Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Never again: Air China
Lately I had my first flight with Air China and I thought it worth a blog post. This in mind and encouraged by Maryam's post about her bad experience with Turkish Airlines I came across Kim's post about the best and the worst international airlines and her link to airline quality surveyor Skytrax. I checked some of the over 260.000 airline reviews by independent travelers. I saw that everybody who travels can tell good and bad stories about airlines, even about the same airline. There are some real strange stories that made me I feel lucky to not have experienced worse.
The thing is, the more I fly the less I am looking forward to all the hassle. Until you board you are often already exhausted and thirsty. With all the worries I have about arriving safe and sound, the first thing I do when coming on board, I look at the flight attendants. These are the ladies and gentlemen I am depending on in the next hours. Will we get along? If they are nice and attentive it gives me a better feeling. Also everything should be clean and tidy. If it looks already bad from the inside, how was the plane serviced from the outside?
So far I have always avoided flying Air China as it is well known that 90% of their pilots speak and understand only poor English. Communication problems between the tower and the pilots during take off and landing as well as between the pilots and the air controllers in the various air spaces that the plane has to fly through can be fatal.
But from Rome back to Beijing I had no other chance then to fly with Air China. The flight that was code shared with Alitalia. I upgraded my son and myself with miles to Business Class to have a relaxed night flight.
And here is what I did not enjoy:
- The big Chinese group that tried to cut the line at the check-in counter. It has nothing to do with Air China, except that it is a Chinese Airline with many Chinese passengers, so you get a quick introduction into Chinese habits.
- First shock: old uncomfortable business class seats like 20 years ago with foot rest only and the least legroom I can remember. If the passenger in front of you leans back with his seat he lands in your soup (I talk about Business Class)
- The toilet already smells from urine before passenger board
- one out of the two available toilets in the BC has a broken water supply, only boiling water comes out, washing hands is impossible!
- The only Chinese flight attendants do not smile and their English is very limited. One even seems to avoid servicing me and my child in order to avoid any language problem.
- Before take off the lights go out completely (no emergency light on the floor), we are for several minutes in the dark, no captain announcement
- No individual entertainment program, no magazines. The two overhead monitors show a Chinese folklore performance, later one movie
- Bad behaving Chinese passengers: using mobile phone through taxi although flight attendant had finally repeated the regulations. And later at night, shouting passengers, almost rioting and using the English "f" word, waking everybody up. It seems that a Chinese man felt disturbed by a Chinese woman behind him nestling in her seat bag and interrupting his sleep. No flight attendant in sight.
- Repeated smoking in the toilet. I can smell this through 5 rows - however indifferent pilot and flight attendant, 2000 yuan fine is ignored. I can smell that the flight attendant himself had smoked.
- More dirty toilets and toilet seats as the Chinese stand on the toilet seats....
- Before landing wrong English announcement (suggestion not to wear coats because it is warm outside... the opposite is the case, it is winter). Okay minor, but in emergency case I hope for the right announcements in English.
- After landing in Beijing, Air China's home base, we are on a far away outside position and need to wait for stairs and bus which does not bother me anymore.
BTW, the food seemed okay. I only had lost appetite after a couple of visits to the toilet (I am travelling with a child).
Am I spoiled? No. If you book business class it is because you want to rest and sleep and arrive relaxed. Other Asian airlines (e.g. Cathay, Singaporean, Emirates) are providing a better Economy Class then this Air China Business Class.
Why is Air China not using their new airplanes on all international flights? I heard that they have the newest seats on flights between Shanghai and Beijing. Air China, although an international airline, seems not yet prepared to serve international passengers.