Leavin’ on a midnight flight to China

CHENGDU — Despite trade war tensions, America and China work hand in glove — at least when it comes to Hainan Airlines flight #470.

The 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Chengdu pairs a state-of-the-art Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” with the great service of Hainan Airlines — China’s only five-star airline as ranked by Skytrax.

I snagged a roundtrip business class ticket for less than $1,500 roundtrip — less than half what you’d expect to shell out for this flying experience. (I used some miles accrued from a previous Hong Kong Airlines flight, but that knocked the price down by only a few hundred dollars).

I’m going to spend about 10 days in China, visiting Chengdu (home of renowned Panda Research Base) and touring the capital of Beijing. It is my second trip here — I visited Shanghai last fall and enjoyed it.

It is “Golden Week,” when the Chinese are on vacation, so I can expect some big crowds. But it was the most opportune time to take this trip. (Our magazine was “put to bed” for fall).

I’m writing this blog entry onboard after a good night’s sleep on a lie-flat seat with plush bedding, made up by the flight attendant. They hand out PJ’s too (with a distinctive red design, of course).

All told, this is a first-class flying experience in business class, matching or exceeding most trips like this that we’ve taken. (A business class trip on an Air France Airbus-380 for LAX to Paris to splurge for my wife Shannon’s 50th birthday comes to mind).

I’m sitting in my comfortable seat drinking a Nespresso coffee that I chose from a dedicated “coffee menu” that was handed out at takeoff, along with a dinner and breakfast menu and a wine list. I chose “Lungo Forte,” “a complex blend of South and Central American Arabicas, Lungo Forte holds intense roasted noes with a subtle hint of fruit.” Well, OK then.

Breakfast was a tomato and avocado omelette, filled with bacon, mushrooms, spinach; fresh-squeezed OJ (honest); a basket of croissants; and “seasonal” fresh fruit. It hit the spot when I woke up.

On takeoff, I toasted with a glass of French champagne (Leventre Dedieu Grand Cru) in a proper glass flute. Dinner began with shrimp dumplings, a salad (quinoa, spinach, green peas, broccoli, goat cheese, lemon and almonds); and the main entrée was “braised beef cheeks, baby carrots, mashed potatoes and Sherry wine sauce.”

In a nod to Northern California, dessert included Humbolt Fog cheese (a favorite that we regularly purchase at Tess’ Kitchen Store in Grass Valley or Wheyward Girl in Nevada City), along with Gouda and Swiss and fruit.

The business class cabin was about half full (traffic from the U.S. to China and Hong Kong has slumped markedly since the protests in Hong Kong). Nearly all the passengers were Chinese.

A crying baby onboard? Yes. But it was no problem because the passengers received Bose noise-canceling headphones for the flight.

I listened to classical music (including violinist Joshua Bell, whom InConcert Sierra has hosted in our town), and I watched some movies and documentaries. Our son would have been thrilled: An entire category was dedicated to Marvel movies (again, a “symbiotic” relationship between China and in this case, Disney).

When our flight landed, I was picked up in a Buick mini-van (included with my ticket) and driven to my hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Chengdu. I used frequent traveler miles for the stay, but the rates were about half what you’d pay in America for a Ritz Carlton. Great service too when I arrived, as expected.

I had planned to post this article during the flight but there was no internet. I thought about chalking it up to China’s “Great Internet Wall,” but I had read where the service had been inconsistent aboard this aircraft, so it had been dropped for now.

To be sure, there are real trade tensions between the U.S. and China and it’s no laughing matter. But this was a great flight. Hats off to Hainan Airlines and Boeing for a five-star experience on my midnight flight to China.

More posts later, as warranted (and allowed). Here’s our plane passing east of Pyongyang, on route to Chengdu, from the seat-back monitor:

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

One thought on “Leavin’ on a midnight flight to China”

  1. I haven’t been able to get my VPN up and running yet. Without it, when I typed TheUnion.com, I received this message: “403 Forbidden” Ha! I could get CNN, though.

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