After 2.5 days of sightseeing in Beijing, it was sadly time to return to Japan. Not feeling adventurous enough to take two suitcases on the subway in the late afternoon, I just opted for the hotel’s airport transfer service. I requested an early transfer and was deposited at Terminal 3 just after 2pm. The airport expressway offers some really good planespotting as you drive towards the airport since one of the runways runs parallel to the road (CA B773 (B-2038) arriving from Shanghai-Pudong).
At the terminal, my chauffeur walked me to Air China’s dedicated premium check-in area conveniently located as far from the T3-tram as physically possible. I was immediately handed a boarding pass and sent on my way. Lines were short at immigration/security and I was planeside before 2:30pm. Instead of heading to the lounge, I walked down towards gates E14/15, which are at the end of the airport closest to the runways. Although it was difficult to see touchdowns on the runway, this position is perfect to see lift-offs as the planes are no more than 150m from the terminal. For those of you that like planespotting, eat your hearts out (for those of you that don’t, too bad, I’ll make you scroll through them anyways…):
As I was heading to my spotting perch, this CA A332 (B-6505) was being pushed back in preparation for its departure to London-Heathrow.
At the next gate, this CA A332 just arrived and was being serviced.
A little bit further down the concourse I spotted this really beautiful QR B773 in oneworld livery, while a SQ A388 taxis in the background after arriving from Changi.
I took a seat near gate E15 just in time to see this NH B738 lift off the runway and begin to retract its landing gear, which was followed immediately by a CA A321 (B-1855) bound for Changchun, and then a BR B773 (B-16705) struggling to get its front wheel up heading down to Taipei-Taoyuan.
Next up was the arrival of another CA B773 (B-2088) with service from Shanghai-Pudong with reverse thrust going, followed by the departure of the CA A332 to LHR that I saw being pushed back earlier.
There was a brief lull in the action until the successive arrivals of a NX A321 (B-MBB) from Macau, followed by the landing of an EK A388 (A6-EDG) from Dubai, and then finally a KA A333 (B-HYB) from Hong Kong.
More take-offs with a NH B763 (JA-627A) bound for Tokyo-Narita followed by a really colorful SC B738 (B-5856) heading to Yantai.
There are ton of CA narrow-bodies milling around, but if you aren’t careful you’ll miss this beautiful arrival: the infamous CA B748I (B-2486) arriving from Guangzhou, the new Queen of China. This is the second B748I that CA received and is currently on domestic missions for the time being. I like how you can see the pilot spotting the turn off the runway. She’s so shiny and new! For a report on this exact aircraft, please see Pwecar's report here: http://flight-report.com/en/report-8859.html
The Queen’s arrival was followed by another rare spotting, a TV A319 (B-6451) arriving from Lhasa. Tibet Airlines was only founded in 2010, so a very young airline, but a good-looking plane with its winglets.
We then had several CAs in special liveries occupying the runway. First, was the arrival of a B773 (B-2006) in the “Love China” livery arriving from Vancouver. Second, was a B773 (B-2032) in the “Star Alliance” livery heading to Houston. Third, was an A332 (B-6075) in “Purple Gold” livery heading to Shanghai-Pudong.
While one Dalian Airlines B738 gets towed to a remote stand, another one (B-5642) is taking off for Nanchang.
An Air China Cargo B777F (B-2097) taxis by and is seen taking off moments later bound for Shanghai/Anchorage/Chicago. She must have been pretty light because she was off the ground around the same point as most of the narrow-bodies. This was followed by a JL B738 (JA-320J) that left from the gate I was sitting at bound for Tokyo-Narita (the agent at the counter came up to me when they were boarding to make sure I wasn’t a straggling passenger).
The last planes I saw arrive from my spot were a TG B744 (HS-TGG) arriving from Bangkok and an OZ A321 (HL7377) arriving from Busan (we’ll see this guy later as he taxis behind us on the way out).
Here’s a look at my spot, it’s a pretty quiet area since there is just one gate on this end of the concourse. If you ever have time to kill at PEK, I’d recommend heading to gate E15 for planespotting.
So after an hour of planespotting, I stopped by the Air China Business Class Lounge to grab a snack before heading to the gate. Located in an open-air area a floor above the concourse, there are good views of the tarmac. After sitting down, I see an AC B763 (C-GLCA) that was getting ready to head to Vancouver. And for all the French followers of the website, an AF B773 (F-GSOK) was seen in the distance taxing to the runway heading back to Paris. In the foreground of that picture are the NX A321 (B-MBB) I saw land earlier, an OZ A321 (HL7737) that is in from Busan, and an LY B763 in from Tel Aviv.
I’ll throw in a couple of take-offs for good measure: CZ A321, MF B738, and CA B738.
After watching those ground movements and take-offs while enjoying a cup of coffee, I started the long walk to my gate. On my way to the gate, I was able to catch this hard landing by a UA B744 (N180UA) arriving from San Francisco.
Arriving at my gate, I was relieved to see that there would be no remote stand tonight, but my aircraft was double parked behind another CA B738 so I wasn’t able to get a good photo of my plane this evening. This TK B77W (TC-JJJ) arriving from Istanbul just pulled into the gate next to mine as I prepared to enter the jetbridge.
Air China, CA159 Equipment: Boeing 737-800 (B-1946, delivered March 2014) Departure: 5:00pm (5:07pm) Arrival: 9:00pm (8:38 pm) Flight time: 2:31
Boarding was finished by the time I got to the gate at the time indicated on my boarding pass (4:30pm) so I was the second to last passenger to board. Strangely enough, I arrive at my seat to see the only other person in the cabin sitting in 2C, awkward… The flight attendant told me to just take my seat while she checked the passenger manifest to make sure no one else was getting on. She came back 30 seconds later and told me I was free to take any seat I want, my neighbor, a friendly young Sino-British man, kindly offered to move across the aisle into 2F so I wouldn’t have to crawl past him again and he wanted a window seat too. After musical chairs, slippers were placed at my feet followed by a newspaper, arrival documents, pre-departure drink, and an oshibori on a platter. As I sipped my orange juice, I saw this landing.
The flight attendant came by with a menu and asked me what I’d have for dinner: the options were pork, prawns, or chicken (no Western option). I decided to go for the prawns along with a cup of Oolong tea. The load was very light on New Year’s Day: J was 2/12 and Y ~30%. As the front door’s closed, I noticed the SQ A388 was already heading back to Changi while an AC B773 arriving from Toronto was taxiing in the background.
We were backed up and headed out on our taxi to the runway with an on-time departure. We went by my friend, the CA B748I that I saw arrive earlier, which surprisingly ended up at a remote stand. I’ve never flown an A380, but there is just something majestic about the Queen of the Skies that withstands the test of time. She’s so photogenic, I had to take a picture of both sides of her backside. Also one look back at the tails docked at T3. As we approached the runway, this CA B773 came down.
We had the OZ A321 bound for Busan behind us.
After this CA A332 plopped out of the sky, we were clear for departure.
As we headed down the runway, there was a UA B772 bound for Newark taxing.
Soon, we had wheels up as were rising above PEK at twilight.
It was getting hazy at sunset there wasn’t too much spotting to do as we approached cruising altitude. So, let’s introduce the cabin/seat of this fairly new next generation B738. First off, this crew was feeling especially festive and decorated the galley wall.
Even though this plane is only 9 months old, the seats are identical to those found on the older generation plane I had before and were just as comfortable. The only difference here is that fold-out personal IFE is now located in the center console. Here are some cabin shots forward and rear showing the décor of the cabin and the details of the seats. The seat controls are on the left side, where the tray table folds out. Pitch and seat width are great, as before. Under seat storage for the window seat is blocked by AV equipment. On the right side are located the IFE control along with audio input. There is no USB adapter, but there is an AC adapter located on the front of the center console, same as on the older model plane. I didn’t notice this on the last flight, but the regional blankets are actually labeled as Shandong Airlines.
And last, but not least, a cabin shot under normal lighting.
By this time, we were just flying by Dalian and dinner service was starting. Thankfully, no red mood lighting during meal services on this flight. The flight attendant came out with my cup of tea and laid out my linen. She then returned with my meal tray. The empty ramekin was from the mixed nuts that were served with the tea. Bread was served on a plate after she finished serving the other passenger. The back left is my dubbed “Chinese succotash” which has appeared three times on my journeys. The back middle is fish, which was a little difficult to get off the bone, but was very good. The shrimp were soft and plump (not rubbery) and the sauce had a little bit of kick to it. The vegetables were crisp. Very good catering out of PEK once again. My tea was constantly topped off during the meal by a very friendly crew. Throughout the flight, even the flight attendants that would come through from the economy cabin would stop by and offer a refill as they made their way to the front galley if they noticed it is was getting low. After I finished my meal, I was brought dessert, which consisted of a coffee-flavored cake (not quite tiramisu) and a bowl of fruit.
After dinner, I took a cup of coffee and a glass of water and started to write this trip report. That is, until something bright and shiny caught my eye outside of the window. Even my cabin mate got excited and had to run over to the seat behind me to take some breathtaking aerial shots of Seoul too.
After that excitement it was back to writing, until we got to the Japanese coast and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride started up again. The turbulence crossing Japan was even worse than that on the outbound flight and we had a couple of zero-gravity moments. As we approached NGO, we entered a large, heavy snowstorm and the view outside looked like we were entering warp speed from Star Wars. As we dipped into Ise Bay, the snow let up and we had a smooth final descent into NGO from the south.
We landed about 20 minutes early, but had a long taxi to the other side of the airport. There was a bunch of night activity at NGO around 9pm, the JL B772 and DL B763 that piggyback each other to Honolulu were both getting ready to leave, while the NH B737 in the foreground was bound for Shanghai-Pudong. The EY A332 to PEK (fifth freedom) and then on to AUH was getting ready to depart as well. The PR A333 just arrived from Manila and the 5J A320 was leaving for Manila. If you look closely, you can see an out of place tail of a UA B738. How does a 737 from a US-based carrier get all the way to Japan you might ask? Well, it’s heading to Guam as part of the former Continental Micronesia operations in the Pacific.
Unfortunately for us, all this night activity meant we were doomed for a remote stand. The good news was I was able to get this tarmac shot of my B738 before getting onto the bus. Our plane’s load was so light that we only needed one bus (no VIP bus like at PEK), which wasn’t even full. We were driven back to the terminal in about 90 seconds (we could have easily of walked it, but it was -2 C upon arrival and the snow flurries were just beginning to start). Immigration lines were very short since the passengers from Manila were just about finished filtering through. By the time I got to the baggage claim, the bags were already circling so I was on the train back to Nagoya about 30 minutes after touching down thanks to the efficiency at NGO.
That concludes my adventures with CA. I went in with low expectations, but came out a very satisfied customer. I had 4 flights with them on this itinerary; every single flight had perfect on-time performances. For 3 of my 4 flights, the aircraft were less than 2 years old so cabin comfort was very good. The crews on every flight were polite, courteous, and spoke functional English (same goes for CA ground staff). Catering out of PEK was good on every flight, but catering out of IAH was a completely different story so there are some consistency issues there. Would I fly CA again? Yes. At the end of the day, I’m a paying customer that was satisfied with the services I received so I would happily give them my business again instead of a particular US-based *A carrier. That’s how capitalism works, no? Would I recommend CA if you are looking for a lavish, opulent vacation on award miles? No. It’s clearly not to the level of consistency found on more polished *A carriers in the region, but it got me from A to B on-time, safely with a very good level of comfort (no jetlag either direction). For me, that’s the bottom line.
Thanks for reading about my journey. I don’t travel often, but I’ll contribute when I can! Questions/comments, feel free to ask!
Air China Business Lounge - 3
Beijing - PEK
Nagoya - NGO
This was by far my best experience on CA.
Cabin comfort: Same comfortable seat as before on the CA regional product. Brand new aircraft was clean and comfortable.
Crew: The friendliest crew I've had on CA, all four flight attendants aboard went out of their way to make the flight comfortable.
Meal and catering: Another good catered meal out of PEK, it was a very full dinner service.
Entertainment: Personal IFE, with good moving map. I didn't check out any of the programs available since I was writing this report instead.
On-time performance: Boarding started early, we left on-time, and we arrived into NGO early.
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