I recently flew my first First Class flight on Air China from London to Beijing and I wanted to share my experience…
I was really excited to fly my first First recently. I don’t envisage being in a position to afford a cash first class plane ticket for a while…hence my utmost excitement when I learnt that Air China is a Virgin Atlantic Flying Club partner, and hence allows you to redeem your Flying Club miles for Air China flights!
For the astonishing price of 37,500 Flying Club Miles (which I earnt through a combination of the now-defunct MBNA Virgin Atlantic card, American Express membership rewards points and converting Tesco Clubcard points) and taxes (roughly £260) I was able to savour the joys of flying long-haul first class for the very first time with Air China.
It should be noted that I booked this flight before 1st May of this year, at which point the redemption cost increased to 67,500 miles and 100,000 miles each way in business and first class respectably. I believe the taxes have remained the same, and so this still represents fair value compared to the equivalent cash fare, especially if you are able to accrue Virgin miles cheaply.
So I arrived at Terminal 2 later than expected due to heavy traffic to Heathrow. As a result I felt a bit rushed and disappointed that I wouldn’t have as much lounge time as I would have liked. On arrival at the terminal, where I hadn’t been for a few years, I was met with an array of self-service check-in terminals and hefty queue for bag drop. I was initially unable to locate the premium check-in desks. I must say I felt like a bit of a snob asking a staff member “excuse me, umm, where’s the First Class check-in?”, but the inward glee in doing so immediately overrode the former feeling. He advised me that the premium check-in desks are actually towards the rear of the building, behind the economy check-in. So I walked round and eventually found it.
The check-in lady was courteous and accommodating, and met my request for a window seat (1E). She also recommended that I check out the Singapore Airlines First Class lounge. I believe that travelling on Air China in Business or First allows you to access any of the Heathrow Terminal 2 Star Alliance Lounges. These include the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge, the United Global First Lounge, the Lufthansa Senator Lounge and the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
I had read about these lounges briefly in advance of my trip and had read very positive reviews of the United Lounge, so I was keen to check that one out above the others. However, upon arriving at the United First lounge, I saw that it would shortly be closing – but that the Business lounge would remain open until 10pm. Given that I was flying in First, I wanted to really experience a First lounge, so off I went to the Singapore Lounge.
Lounge check-in was swift with only one person ahead of me in the queue. I was directed to the First Class lounge which was to the left of the desk, with the Business lounge on the right.
There was a good selection of soft and alcoholic drinks, a buffet with vegetarian and meat options, and an a-la-carte menu. Being a bit pressed for time, I simply picked some Pad Thai from the buffet and a diet coke from the fridge and sat down at a table beside the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tarmac. There were no flight announcements in the First lounge and so I checked the board frequently for gate information.
Once my gate appeared on screen I trundled along to it, and it appears I had missed the boarding for first class customers. However, there was a separate bit for premium cabin passengers which merged with the front of the main queue.
I sat down and received a warm welcome from the flight attendant who offered to stow away my luggage and jacket. She also offered me a welcome drink and nuts which I gladly accepted.
My first impression about the seat was – wow, there is a lot of space. Just to give you an idea of its expanse, its length spans four or five windows. The seat is enclosed enough that it feels really private and that you are unaware of surrounding passengers, but has enough of an opening at the side so that you don’t feel claustrophobic.
At the seat there was a bottle of water, slippers, a L’Occitane amenity kit, a newspaper, menu, mini wardrobe with hangers, and USB and power points. The staff also handed out pyjamas.
The flight attendant took meal orders at the start of the flight, and the options were from the ‘western’ and ‘chinese’ menu. I played it safe and went for the western options for both dinner and breakfast.
Dinner service commenced about an hour after take-off and the service was swift and responsive.
After dinner I was stuffed and ready to sleep. One of the flight attendants noticed that I had gotten into my pyjamas and was turning my seat into a flatbed. She promptly came over with bedding and provided a sort of turn-down service which was nice and something I’d never experienced on the ground let alone at 36,000 feet!
I easily slept for several hours and woke up in time for breakfast, which unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of. I did, however, take a photo of the menu.
Landing was scheduled to take place shortly after breakfast. I’d heard some horror stories on the frequent flyer forums about air traffic control into Beijing, and so was a little bit anxious about this. But the plane promptly landed on time, and I was easily able to make my onward flight to Tokyo on Japan Airlines.
All in all I found the service to be wonderful, and it delivered everything I expected it to. However, as it was my ‘first First’ I have no baseline or other First class experience to compare it to.
Would I pay for a cash flight on Air China First Class? Probably not, for the reason I alluded to at the beginning of this post. Would I consider redeeming my Virgin Flying Club miles for an Air China redemption? Definitely.
I hope you found this post interesting or helpful. If you have any experience of Air China business or first class, please do share it in the comments below. Do consider subscribing and sharing with your friends using the social links provided.