✅ Trip Verified
Air China started flying to Panama a couple of times a week, and I decided to try them to travel from Panama to Qingdao. The ticket price was very reasonable (1000 dollars cheaper than the nearest alternative) and my previous experience on Air China 777's was pretty good. I regret to say that the overall experience left a lot to be desired. The plane was fine. Their B777 Business Class is in a 2-2-2 configuration which is not fabulous but is perfectly comfortable. The seats are good. The planes lack wifi, which is a real pity, but otherwise there is a good IFE system. The crews work hard and try to please. They lack coordination and finesse in the sense that they bring you the meal, and 20 minutes later, after you're finished, they pass out the bread. But those are minor issues compared with the real problem of this flight. The routing goes through Houston (they call it a "Technical Stop" but there is nothing technical to it). Get your stuff. Get out of the plane. Pass US immigration. Wait for your luggage. Clear US Customs. Then haul your luggage to a different terminal to Check in all over again. Clear security again. Then wait for the flight. The experience was horrible! It is clear why they have to leave set aside 4 hours for everyone to pass immigration and get their luggage and check back in. If they had arranged the "Technical Stop" through Canada, it would have been much simpler, I think. You still need to clear immigration, but at least you don't have to wait for luggage, clear customs and then find a different terminal! In Mexico you don't even need to clear immigration during the stop. The same circus happened in Houston on the return trip. So while it's great that the Air China have started flying to Panama, they really need to re-think their routing, because what they have is awful. Ideally, they would use a 787 and fly nonstop, but if a stop needs to be made, the worst place to make it is in the US. They would have been better off doing the technical stop in Mexico or in Toronto. It's a pity, since they're spending a lot of money to develop the route, and their equipment is good, their safety record excellent, their employees work hard and are professional, and the whole experience gets botched by their choice of "Technical Stop". I hope they rethink it.