The Definitive Guide to Air China’s Direct Routes From The U.S. [Plane Types & Seat Options]

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Air China is one of the flag carriers of China, which is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. Plenty of people travel to China for business, but the tourist market for China is similarly gigantic.

China doesn’t get a great reputation for offering stellar first and business class products. However, if you want the quickest flights to China and want to enjoy a lot of award availability, Air China is a great option.

As we’ll find out, Air China offers the most plentiful route and award availability for Star Alliance flights to China. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the aircraft, seating, and route options on Air China!

Seat Options by Aircraft Type

Air China operates a total of 4 aircraft on flights to and from China:

  • 777-300ER
  • 787-9
  • 747-8
  • A330-200

The good thing about Air China is that they’re pretty consistent with offering the same aircraft on the same routes. If there is an aircraft swap, they’ll usually announce it in advance.

Here’s our chart for the overall route offerings, flight numbers, aircraft, cabin classes, and flight frequency:

Air China RouteFlight No.AircraftCabin ClassesFrequency
Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK)CA 984/988/888CA 984: 777-300ER

CA 888: Mostly 787-9, sometimes 777-300ER

CA 988: 777-300ER

777-300ER: First, Business, Economy

787-9: Business, Premium Economy, Economy

3x daily
San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK)CA 986747-8First, Business, Premium Economy, EconomyDaily
Honolulu (HNL) – Beijing (PEK)CA 838A330-200Business, Economy3x weekly
Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK)CA 820777-300ER until October 26, 2019. Then 787-9First, Business, Premium Economy, EconomyDaily until September 2019, then 6x weekly until Oct 26 2019, then 5x weekly
New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK)CA 990/982CA 990: 777-300ER

CA 982: Mostly 747-8, sometimes 777-300ER

777-300ER: First, Business, Economy

747-8: First, Business, Premium Economy, Economy

2x daily
Houston (IAH) – Beijing (PEK)CA 996/886777-300ERFirst, Business, Economy4x weekly
Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY)CA 885777-300ERFirst, Business, Economy2x weekly
Washington D.C. (IAD) – Beijing (PEK)CA 818777-300ER777-300ER: First, Business, EconomyDaily from April 2019 to Nov 2019

5x weekly from Nov 2019 – April 2020

Best Points to Earn to Fly Air China

Air China is a Star Alliance carrier, so you can book Air China award flights with United MileagePlus Miles, Air Canada Aeroplan miles, Avianca LifeMiles, and ANA miles.

You may also book Air China flights using non-Alliance partner currencies like Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

As you may already know, we’re huge fans of using ANA miles for business class redemptions, which can be a huge sweet spot.

ANA Mileage Club, Avianca LifeMiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and Air Canada Aeroplan are some of the transfer partners of America Express Membership Rewards.

In addition, United MileagePlus is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner.

For those with a lot of Citi ThankYou Rewards points, you’ll be pleased to know that Citi is transfer partners with Avianca LifeMiles and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Capital One miles are also a viable option, though the transfer ratio is not as good at 2 Capital One miles for 1.5 airline miles. You can transfer Capital One miles for Air Canada Aeroplan miles, Avianca LifeMiles, and Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

All in all, there are tons of options and opportunities to fly Air China.

Hot Tip: Getting to China with points and miles is easier than ever. Check out our in-depth guide on the best ways to fly to China with points and miles.

Let’s get into the analysis.

Air China First Class Options

air china first class
Air China 747-8 First Class. Image credit: thedesignair.net.

Air China operates 2 long-haul first class products. These are:

  • 747-8
  • 777-300ER

Air China calls their first class product Forbidden Pavilion in their marketing materials. These two first class products are both open-air suites that don’t have sliding doors.

When flying on Air China first class, expect huge seats, a comfortable slumber, and warm service. Air China’s soft product will not impress most points travelers, but the main selling point is getting to China quickly and well-rested.

First Class on Air China’s 747-8

The first class product we’ll begin with is the 747-8. There are a total of 12 seats across 3 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. Each open suite seat measures up at 26.5 inches wide and 83 inches in pitch. These large first class seats are fully lie-flat and have direct aisle access.

The seat map looks like this:

Air China 747-8 First Class Seat Map
Air China 747-8 first class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

Ordinarily, the first class cabin on the 747 is located in the nose. But the 747-8 has a rather peculiar positioning of the first class cabin. The cabin on the 747-8 is located on the lower deck, behind the business class cabin, but in front of the premium economy cabin.

As you can see, lavatories and galleys are located at the back of the first class cabin, though there’s quite a bit of distance that separates the two, which is great.

As a personal rule of thumb, I always try to seat myself where there’s the least foot traffic. Seeing as how first class passengers will be walking to the back of the cabin to use the lavatories, I’d say the best seats on the 747-8 are in row 1.

Couples traveling together should choose 1D and 1H when possible, while solo travelers should select either 1A or 1L, which are window seats.

You’ll find the 747-8 operated by Air China with this first class cabin layout on these routes:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK)
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 mostly

First Class on Air China’s 777-300ER

Let’s move on to our second and last Air China first class product, the 777-300ER.

The 777-300ER is the most frequently operated long-haul aircraft from Air China. If you’re flying on Air China between the U.S. and China, chances are you’re going to be flying on a 777-300ER.

The first class cabin on the 777-300ER is more intimate, with only 8 seats spread across 2 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seats each measure up at 23 inches in width and 80 inches in pitch and bed length.

As you can tell, the seats on the 777-300ER are 3.5 inches narrower and 3 inches shorter in pitch and bed length compared to the 747-8. 

This is to be expected since the 747-8 is wider than the 777-300ER. The first class seat map on the 777-300ER looks like this:

Air China 777-300ER First Class Seat Map
Air China 777-300ER first class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

There’s one lavatory located at the front left side of the first class cabin and two lavatories located behind the first class cabin.

The best seat for solo travelers is 1L, which is as far as possible from the lavatories and galleys. Furthermore, it’s a window seat, so you’ll be able to enjoy the view as much as possible.

For those traveling with a companion, you’ll want to select 1D and 1H and avoid row 2.

You’ll find the Air China 777-300ER on the following U.S. routes:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 984 and 988
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 sometimes
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 990
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 sometimes
  • Houston (IAH) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY)
  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) until October 26, 2019

Bottom Line: Air China flies two first class products to and from the U.S.; these are the 747-8 and 777-300ER. When given the choice, you’ll enjoy a better product on the 747-8 in first class.

Air China Business Class Options

Air China Business Class 787-9
Air China Business Class 787-9. Image credit: Youtube.com / Shanghai Flyer

Air China operates a business class cabin on all of their long-haul aircraft to and from the U.S. The four types of aircraft you’ll see on Air China routes are the following:

  • 777-300ER
  • 787-9
  • 747-8
  • A330-200

Business Class on Air China’s 777-300ER

Our pick for the best Air China business class product is the 777-300ER.

Air China’s 777-300ER contains 42 fully lie-flat business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. Window seats don’t have direct aisle access, which can limit passenger’s movement. The seats are 22 inches wide and 60 inches in pitch.

There are a total of 7 rows in business class as shown below:

Air China 777-300ER Business Class Seat Map
Air China 777-300ER business class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

As you can see, the business class lavatories and galley are located at the front of the cabin. Right behind row 17 is the economy cabin, so the best seats will likely be in row 16 due to the balance between distance from the lavatories and distance from the economy cabin.

You’ll find this business class seat map on Air China 777-300ERs, which are operated on these routes:

  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) until October 26, 2019
  • Houston (IAH) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 984 and 988
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 sometimes
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 990
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 sometimes
  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Beijing (PEK)

Business Class on Air China’s 787-9

The next business class winner is on the 787-9. In this case, Air China has 30 lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration on their 787-9s, which is nearly the same as on the 777-300ER. The main difference is that the seat width is 1 inch narrower at 21 inches. 

Here’s what the seat map looks like:

Air China 787-9 Business Class Seat Map
Air China 787-9 business class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The business class window seats in row 14 are missing windows, so you’ll want to avoid those.

As a rule of thumb, if there are bathrooms flanking both ends of the cabin, you’ll want to pick the middle row of seats. That will minimize the amount of foot traffic in your surrounding area.

As a result, the best seats would be in row 13 on Air China’s 787-9. You can find the 787-9 on these nonstop routes to and from the United States:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 mostly
  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) after October 26, 2019

Business Class on Air China’s 747-8

Our next business class product from Air China is on the 747-8. The 747-8 contains 54 business class seats split up into 2 cabins on the upper and lower decks of the plane. Each of these seats is identical in size to the business class seats on the 787-9: 21 inches wide and 60 inches in pitch.

Here’s what the two business class cabins look like:

Air China 747-8 Business Class Seat Map Upper Deck
Air China 747-8 business class seat map lower deck. Image credit: seatguru.com.
Air China 747-8 Business Class Seat Map Lower Deck
Air China 747-8 business class seat map upper deck. Image credit: seatguru.com.

For the most comfortable trip possible on the 747-8, you want to be located in the nose of the aircraft. In our case, the lower deck has the most private configuration.

Specifically, seats in row 11 don’t have anything in front of them, so you’ll enjoy the most private seating in the aircraft. You’ll also be far away from lavatories and galleys, giving you a quiet ride in Air China’s 747-8 business class.

You’ll find these planes operated on the following routes:

  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 mostly
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK)

Business Class on Air China’s A330-200

The very last business class product is the A330-200. Not commonly operated throughout the fleet, the A330-200 contains business class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. These seats are 21 inches wide and 80 inches long in bed mode. There are 30 business class seats in this cabin.

Because the A330-200 is operated on only one route, not many travelers will be flying on this plane, which is why the A330-200 takes last place in our rank.

The business class cabin seat map looks like this:

Air China A330-200 Business Class Seat Map
Air China A330-200 business class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The lavatories are located on the left hand side of the aircraft while the galleys are in the middle of the right side of the aircraft. This means that the best seats in this layout will be in 15J and 15L. You won’t experience much foot traffic or noise when seated there.

You can find the Air China A330-200 on this sole route to and from the U.S.:

  • Honolulu (HNL) – Beijing (PEK)

Bottom Line: The winner of the business class ranking on Air China is the 777-300ER. The business class seats are the largest, which is why we ranked it at the top. 

Air China Premium Economy Class Options

Premium Economy Air China 787
Premium economy on Air China’s 787-9. Image credit: dyimage.org.

Premium economy on Air China is only operated on these two aircraft:

  • 787-9
  • 747-8

Premium Economy on Air China’s 787-9

The premium economy product on Air China is pretty solid, with recliner seats and a decent seat size.

On the 787-9, there are 34 premium economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. Each seat is 19.3 inches wide and 36-38 inches in pitch. The seat map looks as follows:

Air China 787-9 Premium Economy Class Seat Map
Air China 787-9 premium economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The galley is located at the front of the cabin, and there are no lavatories nearby.

As a traveler, I would pick seats in row 31, specifically seats 31A/C and 31J/L due to the extra room and couples seating. The galley proximity is something that can easily be overlooked because of the extra comfort afforded from the legroom.

You’ll find this premium economy seating arrangement on the following Air China 787-9 routes:

  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) after October 26, 2019
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 mostly

Premium Economy on Air China’s 747-8

The premium economy seat map on the 747-8 is denser. There are a total of 66 premium economy seats in a 3-4-3 configuration.

Each seat is 18.3-19.3 inches wide and 36-38 inches in pitch. This means that the premium economy seat is up to 1 inch narrower than the same seat on the 787-9, which is not ideal.

1 inch makes a big difference in an airplane, which is one of the reasons why we ranked the 747-8 lower than the 787-9 in premium economy.

The seat map looks like this:

Air China 747-8 Premium Economy Class Seat Map
Air China 747-8 premium economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

Row 31 seats are close to the first class galleys and lavatories, so there’s a possibility you’ll be experiencing some noise if seated in row 31. However, the incremental benefit of extra legroom may be worth it. You’ll want to avoid sitting in row 37, as it’s extremely close to the lavatories.

You’ll find the 747-8 flown by Air China on these routes to and from the United States:

  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 mostly
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK)

Bottom Line: The premium economy cabin on the 787-9 is more intimate than the 747-8. This, along with the larger seats on the 787-9, demonstrates that the clear premium economy winner from Air China is on the 787-9. 

Air China Economy Class Options

Air China Economy 787
Air China Economy on the 787. Image credit: people.com.cn.

The very last cabin type is the Air China coach offerings. There’s quite a bit of variation between seats, cabins, and configurations, but our Air China economy rankings are as follows:

  • 787-9
  • A330-200
  • 747-8
  • 777-300ER

Economy on Air China’s 787-9

Our first place winner in Air China economy is the 787-9. The economy seats on these aircraft are 18 inches wide and 31-33 inches in pitch. The economy seats are arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration, and there are a total of 229 seats in this cabin.

The 787-9 is a hi-tech aircraft with state-of-the-art engineering, resulting in climate control properties that make flying more comfortable. This was one of the reasons why the 787-9 was ranked as having the best Air China economy seat.

The seat map looks like this:

Air China 787-9 Economy Class Seat Map
Air China 787-9 economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The best seats are in rows 35 and 36. Specifically, the center row seats in row 36 and side row seats in row 35 have tons of extra legroom thanks to the bulkhead.

If you can’t secure those seats, shoot for row 47 seats, which also have lots of legroom but are close to the lavatories and galleys. Air China’s 787-9 is found on these U.S. routes:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 mostly
  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) after October 26, 2019

Economy on Air China’s A330-200

Our next winner is the Air China A330-200. Seats are mostly arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, are 18 inches wide, and 32 inches in pitch. There are a total of 207 economy seats on this aircraft. The seat map looks like this:

Air China A330-200 Economy Class Seat Map
Air China A330-200 economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The most preferential seats would be 32D, 32H, 44A/C, 43D/E/F/H, and 43J/L due to the extra legroom you’ll have access to.

Legroom, comfort, and personal space are the major concerns in economy, so you’ll be best-suited reserving a seat that allows you to stretch out as much as possible.

Currently, the A330-200 is flown on only one route:

  • Honolulu (HNL) – Beijing (PEK)

Economy on Air China’s 747-8

The Air China 747-8 has 233 economy seats, each of which are 18 inches wide and 31-33 inches in pitch. The seats are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration as follows:

Air China 747-8 Economy Class Seat Map
Air China 747-8 economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

The best seats are located in row 48 because of the extra legroom that you’ll experience.

These exit rows seats have the added bonus of not being located near lavatories, only galleys. Galleys experience a lot less foot traffic than lavatories, so you should always prefer to be close to a galley over a lavatory.

If you can’t nab seats in row 48, aim for seats in exit row 38. You’ll find the 747-8 operated by Air China on these routes:

  • San Francisco (SFO) – Beijing (PEK)
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 mostly

Economy on Air China’s 777-300ER

The very last choice for Air China economy is the 777-300ER. The seats are 18 inches wide and 32 inches in pitch. The economy cabin is configured in a 3-3-3 arrangement, with a total of 261 economy seats.

The seat map looks like as follows:

Air China 777-300ER Economy Class Seat Map
Air China 777-300ER economy class seat map. Image credit: seatguru.com.

As always, you’ll want to focus all your efforts on securing exit row seats. Going for seats in row 34 will prove most fruitful. There are two lavatories and zero galleys near row 34, while the exit row seats in row 47 are next to two lavatories and a galley.

Also, there’s going to be a lot less foot traffic in row 34 because most of the seats are located further back in the aircraft.

Of course, if row 34 seats are all taken, you’ll want to try for row 47 seats to ensure exit row legroom for your flight.

Bottom Line: Air China’s economy seats are not as big as other airlines’ seats; however, Air China often has unbeatable prices on these flights, which can be a great reason to fly in economy. Be sure to pick the 787-9 as your first choice!

The Air China routes offering this economy layout on the 777-300ER are:

  • Washington D.C. (IAD) – Beijing (PEK)
  • Newark (EWR) – Beijing (PEK) until October 26, 2019
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 888 sometimes
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 984 and 988
  • Houston (IAH) – Panama City (PTY)
  • Houston (IAH) – Beijing (PEK)
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 982 sometimes
  • New York City (JFK) – Beijing (PEK) on CA 990

Final Thoughts

All in all, there are quite a few differences among the various seats in all of Air China’s cabin classes. The common theme you’ll notice is that Air China’s seats are comfortable enough and sufficient for a nonstop flight to China from various cities.

Award availability is plentiful and there are tons of opportunities to book Air China with points and miles.

With this new information, you’ll have all the information necessary to book flights on the best planes and select the best seats with Air China.


Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

FAQ

What's the best way to book Air China first class?

The cheapest way to book Air China first class is by using 80,000 Asiana Airlines miles one-way. Unfortunately, Asiana Airlines only has one transfer partner: Marriott.

You can book round-trip first class with 180,000 ANA miles, 180,000 Avianca LifeMiles, 210,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles, or 240,000 United MileagePlus Miles.

Remember that ANA, Avianca LifeMiles, and Air Canada Aeroplan are all transfer partners with American Express Membership Rewards.

United MileagePlus is transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards.

Avianca LifeMiles is transfer partners with Citi ThankYou Rewards.

Lastly, Avianca LifeMiles, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and Air Canada Aeroplan are all transfer partners with Capital One Rewards.

What's the best ways to book Air China business class?

Without a doubt, the best choice is using 95,000 ANA miles to book round-trip business class on Air China.

You can also use 60,000 Asiana miles to book one-way business class with Air China. Other one-way options include 75,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, 75,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles, 75,000 Avianca LifeMiles, or 80,000 United MileagePlus miles.

What are the best ways to book Air China premium economy class?

Unfortunately, there aren’t very many ways to book Star Alliance premium economy awards. You can spend 125,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles for round-trip premium economy or 62,500 miles one-way.

What's the best ways to book Air China economy class?

The cheapest way to book economy class is by using 60,000 ANA miles for a round-trip ticket. Other award booking options include 70,000 Avianca LifeMiles, 70,000 United MileagePlus miles, 75,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles, or 80,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.

Stephen Au

About Stephen Au

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Stephen has been privileged to enjoy many premium cabin products and 5-star hotels. A petroleum engineer by trade, Stephen caught the travel bug in college when he traveled to Asia several times. After 2 years of continual promotions in a six-figure job, Stephen quit his safe and secure career path in favor of entrepreneurship.

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