More and more airlines are getting rid of their first class cabin. As a result, there are fewer reward seats available for the ever-growing mass of reward players. Air China First Class seems to be the exception. Reward availability is easy to find, even during peak season. Can it really be that bad?
To be honest, Air China wasn’t at the top of my list, but finding any kind of last-minute reward availability from Europe to Thailand during Christmas is an almost impossible task. At this point I was happy with not flying economy class. It’s no secret that Air China doesn’t have the best reputation, but I’ve also seen some good reviews in the past. So I decide to take one for the team and take the journey with an open mind.
The return trip set me back 112,500 SAS EuroBonus Points and an SAS American Express Companion Ticket.
My expectations weren’t high to begin with. The underwhelming Air China First Class Lounge didn’t make them any higher. After a ground experience where time seemed to stand still, I’m eager to board my flight. I know my flight is delayed, but I still arrive at the gate early to make sure I have time to take photos of the cabin.
When I get to the gate, I find myself at the end of an already long line for priority boarding. There is no separate line for first class boarding, and I have to wait in line with elite members and business class passengers. This may sound like a mere trifle, but the Boeing 747-8 is a huge aircraft.
Once the boarding process starts, it’s quite effective and a few minutes later I’m finally onboard. I’m greeted by a smiling flight attendant who shows me the way to my seat.
Cabin and seat
The cabin layout of Air China’s Boeing 747-8 is different from what you find in the same aircraft from Lufthansa. Lufthansa has their first class in the nose of the aircraft, while Air China has five rows of business class in the front of the aircraft. It would probably be hard to fit the huge Air first class seats in the nose of the aircraft. Air China’s decision makes sense and it doesn’t really bother me. As an upside you avoid the noise from the nose gear during take-off and landing. It’s also nice to be reminded of what the wing of an aircraft looks like from inside the plane.
I must admit I’m an Airbus guy at heart, but I still know how to appreciate the latest version of Queen of the Skies.
There are three rows of first class in a 1-2-1 configuration, for a total of 12 seats. The cabin itself feels nice and spacious. The color palette is neutral with a bit of accent from the orange pillows and headrests.
The seats are huge with five windows per seat row. The seats are very comfortable and feel a bit more private than Lufthansa First Class. It’s a bit surprising that Air China didn’t choose to install closable doors, but it doesn’t bother me. Apart from the overhead bins, the seat also offers some storage compartments and a small closet. The middle seats have a retractable divider, so you retain your privacy if you’re travelling solo.
After settling in and stowing my carry-on, another smiling and friendly flight attendant came by to offer me slippers, pajamas, menus and newspapers. I don’t usually read newspapers, but I decide to make an exception for a chance to browse through China Daily. Waiting by my seat is also a L’Occitane amenity kit, noise cancelling headphones with a small flower decoration and personal hand-written greeting card from the crew. I love the small details like the flowers and the hand-written greeting card. It makes product feel more exclusive and the service more personal.
I’m also offered a hot towel and a choice of water and orange juice to drink. Boldly requesting a glass of champagne instead, I was told that I would have to wait another 5 to 10 minutes. I was never offered an explanation as to why, but as soon as the last passenger was on board, the flight attendant came back with my pre-departure champagne. I was even offered a refill before pushing back.
The inflight entertainment system is modern and responsive, with a crisp 26-inch TV and user-friendly remote. Given the distance from the seat to the TV, the screen could have been even larger. I usually bring my own entertainment, but the IFE seem to have decent selection of Hollywood movies and international content.
Food and beverage
As soon as the seatbelt sign is switched the crew starts preparing for the first meal service. Air China offers dine on demand, but it seems all five passengers have opted to have their meal right away. This is probably where I had the lowest expectations of Air China. A friend of mine who have traveled with Air China before even said “seats are great but bring a sandwich” before my flight. I’m happy to say I disagree with him.
My table is set, and the dishes are served one by one. It seems like it will never end. I though I was supposed to choose from the menu, but I’m apparently only supposed to choose the main course. Apart from the main couse, the entire menu is served. You will certainly not starve in Air China First Class.
The food doesn’t quite reach first class standards, but it’s well above your average business class meal. I’ve selected the crispy duck as the main course which together with the caviar and the desert are the culinary highlights of my flight. The same goes for the wine selection. It would be great for business class, but in first class it leaves some room for improvement.
After the huge meal I’m ready to get some sleep and I go to the restroom to change to my pajamas. When the leaving the restroom the flight attendant is waiting to take my clothes and tuck them neatly away in my personal closet.
It’s nice to see the cabin crew restock and clean the surfaces of the restroom before and after every visit.
While I was changing, the flight attendant had already made up my bed. Both the bedding and the bed itself is comfortable and spacious enough for my 6’2” body.
The lunch meal is good, but still not first class.
Air China First Class
I really enjoyed my Air China First Class experience and I cannot understand why the airline has such an abysmal reputation. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again. The seats are comfortable and spacious, and the service was great. The food and beverage have room for improvement, but with some minor adjustments Air China would have highly competitive first class product. The most disappointing part was undoubtedly the ground experience. Priority boarding for first class passengers would be nice and the lounge leaves much to be desired.