Introduction: Flying China’s Other 5-Star Airline
Review: Four Points By Sheraton Seattle Airport South
Review: The Club At SEA Seattle Airport
Review: Xiamen Air Business Class 787 Seattle To Shenzhen
Review: St. Regis Shenzhen
Review: Shenzhen Airport Lounge
Review: Xiamen Air First Class 787 Shenzhen To Seattle
Xiamen Air 846
Seattle (SEA) – Shenzhen (SZX)
Friday, September 30
Arrive: 6:15PM (+1 day)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 12D (Business Class)
I boarded through door L2, where I was immediately greeted by two friendly and professional flight attendants. Upon verifying my boarding pass, one of them escorted me to my seat, which was to the left of the entry door.
Xiamen Air is one of only a couple of airlines to offer a first class cabin on their 787-8 aircraft, which consists of a total of four seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration (I’ll be reviewing first class for the return sector, as I managed to upgrade with cash at the airport).
Immediately behind first class and also in front of door L2 were 12 business class seats. Xiamen Air offers pretty standard forward facing fully flat business class seats, in a 2-2-2 configuration. There were a total of 12 seats in this cabin, and then behind door L2 is another row of business class, for a total of 18 seats. The rear cabin feels private, though at the same time everyone walks past you during boarding, so there is something to be said for the forward business class cabin (which is still quite private).
As you can see, each seat had an ottoman in front of it, which becomes part of the bed when the seat is fully reclined.
The bulkhead seats are unique in that the personal television is extended from the center console, rather than being attached to the seat in front (on this plane, 12 of the 18 business class seats have TVs like that, given that only one row is non-bulkhead).
I had assigned myself seat 12D, which was the center aisle seat on the left side in the second row of business class. I chose a seat in the center section so no one would have to climb over me in order to get out of their seat.
At my seat I had a personal television attached to the seat in front of me, and also a coat hook and a small center storage compartment.
Also underneath the ottoman was another storage compartment, which was perfect for storing shoes, a laptop, etc.
The seat controls were located on the center console, and were easy to use.
The entertainment controller was located underneath the center armrest and to the right, though it could also be taken out so that it’s easier to control.
There was also a small bottle holder underneath the center armrest, where there was a small bottle of water waiting for me.
Within moments of settling in, one of the flight attendants came by my seat to introduce herself. She grabbed the slippers underneath my ottoman and placed them by my feet, asking that I take my shoes off so she could place them in the shoe bag. That’s incredible service for business class.
In general I haven’t found service on Chinese carriers to be great, though this crew was exceptional. They were so friendly, competent, charming, and poised.
Moments after the “slipper service,” a flight attendant offered me a hot towel, which was very thin, almost like a paper towel.
Then I was offered a pre-departure beverage, with the choice between champagne and fruit tea.
I selected the champagne, as did my seatmate (he was originally from China but lived in Seattle for 20 years, and was traveling back with his two friends, who were seated across from him).
As boarding continued I was eventually offered an amenity kit, from Crabtree & Evelyn.
The amenity kit was reasonably well stocked, with earplugs, an eye mask, a comb, a toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, lotion, and an iPhone pouch. I found the iPhone pouch especially interesting. It was basically a velvet pouch with strings and the Xiamen logo, that almost looked like a jewelry bag. I had no clue what it was until the flight attendant explained it to me.
I was also presented with headphones for the flight, which were decent quality, though I still used my own, as usual.
The first class cabin stayed empty for most of the boarding process, until a guy finally boarded with a huge entourage, and a lot of shopping bags. Best I could tell there were several Xiamen Air management employees in business class, and he chatted with them for a bit.
My first assumption was that this was Xiamen Air’s president. So I Googled for a picture of Xiamen Air’s president, and sure enough, that was him.
By 1:15PM the main cabin door closed, and within a couple of minutes the welcome aboard announcements were made. As this was done, the flight attendants stood at the front of the cabin and bowed. I love Xiamen Air’s flight attendant uniforms, and also was impressed by how poised the crew was as they stood at the front of the cabin and then bowed.
After that the safety video played, which I found to be hilariously over enunciated.
Then eventually the crew came through the cabin with signs reminding passengers to turn off their electronics (on one hand it seems a bit trashy to walk through a cabin with signs, while on the other hand I guess it’s quite effective).
By the way, I should also mention that on Xiamen Air passengers had no issues using their cell phone throughout the flight when in airplane mode. At least in the past this was banned by the Chinese aviation authority, so I’m not sure if that has changed, or what.
At 1:20PM we began our pushback, and taxied out to runway 16L, which is on the opposite side of the airport. Since I was in the center section I couldn’t really see out the window, but by 1:40PM we began our takeoff roll.
Our climb out was smooth, and five minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off, at which point the crew closed the curtains between cabins.
After that I decided to browse the personal television selection. I started by looking at the airshow, which had various perspectives from which you could view the progress of the flight.
I sort of wish I had a window view, since the views as you depart Seattle and fly North up the coast are stunning.
I also then browsed the entertainment selection.
The movie selection was decent enough. There were about 40 titles from which to choose, though for the most part the movies didn’t appeal to me.
There were also some TV shows, though those were especially bad. There were no western sitcoms, and the only comedy choice I considered was “Just For Laughs.”
The good news is that Xiamen Air offers wifi on their 787s, and it’s free. Not all 787s have wifi yet — I thought they did, but learned the hard way on the return flight, when I found out that plane didn’t. However, I believe most of them do.
To log into the wifi you just need to enter your seat number and the last six digits of your ID (I entered my passport number, and it worked, though I’m not sure if there was actually any validation).
Then you also needed to enter a verification code. This is a bit puzzling, since you have to ask the crew for it. They generate a unique code for each passenger.
With that I was able to log-in and stay connected to the wifi for the entire flight. While the system was by no means high speed, the quality was decent enough, especially when you consider that it’s free. With the exception of JetBlue, it was probably the fastest free wifi I’ve ever had.
After takeoff the flight attendants distributed pajamas. They came in plastic packaging, though the flight attendants offered to unwrap them for each passenger. It’s impressive that they offer these in business class, though I was a bit surprised the flight attendant gave me XXL pajamas.
The pajamas were decent quality, though a bit too big for me, as I expected.
Also after takeoff I was offered a light blanket in addition to the pillow that was at my seat during boarding.
Later in the flight I was offered a thick blanket when I was ready to sleep, which was extremely comfortable.
I also briefly checked out the business class lavatories. There were two of them located between the business class cabins, and they were pretty standard for a 787. One thing I found odd is that they didn’t have paper towels in the lavatory, but rather only had tissues. However, every time I emerged from the lavatory a flight attendant would be standing outside to offer me a hot towel, which I found… interesting.
One of the other cool things was that the lavatories had windows. Given that the cabin windows were dimmed throughout the flight, this was a nice way to occasionally get some natural light and check out the views.
About 20 minutes after takeoff meal orders were taken. I hadn’t realized that there was a menu in the seat’s literature pocket since boarding, so I was caught off guard when I was asked what I wanted to eat.
The menu read as follows:
The drink list read as follows:
About 30 minutes after takeoff the captain came on the PA to advise us of our flight time of 13hr30min, and that he anticipated a mostly smooth flight.
It took a while after takeoff for the crew to get everything set up, and finally about an hour into the flight the crew served drinks and mixed nuts, along with offering warm towels. I ordered a glass of champagne, which was a very nice Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut.
About 20 minutes later the crew distributed the appetizer and salad tray.
The salad was fairly plain, though had tasty and crunchy croutons.
Meanwhile the peppered beef appetizer was quite flavorful.
I was also offered two types of bread.
While Xiamen Air’s business class catering is all on trays, it’s interesting that they offer a new tray with each course. In other words, once my salad and appetizer were cleared that tray was taken, and then I was brought another tray with the main course and soup.
I had ordered the ginseng chicken soup, which was extremely flavorful.
Then I ordered the stir-fried lobster tail with vegetables, which was incredible. Again, it was extremely flavorful.
After the main course was finished, I was brought another tray with fruit and dessert.
The fruit plate consisted of a few types of melon, pineapple, and strawberry.
I was also offered a refreshing lime tart.
After that was cleared, I was offered Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream as well.
I was also offered coffee. Unfortunately they didn’t have cappuccinos, but the coffee itself was decent.
The entire meal service took a bit over two hours, and overall I was extremely impressed by the quality of the food and the friendliness of the crew, both of which greatly exceeded my expectations.
I worked for a bit on my laptop, and soon enough we were already over Anchorage.
I decided to work for a few more hours. Maybe three hours after lunch a flight attendant proactively brought me a vanilla latte in a Starbucks cup, which I thought was cute.
When I went to the galley I saw that they had packages of Starbucks Via instant vanilla lattes set up on a galley cart. I’m not sure if this is a standard offering, or just something to celebrate the launch of their Seattle flight.
I was also offered more bottled water throughout the flight. I appreciated that they had lots of bottled water, as some airlines only load one bottle per person.
With about five hours to go to Shenzhen, I was quite tired and decided to try to nap. Unfortunately that was unsuccessful, as the cabin was so noisy. Despite the intimate cabin of just 12 seats, there were multiple parties having loud conversations, and also a couple of people (including my seatmate) playing games on their cell phones without muting the sound.
I still stayed in the horizontal position for a couple of hours, and I got a bit of rest.
The crew was so attentive throughout the flight, and came through the cabin every few minutes to see if anyone wanted anything.
A bit over three hours before landing the crew turned on the cabin lights in preparation for the pre-landing meal.
The pre-arrival menu read as follows:
While meal orders were taken three hours before landing, the actual meal service only began about 45 minutes later.
Service once again began with hot towels.
That was followed by a tray with a salad, appetizer, and piece of garlic bread.
The salad consisted of walnuts, cucumbers, and dried cranberries.
The starter had cajun chicken and king crab, and was excellent.
While a bit soggy, the garlic bread was still quite good.
After the appetizer and salad tray was cleared, I was brought the main course tray.
I decided to mix things up and order the creamy tomato soup.
Then I had the stir fried shrimp with vegetables and Szechuan sauce, which was excellent.
That was served with a side of fried noodles.
After that tray was cleared, I was brought a tray with fruit and a chocolate cake.
The fruit was tasty, and I appreciated that the selection was somewhat different than the fruit served with the first meal.
The chocolate cake was much bigger than it looked, and had a soft center.
After that I was also offered some Chobani yogurt, ,though I was full at that point. Much like with the first meal, I was very impressed.
After the meal I decided to watch a couple of episodes of “Just For Laughs,” given that I was tired at this point, and couldn’t really think anymore.
Xiamen Air’s president came to business class to talk to some of his colleagues who were seated in the bulkhead row. He had stayed in first class for the entire flight, so naturally once he came to business class the crew was nervous as could be, and they all stood there seeing if they could get him anything (in fairness, they had been attentive to everyone throughout the flight).
Finally at around 5:50PM Shenzhen time, the captain came on the PA to provide us with updated arrival information, and informed us we may have to enter a holding pattern for a short while. Sure enough we did enter one for about 10 minutes. At this point the crew began preparing the cabin for arrival, including once again walking through the cabin with the “no electronics” signs.
Finally at 6:20PM we touched down in Shenzhen. As we touched down I heard one guy clapping and cheering loudly, and then realized it was the company’s president. Not surprisingly, others followed his lead.
Our taxi to the arrival gate took about 10 minute. They were deplaning through door L2, so they brought the president to the very front of the plane. However, he saw that the captain had emerged from the cockpit, so he yelled “Tommy” and seemed to congratulate him on the good job he did flying, to the point that he gave him a noogie.
The president had one of the most impressive welcoming committees I’ve ever seen. I was the second person off the plane, and below is what the jet bridge looked like as I walked off. Of course there was a special car waiting for him.
Fortunately it was just a short walk to immigration, where there was no queue. Within about 15 minutes I was in a car to the St. Regis Shenzhen.
Xiamen Air business class bottom line
Xiamen Air very nicely exceeded my expectations. Let’s start with the negative, which is the hard product. It’s perfectly fine, but for a longhaul flight it would be nice to have direct aisle access from every seat, and not to have a seatmate.
However, everything else about the flight impressed me, from the friendly crew to the excellent food to the free wifi. As far as I’m concerned, Xiamen is on the same level as Hainan, which is a Skytrax 5-star airline.
In the past I’ve said that “business class is all about the hard product,” and I still generally believe that. However, I’d take Xiamen or Hainan business class over China Eastern’s reverse herringbone business class any day, given how pathetic their service is.
Too bad there’s not yet a Chinese airline with the service of Xiamen or Hainan and the hard product of China Eastern.
All things considered I’d highly recommend Xiamen Air, though.