Welcome, dear reader, to the continuation of my first adventure of the year. I’m kicking the year off by taking my mother to Asia for the first time. Our primary — and only — destination is Hong Kong. But that’s because Air Canada IRROPed us out of Toronto and kinda ruined plans for brief visits to both Beijing and Singapore. Such is the way with the Aviation Gods, I suppose.
I actually managed a good night’s sleep at the Langham Palace courtesy of Air Canada. It’s nice to get the IRROP hotel special and not have to be back for a 6:30 am flight. Instead, I got to sleep in a bit, have some breakfast at the hotel, and hop the shuttle bus back to the airport for a still relatively early 10:30 or so, with our “paper ticket” in hand and dreading what was about to transpire with Air China’s crew.
This is my first time landside at PEK, and the air quality is a lot better than it was last night, when a thick, smoky smog enveloped the whole airport area. The terminal is impressive in its size and scale.
Arriving from the bus, we have to take a long escalator up, eventually making our way to level four, where check-ins are housed. It gives a nice opportunity to size up the airport and get a quick look outside.
From there, we step up to the Duty Manager’s desk with our paper ticket given to us by the Air Canada concierge last night. As mentioned in the previous report, I was less than confident about how this was going to go, given the language barrier, other reports I’ve read about how “valuable” Air China sees award passengers (to the point where AC intermittently blocks access to CA flight awards because of the headaches for all involved) and the fact that I was carrying a paper ticket. The concierge giving us all of his numbers, in case things went sideways on us, didn’t add much confidence, although it was nice to know that if things turned on us, we had an ally who knew what was going on, and spoke the native tongue, that we could tag in.
There was no one in line, but all of the people behind the duty manager’s desk were busy when we arrived. After about ten minutes, on of the agents invited us forward, and we handed over our paper tickets and passports. After giving them a look-over, he asked “So you’d like to get on this flght?” Well, yeah.
He punched keys for a few minutes, had a chat with another supervisor, and eventually printed out two boarding passes. Well, that was painless enough! Except that they were economy boarding passes in row 32. Not quite what we were hoping for. I pointed out that it’s a business class ticket, and he replied it was economy. I showed him where it said C under class for the paper ticket, and he seemed to realize he’d missed it. But getting it corrected required a bit more chatting with a few managers, as he seemed unsure how to get us the business class seats to which we should be entitled. But after another few minutes, he left his position and came back with a handful of business class boarding card stock. A hopeful development. Sure enough, a couple more minutes, and boarding passes were printed. My request that we be moved to a window-aisle pair if one was available was cheerily accepted, and we ended up with 11A and C, the bulkhead row at the front of the Air China A330.
We thanked the gentleman for his help, on our way away from the desk, noticed he was filing our paper tickets in a stack with a bunch of Air Canada paper tickets. So apparently we weren’t alone in getting stranded by a 777 showing up nine hours late. Surprising.
From there, it was down a hallway, down an escalator, and out on the trains to the satellite terminal.
When one arrives at the satellite, it’s a quick trip through customs and passport control, and then onto security. Everything’s moving much faster than my last time through this airport. There seems to be priority security for premium cabin customers, but I haven’t seen any signage for it on any of my trips through PEK. I’ve always just been pointed towards the right place by the security crew. Nevertheless, we were through the security checkpoint pretty quickly after convincing one of the agents that my USB cell phone charger battery pack wasn’t a weapon of mass destruction.
Released into the wilc of PEK, I find a big, bright and very modern terminal with some interesting features as we make our way to the lounge.
The Air China Business Class and First Class lounges are on a mezzanine level, perched over opposite sides of the centre of the terminal. We ended up finding the Business Class Lounge first, although I believe both sides are accessible to Star Alliance Gold passengers. But I could be wrong.
Up the escalator, we were greeted, scanned in, and turned over to this strange little kiosk where you have to scan your passport to get an Internet code. I guess it’s a way to only provide unfiltered access to non-natives? Access within the lounge was good and fast.
Christmas decorations were still everywhere to be seen in the lounge.
The lounge offers pretty good views of the apron. Here, a Mongolian 737 loads up for its trip home.
One of CA’s flagship lounges at its main base of operations, this lounge offers plenty of seating options, and some neat visual features, like a bamboo wall and various trees (all decorated for Christmas, of course) at various positions.
The lounge overlooks the hustle and bustle of the terminal, and the CA first class lounge is across the way.
There are two main areas for food and drink — one outpost station with some light snacks but mostly drinks, and the larger main buffet, which actually offered a fair variety of food. Things looked and smelled good, but I was still pretty stuffed from a pretty good breakfast at the hotel, and decided to wait for lunch on board. I was pleasantly surprised to find no less than four different varieties of still bottled water at various bars throughout the lounge. For those who like variety, I suppose.
I checked in with home and we puttered for a bit, and we headed out about 10 minutes before our posted boarding time. Signage was plentiful, but seemingly contradictory as to where we needed to go to get to our gate. Eventually, though, we found our way. And surprisingly, although it was still a few minutes prior to the boarding time printed on our boarding passes, boarding seemed to be just beginning. That’s a pretty significant improvement over the punctuality of starting boarding for our flight to Beijing on AC.
Fortunately, there was no one ahead of us in the lineup for business class passengers, and we were quickly on our way down the jetway and aboard our A330 destined for Hong Kong.
Flight: CA109 From: Beijing Capital (PEK) To: Hong Kong (HKG) Date: 1/4/2016 Aircraft: Airbus A330-300 Registration: B-6503 Seat: 11A ATD (STD): 13:27 (13:00) ATA (STA): 16:49 (16:25)
We were given a friendly greeting door 1L and shown to our seats… immediately behind door 1L. Not a long trip. CA’s business class product on the A330s is very similar to products I’ve recently flown on Turkish and LOT — a pretty standard forward-facing flat bed seat.
Because it’s a bulkhead seat, no IFE screen in front of me, instead it’s the typical flip-up IFE screen, which is never as good as permanently mounted.
The seat comes equipped with a half-decent pillow, and a blanket in a bag that reminds you it’s for first and business class only. A step down from my CA blanket on SIN-PEK a few months ago, which was for First Class only, despite no F on the CA 330.
Legroom is fine, and by the ottoman are a bagged pair of noise-cancelling headphones and a pretty good pair of slippers. I’m impressed that they’re included on this short flight down to Hong Kong, and also better slippers than what AC offers on flights from Canada to Asia.
Pre-departure beverages were offered, and I selected both water and champagne. The champagne was topped up once during the boarding process.
Hot towel service then followed, still on the ground.
The not-so-exciting view out my window as boarding continues.
Obvious (except perhaps for M+ and MR) seat controls on top of the panel between seats.
IFE remote control and various ports (headphone, USB, power) are located under the centre console between seats. The remote is simple and usable enough.
Chinese newspapers were offered, and then are displayed for the taking at the front middle bulkhead.
Menus were then offered, and after giving us about thirty seconds to peruse it, orders were taken and menus were promptly collected. An improvement over the scenario on my one previous CA flight, where a single menu was escorted around by the flight attendant, but I’d still prefer to at least keep my menu through the meal service to know what I’m eating. Fortunately, I got pictures to which to refer.
I ended up going with the Chinese prawns dish.
After the safety video, and warning from the pre-recorded “safety director on this flight,” we pushed back just a few minutes behind schedule, getting ready to say goodbye to PEK.
On taxi, we roll past the new CA flagship. Love the 747-8i. I’ve really gotta get back on one of those birds someday. I’d love to see what CA has done with them, having previously flown LH’s 8i.
We taxied a fair distance, as is pretty standard for PEK.
But the lineup for the active runway wasn’t very long, so soon it was our turn.
A short roll, and we were up and away into a surprisingly clear Beijing January afternoon, affording us a good look at the huge airport on our way up.
As we ascended, I pulled out my IFE screen to take a look. I’m not a big fan of Air China’s IFE system. There’s a decent amount of content, although most of it is inaccessible to me because I don’t speak the language. That’s fine, it’s a Chinese airline. But there’s no easy way to figure out what content is in what language, aside from obviously Chinese films. I found one documentary with an English description that was on Chinese geography. Having discussed in the lounge less than two hours earlier how little I knew about just that subject, I was interested to check it out. Unfortunately, no option for English or even subtitles, despite the English description. Oh well. The pictures were pretty for the couple of minutes I watched.
Not finding anything else worth watching on the IFE system, there’s always Airshow. Good old, reliable Airshow. CA features a very modern Google system, with all the latest bells and whistles.
Service begins with a hot towel, followed seconds later by a tablecloth.
Drinks were then offered from the bar. I opt for some more champagne, accompanied by some (very) salted almonds.
In short order, lunch is served, brought out altogether on a tray.
The appetizers were decent, if a little “different” to my taste. But the smoked pomfret was enjoyable, and the simple salad with bran was pretty good as well.
The main course of prawns was also pretty good, although nothing special. I was expecting at least a bit of heat to the dish, but there wasn’t any. The vegetables were good, but kinda felt like they were just thrown in there as opposed to any thought-out part of the dish.
Bread from the bread basket was offered. I go for some garlic bread. Of course. It’s quite good, although not Top Five material.
With lunch over, dessert is quickly offered — a light, simple hazelnut cake with whipped cream. Not bad, but nothing exceptional.
I cap my lunch with a cup of green tea, which is kept topped up as long as I’d like it to.
With lunch over, I decide to test the seat out in bed mode, and despite it just being early afternoon after a pretty good six hours of sleep the night before, I quickly found myself napping. So I guess it was pretty comfortable.
When I woke up, we were starting our descent into a decidedly-more-cloud-than-Beijing Hong Kong.
In fact, cloud cover persisted until quite literally feet off the ground — I could see the threshold of the runway when it broke.
A short taxi, and we pulled in next to our smaller stablemate from CA. We’d made it to Hong Kong, despite all the drama in between, about eight hours ahead of schedule. All’s well that ends well.
The lineup for passport control wasn’t very long, and traveling with just carry-on baggage, we were quickly out and on our way to Sheung Wan, where our hotel was ready for us.
Taking the Ngong Ping cable car into the clouds on a rainy morning.
The Giant Buddha of Tian Tan in the mist.
Lunch at the monastery of Po Ling — simple Chinese vegetarian cooking.
With the weather clearing, some great views of HKG on the way down, including watching a TG A380 take off from above. Very cool.
Dim sum for breakfast at the world’s cheapest Michelin Star-rated restaurant, Tim Ho Wan.
Stanley Market and beach.
The tram to and the view from Victoria Peak.
The evening descends upon the Hong Kong skyline.
The Ladies’ Market in full swing.
Hong Kong has a strange neon beauty to it at night.
The elaborate Christmas decorations still on display at 1881 in Tsim Sha Tsui.
The foot of Nathan Street in TST in the morning.
The Skyline and Convention Centre from the harbour.
That’s it for this trip report. Join me soon for our trip home, which — spoiler alert — went much more smoothly than the trip out.
Thanks for reading!
Air China Business Lounge - 3
Beijing - PEK
Hong Kong - HKG
Not quite on time, but significantly better than my previous sector, once again Air China was a pleasant surprise to me. The 333 business class product is decent, and service was quite good, if catering was only about average for a business class product.
Mostly, I was just impressed that trying to get on the plane didn't degenerate into a disaster, showing up with a paper ticket as we did. Oh well, the fumble by AC was nicely recovered, and we actually ended up in Hong Kong about six hours ahead of schedule, although we missed a bit of a tour of Beijing and a day in Singapore as a result.
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