Air China – The Confluence of Weirdness
On a recent flight on the most likely the flagship route in China – Beijing to Shanghai on Air China – I observed some of the weird discontinuities with large companies in China
Air China pride itself on being the premier carrier in the country. It has created elaborate checkin facilities, special security entries at the Beijing Capital Airport, and overall trying to portray itself as a world class airline.
Except, the attempts are not bringing the desired (I think) effect. Here is my experience on a recent Beijing to Shanghai trip.
The trip started with me trying to do an on-line check-in. This was quite the disappointing experience. I do have Premier 1K status on United. So, I thought, surely I should be able to see seats that are allocated to premier flyers. Wrong! If there were any, they were not visible to me or Air China did not recognize my status — most likely the latter as I did not see anywhere in their on-line system a reference to me being Gold in the Air China / Star Alliance systems. Why? No idea – but certainly a big disconnect in the quality of service if you ask me… I would have liked to select and reserve my seat several hours ahead of the flight, which I knew will be busy, but no option for me….Hm… Not happy!
The next option was to of course pick up my seat at the airport. The problem is – when I came to the airport and went to the premier checkin counter I got the statement “oh sorry, only middle seats left…”
Then came the irritating “…you Should have checked in on line …” REALLY?!?!?!?!?! What a major contradiction in terms….!!!
This is where I decided to have a good conversation with the Air China team at the counter – first the checkin agent and then the counter manager. As usual in China, this resulted in a long conversation with the initial comments from the first line manager who completely missed my point and tried to convince me that the on-line check-in process is beautiful (his words)….to the point that eventually he admitted that “No, he has never used it…” Hm….isn’t that great
Eventually through some “magic” (read – there was too much embarrassment) an isle seat materialized, followed by quite a few red faces and apologies….
Then the “interesting” procedures continued. It is often in China to have to get to the gate, walk towards the plane only to have to climb downstairs to a bus parked right next to the gate to take you to a plane that is actually not on the gate…..Yes, that happens very often here. What was annoying is that the bus which is supposed to take the premier passengers (in China they love the term VIP) to the plane quickly, left only after picking up 8-10 people only — it was may be 20% occupied. The agent at the ground yelled at the bus to stop but the driver just TOOK OFF…. Another agent with red face….Enough said!
So, yes, the Chinese airlines, and its supposed premier carrier, Air China, are very focused on status and premium products BUT the delivery of those is pretty bad! No matter, whether the online system or physical product ….it lacks in multiple aspects….
On a separate and special note, Air China advertises itself as a “proud star alliance member….” except it does little to make that be true…