Part 2 - CA982 JFK to PEK in Business Class
I've flown Air China once before. I slept the entire way on that prior flight (PEK-SYD), so I decided to give them another try on this route. They operate 747s on the JFK-PEK route, which allows for sitting upstairs in business, which I quite prefer.
As luck would have it, the day before my departure, a morning meeting came up in Newark, NJ. I tried to switch from the CA flight to the UA flight (which leaves from Newark), but alas, business was full. When my driver picked me up in Newark, I then drove by the airport there to make it to Kennedy.
Traffic mid-day was a non-issue, and I arrived with an unusual amount of pre-departure time (over 1.5 hours early....perhaps a personal record?).
Check in at JFK's T1 was very quick. The first and business area was empty, as I was checked in within minutes.
Check-in at JFK
I beat the evening rush at T1 security; there was no queue to wait in. I had to position myself to get to the screening area without the full body scanner. This got a few looks from the staff, but no questions.
CA uses the Lufthansa lounge at JFK. The lounge is nice enough, sort of a standard business class lounge for a European carrier. The obligatory cut-out of a Chinese woman was near the door to the lounge.
I put away a few beers while catching up on emails.
Boarding was called, and I made the short walk to the flight in just a minute or two. T1 is fairly small at JFK, you really can never have to walk too far.
The queue for economy boarding
Boarding was well underway when I arrived, with a long queue for the economy boarding door. Thankfully, there was no waiting in the business/first area.
From a read of SeatGuru, I knew to request an exit row on the upper deck (row 83). I got the window seat on the starboard side. This is my favorite position in business class on a 747.
View from my seat (83L)
The seats are angled lie-flat seats. Being in the exit row, your fit rest free and are not in a box under the seat in front of you, which is helpful for my larger feet. While I usually don't mind angled lie-flat seats, these just weren't that comfortable for me.
Goody-bags, headphones and pajamas were waiting at each seat. It seemed like all the seats with western names were given XL size, and the Chinese names were given M. The pajamas were quite comfortable, and had a full buttoned top and a contemporary version of a traditional Chinese collar. (Keep reading - at the end of this series, I will be offering a gift of an extra pair of these Air China Business Class Pajamas to a reader!)
The way dinner orders were taken, I was the last person in the cabin asked, and regrettably, the special (three cup chicken) had already been fully committed. (I am not fully sure why I was last - the FA simply didn't take my order when she took my neighbor's order...despite me looking at her with menu open...then came back to me after she finished everyone else's order.) I picked one of the other Asian selections and was reasonably pleased.
Dinner was reasonably tasty (for airplane food)
Tasted better than it looks
Regrettably, the IFE system was severely disabled. There were four channels of TV to watch. The on-demand programming, games and maps all were out of order. I did not have my iPad headset, nor did the airline's headset work in my iPad. So...I watched the Steve Martin birds movie (twice), which was the only thing available in English, read some of my current iPad book (appropriately, I'm reading Kissinger's On China at present) and thankfully slept at least half of the duration of the flight, too!
A few minutes before landing, we were told that the Beijing airport was closed, and we diverted to another nearby airport. I understood the weather part, but couldn't understand where we were going, nor was it clear if we were to disembark at this other port or it we would continue onward.
Once we landed, and the seatbelt sign went off, the few other apparent Americans on the upper deck got up to leave. I noticed the people of apparent Chinese descent didn't; I was smart enough to stay in my seat.
There were many other wide-body aircraft diverted to this field. You could see easily a dozen planes sitting next to us. It was odd to not know what city I was in.
Does anyone know where this is?
After about an hour on the ground, we got the green light to resume to PEK. This flight took about 10 minutes, and we flew at an altitude of less than 10,000 feet.
Despite a number of open stands at PEK (including one right next to us), we pulled up next to the terminal and ended up taking busses to the customs hall.
There was no wait at any point on the ground, and I was with my driver within 20 minutes from stepping off of the plane. I had requested VIP service for arrivals, which takes you through a special private arrivals area, but somehow that part of my request was lost. At the late hour that we arrived, it was not a big issue.
While it was unfortunate to arrive two hours late (once circling time is factored in), arriving so late afforded us a ride into the city center of Beijing without much, if any, traffic. Net, I suspect the two hour delay only cost me a little more than an hour.
Air China plays on a different (inferior) level than the likes of JL, NH, CX, SQ, etc. The in-flight experience was such that I would consider connecting in HKG (for a much better in-flight experience), or, gasp, flying UA nonstop from EWR on this route in the future.