Trip Report: Air China Business Class A330-300 - PEK to SIN (Beijing to Singapore)

Airline: Air China | Aircraft: A330-300 | Class: Business | Flight: CA969 (PEK-SIN)

I have grown to love Beijing quite a bit despite spending only less than a week there. Contrary to popular belief, the people were genuinely nice, the city is amazing in terms of technology (e.g mobile payment is available even at a roadside store) and the food is delicious. On my way out of Beijing, I was booked onto an Air China flight (my very first!) from Beijing to Singapore. I got to the Beijing Capital International Airport ahead of time (at least 2.5 hours prior to the scheduled time of departure) and was slightly startled by the number of people at the check-in counter. The counters have not opened and people were already making a long snaking queue in the airport.

View from Air China International Business Class Lounge Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

View from Air China International Business Class Lounge
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

Since I was traveling in the Business Cabin, I quickly reorientated myself and looked for an alternative way to get my bags checked in without having to join the line. Not before long, I found myself in the Star Alliance Gold and Domestic Business counters (even though I was going to travel internationally) and asked politely whether I could check in for my International flight here - it pays to speak a little Mandarin! Getting past the security line and checks took quite a while and by the time I was done, I had slightly over 90 minutes before my flight. For whatever reason, I was really craving for KFC (which is located just under the Air China International Business Class Lounge) but there were no seats available so I ended up bringing the food up into the lounge instead. 

Air China International Business Class Lounge Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

Air China International Business Class Lounge
Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)

There is a First Class and Business Class lounge here but since I was only traveling in the Business Cabin, I was only allowed to the use the Air China International Business Class Lounge. It is worth noting that a Priority Pass membership (which you can get for free from an eligible credit card) will get you into the Air China International First Class Lounge and a credit card like the OCBC VOYAGE Card will get you into the BGS Lounge for free. I decided to stick with the Air China International Business Class Lounge eventually (especially since it is located directly above KFC) but looking for seating space is incredibly difficult. Honestly, I must be spoilt silly at the SilverKris Lounge (Terminal 3) in Singapore because I never ever have to find a spot to sit - there are plenty of seating areas in this lounge! I was booked on CA969 from PEK to SIN and according to Flightradar24, the flights have been delayed dramatically (almost 12 hours on one day!). I was therefore prepared to suffer from significant travel delays so imagine my surprise when a boarding call was made at 3:50PM (the flight's STD was at 3:35PM). 

Business Class Cabin Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Business Class Cabin
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

I quickly made my way to Gate E51 (which is on the furthest end of the terminal) and went down the escalator to find myself amongst travellers who were all waiting for a bus to be transported to the plane. There is supposedly a separate bus for Business Class passengers but I decided to board the regular bus service to get on the plane ASAP anyway - I was allowed to jump the line for being a Business Class passenger though. Once I got on the flight, it is evident that the Business cabin was only going to be 50% full. CA969 was operated by an Airbus A330-300 (similar to what Singapore Airlines operates between Singapore and Bali) with the registration plate B-5948. The three-year-old plane operates a 2-2-2 Business Class layout and it offers 58 inches of seat pitch and 21 inches of seat width (this pales in comparison to the regional product that Singapore Airlines operate on her fleet of A330s which offers a seat width of 24.5 and a seat pitch of 60). 

Literature Only Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Literature Only
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

I was seated in Seat 13L which is a window seat but since the seat next to me was not taken, I was in Seat 13J as well during some parts of the flight. There is a small area near the footrest that contains "literature only" but this was also where a pair of slippers were stuffed in. Once I got to my seat, my drink orders were quickly taken, a menu was given to me and the slippers were opened promptly and placed next to my feet (even before I could take a photo of it!). I decided to go with just water since I reckon I could try most of the drinks (I was curious about the Champagne and some wines they were serving onboard). 

Slippers Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Slippers
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

The slippers offered on Air China's Business Cabin is actually quite comfortable - they are definitely better (both structurally and design-wise) than the ones I got on my flight from Singapore to Beijing in the Business Cabin of SQ807 which was operated by Singapore Airlines. After coming back with my drink of choice (in this case, water), my dinner order was taken and the menu was kept away immediately (something I found strange since my experience with most airlines is the opposite of that). I was given an option between Chinese and Western as shown below:

CHINESE LUNCH/DINNER

Chinese Appetiser
BangBang Chicken Julienne

Chinese Salad
Soya Sauce Flavoured Tender Bamboo Shoots

Main Course
Sautéed Dory Fish in Yuxiang Sauce with Dragon Fruit served with Steamed Pearl Rice and Seasonal Vegetables
OR
Guizhou Chicken served with Steamed Pearl Rice and Seasonal Vegetables
OR
Sautéed Selected Mushrooms in Light Soya Sauce accompanied with Jasmine Rice and Seasonal Vegetables

Dessert
Opera Cake
OR
Mango Marble Cheese Cake
OR
Selection of Cheese with Crackers

Seasonal Fresh Fruits

WESTERN LUNCH/DINNER

Western Appetiser
Smoked Salmon and Crab Meat Roll

Salad
Fresh Seasonal Salad with French Dressing
OR
Oriental Vinaigrette Dressing

Main Course
Curried Chicken
OR
Sautéed Selected Mushrooms in Light Soya Sauce accompanied with Jasmine Rice and Seasonal Vegetables

Dessert
Opera Cake
OR
Mango Marble Cheese Cake
OR
Selection of Cheese with Crackers

Seasonal Fresh Fruits

In-flight Entertainment Systems Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

In-flight Entertainment Systems
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Some of the food descriptions were actually quite funny due to an incorrect translation but I was leave you to find them when you actually go onboard an Air China flight - it is part of the experience! Also, I found it interesting that the Sautéed Selected Mushrooms in Light Soya Sauce accompanied with Jasmine Rice and Seasonal Vegetables dish was available in both Chinese and Western Menu - I guess it is versatile that way! I spent the rest of my time exploring the entertainment system while waiting for the rest of the passengers to board. 

Bottled Water in Business Class Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Bottled Water in Business Class
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

After the doors have been armed, we were told that the flight will be delayed as the plane has not been cleared for takeoff. Bottled water was then quickly distributed by the flight attendants (who were really polite and nice!) to passengers in Business Class (I am not sure whether this was the case in Economy). The plane eventually took off after 3 hours in the ground at 7:05PM (STD: 3:35PM) and while it was not the fault of anyone on the plane, it felt like it was not going to happen at all - other drinks were also not offered while we were on the ground so no Champagne for me unfortunately. 

Peanuts and Almonds Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Peanuts and Almonds
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

When the plane finally did take off and got to cruising altitude, the flight attendants quickly came around the cabin to lay the table - well, it is really as simple as placing a white table cloth over the tray table. Some peanuts and almonds were also distributed (no they were not warm, sorry Heather Cho!) while the rest of the crew made their way through the business cabin to offer passengers their drink of choice. 

Champagne Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Champagne
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

I decided to go with the Champagne this time and Air China actually serves a Médot Brut Champagne (none of the fancy ones that I got one EVA Air's Business Class and Singapore Airlines' Suites Class unfortunately). Also, it is also highly possible that the Champagne was not stored and sealed properly after opening on the ground so by the time I got it, much of its happiness has already escaped and the temperature of this beverage was also not right. 

Headphones Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Headphones
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

I tend to draw a lot of comparisons to Singapore Airlines' A380 Business Class product because there is an SQ807 flight that operates out of PEK into SIN an hour later. The headphones provided in Business Class were Air China branded and while they were not at all fancy or built sturdily like the new headphones offered on Singapore Airlines' Business Class, they were decent and relatively comfortable for a 6-hour flight. That being said, the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system offered only a handful of English movies and most of them were pretty dated so I did not actually end up watching anything. 

Dinner Service Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Dinner Service
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Approximately after 15 minutes after the plane achieved cruising altitude, dinner service began and an entire tray of food was brought out - this sort of plating is expected for short-haul flights but I thought that the different courses would have been served separately considering how this is a 6-hour flight. I started with the Soya Sauce Flavoured Tender Bamboo Shoots (on the top left) and as well as the BangBang Chicken Julienne - both of them were relatively forgettable and I did not end up finishing them. 

Dinner Service Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Dinner Service
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

One of the cabin crew also started to offer bread rolls in the Business Cabin so I went ahead to select two slices of garlic bread - they were flavourful but it is evident that they have been once frozen and therefore the texture was slightly odd. The Guizhou Chicken on the other hand was quite delicious (even though it looks like a brown pile of sludge in the photo above) - it also went really well with that bowl of rice which is quite possibly the best-cooked rice that I have had in the air. 

Fruits and Dessert - Dinner Service Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Fruits and Dessert - Dinner Service
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

After wolfing down my dinner in under 10 minutes, I was offered some fruits and a choice of dessert. I went for the Mango Marble Cheese Cake but found it way too sweet for my liking so I literally completed dinner in under 60 minutes from the time the plane left the ground - impressive work Air China! I never thought it would be possible for the crew to complete dinner service within the hour. Also, my Champagne flute was promptly cleared away after dinner service (which I found strange since Singapore Airlines constants tops up your glass throughout the flight) so I guess they do not advocate alcoholism at all. 

Handset Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Handset
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Each Business Class seat on the A330-300 comes with a USB Port and a power outlet but even though my iPhone was in airplane mode, I was told by an air stewardess that the usage of a mobile device was not permitted on the plane during flight (even though it is in airplane mode). Once again, a little bit of surprise to me but I decided to comply right away - for what it is worth, the air stewardess was actually really nice and polite about it and I was just not used to such a regulation. I then decided that it was time to fiddle around with the handset (which looked like a thing from the past) and check out the IFE more in-depth. 

Back of Handset Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Back of Handset
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

There is a gaming controller at the back of the handset and it honestly reminds me of the flights I used to take on Singapore Airlines when I was much, much younger. Considering how the plane that I was on was only 3 years old, I hate to say this but these handsets are probably due for a refresh. They got the job done but I wish there was a screen on them to actually show the remaining duration and flight progress. 

Mood Light in Business Cabin Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Mood Light in Business Cabin
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Shortly after the completion of dinner, the mood lights were turned on briefly for approximately 5 to 10 minutes before all the lights were switched off for passengers to get some rest. Since it was relatively dark and I had to get up early the following day for a project, I decided to recline my chair into a flatbed and get some rest as well. While a width of 21" does not sound like much for a flatbed, I managed to get around 2-3 hours of sleep which is pretty impressive for a 6-hour flight.

Ample Leg Space Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Ample Leg Space
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

I woke up just as the cabin crew was preparing the cabin for landing and was offered a hot towel to freshen up. It is interesting to note that the seatbelt sign was never once turned off during the entire flight but passengers were free to roam around the cabin despite the light being on. I stowed my duffel in the overhead compartment and placed my seat back in an upright position before the plane landed in Terminal 1 of Changi Airport in Singapore. 

Seat 13L Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Seat 13L
Air China CA969 Business - PEK to SIN

Honestly my flight onboard Air China's Business Class is not as bad as I thought it would be - there are just way too many criticisms about this product around but the actual flight is actually quite good. The air stewardesses are incredibly courteous and polite, they addressed me by name throughout the flight (which is something that did not happen on Singapore Airlines) and they were super efficient at preparing the cabin for meal service. Since the fare class for this Business Class flight was fare class C, I obtained 125% of the actual miles flown in the KrisFlyer program (no elite status bonus were awarded since travel was not on SQ/MI Metal). Apart from the 3-hour delay at the Beijing Capital International Airport (which is not the airline's fault at all), the flight was actually quite enjoyable but improvements can certainly be done to the actual meal service - food should be presented better and please leave my Champagne flute alone.