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Our week in Beijing & Shanghai

Our week in Beijing & Shanghai
via Air China and JAL First Class
September 2014

Now recovered from her May back surgery, Mrs. SFO is finally ready to get back into long-haul travel.  We’re headed for our first trip to the PRC today, 4 days in Beijing and 3 days in Shanghai.  And flying on some new airlines, Air China on the outbound and Japan Airlines on our return.  

• United First Class Denver-San Francisco
• United Global First Lounge at SFO
• Singapore Silver Kris Lounge at SFO
• Eva Lounge at SFO
• Air China First Class SFO-PEK
• Four Seasons Beijing
• Beijing
• The Great Wall
• China Eastern Airlines First Class Beijing-Shanghai
• The Peninsula Shanghai
• Shanghai
• Japan Airlines Business Class Shanghai-Narita
• Japan Airlines First Class Lounge at NRT
• Japan Airlines First Class NRT-LAX
• American Airlines Flagship Lounge at LAX
• US Airways Express First Class LAX-DEN

Our first stop today is United and our positioning fight to San Francisco.  A comedy of mistakes this morning starting with trying to avoid another security at SFO by asking United DEN to check us in for our Air China fight, which I had booked on a separate PNR on united.com using Mileage Plus miles.  I should have known better.  Two Global First agents tried in vain for 5 minutes before giving up.  No harm, no foul… or so we thought. 

No lines at Pre-Check and we were thru security in less than 90 seconds.

And via train to Concourse B.

We arrived at B45 just before boarding… for everyone except us.   The first hint of trouble was when we heard “Mrs. SFO777, please check with the agent at the B45 podium.”  Apparently, the challenged Global agent had done something with our DEN-SFO reservation, even though we had checked in online at home, that generated a TSA alert and the dreaded SSSS on her reservation and boarding but only after it was re-issued.  The gate agent had to summon TSA agents to the gate and re-clear her.  Next, our boarding passes wouldn’t scan at the jet bridge boarding stand.  So, back to the podium for more tap-tap-tap on the Shares computer system, not once but twice.  Success finally and we were the last to board. Amazingly there was overhead space above our seats.

With the trashing of AA by US Airways management, I am warming to United.  Great DEN-based crew and a brand new A320, complete with… nothing.  In its infinite wisdom, United management ordered these new planes dark… no IFE and no power.  Just Wifi and a wifi based entertainment system.  A nice idea… as long as your battery holds out.  Maybe OK on short hauls but they are now using these suckers on 5+ hour transcons. Wow, simply wow.

Yep, no power.

Open bar PDB.


Yo, United.  You installed a curtain at the galley.  Why not use it???

Unlike USdbaAA on a similar length flight, a full United breakfast flight with a choice of cereal or the Jeff McMuffin.  I wasn’t really hungry but took one for the team and the photo op.  The egg wasn’t very good but with the yogurt, fruit and delicious cinnamon bun, it was a substantial meal.

Not the most responsive Wifi service but when it did kick in, it was on par with gogo.

And you can use your computer, ipad etc to stream movies and other shows.  Just as long as you don't drain the battery.  :)



We arrived at SFO 30 minutes early and headed to the Global First Lounge to camp out until we could check-in for real this time at the Air China ticket counter.   We’re used to being here in the evening when it’s deserted prior to Lufthansa’s SFO-MUC flight.  Pretty crowded today with lots of UA departures.  This has always been one of my favorite US lounges. 



It’s not Lufthansa or Singapore, but a very nice and selection of food and drink.  Too bad United doesn’t try to offer a better First Class product in the air.


Just to the left of the International Terminal United Club is a corridor leading to the Silver Kris Lounge and the Eva Lounge.  Both lounges are only open for 4 hours prior to their flight departures.

The SKL is a pleasant but fairly basic lounge, with an uninspiring selection of serve yourself options.  A far cry from the Cathay Pacific offerings.  Even the United Global First Lounge puts this to shame,

Unfortunately, the Eva Air Lounge was not open so all I could get were a couple of thru the door pics.


We headed out of the secured terminal area to check in at the Air China counter. There were only a handful of pax checking in and no one at the First Class counter where a pleasant UA agent checked us in and issued our boarding passes in less than 90 seconds.

And Mrs. SFO has decided to go unblurred, as long as she likes the pic. 
Back in the Global First Lounge, the GFL dragon announced that boarding has started for our flight. Gate 96 is conveniently located next to the GFL.

From my earlier walk-around.

San Francisco-Beijing
Air China 986
2:50P-5:55P +1 (sked)
2:40P-5:20P +1 (actual)
September 16, 2014
First Class
Seats 2DH
I used 140,000 Mileage Plus miles (70K x 2) for this trip, booking the tickets just before the MP devaluation. Boarding had indeed started by the time we arrived. A great start as two jet bridges were used today, one for Business and Economy and the other just for First Class... which today mean just one other person. 

Only 8 seats in First, two rows of 1-2-1.

We each had our own newspaper stand at our seats. 

Seats controls showing a little wear.

Pre-departure beverage including nuts. Champagne was poured in the galley not at the seat... so no idea what it was.

PJs and amenity kits. I'm not really an XL yet but Mrs. SFO chose for me. 

Said content. Meh.

As is normal for Asian airlines, no one minded as I walked around the cabin during push and taxi to sit in a window seat.

Great views from our taxi and take-off.


After take-off, my first G&T of the day, with lemon... and a cherry?? 

Since we had eaten lunch at Yankee Pier only three hours before departure, we asked to hold our dinner until 6PM. In the interim, we watched a movie. IFE quality was excellent and the controls very responsive. Eclectic selection of movies from around the world, heavy on Chinese movies... although not many with English subtitles. I watched a hilarious French comedy, 100% Cashmere. And a B+ on the IFE guide.

While we deferred dinner, it did not stop our FAs from taking our dinner, wine and 2nd meal choices while we were still on the ground. Mrs. SFO played along while I selected my main and told our FA that I would choose the wine and 2nd meal later. Today's menu...

And wine list, all French except for a few Chinese wines...

I chose the Chinese menu options today. And so our food orgy began.

Indeed I ate the baby squid head although I didn't realize it until after Mrs. SFO told me. 

The soup was delicious.

The main was a huge portion of Barbecue duck and halibut, although the halibut looked and tasted more like chicken.

For dessert, a choice of three cakes, fruit and/or an AA-type cheese plate

And a lovely Jasmine Tea to finish.

Filling out our arrival card. Loved the "Settle Down" choice. 

Mrs. SFO moved over to her bed in 2A while I worked a little more. Then decided to sleep. Was going to have him make my bed in one of the other unoccupied seats... which had now been occupied by pilots... presumably the back-up crew.  Off to the lav while our FA made my bed.

The bed was very comfortable and I slept for 5 hours.

Around 90 minutes from landing, our 2nd meal while watching the 2014 Brit Awards.

With Mr. 2J now in 1J, I moved over to 2J for landing. Mrs. SFO to 2A.

As the first ones off the plane, not much traffic in front of is on our way to Customs and Immigration.

Very nice modern terminal.

Passport control was a breeze. A first for me... rate your customs agent? 

Then down to the train platform for the ride to Baggage Claim and exit.

Talk about packing them in.

Another great sign. 


Shortly after we got off the train, we met our tour company rep.

And then our guide and driver for the next four days.

The Four Seasons Hotel Beijing

Our Virtuoso travel agent had recommended and booked us at the new Rosewood Hotel, which was scheduled to open in August.   Unfortunately, or fortunately in our case, it has not yet opened so we moved to the Four Seasons.  Wow, what a spectacular hotel with an amazing staff.  Indeed, no less than 6 staff members including General Manager Andrew Di Brito were waiting for us as our car pulled in.  

Our suite.

After a quick shower, we head downstairs for a bite to eat at Cai Yi Xuan, the hotel's stunning signature Chinese restaurant.    Outstanding service and food.

After dinner, we headed up to our suite to find...

We didn't tell anyone that it was my birthday.  They must have picked it up when they scanned our passports.  Wow.

One of the best features of the hotel is the Executive Lounge, located on the 26th floor.  A gorgeous oasis from the busy lobby bars.   And amazing service from a EL manager Rebecca and her wonderful staff. 

The library.

And the spectacular outdoor terrace.

Delicious food and beverage spreads that change throughout the day.

Some sampling from the next evening.

And a typical Executive Lounge breakfast.

After a good night's sleep and breakfast, we met our driver and guide "John" at 9:30A and headed out first to Tian'anmen Square.

To the Forbidden City.

A cute couple trying Emporer and Empress costumes, from the rental center.  I suggested to Mrs. SFO that we try them.  No such luck.

Emporer's living quarters.

And the Palace gardens.

After an exhausting 4 mile trek, time for lunch and Peking Duck... at Duck de Chine.

OK, this is pretty cool.


After lunch, we headed for a tour of the Hutong District. 

And the local market.

And nearby, one of the hot new residential areas.

With great excitement, we are off this morning to visit the Great Wall.   We are also avoided most of the crowds by driving some two hours from Beijing to a lesser visited section.  Beautiful scenery once you get outside of Beijing.

Our first glimpse.

We were dropped off at the main entrance to the Jinshanling area of the wall.

And transfered to a smaller local contract van that drove us to access walk.

Once you are up and on the wall, it is truly magnificent and awe inspiring.  Over 5,400 miles of wall protected the country for centuries.   Truly one of the most impressive structures we have seen anywhere in the world.

Walking the wall can be exhausting.  We logged a couple of miles... 

... before our picnic lunch at the Great Wall.   Chef Bennie, part of the wonderful Imperial Tours staff.

What an amazing experiece and one of the highlights of our travels.

Mrs. SFO has been talking about Shin Kong Place for weeks.  All the high end designer shops are here and featuring sky high prices.   Given our schedule, it was either this afternoon or never.      So here we are...

With a "I can't get this in the US" purchase, we are finallly out of there.   Back to the hotel for a drink!

The new Rosewood Hotel.  So happy that they weren't open and we got to experienc the amazing Four Seasons.

OK, now here's a girl with style.  Mrs. SFO claims that the scooter would have been her a "few years ago".  LOL.

For dinner tonight, we tried Mio, the Four Seasons' wonderful Italian restaurant.   OMG, a Bellini cart!!

Day 3 started with breakfast in the wonderful FS Executive Lounge.

First stop today is the Temple of Heaven.  10 acres surround the Temple is a public park and a meeting place for seniors and families.

The Temple of Heaven.

And more shopping as we are off to find some pearls.

Looks like someone is happy.  Amazing prices... if the pearls are as good as advertised.   Great marketing as they have wall after wall of celebrities and world leaders that supposedly shopped here.

Back on the road.

Give a rest Novak.  Stop following us around the world.  LOL.

Next up is lunch at the Summer Palace, specifically the Aman resort at the Summer Palace.

On the road again.  Better him than me working on the power line.

To the Summer Palace, built as a retreat from the city for the Empress Dowager Cixi.