Air China, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Beijing to Xi’an

 

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Date: 29 May 2016.
Departure: 08:55.
Arrival: 11:10.
Flight time: 2 hours and fifteen minutes.
Seat: 15L, window on the right side of the aircraft.

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INTRODUCTION
The transfer from an international to a domestic flight is pretty straightforward and well signposted. I have two hours to make the connection, and it takes me an hour to make the transfer owing to the sheer size of the terminal complex.

TRANSFER CHECK-IN
Location:
Terminal 3, main concourse – right next to the terminus station of the automated people mover.
Counters: Two Economy Class and one Business Class counter.

I only have my backpack with me on this trip, so the transfer check-in is swift and easy. From check-in I take the escalators one floor up, which takes me landside of the terminal. At the top of the escalators I turn right and right again until I reach the boarding pass check point to go airside again. From there I head back down one floor to the automated people mover to take me to the D concourse. Once again, the entire process is pretty straightforward. But the facility at Beijing is enormous, so you end up walking fairly long distances, going up and down between different levels.

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The D concourse is pretty much deserted when I arrive. There are only a few people sitting at gate 13, the gate for my flight to Xi’an. There do not seem to be any other flights leaving any time soon.

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What can I say? I’m a linguist…

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
There are three queues, one for First and Business Class passengers, one for Premium Economy Class and another for Economy Class passengers. Boarding starts way ahead of time, and the passengers are only slowly trickling in. Eventually though, the flight is full.

CABIN
Configuration:
3 + 3
Seat: Air China operates the A321 in two different configurations. The aircraft operating the service to Xi’an today has 16 seats in First Class and 161 in Economy Class. I am on row 15, which is right behind the emergency exit row. Seat pitch is good. Moreover, the seats are covered in material instead of the faux leather that seems to be so popular with most airlines these days. Seat numbering is a bit unusual if you are used to the European system. On most European carriers, the three seats on the port side are (from window to aisle) A, B, and C; while the three seats on the starboard side are (from aisle to window) D, E and F. On Air China though, the starboard seats are marked (from the aisle to the window) J, K and L.
Pitch: 31 inches.
Width: 17 inches.
Facilities: No power outlets available.
Audio and Video: Drop down screens in the Economy Class cabin, audio track selection and volume control in the armrest. Earphones are distributed half-heartedly at the beginning of the flight – I should think it is obvious that a small tray of earphones is not likely to be enough for all passengers on a fully loaded A321. But the cabin crew are not deterred. They start passing out earphones at the front of the Economy Class cabin, and once they run out of earphones at the third row, the job is done.

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SERVICE
The crew is a bit odd, I must confess. Either I am just suffering from a lack of sleep, or there is some cultural issue going on that I have not figured out yet. One way or another, the impression I get is that the crew really couldn’t give a shit.

A young male cabin attendant is standing next to me as I put my backpack in the overhead bin. I innocently ask him if the flight is going to be full, but all I get in reply is ‘maybe’.

The crew’s attitude to safety is also rather strange. On the one hand, they insist that you have all electronic devices fully off, not just in flight mode. One of the female cabin attendants nearly has a meltdown when she sees me taking photos with my iPhone during the climbout. On the other hand though, the safety demonstration video is interrupted repeatedly by the cockpit crew coming on to make announcements about the flight. And the volume is so low that you cannot really hear a thing anyway. As a result, the video is still running as we go thundering down the runway. But nobody is paying any attention to it anyway.

THE MEAL
Towel before the meal:
Pre packed wet wipe with a decidedly unpleasant stink of disinfectant.
Type of meal:
Snack.
Meal:

  • Orange juice.
  • Bag of missed nuts.

This really is nothing more than a snack, but that is okay. After all, the flight time to Xi’an is slightly less than two hours and I am feeling rather exhausted right now anyway.

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Once I finish my bag of nuts, it becomes impossible for me to keep my eyes open any longer and I spend the remainder of the flight doing that thing tired people do who are trying to sleep sitting upright: every time I nod off and my head lolls forwards, I raise my head again quickly, hoping that nobody saw me and I can pretend I am fully awake. Only to do the same thing again a few seconds later…

Eventually, I am taken out of my misery. We start our descent into Xi’an and the prospect of a proper bed makes me perk up a little.

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ARRIVAL
Xi’an airport is fairly large and has currently three terminals. Terminal 3 is for international flight, Terminal 2 for domestic traffic, while Terminal 1 is the old airport and no longer in use.

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I have requested the hotel to send a car to pick me up. The terracotta warriors are not actually in Xi’an but in a place called Lintong. The journey from the airport to the hotel in Lintong will take you roughly 45 minutes in good traffic.

 

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