Review: Cathay Pacific & Dragonair Lounge Beijing Airport

Introduction
American Airlines Flagship Lounge Chicago O’Hare Airport
American Airlines First Class 777-200 Chicago To Beijing
W Hotel Beijing Chang’an
Cathay Pacific & Dragonair Lounge Beijing Airport
American Airlines First Class 777-200 Beijing To Chicago


Our flight from Beijing to Chicago was originally scheduled to depart at 10:10AM, though the night before I already noticed that the flight would be delayed by several hours.

That’s because the Chicago to Beijing flight was delayed by over 16 hours. The plane usually sits overnight in Beijing, but in this case would be turning right around, and still be about 3.5 hours late.

Flight-Status

Flight-Status-1

So we arrived at Beijing Airport’s Terminal 3 at around 11AM for our 1:40PM departure. Beijing Capital Airport’s Terminal 3 is architecturally stunning. It’s possibly the most stunning terminal in the world.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 check-in hall

It’s also huge, so once in the center of the check-in area we checked the departure monitor to see where American check-in was located. American check-in is located at aisle “B,” which is at the far end of the terminal to the right.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 check-in hall

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 check-in hall

Interestingly American has very limited physical signage at check-in. Instead they just have screens which display the airline name and class of service each check-in desk is for. They had two priority queues.

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Beijing Airport American Airlines check-in Terminal 3

Much to my surprise check-in was completely deserted. The agents working the desk were all contract workers from Air China so their English wasn’t great, though they explained that most passengers didn’t know about the delay, so had been at the airport for hours.

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Beijing Airport American Airlines check-in Terminal 3

To indicate the delay they had a simple printed piece of paper hanging off the desk with the new departure time.

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Beijing Airport American Airlines check-in delay notice Terminal 3

Check-in was efficient, and within a minute we were issued boarding passes and lounge invitations. American uses the Dragonair and Cathay Pacific Lounge for their premium passengers.

From the check-in desk we walked towards the back of the terminal and then turned left, following the signage for all departure gates.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 walk to security checkpoint

There was an initial “checkpoint” for scanning boarding passes, and then the train takes you to both the international and domestic piers. International flights leave from the “E” pier, which is the second stop of the train.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 walk to security checkpoint

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 train system

The train ride was super long, which really shows how massive this airport is (and also explains why taxiing at this airport can sometimes take eons).

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 train system

Upon exiting the train there was an immigration checkpoint. The queues were quite short, and we were through in a couple of minutes.

The security lines, on the other hand, were painfully long. A friend had told me that there’s apparently a hidden premium queue. While there’s no obvious signage for it, at the very left of the security checkpoint is a queue for first & business class passengers. It’s past the handicapped queue, so you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you specifically looked for it. While the other queues were super long, there was no one in this line. Awesome!

The architecture is equally stunning in the international terminal, with super high ceilings. While the furnishings as such are a bit sterile and limited, you can’t deny the impressive architecture. Which is about the only redeeming quality of the airport.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 international departures

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 international departures

The Cathay Pacific and Dragonair Lounge is located near gate E21, so once off the train you turn left. From there it’s about a three minute walk.

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Beijing Airport Terminal 3 international departures

There are both stairs and an elevator leading up to the lounge, which is located one level above the concourse.

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Stairs to Cathay Pacific Lounge Beijing Airport Terminal 3

At reception I handed over my boarding pass and lounge invitation, and was promptly admitted. I was also given a code for the wifi.

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Cathay Pacific Lounge entrance Beijing Airport Terminal 3

The lounge — much like the terminal itself — feels sterile but functional. It’s basically a long rectangle, with several partitions to add a sense of privacy.

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Cathay Pacific Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Cathay Pacific Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

The lounge “thins” out towards the back right, and then there’s a slightly more private seating area in the back right behind a door, which I think most people never even notice.

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Cathay Pacific Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Cathay Pacific Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Cathay Pacific Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

There’s a business center in the lounge featuring about a dozen PCs, and “real” office chairs.

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Dragonair Lounge business center Beijing Airport Terminal 3

In terms of the food and drink spread, there was one small buffet on the right side of the lounge.

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Dragonair Lounge seating Beijing Airport Terminal 3

It featured instant noodles, packaged snacks, soda, water, juice, hard liquor, and some wine.

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Dragonair Lounge buffet Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge buffet Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge liquor selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge drink selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

Then at the far left of the lounge was a (somewhat) more substantial buffet, which consisted of a couple kinds of soup, dim sum, croissants, and three hot dishes (none of which looked especially appetizing).

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Dragonair Lounge food selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge food selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge food selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge food selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

There was also a coffee machine, as well as a larger selection of wine, liquor, and soft drinks.

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Dragonair Lounge coffee machine selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge liquor selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge buffet Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge juice machine Beijing Airport Terminal 3

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Dragonair Lounge drink selection Beijing Airport Terminal 3

I have three other thoughts on the lounge.

First of all, I couldn’t get the wifi to work. It was the slowest wifi I’ve ever experienced, so was completely useless. Even our pre-paid SIM card was faster.

Second, not only does this lounge not have showers, but it has absolutely gross bathrooms. There was a bathroom attendant, though the single sink in the entire bathroom didn’t work, and the toilets were in gross condition.

Lastly, this lounge must have the most obnoxious boarding calls I’ve ever heard. Rather than announcing over the PA that a flight is departing, an agent walks through the lounge SCREAMING the flight’s departure at the top of her lungs with a small sign. Over and over and over and over. In both English and Mandarin.

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks back to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks back to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks back to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks back to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

*30 second pause as she walks back to the other side of the lounge*

“DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING. DRAGONAIR 901 TO HONG KONG IS NOW BOARDING.”

It took a lot of resistance to not approach her and say “excuse me ma’am, I’m on Dragonair 901. When does that flight board?”

Anyway, at around 12:55PM we headed down to the departure gate, E21.

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American Airlines departure gate E21 Beijing Airport

Within about five minutes boarding was called, though the gate area was packed, as everyone immediately lined up.

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American Airlines departure gate E21 Beijing Airport

We headed down the jet bridge onto the American 777, though there was another security check, given that this is a US bound flight. Every passenger’s bags were searched again, though in the most basic way imaginable. They’d basically open the bag, feel around for two seconds, and close it back up. Sure makes me feel safer.

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American 777-200 Beijing Airport

They were using just one jet bridge to board the plane, though that didn’t stop two people from opening the door to the other jet bridge and walking all the way to the end of it, only to realize it went nowhere. At least these were glass jet bridges, so it made good entertainment for those us in the other jet bridge.

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American 777-200 Beijing Airport

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American 777-200 Beijing Airport

Cathay Pacific and Dragonair Lounge Beijing Airport bottom line

The Beijing Airport experience was much smoother than I was expecting. Immigration and security were quick, and Beijing Airport has beautiful architecture. That being said, other than that I’d cut it as tight as possible when arriving for a flight, especially given the wifi challenges. That being said, that can be tough to do, given how unpredictable Beijing traffic can be.

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Comments

  1. @ Lucky — You forgot to mention how they confiscate your external phone batteries and all your alcohol at the first security checkpoint at PEK…

    JRL

  2. I was there last week and while I did not have issues with the wifi (even video skyped with my husband), I found the chairs to be incredibly uncomfortable — I could feel every spring digging in to my backside (even tried moving to different seats. I had come in on an overnight flight from Bangkok and transfer and immigration was a pain in the arse (especially since they could not get the American Airlines boarding passes to print for over an hour – and of course you can’t get through immigration without a boarding pass). As I was walking from the lounge to the boarding gate (which was quite a walk last Tuesday) I did see signs for showers. But as I was on my way to the gate, it was too late for me.

  3. It is pretty amazing that an airline that has some of the best lounges in the world at its home airport has some of the crappiest at other airports in Asia. Last time I was at BKK, one of the two CX lounges was closed for renovation, and the one – near the G gates, if memory serves – was just like this. Small, uncomfortable, gross looking food. And not only did that one not have showers, it didn’t have a bathroom at all. You had to leave the lounge to use the public facilities. I get the space limitations, but you would think they could do better with the spaces they do have.

  4. totally agree with Neil S.; the CX lounge at SIN is pretty lackluster as well.

    consistently amazed by the mainland chinese variety of gate lice, i.e., complete and utter f-ing chaos. people cutting the lines over and over with no cares, people simply walking up to the boarding door and trying to open it before boarding is even called, etc.

  5. Were the office chairs “real” because they were Herman Miller knockoffs?

    How was that Mainland Chinese wine???

  6. I am going to be flying American Airlines on Friday from ORD-PEK and i just hurt my foot. I have crutched and a wrapped ankle. I have booked economy but i was wondering what you thought the chances of me being upgraded were. I am not looking specifically to get upgraded but it would be nice.
    Thank you

  7. @ Jack — Without status or using miles to upgrade, I’d say very unlikely, unfortunately. Enjoy the trip!

  8. @ JRL — Had that happen today, found it very odd. So minis aren’t allowed through security, or what’s the deal?

  9. @ Lucky — They actually poured out a 3 oz mouthwash in a refillable bottle because they suspected it was booze. Seriously. No alcohol allowed (despite having self-serving booze in the lounge and a full bar on board). As for batteries, I had a $150 mophie battery pack charger confiscated as well for “safety reasons”. And insult to injury I think they sell batteries at duty free in the terminal. Leave it to mainland China to be concerned with product safety… Unreal.

    JRL

  10. Interesting report Lucky!

    In the US, I’ve had flights delayed by 3.5 hours only to change to being only 1.5 hours late because they substituted aircraft. As a result, I never count on the delay, and get to the airport pretty much at arrival time. I also thought I remembered someone getting cut off from checking bags on a delayed flight because the system didn’t allow it (the fact that the flight was delayed wasn’t relevant in this example), but maybe I’m misremembering that. Both of these happened in the US.

    Wasn’t there any risk of that when you arrived after the originally scheduled departure time?

  11. @ beachfan — I wasn’t concerned, given that they didn’t have a plane overnighting in Beijing. That was the only plane it could have been.

  12. Someone at CX must have read your post or the flight announcers are very irregular. I was on this morning’s AA PEK-ORD and the lady came through the lounge holding the sign for the departing flight and saying in such a soft voice it was almost a whisper: “Flight CX123 is now boarding.” As she would say it, she’d turn the sign back and forth while looking deferentially and apologetically at passengers.

  13. I have been to Beijing airport recently as well, however from afar, the ceiling work looks fantastic but up close vertically, its kind of very tacky how all the yellow and red metal works shows and in my opinion the lighting in certain areas is appalling, so I think Beijing did it best on trying to be Hong Kong

  14. China has strict rules about lithium batteries especially in portable power sources. There are signs everywhere and the check in agent will ask you about them. Make sure you have them in your carry on luggage – never check them in.

    Sad to say but this is the best lounge in all of PEK. Don’t get me started on the Air China “lounge” which serves Great Wall piss.

    The free internet at the airport has always been awful – you will need to register a phone number/ID to get access as well.

  15. I do agree that Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3 is architecturally stunning. I was there last year and just like on the streets of Beijing, almost all shops close during nighttime. I think the reason why the PA was shouting is because the announcement was broken. I’ve always been a fan of Cathay Pacific. My favorite lounges are The Wing and The Bridge, loved the noodles at The Wing’s Noodle Bar and dimsum, the best part was the champagne bar with rose champagne. and I can’t wait for the reopening of The Pier. You have to try CX’s new lounge at Manila Airport Terminal 3 :). It had just opened a few days ago and is a huge improvement from their mediocre lounge at Terminal 1 which you reviewed back in 2009. The design is similar to Haneda airport’s CX lounge, and the upcoming Bangkok and Taipei lounges. My friend had tried it two days ago and told me that it already has a Noodle Bar just like at The Wing, and the first and business class sections are already combined. The premium passengers are raving about it. 🙂

  16. I was really surprised at the PEK lounge when I was there last April. I found it disappointing to say the least. I’ve come to the conclusion that CX only invests in the HKG lounges, which are awesome (I’ve been to both business and first). The LHR T3 lounge is uninviting and the one in SIN is also poor. So, I’ll avoid them whenever I can.

  17. The CX lounge in Beijing is in dire need of an uplift.

    The official airport WiFi itself though, is fairly smooth to use.

  18. The China Air First Class lounge gets a good review elsewhere. Have you been there, or just the Business Class version?? (These and a few others are accessible with Priority Pass.)

  19. I am at the Beijing airport right now and was turned away from the security on the other side of the accessible line. Security told me it was only for diplomats now. FYI

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