With a staffed cocktail bar, relaxation suites, private shower rooms and three separate areas for VIPs, you'd be forgiven for confusing Air China's Beijing T3-C domestic business class and first class lounge with something more 'international'.
Location & Impressions
Air China has a number of lounges in Beijing – you'll find this one past security and in the domestic zone of Terminal 3 amidst the C gates. Travellers using the airline's business and first class check-in and security screening facilities in Zone A should proceed towards the centre of the terminal once airside, while those using the general economy queues can veer slightly left after making it through.
Keep your eyes peeled for Air China lounge signage one floor above the Level 3 concourse, but when you find it, don't go upstairs.
Instead, find the nearest lift or escalator and proceed down to Level 2 – this lounge is tucked away and practically hidden from the rest, making it quieter during peak times as seemingly fewer travellers even know it exists. Compared to the bustling, open and segregated business and first class lounges on Level 4, this joint facility offers considerably more privacy and markedly less noise than its upstairs counterparts.
- Business class and first class passengers of Air China and Shenzhen Airlines
- Air China PhoenixMiles Gold and Platinum cardholders
- Star Alliance Gold cardholders travelling with Star Alliance members Air China or Shenzhen Airlines in any class of service
- Air China PhoenixMiles Silver members willing to redeem 1,500 km for one-time entry when flying with Air China only
- Air Canada Maple Leaf Club and United Club members travelling onwards with a Star Alliance airline (Air China or Shenzhen Airlines)
Despite catering solely to domestic travellers, this lounge has a more 'international' feel with a cocktail bar in the centre of the space... ... paired with quite a reasonable beverage list that also includes (machine-crafted) espresso coffee: We put the bartender to the test and ordered up a Dry Martini, which came sans the usual olive but otherwise tasted as you'd expect of a good mixologist the West. Less impressive is the food offering, with the basic sandwiches, pastries, fruit, salad and yoghurt at the buffet... ... along with instant noodles, chocolates and other treats. While mostly finger foods, the lounge still offers two dedicated dining areas which double as great places to plonk your laptop. Our tip for peckish travellers: If you can access this lounge, you can also stop by that Air China business class lounge on Level 4, or the adjacent first class lounge when flying first class or with a PhoenixMiles Platinum card.
While the ambience of those lounges doesn't match what's on offer down here on Level 2, there's an extensive amount of hot food available such as pork buns, noodles, dumplings, chicken with rice and more, so head there for a bite and then return downstairs for the peace and quiet.
Lounge lizards can connect to free Wi-Fi after registering their passport details at the front desk and receiving a unique access code for the 'Net, with download speeds averaging 2mbps during our visit and uploads around 1mbps – a perfectly usable connection for basic tasks.
Forgot to pack your laptop? There's a business centre with computing and printing facilities... ... although the computer itself didn't appear to be Web-enabled: There you'll also find charging facilities for the most common types of mobile phones, although there's no way to secure your device against theft. As this is near the entrance, use with caution. A better option is to charge your phone near where you're sitting, with power points available against most of the walls, although not in the dining area.
Private VIP lounges
Air China's VIP travellers have three private lounges to choose from within this space, given away only by a small sign on each door: Inside, each is incredibly quiet and isolated from the usual boarding calls, which we found did wonders for our productivity and makes you completely forget that you're in an airport.
They're more so 'rooms' than 'lounges', with each offering guests space in which to work or make an important phone call without being overheard by other travellers. There's also a TV, seating for up to eight invited guests... ... a personal fridge, closet hanging space... ... and pre-set water and snacks to let you power on until boarding. That said, you'll still need to venture into the 'regular' part of the lounge to use the restrooms or for other food and beverage – there's no cocktail service in here, yet there are power points.
And unlike the Qantas Chairman's Lounge which is strictly invite-only, anybody with lounge access can actually pay ¥1,000 (A$210) for exclusive use of a VIP room for up to three hours.
Back in the normal lounge, feel free to pick up a magazine or newspaper with titles in both English and Chinese... ... and take a seat, with duos available for couples, friends, colleagues and solo travellers... ... and circular seats for larger groups or when it's busy. If access to the VIP lounge is off the cards, there are still some quiet nooks in the regular space. In the far corner are a number of semi-private computing suites in which you can unwind or even nap... ... just remember to set an alarm in advance of your boarding time!
Aside from the lacklustre selection of food, the Air China business and first class lounge on Level 2 is more than adequate for domestic travellers flying shorter distances within China, and would almost be enough for international travellers too.
It's also quite a step up from most other Chinese airport lounges – many of which offer guests slow or non-functioning Internet, limited privacy and are often subjected to loud noises and announcements from the terminal itself.
Compare that to the peace and quiet, working Internet, cocktail bar and that 'new lounge' feel down here on Level 2 and you've got yourself a winner.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Beijing as a guest of Air China.
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