When I visited Beijing back in July this year, I flew back from Beijing to Singapore on Air China's Business Class - it was my very first experience with Air China and even though it was quite a good flight (albeit being delayed for 3 hours), it was very different from what you would expect on a Singapore Airlines flight. Since I visited the Air China Business Class Lounge previously and have experienced firsthand at how busy it can actually get, I made plans to check out the arguably more exclusive Air China First Class Lounge instead this time.
Generally speaking, passengers traveling in the Business Cabin on Air China or on a Star Alliance carrier will only be able to access the Air China Business Class Lounge. Since I was flying from Beijing to Singapore on Singapore Airlines' Business Class (SQ807), I only had access to the Business Class Lounge with my boarding pass. The Air China First Class Lounge is reserved for well, passengers traveling in First Class (or in the case of selected Singapore Airlines flights, Suites). The strange thing however is that the Air China First Class Lounge is also a participating Priority Pass lounge - what this means is that you will be able to access the (more) exclusive First Class lounge with a free Priority Pass card (one that you can get easily with the right credit card in Singapore).
As I have noted in my previous visit to the Air China Business Class Lounge, photography in the lounge is often being frowned upon by lounge staff and there have been many instances where travellers are told not to take photos (even if the lounge is relatively empty). I personally try to avoid as many travellers as possible but even then I was slightly afraid to take photos here - I did not wish to get yelled at! Having said that, I was feeling a little courageous that afternoon so I decided to sneak a few photos of the lounge and hopefully I have enough for a lounge review.
The design of the Air China First Class and Business Class lounges are fairly similar so if you have seen photos online, you will probably not notice the difference. The most striking difference between these two lounges will have to be the number of travellers in them - the First Class lounge is typically a lot less busy and quieter. The lounge enjoys plenty of natural light (especially if you opt for one of the seats that look out to the tarmac) and there are various seating configurations here that cater to different travel groups. I also noticed that the seats here in the First Class Lounge are further apart as compared to the Business Class Lounge located directly opposite.
The Air China First Class Lounge itself is fairly large and it features an interesting design - as you come in, you will see a rather huge shelf that contains a selection of magazines and newspapers on the side. Directly behind this shelf is a semi-private seating area where most expensive teas are served to you by a staff. I did not really check it out myself since I came to the lounge prepared (meaning a fully belly).
The Air China First Class Lounge enjoys plenty of natural light and this is any aviation geek's dream - you enjoy unobstructed views of the tarmac where you will be able to see planes taking-off and landing. Of course, this is not the only place where you can enjoy some planespotting moments in the airport - there are plenty of public spaces where you can do so!
As I have mentioned, due to a rather lackluster experience at the Air China Business Class Lounge in Beijing previously, I only dropped by this lounge after I have eaten. As far as I know, Evian is not offered in the Business Class lounge so if you actually enjoy this overpriced water, you can enjoy it here in the First Class Lounge.
As usual, connecting to the airport's free WiFi is a nightmare and it will only work if you have a mobile number from China. I have tried connecting using a premium Boingo subscription (which I have access to thanks to an American Express card) but to no avail as well. Even though I do have 4G connectivity on my mobile phone, I really wanted to work on something on my laptop. Apparently, you may request for one of the lounge staff to provide you with a WiFi access code as long as you have a valid boarding pass (I am assuming that the public without lounge access can do the same downstairs). However, getting this to work was impossible and I gave up trying in the end (this is why getting a cheap prepaid card for roaming is extremely important!).
After giving up on the WiFi, I decided to take a walk around the Air China First Class Lounge to check out what is available. There is apparently a bar area located towards the back of the lounge but it was unattended when I got there and I took the liberty of making myself a drink. Ice-cubes are provided in the fridge (yes, not freezer) and the lime as well as lemon slices can be found here as well. I am not sure if passengers are supposed to help themselves but a number of lounge staff walked past me as I was concocting the most difficult cocktail ever and they did not say anything so I guess I must be doing something right.
In case you were wondering what cocktail was I concocting, it is a good old G&T (yes, I lied about it being difficult). Good old Schweppes and Gordon's Gin - the combination that gave me enough reasons to hate G&Ts for a couple of years but hey, beggars can't be choosers and besides, I really needed a drink.
Similar to my previous experience in the Air China Business Class Lounge, the Air China First Class Lounge feels a lot similar. Perhaps the uncanny resemblance of the lounges played a part or maybe I have been spoiled by lounges all around South-east Asia but the Air China First Class Lounge is at best a nice waiting area for your flight. The food and drink options are sub-optimal for a First Class Lounge (especially when you compare it to The Private Room in Singapore) but the lack of crowd is a nice change in my opinion. It is probably time for Beijing Capital International Airport to get a newer and nicer lounge.