Originally I was supposed to fly my last segment as HND-SFO on JL as an award ticket, but I found a USD 378.66 (EUR 353.95) one way fare on UA from PEK-SFO and decided to pay for this segment in order to credit my TK acct. It's a long story, but in a nutshell I was matched to TK Gold Elite for 4 months back in August 2016 and there were two conditions that I had to meet.
a) fly any intl trip on TK to extend the status for 1 year which I did with my IST-ATH trip in Oct. (I got a 2nd membership kit with a new card valid until Aug. 2017). b) collect 15,000 status miles in my TK acct. in order to extend my membership for a second year.
At the time, I calculated that I was going to easily meet the second requirement until I read some recent developments at another website. It seemed that TK decided to change the condition of the status match and now required that the 15,000 status miles be on TK metal. This was never mentioned during the initial acceptance of my status match (only 15,000 status miles and according to TK Miles & Smiles rules, status miles are accumulated by flying TK or *A partners) . It's been reported by other members in the same situation that TK is not honoring the second year extension unless the new specified condition on TK metal is met. I have already booked a trip mid Feb. to CGK on NH and if I had known about this, I would have taken a BCN trip on TK instead. Time will tell if my pursuit will continue.
in the meantime, I will give a recap of my schedule below:
According to my research the two closest hotels to T3 @ PEK are the Hilton and Langham. I chose the Langham PEK airport for my overnight stay. Having stayed at one of their properties in London a long time ago in the 1990's, I was remotely familiar with the brand and kind of knew what to expect.
The shuttle took a good 20-25 min. to arrive at the airport to pick the guests and once we arrived I stood in line to check-in. One of the front desk agents rang a device and immediately another staff appeared and helped me.
On my way to the room.
Spacious, well appointed, comfortable and with a great view as I discovered the following morning.
Plane spotting from the comfort of a chaise lounge.
Let the show begin.
I opened the window for a moment and upon closing it I see debris falling on the floor. O.o
I look up and see this. What the heck?
I take a quick shower and get ready to go back to the airport. Just as I was checking out, the shuttle bus pulls up - perfect timing.
A look from outside the hotel in the daylight.
Comfortable seats in the shuttle bus.
I arrive at the massive terminal 3 and look for the UA counter.
CA handles UA operations and I was checked in by an efficient but robotic agent at the premier line. No smiles or small talk.
Then it's time to catch the train to Passport control and the gates.
There was a huge line at passport control but the line eventually moves. Once I reach the officer he asked me about the portion of the form that had my dept. information. I remember that upon arrival in PEK Immigrations took that portion of the form and did not give it back, so I thought that it was not needed. The officer tried to search for one in his booth but did not find any, so he directed me to get one from one of the stands. I quickly filled one out and asked one of the staff controlling the line if she will let me in the front because of what happened. She directed me to another line and proceeded to close it behind me telling me to just stay there. A couple of minutes later another agent stamped my passport and I was on my way to security.
Security was a pain and they were very thorough. My carry-on was screened 3 times and I had to empty the contents in a bin.
Once at the other side i headed to the CA J lounge. incidentally, i learned that if you have Priority Pass, you have a choice between the J or F lounge. The terminal is huge and an air of tranquility pervades despite the chaos outside. The small garden in the corner is a welcomed and inviting addition.
CA J lounge
A lot has been said and written about airport lounges in PEK, but I prefer to experience it by myself before I can formulate an opinion. I did not have any problems finding this lounge and check-in was quick. I found the interior to be roomy with empty seats along the hallway with a self serve bar. There is a buffet area right after you enter but this one is reserved for snacks only. The hardcore stuff is found in the back. When I arrived they had an assortment of steamed and hot dishes. There was a small counter with some sushi that appeared to be of industrial quality and you had to get an attendant to serve them to you. If you don't find the food palatable enough, I guess you can exit and go down to Pizza Hut or KFC.
Stand with tea and cakes along the hallway.
After a cup of tea I left the lounge and did some plane spotting around the terminal.
The crew showed up at one point and a few minutes later boarding commenced. We were advised that today's flight was going to be full and agents were soliciting bags to be checked. Since this was a flight to the U.S., there was one last security check before boarding the plane which was quick.
A FA welcomed me aboard and I proceeded all the way to the end of the plane.
My aisle seat.
IFE was old school. UA chose not to install individual screens on the 747's.
A look at the tarmac before my neighbor arrived.
The 744 is an old plane, and the entertainment system in the back of the cabin did not play at all, so FA's had to do a live safety demonstration. As far as I could tell, every seat was taken and this was going to be a crowded ride with FA's were helping passengers find storage space in the overhead bins.
We were stuck at the gate for a good 45-60 min. due to military maneuvers around the airport. The captain kept us updated of the situation.
Finally we were allowed to take off and when we leveled off dinner service started followed right after by a drink service. I ordered a Hindu meal and this is what I was presented.
I guess in PEK dolmas are considered Hindu.
The overhead screens started to play a movie and suddenly froze and stayed like that for a long time. They were eventually turned off.
After I finished my meal I asked the FA if it would be possible to try a regular meal. She brought me a pork dish with a smile.
Once all the trays were cleared ice cream and a bottle of water were distributed.
Galleys were provisioned with water, rice crackers and more ice cream.
Mid-flight snack service.
Special meal - vegetarian sandwich and rice crackers.
Regular snack - turkey sandwich and cookie.
After the meal service FA's retreated and appeared once again for the pre-arrival meal. There was severe turbulence during this time so FA's did a quick service and limited half filled hot drinks for those who wanted coffee or tea.
Once we landed it took forever to exit the plane since I was in the last row. The FA's bid everyone farewell with smiles and wished us a pleasant stay.
To my surprise, upon getting home I received an email from UA apologizing for the IFE malfunction and an offer of either 5,000 miles in my UA account or USD100 off on my next trip. I took the discount. I was very impressed with this gesture from UA.
Air China Business Lounge - 3
Beijing - PEK
San Francisco - SFO
I was glad that I had the opportunity to visit the CA J lounge and did not find it as dreadful as some reviewers thought. There was plenty of empty seats when I arrived and although the catering could be improved, I appreciated that they tried to offer a variety of hot and local dishes. WC's were relatively clean and staff were quick to retrieve dirty dishes.
UA will retire its fleet of 744's at the end of this year and I enjoyed the chance the ride in this iconic plane despite its lack of IFE's. It's like reliving a little bit of aviation history. Next Feb. I will ride the 747 again when I fly NRT-SFO.
I was reasonably comfortable in one of the pair of seats in the back. Crew was friendly and did the job in an efficient way. Catering was acceptable and taste was decent.
UA was very proactive in the way it handled the IFE situation and it left a positive impression on me.
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