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AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:17 am

Nimen Hao

After a great several days in training at the State Department, followed by some great sightseeing in and around DC, it was time to head to China for my six-week stay with a host family in Zhengzhou. First on the agenda, however, is our three-day stay in Beijing. I was excited, not exactly for seeing the same landmarks all over again, but for how we were travelling there.

This report covers my trip from Washington DC to Beijing via ORD on American Airlines. I haven’t flown American international longhaul since 2002 with a trip to London. Furthermore not only was it the first time flying an American carrier to China but also flying with such “unusual” departure and arrival times.


American Airlines
Flight #1521
Seat 23F
ETD: 17:25
ETE: 2:00
ETA: 18:25

Curbside at DCA Terminal 2


DCA's memorial-esque interior

We arrived at Washington’s Reagan/National Airport at around 14:30 to provide ample time for group check-in. The American ticketing area was jammed with passengers already making the process somewhat of a headache. DCA’s “new” terminal is very well designed. Although compact it lets in a great amount of natural light and the openness of the interior gives a feeling of more space then there actually is. If they ever renovate New York’s La Guardia I hope they look to DCA for ideas.




After a quick pick-me-up at Starbucks we made our way to Security. I braced myself for the zoo that usually is American airport security but, to my surprise, the process went rather smoothly. My one bone to pick with TSA is that they are not consistent between airports on how passengers should arrange/organize their carry-ons, shoes, etc. for the conveyer belt screening process. It has been different for me almost every time and it can be quite a headache in the already schizophrenic albeit precautionary environment that is TSA security. Either way security moved relatively fast.

Starbucks very convenient to AA check-in :p

Views from AA check-in




We proceeded into the terminal to gate 32 where our flight, AA1521, would be departing. I had an hour to kill so I wandered around and snapped some photos of the endlessly busy Reagan Airport. Watching the traffic one really appreciates just how many flights a day there are out of DCA in comparison with the limited number of gates.

AA and UA gate area at DCA

United seems out of place at DCA with such a huge hub at DC's other airport






A look over to the US Airways Concourse


AA to DFW ready to depart. You can see a forest of widgets behind it.

New United colors......not quite used to them yet.



AA to MIA also ready to depart

All the way from SEA


Our plane to ORD waiting for a gate to open up.

16:55 we boarded our MD-80 for ORD. It was of course a full flight. Furthermore the back of economy was nuts. It magically transformed into a kennel/daycare center. Crying babies, screaming toddlers, restless Chihuahuas, etc. After an extended period of boarding and adjusting the FAs ran through the safety demonstration. There was a good period of waiting for traffic on the tarmac to clear up. Once all was clear we began push-back out of the gate.

We were among the first to board into the dark, cool (for now) MD-80.

As we waited on the ground I took advantage of the photo op.









FINALLY we began our taxi




Frontier Animals please don't ever change


Making our turn onto the runway

We had a quick, bumpy taxi to the end of the runway where we turned and rolled down. We took off to the southeast followed by a steep turn to get in line with our route to ORD. It was a steep take off followed by a large amount of turbulence as we crossed over Virginia.

rolling down the runway

steep rotation off of the runway as we crossed the Patomac River.

Some farewell views of the American capital.



Climbed above the clouds to a bright afternoon sun

The flight for the most part was very turbulent. The woman in the seat next to me was becoming very anxious which had me worried. Fortunately she relaxed a little as the flight progressed. Drinks were served as usual by the FAs. It wasn’t long before we were passing over Indianapolis and beginning our descent into the Chicago area.

Virginia is somewhere down there....

Had to use Facebook one last time before my month in China


Indianapolis, IN just before our descent into Chicago


We began our approach from over Indiana and descended as we crossed over Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. It was a usual overcast day in Chicago.



Chicago's iconic downtown

Just before our turn to line up with the runway



Our arrival was uninhibited by holding patterns or any other events. We had a steady landing on the runway at ORD and began taxiing to the gate. United’s Terminal 1 was extremely busy and the International terminal was fully stacked with International carriers including Royal Jordanian, Etihad, and Pakistan International. Very exotic. We were forced to wait for our gate to free up after landing early. Finally we taxied to our gate and deplaned into the busy Terminal 3.

The "livery time-capsule" that is any given United hub





Concourse M packed with evening departures from Chicago to the world


Concourse L on our way to our gate in the adjacent Concourse

My plane to Beijing

Etihad being readied for its flight back to AUH




We had a 1.5 hr layover in ORD before boarding our flight to PEK. Perfect time to explore and take a few pictures.


Checking out my plane before it got dark.



PIA pushing back for its ORD-BCN-KHI(?) flight




Just seems sooo out of place.

The famous hall

AA 777 to LHR

Another AA 777 to LHR

Our PEK-bound 777 ready to be boarded.

American Airlines
Flight #187
Seat: 39J
ETD: 21:05
ETE: 14:00
ETA: 23:55

Our 777 was parked at gate L8 at O’hare. I had occasionally seen the 777 parked there before but was still surprised such a large plane was utilizing the L Concourse. When I arrived at the gate however it made more sense due to the fact that, in comparison with much of the K concourse, L seems to have much more passenger space at each gate. Although I wish someday that AA can have a better terminal set-up at ORD I am impressed with how well they seem to be utilizing their gate space.

Our gate L8

Boarding began in a very timely manner with announcements to the noisy crowd of passengers in both English and Chinese. Once the gate agent had swiped my boarding pass I was on my way down the jet way. I remember my first international flight to London on the 777 and being in awe as I boarded the seemingly massive fuselage. The 777 still today is impressive to me and has to be one of my favorite aircraft. The AA cabin was well equipped with new seating in First and Business, as well as a relatively comfortable economy cabin. I was able to snap a couple photos as I walked to my seat in the back of the plane without looking too creepy :p.

In line to board the flight


The economy cabin

Standard IFE in a 777.


View out the window just before it go dark. ORD beginning to light up.

One of the big differences that came to my attention which helped set this flight apart from my last two flights to China flying CA (apart from the red, white, and blue, and eagle logos) was the flight crew. Flying CA from LAX the flight crew was entirely female and all quite young. Flying AA from ORD however I noticed all of these FAs seemed to be high in seniority after years of service and was a mixed gender crew. I am ashamed to admit I was a bit surprised that the FAs on board seemed just as hospitable and friendly as their Chinese flag carrier counterparts.

After about 40 minutes of boarding the safety video rang through the cabin on the PTVs and our massive plane pushed back out of the relatively small gate area.

We taxied to the runway with no traffic in front of us and sped off into the night.



Safety Video


I had a wonderful conversation in Chinese with the passenger in the seat next to mine who worked for a Public Health agency in Beijing. He was very curious as to what the differences were between Chinese and American commercial aviation.

Before long the flight attendants served dinner to the economy cabin. The choice was between Beef or Chicken. I chose beef and received a beef/rice entrée with a side salad consisting of lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella……weird combo. Interesting to note that while AA’s “Chinese meals” come with soy sauce CA’s do not.


Dinner was quite delicious despite the odd pairing of foods and I spent the following couple hours watching movies on my laptop until the FAs turned off the cabin lights. I dozed off for about two hours and awoke to look out the window at the dimly lit wilderness below. As the flight progressed and as I woke intermittently I could see the landscape become brighter until we passed north of Alaska at around 1:50 am in broad daylight.

After Dinner the lights were dimmed

Simply gorgeous views over Northern Canada and Alaska.
Clear over the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska.

Mid-flight snack: Croissant Ham/Cheese sandwich. eh...


The next sighting of land was the Siberian Tundra and the light began to fade away as we flew south across Russia. Sunlight finally disappeared as we flew over Khabarovsk and the FAs came about the dim cabin serving the second meal. The choice was between noodles (Chinese) or pizza. They were out of noodles by the time the FAs came around to my seat so I went with the pizza. The pizza was very good and conveniently came with another soy sauce packet.
Russian Siberia below

Gradually the sky grew darker as we flew south

Passing near Khabarovsk


Ginger ale after the second in-flight meal. Unfortunately I did not get a pic of the second meal.

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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 8:36 am

Nicely well-illustrated trip report, have been in DCA a few years ago. Nice place for spotting.
Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:30 am

I find the AA meals terrible, especially compared to AF, BA, LH. A tiny cookie for desert and lettuce as a starter does not impress me. From the US the main dishes are like hospital food. Better from Europe. Legroom though is better than BA.

Congrats on working for the State Dept. The exams are very difficult to pass. that impresses me.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 2:39 pm

I have never been on AF, BA, or LH so I unfortunately cannot make a comparison with them but I do see where you are coming from. They need to get there meal service right. It really is unacceptable for such a large carrier to miss the spot on an aspect such as catering.

And thank you. Though I am part of a State Department program to live and study abroad.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 4:47 pm

Thnx for posting and cool pictures. DCA has always been one of my favorite airports.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Wed Jul 13, 2011 7:05 pm

Nice photos, enjoyed looking at them!
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Thu Jul 14, 2011 1:20 am

Good photos at DCA! Looks like you had a good day for flying .. I'm flying AA on Friday. I also haven't flown them in a long time; looking forward to the trip.

Thanks for sharing!

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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Thu Jul 14, 2011 5:42 am

Nice report with nice pictures ! AA looks nice even the meal seems okay to me.

DCA is a great airport especially for spotting from Gravelly Point.

Boeing 777s flown: UA, TG, KE, BA, CX, NH, JD, JL, CZ, SQ, EK, NG, CO, AF, SV, KU, DL, AA, MH, OZ, CA, MS, SU, LY, RG, PE, AZ, KL, VN, PK, EY, NZ, AM, BR, AC, DT, UU, OS, AI, 9W, KQ, QR, VA, JJ, ET, TK, PR, BG, T5, CI, MU and LX.. Further to fly.. LH 777
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:58 am

Fantastic report. I've used AA out of ORD to PEK and PVG multiple times and have never had a bad flight. Thanks for sharing with us and taking the time to write a great t/r.   
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Thu Jul 14, 2011 3:28 pm

Fantastic report! I've always had good experiences on AA international.

Quoting iflyCA (Thread starter):

Nimen Hao

Sorry to nitpick, but just a little correction here - when greeting a large crowd or making a public greeting, it's usually more appropriate to say "dajia hao" (大家好).  
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Thu Jul 14, 2011 8:29 pm

Perhaps an odd question,

But I am flying EWR-Beijing on Continental next week and am debating on whether I want a window or aisle seat.

Right now, I have an aisle going and a window going back. Is there much to see going over?

I always have this debate on such long flights. I love watching take-offs and landing, but I do like being able to walk around nd having access to the bathroom and overheads on long runs.

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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Fri Jul 15, 2011 2:29 am

great Tr's!!! Being from DC, but, having not been a resident there for almost 12years it is great to see DC. the monuments are always a great site to see!!!

Also, is this our first TR of this route?? I am still curious why this route has such a unique flight schedule compared with its PVG/NRT routes.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Fri Jul 15, 2011 5:23 am

Very neat trip report!

Love the photos at DCA and the PIA shot at ORD is really great...I had mixed feelings about the new livery at first but the tail flag has grown on me as being different/unique looking...
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Fri Jul 15, 2011 7:23 am

Quoting CXA330300 (Reply 9):

Stupid mistake on my part. Thank you  
Quoting TranStar (Reply 10):

I have always found PEK to be a wonderful airport to photograph/observe despite the usual dreary weather. I always like a window seat but that is my personal preference. It worked out for being mobile around the cabin on the 777 because of only 2 seats next to the window instead of 3.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Fri Jul 15, 2011 9:01 am

AA, Beijing, and the Midnight Sun

After the second meal had been finished and the trays all collected I wandered to the back of the cabin for some water and asked one of the FAs about the route. He said it had been difficult for American to obtain rights to fly to Beijing for many years. Finally when slots opened for AA the times were not exactly ideal. Nevertheless the flight has been an apprent success in AA's network.

We began our descent as we came near the far-flung outskirts of Beijing. Descent was very smooth into Beijing and the sky was absolutely clear. We pased over PEK before making several turns around to line up with the runway.
Our plane approaching Beijing from the Northeast

Final approach into PEK. Too dark for a window picture.

Our touchdown was very smooth into a dark but very active PEK. We arrived at our gate in Terminal 3 at around midnight, parking next to a dark Air China 737-800. I apologize in advanced for the blurry pictures of the tarmac.

Taxiing off the runway to T3

Parking at our gate next to CA.

Deplaning eagerly into the spacious T3


As we taxied there were only a few other aircraft movements. Delta 767-300 was preparikng to depart to Seattle and at T3 a Transaero 777-200 was being readied for a flight to Moscow. We deplaned into the arrivals level of T3, which is the top floor of the terminal. This gave a majestic view of the architecture and sheer space. Being the only flight arriving at that time immigration/customs went by pretty swiflty. PEK T3 is one of my favorite places. I especially love being there in the evenings with all of the interesting evening traffic lit up. We proceeded to the train to take us to baggage claim. From the departure screen the main flights dep/arr after midnight were to and from Mongolia and the Russian Far East.

We exited the terminal to a surprisingly cool evening in Beijing.

Just after entering Terminal 3

Some of that fantastic architecture


Trains to domestic end and landside.

Overall I was impressed with American's service. The flight crews seemed very respectful and thoughtful and the inflight catering was not too bad. There was however room for some improvement. I always love flying the 777 aircraft and I felt very comfortable in economy class with a good amount of legroom. I continue to wonder why American's slots in Beijing have such "unusual" times. If anyone can shed some light on this it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for reading
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Sat Jul 16, 2011 2:27 am

Cool report, thanks for sharing. Seems like pretty standard AA service. By that I mean usually hospitable flight crew (albeit senior), and mediocre catering at best - although I thought the Indian entrees on my last ORD-DEL were more than acceptable (even by my picky Indian standards). It's not a bad thing that the crews are senior either - I remember the crew took great care of my sister a few years back when she got sick aboard DEL-ORD. That's where the experience pays off big time.
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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Sun Jul 17, 2011 2:06 pm

Hey there, nice report. I actually flew once AA PVG - ORD - MIA in F and was quite impressed, especially with the crew on PVG - ORD in F. The funniest comment I ever heard in my life was when the F/A offered a copy of USA Today to the guy next to me and he said "USA Today? That's like serving McDonald's in First Class!"    It's funny 'cause it's true!

I also had a great crew on my way back to China in F on the LAX - NRT sector (I was non-revving and there were snowstorms, so I had to be creative).

A shame I didn't do a report, but like I said, I was non-revving, so I prefer not to do TRs lest the employee that gave me the passes gets in trouble.

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RE: AA, Beijing, And The Midnight Sun (Pics)

Mon Jul 18, 2011 7:01 am

Quoting Coal (Reply 16):

What a couple of great (and hilarious) experiences. I hope to fly AA again because of the great people service on board. I have neer had a problem with that aspect of their service.

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