PEK: Beijing Air China Business Class Lounge - T3 International
The Air China lounge Beijing International is a vast lounge, at the root of the vast spreading wings of T3E. And it needs to be big: as pretty much the only lounge for all Business passengers, it gets a vast amount of traffic. At peak times (such as lunchtime to early afternoon) the lounge can get very busy indeed. It's not only premium passengers on Air China who use the lounge, along with all Star Alliance airlines at Beijing, but also oneWorld from BA to JAL, some Skyteam airlines, and even Priority Pass. At one stage even economy passengers were let in: thankfully no more, due to space constraints.
To get to the Beijing Air China Business Class lounge, take the escalator next to the Shanghai Tang shop. As you face the 'root; of the T from security, the Business Class lounge is on the right, and the First Class lounge is on the left; they face each other over the gulf of the Shamrock Irish Bar. Both lounges are above the main concourse level, which raises you above the shopping centre of the airport.
As you go up the stairs - or take the lift the area opens out onto a vast main reception desk.
The main part of the Terminal 3 business class lounge has a huge open-ceiling design giving it a spacious feel: alas this also means that some of the noise from the airport drifts up into the lounge too. The lounge has a vast illuminated circle in the middle, with lots of leather armchairs and tables dotted around. Live bamboo plants gave the lounge a little more greenery than expected in such a new modern space. Close to the main servery there are small restaurant type tables which overlook the shops: however make no mistake, there is no waiter service.
The lounge always smells a bit smoky: this in part is because of smoke drifting out of the small smoking room for those lighting up: some passengers also brazenly ignore warnings not to smoke in the main lounge.
There are no boarding announcements, however there are display panels showing Beijing Live Departures in Chinese and English. Few of the staff speak English, and are notoriously not very helpful.
An unusual perk in the lounge are the sleeping rooms: These are fully enclosed with a lockable door, and resenble a Tardis crossed with a Portaloo. They are great for a few hours kip between flights.
The Business Class lounge is very similar indeed to the First Lounge - the only difference is the vast business centre with PCs in Business, and the cinema. Alas, the bar is markedly worse, and the food offerings poorer too, but not by much. The difference between the two lounges is very slight.
When you leave the lounge beware cart-touts. They will shout to you "Ride for First Class" even if your gate is only a few yards away – and then promptly charge you 50 Yuan. Avoid.
FoodThere is hot food in the Beijing lounge - not a lot however, and the problem is being there at the right time. The lounge sticks to Chinese meal times, even though many of the passengers are passing through and on an international body clock. Breakfast is strictly 6 till 9, lunch 11am to 2:30pm, and dinner from 5pm. At these times there is hot food: at other times, you'll just be out of luck, and have to stick to the sandwiches.
There are just two hot tourines of hot food: at breakfast time Air China has reinvented that staple of airlines, the Chicken Sausage, and it isn't a good idea. The other tub is filled with scrambled eggs.
Lunchtime has one hot dish with noodles, with chicken or beef to sprinkle over the top, with a similar selection at dinner time.
Other than that, you have to take your pick of sandwiches wrapped in cling film, biscuits, or nuts.
BarThe bar in the Air China Beijing lounge really isn't very good. It should be brilliant: it looks great, at the end of the long aisle of armchairs, and before you turn the corner for the dining area. There is a large enclosed bar area with a counter, wine bottles on display, large well stocked fridge. How could Air China muck this one up?
By making the selection rubbish, that's how. Compound this with a confusing setup, and the result is a nonsense. Alas, the bar looks as if it should be staffed: there are even large chairs at the bar, and it is hard to get behind the bar to serve your own. But spot the small sign saying 'Self-Serve', and that is what you have to do, after you lift up the bar flap to get at the bottles.
Ah, yes, the bottles. There is a very poor liquor selection, with spirits consisting of just four bottles of Gin, Vodka, Whisky, and Campari. And cheap ones at that, on a long shelf that could easily accommodate plenty more.
So, what of the wine? There are some great bottles of Chateaux SoundFrench on the bar top: firmly wired down to stop you actually drinking them. If you want wine, you are stuck with the two bottles of wine (Chinese 'Imperial Court' wine too!) in a bucket. Red, or white. It's foul.
And beer? Behind the bar, and beside the food areas there are fridges with cans of Tsing-tao beer.
However, if you hunt out the small fridge right at the end of the section, on the bottom level of the fridge is a shelf called 'overseas beer'. Here there are cans of Bud, Carlsber, Heiniken, and Ashai Superdry. This shelf is well hidden, and monitored for overseas customers only.
There are also large glass jars containing special tea leaves for passengers to brew their own cup of Chinese tea. Its good – it really is! Just don't take it out of the lounge, or customs might start getting interested.
BathroomsThere are OK bathrooms in the lounge, and also 2 showers, however you need to ask for the key from reception.
Business FacilitiesThere is a large work area right at the far end of the lounge featuring plenty of computers: however beware that the computers are riddled with viruses, and are very slow.
There is free WiFi in the Beijing Lounge. The code is printed on a stand at the main reception desk.
There is plenty of reading material, but as you might expect much of it is in Chinese. Many of the newspapers are kept on racks suspended from long poles: the idea seems to be to stop you from taking it out of the lounge. There are few foreign language newspapers, and no English ones other than the FT, just US papers like the Global Mail.
A major perk of the lounge is the cinema. This is large, with 10 big squashy seats. Indeed, it's curious that no one ever seems to sit in here. Then you realise - the vast TV screen is stuck on a news channel, without sound. You can't change the channel, nor can you watch films. Oh well, it was a nice idea.
One other curiosity is that there are three mobile phone charging stations dotted around the lounge: they are free, and take about an hour to charge phones. The attendants will tell you with a wry smile that few passengers remember their phones until they are already on a plane out of China.
AccessPretty much the world and his wife are invited into this lounge. Access is possible in Business on pretty much every airline - just check out the vast boards by the stairs with invited airlines. THe only thing the lounge won't do is sell you a daypass.
Indeed, if you fancy a walk, there are four Air China lounges in Terminal 3 – this one is in the satellite concourses - Terminal T3E for international flights. A journey on the people mover away - and a trip through passport control - there is a similar lounge in Terminal T3C for domestic flights.
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