Review: Air China Business Class 737 Beijing To Ulaanbaatar

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Air China 901
Beijing (PEK) – Ulaanbaatar (ULN)
Friday, July 14
Depart: 8:35AM
Arrive: 10:50AM
Duration: 2hr15min
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 3L (Business Class)

At the door I was greeted by the purser and one of the business class flight attendants, and escorted to my seat. This version of the 737 has 12 business class seats, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration.


Air China 737 cabin

Much like on their longhaul planes, the business class seats are purple. Hmmm… okay.


Air China 737 business class cabin

Legroom in business class was generous, and felt better than what I’m used to in the US. SeatGuru suggests that there’s 38″ of seat pitch, though it felt like a bit more to me.


Air China 737 business class seats

I also quickly peeked into the economy cabin, which looked pretty standard for a 737.


Air China 737 economy class seats

I had assigned myself seat 3L, the window seat on the right side in the last row of business class.


Air China 737 business class legroom

Unfortunately there was an empty bottle of water and a wrapper in the seatback pocket in front of me — there’s certainly room for improvement on the cleaning front.


Air China business class trash in seat

On the right side of my seat were the seat controls, which were manual and easy to use.


Air China business class seat controls

Underneath the center armrest were two power outlets — one for each seat.


Air China business class power outlet

Already waiting at my seat on boarding was a purple pillow and an orange blanket. I was happy that they had a pillow & blanket at all on a short flight, given how many airlines don’t nowadays. However, I didn’t get the sense that they had been cleaned anytime recently.


Air China business class pillow & blanket

Also at my seat were a pair of basic headphones, which I’d expect in economy and not business class.


Air China business class headphones

A few minutes after settling in, the purser came by my seat to introduce herself by name, welcome me onboard, and offer me a hot towel.


Air China business class warm towel

I was also offered a pre-departure drink, with the choice between water and orange juice.


Air China business class pre-departure water

I was then brought a pair of slippers, which is impressive for such a short flight.


Air China business class slippers

Boarding was efficient, and most of the other passengers were pretty civilized. During boarding I worked on my laptop, and I was even offered a couple of drink refills. About five minutes before the door closed, the flight attendant came by to ask whether I wanted the Western or Chinese breakfast after takeoff. I selected the former.

Just a minute before the door closed a couple showed up, who were seated in row two. It was just the three of us in business class, while economy was probably about 80% full.

At 8:30AM the main cabin door closed. About five minutes later we began our pushback.


Pushing back Beijing Airport


Pushing back Beijing Airport

At that point the safety video, with the adorable pandas and large bosomed women, played.

At 8:40AM we began our very quick taxi to the runway (at least by Beijing standards). I found it funny that as we taxied, the crew came by each empty business class seat to buckle in the pillows and blankets. Hah.


Taxiing Beijing Airport


Taxiing Beijing Airport

By 8:50AM we were holding short of runway 01, and just had to wait for an Etihad 787 to land. Once the plane was clear of the runway, we were cleared for takeoff.


Waiting for takeoff Beijing Airport


Taking off Beijing Airport

We had a quick takeoff roll, though the views on the climb out weren’t that great.


View after takeoff from Beijing


View after takeoff from Beijing


View after takeoff from Beijing

We hit a bit of chop as we went through a thick layer of clouds, but the ride was smooth after that.


View after takeoff from Beijing

About 10 minutes after takeoff the crew drew the curtains between the galley and business class, and between business class and economy. At this point they also turned on the inflight entertainment, which played on the drop-down screens overhead.


Air China business class inflight entertainment

About 30 minutes after takeoff the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, informing us of our flight time of 1hr50min, and that we should be arriving at around 10:40AM.

Unfortunately neither power port in my row worked, so I moved up to row one so I could charge my electronics.

Shortly after moving seats the meal service began, starting with a warm towel.


Air China business class warm towel

After that I was brought a tablecloth.


Air China business class tablecloth

Then I was served the water I had ordered, along with mixed nuts. It’s a bit odd to have nuts as a pre-breakfast snack, though if it makes it any more normal, the almonds had a honey glaze.


Air China business class meal — mixed nuts and water

Next the entire breakfast was served on a tray. Breakfast consisted of a croissant, some cereal, and an omelet. The cereal was fine and croissant flakey.


Air China business class breakfast

Meanwhile the omelet was fairly bland and oily. Personally I don’t generally eat pork (I love pigs too much), and there was a big piece of ham over the top of the dish.


Air China business class breakfast — omelet

Next I was offered a fruit plate as dessert.


Air China business class fruit plate

Lastly I also ordered coffee, which was clearly powdered, though still tasted fine.


Air China business class coffee

The crew was excellent throughout the flight. They were friendly, attentive, and charming. I was offered several drink refills throughout the flight, and they’d come through the cabin every few minutes to check on us.

I then spent a short while working. I should note that in the meantime there was a pilot napping in row three. He wasn’t just napping upright, but rather was hanging over the center tray table console as if he wasn’t conscious. I’m also not quite sure why they need a relief pilot when their entire day of flying is likely just five hours (to Ulaanbaatar and back).

The business class lavatory was at the front of the cabin, and featured some cute Air China branded bottles and a flower. The crew also did a good job of making sure economy passengers didn’t use the business class lavatory.


Air China 737 business class lavatory


Air China 737 business class lavatory

30 minutes before landing the crew prepared the cabin for arrival, which is awfully early to do so. Electronics had to be turned off, seats had to be put upright, etc. A few minutes after that we began our descent.


View enroute to Mongolia

Since I had no other entertainment options, I read the newspaper, which had an interesting story about how demand for turkey legs at Disneyland China is through the roof.


Interesting reading enroute to Mongolia

Even more interesting was the interview with Alex Cruz, the CEO of British Airways. *barf*


Interesting reading enroute to Mongolia

On descent the purser said to me “I notice you take a lot of photo, do you want me to take photo of you?” That was a nice offer, though I declined.

As we descended further I enjoyed the views of beautiful Mongolia.


View approaching Ulaanbaatar

I could even see what looked like some sort of a yurt resort.


View approaching Ulaanbaatar

I was impressed by how varied the landscape in Mongolia was. One minute you thought you were in a desert, and the next minute it felt like a park with endless trees and greenery.


View approaching Ulaanbaatar

Eventually we approached the city of Ulaanbaatar.


View approaching Ulaanbaatar

Our final approach felt very unsteady, and we had a rough touchdown at Chinggis Khaan Airport at 10:45AM.


View approaching Ulaanbaatar


View approaching Ulaanbaatar

We rolled out nearly to the end of the runway, and then turned left onto the taxiway. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt like the taxiway had a significant downwards slope.


Taxiing Ulaanbaatar Airport


Taxiing Ulaanbaatar Airport

As we taxied to the terminal we passed a Mongolian 737, a Boeing Business Jet, and eventually a Korean Air A330.


MIAT Mongolian 737 Ulaanbaatar Airport


BBJ Ulaanbaatar Airport


Taxiing Ulaanbaatar Airport

We pulled in next to the Korean Air A330 that had just arrived from Incheon a short while later, at around 10:50AM.


Korean Air A330 Ulaanbaatar Airport

Unfortunately they didn’t have any immigration forms on the plane, so we had to fill them out upon arrival in the immigration hall. Despite that, and despite having arrived right after another big plane, I was landside within 10 minutes.

Air China business class bottom line

I had a pleasant experience in Air China business class. The crew was friendly, the cabin fairly empty, the seats spacious, and the food edible. There’s certainly a bit of room for improvement when it comes to cabin cleanliness, the quality of the food, and the power port working, but otherwise it was a solid flight. While I’d rather avoid this plane for a longer flight, for a sub-two hour flight it was great.

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Comments

  1. Rather puzzled by the remark about ‘civilised’ boarding by the other passengers…were you expecting a chimpanzees tea party or Fred Carno’s Circus to swing up the aisle?

  2. Re the slippers – In China it’s common to wear slippers inside the home, hence the slippers being provided even for a short flight.

  3. > Maybe it was just my imagination, but I felt like the taxiway had a significant downwards slope.

    Not your imagination! Ulaanbaatar airport has the runway on quite a slope and for anything larger than a small private prop plane, the runway has to be used landing in one way, and taking off in the other (basically like a bigger version of Lukla). This is because of the mountains off the eastern end of the runway (seen in the picture as you turned off the runway).

  4. Nice write up Ben, but to be honest almost pointless spending the extra miles or cash on this route and I’m sure economy was just as good on this short flight.

    Since the food you had all looked awful it would not be worth the extra in my view.

  5. I have been in both airport that you mention, Alasdair. Yes, I also noticed about the slope of the taxiway. But Lukla is an extreme version, because it’s shorter and the slope is more pronounced.

    I took many domestic flights (in a small planes) from Ulaanbaatar. I think you feel more the slope in those planes.

    Good memories looking the photos of Ulaanbaatar. It’s a nice country.

  6. Still so many photos after the landing preparation which started 30 minutes before landing when the cabin crew asked all electronics to be shut down.
    Seems you broke the rules, Hah.

  7. To be fair, it might not have been a relief pilot. He could have been jumpseating, deadheading, commuting; there are any number of reasons he was on that flight in uniform…

  8. Just wondering, on these international flights do they have the ‘Security Officer’ come over the PA and tell everyone not to disobey the laws as they do on domestic flights? Always feel bad for the flight attendants having to tell everyone to turn their phones off and sit down every few seconds as soon as you hit the tarmac. Living here and flying.. I’ve never seen one Chinese person completely follow the rules on a flight.

  9. I googled yurt resort and still don’t have a good understanding of what this is (i.e. yurt,) can anybody please advise?

    Also, I’m not familiar with seat 3L i.e. an “L” series denomination on a boeing 737 (typically A and C one side, D and F on the other for example.) Is the L for real?

  10. Chinese airlines even have a limited supply of pillows and blankets on domestic flights, in economy. Compared to American counterparts, the experience in economy is typically much better (meals, checked bags, etc.)

  11. I am inclined to think the pilot sitting in business class that you saw was actually the Security Officer onboard. More than often than not, they don’t have much to do, especially on an early flight to Ulaanbaatar

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