Slept in a little bit, and enjoyed one last breakfast at the Kempinski, complete with several more tasty mongolian dumplings. Had the hotel call a taxi for me, and negotiate the price in advance, so I was able to use the last of my local currency towards the hotel instead of having any leftover since I didn’t expect I’d be back in Mongolia any time soon. It’s probably not a reassuring sign that when leaving your room, this is mounted to the wall right outside your room:
I was a little worried about my flight, because it had gone from showing as a 737 online to a Dash-8 a week before the flight. Now, as far as I could tell, Air China has no Dash-8s, but at the same time, they stopped selling business class seats even on their own website. I figured whatever was going on, they were going to downsize the plane to something that had less business class seats, so I better get there early.
Given the airport has like three international flights a day, I decided two hours was early, and was actually the second to check in, and no, it’s a 737. Strange. Who knows what was going on, but she confirmed it was sold out, but had no problem accommodating my seat request. No line at all for security or immigration, and it was soon into the holding pen that was shared for the few gates at the airport.
Upstairs in departures there were like four or five duty free shops mostly selling liquor and tobacco, as well as an entire store selling nothing but Chenggis Vodka. Since I decided I probably couldn’t drink an entire bottle in transit, I resisted the urge to bring back this unique souvenir. There are some disadvantages to taking the long way home!
After browsing duty free, I decided to check out the business class lounge. It was pretty packed, and there wasn’t much on offer, except reasonable WiFi, so once connected I actually went back out into the departures lounge (which had much more space) to wait for the flight. Given the plane only held 16 in business, I had no idea where all the people in the business lounge had come from, except maybe if they let Star Alliance Gold members in.
Boarding was right on time, and I was about to have my first experience on Air China!
Air China flight 902
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (ULN) to Beijing, China (PEK)
Depart 12:50, Arrive 14:05, Flight Time: 2:15
Boeing 737-800 Registration B-5500, Manufactured 2010, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 95,131
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,133,737
Welcome aboard was satisfactory, but unfortunately the bubbles were warm. Ugh.
The seats were a hideous psychadellic purple, and rather uncomfortable. I tried to move the headrest up to be more comfortable, and this happened. The flight attendants couldn’t get it back on, and the flight was full, so they gave me a choice: fly without a headrest, or middle seat in economy. You can guess which I chose…
…business, naturally, with hot towels on a plate:
Offered “Chinese or French wine” you can once again guess which I chose. While the Chinese had a novelty factor, after Mongolian wine on MIAT I went with the safe option…well not TOO safe, because they spilled everywhere while pouring it, including on my shorts. Not even a sorry…
Starter was described as “duck” and pretty scary. It seemed like some sort of pressed duck coldcut or something…I tried one bite and was definitely unimpressed. The fruit was pretty decent, had flavour, and was mildly juice, so I consider it a success:
The “beef” entree was pretty bad as well, as was the garlic bread. Overall, I’d rate it up there with United domestic in terms of meal service, but give them extra points for the real china and tablecloth…but take away points for not having a headrest on my seat.
Short flight, watched a little bit of tv on the iPad, and soon we were arriving into Beijing Airport via the giant smog layer over the city. Right on time, bus gate, but no special bus for business class. It was quite a long walk to transit security and passport check (they do a full passport check for transit, but don’t stamp your passport) and unfortunately it was nearly 25C in the airport. Definitely gross. I was pretty much a sweaty mess by the time I finished formalities, and all I could think of was how good an iced Americano from Starbucks would be.
Asked the nearest airport employee, and yes, there was one about a five to ten minute walk in the opposite direction of the gate. Don’t care…must find nirvana. The Starbucks experience itself was frustrating, stuck behind two young American women who wondered “how much is that in REAL money?” I told them to just use their credit cards, it wasn’t expensive, and I was just anxious to get them moving.
Having procured reliable caffeination, I was left without time to check out the Air China business lounge, but figured I probably wasn’t missing a whole lot. Got to my gate 40 minutes before the flight, and there was no sign of an agent. Finally, 15 minutes before the flight, an agent showed up and an announcement was made – we were moving gates…another 10 minute walk back in the direction I’d come from. It was still sweaty, hot, and gross in the terminal, and my patience at China was running extremely low.
Fortunately, the new gate was a bus gate, and this time there was a business class bus. Interesting security feature, when they scanned your boarding pass at the gate, your picture came up on the screen. I hadn’t noticed, but when transfer immigration was checking boarding passes they also took a picture of you to match things up. Pretty slick system.
Air China flight 115
Beijing, China (PEK) to Hong Kong SAR (HKG)
Depart 15:30, Arrive 19:00, Flight Time: 3:30
Airbus A321-200, Registration B-6363, Manufactured 2008, Seat 3J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 96,365
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,134,971
Welcome aboard again, and this time with a reasonably cool glass of bubbles:
There was a Chinese-American older couple seated in the row in front of me, and the gentleman was absolutely hysterical. For pre-departure drinks he asked for “as many small bottles of vodka as you can fit in a glass with two ice cubes” and was told no vodka until we were in the air. He laughed loudly, said something back to them in Chinese and then just said “fine, bring me alcohol.” He found himself incredibly funny, but his lady friend was clearly less than impressed. He leaned over the seats and started talking to me, and was absolutely hysterical. Fortunately he was the friendly funny drinker type, and not the obnoxious drunk, and once airborne settled down.
I tried the “Chinese red wine” which was almost drinkable, and actually better quality than much of the stuff United serves. Plus, warm salted almonds, which unlike United’s which tend to be a bit mushy they were still firm and crunchy:
Meal served all at once, including some sort of chicken curry which looked vaguely like vomit, but actually tasted really good…I might have eaten the whole thing, including the scary warm salmon snack starter:
All in all, the flight was exactly what I’d expected. I went into it thinking it would be roughly the quality of a domestic flight in the US, and that’s exactly what it was. The crews were a mixed bag of mildly friendly to downright grouchy just like crews in the US, and the catering was…well, roughly what I would expect for an upscale prison cafeteria or maybe a mid-tier middle school. Well, except the fruit, which was definitely above average, but again…Asia…and I expect that.
Problem on the second flight was…they forgot to load bread! I decided not to eat the butter alone, however, so sadly it went to waste 😉
Three hours went by pretty quickly, arrival in Hong Kong was on-time at a bus gate, and soon it was off to enjoy my rather short 20 hour transit of Hong Kong!