Air China ups foodie credentials with Beijing Duck dish


Air China has seriously bolstered its ‘passenger experience’ (#PaxEx) credentials after opting to offer a world-famous Beijing Duck dish in first class on flights to Europe and the US, airline aficionado – and Routehappy director of data – John Walton suggests.

The carrier worked for several months with Beijing’s most prestigious Peking roast duck house Quanjude — pronounced, roughly, chwann-joo-duh – on ways to roast duck with inflight catering equipment. Now, the two companies have worked out a practical and reliable cooking method and a Beijing Duck-specific menu, “which not only pleases palates, but also educates diners on Beijing Duck’s historic origins”, says Air China.

The carrier even sent its flight attendants to Quanjude to make them more Beijing Duck-savvy. There, they learned about Quanjude’s history, watched the whole process of Duck preparation, and learned the way the Duck is served.

Quanjude’s original location is near Qianmen, just south of Tiananmen Square, and has been open since the late 1800s, notes Walton. “I was taken there a few years ago when I lived in Beijing, and the meal was melt-in-the-mouth incredible.”

He applauds Air China’s decision to offer Beijing Duck to premium customers. “As the flag carrier of China, I think that Air China’s move to include Quanjude’s cuisine on board is absolutely fantastic. It’s a way to distinguish Air China from its domestic competitors, and it goes some way towards matching up to the national cuisine of other regional carriers like the Bibimbap on Korean carriers and Japanese Kaiseki dishes on JAL and ANA. And it strikes me that the crispy skin and moist meat of Beijing-style duck will do quite well on a plane, especially in the steam ovens,” says Walton.

Adding Beijing Duck to the menu is just one of many ways in which Air China has been trying to innovate in onboard services. The carrier previously introduced dozens of classic Chinese and western dishes like ‘crab meat dumplings’ and ‘steak with mushrooms in cream’ on its long-haul routes to Europe and the US.

“Matched with Air China’s plans to serve all its US destinations with Boeing 777-300ER aircraft — with full-flat beds similar to pre-merger Continental’s in business, and a comfortable 3-3-3 layout in economy — it’s a sign that the airline is upping its passenger experience game,” says Walton.

Air China in a statement says it “will continue to introduce more innovative services and products to create a more pleasant experience for passengers”.

Meanwhile, “if you’re in Beijing checking out the #PaxEx on Chinese flights”, a visit to Quanjude is very worthwhile, suggests Walton, “though make sure that you book well in advance”.