The return portion of my round-the-world trip, from China back to Toronto, can definitely be characterized as slightly out of the ordinary.
I had originally booked myself on the direct Air Canada flight departing from Beijing, but since I was spending the tail end of my trip in Anshan, a city some 650 km away from the capital in Liaoning Province, I needed to see if I could come up with something better.
As someone who was flying in business class for the first time on this trip, I was really eager to try out some of the world’s top airlines in that regard. Swiss business class was on my list and I had made sure to snag that for the Europe to Asia portion of the trip. Another Star Alliance airline of which I’ve heard rave reviews was EVA Air, the Taiwanese carrier who had only recently joined the alliance in 2013.
I looked for any way I could find to tweak my travel plans so that I could fly on EVA’s Taipei–Toronto route to get me back home. Unfortunately, Air China availability was still being blocked by Aeroplan at the time, and EVA’s Beijing–Taipei route on Sundays (the day I was flying) would get me into Taipei far too late to catch the onward flight.
Racking my brain for ideas, I decided to look up if there were any flights between Taipei and Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning Province and a short two-hour drive away from Anshan.
Lo and behold, Shenzhen Airlines offered a rather arbitrary thrice-weekly service between these two cities that would get me into Taipei at just the right time, AND the flight was offered on Sundays, AND there was exactly one award seat available in business class.
Sometimes, when you’re dabbling in Miles & Points, all the puzzle pieces just fit together perfectly.
I arrived at Shenyang Taoxian International Airport about an hour before our scheduled departure, which ordinarily would've been more than enough time at a regional airport like Shenyang.
However, what appeared to be the entire entourage of a touring Taiwanese rock band had parked themselves in the Shenzhen Airlines priority check-in queue, and they sure took their sweet time getting all their bags loaded and their documents processed.
My guess is that one member of the entourage had some sort of status with Air China/Shenzhen Airlines/Star Alliance and decided to extend his privileges to all of his fellow lads on tour. While I'm normally okay with this sort of behaviour when it comes to groups travelling together, it's definitely closer to crossing a line when there's over a dozen people mooching off one person's status.
The holdup also meant that I didn't have time to check out the Shenzhen Airlines King Lounge, which is located on an upper concourse level after clearing security. Instead, I headed straight for Gate 33, from which our three-hour flight to Taipei was departing.
After about a 15-minute delay before we were allowed to board the plane, I found myself within the confines of Shenzhen Airlines's intimate business class cabin.
The vast majority of Shenzhen Airlines's route network falls within Greater China, with a few flights serving Korea, Japan, and destinations in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Thailand.
As such, their business class product is generally designed for regional flights, and this one was no exception – there were eight business class seats in total, spread out across two rows in a 2–2 configuration.
The seats are decked out in a bold red upholstery. It's your standard recliner seat, which had a good amount of legroom, and also was more than comfortable enough for a three-hour flight.
Waiting for me at Seat 2C was a pillow, which did seem slightly worn out.
As I settled into my seat, I overheard the flight attendants expressing their bewilderment that they'd been asked to store three guitars in the business class overhead bin space. I suppose the band's still got some way to go until they can fly private.
One of the crew members came over to offer me a warm towel and a pre-departure drink of either orange juice or water.
She also asked if I wanted to change into slippers. When I said yes, she knelt at my seat and unpackaged the slippers for me, which I appreciated.
As the economy class passengers boarded the plane (about half of whom seemed to be associated with the touring band in one way or another), I fiddled around with the seat features.
Given that it was a regional flight on an Airbus A320, the seats were pretty bare-bones in that regard. For example, the seat controls were quite basic, and there was also no personal in-flight entertainment console.
Instead, there was the standard "audio player" console, which had a headphone jack as well as buttons to change channels and adjust the volume.
Growing up in Hong Kong and Beijing, I recall that these little audio consoles were commonplace among Chinese airlines. However, I'm not sure if I recall seeing them on any carriers from other countries – are these in-seat audio players found on any other airlines, or is it merely my nostalgic bias talking?
Just prior to take-off the crew member came by to offer blankets and bottled water to the business class passengers. She also asked each of us if we'd like meal service.
I had only eaten a light breakfast back in Anshan before heading on the road to Shenyang, so I gladly accepted.
Since the window seat next to me was unoccupied, I shimmied over to enjoy the takeoff views.
The meal service began about 30 minutes after we reached cruising altitude. There was no business class menu; rather, one of the crew members came around to take note of everyone's preference between a chicken or a pork dish.
The tray table slides out of your armrest, while there's also a mini-tray for drinks, which folds out from the central console between the aisle and window seats.
I ordered the pork dish, which was served on a single tray together with soup, a light salad, and a bowl of rice. For my drink, I asked for some jasmine tea.
Overall, while the food was decently appetizing, it also entirely unmemorable, and tasted pretty similar to what I imagine would be served in economy class.
Given, however, that Chinese airlines aren't exactly regarded as shining beacons of gourmet onboard catering, Shenzhen Airlines definitely passed the grade with a meal offering that was actually edible, let alone quite tasty.
The crew was professional in their service, proactively filling up my tea several times. After I finished my main course, my tray was withdrawn and replaced with dessert, which consisted of a chocolate cake and a fruit assortment.
The remainder of the flight passed by pretty uneventfully as I napped for a bit and then got some work done on my iPad. While the standard recliner seat in no way compares to a lie-flat bed, it does the job just fine for sneaking in a quick nap.
Besides the in-seat radio player, the only other form of in-flight entertainment was the TV screen that folded out of the interior ceiling.
They played a few Chinese movies on the screen, and if you wanted to listen to the audio, it would've been on one of the channels of the in-seat radio player.
Before long, we began our descent into an absolutely grisly Taipei dusk, where I had a three-hour layover before catching my EVA Air flight back to Toronto.
Shenzhen Airlines more than does the job for a quick regional flight. It offers comfortable and convenient connectivity to and from Mainland China and does a great job of complementing the route network of its "big brother" within Star Alliance, Air China. On top of that, some of the more interesting routes that Shenzhen operates (Shenyang–Taipei being one of them) can really get you out of a tight spot when planning your award travel.