Airline: American Airlines
Route: PEK - ORD
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Booking my trip to Beijing, I had taken advantage of a very cheap fare out of Chicago, only $500 for a round trip to the other side of the world. One issue with that is the length of the flight. Chicago to Beijing is a route that takes you over the North Pole and requires about 13 hours in the air. If I can at all help it, I want to stay out of economy class as much as possible these days, it gets more and more uncomfortable every time a new seat configuration is added. Business class is quite the opposite, so while business class was full on the way to China, the return trip had some open seats available, so I took advantage. Using some points and a little bit of cash, I upgraded to an open business class seat.
One minor issue here is that you only upgrade at the airport if seats are open. You can upgrade prior if there are upgrade seats open, but they were already taken on this flight, so I had to wait until at the airport to see if any seats were open, or if someone was upgraded ahead of me. Luckily I got the seat, but waiting until the last minute means you don’t get your requested meal if you ordered prior to the flight.
Boarding the aircraft, I was in seat 1H in the middle section, I’d prefer to have the seat next to a window, but I wasn’t going to complain about getting a lie flat seat for a 12 hours return flight. When the flight attendants came around with a menu, my flight attendant mentioned they had boarded a special meal for me… awesome, they had just told me they hadn’t back in the terminal. This was actually a half truth, they boarded 1 main dish that was vegetarian, the rest I was on my own. This sucks if you are vegan, but I do sometimes go off script for these reviews, so it was fine seeing as they always seem to carry a vegetarian option anyways.
The menu read as follows:
Before takeoff we were offered drinks. I chose the champagne here, though I’m not a big drinker, and this was the only alcohol I had the entire flight. The pre-departure champagne wasn’t too bad. Something I wouldn’t mind normally drinking at an event or celebration of some sort.
Shortly after, we all took our seats, made a really fast taxi to the runway and took to the skies. We climbed out of Beijing and made our way to cruising altitude. The ride was a bit bumpy, but soon we were cruising along with service starting.
Starters were brought out that consisted of a salad, bread and duck spring rolls. This is where I first got a feel that they didn’t actually board full vegetarian meals. I immediately had her take the duck back, and stuck with the salad. Dressing on the salad was between a honey mustard and something the flight attendant couldn’t actually figure out. Not a great sign when your server doesn’t know what's being offered. I stuck with the honey mustard and it was actually very good, along with a well made salad. As always, the pretzel bread was fantastic.
Next up was the main course. This was the only thing that was boarded as a vegetarian special meal. Not exactly sure why this option was offered and nothing else on the entire plane unless it was left from a previous business class passenger on the outbound flight since it seems they don’t cater much out of Beijing anymore due to very poor past experience with their catering services.
Plated was a pasta dish… *groan* the vegetarian go to for airlines. It was well cooked but had the most confusing sauce I’d ever seen. What was expected was a tomato based sauce, it sort of was, but it seems like they were attempting an Asian flair. Tasting the sauce immediately told you it wasn’t exactly tomato, it was more of a sweet and sour sauce, maybe, sort of… I really don’t know what it was, just that it was weird and I would never have ordered it on the ground, nor would I want to. Not that it was terrible, but it certainly wasn’t good. Food purgatory if you will.
Last up was dessert, I grabbed the berry tart, seemed to be the least dairy based option. Personally, and I know this is subjective, I like berries to be tart, or sour. Overly sweetened berries ruins a dessert for me, and this berry tart was a little too sweet. The sugar content didn’t completely ruin the food, but it was riding the border for me.
After this, the table was cleared and I settled in for some sleep, a lie flat seat can never be overstated, this is all I want for my flights anymore. Soon after lying back, I fell asleep… for many hours. When I awoke, all I heard was the plates of other passengers being cleaned up, I guess I missed the mid flight snack. Flight attendants handle midflight or even pre-arrival meals very differently depending on who you get. This flight attendant never woke anyone for anything. My preference is for an attendant to ask if I want to be awoken, as I review food and want to try what is offered so I can pass that on to everyone here. Needless to say, I was mixed on my feelings here, as I wanted to try some of it… but there were no fully vegetarian options available, so I would have had to have them custom make it without meat for this one. Maybe better I slept through this meal. Back to sleep I went.
Waking just before landing, the flight attendant asked what I wanted to try. The only option that was vegetarian was the quiche. Now no matter if I am giving in from vegan a little to review these meals or not, I still never want eggs, never have been a big fan, still don’t want them now that I don’t eat meat.
Only option is the only option though and I tried it. Actually a very, very good quiche, fairly close to some of the best I’ve had. This is quite impressive seeing as this may have been catered in Chicago, flown to Beijing, sat overnight and flown all the way back to Chicago before it was ever served and it still was on point. Well done American, good show.
Alongside the quiche was some grilled squash, potatoes, and a side salad. All of these were pretty great, though I always find a salad for breakfast weird. Last up was dessert, a sour cream ginger cake. I think I’ve mentioned how I’m not a huge ginger fan if it is prominent. Personally, ginger is a subtle added ingredient, not in your face and this cake was dense and in your face with ginger. Once again, not terrible, but I would have preferred something else.
Soon we were on the ground and performing a normal Chicago taxi fo roughly the same length as your flight time. Overall the food was actually pretty good with the exception of the main course for the first meal. Other than that misstep, the food was very well done. Nicely put together American, as a vegetarian meal goes it was something I actually quite enjoyed.