Lounge (American Express Lounge in Sydney): 4/5
Food and beverages: 2/5
- Comfortable seat when converted into a bed
- Underwhelmed dining experience
- Overall experience was closer to premium business class than first class
Now I had the opportunity to fly with Air China from Sydney, Australia, to Beijing, China. Air China CA174 B777-300ER left Sydney at 21:00 and was scheduled to land in Beijing around 05:00 with total flight time about 11 hours and 20 minutes.
Air China named their first class Forbidden Pavilion, which, I assume, was inspired by the Forbidden City in Beijing. Air China is the flag carrier of the People’s Republic of China. As of 2018, Air China (main brand only, excluding subsidiaries) had 407 planes and carried more than 100 million passengers per year, making this Star Alliance member the third largest airline in Asia in terms of passengers carried. As a comparison, Garuda Indonesia had 143 planes and carried about 35 million passengers annually.
In the Sydney International Airport, I was directed to use the Air New Zealand lounge, although I also had the option to choose the Singapore Airlines’ Krisflyer lounge. Since I have tried both, I opted to use the American Express lounge instead. I needed to use my lounge quota in my credit card anyway.
The lounge staff welcomed me warmly, even though he was a bit surprised to see me there since I had other lounges that I could use. There was a green wall made from plants in the lounge entrance. It looked fresh and I like it.
The lounge was empty when I came in, which was wonderful, so I could wait for boarding in peace and quiet. The size of the lounge was not that big, but it was nicely decorated. The use of timber in some places made this lounge appeared warm and inviting. There was a massive window on one side giving a great view of the tarmac. I obviously picked one of the seats near the window where I could enjoy planes went to and fro. A Qantas’ queen of the sky (B747) was parked literally next to the window.
The food options were limited, while the selection of drinks was reasonable. The speed of the WiFi was adequate, although I don’t know how it would perform when the lounge is full. Shower rooms were available, but they were located in the SkyTeam lounge next door since these two lounges were under the same management. Power outlets were available in many places.
After spending an hour or so in the lounge, now it’s time to board the plane. There were 8 seats in the first-class cabin, organised into 2 rows. The configuration for each row was the usual 1-2-1, thus giving every passenger direct access to the aisle.
The seat was spacious. To put that into perspective, the window seat had 4 windows, so it was quite long when converted into a bed. My legs couldn’t even reach the ottoman in front of me. The width was not as wide as the first-class seat in Singapore Airlines (read here), but it was more than adequate. There was a place to store small items like mobile phone and iPad (near my right arm in the photo below). USB ports and a power outlet were also available, so there was no issue to keep the juice up in all my devices.
Welcome drink, some nuts, and a small warm towel were distributed. For the welcome drink, I picked a glass of champagne as usual. I also appreciated the fact that the nuts were placed in a small bowl, which is a proper etiquette to serve this kind of snacks. Afterwards, a flight attendant took my dinner and breakfast orders right before take-off.
Dinner service began soon after the plane reached the cruising altitude. Dinner started with some enjoyable canapes.
The first dish was a bowl of soup along with condiments served in small bowls.
There were four options for the main course: chicken, beef, fish and lamb. I picked the beef dish with vegetables and rice. The rice was terrible because some part was dry and hard. The beef dish itself was tasty, but the presentation was rather pedestrian. It appeared like a dish that I could get from any Chinese restaurant.
Finally, the desserts consisted of some fresh fruit and a slice of chocolate cake. The cake was fine. The presentation again could be improved. The fruit was simply scattered on the plate, while the cake was not look attractive either.
I watched a couple of movies during and after dinner. The entertainment system was good, even though the movies were perhaps catered more for Chinese passengers. Close to midnight, I brushed my teeth and changed to the pyjamas provided, while a flight attendant converted my seat into a bed. I quite like the Chinese style of the pyjamas. The dark colour and the red borders also match nicely.
After sleeping well for around 6 hours, I felt refreshed. Breakfast was soon served. I chose a bowl of porridge which was served with some dumpling, condiments and fresh fruit. The dishes came on a tray, which was rather business-class like.
The plane landed in Beijing Capital International Airport on time. After passing through immigration and collecting my luggage I went to the Air China’s domestic lounge since I had a flight to Qingdao next. The lounge looked cosy, but the food selection was rather basic. I could see some cup noodles, which was rather sad for an airline lounge in my opinion. I also took a shower here, which was welcomed after a more-than-11-hour flight. The amenities in the bathroom were good, but the water pressure was a bit weak. The shower head could be better as well.
Before my flight, I read some reviews about Air China. It seemed that many people were not satisfied with their experience. As such, I did not have a high expectation from this flight. The meals in the flight were fine in terms of quantity, but the quality and presentation needed improvements. The services on board were reasonably good. The flight attendants were polite and friendly. Their English was not great, but I did not have any problems communicating with them. The fasten-your-seat-belt sign was on throughout the flight, so in the end people were simply ignoring it. Not sure why it was so, but I read somewhere that it’s not uncommon. In general, I think it was a decent experience. The entire experience was not as refined as my other first-class flying experiences though.