Monday, 31 August 2009

Highlights of CA958

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Date: Sunday, 26 Jul 09
Sector: Singapore Changi (SIN) -> Xiamen Gaoqi (XMN)
Aircraft: B-5169, B737-808
Seat: 33A
Departure Gate: D37

Scheduled Departure Time: 0815 L
Retimed Departure Time: 0300 LT, 27 Jul 09
Actual Departure Time: 0246 LT

Scheduled Arrival Time: 1205 LT
Retimed Arrival Time: 0700 LT, 27 Jul 09
Actual Arrival Time: 0708 LT

I decided to walk and have a look around Terminal 3 to kill time as much of Terminal 1 is currently undergoing renovation.
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A mobile kiosk was spotted near gate C1 at Terminal 1 which offered a variety of local souvenirs which costs slightly above $20 for passengers who wish to make use of their $5 shopping voucher. The expiry date is on the day of departure itself! However, I felt that Changi Airport Group could be more discreete in trying to boost sales rather than having to resort to such measures.
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B-5169 B737-808 being prepared for departure for my flight at Gate D37. She was delivered to Air China on 15 May 2006.It was interesting to note a Berjaya Air Dash 7 being attended to at a remote stand in the background as the airline normally operates to Seletar Airport instead.
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0750hrs
Boarding was announced at 0750hrs and passengers were boarded strictly by row numbers. A selection of local newspapers, were offered at the entrance to the aircraft and we were quickly directed to our seats. The cabin was rather stuffy as the airconditioning was weak. However, as compared to my Batavia Air experience 2 months ago, it was still tolerable since it was drizzling outside the aircraft, which helped to keep temperatures down.

View from the entrance showing the stretched fuselage of the B738 and the CFM56-7B engine.
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0820hrs
We were informed that we would expect a slight delay as the pilot was still awaiting the delivery of the required takeoff documents. The overhead screens were lowered to screen a car advertisement repeatedly while the cabin crew made their way around the cabin to provide mineral water to passengers.

0850hrs
A further delay was announced due to technical reasons and passengers were asked to remove all their belongings and wait at the gate for further announcements.

One unique feature on Air China aircraft is the presence of a registration plate at the entrance of the aircraft. Being a state owned airline, the registration plate also bears the full name of the People's Republic of China in both Chinese and English.
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Door L1. The design of the door had not changed much since the B737 family was introduced in the 1960s.
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The Delay

0915hrs
Gate agents announce that the new estimated time of departure is at 1030hrs. Drinks and refreshments would be served in another 30mins. Passengers were allowed to go out of the boarding gate to walk around the terminal or visit the restrooms using their boarding passes.

I made use of the time to photograph some of the morning movements through the heavily green-tinted glass at the gate.

Air India AI442 A319 VT-SCI
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Singapore Airlines B773ER 9V-SWO taxing to runway 20C for departure.
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Air Asia A320 9M-AHR entering the central apron.
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Thai Air Asia A320 HS-ABG taxing out for depature to Bangkok.
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Garuda Indonesia B733 PK-GGO.
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Airmark / Grodno Aviation An-32 EW-262TK adds on to her collection with a newly applied Syabus Aviation title.
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0920hrs
A car with Air China markings pulled up at the gate and a few engineers were seen hurrying to the aircraft. Some went into the cockpit while another pulled a mobile stairs to the rear baggage door and was seen repeatedly opening and closing it.

0940hrs
Refreshments were served. Each passenger was allowed a small cup of orange juice and a cold banana flavoured muffin.
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1005hrs
�Air China regrets to inform passengers that the new estimated time of departure for CA958 to Beijing via Xiamen would be at 2300hrs tonight. Passengers would be provided with accommodation and meals�.

Chaos erupted in the gate holdroom as some swarmed the gate agents and Air China staff with demands for explanations. The staff cited the need to replace a faulty rear cargo door on the aircraft as the cause of the delay. Passengers were also repeatedly assured that safety not be compromised and the aircraft would be certified to be safe for flight by 2300hrs.

1100hrs
A complement of SATS staff and DFS staff arrive at the gate. Passengers were asked to paste a large red sticker on their clothes to identify themselves and ease immigration clearance. In addition, passengers who had bought duty free items had to deposit the items at the gate and were advised to return to any duty free outlets in the airport before their departure to redeem back the items.

1120hrs
The hotel representative, who was wearing a very broad grin on his face, meets us at the arrival hall and guides us to awaiting coaches. We were given a form to sign for registration purposes. In addition, he advised us not to take a triple sharing room it would be very cramped and to take a twin and single room instead as the airline would bear the costs. Passengers would be provided with a buffet lunch and dinner at the hotel�s restaurant and were each allowed 3 minutes of free IDD call.

Boarding Pass, large red 'SATS Special Service' sticker, Traders Hotel keycard docket, Changi Airport $5 shopping voucher.
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1200hrs
Coach arrives at Traders Hotel lobby. It came as a surprise as Traders Hotel is rated as 5 stars when we were only informed that we would be provided with accommodation at a 4 stars hotel.

1230hrs
Headed to Caf� Biz on the ground floor for the hotel�s famed buffet lunch, which would normally cost about S$50 per person. Passengers were grouped together in a newly created section of the restaurant in order not to affect other diners. The main courses are mainly seafood items which was not particularly fantastic for the price of the buffet. However, the dessert section was excellent.

1300hrs
The hotel representative informed us that the flight had been further retimed to 0300hrs and transport would be provided to pick passengers up at the lobby at 0100hrs. He was bombarded with numerous questions from angry passengers about the possibility of any further delays.

Notice placed at the lobby to inform passengers of meal times and coach pickup timings.
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1400hrs
Headed back to my room for an afternoon nap. I was surprised that I was given a normal twin room although I was the only occupant. However, I was certainly not complaining! The wireless connection was extremely weak and I could not connect to the internet using my handphone.
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1830hrs
Buffet dinner at Caf� Biz. It was really a waste to see many mainland Chinese scooping huge amounts of food on their plates and leaving much of it uneaten.

1945hrs
Returned to my room and watched the Hungarian Grand Prix Live on the cable TV. I was particularly happy when I saw Lewis Hamilton of McLaren clinch the top position for the first time this season. Continued to channel surf and took a long, hot bath while waiting for time to past. It was interesting that the toilet pipes in the sound from the TV as well. In addition to the usual cable and free-to-air channels, Mediacorp radio channels are also available.

0030hrs
Checked out of our rooms and waited at the lobby for the transport.

0110hrs
Arrived back at Changi Airport. As most of the night departures had left, only one immigration counter was staffed. This meant a long queue but the friendly immigration officer puts everyone at ease with his lively banter and smile.

0210hrs
The same flight and cabin crew as this morning arrives at the gate.

0224hrs
Boarding commenced.

B-5169 seen under the effect of floodlights at 2am in the morning. Apologies for the reflection of the gate holdroom lights in the photo.
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The Flight

The cabin crew made an announcement and apologized to the further delay, which was necessary as Xiamen Gaoqi airport was closed during the night to facilitate runway repairs. There was also no safety demonstration or safety video being played on the overhead screens, which is a serious violation of safety regulations.

A selection of fish with rice or chicken kway teow was offered and I picked the Chicken Kway Teow. The chicken pieces were rather tough and bland, but the kway teow was well cooked with a generous serving of fried egg. The appetizer comprised of cucumber and tomato slices with French Vinaigrette dressing and was appreciably fresh. Dessert was a few cubes of papaya, melon and pineapple.
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A selection of drinks was also offered from a separate drinks cart, and was noted that only a half cup of beverage was served, instead of a full cup on many other airlines. I made a mental note to avoid requesting for Apple Juice on my next Air China flight as it simply tasted awful.
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After the meal trays were collected, the cabin lights were dimmed for passengers to rest and a documentary about Kuala Lumpur was shown on the overhead screens. The headphones were of very poor quality, and it was pain using them to tune in to any of the 14 audio channels available. I was particularly disappointed that Airshow was not shown on the overhead screens. Thus, I decided to listen to my MP3 player instead and took a short nap, and woke up just as dawn was breaking.
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Dawn breaks as we were cruising above the South China Sea.
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Noticing that there was no queue at the toilet, I grabbed my camera and headed to the rear of the cabin to get an interior shot of the aircraft cabin. The first impression which I had when I first stepped into the cabin was its remarkable similarity to China Airlines in terms of the same shade of purple seat fabric in economy class and the blue-grey seat fabric in business class. However, China Airlines has fewer rows as it configures its economy class with 32" seat pitch, while Air China has a tighter seat pitch at 31". This allows Air China to fit a maximum of 159 passengers in economy and 8 passengers in business. Moreover, the seat back advertisements are also unique to Chinese carriers!
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Mountainous terrain over Zhangzhou, near the border of Guangzhou and Fujian provinces. The majority of traditional Hakka roundhouses can be found within these mountains as the rugged terrain offered some amount protection from thieves and enemies.
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Soon, the aircraft commenced its bumpy descent through thick layers of clouds and flaps were deployed very late into the approach to slow the aircraft down quickly to its safe landing speed. Xiamen Wu Yuan bridge can be seen in the distance as well as condensation streaks off the wings while on final approach over Dong Ju Harbour from the north east.
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We made an uneventful landing onto runway 23 one minute before the estimated arrival time, and passed by a row of parked Xiamen Airlines B737 and a solitary Bombardier Global Express demonstrator.
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We quickly turned off the runway and taxied to the main terminal building as a line of Xiamen Airlines aircraft was waiting to be towed across the apron to their respective gates at the start of the day.
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In order to curb the spread of the H1N1 influenza A virus, passengers have to proceed down a flight of stairs from the aerobridge and walk on the ramp to enter another entrance at the ground level of the terminal building. I was certainly not complaining as it gave me an opportunity to photograph a Xiamen Airlines B757-200 being towed across the apron as a Shandong Airlines B737-300 gets airborne in the background.
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The queue at the quarantine queue was very long and took at least half an hour to move to the head of the queue as only two counters were opened. Workers were also spotted disinfecting the handrails of the escalators and stairs from which we had came down from earlier. This lengthy wait was mainly as a result of the quarantine officer questioning each passenger about his intended activities in China, the reason for the trip and the length of his stay. Due to the fact that most passengers were firmly stuck at the quarantine queue, there were no queues at immigration and the baggage from the flight was already on the baggage reclaim belt.
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Flight Arrivals Information Display showing our delayed flight.
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Xiamen Airport Arrival Hall
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Next Post: Xiamen - Lookaround

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