Dispatches from The Middle Kingdom: **Planes**, Trains, and Automobiles

Posted On: Thursday - August 31st 2023 6:22PM MST
In Topics: 
  China  Peak Stupidity Roadshow

This board does not indicate flights but airlines - it's an index to the various ticket counters at the Departure Level.

We took all the standard modes of transportation within China. That is, air transport, trains*, and auto (private and taxis), but I could include a bicycle rickshaw ride. We didn't avail ourselves of any motorcycle taxis, though. (I'd taken Chinese-made single-cylinder bikes for rides at about 40 cents for a 2 mile ride about 10 years back. I'm not sure they are even allowed everywhere now - didn't notice any.)

Again, I cannot give big overall economic comparisons between China and America. I will look up whatever numbers I can to put things in perspective. These posts are just descriptions of how things go in the Middle Kingdom (village of a million and the Big Time Peking, both) from personal observation.

I took the picture above in Shanghai Pudong Airport. That's not a listing of flights with their departure gates. It's a listing of the different airline's ticket counters. The place is BIG. That's terminal 2 for international travel, but there are many airlines doing a lot of domestic flying too. They wouldn't necessarily appear by name on that board.

On this Wiki page there's a list of airlines operating withing or out of China. Very much like in the US at this point**, there are 3 big airlines, Air China, China Eastern, and China Southern. These have fleet sizes from the high 400 airplanes to the mid-600s. The American big 3 have fleets in the mid-900s each. Then, there is Southwest, without any overseas international travel, but with a fleet of 800 737s.

In the year '21, last I could find, Chinese airlines flew about 2/3 the number of passengers as American (based/run) airlines, 440 million to 666 million. Revenue-passenger-miles is a good measure, but I had no luck finding a number for China***. In '22 the number for the US was almost a Trillion RPM. That is still only 70-80% of the pre-PanicFest numbers. OTOH, the year '22 used for China is probably not the best, as that was the year of the Covid~Zero stupidity. China had that 660 million number in '19, while America had 1.05 billion passengers carried that year. It was still a ratio of about 2:3.

Well, without analysis to go with them, stats have a tendency to bore the crap out of people, so let me relate the experience of that one domestic flight. This was on a 737, I think -800 variant. We paid on average ~$195 each for one-way tickets on a 2-hour flight time trip. That's very good for the purchase of tickets 3 days ahead and 1 week ahead (on one of them). I remember from other trips that what I like about the pricing is its similarity to the SouthWest Airlines of old. (I remember a website with excellent ease of use and pricing visibility 20 years ago.)

Nah, the flight attendants were no Eva Air or Singapore hotties, but they were slim young women who were nice and professional*****. The pilots? That's what I don't like about the flying in China. They are hiding out in the cockpit, door locked, even before passengers get on the plane. Now, I've had LOTS to say about the TSA, but I do agree with the locking of cockpit doors during flight. (Terrorism aside, some drunkard could fall into the cockpit while looking for the forward lav, and he could lean on one of the yokes and put people into the ceiling!) However, in America, pilots are friendlier, and the door isn't closed until just before pushing back.

The flight seemed packed, with everyone in coach but the one row of 4 1st Class seats. However, when I went to the aft lavatory near the end of the flight, I noticed that about 5 or 6 back rows were empty. I wouldn't think a 737 would have weight/balance problems. That was weird, as people could have spread out more otherwise. There may have been extra cargo loaded aft or a write-up on the plane that required a more forward C.G.

They served a hot meal even, a cross between real Chinese food and Panda Express, I'd call it. With Chinese people still being quite a bit slimmer on average (more on this in another post), I wonder if the airline, the name of which I can't remember, had the seat pitch even shorter than you'd find on SouthWest. (They also would have an extra row of 6 seats due to the lack of 3 of the normal 4 rows in 1st Class. That's 3x2 + 6 extra seats = 12, but then that weight/balance thing...) I believe they were making money.

We arrived at the airport serving this city of 6 million people late at night. 15 years ago when I arrived at the same place I saw a small, simple terminal that had 6-10 gates. It was also late at night, but I could see the airfield looked like ex-military in terms of the landscaping. It was not pretty. Now, there are 3 wide-open brightly-lit terminals! There are flight to overseas including Paris, while that other time you'd be coming from a few big Chinese cities only.

As was the case 15 years ago though, these Chinese people were in a big hurry to get off the plane at 10 at night! There was the usual pushing around. "You're not catching another flight, so what's the freaking hurry!", I remember saying, 15 years ago. This time, there may actually have been a few flights still leaving out of there, as I recall from the "TV"s in the terminal.

I checked a certain American State capital city to compare to this city. It has about 4% of the passenger traffic. Then I remembered. This medium-sized Chinese city is almost as big as New York!

Whatever they do there in China, they do it big and bigger each decade it seems. I'll have more on that thought. As for airline service, America is still a bigger market. I wouldn't be surprised if China has caught up with just a handful of years.

I'll write something about the international airline business to/from China later. Also, I will write a lot more about the situation with the Orwellian controls at airports and the big train stations. (Their version of the TSA in Shanghai was a hoot, both coming and going. They took so much stuff out of one of my bags, that I asked the one guy if he could run it through one more time to make sure I still had my other key fob! Alas, he knew no English.)

* We'll separate out the high speed trains from the subways.

** The consolidation of 6 "Legacy" airlines into 3 from 15 to 10 years back (USAir + American, Northwest + Delta, and United + Continental) was a bad thing for medium-sized city direct service.

*** Yeah, I looked in R-P-Kilometers, of course. China Air (out of Taiwan****, as opposed to Air China in the mainland) has some damn deal with the internet, as no matter how I try to look it up, I get info on China Air.

**** The other biggie out of Taiwan is Eva Air. The only statistic I got for them is that the flight attendants wear tight deep-green curvy uniforms. Again, the internet ... you know...

***** Possibly that was just luck, as on earlier trips, I've gotten guys and very plain women, meaning the hiring may not be all that it could be.

Friday - September 1st 2023 6:53PM MST
PS: Mr. Blanc, I'll have a post on that. There are more layers, that's one thing.

Thanks, SafeNow.

Alarmist, yeah, near-retirement ... as opposed to the stewardesses of the '70s, yes not so fun.
The Alarmist
Friday - September 1st 2023 11:49AM MST

I remember a near-retirement flight attendant on a Delta flight dumping hot soup in my lap.

Not nearly as pleasant an experience as yours.
Friday - September 1st 2023 9:44AM MST
Mr. M: You have a good memory. And I tend to tell the same old stories again and again; someone only needs to trigger one. Recently an iSteve essay triggered my Singapore joke, and before I told it, I acknowledge that commenters might’ve heard this one from me before. Anyway, thanks for
the latest China travelogue, I enjoy reading these, and parts of these stay with me to think about after I have read them.
Friday - September 1st 2023 8:47AM MST
PS What about “security” in Chinese air travel?
Thursday - August 31st 2023 9:06PM MST
PS: Yeah, those 2 modes are in competition, SafeNow. I'll write about the trains as a comparison.

Thanks for the flight attendant quip and story. I think I remember your having written that before about the seat bottoms, maybe on iSteve.
Thursday - August 31st 2023 8:46PM MST
I am quite surprised to learn but there is a lot of domestic flying, because I thought fast, convenient, comfortable trains are all over the place now. I was happy to read that the flight attendants are nice, and the food is hot. When I was younger, I would have preferred flight attendants who are hot, and food that is nice.

NOT nice? : Years ago here in the US the new weight-saving airline seat bottoms had just come into use…these reach only halfway along your hamstring. I said the stewardess, is it my imagination, or has the bottom of my seat gotten smaller? She replied: Have you considered that your OWN bottom might have gotten BIGGER. To this day I don’t know whether to think she was offensive and unprofessional, or she was witty, clever, funny, and fun, and would make someone a great wife.
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