Plane Type: Boeing 787-9
price: $3,073 roundtrip, with complimentary rail transport to Jinan.
Seat Configuration: 1-2-1
Seat Pitch: 78 inches
Seat Width: 26 inches
Seat recline: 180 degrees
VERDICT Xiamen Airlines is a fast-growing 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.
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 non-stop 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 high-speed 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.
THE SEAT 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.