After trying out the Air China First Class from Houston to Panama City, here comes Air China in Economy Class on both regional and short haul flight.
My recently concluded family trip to Fukuoka was on Air China via Beijing. At only $2.8k for 6 person, this is an excellent price as the price for Singapore Airlines for the same date came up to $9.2k! Top up another $400 and you can get yourself on Air China Business class which frankly is not a bad deal.
Air China has 3 flights from Singapore to Beijing. By default, the recommended flight will be the red eye flight but you can choose the morning flight to avoid the red eye sector. One advantage of this is that you are entitled to a free layover hotel in one of the many airport hotels (not connected to the airport btw). Business Class passengers will be entitled to a better hotel. The criteria for the free layover hotel is that this is not a code share flight and the transit time need to be between 8 to 30 hours.
My 4 flights were as follow:
- SIN-PEK on CA 976 – Airbus A330-300
- PEK-DLC-FUK on CA 953 – Boeing 737-800
- FUK-DLC-PEK on CA 954 – Boeing 737-800
- PEK-SIN on CA 775 – Boeing 787-9
For the regional flights, service was prompt and crew were friendly. They can speak reasonable English although mandarin speakers will be slightly advantageous. There was no pre-take off beverage service but the crew were quite diligent with their water round throughout the flight.
Food wasn’t great especially the fish on CA 976 was quite dry and bland. The duck coming back on CA 775 fared much better.
Food on CA 976
Food on CA 775
The seats on the A330-300 was old and dated, with a very small IFE. The touch screen was laggy and the remote on the hand rest was ill-positioned and hard to use. The 2-4-2 arrangement however offers more privacy for those sitting at the sides and the lack of foot rest allowed me to stretch my legs under the front seat (giving me more leg space!).
The 787-9 seats and IFE are certainly much better but at 3-3-3, there is less privacy. I still hate the electronic shade as there is nothing you can do to block the sun right after take off as the control switch is not activated until the seatbelt sign is off (I still find it gimmicky). The IFE screen is much bigger and more responsive. The seats were newer but with 9 abreast, slightly narrower than what the A330 offered. Overhead compartment space is much bigger on the Dreamliner than on the A330. Air China still uses headphone (instead of ear buds) but the quality and built is horrendous! Many of the headphones are spoilt!
The 737-800 I had on both legs were quite standard Boeing interior, although our plane back from Fukuoka looked visibly older (the one there had the signature Boeing interior). Seat width and pitch were pretty standard for a 737. No IFE was available, hence your tablet or your phone will be your best friend throughout.
As the Fukuoka flight is via Dalian City, the Beijing-Dalian segment is considered domestic and hence we were not allocated any gate. Although it was fun going there with the good plane view, day time and nice weather (with temp of 10C), it was not fun coming back with temperature of -4C. We had to run to the bus and yet the bus driver left the door open! .. GRRRRRRR (and BRRRRRRR)
The food to Fukuoka was rather shabby while the food back to Beijing was much better. Bottled water was provided for each leg at the seat pocket.
Food on CA 953 (Left) and CA 954 (Right)
Air China offers free transit amenity for those transiting in Beijing International Airport between 8 to 30 hours. One can choose from choice of:
- Transit hotel
- Transit lounge
- Return city transport
As I had only 18 hours in Beijing, I decided to go for transit hotel. The hotel stay includes FOC breakfast. This is available for both Economy and Business Class. We were given the Aulympic Airport Hotel and Yuanhang Airport Hotel which are about 15 minutes from the airport via a free shuttle bus. Do note the limited frequency of the shuttle and hence do plan carefully your pick up time from the hotel. More of it on my next post. For those on Business Class, you get much better hotel choices (such as Crowne Plaza).
For 2.8k, that works out to be less than $500 per person including FOC Beijing accommodation. This is certainly an excellent price. For a regional flight to Beijing, this is certainly acceptable. For long haul flight to Europe and USA, I would be more reluctant to fly on Economy Class.
I would certainly like to try out the Air China A350-900 Business Class and their 747-8i if possible.