I was scratching my head as to how to get from Bangkok to Shanghai on a one-way ticket, and to my surprise there wasn’t many cheap options for flights during the day.
Strangely, there were a lot of red-eye options, but I’m not particularly excited at doing a five-hour red-eye flight, having travelled from Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur on a red-eye service a year before and trying very hard to survive through the day after the flight.
I then stumbled across Spring Airlines, which seemed like a perfect option given that it had a mid-day departure and arriving into Shanghai at about dinnertime.
About Spring Airlines
Spring Airlines was established in 2004, and operated its first service in 2005. It’s one of China’s first low-cost airline, although in its early days it offered complimentary food and drinks to all passengers.
The Shanghai-based airline operates only the A320, serving over 50 domestic destinations within China and 25 international destinations across Asia.
Bangkok is one of Spring Airlines’ focus cities internationally, serving over 10 Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an.
Spring Airlines operate three flights daily between Bangkok and Shanghai Pudong.
At the time of writing, the daily schedule is as follow:
*Aircraft types are always subject to change
How to book
I don’t usually talk about how to go about booking your ticket, but I think in this instance it’s pretty critical.
If you try to book a Spring Airlines ticket through an online third-party site, chances are, you will be booking a ticket without any add-ons. No bags, no food, no seat selection.
To book a Spring Airlines ticket with some choices of add-on, you will have to book directly on its website, ch.com.
Being a Chinese carrier, Spring Airlines’ website is available in Chinese, as well as English, Thai and Japanese. If you also read Chinese, you will realise that there’s a lot more options in the Chinese version of the website, but do note that you can only make payment through some of the common Chinese payment platforms, including WeChat Pay and Alipay, or debit cards issued in China.
To purchase a ticket using a credit card issued outside of China, you will need to use one of its non-Chinese version of the website. Apart from the awkwardly designed website, the first couple of steps are pretty straightforward.
When you have decided on the flight timing you want, you will have to select either Spring Saver, which simply gives you a seat and a carry-on bag, or Spring Plus, a all-in-one bundle. Note that all fares displayed are before the applicable taxes.
Spring Airlines is technically a budget airline, so if you want to purchase a seat only, they have it. Note that if you purchase a seat only, you can only bring one carry-on bag no heavier than 7kg (more on that later).
If you decide to customise your own add-ons, you can add items such as check-in baggage allowance and food in the later steps.
For add-on baggage, the weight comes in 10kg steps and the price goes up accordingly. On my flight from Bangkok to Shanghai, every 10kg cost THB1,000 or RMB220.
Seat selection can also be made from RMB10 onwards. The price of your seat actually defers from row to row, so be sure to check.
As for food and beverage, you can pre-order a hot meal at RMB79 (THB340), but everything else is buy-on-board.
Being highly uncertain about whether I could survive a 4+ hour flight on a Chinese low cost carrier, I decided to splurge on the best bundle I can find, which is the SpringPlus package, which costs RMB350 (THB1500) more. The SpringPlus bundle is also known as 经济商务座，which can loosely be translated to “economy business seat”.
So what does it entail? You get:
- A seat in either Row 1 or 2, with free seat selection
- 30kg of checked baggage allowance
- Free meal and unlimited beverages, including wine and beer
- Priority boarding and disembarking
- A pillow and blanket
Given that 20kg of checked baggage alone will set you back by RMB440, the SpringPlus bundle was a no-brainer. Having said this, I really don’t get how they priced this, but I suppose many Chinese travellers probably travel light.
Note that there’s also a 3% credit card surcharge, and there’s no way to get this fee removed.
After making payment, you are all set! However, note that the email confirmation is a little shady as well. There are details of your flight, but it doesn’t state the bundles as well as the entitlements (e.g. baggage allowance) you have on the flight, so just try to remember what you have booked.
At the airport
While the email asked passengers to arrive at the airport 120 minutes before the flight departure time, I arrived only about 75 minutes before.
There were four check-in counters opened for our flight and a good number of people in line waiting to check in. There was supposedly a separate queue for SpringPlus, but it’s only displayed by its Chinese term. I tried to queue up there, but was directed back to the main queue anyway.
Never mind that. The queue moved pretty quickly so I wasn’t very bothered.
As I was queuing, I saw a few signages that Spring has put up around hand baggage. The notice was very specific: hand carry items must be 7kg or less, and must be of dimensions 20cm by 30cm by 40cm or smaller. It then goes on to say “if it is found at the boarding gate that passengers’ luggage does not meet the requirements for free luggage entering the cabin, a luggage fee will be charged for passengers’ excess luggage.”
The price for checking in bags at boarding gate? Pretty horrific:
- THB3500 (RM820) per piece for luggage under 20kg, and
- THB7000 (RMB1640) per piece for luggage over 20kg, but under 32kg.
That’s some really expensive ‘fines’ for exceeding the hand carry limits, which I’m very happy for some other low cost carriers such as Jetstar to pick up.
To drive home the point, there was the same notice, in Chinese, being stamped on my boarding pass when I received it. By this time, I was dead certain they were going to weigh my carry-on bags.
Spring Airlines operate a dedicated fleet of A320 only, in a single class configuration with 6 seats per row, 3 on each side for a total of 180 seats.
The first two rows are dedicated for customers who have bought the SpringPlus bundle, while row 3 onwards are for the other customers. This also means that there are only 12 SpringPlus bundles per flight, and some customers may be ‘upgraded’ if the flight is really full.
When the flight was ready to board, SpringPlus customers get to board first.
However, I chose to wait to board last, as I had an aisle seat. The A320 only has a single door for boarding, so that means if I boarded first, I’ll be greeting every other passenger who has to flow through the single aisle.
Also, a word about budget carrier travellers. Regardless of length of flight, customers on these flights tend to bring too many carry-on items. So that means overhead cabin space is a premium on a first come, first served basis.
I forgot this, and I realised that boarding last was a mistake. By the time I was on board, there was no more space in the overhead cabins. My seat neighbour had not one or two, but four bags – including two cabin suitcases – that couldn’t be stowed overhead. Once again, I wonder if the warnings about carry-on bags were a lie. The cabin crew couldn’t find a space for all their bags, and had to stow them somewhere in the galley in the end.
So I had to keep my bag under the legs for take off, which I’m sure is a breach of safety, and also incredibly uncomfortable.
Spring Airlines install 180 seats on its A320, in a 3-3 configuration across 30 rows. As mentioned earlier, the first two rows are reserved for SpringPlus passengers.
Each passenger in rows 1 and 2 receives a green blanket and a pillow, which are pretty ugly. The seats are upholstered in a faux leather skin, making it easy to clean and fairly comfortable for a mid-haul flight. The seatbacks are also quite thin, maximising the legroom.
The seats are standard width at about 17 inches wide, which is slightly narrower than most other airlines. There is also more legroom for the first two rows, at about 30 inches. All other seats have a standard pitch of 28 inches, which is fairly reasonable for the Asian traveller.
If you are in the main cabin, there are also extra legroom seats at the exit rows of 12 & 13.
Each seat comes with a fold-down dining table, and for the first row the table comes up from your armrest. There are also individual air nozzles and reading lights for every seat located above.
One critical point of all Spring Airlines seats is that: the seats do not recline. This to me isn’t really a bad thing. Most of Spring Airlines’ routes are anywhere between short to mid-haul, and in my opinion, disabling the very limited recline in an all-economy layout is probably a lot more beneficial (by preventing disputes), than whatever marginal comfort you may get with a 2-inch recline.
Once we are safely in the air and the seatbelt signs have been turned off, the cabin crew in front swiftly went behind row 2 to draw the curtains, making the front cabin even more exclusive.
The very lovely crew then went around to each row of three to greet us by name, and then provided an overview of today’s flight, such as the flight duration, estimated landing time and meal service. She also gave us a bottled water each. I was impressed.
Shortly after that, the meal service commenced. The meal was fairly simple: pieces of chicken along with some potato wedges, pumpkin cubes and long beans, along with a slice of chocolate cake and a packaged bread roll. Everything was nicely encased in a plastic box and served up at once, with the entree piping hot.
In terms of beverage, this is where it got a little interesting. Unlike some other low cost carrier which only offered water or one single drink along with the purchased meal, Spring Airlines offered unlimited drinks, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer and wine. Even though the cart had a limited choice of drinks, the sheer fact that drinks were unlimited was, again, impressive.
I had a soda water to go with my meal, followed by a coffee after. Meal service was pretty prompt, and collected shortly after I was done with it. Once again, service was very attentive. As my finished meal was collected, the cabin crew asked if I’ll like another drink. I saw that they had small bottled red wines on the cart, so I decided to give it a try.
The red wine turned out to be a China-made Cabernet Sauvignon (China Wine, ha!), produced in a vineyard from Ningxia. Having not tried Chinese wine before, I took a sip and as it turns out, it was pretty decent. I made a quick search online about Chinese wines and the region has apparently been known to produce some award-winning wines in recent years.
The wine was served in a paper cup as the crew has run out of plastic ones. Personally, I do feel that has affected the taste a little, but the wine was delicious so I had three glasses.
If you are reading this and decided not to buy the SpringPlus bundle, the buy-on-board menu is very affordable. Meals begin from RMB20 (THB87) and all drinks from water to beer were RMB10 (THB43).
With about 90 minutes to go before landing, the purser opened up the curtains, and I thought this a little too early to prepare for landing. He then started wheeling out a cart, and took out the in-flight PA to start speaking.
As it turns out, he was starting to peddle the in-flight duty free items for sale, in Mandarin, of course. While he was very good, being incredibly knowledgeable and persuasive in selling the wide-range of items (I did a rough count, he mentioned no less than 20 items in the catalogue – including cigarettes, SK-II, Disney products, and electronics – over the 15 to 20 minutes of speaking), I can imagine that if you didn’t understand Mandarin, you might find it a little annoying.
After he was done, there was indeed a flurry of duty-free sales going on within the cabin. For one, the Chinese traveller likes to buy cartons of cigarettes back home, and apparently they always run out on Spring flights.
Shortly after, it was time to prepare for landing. The cabin crew once again came to thank customers one-by-one, as well as provide landing information including estimated time of arrival and weather. While this was something fairly simple, I personally was really impressed at the level of service for a supposedly no-frills flight.
I came off the flight more than impressed with what Spring Airlines have packed into a ‘value-added’ bundle.
While Asia is no stranger to low cost carriers and their ancillary products, the SpringPlus bundle that Spring Airlines offer is equivalent to a full-service economy class product, sans in-flight entertainment.
The little more, such as priority check-in, boarding, disembarking and priority baggage handling, made the entire experience even more worth it for the additional cost.
What truly impressed me was the quality of service. Chinese carriers used to be associated with poor quality food and service, but I found both to be more than acceptable in this instance. I’m not sure if this is a one-off experience or representative of the entire fleet, but I’m very sure I’ll be giving this another try if the opportunity arises.
That said, the only downside to the experience is the quality of your travel companions on the same flight. This is a common problem with Chinese travellers, particularly those who are venturing internationally for the first time as they tend to be from smaller cities and may have different levels of refinement and cross-cultural appreciation as those living in the tier-one cities.
Also, Spring Airlines obviously do not belong to any alliance, so if you are more concerned about earning miles, this will obviously not be an option for you.