Air China regularly offeres cheap business class fares from Europe to Asia. At the end of last year my wife and I booked a Black Friday deal from Frankfurt to Singapore via Beijing. Our expectations were as low as the price of our tickets – but the flight was surprisingly pleasant! Find out what we liked and didn’t like about our Air China business class experience.
Air China Black Friday offer
On Black Friday 2016 the prices for a business class return flight from Europe to Asia were as low as 1,190 Euro. As my wife and I were planning a holiday in Southeast Asia for 2017, this was a good opportunity to save my frequent traveller miles and still travel business class. So we booked an open jaw flight from Frankfurt to Singapore via Beijing with a return flight from Hong Kong. Of course Beijing is a bit off track as a hub to Southeast Asia, but considering the low price, and the fact that this was supposed to be a leisure flight it didn’t really bother us.
Note for Miles&More members: The special deals are sold in booking class R that doesn’t allow you to earn frequent traveller miles with Miles&More. Other Star Alliance frequent traveller programmes are more generous in that regard.
Online BOOKING with air china
Booking the flight via Air China’s website was easy, including seat reservations and Rail&Fly options. I was surprised to see that this special Black Friday rate was available at almost all dates without limitations.
We could choose between a daylight flight at 13.55 with a scheduled arrival at Beijing at 05.15 and a red-eye that was supposed to land in Beijing around noon. The only matching connection flight to Singapore was scheduled to take-off at 15.35.
If possible I prefer a late-evening flight in business class. Sleeping during regular night hours is always more restful than trying to sleep during the day. So our plan was to take off towards Beijing Wednesday evening and continue to Singapore Thursday afternoon.
SCHEDULE CHANGE: 10 HOUR STOPOVER IN BEIJING
Unfortunately this didn’t go quite as planned. At the beginning of this year, Air China informed us via e-mail that the red-eye flight had been cancelled. Due to scheduled maintenance works at the runway at Beijing Airport in April 2017, Air China had to temporarily limit its flight operations and rebooked us on the 13.55 flight instead.
What a disappointment! Starting our journey in the afternoon and arriving at Beijing in the early morning hours with a 10 hour stopover before continuing to Singapore wasn’t appealing at all.
The next day I called the Air China customer service in Frankfurt . The lady at the other end of the line was friendly and helpful, offering various options: cancel our reservation altogether or rebook the outbound flight on another date where the evening flight would be available . Additionally, she pointed out the possibility to visit Beijing with a 72-hour-transit-visa during our stopover. As our flight dates were fixed by that time and cancelling our reservation wasn’t a real option either, we chose to visit Beijing during the 10 hour stopover.
AIRCRAFT CHANGES AND SEAT RESERVATIONS
Some weeks prior to our departure another change occurred. Instead of the originally scheduled Boeing 747-8, Air China now deployed a Boeing 77W on the flight between Frankfurt and Beijing. Once again the customer service agent helped us to change our seat reservations from 747-8 upper deck to the new seat configuration of the 77W.
Air china check-in at frankfurt airport
Air China’s check-in desk is located in Terminal 1, Section B. When we arrived at Frankfurt Airport around noon, several counters were opened and even at the economy check-in there was only a short queue. Check-in was operated by Lufthansa staff in a professional and friendly manor.
AIR CHINA BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE IN FRANKFURT
Air China doesn’t operate its own business class lounge at Frankfurt Airport. Instead, business class passengers may use any other Star Alliance Lounge. We decided to visit Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge instead of one of the Lufthansa lounges.
During our stay there were only a few other travellers in the lounge, which was a plus. Of course the lounge also offered the usual amenities.
There’s not much to say about boarding, except that it started exactly on time. By the time we arrived at the gate around the announced boarding time, economy class boarding had already started. We scanned our boarding pass at the priority boarding lane (empty by that time) and walked to our seat, sharing a jetway with the economy class passengers. First class passengers were granted their own jetway using the plane’s front exit door.
AIR CHINA’s BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
Air China’s business class cabin made a very good impression as it was neat, bright and clean. The B77W contains 8 first class seats in the front compartment, followed by 42 business class seats in 7 rows. The seats are installed in a 2-2-2 configuration, facing slightly away from the aisle and thus offering more privacy than forward facing seats such as Turkish Airlines or LATAM. the night, the seat can be transformed into a comfortable 180° flat-bed. Due to the seat configuration, the footrest is integrated in the seat in front which narrows it down a bit. Still, it’s definitely one of the better seats out there.
The seat also offered some stowage room for smaller items during the flight.
WELCOME DRINK AND AMENITIES
When we arrived at our seat, a cushion, a blanked, noise-cancelling earphones, slippers and an amenity kit were already waiting for us.
I especially liked the high-quality slippers that were definitely more suitable to walk around the plane during the flight than the usual socks other airlines keep placing into their amenity kits.
A few moments after we took our seats, a flight attendant arrived with a tray of welcome drinks. We could choose between water, orange juice and champagne.
Before take-off, menu and wine lists were handed out and we were asked to make our choices for the meal service. We hadn’t anticipated that the flight attendants would also ask us for our choice of drinks and thus had to improvise. As soon as we had placed our order, the flight attendant collected the menu and wine list. You really need to be quick here!
I liked the fact that the flight attendants also asked us, if we would like them to wake us up for breakfast or if we preferred to continue sleeping until the approach on Beijing. It’s sad that such a small gesture makes a positive surprise, when it should be a common standard. Unfortunately, it’s not with some other airlines where flight attendants had actually woken me for breakfast in the past!
TAKE-OFF AT FRANKFURT AIRPORT
AIR CHINA BUSINESS CLASS FOOD
Shortly after take-off the cabin crew started their preparations for the meal service. Unlike the usual proceedings we weren’t offered a real aperitif before dinner. Instead, the flight attendants served the pre-ordered drinks together with an amuse-gueule. In our case the AOC Bourgogne Première Cuvée Domaine Martin white wine we chose to accompany the main-course.
Subsequently, they started to serve the food. Similar to Lufthansa’s “restaurant service”, the flight attendants didn’t push the service trolley through the aisle but used trays to bring the individual food.
We had chosen the Asian main course instead of the Western version. The food tasted ok, but had a clear focus on quantity instead of quality. The starter consisted of salad, prawns and a baked roll:
Please note: The comments about the taste and quality of the food apply for the leg from Frankfurt to Beijing only. On the return flight from Beijing to Frankfurt the food was almost inedible!
As main-course we had prawns, vegetables and rice that tasted (almost) as good as in some Asian fast food restaurant.
The meal service was swift and efficient and drinks were refilled several times.
After the main-course, we were offered a small plate of fruits and either a sweet dessert or cheese. We went for the cheese.
It would’ve been great to have a glass of Port Wine with the cheese. When asking for it, we learned that Air China doesn’t serve any dessert wines. But then again, too much alcohol isn’t good anyway, is it?
SERVICE DURING THE FLIGHT
During the whole flight (including the legs PEK-SIN, HKG-PEK and PEK-FRA) the service was really good! The flight attendants were very attentive and made us feel welcome at all times. Even between dinner and breakfast, when the cabin was dark and most of the passengers were sleeping. Whenever my wife or I got up and walked over to the galley, a flight attendant approached us and asked if we needed anything.
Communication in English wasn’t an issue and on the return flight to Frankfurt we were even addressed in German!
One detail that I really appreciated were the impeccably clean toilets. It seemed as if the flight attendants cleaned them up multiple times during the flight. Especially towards the end of a long haul flight the condition of the toilets usually deteriorates – not so with Air China!
AIR CHINA’S INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
In contrast to the above mentioned points, Air China’s Inflight Entertainment couldn’t live up to any international standards. The movie selection was very limited and consisted mainly of Chinese productions. In each category (Action, Drama, Romance, Comedy, Kids) there were only a handful of Hollywood movies and even those weren’t well chosen. So I ended up watching “Shawn the sheep” on the way flight to Beijing… The earphones were very good though and had excellent noise cancelling features!
MOBILE PHONE POLICY AND OTHER PECULIARITIES
Even though the overall flight experience with Air China was a lot more pleasant than we had expected, there were still a few things that were rather annoying.
Starting with the amount of safety instructions prior to take-off. At first the flight attendants demonstrated the most important safety features in person. After that, they played a tape in English and Chinese explaining the safety procedures in detail. And finally we had to watch the usual safety-instructions video in its full-length. Prior to take-off there was another announcement about fastening seatbelts, putting seats in an upright position, turning off all electronic devices, etc.
Of course you could always argue “better safe than sorry” – but for my taste, that was definitely too much repetitive information!
What really annoyed me in that context was China’s mobile phone policy. They kept repeating over and over that the use of mobile phones might interfere with the aircraft’s instruments and insisted mobile phones had to remain turned off during the whole duration of the flight – even in flight mode! On the legs from PEK to SIN as well as HKG-PEK they even emphasized the possible punishments for using a mobile phone aboard, including several days of arrest!
Although the flight attendants didn’t enforce the ban of mobile phones in the cabin (at least in business class), it was really irritating not being able to use my phone openly to take pictures and listen to music.
STAY SEATED AT ALL TIMES!
Another peculiarity was that the fasten seat belt sign remained activated during the whole flight, probably as a precaution to ensure everyone fastens their seatbelt. A rather useless measure in my opinion, as the continuous lightened sign made it impossible to know when we actually were supposed to stay seated due to a real risk of impending turbulences.
Finally, Air China obviously doesn’t like to have daylight in the cabin during the flight. Shortly after take-off the flight attendants actively made sure all the window shutters were closed. This measure might be reasonable during a red-eye flight, but is definitely annoying during daylight hours.
ARRIVING IN BEIJING
Beijing Capital Airport (PEK) is Air China’s main hub and the second largest airport in the world with 90 million passengers per year. Due to frequent delays, long immigration queues and even longer ways between gates, the airport has a questionable reputation. So we were all the more curious how everything would work out for us.
TRANSFER AND 72-HOUR-VISA IN BEIJING
We arrived in Beijing on time. After a short taxi the aircraft stopped at a jetway in Terminal 3E.
Depending on the arrival gate, the distance to the central immigration checkpoint can be quite long, even with the moving sidewalks. At immigration, there are different counters for Chinese citizens, diplomats, foreigners, international transit and 72-hour visa free transfer.
As we were planning to visit Beijing, we lined up at the 72-hour visa free transfer counter where we had to wait for about 20 minutes before being allowed to enter China. The immigration process itself was smooth and easy. Presenting our passport and boarding pass for the connection flight to Singapore was sufficient – no further questions asked!
On the return flight from Hong Kong to Frankfurt we had to pass the International Transfer counter before being allowed into the departure area. This time around they only checked our passport and boarding pass, no stamp in the passport. Luckily there were no queues when we arrived from Hong Kong, so that we passed the whole transfer and security procedures within 10 minutes.
SECURITY SCREENING AT BEIJING AIRPORT
Security screening was thorough and in compliance with European standards. We were asked to remove electronic devices, liquids and metallic objects from our carry-on luggage. After that we could pass the walk through metal detector and our personal items were being x-rayed. Obviously I had too many coins in my bag so that the screener couldn’t identify all objects within. So I had to remove them and my bag was x-rayed again. Over the whole process the security staff was polite, even with limited English language skills.
To sum it up: Yes, security is tight and distances are long – but still the transfer at Beijing Airport was better than I had expected.
AIR CHINA BUSINESS CLASS LOUNGE BEIJING
Air China’s business class lounge for international departures is located in Terminal 3 at Gate E19. The lounge is designed with an open architecture and offers a nice view on the apron.
Generally speaking, the lounge has everything you expect from a business class lounge:
- Different areas including quiet zones and an eating area
- Warm and cold dishes and snacks
- Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks
In order to receive a Wifi access code you may scan your passport at a designated desk.
I’d say the lounge was mediocre, neither good nor bad, except for the food. It may have been better than on the plane but that doesn’t mean it was good either. Really nothing to write home about.
CONNECTING FLIGHT WITH AIR CHINA TO SINGAPORE
The connecting flight to Singapore was rather unspectacular. This time we couldn’t board through a jetway but had to use a bus instead. It seemed as if the plane was parked in the most remote area of the airport as the bus ride took us several minutes.
By the time we reached our seats, all we wanted to do was sleep. Therefore it was very convenient, that Air China’s A 330-300 is equipped with a full flat business class seat as well. Air China uses the same seat as Turkish or LATAM in its A333 in a 2-2-2 configuration, which is not quite as good as the seat in the 77W but still good enough. Perfect to get some rest on the 6 hour flight to Singapore!
FOOD AND INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT ABOARD AIR CHINA’S A330-300
Just as on the flight from FRA to PEK, noise cancelling earphones and slippers were already waiting at our seat. No amenity kit this time, but we didn’t really miss it.
The meal service was similar to our prior flight. The only difference was that the food was served 1.5 hours into the flight around 17.45 instead of immediately after take-off. The flight attendant informed us about it when he served our welcome drinks and asked if we would like to have dinner or preferred to sleep. We decided to try dinner and slept during the rest of the flight.
Sleeping was the best option by far, considering the mobile phone ban and the even more limited inflight entertainment on this flight. While the flight from FRA to PEK had at least some international movies, there were almost exclusively Chinese productions this time.
When we finally arrived in Singapore, we appreciated the flight being on time and that our suitcases were one of the first to arrive at the belt.
All points considered, our Air China business class flight was better than expected. Of course the flight cancellation and consequently very long stopover in Beijing were quite unlucky but at least Air China’s customer service agent in Frankfurt handled it well. Our flights were mostly on time and connecting via Beijing was not that bad either.
Only the food was really below standard – with exception the outbound flight from Frankfurt. Some other things, such as the mobile phone ban, were a bit annoying too.
What I really liked about Air China’s business class was the comfortable seat in the Boeing 77W. That’s where the Chinese definitely beat their fellow Star Alliance members Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines. The cabin was in a good shape too and the attentive service made our flight an overall pleasant experience.
Air China offers a decent business class product but couldn’t quite live up to the standards of Star Alliance’s top airlines. Still, I would definitely book a flight with the Chinese again. Especially for a holiday flight when the alternative would be premium economy or economy class!