Since Dulles is located quite a distance away from Arlington, we took an Uber to the airport. We arrived before 1:30 which is plenty early enough for the 4:05 departure.
Air China's check-in counters are located on the far right back of the main terminal, between the Ethiopian and Volaris counters. The terminal at Dulles is gorgeous and felt very open and clean. I love the text they chose for the airline names as well.
The line wasn't very long and there a good amount of agents staffing the counter. The line moved swiftly, and we were at the front of it soon enough. At the counter, we checked in our four bags straight to Wuhan and received two boarding passes each. The agent put "Transfer" tags on all of the suitcases, so they would be delivered to WUH, and we wouldn't have to pick them up in PEK. By 1:49 we were ready to go through security.
The TSA checkpoints at IAD are located underground which is interesting. TSA was a hassle since Air China doesn't participate in TSA-Precheck. After passing through we took the train straight to the A concourse. There are two trains at IAD. One heads to the A, C, and D concourse and one heads to the B concourse.
After a short ride we were in the A concourse. Dulles consists of two "satellite" concourses. One contains the A and B concourses which house all non-United carriers excluding Air Canada and Frontier and United Express flights. The C and D concourses are for United only. There is also a small Z concourse which is located right next to the main terminal.
The AB terminal is much nicer than the CD terminal as it is much more open and airy unlike the dark tight United concourses. There were many country flags hanging from the ceiling which is a nice touch.
When we got to our gate, Gate A25, there were actually not that many people waiting there.
The plane, B-2040 an almost 6 year-old 777-300ER had just arrived earlier from Beijing. Some of the gates in the terminal were not good for planespotting, unfortunately.
After we settled down and I connected to the free internet we decided to look around the duty free store between the two concourses. Funny enough, we saw the flight crew looking around the store too and even bumped into the captain of our flight.
After that we headed back to the gate to wait for boarding to start. Gradually, more people started to show up, but it still didn't look like a full flight. The crew boarded and boarding eventually started at 3:20, starting with First and Business class.
Air China economy boards in three lines based on row numbers. Surprisingly they invited passengers seated in the last section of economy to board after First and Business so we went to wait in line.
After scanning our boarding passes each passenger had to go up to screen where it scanned your face and allowed you to pass. I had never seen this anywhere else, so I would be interested to know what it is.
After boarding through L2 the flight attendants welcomed people on board and checked boarding passes to direct us where to sit. First, I passed through the business class cabin which consisted of fully flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Directly behind business class is a small economy mini-cabin with three rows. After that was the forward economy cabin.
Seats were in the rare 3-3-3 configuration which was nice as most carriers have switched to the more cramped 3-4-3 configuration. Our seats were located in Row 54 on the right side of the plane.
No personal air vents as you can see
Each seat had a blanket and pillow placed on them which was nice. The pillow was soft and the packaged blanket was fine.
The seat itself was actually pretty comfortable as it had good legroom, an adjustable headrest, and even a footrest as well! It wasn't too hard unlike some newer seats these days. Unfortunately, there was an IFE box located under my seat which restricted storage space and foot room.
There was a non-removable IFE remote located in the left armrest. The double pronged headphone jack was also located next in the armrest.
There were also 110V outlets located in between each pair of seats. (2 per each set of 3)
The seatback pocket contained a pair of cheap headphones, the safety card, and the in-flight magazine.
After we had settled in, I decided to check out the entertainment Air China offered. Air China's IFE was offered in only three languages: English, Chinese, and French.
The selection of films wasn't the greatest, but it was enough to last through this flight. I would say that more than half of the movies offered were Chinese films. The selection of TV shows was even worse however as the content was even more limited.
As a note for the screen it wasn't very responsive, so it was hard to scroll between the movies, so I ended up using the remote for the most of the flight. This is unfortunate as the plane isn't even that old.
Boarding was quicker than I expected, and doors closed at 3:52 and we pushed back three minutes later without a full load. My seat provided views of the many international carriers serving IAD. Saudia, South African Airways, Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and Aer Lingus just to name a few.
As we started to move forward the safety video featuring a cartoon panda and animated characters was screened.
We passed by a KLM 777 and a Copa Airlines 737.
Concourse A and B view
United terminal and mobile lounge
When our plane reached Runway 1R we had to wait for 6 planes to land first which was annoying. The powerful GE90 engines were started and we thundered down the runway toward Beijing at 4:20.
View after takeoff
View after takeoff
Once the aircraft reached a more level position I re-watched Deadpool 2 which was actually Once Upon a Deadpool and visited the lavatory. There are three lavatories in the back galley, two between the main economy cabins, and two between the forward cabin and the mini cabin. The lavatory I visited was actually a handicapped accessible one, so it was larger in size.
It was spacious and clean and featured some lotion and sanitizer as well. The soap dispenser appeared empty however.
After I returned announcements about the flight were made. We would have a flight time of 13 hours 50 minutes with an arrival of 6:05 PM. flight attendants started drink service shortly. Soda options only consisted of Coca-Cola and Sprite and juice options were tomato, apple, or orange. I selected a Coke.
The meals were announced over the PA system as either fish with rice or chicken with rice. I selected the fish. It came with strawberry yogurt, fruit, a warm bread roll, and a corn salad.
The rice was actually fried rice and the fish was seasoned nicely with spices.
The salad was also pretty good.
The chicken option didn't look half bad either
After everyone had meals passed out flight attendants came through the aisles with extra mains if anyone wanted one. I thought this was a nice touch which you wouldn't see on a US carrier usually. I was full so didn't ask for one.
After trays were cleared most people closed their window shades, and I continued watching my movie. Mood lighting was turned on in the cabin.
When I finished Deadpool I decided to watch "Skyscraper" starring Dwayne Johnson. I thought it was a pretty good movie, but I have low expectations for any movie I see. One quip I have about Air China is before every movie and I'm assuming TV show 2 minutes of ads are played. These are pretty annoying as they were also quite loud.
About 10 minutes after I started the movie I decided to take a walk around the cabin with my uncle. There were many empty seats on the planes, so people took advantage of them by laying out on a row of three to sleep. We decided to sit in the R4 exit row seats as they were empty. At the time I didn't notice the seats said "crew only", but the crew didn't do anything to stop us interestingly.
There was a snack set-up in the galley consisting of the same drinks served earlier, and bags of small cracker sticks were also put out later. I find it weird that this is all Air China offers between meals on a 13 hour flight as even the US carriers have a snack box passed out.
I took a quick peek through the window where it was still daylight outside, but this since this flight flew over the arctic it would be daytime the entire time.
I sat in the exit row seat for a while and finished "Skyscraper" there. We were at least 4 hours into the flight at that point. I moved back to my seat and decided to watch one final movie "Ocean's 8" starring Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock. It was fine but again with the taste in movies. After I finished it I was ready to go to sleep. My aunt was able to grab another blanket from an empty seat so that was nice. I actually ended up sleeping for 4 hours which was actually really good for me.
When I woke up flight attendants came around with the second meal service. The choices were either beef with noodles or chicken with sausage. My aunt and I selected the beef.
This was one of the worst meals I've had on a plane in the past couple of years. The beef felt dry and had a weird texture, and the noodles were bland and tasteless. The packaged bread roll was hard, and I didn't eat the side salad. The highlight of the meal was definitely the two Oreos. Once again as earlier in the flight the flight attendants came around with extras of the meals. My uncle had the chicken and said it was better than the beef but still wasn't great.
We were already over Northeastern China or Manchuria when the meal service ended.
Descent started around 10-20 minutes later.
Cabin during descent
We broke descended into cloud Beijing and flew past the airport before doing a 180 degree turn back.
Oh Beijing weather why are you so smoggy?
Arrival into Beijing
We had a smooth touchdown at 5:54 PM and had a quick taxi to our gate. During the taxi I saw some interesting aircraft i.e. Mahan Air A340, 3 grounded Air China 737 MAX 8s, a retired Air China 747-400, and many Air China 787-9s that had their engines removed for some reason. Air China isn't affected by the RR issues, so I don't know what they were doing there.
China Southern 787 Beijing Airport
Air China 747-8I Beijing airport
We pulled in next to an Air Canada 777-300ER at 6:01 PM. 4 minutes ahead of schedule.
After deplaning we went to immigration where lines weren't very long. Foreigners were required to go up to a machine and have their passport and fingerprints scanned where a receipt was later printed. After immigration we headed to the train to transfer to Terminal 3-C for our flight to Wuhan.
Some notes about the flight:
There was some rough turbulence in the earlier and later stages of the flight. Every time it happened flight attendants made an announcement telling everyone to stay in their seats and the seatbelt sign was flashed. Other than that it was a smooth flight but the seatbelt sign was never turned off.
Most of the flight attendants were female, but there were a couple males aboard that wore white uniforms that looked like pilots. I don't know if they were like cabin supervisors or something like that. The crew were respectful and had good intentions but they didn't really smile except for the males.
Seat recline was very generous which might be annoying if you're trying to exit your seat or leave.
Flight attendants walked up and down the aisles with water many times in-flight.
Immigration cards weren't handed out, so I had to fill out an arrival card upon landing. There wasn't a departure card attached to it like there was before, so I'm wondering do you still need a departure card to leave China?
Bottom Line: this was a nice flight on Air China, but the IFE system on these 777s aren't very good and I don't think the planes have wifi. Luckily newer planes in CA's fleet have newer and updated systems, and they might have wifi.