal at Hongqiao Airport. Be clear in your instruction as I have some foreign friends who just told the driver to go to the airport (driver presumed it was to Pudong - driver's at fault too) and ended up at the wrong airport. Once there, I made my way to the check-in. At that time, technology was limited to checking on what aircraft I was flying on was not possible without the help of the airport staff so comparing early 2000s and today, it was pretty backwards back then. 

I remember asking the check-in staff for the aircraft type and to my relief, it was indeed the Boeing 777 and I chose a window seat for it and after a few more enquires, I was told the flight was full. After that, I went to the gate and saw the Boeing 777-200 being towed to the gate, it was B-2068. The 8th Boeing 777-200 in its strong fleet of 10. The flight number was CA1502 and I am not wrong, I got myself row 32A just behind the wing.

Date of departure: 1st October 2003

Flight route: SHA to PEK 

Miles: 667

My ride: B-2068

Delivered on 1st June 2001 ( I flew it when it was quite new) 
Engines: 2 X PW4077 
Configuration: F12 C49 Y253
Line number: 344 

Safety card of the airline's Boeing 777-200 (Given by the crew)

My photo of this beauty 

Comparison between the Boeing 767-300ER (Qantas) and Air China's Boeing 777-200 

Cabin interior of the airline's Boeing 777-200

I remember there was no individual In-Flight Entertainment System at the back of every seat, it was only overhead TV and the projector showing on the screen. 

First Class 

Business Class 

Economy Class 

One of my few experiences on the 2-5-2 seating configuration on the 777. Most airlines go for 3-3-3 and the unpopular 3-4-3 configuration in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

For the newer Boeing 777 family such as Boeing 777-200LR and -300ER, only 3-3-3 and 3-4-3 configuration for the operators. 

If you sit near the rear of the cabin, you can avoid the 5-seater. (4-seater in the middle row) 

Advertisement on each headcover of the seat 

In-flight experience (As much as I can remember)

This was a 2 hours short domestic flight to Beijing and it was a full flight. The cabin crew had a busy flight and they had to deal with some difficult passengers but nothing bad, fortunately. Can't remember what the service was like but what I can remember is the landing at Beijing Airport was pretty bumpy, lots of up-and-down drifts while flying through in what I saw was good weather, this is called Clear Air Turbulence. Back then I was afraid of this kind of turbulence and at that time I was holding on tightly on the seat in front of me. My seatmate had to calm me down! Thinking about it now, it was hilarious.

Another observation was how noisy the Pratt and Whitney engines were, during taking off and cruising. To have a normal conversation with your partner, you probably need to raise your voice. For this flight, meal service was served and I had beef noodles (yes, I can still remember), it was pretty good.

After arrival, I headed straight to the hotel to meet my friend. It was my first time in Beijing and I got to visit the Great Wall of China - a tick off my list.

You have to visit this attraction if you are in the city. It's best to do some work-out before starting your journey.

(Great Wall of China) Photo by jamrockmusic.com

I spent about half the day with my friend, walking and enjoying the scenery. It was crowded since that week was a holiday for the locals. 


Air China back then and now is different. With a different fleet and better cabin products now, I need to try the airline again to compare the experience between back then and now. This is one of the biggest airlines in China and with a massive presence in China, you can't go wrong booking with this airline. I heard of negative reviews on this airline but you can be assured of good safety practice from this airline and as for the cabin service, it depends on your luck. Service is similar to Vietnam Airlines according to my friends and so if you have read my Vietnam Airlines trip reports, you will know roughly how the service is like.

This may not be the frequent's flyer first choice, but it is certainly not the worst out there. You can check out the recent reviews by other travellers at Skytrax (click here)

Thanks for reading!

Hope you enjoy this short review of Air China (from the past)!

You can check out my Xiamen Air trip report over here. (Part 1)



  1. Great coverage! Check out our Air China Business Class Review as well!

    Happy Travels Everyone!

    Tom & Kate,

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