Airline Reviews: Air China

26 Aug





Air China (China Air)–International and Domestic (2 flights ~ IAD to PEK and PEK to CGO).  


Boeing 777Boeing 737

Pre-flight Interactions:

My university paid for and arranged the flight tickets, so I have no idea how that process went down.  We just got the e-ticket confirmation and got ready to go.  

The best part of Air China though came on the transfer from United to Air China in Washington, DC.  You can read all about the horror story with United here, but long story short I accidentally checked the carry-on bag that had my passport in it at the request of United. Upon realizing the issue, I spent 2.5 hours being given the run-around by United as to where my suitcases were and how to access my passport.  Finally, I abandoned the idea of getting any help from them and went to the Air China desk.  I was instantly directed to the manager (it took about 4 minutes from reaching the busy counter for them to get me through to someone who could help ~ great timing), to whom I explained the issue and asked if they could tell me when they received the suitcases from United so I could find my passport in them.  The manager informed me that the plane would be leaving shortly, but that if I went ahead and checked in and went through security, she would personally bring the bags to my gate (since the bags had been through security I couldn’t touch them, but she would let me point to the pocket where it was).  

I hurried on ahead and made it to the gates with no time to spare. They were actually holding the plane for us to run ahead, they had my passport in hand already when I got there, suitcases were on the plane, and I was escorted through all in about 10 minutes.  The entire interactions with them (outside of security) only took about 25 minutes, so much more satisfying than the 2.5 hours with United where I hadn’t gotten anywhere.  The flight attendants / employees were amazingly gracious about the whole situation, and everything was far less stressful than my experience with United had been.  

Baggage Allowance:

Carry-On ~ 21″ x 15″ x “7 at less than 11 lbs.

Checked ~ 62″ linear (70 lbs for First/Business; 50 lbs for Economy)

On international flights, First/Business Class customers get 2 free carry on bags, and Economy gets 1.  We were each carrying on us a carry-on bag, a full backpack, and random odds and ends (I was lugging a pillow in a suction bag, a book, my drink, etc.).  Luckily, we did end up checking our carry-on bags clear through for free due to United’s original lack of space in their compartments.  United wasn’t actually going to pay for that later (DC United didn’t want to pay for what Denver’s United had promised to cover), but after we spoke with Air China, they called up a manager who worked it out and got the carry-ons checked clear through—another area where Air China pulled through when United failed.  

On international flights, First/Business Class customers get 2 free checked bags that can weigh as much as 70lbs each; Economy customers get 2 free check bags weighing 50lbs or less each. 


Boarding was a little touch-and-go, perhaps through no fault of their own.  I already described the whole thing about boarding in DC, the rest of which went pretty well.  The poor flight attendant guy didn’t realize that I was packing a couple layers of clothes (trying to save on weight 😛 ) and attempted to give me one of the seat belt extenders.  He really was very discreet about it all, and was attempting to be kind.  When I showed that I didn’t need it though, it got him flustered, and our trip went a little downhill from there.  It probably didn’t help that he later accidentally walked into the bathroom on me when the lock didn’t quite click correctly or that the bad turbulence made him and me crash and spill my drink on me.  Honestly, I don’t think he could have handled it any more pleasantly than he tried to do and none of it was his fault. It really just wasn’t our flight 🙂  

Boarding the flight for Zhengzhou went a little less pleasantly.  In Beijing, everyone had to get their luggage and go through customs before it could be transferred to the connecting flight.  The first 2/3 of the luggage came out of the baggage chute pretty quickly and a lot of people moved on. However, the last 1/3 of the luggage took about 45 min -1 hour more to come out (people were starting to get pretty frustrated).  Since we were already about 2 hours late coming in due to turbulence / I think we went around a storm or wind issue too which took up time, a lot of people missed their connecting flights.  We were included in the group, and we ended up at the Air China desk to learn that our flight was closed (we probably could have made it since my friend says they sat on the tarmac for another 1.5 hours on a delayed flight schedule).  

Air China was really great about it, they immediately apologized, changed our flights to the same flight the next day (9:30 pm), checked our bags, and called for the shuttle bus of the Grand Phoenix Hotel to come and pick us up.  We stayed in the hotel all night and the next day for free, the whole thing included wi-fi, meals, and transportation. The room itself was pretty nice too.  And then we were shuttled back to the airport for a quick move through security and off we went.

In Flight:

With the International flight, the In flight service was so-so.  Honestly, we spent so much time with the seat belt signs on due to turbulence that the service was more or less non-existent. The in-flight entertainment system didn’t work for about 45 minutes, and then a lot of the movies were Chinese with no subtitles (Sadness, there were a couple that looked pretty good).  Then everything was interrupted about every 30 minutes for a “please put on your seatbelt and don’t use the lavoratory” warning.  The stupid warning also kept waking us up all night. Those people who needed the rest-room started ignoring the message, and it was just annoying to those of us who weren’t idiots and could tell that it was bad.  Then there was the fact that most of the English was unintelligible.  Food was okay though, but it was delayed each time.  It wasn’t that the flight attendants were rude or anything, it’s just that the whole process was pretty rough.  

The flight itself was awful.   From the very beginning, turbulence left us stuck in our chairs. And “bumpy” would be being kind.  If you look at a map we were flying from DC over Canada and the Hudson Bay through Alaska and Russia then down into China.  This meant we were flying against the Arctic Winds, which was pretty horrible.  There was a lot of really rough patches, and even the flight attendants spent most of the time buckled in.

For the Domestic flight, the plane was really small and everyone was crammed in together.  The in-flight tv was showing some funny shows such as the flight attendant’s award ceremonies, information about our destination, etc.  It was a little bumpy but better than the international flight.  It went and arrived pretty quickly.  The attendants were rushing up and down trying to get everyone their newspapers and blankets, which was good service. 

Luggage Retrieval:  

I’ve already described the long wait in Beijing. . . it was another pretty long wait in Zhengzhou too.  But my luggage came all the way through, my carry-on and check bags arrived safely, and nothing was broken or crushed (so far as I’ve noticed).  

Overall Conclusions

I like the airline itself, but this particular international flight path was not my favorite.  The turbulence left a lot of people sick and miserable, the kids were really upset and cried all night, some people were praying and a few were a little panicky on some of the worst parts.  I think it would be okay for business men who got used to the process and learned to sleep through it, but for families or sensitive travelers it wasn’t the best choice.  If you have any fear of flying, this is definitely NOT for you.  

That said: the service was really good, the management and attendants were really accommodating, the food was okay, and the entertainment was alright.  The domestic flight was also cramped but ok.  All-around, I’d fly them again, but I would be careful about my flight plan.

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