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Air China/Business Class: SFO - Beijing - Bangkok

Starting Out
My journey to Thailand’s capital got off to a rocky start, when—before I’d even left San Francisco—news reports of a state of civil unrest in Bangkok made me concerned enough to try to move up my return flight. However, the change fee was quoted at $2,900 (for just the one ticket), so I kept the original itinerary intact. At the airport, check-in and security was a smooth affair.

The B747 boarded efficiently, revealing soothing overhead lighting and ornate Chinese wall art hanging at the front of the cabin—a pleasant touch all but negated by the fact that the same song (“More Than Words”) played over and over, from boarding to takeoff. At least we departed on time.

As opposed to the crew on most business-class flights, the attendants on this Air China service were not even remotely pleasant and spoke very little English (which I found surprising, considering that this was a U.S. flight), so communication was a challenge.

The cabin, on the upper plane level, looked unusually worn, with small 15-inch television monitors that displayed a bizarre collection of old movies accompanied by confusing controls. The seats, although flat, were positioned on an angle, which meant that I frequently slid down toward the floor as I tried to sleep. At 21 inches wide, they were arranged in a 2-2 configuration with a 60-inch pitch.

Food and Wine
The wine list featured two French reds and whites accompanied by a Greatwall Dry Red and Greatwall Sungod Reisling: nothing award-winning, but passable. However, from observing the 1.5-ounce pours, I gathered that the crew was rationing wine reserves. Tea lovers were in luck, though, with two full menu pages devoted to describing the green, black and pu’er teas on offer.

The rest of the menu detailed exotic items like pork fig jelly or smoked fish “Shanghai,” as well as some more familiar Western options. I ordered the Asian-style braised pork with preserved vegetables, but it was mostly fat laced with intermittent strips of meat. When I tried to trade it in, I was sternly told, “One per person”—but I eventually finagled a different dish. Still, the second entrée was about as fatty as the first, so I refrained from eating much of anything on the flight—a fitting follow-up to a dinner service that was almost comically rapid and gruff.

The flight’s on-time arrival meant an interim spent in the spacious Air China business-class lounge in Beijing, conveniently located near both the departure and arrival gates. I enjoyed a wide range of tasty rice and curry dishes, as well as a significant selection of lighter snacks—a welcome spread after a flight-long fast. Although the staff there, too, was not overly communicative, they were at least efficient and courteous.

Second Leg
The onward flight to Bangkok from Beijing was aboard a B777-300 with fully reclining business-class seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. While there were no personal television monitors on this plane, iPads were handed out to business-class passengers for in-flight entertainment. Once again, the food was fatty and the service on the sullen side.
Considering how bad my outbound flight was, I felt compelled to wait for my return flights to San Francisco before passing judgment. Yet, once again, the food was dismal; the staff cold; and, on the last leg, aboard a B747, my in-seat remote control/phone was missing, appearing to have been ripped straight from its socket. The reading light likewise seemed to have been the victim of a temperamental passenger, as it was laying—woefully inoperative—on the center console. Perhaps most disconcertingly, my window seemed to have some defect that caused it to fill up with ice.

Although the price is tempting ($3,500 for a round-trip business-class ticket), Air China has a ways to go if it is going to compete with the likes of United on this same route.

Courtsey :     Premier Traveler
Author      :     Bill Kizorek

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