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Excellent China Eastern experience

I just had an excellent experience with China Eastern in New York, their service in their New York office is really good. Interestingly, it actually all started pretty bad.

Because we didn’t know exactly when we would fly back to Shanghai after the Tudou IPO we didn’t book a ticket yet. So this morning we called China Eastern to see if there were any business class seats available on their direct New York-Shanghai flight tomorrow that we can book with miles (I collected almost a million KLM miles and because China Eastern is part of Skyteam now, I can use them for this airline as well). That was possible, but we had to come to their office, in walking distance from our hotel.

When we arrived at their office the Chinese receptionist was extremely bitchy. I am not sure what her problem was, but she refused to speak English with me (“I am talking to your wife, so I speak Chinese”). Then she said we could not book award tickets with KLM miles (“If you are the owner of Skyteam you can, but you certainly can’t”), and told me to call KLM. So that’s what I did, and after a 15 minute call with KLM in Amsterdam it finally turned out they could not find any empty seats. Then the receptionist told me “Oh, I had already seen that in the system”. So I could have saved 15 minutes on the phone with KLM if she had just told me that… At that point I had had it with her and told her I was going to speak to the General Manager.

Grace and I walked through the office into the office of the GM and closed the door behind us. She was surprised of course, but after we told her what had just happened she apologized and said she would help us to try to solve it. She was extremely helpful and got her sales manager involved to sort out the problem. There were indeed no seats available in the system, but they changed that for us.

Problem was that the KLM and China Eastern computer systems are not compatible, so I still had to call KLM. I did so, but there they could still not see the seats in their system. Then China Eastern told me to ask KLM to put us on the waiting list for award tickets, but KLM’s system was not able to do that. The person in Amsterdam I talked to even got his manager involved, but they couldn’t figure out how to do it. They were very friendly, but finally they told me to let China Eastern call Air France in Paris to solve it. The sales manager did so, but Air France told them to call the US office. So that’s what the China Eastern person did, but then the USA office told him to call the KLM number in Holland again… And so of course we were stuck again at where we were an hour earlier (yes, this took a full hour).

But the China Eastern staff did not mind and kept on trying to find a solution. They even put our names in the system with a locator code so KLM could book the award tickets against them, but even this KLM could not do in their systems. Then we tried to book an open award ticket, but that also did not work. I have to say that KLM really tried, but it seems Skyteam’s computer systems are not fully aligned. After another 30 minutes Grace suddenly had an idea that we should have thought of earlier: book an award ticket on a date that was still available and then let China Eastern change it to tomorrow. And that finally worked, it still took me another 20 minutes on the phone with KLM, but eventually they managed to do it. Then China Eastern’s sales manager changed the reservation in his system, and we were done!

I have to say that I am really impressed by how willing China Eastern was to help. This was in their New York office on 5th Avenue (with a view of the Empire State Building!), so not a travel agent or so, and 2 people spent 2 hours helping us out. Maybe it was because they wanted to make up for the arrogant receptionist? I don’t know, but they did everything they could to solve it. We were allowed to sit in the GM’s office the whole 2 hours, were served drinks and had some nice chats with the Chinese staff while on hold on the phone. This changed my impression of China Eastern very much, and I am almost looking forward to tomorrow’s long flight – almost 15 hours non-stop flying time…

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  1. But still, even with the helpful GM at China Eastern and even KLM it is quite ridiculous the process you have to go through to get 2 simple tickets booked. Specially if you are such a frequent flyer that holds a million award miles.
    The Flying Dutchman/Flying Blue award system and upgrade possibilities used to be ok in the past when even when you bought a cheap fare you could upgrade to business class or when you still got the full amount of miles regardless of the fare you were on. Also China Southern was a KLM partner, but miles earned on that carrier were not always added to you mileage account. Now I am not such a frequent flyer and the airlines award programs are not really very good for less frequent flyers. If their award system would be better even for the less frequent traveller I would probably choose KLM more often, now it does not make much differnce who I choose as long as it is a reliable and safe carrier.

  2. I got the same experience as you Marc, its just impossible to use award miles on China Eastern, and standing alone without a Chinese native next to you, they just keep bitchy… You got this service because you made the GM the problem owner, you were kinda lucky I guess, this will not happen when you are in a hurry to catch your flight …