Welcome, dear reader, to the fifth stage of a little adventure I’m calling “Around the World in 80 Hours.” This flight report is the fifth in a series that will take your humble flight-reporter around the world over the course of roughly 3.5 days.
I spent my brief stay in Singapore foolishly — the short amount of relatively low-quality sleep I’d had on the previous two “nights” on this trip was catching up to me, and about five minutes after I’d checked in at the Village Changi Hotel, I was asleep. As a result, I woke up about 11pm Singapore time. So, good for staying something close to North American time zones. Bad for tomorrow, a full day of flying on decidedly Asian time zones.
I watched bad movies, did a little bit of work, and played some games for the rest of my stay at the hotel, and caught a 6:45 airport shuttle back to Changi’s terminal one, one of the my favourite airports in the world.
I quickly navigated to the Air China check-in counter, and after just a short wait, it was my turn to check in. The agent takes has to take a minute to consult a fellow agent to figure out how to get it to print my ongoing boarding pass, but soon enough, I’m off to passport control with boarding passes in hand, and an invitation to the SATS Premier Lounge. I had planned on hitting one of the SQ lounges, but I figure I may as well check that out. Getting through passport control only takes a couple of minutes, and I’m airside at Changi, which always has something interesting going on.
The SATS lounge is located on the mezzanine level, giving a good look down on the still quiet hallway of T1.
It’s a fairly large lounge, with a number of seating options from lounge chairs to stools at tables. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to have many pictures of them.
Perhaps it’s because I was hungry. This being a morning departure and, I presume, a breakfast flight, I would normally probably hold off on breakfast. But having slept through any semblance of dinner, I was pretty hungry by the time I made it to Changi. So it was time for breakfast, and the lounge offered a number of options, including Chinese, Japanese, European, and North American breakfast foods.
I sample a little bit of this and that, and it’s fairly good, although nothing fantastic.
Boarding time is 8:30, and since Changi uses a security-at-the-gate model, I head downstairs towards the gate lounge, about a five-minute walk from the SATS lounge, about 30 minutes before that. Even now, the gate isn’t opened, and security staff are setting things up. They officially open the gate about 10 minutes later, and I’m one of the first into the lounge, setting up at a seat near the doors. Our ride, an Air China A330-300, awaits us.
Boarding is called about 8:45, and I’m among the first down the ramp and into the plane. This is my first time on Air China, and having read very mixed reviews, I’m curious as to how I’ll find the experience.
Business class on the CA 333 is a 2-2-2 affair, with flat bed seats, quite similar to those offered by TK and others. I’m in 12A, the port window seat in the second row of business class. As I arrive at the seat, it’s a equipped with a small-ish but comfortable pillow and a bagged blanket that’s very clearly for “FIRST CLASS ONLY.” So I guess I’m hitting above my weight on that one.
Legroom is, as one would expect on a straight-forward flat bed seat, more than adequate, and it’s a long way forward to the ottoman. Remote control, ports, and connections are all located in the inside of the centre arm rest, with obvious controls slightly above.
No amenity kit on this six-hour leg — but there are a nice pair of slippers tucked into the “Literature only” pocket between ottomans. I don’t really count slippers as literature, but okay.
IFE is of a decent size, although it’s not working yet to explore it. A pair of decent-enough over-the-ear headphones is located in between my IFE screen and the one next to me.
Newspapers and magazines are offered, both by flight attendants passing them around, and on this handy-dandy little setup at the centre bulkhead.
Service begins with a piping hot oshibori, and is soon followed by choice of pre-departure beverages. I grab some champagne and a glass of water, and they’re kept topped up.
Boarding is done very quickly — again, I’m amazed that Asian carriers can seem to fill a large widebody in less time than Air Canada can load a regional jet. It’s a light load in business class, with about seven people, myself included, in the cabin. The pilot informs us that we’re ready to go, but they’ve been told it will be at about a half hour before we push back due to the morning traffic heading out of Changi.
The flight attendants keep my beverages topped up throughout the wait, and during the extended wait, orders for lunch are taken. Yep, lunch. The flight attendant comes by with a menu, and explains that lunch will be served about 11:30. Good thing I did eat something in the lounge. Menus were not distributed. Rather the flight attendant offered a look at one menu. Fortunately, just after she got to me, the flight attendant was called to the front of the cabin for a welcome-aboard bow and the safety presentation, so I actually did get pictures of the menu, hastily-taken though they were.
When she returns, I request the duck.
After the safety demonstration, there was an “announcement” from the “security director on this flight,” which was clearly pre-recorded. It essentially reminded us that things like we shouldn’t rush the flight deck, or smoke, or be in possession of an electronic device — particularly a cell phone — that isn’t 100% powered down. It goes short of using the phrase “And we’ll bill your family for the bullet” in describing the penalties, but not by a lot. It is clearly designed to scare. That said, all photos in this report were taken with my cell phone, and the cabin crew, much less Mr. Security Director, didn’t react at all.
After a little bit longer waiting, we finally push back, and begin the long taxi out to the runway as a light rain begins to fall.
Lots of interesting planes to see on the taxi, like this Scoot 787.
Or this SQ 777 about to start its roll.
Another Singapore 777.
A Jet Star A320 as we near our turn.
Finally, we turn towards the runway, and get a good look at the lineup behind us.
As we start our roll, here’s a real surprise. Is that a 707? In 2015? For real? Based on its colours, I presume it’s in Singaporean military service. Still kinda odd to see the jet that started it all in this day and age.
With that, we’re up and away, into the air over the expanse of Changi, and an birds-eye view of the previously-photographed Scoot 787. (And, I suppose, the SQ 777 we pushed back from next to.)
The moving map on this flight is fairly modern, with a variety of views and a little bit different interface for me from the familiar Airshow. But it does the job well.
Meanwhile, the IFE is up and running. It seems like there’s a lot of content here, but it’s of mixed value for me. Surprisingly, a lot of it is Chinese programming, and among the English-language content, there’s little that I either haven’t seen or particularly feel like seeing. The organization of content also leaves a little bit to be desired, in my opinion — everything in a “genre” is lumped together, which means in new release movies I have to go through a very large number of Chinese-language films to pick out ones that might be of interest to me.
Still, the IFE is a decent screen and is reliable. I put on a British movie called A Little Chaos, but don’t really pay a lot of attention to it. It stars Kate Winslett and features a bunch of French characters that speak English with decidedly British accents. A hearty “Meh.”
Once we’re in the air, service begins with beverages and a cocktail snack. I opt for water, and crispy (fried?) nuts cashews are served with it. Quite delicious.
I follow that up with some green tea, which goes down very well as I’m suffering from a bit of a cold that isn’t too bad, but is highlighted by an annoying dry cough. The tea and water are kept very proactively filled up throughout the period before lunch as I alternately watch the film, ignore it, and perhaps lightly doze along the way.
Lunch service begins right on time with the tray being presented with appetizers, salad, and fruit.
The appetizer of teriyaki salmon cubes and drunken chicken was just right for me, and the little Asian salad that accompanied it was quite nice as well. I wouldn’t give the salad very high marks, although I guess I can say that at least it isn’t the same old same old Air Canada balsamic dressing, so it’s got that for it.
Bread basket service includes some pretty good garlic bread, and a crusty roll.
The main comes with steamed rice, of course, and it’s just okay. The duck doesn’t have a whole lot of flavour, a bit of a letdown given the “five spice” label. If I could do it again, I’d probably have the prawns. The vegetables are very uninspiring. Quality on everything is pretty good. This meal just didn’t click with me.
A very small cheese service follows the main. It’s okay, although nothing fantastic. I’d prefer water crackers to the buttery Ritz-like crackers offered.
Dessert is a simple little blueberry cheesecake. Quite good.
With lunch over, I put on a ridiculous TV show hosted by Stan Lee, seeking out “real-life people with real-life superpowers. It passes the time, and with the bed put down int flat-bed mode, I quickly drift off to sleep, getting a solid couple of hours before I’m awakened as we begin our descent into Beijing.
It’s a very foggy afternoon as we approach Capital Airport, and there’s not a whole to see out the window. We land in Beijing about 20 minutes behind schedule, which means I’ve got about 90 minutes for my connection.
Unfortunately, this 77W is about the only good “close encounter” we have on the taxi in, although at least one CA 748 is visible in the distance at one point — too far to get a picture though.
We settle in just down the terminal from this EK 388, and this leg of the trip is over. We’re quickly let off, and I walk down the mezannine a few feet to get one last good look at our ride before I join the herd heading through the adventure that is a connection in PEK.
We’ll pick the story of the second half of this trip around the world up there.
All in all, I was pretty impressed with my first Air China experience. The hard product was solid for this kind of flight, and the quiet cabin was nice. I was very impressed by the service — drinks were regularly and proactively topped up, and the flight attendants were always very friendly, although the language barrier was a bit of an issue. But I’m the outside flying their airline, so I both expect that, and appreciate the sincere effort made to communicate effectively with me. CA, at least on this flight, gets top marks from me for in-flight service. The catering seemed to be of decent quality, although as mentioned, this particular meal didn’t really “do it” for me.
Having read quite mixed reviews of CA, I was interested to see what I’d find, and I’d have to say I was pleasantly surprised by my experience with Air China. Enough so that I’d appreciate the opportunity to try them again, although just for variety’s sake, with a different hard product, perhaps.
Thanks for joining me on this journey! We’ll continue with the trip home soon.
SATS Premier Lounge
Singapore - SIN
Beijing - PEK
Having heard some not-very-positive things about the Air China experience, I was quite pleased with this flight. While the catering could have been better, the service was truly exceptional. The hard product, while not exactly cutting-edge, was comfortable, and 2-2-2 doesn't matter nearly as much when the load is as light as this one is.
I don't feel nearly as bad that I didn't get SQ for this segment having had the CA experience.
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