Trip Report: Air China business class Seoul to Beijing

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01. Introduction: San Diego to Seoul on United, Air China, and Asiana
02. United Airlines economy class San Diego to San Francisco
03. United Global First Lounge San Francisco
04. United Airlines Global First San Francisco to Beijing
05. Air China First Class Lounge Beijing
06. Asiana Airlines business class Beijing to Seoul
07. Hyatt Regency Incheon
08. Three days in Seoul
09. The Plaza Hotel Seoul
10. Air China business class Seoul to Beijing
11. Air China business class Beijing to Los Angeles
12. United Express (Skywest) economy class Los Angeles to San Diego

I arrived at Incheon airport about 5 hours before my flight to Beijing, with plans of spending the majority of the afternoon in the the Asiana / Star Alliance business class lounge. It wasn’t until I was standing in line waiting to check in to the flight when I realized that I may have arrived too early. I’ve never been able to check into a flight more than four hours early (at the airport at least), and I was holding my head in shame at my very rookie-like miscalculation. However, much to my surprise, the Air China agent checked me in without batting an eye. She did end up printing about 10 boarding passes before she ended up with the final versions though – print, rip up and throw away, print, rip up and throw away, print, rip up and throw away…I had no idea what she was doing.

Incheon airport south korea

Outside the departures level at Incheon airport

ICN departures level

Luckily it wasn’t so busy here at ICN when I arrived

Incheon ticketing hall

The main ticketing hall at ICN

Air China business class check in

Air China business class check in at Incheon airport

Passport control, the security checkpoint, and customs took no more than 10 minutes to get through, and I quickly set off to find the Asiana lounge. Once inside, I was informed two things by the agent: First, There is another lounge closer to my gate in the other terminal – that is the one I should use. And second, the lounge is for Star Alliance Gold members only (of which I am not). Bummer. There goes my lounge plans!

Being the true aviation geek that I am, none of that dampened my spirits too badly. I had my camera with me and it was a beautiful sunny day in Seoul, so I was just as happy to wander the terminals taking pictures all afternoon.

Incheon international terminal

Wandering around inside ICN

I made my way to the gate approximately 15 minutes before boarding was to begin, and was thrilled to death when I saw this:

B-6076 in the Purple Chen livery

Score! The particular Air China A330-200 that would be flying me to PEK today was none other than B-6076 in the stunning Purple Chen livery.

That’s my Air China A332 to Beijing, wearing the Purple Chen livery! Cool. It’s not very often I’m lucky enough to fly on special livery planes, so the aviation geek in me got a kick out of this.

CA126
Seoul / Incheon (ICN) – Beijing (PEK)
Sunday, April 20 2014
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 11A (business)

Boarding was called right on time, with one line designated for business class and one for economy. Even though there were a handful of other people ahead of me in the business class line, I was the first passenger to arrive in that cabin. Who knows where those other folks went?

Business class boarding

Business class boarding on CA126 from gate 112 at ICN

I didn’t even get to my seat before the one of the flight attendants caught up to me with a hot towel. She was more than helpful, helping me stow my backpack in the cubby space on the bulkhead wall, and removing the complimentary slippers from their packaging. So far so good – a very good first impression on my first Air China flight.

Air China A330-200 business class

Air China A330-200 business class cabin

Air China A330 business class seat

Air China A330-200 business class seat

business class seat controls

Air China A330-200 business class seat controls

business class bulkhead storage

Storage compartment in the bulkhead row of the business class cabin

Things started to lose their luster after that once I took the time to notice how dirty and run down the interior of this A330 was:

crumpled in-flight safety cards air china business class

This was a well-worn airplane, and the interior was showing it’s age

air china business class dirty walls

It’s always pleasant to find old food splattered on the walls in business class

The flight attendants also seemed to lose their friendliness as the cabin filled up and things got busier. The smiles seemed to be forced, and meal orders were taken abruptly. There were no menus distributed on this flight so the FA had to verbally explain what each option was – and she didn’t seem so friendly about it. She wasn’t rude or anything, but it basically came down to: “We have chicken or fish. Whaddya want?” Not much care was taken here, and it wasn’t a language issue. Her English was quite good actually.

hazy incheon airport departure

Departing out of ICN on a very hazy late afternoon

Drink orders were taken shortly after take off, and nuts were served. Cold nuts – not warm.

almonds in air china business class

Pre-meal almond dish

Dinner was served shortly after that, and it was interesting that even though I was in the first seat in the first row, I was not the first to be served. The kitchen galleys were located behind business class, which probably had a lot to do with it – and I’m assuming that there were elite members who probably got priority service. Upon serving the meal to me, the FA simply said “chicken”.

The meal in itself was decent. I had the Chinese option (chicken), which came with an assortment of pickles and condiments. During the dinner service, the flight attendants walked around the cabin with a bread basket. They never once asked me if I wanted any, even though I was given an empty plate for bread and a pad of butter on my tray.

Air China business class chicken dinner

Air China business class dinner service

For dessert, fresh fruit and some sort of mouse cake was served. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I thought it was actually pretty good.

Air China business class dessert cake and fruit

Air China business class dessert

The rest of the flight was spent playing with the seat and looking out the window wishing that it wasn’t so filthy. It was a beautiful evening over eastern China, and I could have filled an entire memory card taking pictures of the beautiful hazy sunset. But it was not to be, as I couldn’t get one clean pic through all that grime on the outside of the window.

window view

Beautiful skies as we made our way to Beijing, but the windows were too dirty for good pics.

in seat entertainment remote air china business class

This is the front of the well-used entertainment remote control. It has certainly seen better days!

in-seat phone air china business class

And this is the back of the remote, which is actually an in-seat phone.

beautiful sunset arrival into PEK

The sunset was amazing as we approached Beijing, but those filthy windows made decent photography impossible.

We glided into PEK right on time, and at first I was bummed to realize that we would be parking at a remote stand and then bussed to the terminal. My connection was semi-tight (but not too bad), so I didn’t want to waste any time with stuff like that. But then the photographer in me became excited about the opportunity for an outside ramp shot of this beautiful airplane. Woo hoo!

B-6076 PEK remote stand

She may be old and dirty, but she still looks great. Here’s B-6076 sitting at a remote stand in PEK after arrival from ICN

Overall, I was not impressed by the service on this flight. It was on par with (and perhaps below) the quality of service you’d get on a typical domestic US flight, and I was starting to wonder if I had set my expectations too high. That had me worrying about my connecting flight to LAX...

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