Getting To India Part 3 – Air China A330-300 Business Class Review PEK-SIN
After flying from San Francisco to Beijing, I spent about 20 hours in the city on a beautiful day before returning to the massive Beijing Capital International Airport for a flight to Singapore. I had desperately tried to get on a Singapore Airlines flight that left on the same route at a similar time, but given that it was on a 777-300ER, SQ didn’t release any award space.
Knowing how big the Beijing airport is, I arrived about two and a half hours before my flight. Upon arrival I searched everywhere to find the Air China check-in desks for business/first class and finally located them all the way to one end of the massive check-in area. This is perhaps the most inconvenient place they could have put them, but the check-in did area did feature padded seats and the staff spoke very good English.
Once I had my boarding pass in hand, it was time to make the trek out to Terminal 3 and suffer through Chinese security. At the checkpoint, the metal detector was mysteriously triggered by every single person. This meant that everyone had to stand on a box, put their arms out and try to mentally block out what happened next. The “security check” wasn’t your normal TSA pat down! He felt up parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed.
Moving on from the checkpoint, I had a few minutes before boarding to check out the Air China Business Class Lounge. It sits on the second floor overlooking the terminal. Aside from a selection of mediocre looking Chinese food and a sub-par selection of liquor, there was nothing worth mentioning about this lounge. Almost immediately after I started taking photos in the lounge, an employee came over and told me to stop. Not wanting any more run-ins with Chinese security, I complied.
I only spent about 20 minutes in the lounge before heading to my gate. Unfortunately when I arrived, I quickly realized that it was a bus gate. Air China provides limousine buses for their Business Class passengers. The bus was comfortable and the drive out the plane took about five minutes or so.
Just before departing the gate, a family of 5 wealthy looking Chinese people boarded. It was interesting to see how they treated the staff at the airport and on the plane. It seemed as if they looked down on the staff and they were very rude & demanding.
One of the benefits of a bus gate is getting to stand on the tarmac next to the plane. I always marvel at the size of these wide bodied aircraft when standing beneath them. I am not a huge fan of the Air China’s livery, but it is decent enough. This particular plane seemed to be a bit dirty, but given the normal air quality conditions in most of China’s large cities, this is probably to be expected.
After climbing the stairs and boarding, I quickly settled in to seat 14A. Air China has fully lie flat seats on the A330-300 in a 2-2-2 configuration. I found these seats to actually feel a bit more comfortable then the ones on their 777-300ER since they are more open.
There is power in every seat and a pair of Air China branded noise cancelling headphones were provided. While there wasn’t an amenity kit, they did have slippers which were collected for some reason before the end of the flight. As you can see, there is ample storage including a place for shoes below the foot rest.
Pre-flight service started with a warm towel and a selection of either juice or water from a tray. After boarding had finished, we taxied for 15 minutes before leaving China’s capital city behind. Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants took drink orders and provided warm almonds.
After a few more minutes, the flight attendants came by and took food orders. I was never given a menu and was asked whether I wanted the “Western” or “Chinese” meal. Not knowing what the food was, I opted for the safer “Western” option. Unfortunately since I didn’t get a menu, I don’t know the exact names of the dishes.
The starter was a salad, garlic bread and prawns with dragon fruit. The prawns were very good, but the dragon fruit dish was not to my taste. While Air China’s garlic bread isn’t as good as Singapore Airlines’, it was decent enough.
For the main dish, I was given some sort of steak with an unknown sauce accompanied by potatoes and green beans. The presentation was a bit messy since the sauce had leaked onto the outside of the plate. While the steak wasn’t excellent, it was tasty enough. For dessert I opted for a cheese plate with some fresh fruit. It was both delicious and the perfect end to an average meal.
Shortly after dinner, I played around with the entertainment system a little. The screen is slightly smaller then on the 77W, but the interface is identical. The IFE had the same mediocre selection of television shows and movies as well. While there were a few decent movies in there, most of them were older. Since this was only a 6 hour flight, it didn’t turn out to be much of an issue for me.
My long day exploring the city followed by the Beijing Airport experience, had left me tired. I decided that it would be a good idea to extend the bed out and get some sleep. I really must have been tired, because I slept for about four hours, awakening just as we began our descent into Singapore. I found the seat to be extremely comfortable as was the blanket that was provided by Air China.
While this flight was much shorter than the one from SFO-PEK, I found the food, service and plane to be very similar. I actually preferred the lie flat seat on the A330 to the one on the 77W since it felt less enclosed. I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me on either flight, so perhaps my opinion would have changed if the situation were different.
In the end, I still think that I would have preferred to fly on Singapore Airlines on this route if given the chance, but Air China provided a decent product. Their food isn’t anything to rave about and their entertainment selection is geared more towards the Chinese then towards Westerners, but they are providing a decent product.
As far as service goes, I found it to be consistent on both of my Air China flights. The flight attendants on both flights spoke decent enough English and provided adequate service. While it isn’t the type of friendly service you get on other Asian carriers like Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, it was good.
In the end, I had a decent airplane meal and slept really well on this flight. When I arrived in Singapore, I was both happy and comfortable. The flight landed on time at 9:40pm in Singapore and I was through immigration in record time. Since I was staying at the airport in the Crowne Plaza, I was in my room by 10pm. All in all, a good day!