PEK: Beijing Air China First Class Lounge - T3 International
The Air China first class lounge Beijing is a vast lounge, at the root of the vast spreading wings of Terminal 3E - the international terminal. It is idential in size to the Business lounge, however because it gets a lot less traffic, there always seems to be more room. Getting access to the sleeping rooms, for example it far easier in First, even though they are identical.
To get to the Beijing Air China First Class lounge, take the escalator next to the duty free shop. As you face the 'root; of the T from security, the First Class lounge is on the left, facing the Business lounge over the deep gully of the access train and 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 small main reception desk.
The main part of the Terminal 3 First 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 bay trees give 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: at peak times there is even waiter service. The waitresses sit in the odd wooden pagoda opposite the refectory area.
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.
There are plenty of sleeping rooms, which 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 First Class lounge is very similar indeed to the First Lounge - the only difference is the laack of a business centre in First. Also, the bar is slightly better, and there is more hot food. However the difference between the two lounges is very slight.
Another odd perk is the VIP room. This is down the 'landside' side of the lounge, and half way along there is a small box room marked 'Premium Customers', with large high abcked chairs. Senior party officials wait in here for their flights, but at other times anyone can walk in. There is - oddly - always a small cheese plate in here, with American cheeses tightly wrapped in plastic packets.
FoodThere is hot food in the Beijing lounge all day. Unlike the Business side you aren't stuck with sandwiches at non-meal times, however there is always more at set meal times. Breakfast is strictly 6 till 9, lunch 11am to 2:30pm, and dinner from 5pm, at which times at peak periods there is waitress service on the dining tables at the far end of the lounge.
Breakfast is good, with a decent hot English, although Air China has reinvented that staple of airlines, the Chicken Sausage, along with plenty of scrambled eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
Lunchtime has sereral hot dishes with noodles, chicken, beef, pork and ham: with a similar selection at dinner time. There is hot soup too, and even more set meals if there is waitress service at the time you are there.
At all times you have to take your pick of sandwiches wrapped in cling film, biscuits, or nuts.
BarThe bar in the Air China Beijing lounge looks brilliant, but lacks, well, decent drinks or atmosphere. It is 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, and a large well stocked fridge. So what's wrong with it? The selection rubbish, and the setup confusing, that's what.
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 for most of the day it is strictly self service, and that is what you have to do, after you lift up the bar flap to get at the bottles. Only at peak times in the evenings is there a barman. When he is there, service slows to a crawl - it is actually better to serve yourself.
There is a very poor liquor selection, but better than in business. At least the spirits here are named brands, with eight bottles including Baileys and Bacardi, plus Southern Comfort, Black LAgle and Smirnoff.
So, what of the wine? There are some amazing display bottles of Chateaux 1.5 litre on the bar top and dotted around the louge. These are however firmly wired down to stop you actually drinking them. If you want wine, you are stuck with the two types of red, and two white, of the famous Chinese 'Imperial Court' wine.
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.
BathroomsThere are OK bathrooms in the lounge, and also 4 showers, however you need to ask for the key from reception.
Business FacilitiesThere are no computers in the lounge, however 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, with several newspapers, but most of it is in Chinese. 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. However the vast TV screen is stuck on a news channel, without sound. You can't change the channel, nor can you watch films.
AccessOddly, you can sometimes get access on the Business Class ticket, when the Business Lounge is so full this area acts at the overspill.
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