7 Dec 18
Check-in & Lounge
By this point, Mr Y had told me to visit Yangon multiple times. However, I already held a flight ticket out of China to Australia on China Southern. These sort of changes usually involve getting nothing in return for my sunk costs. I decided to have a look at the various flight prices. While I wasn’t happy with the cost to Yangon from Kunming, a small schedule change on China Southern meant that I could have my ticket refunded in its entirety.
Further, I was able to secure a cheap ticket from Yangon to Australia on Malindo Air business class, which was actually cheaper than the economy options on Singapore, Thai, or Malaysian. Fine. 2 of the 3 components of this adventure were far better than expected. I made the change and found myself suitable lodgings at the Chatrium Yangon.
At the airport, the mass of travelers had spread themselves to all check-in queues. Several people were in front of me at the business line. I snapped a photo and sent it to Mr Y, who had a number of uncharitable comments to make at the expense of Kunming provincials and their literacy. (To a Shanghainese, Yunnan is the equivalent of ‘Flyover Country’ in the US.)
I found myself getting aboard his train of thought as I found myself declining the service of black-market FOREX touts soliciting business from the queued travelers.
Nonetheless, I passed through the near-empty exit immigration and security. There was no need for VIP/biz class express privileges. There were less than half a dozen of us travelers being processed at one time. Within minutes, I was in the cavernous but sleepy international departure wing of Kunming airport.
I visited VIP lounge number 1, a contract lounge used by Air China, Thai, Cathay Dragon, and others. The decorator’s taste could best be described as grandmotherly. Hot water machines were in abundance, and there was a small offering of sandwiches, soda, bottled water, and cupcakes. I took a bottle of water and brewed some Pu’er tea.
After about 45 minutes, an attendant informed me that my flight had begun boarding. Gate 70, mine for today, was only a short walk from the lounge. I arrived to find that most passengers had already boarded. I thus took my seat and wasn’t disturbed by a full planeload (as this was an A319-100, there weren’t many of us).
Having boarded, a flight attendant welcomed me with a hot towel and a platter of beverages to choose from. This seemed excessive for a cabin, so far, with an occupancy of one. Rather than ask me beforehand, she presented me with a choice of water, juices, and champagne. Naturally, I opted for champagne. While my prior flights on China Eastern struck me as perfectly decent, their service omitted this most civilized pleasure.
Later, two more gents boarded, giving a business class load of 3/8 for this flight.
The plane itself was in decent condition. I noticed a touchscreen monitor to control cabin lights, but the cabin itself was very “base model.” My seat was a mechanically controlled, rather than electronically. The center console/table between the biz seats looked dirty but was in fact just “aged.” Nonetheless, my seat was comfortable enough for a 2-hour flight.
I was presented with an overly substantial lunch that I wasn’t entirely up to eating. The food was fine, but it was too much. There was garlic bread, meat rilettes, Yunnan-style sour fungus (more appetizing than it sounds), the chicken & mushroom main course, steamed rice, and fruit. The quantity would have sufficed for an intercontinental J service, if you count the fruit as dessert. My lunch was edible and forgettable.
I did finish off the champagne. It seems as if they only keep a half bottle (375ml) on board.
I found the service quite good. Notably, I can’t comment on the FAs English skills. Once it was obvious that I could speak some (rudimentary) Chinese, the crew exclusively used Chinese to communicate with me. I was delighted for the practice.
Arrival in Yangon was easy. Immigration was completely empty. No passengers. I was the first off the plane and the first to pass immigration, which had a dozen desks manned for…no one. Oh, US airports could learn something… Customs was a non-issue. My friend advised me to walk through, as they wouldn’t dare to stop me. That was a new experience. (I was concerned, as they want you to declare gold/jewelry/valuables that are entering temporarily, which is a tad…invasive and problematic from a definitional point of view. E.g., does my computer count because of its original retail value, or not so much due to use/physical wear/tear?)
Overall: The flight was quite good. The price was higher than I prefer to pay for a short regional (Economy was $180, plus another $80 for my second bag or $280 for business, hence my location), but this route is an effective duopoly between China Eastern and Air China. 2 hours of “real world” Chinese practice has some value, and I did enjoy some unexpected free champagne, so I am pleased with what I received considering market prices.