Review of Air China flight Beijing Houston in Business

Airline Air China
Flight CA995
Class Business
Seat 14J
Aircraft Boeing 777-300ER
Flight time 13:40
Take-off 21 Dec 14, 15:00
Arrival at 22 Dec 14, 14:40
CA   #83 out of 136 Airlines A minimum of 20 Flight-Reports is required in order to appear in the rankings. 180 reviews
NGO85
By 8238
Published on 2nd January 2015
Background:

This is the second leg of my trip home to Houston from Nagoya. The routing is as follows:

Part I – NGO-PEK (CA160, Boeing 737-800, J) – http://flight-report.com/en/report-8827.html
Part II – PEK-IAH (CA995, Boeing 777-300ER, J) – You are here
Part III – IAH-PEK (CA996, Boeing 777-300ER, J) – http://flight-report.com/en/report-8949.html
Part IV – PEK-NGO (CA159, Boeing 737-800, J) – http://flight-report.com/en/report-8962.html

Pre-flight:

Filtering back planeside around 2pm with a scheduled boarding time of 2:20pm, I didn’t have much time to explore PEK or do any planespotting so I apologize for the lack of pictures at PEK. Having spent lunchtime clearing immigration, I quickly ran up to the Air China Business Class Lounge, grabbed a plate of dim sum and a bowl of cream of asparagus soup. I came in at the end of lunchtime so there was ample hot food in the lounge and I thought the soup was especially good. After 15 minutes in the lounge, I headed off on the trek to my gate. Economy boarding was underway by the time I got down there, so I just snapped a quick picture of my plane and headed in. To my surprise, there was an inspection on the jetbridge. All passengers had carry-on baggage searched by Chinese customs inspectors for any sort of beverages, there went the bottle of water I took from the lounge. Another security peculiarity in as many flights with CA (I didn’t see an air marshal on this flight).

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Air China, CA995
Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Departure: 3:00pm (Actual: 3:16pm)
Arrival: 2:40pm (Actual: 2:02pm)
Flight time: 12:46

Entering the plane through L1, the purser welcomed me aboard in English and directed me through the F cabin to my seat. The business cabin is large and open containing 7 rows in a 2/2/2 arrangement. A pillow and a pretty good quality duvet were already located in the seats and noise-cancelling headphones were located in the little cubby next to the headrest. Slippers and amenity kit were already placed in the storage area below the large IFE screen (15.4 in/39 cm). Walking into the cabin, I was surprised to see seats upholstered in blue to match those recently released on CA’s newly acquired B748s (these seats were previously grey). Also shown are the contents of the amenity kit by L’Occitane for all of those kit aficionados.

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After getting settled into my seat, the flight attendant made his way to me with an oshibori on a platter and the drink tray containing champagne, orange juice and water. Needing a drink after the transfer ordeal, I went for a glass of champagne and a glass of water. After a slow boarding process due to the aforementioned carry-on inspections, we eventually were cleared for departure. The load today was light up front (F: 2/8 and J: 26/42), but sold out in Y. Given the light load in J, I had no seatmate giving me an empty window seat that I planned on using as my designated bed (Lufthansa F-style).

We had a short taxi to the runway, which allowed for a little bit of whale watching in the late afternoon light.

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There were no aircraft ahead of us, so we did a rolling take-off with the powerful GE90s roaring into life as we powered over the outskirts of Beijing.

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Some over engine/wing shots as we continued our ascent to the north and an air-to-air spotting of another CA wide-body (too far away to accurately identify it).

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After leveling off, dinner service started. My side of the cabin was served by a young male flight attendant. Oshibori was distributed and dinner/lunch orders were taken. There seemed to be just one set of menus and the flight attendant very slowly made his way down the aisle showing the meal menu and the drinks menu (wine/alcohol/tea) to each passenger and waiting for them to make their selections. Sitting near the back of the cabin, it took a good 20 minutes for him to make his way to me. Here’s a picture of the cabin while I wait my turn…

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Presented with the menu, I was faced with 3 Chinese options (fish, chicken, or vegetarian) and 2 Western options (beef or vegetarian) for dinner. I wanted the fish, but was told that it was already out so I settled for the chicken. Our second meal was to be a lunch and I had 2 Chinese options (chicken and rice or beef noodle soup) and 1 Western option (beef and pasta). I decided to go with beef noodle soup for my pre-arrival meal. Two drink orders were taken at this time, which seemed strange. The first was a settling-in drink and the second was a drink to be served with the dinner.

About 5 minutes later a beer was delivered with a ramekin of mixed nuts. Before I could get some normal lighting shots, the red mood lighting came on (I apologize in advance because this red mood lighting made pictures near impossible to take, it really isn’t that bright, but the camera just soaks up all color).

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Another beer was dropped off along with an amuse bouche (seared scallop) that I devoured before I remembered to take a picture of it. Given the size of the cabin, I was surprised to see the flight attendant individually walk dinner trays down the aisle. Since we departed at 1am Houston time, I was hoping for a quicker dinner service in order to get some good sleep in, but this turned into a two hour meal service. Eventually, my tray was delivered containing a salad. Despite being a little unpolished, the flight attendant was very attentive and quickly cleared up by my empty salad plate and brought out my main and bowl of rice followed by a basket of bread. Since the mood lighting kills the photos, here is your description of the tray: back left is cucumbers in spiced oil, back middle was a strange mixture of shrimp and vegetables, and back right was a Chinese succotash (can’t think of a better description). The main was chicken and vegetables in a good-tasting sauce.

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Immediately after I finished my meal, my tray was quickly cleared by the attentive flight attendant and he immediately returned from the galley with a tray containing a cheese plate, a fruit plate, a chocolate cake, and a bowl of vanilla ice cream. I was told to take what I wanted so I went for a fruit plate and a piece of chocolate cake. He then asked if I wanted any after dinner drinks, I asked for a Bailey’s and a glass of water.

A picture of my bed tonight. Since I didn’t have a neighbor, I used one duvet as a mattress pad and the other as a blanket. The cubby for the window seats is a little on the small size, but I didn’t find it cumbersome during the night. The arm rest retracts so you can get a couple more inches of width. The length of the bed was no problem for me (182 cm). I found the padding of the seat to be good, whether in a lounging position or in full-flat position. I never once felt any sort of butt discomfort or feeling of restlessness during the entire flight. I should point out (as on most Asian carriers), the cabin temperature on all my CA flights was on the warm side so some Westerners might find it uncomfortable.

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After 5 hours of sleep, I awoke somewhere near Anchorage. Feeling hungry, I went up to the bar area and the flight attendant helped me assemble a little tray for a continental breakfast that I took back to my seat to enjoy as I watched dawn’s light begin to appear. After breakfast, I dozed off again…

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I was awoken by the flight attendant somewhere near the Washington/Idaho border in preparation for our lunch service (I requested this when he was assembling my breakfast earlier in the bar). Linens were laid, oshibori were distributed, and drinks were served. Being a lighter meal service, we received our meal on a single tray. There was a salad in the back right that had raw salmon on top, the beef noodle soup, a bread plate, a fruit plate. That beef noodle soup was extremely good, it had a really flavorful broth. I was almost feeling gluttonous to ask for a second bowl, but felt full enough after this meal.

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Unfortunately it was very cloudy in the US today and we had nothing, but a bed of clouds below us the entire way from Seattle to Houston so no views of the snow-capped Rockies today. I just spent the remaining time watching TV shows on the IFE, which I felt had enough variety for my tastes (others may disagree). We had a very smooth ride and eventually began our descent into the Houston area. Today we would be landing from the east, so I was able to get this aerial shot of Houston-George Bush Intercontinental Airport as we do a fly by.

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As always, we make our U-turn over Lake Houston.

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Before starting our final descent over I-69.

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After touchdown 40 minutes early, we have a short taxi back to Terminal D. There is heavy tarmac construction going on as we get a glimpse of this KLM Asia B744-Combi that just arrived before us from Schiphol. As we turn into the terminal, we can see the Queen has a neighbor, a SQ B773 that is getting ready to head back to Moscow-Domodedovo.

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We were followed in by LH’s A388 from Frankfurt.

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UA B753 getting ready to depart from Terminal C.

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A final shot of the KL B744 with cargo bay open as we pull into our gate.

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Deplaning took place through L2. You have to cross over to Terminal E in order to get to immigration, which is a little bit of a walk. The KLM flight must have already filtered through, as there was no one in line for US Citizens. Our early arrival meant that we beat all the TATL flights that were beginning to filter in. It was a ten-minute wait for bags, but I was through an empty customs line and into my parent’s car by 2:35pm.
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Verdict

Air China

8.0/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew7.5
Entertainment/wifi9.0
Meal/catering7.5

Air China Business Lounge - 3

7.6/10
Comfort8.5
Meal/catering8.5
Entertainment/wifi5.0
Services8.5

Beijing - PEK

6.8/10
Efficiency0.0
Access9.0
Services9.0
Cleanliness9.0

Houston - IAH

7.0/10
Efficiency10.0
Access6.0
Services6.0
Cleanliness6.0

Conclusion

Another good CA experience.

Cabin comfort: I found the cabin to feel very open/airy. The seats were really comfortable and had plenty of pitch/width for me. I like the layout of the seat, although the placement of the literature could prove annoying. Low J-load makes for a quiet cabin and plenty of space/privacy (I’d take two seats to myself over a herringbone seat any day of the week).

Crew: Crew seemed consistent with the first flight: spoke English well and performed their jobs efficiently with a smile (more than you’d get on some European carriers…). Some crew seemed a little less polished/refined on this flight since it was a young cabin crew.

Meal and catering: Catering out of PEK was good, but the overall presentation/experience is not what you’d get on some other Asian carriers (I’d say it's on par with KE).

Entertainment: IFE screen was big (15.4 inches). I thought the selection of TV shows/movies was good. Yes, 60% of the options are Chinese movies/programs, but it is a Chinese airline so I’m not going to fault them for that. What I care about the most, they have a good moving-map.

On-time performance: Boarding started early and we left on time, but most importantly I was in the car on the way home before our scheduled arrival time.

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11 Comments

  • Comment 125635 by
    SKYTEAMCHC TEAM GOLD 7968 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this report with us. The cabin looks comfortable and seats are nice.
    Catering seems to be good but it's hard to tell due to the mood-ligthing in use when you took the pictures !
    A nice efficient crew on board gives a good impression of this flight.

    • Comment 307696 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      I could definitely do without the colored mood lighting, really doesn't add anything to the flying experience. My last flight on this itinerary was on a next gen B738, which also had mood lighting, but it was only colored during take-off/landing.

  • Comment 125638 by
    marathon GOLD 9537 Comments

    I remember seeing a similar search for fluids in hand luggage in PEK for passengers of a US bound plane a few years ago. I forgot if it was a Chinese or US airline.
    There has been several devastating flight reports on CA in J in the recent past; it is interesting to read that they can also provide a good flight experience.
    Thanks for sharing !

  • Comment 125765 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5040 Comments

    Thanks for another great report! CA may not have the best reputation, but the hard product is really decent and the catering looks decent. Connecting at PEK never seems like a fun time...people still harp on CDG and LHR, but I think CDG is way easier in comparison, LHR not so much. Since you boarded through L1, I'm guessing there were two jetways pulled up to the plane? One for F/J and the other for Y?

    That's great that you had the seat next to you empty so you could do a faux-LH F class seat :-P
    I don't think I've ever seen a report in or out of PEK with good visibility (i.e. no pollution) like you had. You often hear about the poor English skills of FAs on Chinese carriers so it's good to see you got a good crew here. 5 different meal options is really good for J IMO, since most US or European carriers give you 3 at most.

    Once again, very good report. If I were a *A flyer, I'd definitely give CA a try based on what I see here. Happy New year!

    • Comment 307772 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Thanks Kevin, I find CA to be a very functional airline; it's not going to wow you with glamor. As marathon and numero_2 have both said, the soft product seems to be continually improving which only bodes well for the future.

      At PEK, we always had two jetbridges. IAH is only setup for one jetbridge per plane at Terminal D since it has never been renovated (other than the one gate retrofitted for A380s). CO/UA always have poured money into Terminal C/E renovations leaving A/B/D stuck in the 80s.

  • Comment 133207 by
    pititom GOLD 10378 Comments

    Thanks for this nice report that I discover a bit late. CA has a nice product ; the flight seems enjoyable. As you answered to Kevin, it looks like a functional airline, having the job done. Too bad the chinese airlines don't benchmark with the South East Asian ones !

    Thanks for sharing :)

    • Comment 313415 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Thanks for your comments, it's never too late :)

      CA has a good product, I will never hesitate to fly them over UA; however, now that NH is operating NRT-IAH service that might be the best option into IAH. You have to remember who owns CA, service will never be able to compare to the elite SE Asian carriers.

  • Comment 133340 by
    lagentsecret SILVER 11041 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this FR

    Another NGO85's great report

    I'm also a bit late in reading english reports ;)

    I'm impressed by the quality of the long haul CA Business product, far from what I thought

    The lie flat seat seems to be comfortable enough to have a nice rest

    Even the catering looks not that bad

    An efficient crew on board is also a good surprise

    • Comment 313477 by
      NGO85 AUTHOR 1622 Comments

      Thanks for the comments, this report was one of my first so it is lacking some pictures, but I'm trying to improve!

      I now have two weeks of French reports to catch up, so I understand!

      A lot of minor Asian carriers have been stepping up their game recently. I think the new CI and MU 777s are better than CA.

      In my opinion, this was actually a more comfortable seat for sleeping than EY's.

      Chinese cuisine is usually simple, so presentation and product was never up to European or Japanese standards, but the taste was usually good on CA (I didn't try a western dish, so I can't comment on those).

      I went into these flights with CA with VERY low expectations, so the crews were a surprise.

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