Getting To India Part 2 – Air China 777-300ER Business Class Review LAX-PEK

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The Air China 777-300ER aircraft on which I flew from LAX-PEK.
The Air China 777-300ER aircraft on which I flew from LAX-PEK.

Getting To India Part 1 – United Club San Francisco International Terminal

Getting To India Part 2 – Air China 777-300ER Business Class Review LAX-PEK

Getting To India Part 3 – Air China A330-300 Business Class Review PEK-SIN

Getting To India Part 4 – Singapore Airlines 777-200 Business Class Review SIN-BLR

In preparation for boarding and to scope out the area, I left the United Club about forty-five minutes prior to departure.  When I arrived at the gate, United ticketing agents were on hand to help passengers.  I decided at this point to see if anyone was sitting next to me.  After inquiring with the agent I found out that I would be alone, which was nice.

China can be a chaotic place and in some ways this flight was the same.  About 15 minutes before boarding began, dozens of people crowded around the gate in anticipation.  Most of these people were sitting in coach and were blocking the door for first/business class passengers once boarding began.  Thankfully they eventually figured it out and moved over, but I don’t understand this mentality.

This was just the start. Many more people crowded this area before boarding!
This was just the start. Many more people crowded this area before boarding!

As mentioned before, first and business class passengers were called to board at the same time.  We boarded through the front door and thus walked through the first class cabin on the way to business class.  The Air China 777-300ER aircraft has 6 first class seats in a 1x1x1 configuration and 42 business class seats in a 2x2x2 configuration.

I noticed a few minutes after most first and business class passengers were aboard, they started allowing some economy passengers to board through the front door.  The only reason I noticed this is that I was sitting towards the back of the business class cabin and saw them go past me on their way to economy.

The business class cabin on an Air China 777-300ER.
The business class cabin on an Air China 777-300ER.

Once I settled in seat 16A, it took quite a while (maybe 15 minutes) for the flight attendant to come over and offer me a beverage.  When she did, I had to select from her tray which contained water, orange juice and champagne.  I decided to try the champagne which was pretty decent.  I was also given a slightly warm towel before takeoff, but it was nearly room temperature.

Before long, we were taxiing and on our way.  Air China doesn’t allow the use of electronic devices below 10,000 feet so we were asked to switch everything off.  The safety video was pretty standard which sucks because I had been hoping to see the crazy one that I had read about in another review.

A forward looking view of the cabin. (There are many more cabins photos at the end of this review.)
A forward looking view of the cabin. (There are many more cabins photos at the end of this review.)

After taking off, the flight crew came around and took the food and beverage orders.  The menu had a special of the day, a Chinese menu and a Western menu.  The only thing they allowed me to order was the main course.  There didn’t seem to be a way to mix a Chinese appetizer with a Western main for example.

I decided to go with the Filet for my main.  The Mongolian Beef sounded very tempting, but I figured I would be in China soon enough, so I would forego eating Chinese food to start.  They also made me order my second “quick meal” at this time.  I ordered the Roasted Duck noodle soup so I could at least say that I ate something Chinese on this flight.

The smoked salmon and shrimp canape were delicious!
The smoked salmon and shrimp canapé were delicious!

As for beverages, I decided to order the Glenfittich 15 year whiskey and a Pepsi Max. When the flight attendant brought my drinks, she brought me a Pepsi and there wasn’t any ice.  I asked her to bring ice and told her that I ordered a Pepsi Max.  She fixed the problem and brought me a glass with two ice cubes and a Diet Coke. (The menu lists Pepsi Max as the only diet soda product.) Funny enough, later on in the flight I ordered a Diet Coke and was brought a Pepsi Max!

Shortly after the beverages came the meal service began. The first canapé dishes were delicious. In addition to the shrimp with prosciutto, I was given a smoked salmon dish that was phenomenal.  It was so flavorful that I could have eaten ten of them.  It was that good.

Flight to Beijing March 5-6, 2014 (116)
Beef pastrami with gravlax appetizer.

For the appetizer I was served beef pastrami with gravlax.  This seemed like an odd appetizer and was another reason I almost chose the Chinese dish.  It turned out to have both pastrami which was actually good and smoked salmon which was tasteless.  I don’t know how the canapé salmon was so good and the appetizer salmon was bad, but that is the way it was.

The appetizer was also served with a small side salad.  My choices of dressing were Italian or some orange one which I didn’t understand her explanation of.  It kind of looked like French dressing.  In the end I chose the Italian and it was good, although it was more like balsamic vinaigrette.  They also had a bread service where I chose garlic bread, but other types of rolls were available.

The main entree. A filet with potatoes and vegetables.
The main entree. A beef filet with truffle sauce.

My main course was the Beef Filet with truffle sauce.  The sauce was very flavorful, but unfortunately the beef was tough.  While it was a little difficult to cut, at least it tasted good.  The meat was served with some sort of potato dish that was very good.  Overall I was satisfied.

For dessert, I was brought a plate of fresh fruit and then given a choice of cake or a cheese plate to accompany it.  Since I was satisfied, I decided not to get desert and just ate the fresh fruit.  While it is tough to judge fruit, I can say it all tasted fresh and vibrant.  The pineapple was especially good.

Fresh fruit dessert.
Fresh fruit dessert.

After meal service was over, I browsed the entertainment selection.  Air China has 15” screens in business class on the 77W and there is quite a lot to choose from.  In just about every category there is a good mix of English and Chinese titles.  Unfortunately I found that most of the English movies were quite old.  At least there was plenty to choose from though.  During the flight I watched two movies, “Planes” & “Paranoid”.  Where are the Oscar nominated films?

Other than movies and tv shows, the entertainment system has the traditional variations of audio, games and shopping.  There is of course also an interactive map which I found to be quite modern and good.

A sample of the movie selections on the 15" screen.
A sample of the movie selections on the 15″ screen.

I would rate the cabin service as average.  I will say that most of the crew members spoke good English.  I had been worried based on reviews that English would be a problem, but it seems that was a non-issue.  The biggest thing I noticed with the crew was indifference.  While most other Asian airlines kill you with kindness, the Air China crew was more to the point and stoic.

In some ways, the Air China flight attendants felt more like those you find on a U.S. based carrier.  At times I felt like I was inconveniencing them when asking for something.  This feeling didn’t come from anything they said to me, just the way they behaved.  With that said, they did a good job and were very efficient.

The selection at the self-service area between first and business class.
The selection at the self-service area between first and business class.

The business class cabin features lie flat seats.  Since our departure was at 1:50pm, we flew in daylight nearly the whole way through and it was difficult to sleep.  I did manage to get in a 90 minute nap after lunch/dinner.

First off, I must say that the duvet and pillow that Air China provides is extremely comfortable.  The bedding was so comfortable that I felt like snuggling up with the duvet and curling up into a ball.  Unfortunately, I did need to curl up a little, as I am slightly too tall to stretch out completely in these seats.  At 6’2’’ I am tall, but not unreasonably so.  Fortunately, there is some room to maneuver and the footwell isn’t too small.

The seat in fully flat mode.
The seat in fully flat mode.

After waking up I took a look at the stocked food/beverage bar (previously pictured) in between the first and business class cabins.  They have snacks on hand like cookies, fruit, yogurt and cup of noodles!   Nothing special, but I did have a blueberry greek yogurt which was good.  I also grabbed quite a few waters since I was feeling very dried out.

Following my nap and snack I decided to watch a movie and then do some work on the laptop.  About 90 minutes before landing, the crew began the “quick meal” service.  My soup was not very good and I didn’t eat very much of it.  I wasn’t too hungry anyway and knew that I would be eating some dinner in Beijing.

My "quick meal" which wasn't too good.
My “quick meal” which wasn’t too good.

Before long, we were on our approach to Beijing and then on the ground.  Anyone who knows Beijing Capital Airport is aware of the lengthy process of getting out of the airport, but the process of getting a transit pass was very easy.

In the end, I really enjoyed this flight.  The food wasn’t tremendous, but it was good.  The service while somewhat indifferent, was efficient and at no time did I feel neglected.  I did really enjoy the seat and felt it was comfortable.  My only gripe is the length, but for most people this will not be a problem.  If I had a choice to fly Air China again, then I wouldn’t hesitate to do so given my experience on this flight.

More photos:


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6 COMMENTS

  1. Nice report!

    When did you book this flight to India (how many months ahead of time)? Plan to book economy seats to India for Feb. Not sure if I should hurry or can wait to book award seats.
    Also, was there a special meal option for this journey?
    Were the checked bags free for this international flight?
    If you were to change the dates but keep the same itinerary, would you have to pay the change fees with United? I gather there has been a change in fee structure…

    Thanks.

    • I actually booked my flight to India about two weeks out. There are many ways to get there with United miles. (You can go either via the Atlantic or the Pacific.) As a general rule it is best to book as far out as possible when you know your plans. With that said, you probably will still be able to find availability closer in if you are flexible with your routing.

      You shouldn’t have any bag fees since this is an international award. As for change fees, United charges $75 if you change the dates more than 21 days out. If it is within 21 days, then it goes up to $100. If you have status, of course that changes. You can see a full list of their award change fees at http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/mileageplus/awards/travel/ticketing.aspx

      I hope this helps! Enjoy your trip to India!

      • Hi Shawn,

        I booked my ticket to India using UA miles in economy. Looking at the itinerary, it says I have to pay for 2nd checked bag, which is $100! I wasn’t expecting that. Did you have to pay as well? Any work around for it? Thanks.

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