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 845
Shenzhen (SZX) – Seattle (SEA)
Monday, October 3
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 1K (First Class)
I boarded through door L2, where I was greeted by a flight attendant and escorted to the first class cabin. After crossing the aisle and walking through two rows of business class, I found myself in the first class cabin.
Xiamen Air’s first class cabin is quite intimate, with just one row of seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration. The other three first class seats were already occupied, presumably by transit passengers. This surprised me a bit, given that I was the only passenger on the seatmap just shortly before the flight. They all seemed to know one another, so I’m not sure if they were employees, also paid to upgrade, got operational upgrades, or what.
Xiamen Air’s 787 first class hard product is a significant improvement over business class, though certainly not to the level of many top first class products. All the first class seats are fully flat and feature direct aisle access, though it would be nice if there were some partitions, as there’s not much privacy between seats. The product is identical to what China Southern has on their A330s.
The seat’s controls were located on the left armrest, and were easy to use.
Then on the right side of the seat was a big open storage area, with the entertainment controls, USB outlet, headphone jack, and even the headphones. I was impressed that the headphones were still in their case while also already being plugged in.
The first class seat had the ottoman in front of it, and beneath it was a huge storage compartment.
Then at the front right of the seat was a 110v outlet.
There was also a pillow & blanket waiting on my seat, though later in the flight there was a proper turndown service and a thicker blanket when it was time to sleep.
I was impressed by the crew on the outbound flight, though wondered if it had to do with the fact that the company’s president was onboard. Well, it didn’t, because the first class crew on this flight was incredible, even better than the crew on the previous flight.
Literally a minute after I settled in one of the flight attendants came up to my seat with a big smile and introduced herself. She asked if she could help me put on slippers. I said “sure,” thinking she’d hand me slippers. Nope.
She opened the shoe bag, placed the slippers by my feet, took off my shoes for me, and then put the slippers on my feet. Damn…
She then asked if she could get me something to drink. I requested some champagne, which she served moments later with a warm towel. She offered several champagne refills through the boarding process.
She also presented me with an amenity kit, which was identical to the one I was offered in business class on the flight out.
In this instance she specifically removed the iPhone pouch from the amenity kit, and explained what purpose it served. I thought that was a nice touch, since on the outbound I initially had no clue what it was.
She also offered me pajamas for the flight, which were identical to the ones in business class on the outbound flight.
I was also presented the menu and wine list for the flight. Once again, they looked virtually identical to the ones in business class, so I was a bit confused by the lack of differentiation in the soft product.
I have to emphasize again how incredible the crew was. I felt like I was on a Japanese airline in terms of the level of service. The crew was attentive and poised like I’ve never before seen on a Chinese carrier.
At around 12:30PM the captain came on the PA to add his welcome aboard, and inform us of our flight time of 11hr50min.
At around 12:45PM the cabin door closed, and then a few minutes later we began our pushback, at which point the safety video was screened.
I looked out the window throughout the taxi, espescially as there was a special livery Hainan 787-9 parked next to us.
The Shenzhen Airport terminal is impressive from the outside as well, and not just from the inside. However, as impressive as the airport is, there were a lot fewer planes than I’m used to at the airports in Beijing and Shanghai.
We taxied out to runway 33, which took a bit over 10 minutes.
By 1:05PM we were cleared for takeoff.
I enjoyed the views on the climb out, as I didn’t have a window seat when I was arriving in Shenzhen, and it was also nighttime. So it was cool to see the city by day from above.
Less than five minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off, though there was still a bit of chop as we climbed through a layer of clouds.
The curtains between the cabin and galley were closed. With closed curtains, the cabin almost felt a bit claustrophobic, given that it’s just one row.
I quickly visited the lavatory, located in front of the cabin by the cockpit. It was pretty no frills, other than the flower by the mirror.
I had planned on working for most of the flight, though was sad to see that this plane didn’t have wifi. I was under the impression that all of Xiamen Air’s 787s have wifi, though it seems like there are a couple on which they haven’t yet installed it.
Given that I wouldn’t be as productive as I was hoping, I decided to browse the entertainment selection. I have no self respect when it comes to movies, so I watched Evan Almighty (which, in fairness, had a better plot than “Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates” starring Zac Efron — oh wait, now I remember why I watched that movie).
Just 15 minutes after takeoff, the crew came around to take meal orders. The menu read as follows:
The drink menu read as follows:
Okay, I was a bit confused at this point. The amenity kits and pajamas are the same in business and first, and the menu looked identical as well. Does Xiamen Air do nothing to differentiate their soft product? Well, it seems that the differentiation came in the form of how the food was served and presented.
To start I was offered a drink and warm towel. I just ordered a glass of water.
After that my table was set with great precision. While they use trays in business class, in first class they serve directly on the tray table.
I was offered a salad, soup, and starter.
That was served with a selection of bread, including a croissant, roll, and garlic read.
The vegetable salad was a rather odd mix, though still decent.
Then there was an appetizer with salmon, pickled turnips, and sliced pork.
Then there was also a (surprisingly good) borscht.
For the main course I ordered the baked cod, which was surprisingly very good, as strange as the combination of cod, veggies, and spaghetti on a Chinese airline sounded.
My lovely flight attendant insisted that I also had to try the duck soup, because it was “very yummy.”
After that was cleared, dessert was served. This consisted of a rather elaborate fruit plate, as well as some chocolate cake.
I was also offered vanilla ice cream.
The meal service was at a customized pace, and was finished less than 90 minutes after takeoff. While Xiamen Air doesn’t do much to differentiate their first class soft product, the reality is that Xiamen Air has very good catering for a Chinese carrier, regardless of whether we’re talking first or business class.
Really the soft product was elevated thanks to the excellent flight attendants serving me. They were constantly smiling, so poised and professional, and just all around extremely pleasant. Beyond that, they seemed incredibly proud and invested in the product they were offering, and always wanted me to try more, asked how each course was, etc. It was by far the best service I’ve ever had on a Chinese carrier.
With around 10 hours remaining to Seattle I decided it was time to sleep, given that I didn’t have wifi. I had one quick look out the window, and then asked the flight attendants to make up my bed.
I quickly went to the lavatory, and when I returned the flight attendant was still making my bed, and she did so with great care.
As she finished up she said “I have a secret for you.”
“Hmmm, what’s that?”
“This card will allow you to have a better sleep.”
Okay, I think something was slightly lost in translation there, but anyway she left a scented card on my pillow that really did have a soothing scent, and was nice to fall asleep with.
I slept exceptionally well (probably largely because I was very tired), and woke up about three hours out of Seattle (as we were over Alaska). While the other passengers were wide awake when I went to sleep, they were asleep at this point, so I could finally get my first cabin picture.
Within moments of waking up I was proactively offered an orange juice and a hot towel, and asked if I wanted anything else to drink.
I ordered a cappuccino, which came with a beautiful flower shape on it.
Later I ordered another one, which came with a cute face on it.
The flight attendant told me to let her know when I wanted to eat, so about two hours before landing I decided to have my pre-arrival meal.
The menu read as follows:
Interestingly the pre-landing meal wasn’t a traditional breakfast service as is the norm on these types of flights. Rather it was more like lunch or dinner.
Once again my table was set, and then I was served a salad and appetizer.
This consisted of a crabmeat salad, with a small cup of nuts (odd presentation, eh?).
I was also offered a flavorful cream of mushroom soup.
Lastly, there was a plate with three types of bread.
While I was planning on ordering the fried noodle dish, they were unfortunately out of it, so I instead had the dim sum selection.
I ordered the minestrone stew on the side.
However, they also insisted I try the oatmeal with peeled prawns. I love prawns and I love oatmeal, but the combo isn’t something I’d order in the future. 😉
Then for dessert I was served another fruit plate.
I was also offered yogurt, though declined given that I was (more than) full at that point.
I worked for a bit longer, and then eventually we were approaching Vancouver, just nearing the beginning of our descent.
Around that point the captain came on the PA to provide us with updated arrival information, informing us that we should land at around 9:40AM.
The purser came around to ask how everything was, and I couldn’t help but mention how impressed I was by both of the flight attendants serving me. They both came back to thank me for the kind words, and then also presented me with two adorable stuffed animals that look like Xiamen Air flight attendants. How cute is that?!
About 20 minutes before landing the crew began preparing the cabin for arrival.
My eyes were of course glued out the window, given how gorgeous this part of North America is.
We even got great views of the Seattle skyline as we came in for our approach.
Finally at 9:40AM we had a smooth touchdown at SeaTac Airport on runway 16L.
From there it was a very short taxi to our arrival gate (below you’ll notice the Icelandair 757, which is always on the ground in Seattle). Within five minutes we arrived at the “A” concourse, where we parked next to a Delta 767.
I bid farewell to the crew, and by 9:55AM found myself on the outside roadway of the airport, having cleared customs and immigration quickly thanks to Global Entry.
Xiamen Air first class bottom line
The service in Xiamen Air first class was exceptional, easily the best I’ve had in first class on any Chinese airline. The two flight attendants taking care of me just couldn’t have been more lovely. It was nice to see that good service wasn’t just limited to the outbound flight, when the company’s president was onboard.
At the same time, it sure would be nice if they did something to further differentiate the first class soft product. The food, drinks, and amenities are virtually identical in first and business class.
I paid ~$450 to upgrade, which is ultimately a very reasonable price for a transpacific upgrade. Was that worth it? Certainly not for the soft product, though many will find it worthwhile for the added personal space and not having to sit next to someone else.
Big picture, though, Xiamen Air was a very pleasant surprise. The Xiamen Air experience is very similar to what you’ll find on Hainan, which is generally regarded as China’s best airline. I’d fly Xiamen Air again in a heartbeat, and would recommend them without hesitation.