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Flight Test : Air China | Beijing to Xi'an in domestic First Class
Air China cabin staff

September 2013 : "This was one of the better domestic flights taken in recent months in China"
Beijing Capital International Airport (T3) to Xi'an Xianyang International Airport (T2).
The online web check-in service for Air China works well. It was easy to retrieve the booking, select a seat and print off the boarding pass. You can also have your boarding pass sent to your mobile phone, and these seem to work well with the barcode readers for airport security scanning and at the boarding gate.
Arriving at Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International Airport at 07.30am (75 minutes before departure), there was no need to sidetrack to check-in, and proceeded directly to security clearance in Terminal 3C which is dedicated to domestic flights. There are a couple of Fast Track clearance lanes for First and Business class, but you should note that these are frequently ignored and used for general passenger processing. At it happened, there was only a 3 minute wait before clearing security on this morning departure.
The Air China First and Business class domestic lounges are a 2 minute walk from security. However, many customers proceed up one level to the large lounge (which also caters for frequent flyer club members) and this can be very busy and difficult to find a seat at peak times. TIP: If you have a First Class ticket, take the escalator down to the much newer Air China First Class lounge. It is quieter, has much nicer washrooms and great shower rooms, and offers a range of comfortable seating. A self serve food and beverage area was well stocked with light foods (croissants, pastries, toast etc), and a decent coffee machine. Staff in the lounge were most hospitable and friendly and give personal advice on boarding time.
The boarding gate for this flight to Xi'an was one of the closest in Terminal 3C, just a 2 minute walk. Arriving at the gate quite late into boarding, there were no queues and walked straight onto the plane to be greeted by a smiling member of cabin crew. Staff offered Chinese newspapers, plus English language Chinese papers (China Daily & Global Times). A hot towel was served on a china dish, and glasses of orange juice or water offered during the pre-departure period. The safety display uses a video shown on drop down screens and was very clear for the Enbglish language format.
The Air China Airbus A321 has 12 First Class seats, with a 2x2 layout.  The seat pitch is 38 inches, with a seat width of 21 inches. There is a fairly wide central console between the seats, and a footrest lowers down from the back of the forward seat. For domestic flights (normally under 3 hours), this is a comfortable seat that has a reasonable recline that does not intrude into the seat row behind.
Western breakfast on Air China
A choice of Chinese or Western breakfast is served : Photo shows Western option
The breakfast service began 15 minutes after take-off, and this was quite flexible for a flight of just 1hr 45 mins. Staff left some passengers to sleep for an hour before serving their meal. Opting for the Western breakfast, tables are laid with a cloth and the single tray served (see photo). A fruit selection, bowl of cornflakes, hot entree of omelette, bacon, potatoes and baked beans and pastries were offered. Quality wise it was good and offered a satisfying breakfast experience. Teas and coffee were offered at the end of the meal.
The staff were friendly and made an effort to interact with passengers, which was a mix of Western and Chinese travellers. On this flight the cabin staff had reasonable English language skills, which is not always the case on domestic flights in China. They were attentive at offering second services of breakfast pastries, beverages and hot towels, and were cheerful and seemed genuine throughout.
There is no individual IFE on these A321 aircraft, and drop down screens showed magazine type videos in Chinese.
In what has become quite unusual on domestic flights in China, the departure and arrival were spot on time, with no delays into Xi'an. The aircraft parked at a gate close to the arrival hall, and it was just a 3 minute walk before getting outside of the airport to the taxi area.
This was one of the better domestic flights taken in recent months in China, and the standard of Air China first class experience is in stark contrast to the Economy class cabin on domestic routes - which can be very inconsistent and substandard. One prevailing issue one finds on Air China flights is that the Captain / First Officer remain totally silent, with no welcome, departure, flight or arrival details given. One hopes that this issue can be improved over time.


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