As COVID-19 continues to hit international travel hard, domestic flights in China have been recovering fast. Airlines are resuming opening new routes and taking delivery of new aircraft.
After travelling back from the United States to China, I was curious to see what the domestic flight experience would be like given the circumstance.
As a result, I chose Hebei Airlines to fly from Qinhuangdao Beidaihe Airport (BPE) to Shijiazhuang Zhengding International Airport (SJW). This is a short-haul flight with less than an hour in the air.
Qinhuangdao Airport is a small regional airport in Hebei Province. I intentionally chose a small airport in an attempt to minimise my contact with other people.
The international area on the left side of the terminal is currently closed as there are no flights scheduled. Passengers can only enter the terminal through the domestic departure entrance on the right side and temperatures are being taken upon entry.
There are 10 pairs of scheduled flights arriving and departing from Qinhuangdao this summer, with the most going to Shanghai.
All ticket counters in the terminal were closed. Check-in counters only opened 70 minutes before departure, however self-service kiosks were available at all times.
There was also an additional desk next to the counters for passengers to fill out the health declaration form. The form required basic information, body temperature, symptoms and where you have been for the last 14 days.
Past security, I found that all the lounges were closed. Only a shop and a restaurant were open. Surprisingly, the small shop was selling a variety of plane models. Even many wide-bodies like Air China’s A330 and an Airbus A380 were on display.
My aircraft was already waiting at the gate. It was an Embraer ERJ-190 with registration B-3208. Seeing a regional aircraft connected to the jet bridge is rare in China.
Upon boarding, each passengers temperature was measured and everyone was given a sanitiser wipe to clean hands.
Hebei Airlines’ Embraer ERJ-190 has a 2-cabin configuration. There are 6 Business Class seats in a 1-2 layout and 92 Economy Class seats in a 2-2 layout.
This is one of my favourite cabin layouts on a regional aircraft. Passengers travelling alone can choose the single seat to get the most comfort and those travelling with a partner can seat together as well.
In Economy Class, the legroom offered is very generous. Seat cushions are also soft and comfortable, more so than in then common super-slim seats you often find nowadays.
Travel attractions in Hebei were printed on the overhead luggage storage. Passengers can choose the ones they like to travel to with Hebei Airlines.
All the magazines have been removed due to the coronavirus, only the safety card was still in the seat pocket.
Soon after being seated, the flight attendant came round with welcome drinks. Hot water and orange juice were offered. She also introduced herself and told me that blankets would not be offered due to COVID-19.
All the flight attendants wore gloves and masks throughout the flight.
Later I was offered a pair of comfortable slippers.
After departure, the curtain between Business and Economy Class was closed to ensure the most privacy. A sign was also put on the curtain as well.
A basket of cookies and dried apple slices were offered as catering and everything was sealed and prepackaged. This is more than enough for a less than 1 hour flight at this time. Most passengers did not eat anything during the flight.
About 20 minutes before landing, flight attendants came through the cabin to measure temperatures again and collect health declaration forms.
After landing, our plane stopped at a remote gate. A private shuttle and escort service was provided to Business Class passengers.
Travelling during this special time is a strange experience. Many extra steps are required, such as temperature measuring and health declaration forms.
However, my first experience with Hebei Airlines was still impressive. As a subsidiary of Xiamen Airlines, it definitely inherited their great service concepts.
All components, including cups, slippers, signs and shuttles, were customised with logos, this is rare to see with airlines of this size. Crew members were professional and friendly.
Hebei Airlines is also opening another base at the new Beijing Daxing Airport (PKX). I am looking forward to seeing them grow and open international routes in the future.
What do you think about Hebei Airlines’ service and travel experience? Let us know in the comments.