Okay, Shanghaiist has got several hundred blogs on his RSS that he scans through everyday. Some things scream at us, others are quickly forgotten and yet others are hidden in some corner of our brain for (mostly useless) information ready to be used at some future point in time. There are all these bloggers that you’ve never met personally that you can form an impression of only after a long period of reading their blogs. You’re reading them every single day, and sometimes it almost feels as though they’re your friend, even though you don’t really know them. It’s most surreal.
So you read them. Everyday. Religiously. And I’m talking about people like James Fallows. Yes, remember the guy whose wife’s week-long journal published in Slate on her first Shanghai experiences stirred up a huge debate here and caused ripples elsewhere?
And for the record, this guy is not just any blogger. He is quite a god in journalistic circles — he’s the National Correspondent for The Atlantic, used to be Jimmy Carter’s chief White House speechwriter, wrote several books and won multiple awards. Impressive resume. So we’ve been following his blog for quite a while now and the conclusion we’ve come to is this: This man has got to be the biggest fan of Chinese airlines/airports alive (and he unabashedly confesses to be one).
For the sake of brevity, we’ll include some choiciest bits of what he said. In a first post on 12 Sept:
I am a fan of Chinese domestic air travel. The airplanes, Airbuses or Boeings, are new enough and safe-seeming, unlike the alarming Soviet-made castoffs we rode here in the mid-1980s. The attendants are chipper. It’s hard to be sure, but the pilots seem fine. Every flight I’ve been on has offered a hot meal, and by U.S. airline standards the food is great. Buying tickets is easy – you can walk into the airport and pay in cash, or order online through a unique high-tech/low-tech process I’ll describe some other day. Flights in China are usually late, but they’re late everywhere.
Most amazing of all, the airport experience itself – a phrase that makes you feel bad just hearing it in America – is as low-stress as it can be. Check-in lines move fast – OK, there’s no “line,” but once you get in the spirit you can fight your way up pretty quickly. Getting through security takes five or ten minutes tops.
In a more recent post where Fallows compared a US Airlines flight he took from Washington to Boston to a China Eastern Beijing-Shanghai flight he took:
1) Cost: Roughly $150 advertised fare on China Eastern, vs $385 for USAir. Edge to the Chinese, especially considering that the trip is longer. On the other hand, given the 7- or 8- fold difference in national per capita income, the US fare is obviously more “affordable.”
2) Amenities: No contest. China Eastern is way nicer. Hot meals on all flights — standard choice is “rice” or “noodles,” meaning a choice of the side dish that will accompany chicken, fish, etc. Plus, free beer. (Yes, Chinese beer, but still.) On USAir today, tiny pack of pretzels and a soft drink. On the other hand, the “seat pitch” in Chinese airplanes seems an inch or two shorter than even for US economy class, with that much less leg “room.”
3) Atmospherics: I have yet to encounter a surly Chinese flight attendant. (Likely reason: it’s a relatively much, much better job in China. Also, air travel is a new experience there, with the excitement it once had in America.) Today I encountered only such people on USAir.
Hmm…. chipper attendants? Hot meals on ALL flights? And a low-stress airport experience? Honestly, that’s the first time we’ve heard those three things mentioned in the same breath in describing the Chinese flying experience. It may be the case that Fallows doesn’t fly cattle class like we do (well, good for him and too bad for us), but we’re going to say this with ALL due respects to the man: The next time we get our “hot” meal looking like what you see on the right, we will be sure to Fedex it to Fallows.
James Fallows: Efficiency secrets from Shanghai Airlines
James Fallows: Beijing-Shanghai, DC-Boston: compare and contrast
Shanghaiist: Deborah Fallows in Shanghai
EastSouthWestNorth: Deborah Fallows, Lung Ying-Tai and I