As coronavirus fears mount, you could be forgiven for ghosting your next Air China flight – or resolving never to book one again. I didn’t have this luxury though, travelling from Sydney to Beijing in the weeks before the first cases were reported, on Air China’s much-maligned economy.
However, despite now interpreting every sore throat as pneumonia, what I discovered aboard one of Air China’s Boeing 777-300ER jets shows most travellers have serious misconceptions around the 99 (and falling) ranked airline in the world (according to Skytrax).
To provide perspective, RyanAir, Jetstar and Scoot all rate significantly higher than Air China in the Skytrax rankings.
Oh, and Air China has an average passenger rating of 3.6/10, on Airline Ratings.
So: here’s what it’s really like to spend 11 hours on one of the ‘dodgiest‘ airlines in the Asia-Pacific, from the depths of economy.
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The seats are actually… not too bad
Considering Air China is known as a ghetto on wings (cheers, Tripadvisor’s Most Hysterical), the seats weren’t actually that cramped. That said, I am amoebic skinny, so I can imagine someone with, as Westfield once indelicately put it, a “ghetto booty,” would endure a tight squeeze (though no more so than they would with RyanAir and co).
The movie selection was refreshingly good
I don’t know if this is because I am sick of the same old up to date selection offered up by Qantas, Emirates and so forth, but Air China was the authentic meat pie to the more expensive airline’s overcooked souffle.
I indulged in a Fast & Furious binge, followed up by Four Weddings & A Funeral. So don’t expect the latest Netflix specials, but if this is your first time travelling Air China the entertainment options make for a refreshing change.
The toilets were surprisingly spacious (although the tap didn’t work)
Dysentry fears aside, the bathroom offered ample space to get changed.
Breakfast is… a pleasant surprise
If you can get over the fact that no-one has been able to wash their hands, considering the muck usually served in Cattle Class, Air China is pretty decent. Not as good as say, Qantas, but no worse than middle-ranked airlines in the Skytrax list.
Oh and even though it is considered an inferior airline to Cathay Pacific, I’ll take Air China’s brekky over the bizarre fish soup I was served for breakfast on my return journey with the Hong Kong competitor any day.
Dinner is ok, but the chocolate mousse will make you feel sick for days
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Top tip: don’t greedily eat your partner’s chocolate mousse (after already having eaten yours), unless you fancy a sugar crash for the ages.
Very dark decor
While this point may have been driven home on me extra hard as a) this was a night flight and b) my next flight after this was a day flight on Swiss Air, the cabin seemed more like an underground rave cave than a bright and breezy sky-carriage.
Beijing airport is an experience in survival
Call it poor planning on my part, or extreme negligence on the part of The People’s Republic Of China, but it was minus ten degrees in Beijing when I arrived, and not much warmer inside the airport.
Add in I had just come from an Australian Summer (and had, as usual, left my jacket in my hold-luggage) and the fact that the airport was under construction, and staying warm is a serious challenge.
Whilst this is not specifically Air China’s fault, this drawback can be avoided by flying an airline which doesn’t go via Beijing.
My luggage did not get lost
Air China may be known as a prolific luggage ‘dissapearer’ but it worked out fine for me.
Excellent value for money
All up, I do not regret flying Air China in the slightest. Take note, Australians: this was $1,200 (to get to Europe, return) well spent (this Air China journey was just one leg).
It actually has a decent safety rating
Not that you’d know it by the stereotypes, but Air China has a safety rating of 7/7, according to Airline Ratings.