After spending three enjoyable days in Taipei, my son and I began our travel back to California with Xiamen Airlines. The fun wasn’t over, as we had a full-day layover in the city of Xiamen before our long-haul back to LAX. Our first leg was flying Xiamen Airlines 737 economy class.
Our tickets all the way through to Los Angeles from Taipei cost a mere $186 per person one way, which was one of the reasons I constructed this trip. Besides a $169 fare sale from Shanghai to Los Angeles, I’ve never before seen a one-way transpacific fare that cheap, so I jumped. Add-in a lovely nonstop flight from SFO on the Taiwanese flag carrier for our outbound leg (SEE: China Airlines 777-300ER Business Class Review), and we had ourselves a long weekend in east Asia.
Arrival and Check In at Songshan (TSA) Airport
We arrived at Taipei Songshan just over two hours before our flight. I thought about trying to navigate the MTR to get to the airport, but given that it required a transfer, I opted for a taxi from the Grand Hyatt Taipei. Unexpectedly, the Xiamen check-in counters weren’t even open yet! But this gave us time to change out of our wet clothes from our last day in the city and exchange cash. Figures we could have taken the subway and made it with plenty of time.
My SkyTeam Elite Plus status helped immensely. This was my first time putting this benefit to use, and avoiding the economy check-in line with a multitude of luggage carts was heartily welcomed. There was already a long queue when we arrived.
We were able to use the far shorter Sky Priority queue for eligible elite and business class travelers. The agent asked to see my SkyTeam credentials to add to the account, and I handed my phone over displaying my Delta Platinum card. I’d taken a screenshot in the Delta app, just in case.
We had some back and forth with the check-in agent regarding our transit situation in China. She wasn’t seeing the onward segment to Los Angeles, which caused a lot of confusion. If we weren’t continuing on, we would have needed Chinese visas. She was pretty adamant that we needed a visa until I was able to have her call a supervisor who pulled up the rest of the reservation.
All ended well. The agent even printed lounge invitations to the Airlines VIP Lounge, another perk of SkyTeam Elite Plus status. Priority Pass would not have gotten me anywhere at Taipei Songshan as there aren’t any participating lounges.
The seat assignment surprised me. We hadn’t been able to check in online, so I had no idea where we’d be sitting. The numbering is rather high for a 737, but this is because Xiamen Airlines 737 economy class seating starts with row 41!
With a full hour to relax, I caught up on some email while my son entertained himself by drawing in his notebook. We’d had three nonstop days in the Taiwanese capital, and we were feeling it this evening. The lounge isn’t anything special, but it was a comfortable and quiet place to pass the time (SEE: Airlines VIP Lounge Taipei Songshan Airport Review).
We headed out when boarding was announced for our flight. I impressed myself by understanding “882”, out flight number, in Chinese. One thing that surprised me is that you cannot see out of the terminal. There are almost no windows. This might put me firmly in the camp of wanting to tear it down. Why would you design an airport where you can’t see the planes?!?
We arrived right as elite boarding started, and there was hardly anyone in the queue. We were literally the third and fourth people on the plane.
The Xiamen Airlines 737 economy cabin is designed in bright blue, the same as the airline’s egret logo. The flight attendants also wear light blue.
We got settled in row 56, seats B and C, just behind the wing. Seats in Xiamen Air 737 economy seats offer a fairly standard 31 inches of pitch.
As other passengers boarded and got settled, I could help but notice that we were two of only a handful of foreigners aboard.
The flight attendants were friendly and helpful during the boarding process. At least two of them spoke English, although it was thickly accented and a bit hard for me to understand. Announcements were made in both languages, but given the accent, I had a lot of trouble understanding.
Xiamen Airlines 737 Economy Seats
I found the economy seats to be rather hard. It would not be fun flying this product for more than a couple hours. Fortunately, the flight from Taipei to Xiamen is only about 90 minutes.
There is no seatback inflight entertainment, nor is there any bring-your-own-device connection available. You’ll need to be prepared with your own!
Just after all passengers had boarded, a flight attendant brought me a bag with a bottle of water, towelette, and a newspaper. This was completely unexpected. Apparently it is a standard perk for SkyTeam elites flying in their economy cabin. I saw the flight attendant had a list with a handful of other names.
The Chinese newspaper gave me a good chuckle. I don’t speak or read Chinese. Totally pointless, but a nice gesture on the part of the airline.
However, the cabin crew went even another step above and beyond, bringing me an international newspaper printed in English! On the whole, I was already impressed with Xiamen Airlines’ service and attentiveness by the flight attendants. My son did the one thing he does every flight: check the safety card.
During the announcements I did catch that this was a non-smoking flight. This might seem like a given, but it isn’t banned in China like it is in the United States. Other mainland airlines, including notably China Eastern, do allow in-flight smoking.
We pushed back on time and took off shortly thereafter. It was odd to look out the window and see apartment buildings less than 100 yards away. I cannot imagine how noisy Songshan Airport must be for nearby residents!
Xiamen Airlines 737 Economy Service
The most surprising feature of our flight is the fact that dinner is served on the 90-minute hop. And not just a snack box sort of dinner. It was a full hot tray of chicken and rice with a couple other accompaniments! There were two sauce packets: one of radish and the other of sweet chili sauce.
There fruit cup was a mix of apple and cherry tomato, a interesting combination if there were was one. Dessert consisted of a small cake.
Drinks were either water or green bean juice. Yes, you read that right. Green bean juice. I had to try it. It’s slightly sweet, not very good, and totally weird. There isn’t anything I can really compare it to.
The cabin started out at a comfortable temperature, but gradually warmed to the point it was uncomfortable. I’d heard this is an issue with many Asian airlines, so I was sorta expecting it.
As we started descending into Xiamen, one of the flight attendants brought my son a picture puzzle. This was a yet another nice gesture on their part.
Each of the puzzles consist of stickers that you must rearrange to form the picture shown. It was a great option in lieu of any electronic entertainment. Why he wore his headphones most of the flight is beyond me.
Our descent into Xiamen seemed rather rapid, and we landed and pulled up to the gate around 9:15 PM. One perk of being basically the only foreigners on the plane is that there was literally no one else in that line. I filled out the transit visa forms and we were quickly through.
Overall, I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed by Xiamen Airlines 737 economy class. The service on our flight was highly thoughtful and very friendly. Providing a full hot meal on a short-haul flight is also impressive, considering what domestic U.S. airlines give you in the economy cabin. My only complaint might be the seat. I don’t think Xiamen Airlines could have picked a firmer seat.
But given the price and service, I would certainly fly with them in a heartbeat!