TL; DWTR (Too Long; Don’t want to Read)
Don’t fly Air China. I should end the article there.
I realize not everyone can afford expensive plane tickets, and a couple hundred dollars may make or break the difference for some budget travelers. We lived – if you CAN’T afford anything else, AirChina will be miserable but will get you to Japan. If you can afford it, UPGRADE YOUR AIRLINE!
AirChina is a fly by night kinda airline that leaves you feeling ripped off even if you opt for their super saver promotional ticket.
“$485 round trip to Japan! Sign me up!”
Hold on there, Sparky! If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. A lot of airlines are running great deals these days and if I could do it all over again, I’d pay an extra couple hundred dollars to fly Delta. My experience is not one that everyone will have, but it’s not isolated either. A quick Google of their Airline and it seems many encounter issue with this company.
We like to encourage positivity here at The Coco, so let’s start with the good. You get a cheap ticket, and on your way to Japan you get 3 full meals, all of which are… edible. Think high school cafeteria food. Andddddd that about sums up the positives… onto the bad.
The legroom is pittance. All airliners have gained a reputation for sardine canning their economy class passengers, however, when I took a quick glance into Business and First, it was none too impressive either. I flew Business to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (you get your own cubical that turns into a bed) and Cathay’s business looked more impressive than Air China’s First.
The service is terse, no one speaks English, the plane is loud, the seats are uncomfortable (despite having paid a couple hundred dollars extra for more legroom), there is no wifi. The TV screens are a joke – first gen LCD tech if you’re lucky will turn on. The selection of in-flight entertainment is a mismash of mistitled Hollywood failures.
“No problem, I’ll use my iPad to watch video or play music!”
You can’t! On our flight, phones and tablets were prohibited for the duration of the flight – laptops were acceptable though. Curious…
Nitpicking aside, let’s dive into the unacceptable stuff. Our ticket was a round trip departure and re-entry into Newark (EWK). A couple days before departing Tokyo to come back home, they changed our arriving airport. When we flew back to the states, we were landing in JFK instead of Newark. What?! We already had our rental car reservation set up for Newark. What if we drove and left our own car parked there? Now we’re stranded at another airport with no way to get the car? I don’t even know the legality of this much less the ethics. We were lucky to have a rental service, Budget, who was decent to work with and swapped our reservation to JFK – it worked out for us, but may not have for someone else.
The customer service is non-existent which leads me into: the layovers are impossible. When we arrived in Beijing, they alloted 50 minutes to get to the Haneda gate. We landed late at night, so the airport was empty and quiet. Even as a ghost airport, the sheer lack of competence and redundant security checkpoints leave you with a single (non exagerated) minute to get to your gate. To be fair, this is more of a Beijing Airport complaint than it is AirChina, but AirChina should be considering Beijing’s crappy processes. We were not alone in this predicament either. Our fellow travelers ended up missing their connecting flight, and many people in line regaling their complaints. Leaves you quite nervous when your minutes away from missing your plane in a shoddy foreign country – oh, and AirChina would have charged us a $1,000+ rebooking fee if we had missed our flight.
Coming back into Beijing from Haneda Tokyo left us with a 16 hour layover! 16 damn hours! Mind you, that was not the layover promised when we bought the tickets, it was the one we received after multiple changes to our itinerary. Calling AirChina for some assistance resulted in threats with either a 1,000$+ rebooking fee, OR… a free night in a hotel? Hmm. They aren’t so bad after all… not.
Long story short, they wouldn’t honor their free hotel gesture. Frankly, it was for the better. Chinese hotels have a reputation for being filhty roach motels and there’s no exception to the Transit Hotel in Beijing Airport. We wandered in the Hotel Airport Lounge (Transit Hotel in Terminal 3 near Gate E10) and it was heinous. No doubt we would have gotten bed bugs. As if straight out of a comedy, the other passengers that graced that Lounge were burping and farting their way around the buffet. Hilarious yes, appetizing no.
Thanks to Chase Sapphire and AMEX Platinum, we are Priority Pass holders. So we took our luggage to the Gate E19 BGS Lounge. Sleeping in the first class BGS Lounge was an alright experience. Free food, free drinks, a shower (not the cleanest), and a sofa allowed us to sleep some of that 16 hour layover off.
Our waste of a day layover is finally over! Home sweet home here we come! Until AirChina took all of our stuff again! They had a goddamn security check point in the boarding hallway to the plane. Who has that?! What the hell are they afraid of? They took all the drinks and snacks we nabbed from the airport lounge. And they were confiscating things people purchased at the duty free shop! It’s an Airline/Country of thieves!
They will confiscate all food, drinks (even if you buy in THEIR duty free) and they’ll take away your phone backup batteries. Their hotels are the filthiest I’ve experienced.
Short answer, is even if AirChina had a blow out deal to another destination, I’d skip it. Splurge a couple hundred more and go with a more reputable airline.
Also, their staff and all Beijing Airport staff are lazy!
I’ll finale with two quick anecdotes:
1: Beijing Airport is a Rubix cube. So complicated, that their own employees get lost in it (witnessed multiple times). At times when we asked for help, a perfectly capable English speaking Chinese employee wanted nothing to do with showing us where to go, said “I don’t speak English, go ask someone else”. Must be the only sentence he knows…
We witnessed another couple having similar interactions with a different employee.
2: A Chinese mother let her child pee on the carpet of the plane – then decided not to clean it up – but did manage to wipe his bottom, not wash her hands, and return to her seat. No surpise that bird flu spread like wild fire here.
3: This poor guy was getting bombarded by these 3 baby Chinese siblings, and the mother couldn’t give less of a shit. It took this guy multiple complaints to the airline staff, whom also couldn’t give less of a shit, before he finally got moved to a different seat.
Don’t fly AirChina.