TRIED AND TESTED FLIGHT

LOS AN­GE­LES (LAX) – QING­DAO (TAO)

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - Lark Gould

Xi­a­men Air­lines 787-9 Busi­ness Class

Los An­ge­les LAX – Qing­dao TAO

BACK­GROUND Xi­a­men Air­lines launched 34 years ago as a do­mes­tic car­rier based in Xi­a­men, China. To­day, it runs more than 400 routes on 200 air­craft and of­fers five non­stop flights to five North Amer­i­can gate­ways from key cities in eastern China. Those transpa­cific city pairs have been link­ing Los An­ge­les and Van­cou­ver with Xi­a­men, New York JFK with Fuzhou, and Seat­tle-Ta­coma with Shen­zhen. The lat­est route to make the list is an 11- to 13-hour bridge from Los An­ge­les to the coastal city of Qing­dao in the prov­ince of Shan­dong. The thrice-weekly flight started in June 2017. The Busi­ness Class ser­vice also in­cludes com­pli­men­tary high­speed rail add-on to the gar­den city of Ji­nan.

CHECK-IN The flight checks in at Tom Bradley In­ter­na­tional Ter­mi­nal through a ded­i­cated Busi­ness Class line. The flight has two classes only: Busi­ness and Coach. Be­cause Xi­a­men is a mem­ber of SkyTeam, Busi­ness Class pas­sen­gers can en­joy the SkyTeam Lounge over­look­ing the new TBIT ter­mi­nal. The lounge is lim­ited in food and bev­er­age choices, but the flight, which leaves at mid­night or 1 AM most nights then makes up for that with its in­flight menu.

BOARD­ING The board­ing process was not smooth, but it was un­event­ful. It be­gan about 20 min­utes late and, although there was a sep­a­rate wait­ing line, there was no sep­a­rate load­ing door for Busi­ness Class pas­sen­gers. Once on­board, the flight at­ten­dants were ea­ger to as­sist with what­ever might be needed, in­clud­ing help­ing with lug­gage and show­ing pas­sen­gers the seat ameni­ties.

THESE AT The 30 seats in the Busi­ness Class sec­tion of the Boe­ing 787-9 are con­tained in a sin­gle cabin framed by two kitchen gal­leys and three re­strooms. They line up in a 1-2-1 her­ring­bone model with lie-flat seats aided by a gen­er­ous footwell area. Am­ple stor­age space of­fers two shal­low win­dow-side com­part­ments, one with a handy make-up mir­ror, and then a com­part­ment hid­den in the aisle arm­rest. A USB and com­bi­na­tion plug are avail­able for use in a side com­part­ment. Padded, over-ear noise can­celling head­phones pro­duce de­cent sound from the en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem with its movies, games, TV se­ries and mu­sic. Some two-dozen English lan­guage movies in­cluded around 10 re­cent or pop­u­lar re­leases. A handy leather ameni­ties pouch pro­duced the usual items plus a heal­ing heated eye mask and sweet-smelling elixirs from the Acca Kappa White Moss line.

THE FOOD Two meals were served on this flight – a din­ner and break­fast for the out­bound flight that ar­rives in Qing­dao at 5 AM, and two din­ners for the re­turn, which de­parts at 10:25 PM and lands at LAX at 6 PM. Choices go­ing in­cluded beef ten­der­loin, Yun­nan seabass and roasted duck with Chi­nese sausage. On re­turn it was fried chicken with abalone, braised prawns with curry sauce, and braised beef short ribs as choices for din­ner and grilled salmon or teriyaki chicken for the lighter sec­ond meal. Haa­gen dazs ice cream is al­ways avail­able for dessert. Wines in­clude selec­tions from Ger­many, Men­do­cino, Bordeaux, Spain and China. Be­tween meal snacks were lim­ited to nuts, hot noo­dle packs and warm sand­wiches.

THE SER­VICE If one thing sep­a­rates the Xi­a­men Air­lines ex­pe­ri­ence from other com­pa­ra­ble prod­ucts, it is the ser­vice. A highly trained cadre of flight stew­ards are avail­able at all times to an­swer any re­quest – of­ten an­tic­i­pat­ing those needs be­fore the pas­sen­ger even thinks it. That means fre­quent seat vis­its to fill bev­er­ages and re­move de­bris. Re­quests were man­aged to com­ple­tion, not sim­ply heard and then for­got­ten. Re­strooms were cleaned with every few uses and when a pas­sen­ger would exit the re­stroom, an at­ten­dant was right there with warm cloth tow­els to top off the visit.

THE FLIGHT The lie-flat seats were com­ple­mented by a padded blan­ket that could be used for warmth or for pad­ding the seat for greater com­fort. A light blan­ket and two pil­lows, one am­ple in size, cre­ated the per­fect sleep­ing pod. The cabin tem­per­a­ture was nei­ther too hot and nor too cold and the head­phones took care of most of the ex­tra­ne­ous noise – which was a prob­lem on the out­bound flight as two in­fants were fly­ing in the cabin as well. The seat worked as it should and even the lum­bar sup­port – of­ten the first thing to stop func­tion­ing – worked fine on both flights. In fact, the only thing that did not work to a high bar of ex­pec­ta­tion was the WiFi. Pas­sen­gers in Busi­ness Class are given free WiFi and a pass­word to con­nect. Un­for­tu­nately how­ever, mul­ti­ple at­tempts at con­nect­ing in both di­rec­tions and via com­puter as well as smart­phone failed each time. AR­RIVAL Go­ing through cus­toms in Qing­dao was smooth and fast, with enough agents to do the job and the flight’s lug­gage started flow­ing in short or­der. A re­quired two-part ar­rival and de­par­ture card de­manded such in­for­ma­tion as the phone num­ber of the ho­tel in China and pas­sen­gers are ad­vised to hold onto the sec­ond half of the card to avoid prob­lems on de­par­ture.

As for Qing­dao In­ter­na­tional Air­port, it is small and easy to nav­i­gate but with only a few stores and con­ces­sions selling Chi­nese pack­aged food and sou­venirs. Fil­tered water dis­pensers are avail­able for fill­ing water bot­tles and noo­dle stands take care of the need for fast food. The air­port is an easy 40-minute drive from town.

If one thing sep­a­rated the Xi­a­men Air­lines ex­pe­ri­ence, it is the ser­vice

VER­DICT Xi­a­men Air­lines is a fast­grow­ing con­cern that is ag­gres­sively pro­mot­ing its routes to the US. Its fares are quite com­pet­i­tive and it of­fers very at­trac­tive rates on its Busi­ness Class fares, in­clud­ing space avail­able up­grades for $1,200 each way. The air­line works with con­sol­ida­tor part­ners to keep fares down and push vol­ume up. For the money, Xi­a­men makes a smart and cost-ef­fec­tive air travel choice all around for busi­ness trav­el­ers head­ing to China.

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