Air China is good enough airline to fly from Tokyo Narita to Beijing. The airline has well intentioned crews, but there is a serious language barrier. The cell phone ban on planes, which was still in effect during my trip, is a bummer, and no other IFE make the flight feel a lot longer than it was.
The Good: Cheap fares from NRT-PEK. A cabin all to ourselves, lie flat seats and solid ANA Lounge in NRT.
The Bad: No IFE, worthless WiFi, and no cellphones allowed.
The Noteworthy: We were the only people in the cabin! First time ever this happens in Business Class!
For more reviews, see here.
My family and I were in Tokyo, and we were looking for the cheapest way to get to Sydney. There were no award seats on JAL, and the available Cathay Pacific schedules did not give us enough time in Sydney. Going on Google Flights, I found that for about $200 more than the oneWorld ticket we were planning on booking, there was business class available on Air China. I was hesitant at first to book, given the limited reviews available. I figured that there was potential (how bad could it be?) and at worst at least we had a lie flat seat to get to Sydney.
Check in And Lounge
We arrived about 3 hours before departure. It was a mess trying to check in, although there was no line in the counter. Since my father and I have the same name, the computer registered it as a duplicate when checking in, and we had to have an ANA manager sort it out. After the scare, we went through immigrations and security, and proceeded to the ANA lounge to grab some lunch.
The ANA lounge is pretty solid. It has a made to order noodle station, as well as relaxing chairs, sitting areas and a hot buffet. Some of the highlights (in my opinion) were the sake bar, the sleeping rooms (all were taken during our stay) and the beer machine. I don’t drink often, but it was really interesting to have a beer pour like a soda. Not a draft, not a bottle, but something in between.
Airline: Air China
Cabin: Business Class
Route: Tokyo NRT to Beijing
On Time: Yes
We walked all the way down the terminal, and made it to the gate. There weren’t many people there, but about 5 minutes after we arrived, they called for boarding. They announced business class passengers first, and my family proceeded onto the jet bridge. Something that I found cool was that they had a separate boarding door for Business Class passengers. That’s becoming a rarity now a days, so it was a treat. As soon as I entered the cabin, the very polite Lead Flight Attendant looked at our boarding passes and showed us to our seats.
Cabin and Seat
The cabin was impeccable. It felt like it was cleaned from head to toe before our flight. The seats were the standard B/E Aerospace Diamond lie flats. The same you find on United’s 787s. What made them stand out was the lack of IFE. Instead of having a TV Screen, there was nothing. It made me quite sad. Besides that, the seat was about 21 inches wide.
Seat controls were to the side console, and there was a pillow and blanket waiting at every seat.
The cabin was beautifully decorated with a large bouquet of fresh flowers, and that struck me as astonishing, given the reputation Chinese carriers are given.
After settling in, the Flight Attendant came by and asked what we wanted to drink. She tried to explain they had OJ and Water. There was a major language barrier, but she truly tried her best. My dad and I had orange juice, and at that point she came by with a menu.
The menu was simple, and had a choice of two mains. I selected the Beef, while my dad selected the fish.
At that point the Captain came on and thanked us for flying on Air China. Boarding was complete, and there was no one else in the cabin. What a treat! We had the whole cabin to ourselves. We pushed back, and after a quick taxi, took off.
Here is where things got a bit interesting. There was a man who looked like a first officer, but worked with the FAs. He seemed to be there supervisor, but he was often rude and brusque. He ended up seating on the other side of the plane and napping for most of the flight. Yet, when he was awake, he always seemed upset.
Dinner service began with warm towels, and a selection of drinks. I had the Pu’er Tea, and it was an interesting flavor, I’ll leave it at that. Then they came by with cold nuts, and I asked for a Pepsi.
Dinner was served in one tray. The Beef was cooked well, but almost flavorless. The Udon noodles were undercooked. The appetizer salad was simple, and tasted as simple as it looked. The meal also came with fruit and bread.
IFE (or lack of it) and Sleeping
As soon as we were done with dinner, the FA’s went around closing every single window. This forced darkness would be enforced throughout the flight. During the flight, they airline played some promotional video of China on loop in the overhead monitors. It seemed like indoctrination, so I felt a bit weird. I tried connecting to the Wifi, only to be told by the FA that it wasn’t functional yet. That confused me, as Air China is planning on phasing these planes out, but oh well, I don’t ask questions. The cell phone policy was strongly enforced, so I avoided using it, only using it for music and in the bathroom.
The bed was reasonably comfortable, as was the pillow. I was able to sleep for about an hour, before we began our descent to Beijing. The smog around the city was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I could not see the city lights until we were around 3000 feet high. We arrived on time, in an airport that was clouded in a thick smog.
Air China was OK. I got what I wanted: a lie flat seat and a meal. I would not hesitate to recommend them if there is a price advantage. That being said, I would not go out of my way to fly them. Now that the airline is easing their cell phone policy, it may be better. Either way, I am happy with my purchase, and the flight was on time.
Here is a list of all my flight reviews: The Millennial Traveler Flight Reviews
Here is a list of all my lounge reviews: The Millennial Traveler Lounge Reviews
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