My Air China Experience from EWK to BKK

I’ve always wanted to add airline comparisons and reviews to this blog. But I’ve always been flying Korean Air with a stop over in Seoul. So this time around I wanted to try another airline. And Air China was the one I chose to review for my flight from New York to Bangkok.

Air China has been aggressively cutting air fare prices in order to compete. I paid $800USD for my Air China tickets while Korean Air had air fares costing $1300USD. That’s 37.5% more and a convincing reason to give Air China a go.

Now if you check around reviews about Air China like I did you’ll see a lot of unfavorable remarks and experiences from passengers. And I have to admit I was a bit worried about flying Air China. Plus I love Korean Air and I know their in-flight services and quality is hard to top.

The total flight time not including layover on Air China is about 19 hours. Korean Air total flight time is about 18 1/2 hours. But both planes fly different routes.

I was determined to go on Air China with an open mind and give a fair review despite all the bad comments I’ve come across.


EWK International Air China Check In

At Newark International, plenty of staff to help check in at Air China…

Air China flies out of JFK in New York City and EWK in Newark, New Jersey. Since I live in NYC it would’ve been more convenient to fly out of JFK. However, I only get one hour to connect to my Bangkok flight at Beijing International.

While flying out from EWK I get five hours to connect to my Bangkok flight at Beijing International. It’s a no brainer, EWK was a better option because I get plenty of time to connect.

Air China uses the older twin engine Boeing 777-200ER for their EWK to PEK route. While when I used Korean Air I was on board a 4 engine Boeing A380, which is a lot newer. But again, I’m going to keep an open mind.

Getting Ready to Leave NYC Again…

I got to EWK with four hours to spare until my flight departs. Air China’s check in counter was already open. I wanted to get there early to get those emergency exit row seats. These seats are worth gold to me and I call them the poor man’s first class seats. The flight duration was 14 hours straight to China. So that extra leg room is going to come in handy.

Poor man's first class seats at Air China...

Poor man’s first class seats at Air China…

I didn’t know if Air China would charge me for those seats or whether they provided them exclusively to Star Alliance members which I am not a member of. But I was so happy to find out those seats were available free of charge. Remember, emergency exit rows are based on first come first served. Which is why I always get my ass on the check in line as soon as I can.

The check in agent got me an emergency exit row aisle seat and believe me I was so relieved I could get one. The Boeing 777-300ER has a 3-3-3 seat configuration. On my particular flight it wasn’t packed so the middle exit row seat was empty so I had space to prop and charge my iPad and iPhone.

Air China 777-300ER In Flight Video

A lot of Chinese movies, no surprise, but still a decent selection to pass time…

The Air China seats are the same width as the Korean Air A380. Although on the Korean Air A380 you can put your seat back a tiny bit more at 33 to 34 pitch.

But I could already tell that this particular plane was older. The floor carpeting looked worn. But at least everything looked clean. According to this article Boeing 777-200ERs were built in the late 90’s and none will be built anymore.

The Food

Air China Meal from EWR to PEK

Sliced beef scallion over rice, some fruit and a salad with sliced ham…

If you’ve been following this blog you know how much I love to eat. And I found Korean Air’s in-flight meals tasty. Air China however… not so much. They can do much better. At least I think so. When it comes to food I’m not biased at all.

On Korean Air there are always snacks around in the galley area you can raid like honey roasted peanuts, pretzels and crackers. You can also order Cups of Noodles when you got the inflight munchies on a Korean Air flight. And Korean Air economy hot meals are better and flavorful, even for airplane food.

Air China Galley

All the bread you can eat on an Air China flight…

For snacks, Air China had bread rolls. Cold, hard, bread. They can do better than that. Some would argue for $800USD what could I expect? I would expect something better than bread.

But lucky I was sleepy most of the time and the flight was relatively smooth. So I slept through most of my hunger and before I knew it there were 4 hours left to go before we hit Beijing Airport and another meal service was beginning.

Air China in-flight meal

I’m was trying very hard to remember what that meal was. Really, I’m not joking…

By this time I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by another meal. But I was just curious as to see what was available. And honestly I can’t remember what I picked. At least the Oreo cookie tasted good.

I have to admit I was famished and really looking forward to hitting the food courts or restaurants at Beijing International.

Air China In-Flight Service

There’s nothing to complain about regarding service. The flight attendants did their jobs and seemed friendly enough when they came around offering drinks. Although Korean Air flight attendants came around more frequently with trays of water and fruit juices for passengers.

I also noticed while the the seat belt sign is still on due to turbulence or during pre-landing passengers are still allowed to use the bathroom. On Korean Air, flight attendants are quite strict on their flights. If the seat belt light is on passengers are required to remain seated. That’s just an observation.

Air China flies through North Pole

Air China’s EWK to PEK flight route passes the north pole region…

At Beijing International Airport (PEK)

The plane arrived on time at Beijing International Airport. Because I disembarked on the tarmac to get on the bus that takes passengers to the terminal, it was a significant moment. Because it’s the first time ever I stepped foot on mother land China. I really should be traveling more around China.

Beijing International Airport

My first breath of air in Mother China…

Anyways I was starving and I was looking for the passenger terminal hoping to find some serious good eats. Heck, for some reason I had this strong urge for a Double Whopper at Burger Kings.

Much to my surprise Beijing International did not have a lot of restaurants. I asked a young lady at the information desk and she said there’s no Burger King. Not even a McDonalds. There was a Pizza Hut which I do like.

PEK Airport Lounge Chairs

Beijing International Airport had these nice lounge chairs. But after spending 14 hours on a plane I didn’t want to sit…

I was really surprised Beijing International did not have a whole lot of dining options. When I fly with Korean Air and have a layover in Incheon Airport it’s like a small city decked full of restaurants.

Flying from PEK to BKK

After a quick bite at Pizza Hut and some much needed iced latté at Starbucks I went over to the gate to wait for my flight and to find out if there is an emergency exit row seat available.

Not a whole lot of international food choices in PEK airport but at least its got a Starbucks...

Not a whole lot of international food choices in PEK airport but at least its got a Starbucks…

Beijing International is a big airport and when I finally got to the gate I asked an Air China staff if there were any emergency exit row seats available. I asked in English because I can’t speak a lick of Mandarin. The Air China staff said there were none. I think there was a bit of lost in translation going on. Because she didn’t even check the computer. And she seemed a bit rude too.

Anyways, there was no point to get all upset about it. The flight to BKK was empty. And there were empty emergency exit row seats available and I was free to move into one. I pretty much slept the whole 5 hours and skipped the in-flight meal.

The Verdict

Even though I went in to make this comparison review between Air China and Korean Air with an open mind, deep down I knew already Korean Air is the better airline hands down.

Korean Air 380 at Incheon Airport

A Korean Air B747 used for long haul flights…

That doesn’t mean I think Air China sucks. I would fly them again when the price is right as I really think they are a good alternative. Most importantly I got to Thailand in one piece and on time. And I saved some cash which is always good.

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