I allowed an hour for negotiating traffic from central Beijing to Beijing airport, but arrived in 45 minutes at 0825 for my 1035 flight. I filled out a departures form and entered the check-in area where I quickly found Zone E12-15. About 20 people were queuing for Economy Class but I walked to the three Business Class desks which had just one person waiting at each.
After check-in I proceeded to immigration, where I queued for 15 minutes. My bag was searched at security and the security officer seemed most interested in locating my bottle of water, which she opened and wafted under her nose. It was a five-minute walk to the first and Business Class lounges.
There was one lounge each for Business and First Class, which were shared by several airlines of different alliances, including BA, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Air France, ANA, SAS, MAS and El Al. The executive area is large, pleasant and fairly peaceful, with fish tanks, plenty of plants and lots of seating. Facilities include photocopying, faxing, free Wi-Fi access and telephones. I plugged my mobile phone into a machine with charging leads dangling out of it for every conceivable phone type and then spent the next 45 minutes worrying that I would forget to take it with me.
The food selection was good, with hot snacks such as samosas and vegetable spring rolls, and cold snacks – pastries and cereals – and plenty of hot and cold drinks including a choice of three fruit juices (but no alcohol).
A ground crew member walked through the lounge at 1000 announcing that the flight was ready for boarding. I walked to Gate 20 and found a long queue of Economy Class passengers waiting to board. There was a separate entrance for Business Class and I walked straight through but then rejoined the other passengers as we moved down the air bridge. Halfway along the bridge, our passports were checked against our boarding passes and then a separate bridge forked off to the left for business class passengers. I was in my seat by 1015. I stowed away my bags and then sat down, and after a couple of minutes a crew member offered a choice of champagne or orange juice. We left the stand at 1017 and were airborne by 1038.
I was on the lower deck in the nose of the two-class 747-400 (aisle seat 1B), which felt almost like being in first class. The configuration is 2-2 in four rows with 2-2-2 in the last row as the cabin widens towards the back. In contrast to the more modern product I had flown on my outward bound flight from Amsterdam to Chengdu, this seat was KLM’s older business class product. It has three manual controls to alter the seat recline and seat back, and to raise the footrest. The seat reclines to 150 degrees and has 152cm pitch; the leg cushion is extendable, useful for people with long legs, and a footrest can be flipped up. When reclined, I was able to get quite comfortable by sliding down slightly, turning on my side and tucking my legs up. When I was on my back I seemed to fit quite well into the seat with my feet on the footrest and my head just below the headrest, though taller passengers may find it less comfortable.
The button controls for the in-flight entertainment are in the left-hand arm rest and there are 12 TV channels, including comedy, documentary and half a dozen film channels showing recent films. It’s not audiovisual on demand so the films are on a cycle and, as is typical with this type of IFE, I kept missing the first half hour of every film.
Drinks were served half an hour after take-off on this 10-hour flight. Menus and amenity kits were passed around and a crew member came round to take our lunch orders. There was a choice of three mains: roasted loin of lamb, filled chicken breast or cod fillet. I chose lamb but the flight attendant returned apologetically to say she didn’t have enough to go around, so I volunteered to have chicken instead. I asked her for an in-flight magazine so I could check the movie schedule – I was in the front row so there was no seat back in front of me where a copy is usually kept – and she brought it for me after lunch. The passenger next to me asked to try the special Reisling that was highlighted in the menu but was told it wasn’t available. Starter was steamed salmon with giant prawns, braised mushrooms coriander and pickled lotus root, followed by chicken breast filled with ricotta and mushrooms served with pesto linguine, asparagus and vegetables. The asparagus was mushy but the rest of the meal was delicious. After lunch I settled down and slept for an hour. In the galley were some chocolate bars and I grabbed one after a couple of hours.
The second meal arrived around an hour and a half before landing and my vegetarian moussaka in tomato sauce with parmesan and mozzarella was tasty – but only just hot enough. It came with a plate of sliced fruit and a rather bland dessert which I tasted but left.
Due to favourable winds, our plane landed almost an hour early at 1340 and taxied to the stand in four minutes – the flight attendant apologised that we had landed so close to the terminal as one of the films on the IFE still had several minutes to run and she explained she had hoped to play the end of it as we taxied. We filed off the plane quickly and I reached the business class lounge in 10 minutes to await my connecting London flight.
A good flight despite an older Business Class product. The seats on this route are due to be replaced soon but I found it just as comfortable as the newer seat. The IFE on the new product is undoubtedly superior to this one, and on a day flight such as this I missed having audiovisual on demand.
Price: £1,427 (US$2,713) from London to Beijing via Amsterdam.