Updated: Aug 31, 2019
I'm on the flight now as I type this into my phone's Notepad app. I decided to leave my laptop at home for this trip and there has only been one time (right this moment) I miss having it simply for the ease of typing on a regular keyboard.
Though my flight from Newark to Beijing isn't over for another five hours, I wanted to make sure I capture a few things about this experience so far. Keep in mind I hate flying so in between meals, I was intentionally knocked out.
It's my first time ever flying with Air China. I am a loyal United Mileage Plus Member, but the price difference between the companies for this trip was astronomical.
From Newark to Beijing, then to Bangkok, United was showing $3200 for a Basic Economy seat the day I booked. (Return included.)
For the same flight, Air China was showing $800 for what I thought was a Business Class seat. (Return included.)
The choice was clear. Because I have rheumatoid disease, I was absolutely going to choose the seat with more leg room and more amenities for a much lower price.
My only disappointment thus far was at check-in. I learned I had not purchased a business class seat but a premium economy one instead. I learned that first class does not exist for this trip, for this plane, so business class is the equivalent. I could have upgraded at that moment but that would have been an additional $1600. No thank you! For three months I thought I was going to be traveling in a bit of luxury for a 12 hour flight. Turns out I was still right.
I had been in Newark's International Terminal (B) several times, but this was my first waiting to board a flight where I had zero knowledge of the language. I have a decent grasp of Spanish to where I can figure things out easily enough, but I have no grasp of Chinese (Mandarin, I believe, specifically.)
The Air China employees at the gate announced their messages in Chinese and then repeated in English - same for all in-flight announcements. Sometimes it would be a bit too quick for me, so I just paid close attention to those around me and the flight status board at the gate. It was simple enough and I ended up on the correct flight at the correct time.
When I boarded the plane and walked to my seat (32A - window) I was very pleasantly surprised. (Normally for a long flight, you want the aisle. Always get the aisle!) The leg room was plentiful. My 6'2 husband would have been pretty comfortable if he were on this flight. I'm 5'5 so I have more than enough room. Luckily there is an empty seat between me and my row-mate who has the aisle seat because the width doesn't feel much different than any other flight on which I've been.
When I sat down, I was presented with a warm, wet washcloth, a plush, thick pillow, a decent sized blanket, very comfortable slippers, bottled water, a charging dock, and a foot rest. There are at least 150 movies and television shows to choose from from around the world, and I can connect a USB to listen to music or watch my own downloaded shows. The only thing I can't figure out is WiFi. The literature in the seat pocket is in Chinese with very little English to help navigate. I would ask an attendant but I'm pretty happy being disconnected at this time.
By the way, my row-mate is an elderly woman who knows how to tea properly. She sat down, pulled out her pre-prepared travel tea mug and just handed it to a flight attendant. No words, no gestures, just handed it to the attendant. Thirty seconds later the attendant came back and it was filled with hot water and smelled delicious. I was very jealous! I must find one.
(I just looked at the flight map and holy s**t! I'm over Russia! I can't see much from the tinted window but it looks mountainous. Let's see what a photo looks like.)
So far, it has been 50/50. The first meal was served about an hour into the flight. The choices were beef with rice, chicken with rice, and a vegetarian option I didn't hear properly. I went with chicken because it didn't matter. I won't eat airplane meat. Turned out it was a good choice because the chicken was very high quality and delicious. It tasted like the bourbon chicken you can get at that place in the food court at Crossgates Mall (or any mall, really.)
With five and half hours left to go into the flight, they served the second meal. The choices were chicken with noodles or pork with rice. I chose the pork but the joke was on me because it wasn't pork at all. It was eggplant. I find it detestable so this meal was a fail for me. I ate the rice and vegetables, dunked the tomatoes in the salad dressing and was done.
THE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS
One thing that has struck me on this flight is how attentive the Air China employees are toward the elderly people on this flight. I have yet to see a senior citizen go to the restroom unescorted, waited for, and then guided back to their seat. The attendans squat down to speak to people and though I don't know what's being said, there is always a smile, hushed tones, and a pat on the hand or shoulder. It's not condescending either... it is very clear there is a respect for the older generation in this culture.
So, this is where I'm ending my experience with Air China. I'm going to watch a movie in order to kill a couple of hours.
Overall I highly recommend the company and I can now say with confidence that if you don't want to splurge on business class, you will be fine in premium economy or economy. The seats in economy look very comfortable but just a bit smaller.