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After spending five full days in Beijing on a 144-hour transit without visa, my older two kids and I were moving on to Hong Kong for a few days before flying home. Although I booked our return itinerary as a Cathay Pacific business class award using 50,000 Alaska miles per person (one-way, stopover in Hong Kong), the segment from Beijing to Hong Kong was in premium economy. This meant we could not access the Cathay Pacific business class lounge, even though the second segment is in business.

However, this wasn’t a huge issue since we have access to a number of Priority Pass lounges at PEK through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I settled on using the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport prior to our flight.

Arriving at the Air China First Class Lounge

We had plenty of time to catch our early afternoon flight; I hadn’t put anything on the agenda for the morning. My target departure time was 9:00 a.m. from our hotel (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review), but we ended up all being ready about 8:40. The cab ride was shorter (and cheaper) than expected, so we arrived at Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital Airport way ahead of schedule.

Which was actually a problem. Turns out that the check-in counter for our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong wasn’t even open. We had to chill in the terminal for most of an hour before Cathay Pacific staff started manning the desk three hours before our scheduled departure. The departures area of Beijing Capital Airport is large, so we wandered around until I got tired of rolling our large luggage all over the place.

[SEE: Don’t you DARE try to check in at 6 p.m.]

I’d hoped to spend as much time as possible in the lounge writing while the kids spent time on their schoolwork, and this unfortunately burnt an hour. Once the counter did open, we were among the first to check-in and were then quickly on our way and through immigration and security.

Finally, we were all the way through and into Terminal 3E. The Air China First Class Lounge Beijing is located on the west side of the central area of the terminal, up an escalator to a mezzanine level. The signage is good and the lounge is easy to find.

There was a small line of people as the desk, all using their Priority Pass membership to access the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport. Only one of the terminals/desk staff can accept those using Priority Pass. At least this is what I gathered. I honestly found it quite odd that an international first class lounge participates in Priority Pass at all. I thought the whole idea was that they are supposed to be exclusive spaces? Definitely not complaining, though. Just surprised.

Seating at the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport

Once we were checked in, the kids and I found a place to settle in for a couple hours and we all grabbed some food. Most of the seats are these wide, leather armchairs. The tables are a bit small, but at least you can move them closer to the seats.

Once they had eaten and started working on their studies, I explored the rest of the lounge. The seating is designed all around a central service area. Much of it faces the interior of Terminal 3E.

However, the majority of people sat on the other side where you have nice views of the airport outside.

Had we not needed three seats, I probably would have opted for one of the seats closest to the window.

There is power at a number of the seats, but I wouldn’t call it ubiquitous. If you’re looking to charge your devices, you’ll most likely have to pick seats near the interior wall.

Food and beverage options

The food selection at the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport is good. There are a number of hot dishes, including soup, stewed beef, chicken and rice. There is also a noodle station.

The kids immediately targeted the fruit. It actually hadn’t been all that long since we’d had breakfast at the hotel, so this was more like a snack than a full meal. Both the seating area and the area where food is served provide great views of the airport runways and apron. I spotted primarily Air China planes, but there were a few others that I noticed that I’d never seen before, including the tail of that Air Macau jet you can see closest to the lounge.

The array of food options wraps around to another side, which is where I found the dim sum. The dumplings were decent, but I didn’t know what I was truly missing until we got to Hong Kong and ate at Tim Ho Wan.

If you continue ever further around the side back toward the interior of the terminal, there is a self-serve bar area. At least I assumed it was self serve. There was no attendant there, although it looks like it can be staffed, given the layout. I poured myself a glass of wine and moved on. The selection included a few red and white wines and some spirits. Not a large selection by any means.

A little further along as you wrap around back toward the entrance, there was a cooler with tea and soft drinks in it. Even further along from there was a station with coffee. It was a unique setup with the food and beverages spread out over 4-5 different locations. I wouldn’t call it the finest dining, but the food selection at the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport is still decent. Maybe not up to what I expected as a first class lounge, but it is worlds better than every other Priority Pass lounge I’ve visited to date.

Other general thoughts on the lounge

Overall, the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing is a nice space, but it doesn’t quite hold up to what I expected for an international first class lounge. In other terminals, Air China has mixed First & Business class lounges. Only Terminal 3 has this exclusively first class lounge, although the ability to access with Priority Pass certainly reduces this “exclusive” aspect.

There is this circular area near the entrance where you can sit, if you’d like. I observed and man and a woman inside at one point, who appeared to be a passenger and a lounge staff; the staff was pouring tea. I’m not sure if this is a sort of “traditional” tea ceremony or experience. An airport lounge seems like a strange venue. I’d always understood a tea ceremony (at least in Japan) to be a very special and intimate affair.

There is also a theater area with large leather seats and a large TV screen. No one was in there and there wasn’t a movie on. I’m not sure if it is something you can use on a first-come, first-serve basis, but it might be something fun to do if you have an extended layover at PEK, especially with kids. I didn’t tell my kids it was there. They surely would have wanted to watch something instead of working on math.

WiFi is available. You need an account set up in advance to use the terminal WiFi, or use a self service kiosk. The system in the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport is similar. You have to scan your boarding pass to get the WiFi credentials from a kiosk near the entrance. The speed was decent, but I struggled a bit to maintain a connection with my remote work desktop through a VPN.

The most confusing thing about the WiFi is that the “a” on the second line is actually a continuation of my username. Took me 3 tries to finally realize that I needed to add that final character, and then the login worked just fine.

Conclusion

To be candid, this was my first use of Priority Pass outside the U.S. I’d planned to use it during my Australia trip in early 2017, but the physical card had not come yet and I didn’t have the membership set up in the app to access the lounge in Brisbane. I found the Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport to be a few steps above any domestic U.S. lounge I’ve visited, including some Centurions. The food and drink selection are good, the views great, and the space nice, quiet and relaxing. I’d happily visit again. On a scale of first class lounges, however, my guess is that it would not rank highly, due to the lack of exclusivity and everything I’ve read about some of the top First Class lounges such as Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific.

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