If you read my previous post you’ll know I flew to China with Air China in first class. I had collected a bunch of miles with Virgin Atlantic and had no clue what to do with them. After researching the greatest use for them (it turns out Virgin’s miles program is quite rubbish), flying with the partner airline was the best deal. Booking the actual tickets was quite an effort as you have to let both airlines communicate with one another and find out if there are seats available etc. For a few weeks the whole deal seemed to be off and no-one could book anything but fortunately it all worked out in the end and I got the exact flights I wanted – persistence is key!
Getting to London Heathrow and using the priority lanes at both check-in and security was lovely. I was through to airside in less than ten minutes during prime flying time. When flying first or business you get access to lounges which is another bonus as I didn’t have to run round the airport picking up food or amenities. There isn’t an Air China specific lounge at Heathrow but you have access to any Star Alliance in terminal two which includes United, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Air Canada. I hit up United and Singapore and the relevant posts to those will come out soon!
When boarding came about I got to take a separate boarding tunnel to everyone else and use the front door of the aircraft. The first class section consisted of eight seats in a two by four layout. There was an exclusive first class bathroom (which also the pilots used) and around three or four staff dedicated to the cabin. Throughout the whole flight I never saw any other sections of the plane or other people onboard which was a little strange. It felt very private and secluded but I guess that’s the whole point. Once I sat down the air steward came by to ask what meal options I wanted – the menu had both Western and Chinese options. She also asked when I wanted my meals and if it was ok to wake me up for breakfast if I was asleep. After that she brought over a warm cloth, some water (although champagne was an option) and a bowl of nuts.
Considering the grandeur of first class on other airlines, Air China seems a little behind the times. I think this level of first class would be considered a ‘business class’ standard on other airlines. However my little pod area was pretty sweet and a highlight was having four windows. The seat had controls for a footrest and to move the headrest/base up and down. It also could go totally flat and when you wanted to sleep the air stewards would transform it into a sleeping haven by turning the seat into a bed – complete with bedding, window shades down and turning the lights off. There were a selection of newspapers and magazines to flick between, the usual entertainment system (although a large majority of movie options were in Chinese) and a very fancy digital map.
Little treats included were a L’Occitane toiletries bag that included lip balm, moisturiser, toothbrush etc, some soundproof headphones which honestly were the bomb, a pair of slippers and my favourite thing of all – pyjamas. They seemed to only have large for Men so I grabbed a Women’s medium in this bright red colour. No-one else in the cabin wore their pyjamas but I totally rocked them and took them home with me to wear too! The bathroom was much larger than usual cabin bathrooms and was constantly being cleaned and replenished with toothbrushes, face cloths, moisturisers etc. (it even had a floor to ceiling mirror).
Of course food is a big deal and I think this is where it really differs to other first class airline experiences. For dinner service the air steward came and laid out the table with a cloth, sets of cutlery and a buttonhole flower arrangement. Drinks were constantly being topped off and course after course came out. All the food was delicious but by no means out of this world. I also felt the diversity of options was quite minimal and didn’t really reach out to different simple diets like vegetarian or vegan (unless you prebook). Breakfast was the same kind of deal with several different courses but nothing amazing. There was an abundance of food and I definitely didn’t go hungry, if anything I gained a few pounds. I guess I was just hoping for something extra special to wow me.
I would say my first class Air China experience was pretty great. I really appreciated the silence and general atmosphere of the cabin. Because there is more space and there were only four people flying out of a possible eight everything felt much airer and cleaner. Getting to lie flat on a long haul flight was a huge perk and I slept for about five hours so it really made the journey fly by (sorry for that pun). However I feel like all the perks I enjoyed, like the flat bed and more space etc., I can get just from flying business on certain other airlines. In terms of ‘first class’ dining, service and entertainment – I’m not that bothered. If you’re paying for this out of your own pocket and not with miles, I’d go for a different airline and really get that star experience. I’m a huge believer in flying the local airline to your destination so you get to experience the culture right away and obviously flying Air China was super for that. I’ll try and fly first class with someone else so I can compare but there you go for now!