Review: Xiamen Air First Class 787 Shenzhen To Seattle

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
Depart: 12:45PM
Arrive: 10:25AM
Duration: 12hr40min
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.

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat

The seat’s controls were located on the left armrest, and were easy to use.

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat controls

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.

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat storage

The first class seat had the ottoman in front of it, and beneath it was a huge storage compartment.

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat storage

Then at the front right of the seat was a 110v outlet.

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Xiamen Air 787 first class seat power 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.

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Xiamen Air first class pillow & blanket

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…

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Xiamen Air slippers

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.

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Xiamen Air first class champagne & warm towel

She also presented me with an amenity kit, which was identical to the one I was offered in business class on the flight out.

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Xiamen Air premium cabin amenity kit

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.

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Xiamen Air iPhone bag

She also offered me pajamas for the flight, which were identical to the ones in business class on the outbound flight.

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Xiamen Air first class pajamas

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.

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Xiamen Air first class menu & wine list

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.

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Hainan 787-9 Shenzhen Airport

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.

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Pushing back Shenzhen Airport

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Taxiing Shenzhen Airport

We taxied out to runway 33, which took a bit over 10 minutes.

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Taxiing Shenzhen Airport

By 1:05PM we were cleared for takeoff.

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Taxiing Shenzhen Airport

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.

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View after takeoff from Shenzhen Airport

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View after takeoff from Shenzhen Airport

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View after takeoff from Shenzhen Airport

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.

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View after takeoff from Shenzhen Airport

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.

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First class curtain closed after takoeff

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.

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Xiamen Air first class lavatory 787

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Xiamen Air first class lavatory 787

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).

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Xiamen Air entertainment selection

Just 15 minutes after takeoff, the crew came around to take meal orders. The menu read as follows:

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The drink menu read as follows:

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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.

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Xiamen Air first class — water and warm towel

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.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch table setting

I was offered a salad, soup, and starter.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch starter

That was served with a selection of bread, including a croissant, roll, and garlic read.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch bread — croissant, roll, and garlic bread

The vegetable salad was a rather odd mix, though still decent.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch — vegetable salad

Then there was an appetizer with salmon, pickled turnips, and sliced pork.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch — salmon, pickled turnips, and sliced pork

Then there was also a (surprisingly good) borscht.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch soup — 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.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch main course — baked cod

My lovely flight attendant insisted that I also had to try the duck soup, because it was “very yummy.”

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Xiamen Air first class lunch soup — duck soup

After that was cleared, dessert was served. This consisted of a rather elaborate fruit plate, as well as some chocolate cake.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch dessert — fresh fruit

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Xiamen Air first class lunch dessert — chocolate cake

I was also offered vanilla ice cream.

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Xiamen Air first class lunch dessert — Haagen-Dazs 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.

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View enroute to Seattle

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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.

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Xiamen Air first class bed turndown service

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Xiamen Air first class bed turndown service

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.

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Xiamen Air first class scent with turndown service

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.

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Xiamen Air first class cabin

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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Airshow enroute to Seattle

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.

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Xiamen Air first class orange juice and warm towel

I ordered a cappuccino, which came with a beautiful flower shape on it.

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Xiamen Air first class cappuccino

Later I ordered another one, which came with a cute face on it.

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Xiamen Air first class cappuccino

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:

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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.

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Xiamen Air first class meal starter

This consisted of a crabmeat salad, with a small cup of nuts (odd presentation, eh?).

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Xiamen Air first class meal — crabmeat salad

I was also offered a flavorful cream of mushroom soup.

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Xiamen Air first class meal — cream of mushroom soup

Lastly, there was a plate with three types of bread.

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Xiamen Air first class meal — bread selection

While I was planning on ordering the fried noodle dish, they were unfortunately out of it, so I instead had the dim sum selection.

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Xiamen Air first class meal main course — dim sum selection

I ordered the minestrone stew on the side.

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Xiamen Air first class meal soup — minestrone stew

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. 😉

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Xiamen Air first class meal soup — oatmeal with peeled prawns

Then for dessert I was served another fruit plate.

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Xiamen Air first class meal dessert — fresh fruit

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.

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Airshow approaching Seattle

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Airshow approaching Seattle

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Airshow approaching Seattle

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?!

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Xiamen Air flight attendant teddy bears

About 20 minutes before landing the crew began preparing the cabin for arrival.

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Airshow approaching Seattle

My eyes were of course glued out the window, given how gorgeous this part of North America is.

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View approaching Seattle

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View approaching Seattle

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View approaching Seattle

We even got great views of the Seattle skyline as we came in for our approach.

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Downtown Seattle

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Downtown Seattle

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Downtown Seattle

Finally at 9:40AM we had a smooth touchdown at SeaTac Airport on runway 16L.

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View on final approach to SeaTac Airport

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View on final approach to SeaTac Airport

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Taxiing Seattle Airport

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.

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Taxiing Seattle Airport

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Delta 767 Seattle Airport

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.

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About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. @ Tonco — Did I mess something up? Since it’s an eastbound flight from Asia, the flight lands the same day it departs.

  2. @Tonco : it’s not +1 because you flew east over the international date line, so it arrives the same day, a few hours earlier.

  3. Sounds pretty great! Have you ever looked into whether they’ll release award seats that are bookable with KE Skypass?

    Would also love to see you review CA F at some point as well.

  4. Hey Ben,

    Great review, although not sure if I am sold on the difference between J/F here. I feel like i would pay the lesser upgrade fare to go business vs first since the product looks no different other than privacy.

    I just did LGW-POS in Business with a seatmate and thats at 10hr flight and it wasnt bad, I feel like if im going to shell out for F, then I want a Qatar style F, not J with a bit more room? Hope im making sense lol!

    Anyways great review!

  5. I doubt that the congee was actually “oatmeal” – more likely a mistranslation Congee is usually rice porridge.

    And congee with dim sum actually would be a nice brunch in China. So, in a way, there’s your “brunch” service.

  6. OK….I am sure Ben is not agoraphobic, or he would not travel so much. And I’m guessing he is not a germaphobe.

    But for flicking sakes …. 🙂 …. is there anyone who travel so much who is any more worried about privacy? Even in the old days at FT, he was known for eschewing (or disparaging) cabins that did not cocoon the passenger from the rest of humanity (or, at least, the other 300 people on the plane). In this thread, as in many of his post, he bemoans the lack of privacy–on a plane??? In this post, seated in a traditional pod, with only 3 passengers and a few crew around him in the entire F cabin, he laments the lack of partitions.

    In several of his posts about hotels, he has written that it makes him squeamish to sleep in a bed that other strangers have slept in — or performed even more personal acts than sleep — just a few hours before his check in. Ahhhh….isn’t that the whole idea of a hotel?

    OK….I’m off my soap box. I’ve quit rolling my eyes. Now, if Ben would do the same. 🙂

  7. Not to worry ….. I do that often, too. I never take myself too seriously and love self-deprecating humor!

  8. @lucky maybe they are trying to be fancy on the menu but those are definitely not spaghetti but rather linguine (and not linguini as in the US, ask Tiffany) or bavette!

  9. Umm, that’s not crab meat – it’s surimi, which is imitation crab meat made from fish/meat by-products. It’s quite literally the cheapest, nastiest ‘seafood’ product around. For a first-class offering, that’s really poor form.

    You can a buy metric ton of it on Alibaba for almost the same price as your paid upgrade.

  10. It may be the writer was referring to physical barriers that provide privacy while working and safeguarding information being read or typed.

  11. @ralphino +1

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. Fake crab is absolutely embarrassing in any premium cabin. It’s like when the waiter/waittress in a sushi joint says their “daily special” contains that crap.

  12. I’ve never flown in a 787. First time I’ve noticed in some of these photos that the windows look tinted and yet you can still see clouds. I understand the planes don’t hve shades, is this an example of dark as it gets during daytime using the dimmer function? Later photos the window looks quite black which I assume is night time.

  13. Forgive me, but the dude is trying. And I wish him well. Some of these comments are kinda out-of-line, he is entitled to an opinion – and whilst sometime ‘quirky’, I hope they come from the best of intention.
    As I’m sure anyone would, give him kudos for being someone who is sufficiently interesting (and informed), we read the reviews 🙂
    All good. Happy Sunday (from Sydney NSW).

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