Air China is an airline in rapid growth; it’s certainly no longer a second-rate carrier, neither in terms of size, nor in terms of the quality of the onboard product. We put the airline to the test on a domestic Shanghai – Beijing flight.
I was attended to within minutes of arriving at the dedicated First and Business class check-in at Hongquaio’s swanky Terminal 2. Irritatingly the check-in clerk could not take my bag for my connecting flight – even though this flight was on another Star Alliance carrier (EgyptAir). I noticed that there was no fast track through security for First Class passengers – not a problem on this occasion, but it could be a challenge in busy periods.
I chilled out pre-flight in Air China’s flagship domestic lounge (the “VIP Lounge”). Within easy reach of both security and gates, visitors can enjoy entertainment, browse the internet and indulge in some refreshments (including at least one hot dish). There are also meeting zones for the workaholics among us. A satisfactory lounge experience, without too many frills.
On board, the cabin was immaculate and the staff friendly and exquisitely groomed.
The Cabin, Seat and Service
The seat was super roomy with plenty of leg-room. In the relatively small First Class cabin, I was the only passenger. This aircraft offers the latest First Class product on Air China, and it is clear that the airline is improving rapidly - the seat goes fully flat and has multiple settings. A superior seat product on such a relatively short flight, really. A pillow and a small blanket were provided, as was a copy of the English language in-flight magazine.
Food and Drink
A drink was offered on alighting the plane, and brought over promptly. There was only one meal option, but it was beautifully presented. The meal included a large green salad with dressing, a small Salmon Roll with Potato, and a Rice and Beef Stew sprinkled with fresh parsley. Warm breads with butter were served to accompany the meal. There was an extensive wine menu to wash it all down with, and the repast finished with a flourish, in the form of an Apple Cake dessert, and a mug of steaming Coffee.
The inflight entertainment selection was extensive and on demand, with plenty of both international and Chinese films and series. Good quality headphones were provided, too, and although I didn't spend a long time using the system, everything worked well.
We arrived early into Beijing’s Capital airport, where RASK’s priority tagged bags appeared in the baggage claim area within minutes. It was very annoying that my bags weren't automatically transferred onto the Egyptair flight, but I have since discovered that this was more Egyptair's, rather than Air China's, fault.
Aircraft, the seating, and the service were all immaculate – superb attention to detail. I look forward to my next flight with Air China, although it is clear that the improvements are only truly visible in the Business and First Classes.