Most people can’t afford business class which gives you a little more space to stretch out. And there is little difference between airlines as regards the space and comfort in economy or coach class. But the quality of service and meals can make all the difference on such a long journey.
Of course the choice of airline can be driven by price and one’s pocket, but given all things are equal there are some airlines that offer better service than others especially when it comes to meals.
Those travelling from the UK may choose from several airlines. One of the most expensive carriers is Virgin Atlantic, though they occasionally have budget deals. British Airways often comes second in price, but again there are wild fluctuations in how much they charge dependent on when the flight is booked and other factors. KLM is another popular choice and may be cheaper, though one may have to change at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. And of course there is Air China, and while sometimes cheaper, this is not always the case.
Carriers change and team up with others, so you’d be best advised to check current pricing at the time you wish to travel. Suffice to say, the actual service on board has changed little over the last 7 years I’ve been travelling back and forth to the Middle Kingdom.
Virgin’s in-flight meals are said to be good, but I’ve not shelled out on their rather extortionate tickets for a flight to Beijing so am unable to comment.
British Airways can often have some good deals, and it has the advantage over others in that one can book a flight into Beijing and out of Shanghai, or vice versa. This is particularly useful if you’re doing a tour of China.
Staff are always friendly, the only exception to this was during a flight when BA staff were taking industrial action in 2010 and stewards were just a little curt.
Food on British Airways is excellent, and passengers also benefit from an almost constant flow of free drinks. The choice of drinks is extensive from Gin & Tonic to Jack Daniels and Coke, beer, wines and juices, tea and coffee. Picking a special meal, such as a seafood or vegetarian option may result in a slightly better meal than that dished out to the regular passengers. And if hungry between meals one may obtain snacks which are left in the galley at the rear of the plane.
Moving on to KLM, a flight with this airline was moderately good. Staff were not quite as accommodating and in one instance almost rude. Having being given a selection of sandwiches which contained meat despite having chosen a vegetarian option, one raised the issue only to be given a flippant response that one might eat the bits that weren’t meat!
This is the only airline which provided real metal knives forks and spoons, a rarity following 9/11.
As for the food, both meat and vegetarian options are rather pallid compared to what one might find in a restaurant in China. Even China’s street food could be ranked higher than some of the offering by Air China , China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and others. It is unfortunate, since it is a rather poor advertisement to both China and its culture of food. Of course the plus side is that Air China may often be cheaper than other airlines.
The big drawback comes inside China where there is no choice other than Chinese airlines when it comes to booking internal domestic flights. However, at least these flights are usually short so putting up with sub-standard in-flight meals may not be so much of an issue.
While a little more expensive my choice is to always travel with British Airways, though I would still look and compare prices. When spending up to half a day on a plane little comforts like good food and drink can make all the difference. And whether at the beginning or the end of your journey such things can help make the whole experience more relaxing and enjoyable.
Have a pleasant flight and please check out our video which was shot over several years during trips to and from China and offers a brief look at the quality of in-flight meals provided by various airlines.