Whine Wednesday: Horrible Air China ‘Service’ At Beijing Capital Airport During Flight Delay

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This weeks Whine Wednesday is coming to us compliments of Air China and their completely inept staff at Beijing Capital Airport where incompetence prevails at every corner (likely due to corporate policy).

Air China isn’t well known for their stellar service to begin with but apparently the design of Beijing Capital Airport itself makes it even worse as the staff seems unable to rebook passengers onto other airlines.

Delays and cancellations are nothing new for Air China and various Chinese airports in particular (especially Beijing) and so far I’ve always been pretty lucky that nothing major happened to my flights.

Yesterday I had a connection from Beijing to Tokyo-Haneda that was supposed to leave at 12:50pm but apart from an announcement at the Business Class lounge around 12:15 that there would be an indefinite delay Air China didn’t provide any further information.

1:30h of time passed by and I consulted the ‘service desk’ where some bored employee was sitting. The reason given to me for the delay of CA167 was ‘aircraft rotation’ and even though there were many other Air China flights delayed there didn’t seem the usual reason of air traffic control being the culprit here.

I asked to be rebooked on the Air China codeshare operated by ANA that leaves at 3:30 should they not have a confirmed departure time yet. That’s where the fun started.

First they couldn’t find the flight, then they can’t change tickets at the lounge, the ticket desk is outside in Terminal C (not accessible from the international terminal and outside security). Ticket office doesn’t pick up the phone, a manager is not available (apparently the only manager at Air China’s PEK Hub is also at the main terminal).

Finally after 45 min someone does answer the phone but says I’m still checked in on the original flight and have to organize myself to be unchecked from that flight before anything can be done. By then I’m told that ANA can’t issue me a boarding pass unless I exit immigration again and pick up a boarding pass at the main Terminal 3C. In short: Nothing ever got done and none of their explanations made any sense. I’d go so far as saying 60% of what I was told were blatant lies. Especially since all other airlines left on time.

The problem was not that I badly wanted to fly another airline but that I needed to get to Tokyo timely. Eventually the flight started boarding at 15:20h with pretty much zero advance notice.

In the end I was glad to have arrived with ‘just’ 2:20h delay at Haneda but it pretty much ruined the entire evening.

Conclusion

What is going on at Air China that everything seems to be in complete disarray? I think it’s a mixture of everything that can go bad. Incompetence of the staff, horrible operations, congested air traffic and a horribly designed airport.

I’m not buying their statement that one has to exit immigration again and go back to the main check-in terminal just to get a new boarding pass. That would make zero sense, especially because there are transit counters upstairs in the same terminal ahead of the immigration counters. Why couldn’t the gate staff of your new airline just print your new boarding pass? In any case the transit counter would be able to do so.

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  • Gaijinsan

    I don’t think it’s just Air China. I’ve done seat changes on China Southern before and also in the lounge they could not print a new boarding pass. Instead they just wrote in pen on the original one.

    I have to wonder if it has something to do with the silly immigration and security stamps that go on the boarding pass. In some countries they are really strict about having all the stamps in order before allowing boarding. When you change something at the transit counter before immigration, you then proceed to get the new boarding pass stamped.

  • David Stevenson

    I have never been able to utilise the transfer counter at PEK. I recently flew in from Hong Kong to connect onto a flight to Seattle (Hainan Airlines) and even in this scenario, I had to clear immigration in PEK and line up again to re-check in and get new boarding pass for my next flight. It would seem that all the stamps have to be in the right order.The transfer desk was not manned.

    • Felix

      HK is part of China, even though it is a special administrative region. You flew from domestic to international, definitely you should clear immigration. I could not see any problem from your experience.

      • cscasi

        He just made a statement. He did not say that there was a problem.

      • BenniHK

        Yes I won’t argue hk is not part of china, but flying from hk to China is not “domestic”! Yes u read it right all flights to/from hkg, mfm and even tpe are “international” dept/arrival. Obviously u r lack of experience so pls don’t make stupid comments.
        There IS only one functioning transit counter with its own passport/permit(for hkers n macan) control n secondary security screening in pek t3 (sorry not in t2 or t1, counters existed but always unmanned). I always make use of it in order to avoid the chaos for clearing custom in china when I travelling from hkg to europe and vv via pek. However there are several limitations for using this counter: only on air China and ve already done thrucheck in hkg, ie got bp for next leg already, plus must be same terminal transit (technically there r not “transit” facilities between terminals in pek).
        Hainan airlines is not using t3 that’s y u have to clear custom and recheck regardless whether u r flying to hkg or any other international destinations.

  • Laurel Wang

    China is really anal about letting you have only 1 boarding pass per flight. They won’t print boarding passes anywhere besides the landside counter (only your first one) and at the gate, after all other passengers have boarded, as they are afraid if you drop your boarding pass somewhere, someone will pick it up and board the plane with fake ID pretending to be you.

  • FFFFFFFF

    About the boarding pass issuing problem, it seems that is because of the security control by the PEK. No matter you from the transit counter or departure hall check in counter, before you enter to the boarding terminal, your boarding pass should be inspected and stamped by few times.

    So that it is easy to unstandand that the ground staff within in the boarding terminal is not being allowed to issue any boarding pass, and the boarding gate staff also not permitted a passenger to onboard with a boarding pass without any inspector stamps.

    It seems non-sense, but well known that PRC China is an non-sens country.

    • Felix

      Considering your country has 1.3 billion population, you won’t say this kind of regulation is an “non-sense”

    • cscasi

      All the ground staff have to do is become educated to explain that to a passenger when cases like this happen and they are queried about the issue. How hard is that? Rules are the rules, but to someone who does not know the rules a simple accurate explanation can avoid bad feelings.

  • Annoyed

    I was stuck in PEK at the same time on Wed as well. My Air China flight to SIN was 2 hours late – there was no staff at the check-in to allow the cabin crew onboard. No announcements anything.
    Don’t fly Air China when you have a choice.

  • Haitao Sun

    I am Chinese, but as long as I can avoid it, I would not fly on any Chinese carrier. The on-board service is usually appalling, and if something goes wrong with any part of your journey, you are 100% fucked. Hainan is the only good one out of the bunch, but only the hard product and on-board service are good, with the problem you had in the article, even they cannot be counted on.

    • BenniHK

      Com’on, it’s not that bad indeed. I enjoyed flying air China despite I m not a fan of china. Transiting in pek could be painful but there r tricks to avoid or at least minimise it. And it’s kinda nightmare when irregularities I know, but at least staff are helpful (whether capable or not is another issue).
      After tasted all the European shxts and some of the american craps, I rather fly air China. Not the best definitely, at least acceptable.

    • FullMoon

      Friends don’t let friends fly Air China.
      My experiences on two separate connections in Beijing with them were frustrating disasters. Their service level is appalling.

  • Joe

    I reckon it has something to do with their Visa waiver policy. For example you’re not allowed getting the 72 hour visa waiver if flying out to the same country you entered from. To bypass that one could buy a fully flexible ticket to “nowhere”, using that for immigration purposes but using the original ticket afterwards. Without those stamps you won’t be allowed boarding any aircraft and they have full control of their visa regulations.
    As mentioned in other comments, China is a non-sense country but they are not stupid.

    • Felix

      As I mentioned in the reply of the other comment, considering 1.3 billion population in your country, you won’t say this kind of regulation is an “non-sense”.

  • M L

    China has government regulated exit control and you have to follow their standard rules to acquire your new BP. I don’t think there is something to blame Air China. You can wait and blame unuseful staff, or write this long article to compliant. I like the below comment “China is a non-sense country but they are not stupid.” You are in China, you have to follow their rules. Or you can be the next Otto Warmbier

  • Felix

    This is my first time to notice how discriminatory and biased the poor little Sebastian Powell is. This article is totally a crap. Come on, you will be board on an international flight, not a domestic flight and you want to change your boarding pass without being checked again? Please come to United States and see what the “best” country will do to you! Last November when I flew from MCO to SFO, I even needed to do a second time security check just because I went to the lounge at Terminal 1 and my boarding gate was at Terminal 2. It was still a domestic flight! Look at yourself first before judging others!

    • Gary

      I can just picture little prissy Sebastian flailing his arms and making his idiotic self centered demands… and probably too loud for everyone else in the lounge… and also in his whiny privileged tone we so often “see” in his childish posts without a solitary thought of his fellow man. Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t mention he’s connected to John’s community here when he acts up like this!

    • M L

      I don’t surprise how pussy gay men is.

    • LlamaOfDoom

      No, complaining about Air China isn’t discriminatory OR biased. It’s complaining about an airline with horrible policies. I guarantee if it was an ANA flight from Tokyo and they had to rebook him it would have gone a lot more smoothly. I’ve had international flights get delayed from the US, from Japan, and each time I would just ask to get rebooked and it was sorted out for me airside.

      “I even needed to do a second time security check just because I went to the lounge at Terminal 1 and my boarding gate was at Terminal 2 and these two terminals are actually connected inside”

      He’s complaining about the airline’s policies, you’re complaining about the airport’s physical construction. Not the same thing.

      “Please come to United States and see what the “best” country will do to you!”

      Delta nonstop Minneapolis to London went wrong, so at the customer service area, they printed a new boarding pass for partner KLM to Amsterdam connecting to London, all without going back landside. Piece of cake.

      • Felix

        If you read others’ comments you would know what Sebastian was complaining can’t be blamed to Air China, it is the border control policy of PEK. As others mentioned, 72 hours waiving of visa policy is abused by someone and Chinese government is not stupid. If you want to use good example to show how great service provided by ANA comparing with Air China, please use the same situation happened in PEK, not to mention ”I guarantee if it was an ANA flight from Tokyo and they had to rebook him it would have gone a lot more smoothly.“ First of all, it is what you imagine, not really happened. Secondly, it is in NRT/HND, not in PEK.

  • Felix

    It is interesting that your blog deletes comments with different opinions.

  • Felix

    Given the terrorism problem and insecurity around the whole world, I could not see any problem with this kind of strict security check regulation. If you don’t agree with the regulation, you could choose not to fly to China. It is your right and choice.

  • Amdy

    Ruined the evening because u were hooking up with a Japanese boy?

  • Wayne Ang

    Air China has come a long way. I have rebooked before. The best method is to follow the instructions and you are on the way very quickly!

    You DO have to go out to get your boarding pass change on their system. If you are very nice and has sufficient charm, you may get the young lady to sneak out for you. That may take much longer.

    Considering what you write… I doubt you can get an United Airlines employee to ‘assist’ you!