CHECK IN I arrived at Terminal 3 of Beijing International airport at 0835 for my 1035 flight (AY052) to Helsinki Vantaa – an eight-hour 50-minute journey. The check-in desks were near the entrance – the actual queue only took five minutes, but it took 15 minutes to check in all five members of my group.
After the short walk to passport control, where there was a small queue, there was a huge line for security, which was a little slow-moving due to the amount of people. We were finally through by 0935.
Airside, there were duty-free shops, a Costa Coffee and several souvenir stores. I took a seat by a large water fountain surrounded by potted anthuriums, where I had a view of a departure screen. The terminal building was immaculate, and the atmosphere peaceful.
BOARDING I was called to board at 1015, and headed straight to gate E11, which was seconds from where I’d been sitting. I joined the queue at the gate, and waited for about five minutes before boarding the plane and finding my seat.
THE SEAT I was seated in 30E, in the middle of the mid-section, click here to see the seat plan. Seats were configured 2-4-2 (A-C, D-E-G-H, J-L) though, fortunately, the seat next to me (30G) was unoccupied, giving me much more room.
For economy class, I found the width of the seat to be quite generous at 18 inches (45.7cm). The seat reclined six inches (15.2cm), and the seat pitch was 31 inches-32 inches (78.7cm-81.3cm), which felt like a good amount of legroom.
On my seat was a lime green blanket made from a flannel material and a matching cushion. The elasticated magazine rack on the back of the seat in front could just about hold my notebook and large bottle of water, and there was also a coat hanger. The seat was upholstered in a pale blue fabric, and had a cushioned headrest.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid seats E and G in economy (the middle two rows of the four-across section). The best seats are A, C, J and L in row 21, the front row of this section of economy, and the seats that are configured in twos. Nobody could lean back into you in this row, and there was no chance of being disturbed by people taking toilet trips, as the front of this section simply has a curtain separating it from business class (the toilet and the galley are at the back of this section).
THE FLIGHT We pushed back on time. Food was served half an hour into the flight – it was rather basic but edible, and preferable to the vegetarian option, which I was told was simply some boiled vegetables (for both of the two meals during the flight). The dish consisted of a side serving of macaroni cheese, as well as beef and oyster sauce with rice and green vegetables, a bread roll (butter provided), spreadable cheese and crackers, and a spongy fruit cake. I was also offered a soft drink (juice or water).
The touchscreen AVOD (audio-video on-demand) in-flight entertainment system and earphones worked well (although the nine-inch screen seemed quite small) and had a good range of recently released films and popular TV series. My viewing was disturbed slightly when the person in front of me leaned backwards (thus moving the screen I was watching on the back of their seat) but fortunately you can pivot the bottom of the screen upwards, which helped in this situation. There were German subtitles throughout my movie that I was unable to remove, but they didn’t bother me that much.
I didn’t sleep on the flight (I wasn’t tired) but my companion beside me did for several hours. I was grateful that the seat next to me was unoccupied, as it meant I felt less closed in, and I used the fold-down table of the adjacent seat to store rubbish before it had been collected (the passenger on the other side of the seat did the same).
An hour before landing, the second meal was served – cheesy pasta with a small amount of chicken, plus a chocolate bar for dessert. Juice, water and hot drinks were also offered. Service was mixed – one flight attendant was a little inattentive, half heartedly offering coffee and missing out people who wanted some (myself included) but the others were very professional and polite.
ARRIVAL We landed on time. There was a short walk to security, which took five minutes to clear, and I was seated in the café area at Terminal D by 1450, waiting for my connection to London Heathrow.
VERDICT A reasonably comfortable flight. The food could have been better, but the seat and in-flight entertainment were good.
PRICE Internet prices for an economy midweek return in December from London to Beijing ranged between £585 and £1,485 depending on flexibility.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
SEAT PITCH 31in-32in (78.7cm-81.3cm)
SEAT WIDTH 18in (45.7cm)
SEAT RECLINE 6in (15.2cm)