Review: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

We arrived at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport a couple of hours before our scheduled departure for Toyko-Narita.  Check-in was quick and simple, and I was pointed towards the security line where I was able to skip the line since I was flying First.  I ended up clearing security and immigration only minimally quicker than my friend who was on the flight with me in economy.

After about a half an hour in the Air China First Class Lounge (review forthcoming), we made our way to the gate where we discovered that we would be boarding buses to take us to a remote stand.

Yup, we seriously were going to use a remote stand to board a B747-400.  This was a tad strange to say the least.  I was able to take the private van for first and business class passengers, and after about a ten minute ride, we arrived to our plane — which happened to be the furthest plane away from the terminal.

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp

Boarding our Air China B747-400 from the ramp


An Around the World Trip — Oktoberfest and Asia


Air China (CA) 929
Shanghai (PVG) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)
Aircraft:  Boeing 747-400
Seat:  2A (Forbidden Pavilion First Class)
Tuesday, October 14
10:00AM – 1:50PM
Duration:  2:50

I boarded the plane at door 2L and was escorted to my seat in the First Class cabin.  I was informed that I would be the only passenger in First Class that day and then was brought a glass of water.  There was a selection of newspapers already spread out at my seat.

Interestingly enough, the first class cabin on this plane was neither located in the nose of the 747, nor in the upper deck, but instead was between the first and second sets of doors in an area typically designated for business class.

Air China B747-400 Seat Map -- from Air China's website

Air China B747-400 Seat Map — from Air China’s website

This first class cabin on this aircraft was incredibly dated, but it did feature a full lie-flat bed, and is very similar in design to the old first class seats on American’s international fleet.  Air China is eventually phasing these 747s out of their fleet, and that was pretty obvious, as the interior of this plane clearly hadn’t been refreshed in quite some time.

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class - Seat 2A on a B747-400

Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class – Seat 2A on a B747-400

There was quite a bit of space to lay out and relax — certainly plenty of room for such a short flight.  I did appreciate on flying on this older plane, as I know its days in passenger service are limited.

Lots of legroom

Lots of leg room

Very aged First Class Cabin on an Air China B747-400

Very aged First Class Cabin on an Air China B747-400

Forbidden Pavilion First Class Cabin on Air China B747-400

Forbidden Pavilion First Class Cabin on Air China B747-400

Stretched Out

Stretched Out

The seat was supposed to be able to rotate 90-degrees, facing the window, where the console could be used as a desk.  Alas, my seat was not functioning properly.  No biggie — I just wanted to relax on this flight.  Though hard as a rock, the seat was just fine.

A glass of water and several newspapers preflight

A glass of water and several newspapers preflight

The in flight entertainment consisted of an old, flip-out screen, with very little programming.  It certainly wouldn’t be adequate for a longer flight, but on this short flight I kept the in-flight map up the whole time.   There was a small selections of movies and TV shows though.

Old School IFE

Old School IFE

The seat had all sorts of functions, many of which did not work.  The recline worked fine, though, and it was able to fold down into a bed.

Seat Controls

Seat Controls

IFE Controls

IFE Controls

After acquainting myself with the seat, I was offered a glass of champagne, which I gladly accepted.   Though I was the only passenger in First Class, it seemed that the flight attendants almost went out of their way to avoid me at the beginning of the flight, as that was the last interaction I had with a flight attendant until departure.  Finally, boarding was complete and we began the long taxi to the end of the runway.  I managed to doze off for a few minutes after take-off, but not soon after the flight attendant came by to take my lunch order.

There was no menu and I was simply asked if I preferred beef or fish.  I selected beef and requested a glass of champagne, which was delivered promptly.

Shortly thereafter, my table was set somewhat casually, and the appetizer was brought to the table.  It was a parma ham and mandarin orange type dish that was not my favorite.

Table Setting

Table Setting

Appetizer

Appetizer

Then came my main entrée — the beef. I was presented with a very nicely cooked tenderloin of beef that was accompanied by mashed potatoes and vegetables. As I mentioned, the tenderloin was cooked to a medium rare, which I absolutely loved. It had very good flavor, and I was pleasantly surprised by that.  Warmed garlic bread was brought out as well, and it was also quite tasty.

Entree

Lunch entrée

Lunch in Air China First Class -- Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

Lunch in Air China First Class — Beef Tenderloin, mashed potatoes and vegetables

Dessert consisted of some fruit and a cheesecake with a berry sauce that was delicious.

Desert

Dessert

Though it was more of a business class-style meal, I was quite pleased with my meal.  Anytime you get a medium or medium rare and tender steak on a flight, I consider that a win.

Service throughout the flight was adequate.  The flight attendants were sweet and spoke decently good English, which was nice.  Though not overly attentive or detail-oriented, the service was fine for a short flight.

The remainder of the flight was quite relaxing.  I ordered a few scotches and passed time after the meal by snoozing and looking out the window as we flew parallel to the eastern coast of Japan on our approach to Narita.

Great shot approaching Tokyo-Narita

Great shot approaching Tokyo-Narita

We landed from the East and made a short taxi to the gate at Narita.  The curtains were drawn in both cabins while I exited the aircraft and headed on to Japanese immigration.

The Verdict…

Compared to my flight in THAI Royal First Class and ANA First Class, I was pretty underwhelmed with my experience with Air China.  On a long-haul flight, I’d even prefer United’s Global First Class over this, simply because the hard product (the seat) just doesn’t compare.   Don’t get me wrong — any flight in an international first class cabin is a privilege, but I’m just comparing apples to apples here.

I do realize that Air China is now offering a newer product on its newest airplanes on routes to North America and Europe, but this short sample of its Forbidden Pavilion First Class really didn’t leave me too anxious to experience it on a longer flight.

How I Booked It…

As previously mentioned, this flight was one of the segments on a US Airways First Class award ticket from North America to North Asia, with a stopover in Europe.

2 Thoughts on “Review: Air China Forbidden Pavilion First Class Shanghai to Tokyo

  1. of course its not apple to apple, its old apple vs new apple. but I do agree the problem is with the soft service regardless of hard products, new or old. I was on the new F from Pek-Lax and didnt enjoy it as much.

    • Indeed. Soft product (at least on this short flight) was lacking compared to other Asian carriers. The difference between CA and NH was startling (ANA review coming this afternoon).

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