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TO THE POINT: Xiamen Air’s 787 was a fantastic way to travel between the US and China. The pros: friendly and attentive service, great food and an unbeatable price. The cons: the hard product — while lie-flat — could be improved by featuring aisle access for all passengers.
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Earlier this year, Xiamen Air offered incredible round-trip business-class fares from $1,582 between Seattle (SEA) and Shenzhen, China (SZX). Since Xiamen is a new airline to the US market — and was offering such amazing introductory business fares — we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give it a try. I had never been to Asia before this trip, so I graciously volunteered to be the ‘guinea pig’ for a review of the carrier’s business-class product.
I booked this flight for a total of $1,583 round-trip, a pretty sweet deal considering I’d get to spend the 13-hour flight in lie-flat comfort each way. Although I used my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to book it through Orbitz and was able to earn 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel, I still wish my Platinum Card from American Express had been updated at that point so I could’ve earned 5x Membership Rewards points for this purchase.
Since Xiamen is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, I decided to credit the miles earned to my Delta SkyMiles account. I forgot to put my SkyMiles number in when I made the reservation with Orbitz, but I later made a quick call to the SkyMiles customer service line — a few days after I returned from China, the miles were posted to my account.
Xiamen is a Group 3 Partner airline with Delta and my ticket booked into the I fare class, meaning I earned miles according to the following scheme: 100% base miles, 75% MQMs, and 20% MQDs (based on the total miles flown). In total, I earned 12,972 redeemable SkyMiles, 9,730 MQMs and $2,594 MQDs for this trip (considerably more than I actually spent).
Check-In and Lounge
Xiamen’s check-in area was relegated to a far end of the international check-in area of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). There were two sections, one for economy passengers and one for SkyPriority members.
Since I was flying in business class, I made my way to the SkyPriority check-in counter. I didn’t have a boarding pass yet or a seat assignment, so I was a little worried when I got to the desk and it took the agent several minutes to locate my reservation. Once it was found, the agent handed me my boarding pass and I headed over to the priority security line at SEA, which only took me a few minutes to clear.
My business-class boarding pass provided me with access to The Club at SEA, a third-party lounge that also participates in the Priority Pass and Lounge Club programs.
The lounge was located in the far reaches of the terminal, so it was a long walk from the security checkpoint, but it was close to my gate so I didn’t mind.
I showed the agent my boarding pass and passport and was welcomed into the lounge. It wasn’t crowded at all when I arrived, so I had plenty of room to maneuver. I can imagine that at busier times, however, this lounge could begin to feel quite cramped.
Seating options included high-top cocktail tables, comfy chairs and a few sofas.
The food selection wasn’t extensive and its most hearty offerings were two kinds of soup and some dinner rolls. I had a bowl of clam chowder for lunch and it was much better than I would’ve expected. Besides the soups, there were a selection of chips and other salty snacks to munch on before your flight.
The small bar featured a limited variety of hard and soft beverages. Soft drinks, beer and wine were complimentary, while higher-end drinks were available for purchase. Again, nothing spectacular to report here, but it definitely beats waiting at a crowded gate area for a long international flight.
I made my way to the gate about 10 minutes before the flight was scheduled to board. I was very excited for this flight — especially since it was my first long-haul experience on board a 787 Dreamliner — and apparently everyone else was, too. The boarding area was packed with people wanting to get a prime spot in line. Luckily, there was a separate boarding area for business and first-class passengers, so I headed there.
Cabin and Seat
Xiamen’s 787-8 sports a three-cabin configuration. The tiny first-class cabin has just four lie-flat seats, while there are two separate business-class cabins with a total of 18 lie-flat seats (12 in the front cabin and six in the rear) and 215 seats in economy. Business-class seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 layout, which isn’t ideal since not every passenger has aisle access. The seats were upholstered in light blue leather and were very comfortable, despite the color scheme being somewhat drab.
On each seat was a small pillow, a thin blanket and a pair of headphones. The amount of privacy between the seats was definitely lacking — the armrest slid up a little to create a division and the illusion of having more privacy, but it really didn’t do much.
My seat, 12C, was located on the rear left side of the front business cabin so luckily I had aisle access. Throughout the flight, though, my seat-mate had to climb over me in order to get up and stretch or to use the restroom.
Each pair of seats had an ottoman behind it, which also became part of the bed when the seat was fully reclined.
In the seatback in front of me was the IFE screen as well as a coat hook and a storage cubby that I used to store my wallet, passport and some other small belongings I wanted to keep handy.
Underneath the ottoman were two storage cubbies, where I was able to store my shoes and backpack.
Xiamen provided a pair of comfy slippers, which I really appreciated, especially when I was moving around the cabin mid-flight. I’d seen in other airline reviews that business-class passengers received pajamas, but wasn’t offered any during my flight.
The seat reclined into a fully-flat bed, but as you can see, there’s not much privacy between you and the person sitting next to you.
After the meal service was complete, I tried to get some sleep. The flight attendants provided me with a thick duvet as well as a larger pillow to compliment the smaller one that was on my seat when I boarded. The bedding wasn’t quite on par with what you’d find in, say, United Polaris, but I really appreciated the dual-pillow situation — it’s something that airlines tend to overlook but really goes a long way towards enhancing passenger comfort.
Since this 787-8 didn’t have individual air controls over each seat, I struggled to find a comfortable temperature. With the duvet I was too warm, but without it I was too cold.
Food and Beverage
I haven’t had a ton of experience flying in an international business-class cabin — especially on a mainland Chinese carrier — so I really wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to the meal service. I ended up being very impressed by both the quality of the food and the service from the flight attendants though.
The meal service started with a choice of Champagne or juice. I chose the former and enjoyed my glass while the crew got acquainted with the business-class passengers.
A few minutes after I was served my glass, a flight attendant returned to walk me through the menu and take my order. There was a bit of a language barrier, but I really can’t fault the flight attendants for that as Xiamen is a mainland Chinese carrier that just recently made the move to the US market.
Next came a warm cloth, a small bowl of mixed nuts and a glass of white wine. I asked for a Pinot Grigio, but was served Chardonnay — I’ll chalk that up to the language barrier — and really enjoyed it.
Next came the starter course that consisted of a salad with Italian dressing, a dinner roll with butter and a bowl with a few slices of peppered beef mixed with some sort of tuna salad. I was pleasantly surprised with this course and found every item to be delicious! I also appreciated that with each course, I was presented with a whole new tray and all-new silverware.
For my main course, I chose the western-style steak with vegetables on the side, as well as carrot soup. I wasn’t a big fan of the soup, but I really enjoyed the meat and veggies. The steak was a bit overcooked (no surprise there), but was very flavorful overall. The vegetables were cooked just right and had the perfect amount of seasoning.
For dessert, I had only ordered the fruit plate, but ended up receiving a cheese plate which featured grapes, nuts and crackers in addition to the plate of fruit and the lime tart. The fruit was fresh and tasty, but the best part was the lime tart, which was delicious. The crust was light and flaky while the filling was just sweet enough.
Overall, I was really impressed by the meal service on this flight. The FAs were very attentive, paced the meal well and all the dishes I tried were high-quality and tasty.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
Xiamen has very solid amenity kits from Crabtree & Evelyn of London. I really liked the navy blue leather case, so much that I still use it to store chargers, cords and other gadgets whenever I travel.
Inside the amenity kit were ear plugs, an eye mask, chapstick and a toothbrush with toothpaste. There are also some items I hadn’t seen before, like a wet eye mask that was meant to rehydrate and moisturize your face during or after the long flight.
Perhaps the most unique item, however, was the purple velvet pouch adorned with gold-colored tassel pulls. I had no idea what this was until mid-flight when I pulled out my phone to listen to music as I tried to sleep. A flight attendant tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was using my phone. I told her that I was listening to music and the phone was on airplane mode. Apparently that wasn’t allowed. Apparently it’s common for Chinese carriers to ban all cell phone use on flights — even if they’re in airplane mode — but I was unaware of this and pretty confused.
She then told me to open my amenity kit and very kindly explained that the purple velvet pouch (pictured at the top left in the photo below) was a handy storage unit for cell phones. She even showed me how I could hook it to the coat hanger so as to not misplace my phone during the flight. I thought this was hilarious and ended up keeping the pouch to use it as a case for my point-and-shoot camera.
I found the in-flight entertainment system to be very responsive and had enough content on it to keep me entertained anytime I wasn’t asleep. I watched three whole movies during this flight, which is a new record for me!
As we got closer to landing, I explored the entertainment system’s airshow, which provided a bunch of different perspectives — I watched it for a good hour as we approached Shenzhen. I also found the position of the screen to be perfect for viewing, especially since I could recline almost entirely into the flat-bed position and still easily see the screen.
I had a great experience on board Xiamen Air. While there were certainly some quirks — like the blanket cell phone ban and the less-than-ideal 2-2-2 business-class cabin arrangement — I really enjoyed the meals and service I received. Considering the price I paid for this flight, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with this carrier again.
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