Good evening from Shenzhen! I just flew Xiamen Air’s new flight between Seattle and Shenzhen, which just completed its first week of service. Xiamen Air has incredible business class fares between Seattle and Shenzhen, so I was keen to check the airline out.
I’ll have a detailed trip report soon, though as usual I wanted to share my initial impressions. To cut to the chase, Xiamen Air reminded me a lot of Hainan, which is a Skytrax 5-star airline and almost universally regarded as the best airline from mainland China.
Xiamen Air’s 787 business class cabin is intimate, with just 18 seats. These seats are spread across three rows in a 2-2-2 configuration, with two rows in the forward cabin, and then a single row in the rear cabin. The seats are fully flat, though unfortunately Xiamen Air didn’t go with a reverse herringbone or Apex Suite configuration, which are significantly more comfortable. Instead they have the same seat that Hainan and LOT have on their 787s.
On the plus side, the soft product on the flight was spectacular, if not extremely quirky.
The food was great, much better than I was expecting. I’d say it wasn’t quite as good as Hainan’s food, but very close. With every course they’d remove the entire tray and then bring out a new tray altogether. The food tasted better than it looks below, and the pre-landing meal was just as extensive as the one after takeoff.
One interesting circumstance of this flight was that the airline’s president was onboard in first class. I think a lot of executives flew out to Seattle on the inaugural flight on Monday, and have been on an extended shopping trip (based on the number of shopping bags they brought on the plane). Therefore I suspect the crew was on their best behavior.
Even so, I’d still give them high marks even if this was their best behavior. The crew was charming, engaging, and ridiculously attentive. The CEO was on the other side of the curtain the whole flight, so it’s not like he was watching. Furthermore, ultimately there’s only so much you can fake. What remains to be seen is whether this was a “special” crew, or whether it was just a normal crew on their best behavior. Regardless, I was very impressed by the service.
Xiamen Air also offers free wifi for all passengers, which is extremely rare. Best of all, the wifi was actually pretty fast (at least until we approached China), which surprised me.
Speaking of wifi, remember how a while back I wrote about the ridiculous policy in China banning the use of cell phones in-flight (even in airplane mode)? Well, that rule doesn’t apply on Xiamen, and now I get why they have that rule. CAN THEY PLEASE BAN CELL PHONES AGAIN? Literally the entire flight there were passengers playing video games and watching videos with sound on their cell phones without headphones. Because there was wifi, people would send audio clips and do voice-to-text. And as anyone who has been to China knows, “inside voices” aren’t really a thing there…
As far as the inflight entertainment system goes, the movie selection was pretty good, while the TV selection was horrible. That being said, inflight entertainment is the amenity I care least about.
Xiamen Air offers amenity kits and pajamas in business class, and when you’re ready to sleep they offer a thick blanket and two pillows, which helped to get comfortable, even with the limited privacy the seats afford.
Then there were aspects of the service that were quirky. For example, before takeoff the crew came through the cabin holding signs telling people to turn off their electronics (which is actually sort of smart, I’ve just never seen it before).
Midflight the crew proactively started bringing people powdered vanilla lattes in Starbucks cups. When I went to the galley, I saw that they had a setup displaying these. Is this some sort of cross-promotion, is it in the duty free catalogue and they’re trying to sell them, or…?
The CEO also added some interesting quirks to the flight. When we landed he clapped loudly, and then everyone else joined in as well. When it came time to deplane, I’ve never seen a welcome committee quite like what he had. There were probably two dozen people waiting on the jet bridge for him.
Overall I was very impressed by Xiamen Air’s soft product. I wasn’t expecting Xiamen Air to be as good as Hainan, but it was. The service and food were great, and the fact that they have free wifi for everyone is a competitive advantage they have over Hainan.
It’s just unfortunate that the two Chinese carriers with the best soft product also have among the worst hard product. If Hainan or Xiamen had reverse herringbone seats or Apex Suites in business class, they could compete with any of the world’s best airlines.
Regardless, overall I highly recommend Xiamen Air — their soft product greatly exceeded my expectations. Now I’m just curious to see how service is on the return, without the president onboard.