Part 6 - Air China 981 Business Class PEK-JFK
The international terminal at the Beijing international airport is another truly impressive structure. Covered by a large, convex ceiling structure, the main terminal covers many acres of land.
Look how far that structure goes!
Check in for business class passengers was a breeze, with no queue at all. Economy passengers probably faced queues of 40+ people for their respective flights.
Business Class Check In
After picking up my boarding pass, passengers are subjected to a number of steps and checks. First is simply a check of your boarding pass before you board the train to the satellite building where the planes leave from. Then, a fairly quick train ride - perhaps two miles - out to the departure satellite building.
KFC Represented Well
Bad news for people heading to Ulaanbaatar!
Once passengers get off the train, they're subjected to a temperature screening (though the three guards at this station were simply joking amongst themselves and not monitoring any of their equipment), a passport check a security check, and then a "anything to declare" check. (This last step was also monitored by two staff who were just joking amongst themselves and not apparently watching the people going through.)
Off to the left at the security check was a more private screening area for first class and business class passengers. I made use of this area. Boarding passes were again scanned prior to entry. There was no mention of this area being open for elite frequent flyers, I think it was just for those actually seated in a premium cabin.
The passenger in front of me took so long, it was getting comedic. He had three laptops with him, each of which came out. He was wearing cargo shorts, and seemingly had something in every single pocket. Even the young lady from the security team was amused at the count and variety of items he had to take from his many pockets. By the time he entered the metal detector, the prior passengers had long since cleared the far side of the screening area. Of course, this fellow still set off the metal detector and required secondary screening. I made it through in a few seconds.
I did buy the kids some do-dads from the airport gift shop. While I don't normally get my wife anything on trips, there was a large Kiehls offering - and I bought her a small gift of one of their tonics that I know she uses.
The Air China business lounge is located above some of the duty free shops in an open-air setting within the terminal. Signage indicates they can seat 434 people.
The lounge is largely unremarkable, though clean and reasonably well laid out. There are some private sleeping pods you could use, as well as a sit-down dining area. The dining area was largely the domain of families when I was there. There were a number of Chinese selections which looked good. They also had a sushi station, which frankly, did not look so good.
I limited myself to some crackers and a few beers (limited probably isn't the word to use to describe the beer intake at the lounge! ;) ). The Tsingtao beer was quite cold, which was nice.
There was more than one of these!
I saw a JAL 787 pull into a gate near the lounge. This was my first in-service 787 sighting. I had seen them at Boeing Field previously, but just the test models.
It was just less than a 10 minute walk to the gate, where boarding was well underway when I arrived at about 20 minutes prior to departure. In the glass jetway pavilion, another albeit cursory security check was performed. My bags were opened, and looked into briefly. It seemed like they were taking away water bottles. I'm sure these procedures fell into the "enhanced" category that the US seems to require globally for inbound flights. Though, notably, there was no mention that gathering in the galleys was prohibited, something commonly heard on international flights to the US. Perhaps the lack of freedom to assemble in China makes that less of an issue? ;)
While other planes are newer, there's still something about the look of a 747 that is commanding.
A neighboring CA 777 - Nice to see the Chinese importing some goods from the US!
The plane to take me home was the same as the one that brought me to Beijing. I made my way upstairs, this time to 81C. Though not the exit row, the seat, even when fully extended, didn't feel cramped.
Amenities and pajamas were at each seat. Headphones were distributed shortly after I was seated.
While on the ground, i was offered champagne. It was the smallest pour of champagne I'd ever had, more akin to a sip then a drink. I made up for that shortfall with a few more beers once we took off.
Interestingly, they said the first meal would be served at around 5pm Beijing time. This was unusual (though perhaps logical), as most flights seem to offer a meal immediately upon departure. I was hungry, and the FA said I could eat at any time, and offered to make my meal right away. I took her up on the offer.
I asked for the pork dish They really tried to get me to take the western option, which was some sort of beef disk. I held firm, and got the Chinese dish that I was hoping for.
This was very good.
This was the same plane as the one that brought me to Beijing (B-2443). Unfortunately, it seems the IFE system made further negative progress since my flight a few days prior. For many of the pax on the upper deck, the in-seat video screens would not work at all. Mine displayed a few of the continuous loop channels, but when I looked for on demand, whereas previously it showed titles (but couldn't actually play them), for this flight, it didn't even show titles - just showing blank boxes where the titles would have been. My favorite bird-watching movie played on the overhead monitors again...and again...
The chap next to me is part of a group visiting the School of forestry at Yale. This fellow, however, seemed to have a bit of a hard time keeping quiet. Not that he talked to me, per se, but would simply holler out sounds periodically. Certainly, every time he got up or down from the seat, he'd make a loud noise. Worse, at random times throughout the flight, he'd let out a sound or brief line or two from a song. He was so loud that he woke me up a number of times overnight. Perhaps Yale will merge the Forestry school with the school of Etiquette and Protocol.
Other than Mr Forestry's periodic noises, I slept most of the balance of the flight. I woke about 45 minutes before landing in JFK. I asked for a fruit plate, which the FA brought quickly.
Landing was uneventful, and we were at the gate relatively quickly. Thanks to global entry, I made it from wheels down to being met by my driver in about 20 minutes (half taxiing, half walking through the airport).
At JFK, next to LH's "New York" A380!
My driver escorted my upstairs (via escalator) to cross the bridge to the car park. We walked by the check in area that I first began this journey at. Some 14,000 miles later, I had made it back to where I started from.
Traffic in the Van Wyck was not cooperative (despite being Saturday), and I was home about 1.25 hours later.
In the conclusion to this report, I'll be gifting a pair of new-in-package Air China Business Class Pajamas to a randomly selected commenter. Please check back tomorrow for that post!