China Eastern Emailed Me!

Filed Under: China Eastern

I’m guessing that this will be my last installment in the China Eastern saga. I thought the last one would be, but I woke up to an email from them this morning, and I think it’s only fair I share that. For context, here are the previous posts of this “story:”

The email came from China Eastern’s director of marketing in North America, and read as follows:

Good morning, Ben, from Los Angeles!

My name is _______ and I am Director, Marketing-North America at China Eastern Airlines.

I read your blog often and yesterday I saw the posting about your July 26th flight from Los Angeles to Shanghai on MU586.  We aim to achieve the highest levels of service and I appreciate your honest comments and feedback.  First and foremost, safety is China Eastern’s number one priority.  Smoking anywhere onboard the aircraft – including the flight deck – is prohibited.

You are a valued customer, and I have notified our head office that the smell of cigarette smoke may have been detected on MU586.  I can assure you we will investigate this matter internally and with the cockpit and cabin crew who operated your flight.

If you have further concerns, or would like to share more details about your experience onboard China Eastern so that we can improve our service levels, please contact me at your convenience.

Aeromexico-787-Business-Class - 50

Kudos to her for reaching out. I’m impressed that she addressed one of the major issues and didn’t make an excuse, but rather actually says it will be investigated.

At first I thought it was a bit disappointing that the director of marketing emailed (rather than someone who works in onboard service, etc.), but her English is perfect, and I know in the past when I got emails from Chinese carriers from their onboard service team, there has been a communication gap.

So do I have hopes that suddenly no pilots will smoke on China Eastern again? Absolutely not. But it’s nice to know they’re at least taking note of the situation, and confirming outright that this behavior is unacceptable.

Now I’m closing the China Eastern chapter of this trip, and moving on. I’m guessing Royal Air Maroc, Saudia, and Pakistan will likely hold their own on the entertainment front as well. 😉

  1. If anything, it’s encouraging to see that China Eastern seems to be bending over backwards to fix this, what with this email and the improved service on your last flight. I mean, obviously it wouldn’t be the same case if someone who didn’t have a hugely popular blog were the one making the criticisms, but still, at the very least it shows that they care about their image and want to be better.

  2. Wow! They actually sent a custom-written, personable email to you? At least they respond to your blog entry 🙂 China Eastern seems to still have a long way to go to fix their reputation, but at least this is kind of heading in the right direction.

  3. Impressive -this is indeed a surprise from China Eastern -guess they are starting to be more like a world class carrier 🙂

  4. It’s mostly PR. Chinese companies so this kind of thjng all the time but it’s likely the pilot has some good connections and isn’t really accountable. This is the way of modern China. Only money matters.

  5. I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but as someone who has spent my fair share of time in China, this seems very typical of how business is done there. They’ll do their best to improve/cover up while the “inspector” is there, and afterwards everything will go back to how it’s always been done. (This sort of reminds me of how factories there are always put into strict compliance when they get advance warning that the inspectors are coming.)

  6. The pilots of that flight could easily end up spending the rest of their lives I n a labour camp somewhere in northern China 🙂

  7. Yeah, Ben experienced a truly subpar product on what should be China Eastern’s flagship route. But while this particular LAX-PVG flight was a failure service-wise, I am getting the impression that at least China Eastern is striving to be a quality carrier that can compete against the likes of Cathay Pacific. MU is a relatively new carrier from a country that, for decades, had no customer service culture that even remotely approached international standards. Of course, that is now rapidly changing as is evident by the number of world-class hotels in Shanghai and Beijing. So there is good reason to be optimistic about China Eastern’s future.

    Can the same be said for Royal Air Maroc and PIA? The perception is that both carriers (but especially PIA) have given-up on making any effort to provide a decent experience for their premium cabin passengers. Ben’s experiences with them will certainly be enlightening.

  8. The problem is that a HUGE number of comments mentioned that this had happened to them, so it’s not limited to your experience, this is a widespread issue over the entire airline, and likely the Chinese aviation industry. Even if this representative wants to, they aren’t going to be able to change the culture, so this is going to continue happening, thus I just can’t bring myself to fly a terrible airline.

    Hell, Lucky even said he was pretty sure he smelled cigarettes on his next flight, though they quickly covered it up. They KNEW they were being watched like a hawk and still couldn’t keep from smoking, what makes them think they are going to change now? It’s window dressing.

  9. Boy, would I love to hear now from those commenters who were complaining about the FAA’s imperialist tendencies and making excuses about how ‘everyone’ in China smokes, and how the flight deck is exempt from any non-smoking regulations, etc. etc.

    Now you have it from the source. Smoking is prohibited everywhere on the aircraft!

  10. Lip service means nothing. Smoking will continue and service will remain garbage. That is the Chinese way.

  11. It’s a polite e-mail for sure, nice reply from the director.
    I have doubts anything will change in the MU cockpits in the future. If i were part of the relevant MU management who deals (if really deals ?) with this issue, i would downgrade the crew to ground operations or fire them.
    I agree wih a commenter regarding Ben’s Hainan Airlnes flight taken earlier this year from Changsha to LA; he wrote that local people don’t follow the rules there, rules are just guidelines for them. True, they don’t care about rules and they are not punished if they break them. I see it every day how locals behave in that country; kids are raised like a little princess/prince. They are allowed to do whatever they want, no control, and they will just laugh if someone tries to exlplain them any kind of rules.
    I’m amazed that they can copy everything from Western countries, except for politeness and good behaviour. “Be the 1st” – that’s their number one and only rule, be ahead of others, no matter what, which in a Westerner’s eye is a selfish, careless behaviour. They need good teachers, parents in that country to teach the kids how to live as a human, how to respect the others around them and yes, how to keep the rules to make the society safe and organized. But they are happy with this messy way, they have the freedom to do whatever they want, so let’s leave them as they are, just accept/avoid them.

  12. Glad to see they’re reaching out. I’ve flown MU a number of times – not the best carrier, but they certainly try hard in my experience. On my flights, the issues have been caused by fellow pax – but the crew has always been top notch. Not SQ style like your PVG-CMB flight, but equal to or a step above US carriers. Guess I’ve lucked out, but I’d like to think that’s more the normal MU.

    Thanks for another entertaining installment. Looking forward to reading the rest.

  13. As someone who flew China Eastern’s domestic flights a number of times in the past year, I would add that the airline cares about its image but it operates as a budget airline. The airline, for example, offered low first-class fairs in China, but their hardware was usually dated. They did not serve any wine in first class, at least not the flights I have taken. On the same route, Air China served wine but charged more. I do not think MU would sacrifice safety, and I have never detected smoking on board in my experience. Most flight attendants were friendly. Will I keep flying it? Yes, if their fares remain low. We cannot expect top services without paying for them.

  14. Dear Preson from China eastern marketing,

    Ben is one person and this is north America. Don’t treat him special. He is not special. Make sure you improve services for everyone and not just for him.


  15. Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s very likely that many people working stateside are, in fact, Americans (although many of those may be of Chinese descent). The fact is that if they want to be a globally competitive airline, things like this need to change. It won’t just suddenly happen now that this story has been brought to light, but it’s hopefully one step forward.

    As for treating Ben as “special,” sometimes it takes one person who is widely known on the interwebs to help make a difference for everyone else.

  16. For research purposes i’ll happily let you fly me in J from NYC to Shanghai and back next week and i’ll let you know what’s changed 🙂

    Sadly though i think they only responded given the popularity of your blog and I can’t imagine anything will change long term.

    I’m a non-smoker but generally a proponent of smokers rights. I feel that if an airline wants to allow smoking on board they should be able to do so but should disclose that so people can book their travel accordingly (i’m sure there are some folks who would go out of their way to book the carrier they could smoke on just as there are many who will avoid the airline that allows smoking). But if you’re going to claim you follow the rules and claim you abide by non-smoking regulations, then, well, don’t smoke on the plane…..period.

  17. “……the smell of cigarette smoke may have been detected on MU586”..
    May have been detected? No. It WAS detected and person/people were smoking. period

  18. I talked with my AA pilot friend, and shared your post about the smoking in the cockpit, and cheekily asked if he’s ever done it. He said, no way, it sticks to everything. So, in the future, just poke your head in the cockpit after the flight to determine if the pilots have smoked.

  19. Jeez everyone is so soft to smoking. When we still had freedom in America people used to be able to smoke anywhere. Now government tell people how to live what to eat how large of a soda you can order etc its ridiculous man up people man up.

  20. @George it used to be if you went out and walked into a bar your eyes would water from the smoke. The next day your clothes would all reek of smoke. People would smoke in restaurants when your trying to eat. It was nasty for non-smokers let along the healthy risks of second hand smoke. When I was in Xi’an I went into some Chinese clubs. There was soo much smoke I could barely breathe. This added to the pollution in the city made it a real chore to breathe while in the city. Luckily it had rained in Beijing right before I got there so it helped clear the air. Still the ban on smoking in public spaces has really improved the quality of life in the US. The ban on larger drinks? Well that isn’t hurting or bothering other people, so if someone wants to buy that large soda let them.

  21. But I can’t image this can be fixed. Make a pilot who is used to smoking during the flight quit smoking.. I don’t know.. That’s going to be safety issue again..

  22. By the way, why didn’t the China Eastern person address the other issues of your review? You had TERRIBLE service, especially when lied to about the cappuccino machine issue, but there was no mention of those problems. All they seem interested in is stopping the smoking, but they will still be left with an airline that can’t compete against the others, so it’s never going to capture any US market share. They should be appalled at how premium customers are treated, especially if they want to build the brand.

  23. Good on her/him. It was a legit and straight-forward way to respond to your blog. I expected them to try corporate doublespeak in response to you, but to their credit they didn’t.

  24. Firstly, kudos to the director of marketing to pro actively email u.

    It is a good first step. I see some comments are skeptical and some downright negative.

    While it is understandable to be skeptical about an overnight elimination to smoking culture, Lucky’s report is probably a shock to MU’s system. No longer can people pretend smoking does not exist even though the senior management probably knew but turned a blind eye. Now they have to face it.

    Total negativity is probably unfair. Change has to start somewhere. Maybe it has started today.

    OMAAT team needs to review MU n CZ again to see if there is true improvement.

  25. “I read your blog often”

    Just happened to check into Lucky’s blog, wondering what he’s been up to lately, and ‘oh, there’s a post about the airline I work for’…


  26. Talk (and email) is cheap! This flight deck smoking incident wasn’t the first and is probably taking place (again) as I write. They permit their crews to smoke and they expect their premium cabin passengers to suck it up. Likewise, many hotels do little to police the smoking problem.

    Exposing them on blogs like this and TripAdvisor are the only weapon that works. There’s plenty of competition out there – these jerks no longer get a pass.

  27. Smoking is a unchangeable culture in Chinese carries.
    China Eastern, China Southern, Sichuan airline, Xiamen Airline. All of them except Air China would be better.
    It is the issue firmly in the system, you can’t blame the airline. From the moment when they in School or in the military, they smoke, and unchangeable.

  28. Chinese is notorious for stabbing behind back so don’t be surprised when you have problem in China next time while trying to check in or get stuck at immigration

  29. What’s the email address please Ben? My wife is booked on the same flight soon and has asthma. I need to politely email him/her to ask if the problem will be addressed or I will have to rebook.

    Please, if you can, I don’t believe that to be a privacy issue etc

    Many thanks

  30. Well well well.. They sent an email. Very impressive. Is it the whole email? Was there any checks attached? How many miles reimbursement? Lucky don’t keep us in a dark.

  31. In the other articles I was very critical of this airline and chinese airlines in general. I stick to that. And while this “might” be lip service just like smoke might have been detected I will say that this is a good sign. They took responsibility for their actions. In a lot of cases thats all I want to see. People taking responsibility, apologize and the situation can more or less be diffused. Its when they (i.e. politicians, CEOs ) do their whole “I categorically deny everything” or worse they sue someone else accusing them its their fault thats when I lose it. So even if nothing gets done at least some kind of effort was made. I’m still not flying with them though. lol.

  32. I appreciate you providing the follow-up, not sure why so many here are bent out of shape that you are either hiding something or privileged to have received the e-mail. You did a service by exposing something, reporting on it, and perhaps being able to bring about a change for the better. And frankly – to those that criticize that you may have received reimbursement, you gave the airline something valuable that they perhaps should be hiring secret shoppers to produce – trip reports that cover the good, the bad, and the comparison against the other airlines.

    Of course I’m biased, I only read OMAAT from the Admirals Club – so I consider what you do kind sir a service to my kind 🙂

  33. Chinese airlines have problems that marketing professionals cannot possibly address (except, perhaps, to whitewash with pictures of 50″ PTVs and “delectable” inflight dining!)

    If staying alive is of interest, I would strongly caution against traveling with Mainland Chinese carriers (the same goes for countless other Asian and African airlines: Korean pilot training [whether KE or OZ] is notoriously bad, for example). GOOD airlines in these regions are the exception rather than the rule: CX, SQ, NH, EK, QR, EY, etc. (all fine).

    Inadequate flight deck training/experience/judgement *will* kill (it’s a question of WHEN, not IF). Statistically, you’ll probably get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ in one piece on a second-rate airline, but God help the unfortunate souls who fly with the wrong pilots on the right day.


    A commercial pilot (who has seen too much)

  34. I thought my MU JFK-PVG in business was just OK. Nice size seat but very hard for sitting. Less than appetizing food. My mid flight snack was tiny piece of toast with equally tiny smoked salmon. Beverage service only once during meal service. I figured I might fly MU again at the right price but after reading about very similar experiences, I won’t fly MU again.

  35. I want a blog so I can use it* to smite those who’ve wronged me.

    *in a passive-aggressive manner, of course

  36. No smoking stink detected on my MU flights JFK/PVG, SHA/TSA, TPE/PVG, PVG/JFK all in biz class in May/June this year… And I sat in the mini cabin section behind first class on the B773.

  37. Regardless of how special you are or are perceived to be, Lucky, you did us all a favor.

  38. Just got off my china eastern flight from LAX to PDO. Smoking smell 3 separate times. I was up in Biz. Ugh

  39. Lucky, TPG just reviewed smelling smoke on his First Class journey on MU out of JFK. I will be making that trip in Jan. Any chance of you revealing the name and email of that China Eastern exec who responded to you? I would like her take on the continued practice of smoking in the cockpit which she said would be investigated. Thanks

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