With Qantas withdrawing from Sydney-Beijing flights in March 2020, Air China will soon be the only airline flying directly between the two cities. The Star Alliance member often has good Business class specials, and award availability is typically good, but what is their service like in Business class? I recently flew with Air China from Sydney to Beijing to find out!
|Route||Sydney (SYD) to Beijing (PEK)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 777-300ER|
|Class of travel||Business|
|On-time performance||This flight arrived slightly early|
I booked this flight as part of a round-trip Air China sale fare from Germany to Australia. If you were to buy a Business class ticket from Sydney to Beijing, you could expect to pay around $2,340 one-way or $2,950 return.
It’s also possible to book this flight for 94,500 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles + $105.84 in taxes & charges.
While checking in, I was handed an invitation to the Air New Zealand Lounge in Sydney.
This was a really nice lounge. There were plenty of seats, a good selection of buffet food and a well-stocked bar.
As a Star Alliance Gold member, I also had the option of visiting the neighbouring Singapore Airlines SilverKris Business class lounge. I’ve previously preferred the SilverKris lounge for the Asian food choices, but on this occasion it was more crowded and I found the food available to be unusually ordinary. Both lounges offer runway views.
The Hard Product
Business class on the Air China Boeing 777-300ER has a 2-2-2 seat layout. This does mean that passengers in the window seats don’t enjoy direct aisle access, but I simply chose an aisle seat in the middle section and had exclusive access to the aisle whenever I needed it.
The Air China Business class seats very closely resemble the United Boeing 767 Business class seats, and I found them very comfortable. The seat converts into a fully lie-flat bed and I was able to sleep well despite the somewhat narrow footwell. (The bulkhead seats in the first row have more space for your feet.) The bed was just long enough for me, but it could be a bit short if you’re particularly tall.
Unfortunately, my seat was starting to show its age a little bit and had a noticeable “dip” where you could tell lots of people had been sitting on previous flights. My only other real complaint about the seat was a lack of personal storage space. But it wasn’t a problem for me to use the overhead lockers for that. Other than that, the cabin appeared modern and clean.
Most of Air China’s other aircraft, including their Airbus A330s, Boeing 787s and Boeing 747-8s feature exactly the same Business class seats. But their Airbus A350 aircraft are fitted with brand new Business seats in a 1-2-1 layout.
On my previous Air China flights on the Boeing 747-8 and Boeing 787-9, I was quite impressed with the in-flight entertainment. Unfortunately, this particular Boeing 777-300ER aircraft was fitted with an older-style entertainment system which was less responsive and had a smaller selection of movies, TV shows and music playlists to choose from. I found the Western content a little lacking, but as I personally enjoy watching foreign language movies, I was not bored. I can’t remember the last time I was able to watch a Russian comedy movie and a little-known Georgian drama set in Tbilisi on the same flight!
The use of mobile phones is no longer banned on Chinese airlines, so you can also bring entertainment on your own device if you think you might get bored.
The Soft Product
I was immediately welcomed on board the flight and escorted to my seat. After sitting down, the friendly flight attendant immediately presented me with a pair of slippers and a menu & drinks list. This was followed by a hot towel and a choice of champagne, juice or water. The champagne served on Air China was Pol Roger Brut Réserve.
A comfortable pillow and blanket were provided in Business, along with good noise-cancelling headphones and an amenity kit from L’Occitane en Provence. The kit contained only the usual suspects but I did like the design of the eye mask.
Before take-off, a flight attendant took my dinner and breakfast orders. As was standard practice on all of my overnight Air China flights, she also asked whether or not I wanted to be woken for breakfast. Although there are designated meal service times, you can request to eat at a different time as Air China offers a dine-on-demand service similar to Qatar Airways Business class. Here was the menu for my Sydney-Beijing flight:
Annoyingly, the flight attendants then collected all of the menus again before take-off. I would have liked to hang onto the menu a bit longer.
Drinks and warm nuts were served after take-off with a hot towel. Dinner was served afterwards and I thought the food was quite good. It started with the canapés…
Followed by the Western appetizer, which happened to be a salad and was served with another salad.
I chose one of the Chinese options for dinner and was not disappointed. A choice of warm breads were served to accompany this.
A choice of chocolate ice cream, a cheese plate or cake was offered for dessert, accompanied by fruit.
The dinner service was completed and lights switched off almost 3 hours after departure. For an overnight flight – where most Business class passengers would want to maximise sleep – I did think that the meal service took a little too long.
Breakfast was served just over 2 hours before landing. This was the breakfast menu:
I had asked not to be woken for breakfast, and slept through the first part of the service. When I woke up, a flight attendant immediately offered me an orange juice and hot towel, and set my table for breakfast.
I had asked for the Chinese breakfast, but they had run out and I was stuck with the Western option. I personally found it a little boring, to be honest, but it was perfectly fine. Interestingly, tea and coffee was not proactively offered at all – I had to specifically ask for it.
The breakfast service was completed around 90 minutes before landing, after which time the lights were dimmed again until it was time to prepare for landing. Given our arrival time in Beijing of 4.40am, I did think they could have delayed the breakfast service a bit longer to allow passengers more time to sleep.
There was a little bit of a language barrier and I think the crew were able to engage a little more with the Chinese passengers, but all of the cabin crew could speak English. I felt that they were genuinely trying to provide good service, and they were nothing but professional.
There were a couple of things that I found slightly unusual about the flight. Firstly, the seatbelt sign was illuminated for the entire flight, regardless of whether there was turbulence or not. There were a few periods of strong turbulence, and the pilots would then ask everyone to return to their seats. But the signs were not switched off afterwards, so I was never really sure when it was safe to move around the cabin. After a while, everybody just ignored the signs.
Also, on 3 out of 4 Air China flights that I took during this trip, there were more passengers sitting in Business class at the end than at the start of the flight. The Sydney-Beijing flight was no exception; around 30 minutes after take-off, somebody moved into the empty seat next to me and remained there for the rest of the flight. I can only assume that they’d paid for an on-board upgrade or were perhaps a staff member.
As I had a long layover in Beijing before my connecting flight departed, I was able to apply for a 24-hour visa-free transit in Beijing and use the free transit hotel provided by Air China. Arriving just before 5am, there were only two staff issuing transit permits at Beijing Capital Airport so it took well over an hour to apply for the temporary entry permit and clear immigration.
Air China Boeing 777-300ER Business Class
Air China Business class exceeded my expectations. It’s not Emirates or Singapore Airlines, but it is a solid product nonetheless. If the price was right, I would fly with them again.