AA186 Beijing-Capital to Chicago O'Hare 787-8 EconomyYou are here
This was an archived report that I had documented, but I never published it in the end. It was the end of my trip to China in 2018, and I was to return from Beijing to Fargo via Chicago, a route which I had flown on many times before. The day before departure, I took a high-speed train from Wuhan Railway Station to Beijing West Railway Station where I stayed the night. The next day, it was time to wake up and head to the airport.
free airport bus
First, I had to figure out how to get to the airport. Fortunately, the Beijing Capital Airport Bus is a express public bus service that provides rides from points in Beijing to Capital Airport. One of these stops was right outside the hotel. According to Wikipedia, As of November 2019, there were 18 airport shuttle bus routes from the Capital Airport and the city proper, and six routes to Tianjin and Hebei Province. One way fare on routes to the city costs between ¥20 to ¥30 and ¥40 to ¥140 on routes to Tianjin and cities in Hebei.
The bus was comfortable enough and we made a couple more stops to pick up more people. Eventually, we got on the airport expressway and headed in that direction. The bus first stopped at Terminal 1, where HNA Group domestic flights depart out of, and then to Terminal 2.
China Southern A320
China Southern A321 in Skyteam livery. The airline has since departed the alliance and B-6553 was repainted in the default livery.
After American and China Southern decided to become closer after American's $200 million investment in CZ, AA moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 2 to allow for easier connections. American joined SriLankan Airlines as the other OneWorld airline in T2. I took the same American flight out of Terminal 3 back in 2017.
Terminal 2 isn't as large or nice as Terminal 3, but it gets the job done. There's a walkway that connects to Terminal 1, and shuttle buses also connect all three terminals. After arriving in the terminal, you have not quite reached the check-in desks yet. To reach the international check-in desks, it involves going through a quick passport check.
The line at American's desks looked pretty long.
After waiting around half an hour to 45 minutes, I was finally able to check-in. Afterwards, it was time for customs and security.
Security was unremarkable, as usual, and I was soon in the departure area of the terminal. After exiting security, you walk through a hallway that's aligned with shops on both sides.
International flights out of T2 use the right side of the terminal, domestic flights use the left. The interior of the terminal is pretty small and dark, but it was nice that it wasn't as crowded as T3.
The lounges operated in T2 were the Air China lounge, the BGS Premier lounge, and the Hainan Airlines lounge.
The gate of my flight was Gate 17, which as you can see from the map is located the end of the terminal. In 2016, I took a Hainan Airlines flight on the same route that departed from one of the four remote stand gates located on the lower level.
When I arrived at the gate, my plane was already there, having arrived the previous day, and spending an overnight at Beijing. N809AA was the fifth Boeing 787-8 in American's fleet, and it was delivered in August of 2015.
a quick interlude
I had flown between Chicago and Beijing the most times out of any international route. At the time of the flight, the route was served by three carriers: United Airlines, American Airlines, and Hainan Airlines. American and United operated the route daily and Hainan Airlines operates it 4/5x weekly.
United previously used 747-400s but switched to legacy 777-200ERs. American used to operate 777-200ERs but switched to the 787-8. Hainan Airlines flew A340-600s but now uses 787-8/9s. I had previously flown between the two cities on the two other airlines that fly between. United Airlines 747s from ORD - PEK in 2015 & 2016, and Hainan Airlines on a 787-8 in J from PEK - ORD in 2016.
This would be the last time I would fly American on this route as they had announced they were canceling flights between the two cities on May 2, 2018. The last flight from Beijing to Chicago would be operated on October 20, 2018. This was part of their plan to reduce Asia flights from Chicago and increase them from LAX. Flights to Shanghai-Pudong were also canceled and Tokyo-Narita was reduced to 3x weekly.
Now, back to the report.
american airlines flight 186 beijing-capital to chicago-o'hare
After arriving at the gate, I took a look out of the windows. I could see some planes parked in the distance such as the Austrian 767, a Cathay Pacific A330, an Air China 777, and what is most likely an ANA 787.
On the other side the view faced the rest of Terminal 2. There was a Hainan Airlines 737, a China Eastern A330, and a China Southern A380 parked at the only A380 gate. HU operates their international flights out of T2.
I went to fill up some water and then went back and sat down in the gate area. After only a couple of minutes, boarding soon started, and I was able to board the plane.
My seat for this flight was 29A, one of the few pairs of double seats located on the 787. My seat was the middle seat in the second to last row in the rear economy cabin, on the left side. There was an empty space where the window seat was supposed to be.
The 787-8 is otherwise arranged in the industry standard 3-3-3 configuration.
There was a pillow and blanket placed on each seat along with a pair of headphones in the seatback pocket. Each seat had an entertainment control right under the screen with a universal power outlet right next to it. A headphone jack and USB port were also included with the screen.
The seat pitch was fine, especially with an empty space to put my bag to the left.
The view from my seat gave a clear view of the ramp along with narrow-looking wing. It was a bit of an annoyance to lean over the empty space to look out but with a pair of double seats it was worth it.
As boarding went on I looked at the traffic outside.
The rare Air Koryo TU-204, my first time seeing this unique bird
Shortly after this picture was taken, the safety video was screened on the seat-backs. Our flight time of 11 hours and 51 minutes was announced with a cruising altitude of 37,000 ft. The block time was 12 hours and 50 minutes. At 9:58, the plane pushed back. Luckily for this flight, I would have an empty seat next to me.
Air China 747-8
Cathay Pacific A330
China Eastern A330-300.
We taxied past a bunch of other planes on the taxiway. The pilots announced that we were number five or six for takeoff.
At 10:32, we began our takeoff roll on Runway 36R.
Capital Airlines A330-300.
China Eastern 777-300ER
Uzbekistan Airways 767-300
The plane quickly disappeared into the clouds after liftoff.
At 11:09 AM, I received a bag of peanuts and asked for a Coke Zero.
The first meal, lunch, was served at 11:28 AM. The options were either chicken with rice or seafood curry noodles. I went with the latter option.
Included on the tray was the main course, a bottle of water, a salad with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and radishes, some vinegar dressing, butter, a bread roll, a side dish with what appeared to be potatoes and shredded pork, and a dessert of a cake of some sort. There were also chopsticks included which I didn't use.
The main dish and dessert themselves weren't bad, there were some congealed noodles stuck to the bottom but that was it. I don't eat salads on planes really, and the side dish was definitely underwhelming. You can't expect that much of catering out of China anyways.
After the trays were cleared, I could relax and use the entertainment system. Like the other US carriers, American had a vast option of movies and TV shows which would be enough even for a 16 hour flight like from Dallas to Hong Kong. I did not take any pictures, but I have on other trip reports if you're interested in checking them out.
The lavatories on the 787-8 were all located between the two economy cabins. There were four of them and were clean at the time I used them.
Eventually, the sun would set and the cabin lights were dimmed.
An inflight snack would be handed out by the flight attendants. Included with the snack box was a turkey or chicken sandwich, three grapes, an Oreo wafer bar, and a packet of Heinz hot sauce. I also received a bottle of water. The snack was decent enough to get through the flight, and with the hot sauce on the sandwich it wasn't too bad.
I would struggle to get some sleep in the next couple of hours, but I tried my best. The breakfast service would begin five hours after the snack service. The options were either a Chinese dim sum or roast beef sandwich. I opted for the sandwich. The lights were still off when the meal was served.
The sandwich was edible enough and the fruit, well it was just fruit in the end.
It was nice when the sun went up and I could undim the windows.
I wasn't able to take any pictures of the descent into Chicago, but here's one below.
We landed after 9:00 and taxied to Terminal 5, where we parked next to a JAL 777-300ER.
In the bonus section I'll share my high-speed rail trip from Wuhan to Beijing.
Bonus : Click here display hide
Wuhan has three main railway stations. Wuhan Railway station is the main high-speed station in Wuchang and serves all the high-speed trains traveling on the Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed railway. The station was completed in 2008.
Entering the railway station involved putting your bags through a scanner and walking through a scanner yourself. Agents would check your passport and ticket.
Wuhan Railway Station is a bit unique as you can see all the trains right out in the open between both entrances of the station. The boarding areas are located on both sides.
The boarding area itself was hectic as there were many people and not a lot of seating options. There were restaurants and shops scattered throughout the area.
The train I would be taking was a G class train, the fastest in China. It had originated in Guangzhou South and stopped in Changsha South before making it to Wuhan. Each stop was only three minutes long.
When boarding was announced, you would line up at the marking on the ground. People with blue tickets were able to stick their ticket in a machine, which would open the gates and let you through where you would pick your ticket back up from the top. Those with red tickets had to stand in a separate line and get their ticket checked by a worker. Sometimes a punch would also be needed.
After that, you would take an escalator down at larger stations, or an escalator up at smaller stations. Since the train was only stopping for a couple of minutes, you would have to quick as to not miss it. After boarding the train, you can put your larger bags in storage compartments located near the doors and your smaller bags on the exposed racks above the seats. The seat themselves are arranged in a 2-3 configuration and have ample legroom and power outlets as well.
This picture was of crossing the Yangtze River on the Tianxingzhou Yangtze River Bridge.
The trains in China are much cheaper than airplanes and also more convenient because you don't have to arrive as early and deal with check-in and security. High-speed trains have taken over previously profitable airplane routes such as Wuhan-Nanjing, Wuhan-Nanchang, and Chengdu-Chongqing. Trains are much better as delays aren't common, the trains are fast and clean, and the train stations themselves are located much nearer than airports.
After departing Wuhan, it would only be around an hour long trip before we pulled into our next stop, Zhengzhou East.
Zhengzhou East is the second largest train station in China with 32 platforms. The largest is Xi'an North with 34 platforms.
After another three minute stop, it was time to depart for our next stop.
I would advise bringing your own food aboard the train as the food served is expensive and only average tasting. I myself had a bowl of ramen. Ramen is definitely one of the best options as there is free hot water located on each train car. Speaking of which, there are generally 16 cars on the more popular routes.
The max speed of around 300 km/h. Speeds used to be faster but had to be reduced for safety after the Wenzhou train collision of 2011.
After a longer travel time of an hour and a half, we pulled into our next stop, Shijiazhuang.
Shijiazhuang is one of those stations that has a mixed use of high-speed and conventional trains. Most cities like Wuhan or Guangzhou have dedicated high-speed rail stations that only serve those types of trains. The Hankou and Wuchang railway stations in Wuhan are also mixed use.
After the last three minute stop, it was time to depart for our final destination: Beijing West.
After arriving at Beijing, I asked to walk up the front of the train where I could take a picture. Luckily, the men standing beside the front engine agreed.
What a beauty!
After exiting the station, my uncle and I went to catch a taxi at the taxi loading area. There was a long line of people waiting but luckily it moved fairly fast.
After arriving at the hotel, we met up with my aunt and younger cousin where I enjoyed one final meal in China, Peking roasted duck.
Beijing - PEK
Chicago - ORD
I was bored and decided to throw together this trip report, as I was originally supposed to publish it after my Dallas to Shanghai flight. While there are missing details, I hope I was able to cover the basics well enough. I was tired after this flight as I did not get a lot of sleep and fell asleep before takeoff on my connecting CRJ-700 to Fargo, only waking up after we had already landed. Thank you for reading this trip report, and I hope to take some more trips in the future.
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