Thanks to the good advice I received here, I chose Air China for the domestic leg of our China trip last month. It was a good choice - the flight was trouble-free. Hope you enjoy it!
April 28, 2004
12:40 p.m.-2:20 p.m.
We arrived at Beijing Capital Airport via taxi from our hotel at about 10:00. Traffic was light so we were pretty early. The domestic side of the airport was busy but not chaotic. First order of business was paying our 50 Yuan “CAAC Airport Management and Construction Fee.” I think they had automated machines but we didn’t have the right change so we just walked up to the window and did it. These make great souvenirs – nice 737 image and cool-looking red stamps.
Check-in was also easy. CA shares counters with MU (China Eastern) and another airline I can’t remember, so the counters weren’t flight-specific. We weren’t asked for our seating preference but were given aisles across (11C and 11D). Security wasn’t so great – they took away a little bottle of Chinese liquor I bought as a souvenir (but they missed the mini of Johnnie Walker Black in my backpack; go figure). Oh well, it only cost 4 Yuan (about 60 cents).
We were in the wrong terminal to use any Star Alliance lounges so we tried the Air China lounge to see if we could get in. Nope. Then we noticed a Diner’s Club lounge down on one of the concourses so we went in there to hang out. They had a pretty good selection of snacks and drinks. Beer is good anytime! I was treated to the amazing sight of a China Southern 777 just zooming up to the gate – it really looked like it was going to plow right into the terminal – but it stopped smartly. I guess the captain wanted an on-time arrival!
At about 11:30 we went down to the gate, which was downstairs – bad sign – yes, it was a bus-gate. Interesting place to people-watch, though, and listen to lots of announcements in Chinese. Flights to Xian, Urumqi and Chengdu were lined up next to ours. Finally at about 11:55 a.m. our flight was called and we walked out to the bus, where we waited for about 10 minutes, then proceeded to our gate. It appeared that we were next to the old part of the terminal, which was being renovated. A jetway could probably reach our aircraft if there had been a jetway! I was excited to see that our aircraft was a 737-800 – a new type for me. I took a photo of our aircraft (film camera) so I didn’t write the tail number down – sorry. Boarding was a bit of a free-for-all but that is sort of a Chinese tradition. They aren’t shy about shoving you out of the way, even the little old ladies!
The aircraft was spotless inside, with new-style bins and two rows of business class. Our row was full but it soon became clear that the last 10 rows would be empty so we made our way back to row 22 (right behind the wing) and took D and F. Much better! The upholstry was gray for the first part of economy, then sort of purple for the back, with the Air China logo woven into the fabric. In the seat pocket were several magazines, including a very thick and glossy “Wings of China” that I took with me. Electronic headphones, too, with 12 channels of music (Country, Pop, Opera, Film & TV, Classical, A New Age, Chinese Opera, Jazz, Easy Listening, Chinese Folk, Comic Cross-Talk [in Chinese] and Chinese Pop). I was impressed by the selection, and enjoyed the Pop channel a lot. Listening to Evanescence, the White Stripes and 50 Cent while flying over China – a bit weird but cool.
The safety demo was shown on drop-down screens; it appeared to have been filmed on a 747. They actually showed an evacuation using the slides into what appeared to be a swimming pool. I guess it was shot at the training center. Announcements were made in Mandarin and English, which wasn’t perfect but was easy enough to understand.
We pushed back right on time and after a brief taxi were airborne. Nice climbing ability it seems. It was kind of rainy and gloomy in Beijing so it was nice to be above the clouds. I think there were five flight attendants, so service was quick. We were surprised to receive a hot lunch with two choices of entree, fish or beef. I chose the beef, which was excellent – tender and not dry at all. It came with rice and green beans, a roll/butter and a sort of sweet muffin. My friend had the fish which he said wasn’t as good – he didn’t enjoy the taste or the texture. The cutlery was transparent plastic in orange, yellow and purple. Two meal carts were rolled out, with a beverage cart in-between. I had a Chinese beer (can’t remember the brand but the can was blue and white). A clean-up cart also provided coffee/tea service so I had a cup of coffee, which was decent.
During the meal the screens dropped down and news and variety programs were shown. This was in Chinese so I didn’t pay much attention.
At about 1:55 we started our descent into sunny and warm (just a bit hazy) Nanjing. We overflew the airport and then circled around to the left – I caught a quick glimpse of another aircraft on final approach maybe 1,500 feet below us – looked like an Airbus but it was gone in a flash. The approach was pretty smooth but we landed very firmly (did I read somewhere that this is an Air China trademark from its flight crews having military backgrounds?), with lots of reverse thrust and braking. I noticed a couple of 747s, which surprised me – one was Martinair and the other a Singapore cargo bird. We pulled up to the gate (with jetway) at about 2:15 p.m. Our bags quickly arrived and we were off to find a taxi.
So it’s high marks for Air China – on time, spotless and new-ish aircraft, good inflight entertainment and a nice meal served by a friendly crew. Definitely beyond my expectations for $118!