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Does pain build or distort character?
October 14, 2012 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I fly with Emirates or save money with China Southern/China Eastern/Aer Lingus Airlines? I will be flying Sydney to London, London to NYC, and NYC to Sydney.

Can anybody who has had experience flying with the Chinese airlines offer advice? I found the cheaper option online:

Sydney > London - China Eastern - 27hrs (4hr layover at Guangzhou)
London > New York - Aer Lingus - 11hrs
New York > Sydney - China Southern - 47hrs (18hr+4hr layovers at Shanghai and Singapore, respectively)
= $2600

alternatively, a travel agent offered me this Emirates package:

Sydney > London - Emirates - ?hrs
London > New York - Emirates - ?hrs
New York > Sydney - Emirates - ?hrs (overnight layover in Dubai?)
= $3100

I have read some online reviews of China Eastern; they were not complimentary. There were reports of electrical fires, delayed flights, lost baggage, infrequent refreshments and non-existent personal inflight entertainment. China Southern seems more reputable.

On the other hand, there is probably some selection bias with online reviews—satisfied flyers being less likely to post a review. I'm also keeping in mind that China is changing rapidly, and year old reviews may not be entirely accurate today.

Choosing the first option will entail almost 60hrs of flight time with an extra 26hrs spent at layover stops. Flying with Emirates will most likely be a little faster and definitely more comfortable.

For what it's worth, I work on a casual basis with some supplementary freelance work, so I don't have plenty of money to splash around.

I've canvased friends and family and a slight majority favour the Emirates option. One of my friends joked that pain builds character; another friend argued that pain distorts character, hence the title.
posted by quosimosaur to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total)
 
I would personally take Emirates, but that's because I hate discomfort and flying and will pay to minimise both. If I were on a tight budget, I'd take the China Eastern option. Planes used for international flights to and from the EU or the US will be fine in terms of safety, everything else doesn't really matter and you can always get some (a lot of) reading done during the flights and layovers.
posted by atrazine at 7:05 AM on October 14, 2012


Just to point out, there's no way that London -> NYC flight is non-stop (maybe you know this, but you don't mention a layover). The flight time from London to NYC should be ~7 hours. So, my bet is that, too, stops somewhere (probably Dublin or Shannon).

Personally, I would consider whether the Emirates flights were non-stop. If they were (or if they had interesting layovers in interesting airports, e.g. Dubai), I'd spend the extra $500. Actually, I'd do whatever I could to avoid that 47hr return flight. . .
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:15 AM on October 14, 2012


Really depends on your personal levels of endurance. If you're not especially tall, can sleep in pretty much any position, are happy entertaining yourself with books / ipods / ipads etc and enjoy a little travel adventure then the cheaper option will work out for you.

If on the other hand you are not a big fan of flying for flying's sake and just need to get there, then the extra $500 may well be worth it.
posted by jontyjago at 7:15 AM on October 14, 2012


Also, bear in mind that the flight itinerary may say flight EK024 Dubai - Sydney but it's not necessarily non-stop - I've done Sydney to London with Emirates and we stopped twice - in Dubai to change planes and a second time in Bangkok where we got off for a couple of hours and then back on the same plane - this was classed as the one flight. Overall it took 24 hours. Any Sydney to London flight has to stop in at least Dubai.
posted by jontyjago at 7:23 AM on October 14, 2012


Emirates don't fly London-New York except via Dubai, which would be completely insane.

You will spend the $500 you save on the flights via China recuperating from/getting visas for/simply dealing with the flights via China, plus airport food. You'll also be gone longer - that's one or maybe two more days with parking fees. Emirates involves a single mega-airport designed for transfers, comfy planes, guaranteed-English-speaking crews, and a mostly-good reputation even if you're flying Economy.
posted by mdonley at 7:42 AM on October 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


You might want to check all the flight and layover times on your budget option and see if there's something weird hidden in there. Your 11 hour flight time between London and New York seemed weird to me, so I looked at your other legs.

For instance, for your Sydney to London leg, I got the following: 7 hours Sydney to Singapore, 4 hours Singapore layover, 5 hours Singapore to Shanghai, 4 hours Shanghai layover and 11 hours Shanghai to London. Which does NOT add up to 47 hours.

Going back to the London to NYC leg, which is something I have more experience with than the other parts of your trip, it's pretty easy to find nonstop flights for that (really not a lot of places to stop on the way, and both are huge air hubs). I've looked into the various ways to do this, and even if you choose something with a layover in Dublin or Reykjavik, you don't really save enough money to make it worthwhile.

Changing the subject a little, I'll say that I tend to take bad reviews of an airline with a grain of salt, assuming we're talking about legit airlines where people are getting from point A to point B intact on a regular basis. People bitch a lot about flying. Flying is irritating and inconvenient. Being on a plane for 10+ hours sucks. Mistakes happen. Baggage is lost. Planes have mechanical problems and need to be fixed or double-checked before you can take off. That's life.

The only way I'd choose to spend the extra $500 to fly Emirates is if it would cut a lot off your flight time and/or eliminate pointless layovers. Then again, I find for international flights that layovers can be good. I'd rather two 8 hour legs with a nice long layover in between than a 16 hour flight, even if the nonstop flight got me there sooner. Because being on a plane for 16 hours is a lot worse than being on a plane for 8 hours.
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 AM on October 14, 2012


Another thing - you'll be earning a not insignificant number of frequent flyer miles on this trip. With the China itinerary, you're splitting the miles (China Eastern and China Southern are both SkyTeam, so you should be able to combine the miles there at least, but Aer Lingus is independent.) Also, assuming you're Australian, Emirates miles will probably be more useful for you -- Emirates and Qantas have a partnership, but there isn't much SkyTeam presence in your part of the world.
posted by penguinicity at 7:52 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would not do China Eastern or China Southern long-haul coach for a $500 savings on a $3000 fare.

That said, that emirates itinerary is a little weird, because as other have said they don't fly JFK-LHR themselves. Could be a codeshare, could by via Dubai - which is crazy.

Have you tried looking yourself on ITA?
posted by JPD at 8:08 AM on October 14, 2012


Thanks all for your help so far.

Betelgeuse: Yes, that Aer Lingus flight includes a 2.5hr layover in Dublin.

Sara C.: The 47 hour leg is from New York to Sydney, and it includes a 14 hour layover in Shanghai and another 4 hour layover in Singapore. Still, the numbers don't quite add up. Maybe the 47 hours accounts for time lost due to timezone differences.

JPD: Thanks for the tip. I'll check out ITA. So far, I've used jetabroad.com.au, which was recommended by a co-worker.

I may have misheard the travel agent when she gave me the $3100 quote. From what you're all telling me, I'd guess that only the flights to and from Sydney are with Emirates.
posted by quosimosaur at 8:21 AM on October 14, 2012


Maybe the 47 hours accounts for time lost due to timezone differences.

You should definitely be looking at the actual flight time on all of this stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 8:32 AM on October 14, 2012


Double check the Emirates option too - I'm not 100% it will be faster. For instance I'm flying London-Auckland return in January, and the Emirates option I was given was Auckland-Brisbane-Singapore-Dubai-London, which is pretty exhausting.

I've chosen to go China Southern as its as direct as I can get on the cheap, and my flight has actually been changed twice now - simply reducing the layover time in Guangzhou... will let you all how it goes then.
posted by teststrip at 8:39 AM on October 14, 2012


You should also go to a discount type travel agent. I've always found that travel agents can get better fares than are available online. In Sydney, I think STC is the name of the cheap, student oriented chain? They've done well for me on international flights. They also know more about the airline amenities and layover options, so they can help you with questions like the one you're asking. There's also a cheap Southeast Asia oriented travel agent in Railway Square; I haven't booked with them, but it might be worth a visit to see what they have.

That said, regarding Chinese airlines, I've done Sydney-Taiwan-Vancouver with South China, and it was totally fine. I think the STC agent I booked with told me that East China was a bit less comfortable... I chose the South flight for a day in Taiwan, though. If I were you, I would probably not fly Emirates; but it's such a preference thing, you know? I will never choose flights for comfort over price because I don't mind air travel. It depends what you value most.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:42 AM on October 14, 2012


Could be a codeshare, could by via Dubai - which is crazy.

There isn't an international codeshare to the US mentioned here, so you have to wonder.

Dublin Airport is meh, but there's a slender advantage on that route in (probably) clearing US customs and immigration in Ireland, which will take a chunk out of your layover time instead of extending the non-cheery greeting you'd receive in JFK. That's a relatively minor thing given the rest of your itinerary, but your flight doesn't really end until you're through the bureaucracy.

More generally, long-haul to and from Australia won't stop being arduous until we have commercial hypersonic aviation, so you really have to pick your poison. I'm sympathetic to Sara C.'s argument about layovers, but I know some people are better at bunkering down for a 16-hour legs than kicking their heels on layovers, and I know others really enjoy hanging out in foreign airports or grabbing a transit visa (bureaucracy permitting) and venturing out. Only you know which makes most sense.
posted by holgate at 8:46 AM on October 14, 2012


If you've never flown a long-haul route before, you may be underestimating just how much it takes out of you. I've flown Sydney-London, both non-stop and with a brief stopover in Singapore, and though the stopover was preferable, it's still a pretty awful trip. When I got home I slept through the entire next day and missed an important appointment, I was so wiped.

There is no no no way I would do a 47 hour trip anywhere.
posted by Georgina at 8:47 AM on October 14, 2012


I've flown with China Eastern and China Southern extensively, but not Emirates. So I can't compare the two, but without a doubt, flying with Chinese airlines is an overall better than any US airline. Their interiors are all quite new, but I guess the same could be said for Emirates, given their reputation. Also, you fly often and bank on miles and status, the China Eastern/China Southern earn miles with SkyTeam, which has a huge network for flight redemption. With Emirates, they're not with any huge alliance. So given your long flight distance, and any future/past flights, it could easily add up to a free ticket in the future.

The problem you would run into with the Chinese airlines may be needing to get a visa during the 18-hour layover, I'm not sure how much the rules have changed since the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo. The biggest issue, as mentioned by others above, is that four hours in Guangzhou and Singapore are survivable, but an 18hr layover would kill you if you plan to just hang around in the airport. Every time I had to spend 6-8hrs in a layover in Japan, it would just kill me no matter how much reading material or entertainment I brought along, so I can't even imagine 18hrs.
posted by peachtree at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2012


I would not do China Airways. Emirates is much better.
posted by pakora1 at 3:05 PM on October 14, 2012


JPD: Wow, thanks again for suggesting ITA! I found the Emirates tickets for my first and last legs for $2200. The Aer Lingus ticket is $505 by itself so I'll only end up paying an extra hundred dollars altogether.

peachtree: The visa-free rules have changed. Travellers from Australia and the United States are allowed to pick up a pass at the airport as long as they can prove they will be flying out of Shanghai within 48 hours.
posted by quosimosaur at 5:02 PM on October 14, 2012


The ITA flight matrix search was the most useful aggregator, helping me pick the cheapest dates to fly as well as generating the best airfare results (I also used Jetabroad and Kayak). Strangely, the same tickets were listed for even cheaper prices on the Emirates website. I found tickets, from Sydney to London and New York to Sydney, for a total cost of $2064 AUD.

The flight from London to NYC will cost approximately $500-600 AUD. So, my airfares will total $2600 AUD, which is on par with China Southern/Eastern airfares.

penguinicity: Qantas and Emirates frequent flyers should be advised that the partnership between these two airlines will not come into effect until April 2013.

My thanks to everyone for your assistance.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:42 PM on October 14, 2012


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