Review: Sichuan Airlines Lounge Chengdu Airport

Filed Under: Other Airlines

This had to be one of the most dysfunctional ground experiences I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how much blame goes to Sichuan Airlines rather than just the airport and the unique status of the flight, but they need to figure something out, because this is just embarrassing.

My flight from Chengdu to Los Angeles was departing at 7:20PM. Sichuan’s A330s can’t fly nonstop to Los Angeles, so my flight stopped in Jinan — passengers can book the flight just from Chengdu to Jinan, or just from Jinan to Los Angeles.

I arrived at Chengdu Airport at around 4PM, plenty early for my 7:20PM departure. I arrive at the airport earlier than most since I want to review the experience, but generally I tend to think it’s safe to assume that airline check-in opens at least 3.5 hours before departure.

Chengdu Airport check-in hall

Once in the check-in hall I managed to find the Sichuan Airlines check-in counter. This was surprisingly tough, as there was a lack of signage, and the person at the information desk didn’t speak any English. Eventually I found a premium Sichuan Airlines check-in area — great.

When they looked up my itinerary they told me because I was traveling to Los Angeles I had to check-in at counters 1-7.

Sichuan Airlines check-in Chengdu Airport

So I headed to the far right of the terminal, where I found those counters, only they weren’t open.

Sichuan Airlines check-in Chengdu Airport

Sichuan Airlines check-in Chengdu Airport

Upon closer inspection, it became evident that check-in only opened at 5:20PM. That’s just two hours before departure, which seems awfully late to open check-in for what’s ostensibly an international flight.

Sichuan Airlines LAX check-in Chengdu Airport

Since I was so early, I had a seat in the check-in hall for nearly 90 minutes. Ugh. Sure enough, right at 5:20PM the check-in counters opened.

Sichuan Airlines check-in Chengdu Airport

Sichuan Airlines check-in Chengdu Airport

Within about five minutes, I had my boarding pass all the way to Los Angeles in hand and was given a sticker to wear that said “International” on it. I asked what lounge I had access to, and the staff member said “it’s at the gate, you will see.” Hmm…

Sichuan Airlines international transit sticker

I headed in the direction of gate 16, and on the way had a great view of the ramp, including a couple of Sichuan A330s and a Thai 777.

Sichuan Airlines A330 Chengdu Airport

Thai Airways 777 Chengdu Airport

Sichuan Airlines A330 Chengdu Airport

There were document checks just past the check-in desk.

Chengdu Airport security entrance

Just past that counter and to the left I saw a sign for gate 16, which listed a series of flight numbers, including my flight to Los Angeles. As it turns out, this flight leaves from a “sterile” gate, so you don’t even have access to the rest of the airport when taking this flight. This caused quite a bit of confusion with the other passengers, as some of them wanted to go shopping, get food, etc.

Chengdu Airport security line

Not only did check-in only open two hours before departure, but then the security check for the gate wasn’t even open. Fortunately it opened within about 10 minutes.

Chengdu Airport security check

After clearing security I had to go down a set of stairs.

Stairs to gate area Chengdu Airport

Then I found myself in the departure gate area.

Chengdu Airport departure gate

Chengdu Airport departure gate

In the far right corner was a sign that said “First Class Lounge.” Yep, this was apparently the lounge I had access to.

Chengdu Airport Lounge entrance

Chengdu Airport Lounge reception desk

In addition to the reception desk, the lounge had a grand total of 13 seats. Hmmm….

Chengdu Airport Lounge seating

Chengdu Airport Lounge seating

In terms of the food & drink selection, there were soft drinks and soda, as well as ramen noodles and some packaged snacks (the selection was identical to the other lounges I had visited at Chengdu Airport a few weeks prior).

Chengdu Airport Lounge food & drink selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge snack selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge snack selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge snack selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge snack selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge snack selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge drink selection

Chengdu Airport Lounge buffet

Chengdu Airport Lounge buffet

Back near the entrance were some magazines and newspapers.

Chengdu Airport Lounge magazines & newspapers

There was only one slight problem — the plane had 36 business class seats, while the lounge had 13 seats. So pretty quickly all the seats were taken, at which point the lounge attendant starting setting up folding chairs as more passengers arrived. Unbelievable.

Overcrowded Sichuan Airlines lounge

I went out into the gate area about 30 minutes after I arrived and it was already packed, and only filled up even more as departure time approached.

Sichuan Airlines departure gate

Fortunately Wi-Fi worked in the lounge, which was the only redeeming quality of it. The lounge didn’t have its own bathrooms, but rather they were back near the stairs in the gate area.

Boarding was scheduled for 6:40PM, and sure enough, at exactly that time boarding began. There were no calls for priority boarding, but rather it was a free for all. There was a separate bus with seats for business class passengers, which sounds like it would be nice, except it had about double as many passengers as seats, and nowhere to stand. On top of that, it took 15 minutes for the bus to leave, as we waited for every business class passenger.

Bus to plane Chengdu Airport

After a further 10 minute ride we arrived at our plane. The plane wasn’t actually at a remote stand, but rather was at a gate at a different terminal. I’m not sure if this whole experience was because they boarded those traveling just to Jinan from that gate, and those traveling to Los Angeles from the sterile gate, or what. Regardless, it was an annoying system. We then had to take the stairs up to the jet bridge, and could then board the plane.

Bus to plane Chengdu Airport

Chengdu Airport lounge bottom line

I suspect this setup isn’t directly Sichuan Airlines’ fault, and that there’s some weird technicality that causes them to need to depart from gate 16. However, the current experience is a mess. So while not everything is within their control, I think they need to do a better job of communicating with passengers that check-in only opens two hours out and they won’t have access to the rest of the terminal when taking this flight. They could also use more seats in the lounge, and an extra business class bus to the plane. Basically, this was a far cry from the best airport lounges in the world.

Talk about a not-great start to a not-great flight.

  1. I booked a roundtrip in Sichuan Business for $1400 in Dec CAN-LAX, @Lucky, sent me a list of things I should bring onboard!

  2. Yes, you are right. Required by boarder control. Seperate international outbound pax with domestic pax.

  3. The reason that the flight is so weird is following:
    1. The flight departs from CTU and arrives at TNA, then continues to LAX. Hence, the segment from CTU to TNA is technically a “domestic flight”
    2. However, the airline and the local authority wants to market the flight as a direct flight from CTU to LAX. And technically it is, just with a stop on the route. Hence, this is the reason why the flight is considered an international flight.
    3. Another however, due to Chinese custom regulations, passengers must clear customs on their last stop leaving the country, which means passengers departing from CTU to LAX have to clear customs in TNA, which makes departure airport, CTU in a difficult situation. The airport has to put all passengers from CTU to LAX in an international departure area, and access to the area should not require passengers clearing customs in CTU (otherwise they would clear customs twice)
    4. Thus, such a complicated nature of the flight makes it to depart from a sterile gate and it is much more difficult for airlines to build lounge facilities there due to the limited space (usually they are very small) and small number of flights (only these kinds of flights depart there).

    If you fly from LAX to TNA then continue to CTU, you would find the system even weird. The airline wants to market is as a direct flight from LAX to CTU, but the custom regulations require passengers to clear customs in TNA. Passengers themselves clear border control in TNA. When arriving at CTU, those from LAX have to be bused to the international baggage claim area, claim their baggage, and then clear custom.

    My personal preference is to avoid these fake direct flights at all cost. Transiting in PVG, PEK, CAN, etc is a much more pleasant experience than these *direct* flights.

  4. @Jim For United CTU-SFO and Hainan’s CTU-LAX it will be much better as it is a normal International Direct Flights so you can clear immigration and custom at CTU and have a proper International terminal/zone with lounges, restaurants and duty-free shops. It is the extra domestic stop that make this kind of flights so bizarre…

  5. Hi Lucky,

    I have booked FRA-CTU-SIN on Air China in business class early Jan. 3:15 layover in CTU. Is this lounge the same one we will have to use? Are there any shops, restrauants or other services in the international area at all?

    You’ve got me worried enough to consider changing my flights…

  6. @Summend , you mixed up custom and immigration.

    If you buy CTU-LAX, you luggage cleared custom but youself did not clear immigration.

  7. @Andrew
    You will be using normal international lounge.

    This area is only for international departures marketed as direct flight but with domestic stopover.

  8. I wonder why you have to go to that gate early–can you stay in the rest of the terminal and possibly use priority pass to access some other lounges, and only go to that gate at boarding?

  9. @David Liu

    Thanks for putting my mind at rest. Three hours in that lounge after a long-haul flight with a 6 month old baby and a 5 year old child would not be a pleasant experience…

  10. Thank you for this report. I took this flight recently and took into consideration that I would not have access to the rest of the airport. When you clear security, it’s only to this one gate. So here’s my (unusual) suggestion: There’s a KFC directly across the first class check-in counter. If you arrive hungry, you can spend a fair amount of time there. From my experience, the airport restaurants outside the secure area are usually not crowded (its usually fairly empty at this location). And yes, I know its a terrible suggestion to say that you can pass the time at a KFC. But trust me, with this current system, you’ll have no better option. Its a far better experience that what Lucky went through.

    Yes, I said it. Spending time at the KFC will be a better experience than waiting at the first class lounge. Indeed bizarre. :-/

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