BACKGROUND Air China offers 15 daily direct services from Beijing to Hongkong. Six of them are operated by the Chinese state-owned carrier and the remaining nine are codeshared with Cathay Pacific and Dragonair. Unlike its Oneworld Hongkong partners, Air China is part of the Star Alliance and has its own Phoenix Miles programme. Hongkong Express and China Southern also operate on this route.
CHECK IN I arrived at Beijing’s still sparklingly new Terminal 3 from a hotel transfer car, which dropped me exactly at the entrance nearest to the Air China desks. I was booked on a 5.30pm flight.
The Business Class queue was short and I was dealt with in a couple of minutes. I checked in my luggage, then requested for a window seat and was allocated 14A. I headed through immigration and customs, which were mercifully easy compared to previous experiences at the older terminals, and took the shuttle train to the main gates.
THE LOUNGE Signage is always a problem in Mainland China, even at the airport. But I did eventually spot the signs for the Business Class Lounge and took the escalator to the next level up. The lounge was very crowded but I found a seat. The lounge drinks and snacks offering appeared to be quite poor. Some of the better items turned out to be hidden around the back and I didn’t spot them until it was too late, but nonetheless, the seating was comfortable and staff regularly cleared tables.
BOARDING I left the lounge about 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time, thinking this would be plenty of time. However, the gate was a considerable distance and it took me around 15 minutes to get there.
THE SEAT The Airbus A330-200 is a two-class configuration of Economy and Business. Rows 11 to 16 are Business Class, offering a total of 36 seats on this 251-seater plane. Rows 31 to 58 are Economy seats.
My seat 14A is the last row in the first section of Business Class and so you have no one sitting behind you although you are next to the toilet and galley. The seat was a standard Business Class seat and not one of Air China’s newer products.
THE FLIGHT The IFE was rather limited in choice, so I used my iPod.
Dinner was a choice of chicken noodles or fish and rice. The poultry dish was rather bland and disappointing. There was a variety of cheese and crackers and a limited choice of flavours of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Later, there was fresh fruit and the offer of cognac.
The flight attendants were attentive and helpful. However, English-language skills were poor, which is surprising given the international make-up of the passengers on this route.
ARRIVAL The flight lasted three hours and 20 minutes. Business Class passengers were disembarked first and, within less than 25 minutes, I was on the Airport Express train heading toward Hongkong Central.
VERDICT Air China has some way to go to compete with Dragonair on this route. While the hospitality was warm, the poor foreign-language skills of the flight attendants can make for some awkwardness.
CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 in Business Class and mostly 2-4-2 in Economy Class
SEAT WIDTH 68.6cm/27in
SEAT PITCH 106.7cm/42in
SEAT RECLINE About 165-170°
PRICE Internet rates for a return Business Class flight from Hongkong to Beijing in December started from HK$9,615 (US$1,240).