Air China (中國國際航空公司) is the national flag carrier of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and operates full international and domestic scheduled air services for the carriage of passengers, freight, and mail and the provision of ancillary services. Air China operates to 185 destinations around the world (including domestically in China), with a fleet of 285 aircraft (with another 258 aircraft on order, including 15 new Boeing 787-7 aircraft). Air China’s latest destination in May 2012 will be London Gatwick Airport. In addition to flying to London Heathrow from Beijing, the airline will take advantage of the high number of Chinese, British, and foreign visitors travelling to London from Beijing.
Beijing Capital Airport is the hub for Air China, and Air China Cargo. The third largest building in the world, Beijing Airport is second only to Atlanta in terms of passenger movements in the world. In 2009 it was voted by Conde Nast magazine as the most popular airport in the world. Second biggest terminal to Dubai and you can fit all of Heathrow’s five terminals inside it – and still manage to have 17% to spare! Air China occupies part of the main terminal with their separate domestic and international terminals. Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, and Shanghai Pudong International Airport are the other two hub airports for Air China.
I had the pleasure of flying with Air China from Shanghai Pudong Airport to Beijing Capital Airport (China) on one of their brand new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. I flew Business Class. After Beijing, this aircraft was going to make its long flight to San Francisco.
Route: SHANGHAI PUDONG (PVG) - BEIJING (PEK)
Departure date and time of flight: January 2012, 11:30am local time (Beijing)
Flight number: CA985 (ICAO callsign: “Air China 985”)
Flight duration: 2 Hours 15 minutes
Class: BUSINESS CLASS
Aircraft type: BOEING 777-39L(ER)
Aircraft registration: B-2088 (First flight 13th December 2011)
Aircraft Serial Number: 38668 - line 979
Engines: 2 x GE GE90-115B
Frequent flyer programme: Phoenix Miles
Seat configuration for this aircraft:
First Class: 12 seats 2-2-2- configuration
Business Class: 49 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration
Economy class: 244 seats in a 2-5-2 configuration
Comments on the check-in staff and any issues:
The check-in process was a smooth one with no hassle or long queues. I was met at the taxi rank by the Air China representative, who took me straight to the special VIP First Class counter. It was a hassle free and rapid process.
The security gates are also well organised and manned by the local staff. First and Business Class passengers can pass through the fast track security lane. The staff were very polite, and efficient in processing the security procedures of all the passengers smoothly and in a punctual manner without any problems. Shanghai Pudong is a ultra modern airport where the smoothness and procedures of the check-in process to the boarding process has to be one of the best in the world. Most people do speak English as well (even if they do not then most signs are written in English and Chinese).
Any baggage issues:
No issues regarding the baggage. Passengers travelling First Class with Air China are allowed a generous 40KG free of charge, and 30 kg (66 lbs) for Business Class. For domestic flights, each piece of checked baggage must not exceed 50 kg (110 lbs).
LOUNGE EXPERIENCE at Shanghai Pudong Airport:
Air China has a number of lounges at Shanghai Pudong Airport. The lounges are located on the second floor in the same area as the main departure gates providing fascinating views across to the tarmac and beyond. These lounges are known as the Air China VIP lounges. Phoenix miles members (Gold, and Platinum) can use the lounges upon showing their cards. There are separate lounges for Business and First Class passengers. While both the Business and First Class lounges have buffet food (Chinese only), comfortable relaxing chairs, and a small cinema (25 seats maximum), the main difference between the Business and First Class lounges is that the First Class lounge also has beds. First Class passengers can hire the bedrooms (each room comes along with a single bed) for up to as many hours as they want. There are also shower facilities available in all the lounges.
There are many options for hot and cold Chinese food, though western food is not available in the lounges at Shanghai Pudong Airport at the time of writing.
Punctuality of the flight:
Departed on time, and landed on time (rare in China!). First Class passengers are collected from the lounge, and taken to the VIP shuttle bus (or the gate). In this case we were taken to the waiting VIP shuttle bus that took us straight to the plane. We were lucky to have excellent weather conditions, and not a long queue. A straight in taxi to runway 17L made sure of a smooth departure into the China Sea before making our way towards the north. The landing into Beijing was a bit bumpy due to the intensive pre-Chinese New Year fog that lurked around the capital city (could hardly see beyond 500 feet!).
Comments regarding the pre-flight service:
First class passengers are offered a selection of drinks including champagne, apple juice, orange juice and a variety of teas (Chinese and Western). Passengers are also handed out hot towels prior to departure to refresh up. The cabin crew took the orders for the lunch service from all the passengers in the First Class cabin prior to departure.
Comments regarding the pre-meal service:
The meal service commended with air hostesses handing out hot towels. A selection of fine nuts was offered along with a choice of drink (orange juice, apple juice, and a selection of teats).
Comments regarding the main meal:
There were two options for the main meal:
- Chicken with rice, and vegetables
- Beef with rice, and vegetables.
I opted for the chicken with rice, and vegetables. For a dish that looked more like a chicken biryani, but one that could have tasted and smelt better (rice sautéed with half boiled vegetables and minute diced chicken pieces). The accompanying vegetables went well with the dish. There was also a bowl of Chinese vegetables (delicious!), and a bowl of fresh fruit (mangos, melons and grapefruit). Rather interestingly, a pot of fresh plain white yoghurt was also offered.
Delicious soft and hard bread rolls were offered from the basket. All meals were served on fine bone china, and came with Air China chopsticks, and Air China stainless steel cutlery.
Comments regarding the after meal drinks and in-flight snacks:
Hot and cold drinks were served after the main meal. These included Chinese and Western tea options, as well as soft drinks. Alcohol was also served although it perhaps was not the right time to drink alcohol.
Comments on the in-flight entertainment system:
The Boeing 777-300ER aircraft has no individual TV screens (not even in Business/First Class), only the bigger screens at the front of each compartment. However, the new interactive entertainment system offers hundreds of movies and music selections, plus a whole range of online games. Most of the high tech gadgets are only available on the latest Boeing 777 aircraft, and perhaps also the Boeing 737-800NG aircraft. For most of the flight we were shown the route map.
Comments of professionalism of the cabin crew:
The cabin crew were very professional and friendly. Air China is very particular on how their cabin crew staff should be like. They have to be of a certain weight, and height, and must be acquainted to beauty with a smile (this is what I was informed!). The cabin crew at Air China represent all the 56 minorities of China, and most of the cabin crew do speak good English (especially those in Business/First Class).
Comments on the interior of the aircraft (including seat comfort):
The First Class seats on Air China’s Boeing 777 aircraft have a 83-inch pitch and are 21.5 inch wide, the Business Class seats have a 60-inch pitch and 20.5 inch width. The Economy Class seats have a 33-34-inch pitch, and an 17 inch width. Business Class seats feature a reclining angle of 170 degrees. For such a short domestic flight, passengers were offered a pair of luxury cotton slippers, and a thick cotton blanket. The cabin had a pleasant smell, and was very clean.
All the seats in the Business/First Class section are covered with a luxury grey cloth that comes embedded with the phoenix bird logo. It creates a sense of comfort, elegance, and belonging to the Chinese culture. It also gives a very warm, fresh, spacious, modern, and touching feeling when you enter the cabin.
Air China logo and livery:
The red phoenix bird is the brand symbol of Air China, and is proudly displayed on the tailfin of every aircraft. The symbol has been present ever since the airline first commenced operations in 1988. The phoenix logo is also the artistic transfiguration of the word “VIP”.
Air China is one of the few world airlines that still has a cheat line going through right the way across the whole fuselage. Two dark blue cheat lines run from the nose of the plane to the back of the tailfin, essentially wrapping the aircraft. The top cheat line is slightly thinner than the bottom cheatline.
The national flag is proudly displayed near the first door, and following the national flag are the words in capitals, and black colour ‘Air China’ in English, and then in Mandarin Chinese. The belly of the aircraft is painted in a light grey.
Overall rating 1-10 (worst-best): 10
About Airline PR
This is a special section on Airline Branding, and Airline Public Relations written by me on all the flights I have been fortunate enough to have been on. These are not records taken from somewhere else, but are actual flights I have been on. Most of the flight trips are officially sponsored by the airline companies in order to promote their certain routes, and aircraft. Airline promotion and PR related work in the aviation industry is one of my expertise.
Watch exclusive videos below taken in the cockpit of a Boeing 777-300ER in-flight over Chinese Airspace.
Special thanks goes to
B777-300ER Cockpit Video 1
B777-300ER Cockpit Video 2
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