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So I recently flew with Air China to Australia, so I took pretty much the longest journey on earth and I had to make a serious commitment on this one.
So altogether I had about 46 hours in their care and I have to say the outbound journey was pretty good, the inbound was particularly awful. The reason I chose Air China was because well lets face it they are ruddy cheap. I got my air fare a full eight months before I left for £1200...yeah I know thats fairly cheap-ish believe it or not. So thats advantage no 1.
Advantage no 2 is that in contrast to allot of airlines, the food was pretty good too. It tends to centre around rice dishes, normally with chicken and beef or you can ask for noodles, which is was told by the mrs was not as nice. The deserts were also really nice , made up of chocolate cakes and sponges.
And unfortunately that is about it. I have to say generally the service by the air steward(es) was pretty OK, they looked after us, they were effecient and I get the impression that they ignored us less than I have experienced in the past.
So to the bad points, well there are a few, firstly although the movies on the outbound journey were OK, there was about 4 good english language films I could watch and the rest were Chinese films I could neither understand or have the gumption to watch even if I could speak cantonese or mandurin. On the inbound journey....wait for it...there was not one english film, other then musicals...yep if you like mamma mia, dirty dancing and step up, you`ll love air china. If like me you hate the sound of super trooper, then you might want to avoid it. The gaming system was pretty good, some good poker and space invader type games, but the controller will literally break your fingers after half an hour.
Air China does not willingly accommodate disabled persons. We traveled from SFO to Xi'an and back in July 2007. Even though wheelchair assistance had been requested ahead of time, it was not provided without a fuss. Worse yet, at some airports, passengers are taken by bus out on the tarmac, and expected to negotiate steep stairs to enter and leave the plane. I made it, but it was not fun. I have no idea what Air China would do with someone with no ambulatory ability whatsoever. Apparently they think disabled folks should just stay home.
I was treated with disrespect, as they evidently did not believe me to be disabled, since I am not 98 years old, and appear physically normal.
Recently my wife and I enjoyed a two week holiday in China with Voyages Jules Verne. We travelled to Beijing and back from London Heathrow on scheduled Air China flights. In addition, we had a few internal flights with Air China as well. Our outbound flight was aboard an Airbus A340 whilst the return was on a Boeing 747. Both flights were around 9½ hours duration in Economy Class.
The first impression of both of these planes was that they were not in the first flush of youth. I'm not suggesting that they were falling apart. They were clearly in perfectly good working order. It's just that the interior did look a tad worn and maybe in need of a good valeting. The one time I needed to go to one of the toilets also made me grateful I didn't need to go again!
I was somewhat concerned about the length of the flight and degree of comfort we would enjoy. However, I was pleased to find that on both planes there was a decent amount of legroom, a lot more than you get on charter flights. The seats were also relatively comfortable as well; decent width and adequately supportive.
On a flight as long as this you do need some good entertainment. If anything, this is where Air China fell down. Like most older planes, the in-flight entertainment consists of a large main screen positioned at the front of each cabin section plus a couple of small monitors for those who are seated where they can't see this screen.
The problem is that the screen is somewhat obscured by the seats in front, for most people and especially when they get up out of their seats. The soundtrack for the films was also not particularly good. There were two channels for the films, one in Chinese, the other in the original language, or vice versa if the film was Chinese anyway. However, on what was supposed to be the English channel, in most cases both languages were broadcast at the same time!
Additionally, the soundtrack was broadcast through the socket in the seat armrest, via headphones provided by Air China. Although there is no charge for the use of these headphones, you get whatever is provided and in my case the first set were faulty. I got a replacement set but they weren't perfect.
The socket is the type often found on aircraft; a two-connector socket for the two channels, left and right, rather than a single stereo miniplug. I would recommend that, if you want to use your own headphones you buy one of those converter plugs from someone like Tandy, that converts these sockets to a standard stereo mini-plug socket. Remember not to leave it behind though!
As an alternative to the film tracks there were various other audio entertainment channels though none of them could be considered inspiring. I ended up spending most of the flight listening to my MP3 player (SumVision M18) and I didn't even need to change the battery! With around a dozen albums on it there was more than enough to keep me occupied.
The food supplied during the flight was Chinese after a fashion. It was no better and no worse than that found on most airlines other than those with a very good reputation, such as Emirates or Singapore. There was a choice each time, usually of the type of meat, generally either chicken or beef. Drinks were provided free of charge and we mostly stuck to the safe option of beer, Chinese.
One odd thing about the flight was that the cabin staff instructed everyone to close the blinds over the portholes for the entire flight. I assume that the reason was so as to allow those who wanted to sleep to do so without the distraction of permanent daylight. Bear in mind that this was a chase the sun flight, which took off and landed in daylight without passing through night-time. I have to say that for any flight travelling West, it makes no sense to try to sleep. It does nothing for your sleep pattern so it is better to try to stay awake. The inevitable result was that most people switched on their overhead reading lights so no one was better of anyway!
The staff were friendly and courteous. There command of English was adequate, fortunately so considering the diabolical difficulty of the Chinese language. Indeed, there actually isn't any such thing as the spoken Chinese language. There are around 56 Chinese dialects and we learned from our local guides that no one can understand other dialects other than their own although most have a reasonable understanding of the main Chinese dialect, Mandarin.
One thing I can't fault though is Air China's time keeping. The flight took off more or less on time and actually arrived early back at Heathrow. There are a few other airlines I could name who could learn a thing or two!
I can't tell you what the flights cost as we were travelling as a part of a package tour so the cost was inclusive in the overall price. What I would say is that the price needs to be highly competitive as there are clearly better quality airlines plying the Far East route.
Our experiences of the internal flights was similar. None were sufficiently long to cause any problems or discomfort. All were extremely punctual and in every case our luggage was delivered from the flight without any delay, though this may have been due to the efficiencies of the airports at which we arrived rather than the airline.
Air China is, based on our experience, a very average airline; neither bad nor good. I wouldn't have any problem flying with them again and certainly wouldn't go out of my way to avoid them.
Oh and, apologies to Level 42 for nicking their title.
Oh, and also, the "Recommend" below is wrong; it should be "Yes" although I would prefer "Undecided". The reason it says "No" is that Dooyoo's review generator is screwed up. No matter what you select it comes out "No". Even if you select "No" it displays as "No" but when you come to re-edit the review the button selected shows "Yes"!!!!!
I am writing this for you on behalf of my brother who recently came to vist me in Sydney over the Christmas period and I don't mind if you don't rate it very highly I just wanted to share the experiance. We booked this flight with him through our travel agents, it was very expensive for an economy seat at around 1000 pounds but this was mainly due to the time of year he was traveling. He was flying via Bejing and the travel agent called Air China to confirm any visa requirements, a nice lady called Rebecca advised him that the only thing he needed was his Australian Tourist Visa to travel through Bejing. The day of the flight my brother checked in and there was no problems, this was his first ever flight and they went through everything with him, and told him wher to go. There were no delays in take off, and the first part of the flight went smoothly. The plane was a 747 and he told me that inside was fine, his seat was a bit uncomfortable a kind of strange faux leather ensemble, the film was bad and repeated twice and the meals were "Gross" some kind of glutenous pasta dish and a chicken noodle thingy. When he arrived in Bejing he and about 8 other English passengers were shuffled around, told they had to pick up their luggage and go through customs and re check in paying a charge in Chinese currency!! They went to the check in desk and tried to re check in, the woman staretd having an argument with my brother saying that he didn't have a visa for Australia, he tried telling her his visa was electronic and all she had to do was scan it but she wouldn't listen until her supervisor stepped in and told her it was ok. All this nearly made them miss their connecting flight and they had to run through customs to the plane. They just took off when they landed again, this time in Shanghai, there was no mention of this on his schedule. The flight from Shanghai went smoothly, some more "Gross"
chicken noodles and another bad film. They then landed again in Melbourne much to the suprise of the English travellers, another unmentioned stop! He arrived in Sydney a little jet lagged but in one piece and on time. He was due to return at the end of January, so we packed him off with his didgeridoo. He was just checking in and given his boarding pass when he was told he couldn't fly as he didn't have a transit visa for China!!!! We explained that their colleagues in England advised us this was not necessary, and they said this had happen so many times over the past month and that there was nothing that they could do. They sent us to the Chineese Embassy in Sydney but as it was Chinese New Year it was closed for 5 days and it would cost A$100 We then went to the Air China offices in Sydney and they told us that they were fully booked for 2 weeks. We contacted our travel agent in the UK and they contacted Air China in London who said the earliest flight they could get him on was 3 weeks! With the help of our travel agent my brother is in the process of trying to get some compensation back for the problems Air China have caused him. They are "processed the complaint" for 4 weeks and after then refused to apologise or offer any form of compenation....we have now been told to go to Thompson COnsular Services(but we are not sure who they are). My advice to you is that you need a transit visa if you are going to China and secondly don't fly through Air China.
I recently went on a weekend break going via Air-China, to and from Beijing. The airplane was an old 747-400. There was no entertaiment system per seat, just a radio and film projecter, so on a 8 hour flight to Beijing, and 12 hour flight from Beijing back to London, it was pretty dull, and yet not that bad. The stewardesses were very good, quick, and helpful. They even cleaned out those disgusting toilets when they got clogged up. The food was chinese orientated, but not bad, specially seeingI'm a veggie. The biggest bonus was there was so many spare seats on the plane, everyone had loads of legroom, to stretch out. So not bad, not bad at all.
As I lived in Taiwan for a few years I flew with Air China a number of times, mainly to Hong Kong. The airline was basic and domestic airlines from this part of the world do not have the best safety record in the world. The cabin crew however were always polite and pleased to be of assistance. The aircraft were generally quite old but that may just because of the route I was on. I was amazed that the cabin crew kept their calm and composure one time when we were flying by I typhoon. I personally was feeling sick and not in the mood for anything and they continued to be helpful offering me a tablet. I'd personally avoid airlines like this if possible because of the safety record but it is nothing personal about the staff.
It was my first experience with China Airlins that left me not surprised at a string of airline tragedies. Air China is not a luxury airline but a form of transport. Leaving Amsterdam for Dharan was however a great window into 'international' life. Sandwiched between 1 chap snoring on my shoulder and fat bloke smoking a cigar, I asked to be relocated but to no avail. In the end I went to the back of the plane and fell asleep on the floor in the gally. They seemed pretty content to let me be, the staff were really nice but their tools and management not up to standard. I am sure that this could have been a one-off happeneing but unless skint, would not use this airline again. Well, having said that if I were researching for a new hollywood film scrip . . .