Air China business class is a reasonable priced option for travel from Australia to Asia. My experience on this flight was far superior to my experience on my previous Air China long haul flight. Food was good and presented in a more business class-like fashion. Food was not the highest quality, but overall it as good. IFE was meh, service was timid, and there was no wifi.
The Good: Affordable fares between Australia and Beijing. Fully flat seats with a good IFE screen.
The Bad: Lack of Wifi and limited IFE selection made the flight feel longer, but overall a pleasant experience.
The Noteworthy: On this flight, the security officer was not as aggressive, and actively helped the FAs in their duties. The FAs were very timid, as they hardly spoke English, the only person who spoke it conversationally well was the security officer.
We arrived at Melbourne airport a bit earlier than we would have liked. We expected there to be a long line for check-in, as well as for security. However, when we got there, there were no lines at passport control, but the check in counter was full. Most people there were for economy. Check-in lines were formed about 15 minutes after we arrived, since Check In had not opened. They did in fact open about 2h15m before departure, a bit later than the 2h30m we had been expecting. Check-in was easy and quick, and within 15 minutes of getting our boarding passes, we were inside the terminal.
Air New Zealand Lounge
Gate and Boarding
When we headed to the gate, there was a mess of people trying to line up and cutting the line. Business class passengers had their own line, and it was fairly strictly enforced. When boarding began, people in economy got upset that they were not boarding yet. I was quite surprised at the calmness of the gate agents at this uproar; they managed it very professionally.
Airline: Air China
Cabin: Business Class
Flight Number: CA 166
Route: Melbourne – Beijing PEK
On Time: Yes
Cabin and Seats
The cabin on Air China’s A330s consists of 2x2x2 lie flat seats. This particular aircraft had 5 rows, with 30 total seats. The seats are very similar to the ones LATAM has on their 787s. They are not very wide, but the amount of legroom is more than enough. Seat controls are on the center console. Waiting on my seat was a purple pillow that matched the color of the seat. On the ottoman was a plush blanket and a pair of slippers.
Also on the ottoman were headphones to be used inflight. They were cheap and flimsy, and did not cancel out much noise. There was also an amenity kit provided by L’Occitane en Provence. It was extremely basic, but it did have eye shades. Noticeably missing were socks, which I usually like to get on nighttime flights.
The inflight entertainment screen is located directly in front of you. This screen was much higher resolution than on my last Air China flight. The IFE controls are located below the center console and they are a very old style. I did not find many English titles, and most of the Chinese movies did not have English subtitles. For most of the flight, I just had the moving map on.
Departure and Take Off
By the time boarding was completed, the cabin was about 16/30 full. The captain came on the PA system. His Chinese language announcement was much longer than his English announcement, but I’m pretty sure it was because of a language barrier issue. We began our taxi to the runway, and had a chance to see the massive Emirates A380 park next to our gate.
Take off was smooth, and we flew north into the night on our way to Beijing.
The flight had a very odd dining concept. The first meal was a dinner service. The second one, served just before landing at 6am, was a sort of lunch. It threw me off, but I did not complain, as I much prefer lunch food than breakfast food. The menu for dinner read as follows:
Dinner started with a hot towel. Then the FA’s set up the linens for dinner. Along with that came a ramekin with almonds; they were dry, unsalted and cold.
For an amuse bouche, there was a selection between four choices. I asked for one of each, and after the FAs confusing look, she acquiesced. The best one was, by far, the skewer.
The appetizer consisted of what seemed like an antipasto plate. It wa alright. The salad, however, was huge. It is probably the largest salad I have ever seen on a plane. It was fresh, well garnished, and HUGE. The FAs also brought around bread rolls and garlic bread.
For my main course, I ordered a variation of General Tso’s Chicken. The plate was small, but it was very flavorful. It came with a side of rice.
For dessert there was a chocolate and hazelnut cake, which was absolutely perfect.
For the pre-arrival light meal, service started with another hot towel. Followed by the table being set.
The whole meal came in a single tray. The amount of food was so much for a light meal, it could have passed as a full meal on a 5 hour flight! Bread rolls were also offered.
I ordered the curry, which has been one of the best breakfasts I have ever had. The appetizer was cold, but very tasty. I did not eat the fruit because they seemed dry.
The seat turns into a somewhat comfortable bed. I found it better to use the blanket as a mattress pad, and take another seat’s blanket. That made all the difference in me being able to sleep for most of the flight.
Notes on Service and Wifi
This flight was so different to my previous Air China flight. The crew was well intentioned but very timid. They did not speak English very well, and many things were lost in translation. As for the security officer on this flight, he was extremely kind to the FAs. He refilled drinks, helped the FAs with cleaning up meal trays, and translated whenever the FAs could not understand. I found him to be conversational, but also not too nice to passengers, probably because of the duties of his job.
The flight had no wifi. Either way, mobile phone use was restricted, in the sense that you were told to not use them, but on this flight it was lightly enforced.
Landing and Arrival
We landed at Beijing about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and parked at a remote stand. The crew bid us farewell, and we deplaned to the tarmac, to be transferred to the terminal by bus. The views of the A330 were stunning, and we got a chance to see other aircraft that were parked nearby. With sunrise, I got to see a few more exciting aircraft, too.
Air China has inconsistent products on their flights to Australia. My first flight left a lot to be desired, while this one exceeded expectations. The food was good and amounts plentiful. I would strongly recommend Air China when their price point is competitive.