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
I got to Shenzhen Airport at around 9:30AM for my 12:45PM flight to Seattle. I arrived extra early because I wanted to pay to upgrade to first class, which is offered on a first come first serve basis.
The Shenzhen Airport terminal exterior is super impressive. While a lot of major Chinese airports are impressive architecturally, this airport takes the cake.
The mesmerizing architecture continued inside — Shenzhen Airport has the most jaw-dropped terminal I’ve ever seen.
Entering the airport was interesting, as everyone’s hands were swabbed (presumably for explosives). Basically there was one main entrance where passengers could enter a “holding pen.” Everyone’s hands were swabbed (a few dozen passengers at a time), and then once a check was run on the swabbing device, everyone was cleared.
Inside the terminal I was surprised by the number of police officers in golf carts. There seemed to be 4-6 armed officers per golf cart, and there were riot-style shields resting against the back of the golf carts. It was clear the carts didn’t actually drive around, but rather that they just stood there. The officers sitting in them looked super bored, and struggled to stay awake from the looks of it. There must have been a dozen of these golf carts throughout the check-in area. I’ve never seen anything like this at a Chinese airport, so does anyone know if Shenzhen Airport has a special security theater initiative, or…?
Anyway, Xiamen Air’s check-in counter was located in row “E,” though upon arriving there I realized that check-in only opened at 9:45AM. So I roamed the terminal for a bit. A guy approached me and tried to sell me an iPhone. When I politely declined he walked away and then returned five minutes later and tried to sell it to me again at a lower price. I don’t think he understood that I didn’t need one.
Finally at 9:45AM check-in opened, and I was the first in line at the business class counter.
I wrote a separate post about my experience requesting a paid upgrade at the airport, which was quite an experience. Xiamen Air has a published upgrade program on a space available basis on the day of departure.
If my experience is indicative of the normal procedure:
- Expect the check-in agents to be confused about the program at first
- Expect to have to go to the ticketing desk (rather than the check-in desk) to have the upgrade processed
- Expect for the process to take a while
- Expect that you’ll have to pay for the upgrade in cash (like, crisp bills, and not with a credit card)
I won’t talk more about the process here, though check out my previous post for more details. 30+ minutes and $450 later, I had a confirmed seat in first class.
The agent handed me my boarding pass and lounge invitation, and I guess that was slightly lost in translation, because when she handed me those things she said “here is your boarding pass and restroom invitation.” Hah!
At that point I headed towards departure immigration and security, both of which were painless despite there only being one line. Shenzhen Airport is so much more peaceful than Beijing Airport or Shanghai Airport, which I guess shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Within about 10 minutes I was through both immigration and security, and then I turned right and followed the signage towards gate 9, where my flight would be departing from.
That was the first gate after entering the terminal and walking right, and the lounge I was entitled to use was located immediately across from it.
Xiamen Air uses the Shenzhen Airport Joyee First & Business Class Lounge, which seems to be contracted out to many airlines.
Upon presenting my lounge invitation I was welcomed in and informed of the password for the wifi.
Inside the lounge and to the right were about two dozen leather chairs.
At the end of that room and to the left was another long room, with many more red chairs in a similar configuration.
While the furniture in the lounge was fine, it amazes me how consistently crappy lounges in China are, even in airports as nice as this one. You have a beautiful, spacious, open-air terminal, while this lounge has no natural light and feels like it was built as an afterthought.
The food selection was located near the entrance, and was spread across three counters.
There were instant noodles, dim sum, cereal, pastries, muffins, packaged snacks, whole fruit, toast, cookies, etc.
Then there were soft drinks, water, juice, etc. It’s entirely possible I missed something, but I didn’t see any alcohol.
The lounge’s restroom was located back near the entrance and to the left, and was decent enough.
I had a seat in the lounge, and a couple of minutes later the attendant came up to me and invited me to the first class section of the lounge, apologizing that she hadn’t done so earlier. The entrance to the first class lounge was located just inside the entrance and to the right, with the entrance being between the buffet area and the seating in the business class lounge.
In addition to the sign, there was a partition used to separate it from the rest of the lounge.
While the business class lounge consisted of two long and narrow rooms, the first class lounge was basically one big square room.
Back near the entrance of the first class lounge were some booths, which had PCs.
There was also a small snack selection in the first class lounge, though that was just a sub-set of the business class selection. This included cookies in a jar as well as some packaged snacks. There were also a couple of bottles of wine — perhaps that’s what makes the first class lounge unique?
Next to that was a display with magazines and newspapers.
My one annoyance with the first class lounge was that there was a TV turned to a high volume. This is one of my biggest lounge pet peeves. It’s one thing if a lounge has a dedicated TV room, but otherwise TVs in lounges should always be on mute, in my opinion. What are the odds that a majority of the people in a lounge want to watch whatever is being shown?
The wifi in the lounge was reasonably functional, so I spent a bit of time getting caught up on work. Eventually a few other people joined me in the first class section.
I decided to head to the departure gate at 11:45AM, given that I was hoping to be among the first to board. As mentioned above, the departure gate was right across from the lounge.
The Xiamen Air 787 was already at the gate, having just arrived from Xiamen.
While boarding was scheduled for 12:15PM, it actually started at 12PM. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to board, though. At Shenzhen Airport, Xiamen Air first boards the transit passengers who were coming from Xiamen, and then once all those passengers are accounted for they begin boarding passengers starting their journey in Shenzhen. The flight was fairly full, and about 80% of the passengers seemed to be coming from Xiamen.
Finally at around 12:20PM boarding began for passengers originating their travels in Shenzhen.
Shenzhen Airport Lounge bottom line
Shenzhen Airport as such is architecturally beautiful and easy to navigate, though the lounge left a bit to be desired. While it was fine compared to some other lounges I’ve visited in China, I thought the terminal was much nicer than the lounge itself. So if you’re just hoping to get work done then the lounge isn’t a bad place to kill some time, though otherwise I certainly wouldn’t arrive early to use it.
Perhaps the most “interesting” part of the airport experience was the process of upgrading to first class.