Flight test: China Eastern

THE ROUTE

Melbourne to Shanghai.

THE PLANE

A330-200.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Eastern Miles or Qantas Frequent Flyer. (This flight was booked with Qantas but is codeshared and operated by China Eastern.)

UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?

Economy 61L, a window seat in the exit row with more legroom than a standard seat and a bulkhead in front so no one can lean back into you. No extra charge; I simply ask for it at check-in. (The exit rows can't be pre-booked but are given on a first-come basis at the counter to suitable-looking people.)

TIME IN THE AIR

10 hours, 20 minutes. (Flight times are civilised, we depart at 11am and arrive about 7.30pm local time).

THE SEAT STUFF

32-33 inches (81-83 centimetres) pitch, 18 inches (45 centimetres) width. It's a 2-4-2 layout for 204 economy class seats.

BAGGAGE

20 kilograms check-in, seven kilograms carry-on.

COMFORT FACTOR

The seats seem harder than usual. A blanket and pillow are provided. The plane is hot but there is no overhead personal air adjustment. Insufficient water is served.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

In the exit row, personal TV screens pop out of the armrest. In the other rows, they are in the seatback. There are on-demand movies, TV shows, games and music but the quality and quantity don't come close to Qantas, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand or any other airline I have flown with recently. Skyfall is the big drawcard in the "latest movies" section, but it was released in Australia more than six months earlier. The best entertainment is watching the high number of passengers who fail to follow basic instructions: going to the toilet during takeoff, walking around when we are told to buckle up during turbulence ...

THE SERVICE

It's friendly, but the crew has limited English and I have no Mandarin, so idle chatter is out of the question.

FEEDING TIME

Two meals are served with plastic cutlery. No.1 is beef with noodles and No.2 is pork curry with rice. Tiny prawns in a salad with the first meal are alarmingly pink and artificial looking. There are no snacks between meals. Alcohol is limited. Wine and beer are available with the first meal. When I ask for a second drink, a tiny portion is served reluctantly, but after that I'm told the alcohol has run out. I notice some passengers break out their own Baileys Irish Cream.

ONE MORE THING

China Eastern is flying high in the fashion stakes, recently unveiling new blue uniforms with red accessories by Christian Lacroix.

THE VERDICT

If possible, go on a flight actually operated by Qantas. (Sydney-Shanghai flights are still operated by Qantas but Melbourne-Shanghai by China Eastern). My experience with codeshare buddy China Eastern is nowhere close to Qantas standard. But if you have to go with China Eastern, at least you get Qantas frequent-flyer points.

THE FREQUENCY

Qantas increased its codeshare arrangements with China Eastern on May 1 so Qantas passengers now have 17 direct Qantas or China Eastern services between Australia and mainland China each week.

Tested by Robert Upe who flew courtesy of the International Luxury Travel Market.

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