China with Polish Characteristics

January 12, 2008

Happy New Year with Air China

Filed under: Uncategorized — chinatalk @ 4:17 am

Well, I am way, waaay late with this post, and if it’s still possible to make any New Year resolutions, in all my guilt I’d like to make two: I will write more (particularly on this cursed blog) and I will get out to the mountains more often – I miss hiking badly, especially after spending the Christmas in the Alps. After enjoying some splendid Italian weather and fantastic snow (and cheese, and coffee), I found myself celebrating the coming of 2008 in a slightly less magnificent although interesting way – on the board of Air China flight returning to Beijing from Munich. Well… one can’t expect a wild fiesta on a routine Boeing flight, but it appeared NOTHING was actually going to happen, not even an Olympic theme song or a mascot/stewardess extravaganza. After my desperate questioning of the staff, the flight attendants got out several bottles of red wine and poured it generously wishing everybody a happy new… Nice enough (sigh). I began to wonder what this kind of a scene might have looked like, say 20 years ago 🙂 Air China, currently the second largest on the mainland was founded in 1988 when the state giant CAAC broke up into several divisions (China Eastern, China Southern etc) to better adapt to the capitalist market – suppose the quality of service did go a long way since then, including safety. Back in the 80s Air China didn’t fly the celebrated Boeing 737s, but used instead more “down to earth” socialist-trademark, Ilyushin-XX series, manufactured by the Russians. The infamous brand was launched in the 1930s, after Sergey Vladimirovich Ilyushin’s design company began turning out such prodigy’s as Il-18 to supply the national air fleet. As a former satellite country, we used to have a saying back in Poland: “Chcesz byc pylem? Lataj Ilem! (If you want to bite the dust, fly the Il planes!),” well grounded in the tradition of fatal crashes all-across the Soviet sphere of influence. Air China, but especially its parent company CAAC, were no different, happily crashing alongside the state Aeroflot airlines (many cases covered up). Times change, and today, the fine ritual of “extreme flying” is upheld only by the Taiwan based China Airlines, whose planes still tend to break-up or hold “open door” parties in mid-flight. Only in 2007 did they have four serious technical mishaps. Many of the mainland competitors, while safe, still have a long way to go. With videos such as “Why do I hate China Eastern” appearing on youtube, the Middle Kingdom’s no. 3 airline is struggling to make ends meet (read about its Singapore woes). The most positive flying experience I had in China was with Hainan airlines, which after a recent merger became the fourth largest operator on the mainland – they really provide top notch service. Although given a free choice, I will probably still choose Lufthansa for long-haul flights – very few can match the quality they have to offer.

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