I made an attempt to fly on China’s former Air Force One - an Air China B747-400 but the plane broke down after boarding. What happened?


I started my journey at Beijing Capital Int’l Airport with a visit to the Air China domestic lounge. Watch the video to see all the features of the lounge.

a large building with people walking around
Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 3
a man taking a selfie with a giant panda bear
Air China's mascot; Panda Bear

China has recovered from COVID in terms of domestic travel, Air China flies B747-8 daily on from Beijing to Shanghai and on Guangzhou routes. Air China B747-400 is currently flying between Beijing and the Southern cities of Shenzhen.

International travel out of China has not recovered as fast as one may hope. Many secondary airlines such as Air Mauritius, Sri Lankan Airlines have changed their strategy during COVID and have not returned to China. Many Chinese citizens face long visa wait times and restrictions of joining group tours, these measures have made most Chinese airlines re-deploy their widebody aircraft on domestic trunk routes.

a sign with information on it

The Former Chinese Air Force One

The former Chinese Air Force One; Air China B747-400 registration B-2472 was used until 2020 and returned to Air China’s fleet. The current Air Force one is an Air China B747-8i.

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My flight from Beijing to Shenzhen is operated by B-2472, former Chinese Air Force One
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Metal plate at the door of the plane
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B-2472 was number 700th Boeing 747 built
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The interior is dated with recliner seats in the nose. I've heard this section was a private office for the Chinese President before Air China re-configured.
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a man standing in a plane
Nice 747 nose bulkhead Chinese art
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I was probably a handful of joyful passengers as most didn't realize the significance of this B747.
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747 Broken - Return to the Gate

After pushback and engine start, the 747 sat on the taxiway with all 4 engines running for about an hour then we returned to the gate due to an unspecified mechanical issue.

We have to pack our belongings and deplane. The delay went on for almost three hours and passengers were finally swapped to an even older B747-400; 28 years old B-2447 which was used by President Jiang Zemin before returning back to Air China service.

Passengers were given a revised departure time of 13:30 (2 hours 30 mins after the original departure time). The gate was changed to a remote boarding gate C59. However, Air China was too optimistic, boarding didn't start for another hour until 14:30.

During the delay, passengers were furious with how Air China handled such an unexpected issue. It raises concern about whether there is any consumer protection rule such as EU261 in China.

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a man taking a selfie on a bus
Re-boarding after 3 hours delay
a man taking a selfie with a plane
Oldest Air China B747-400, 28 years old B-2447
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A photo to remember the journey
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Nothing like walking up to the B747 with the screaming APU sound!

Inside B747-400; B-2447

Surprisingly, the interior is more modern inside this older B747. It has a different bulkhead art featuring the Summer Palace at Beijing.

a room with a painting on the wall
a man standing in a room with a painting
a plane with seats and windows
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a group of men standing on a runway
Finally, it is a GO after 3.5 hours delay

The replacement 747 took off fast and climbed straight to 38,000 ft without further incident. Here is the takeoff scene in my video.

I documented the in-flight service and tour around the whole plane after takeoff.

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Upper deck of Air China B747-400
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Air China B747-400 First Class is in the middle
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a group of people sitting in an airplane
Air China B747-400 Economy Class

The interiors are dated and given the limited lifeline of this plane, I highly doubt it will receive any upgrade in the cabin. There is no IFE in Economy Class apart from the main LED screen.

For food, there were 3 choices in Business Class, I had the roasted duck which was decent.

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a tray with food on it
a tray of food on a tray
Flight attendants offer Chinese pickles with the meal

The whole journey from takeoff to landing was smooth. I was able to take photos and videos without any incident. In fact, Air China B747 crew told me many AvGeeks are doing the same.

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an airplane wing with two engines above a city
an airplane wing with two engines above a city
a shadow of an airplane on a grass field

It was nostalgic to be able to fly on one of the last active B747-400 in China. The landing in Shenzhen was an extremely smooth and quiet one. Watch it on my video!

Air China currently flies 2 B747-400 (B-2447 and B-2472). Despite the delay, I was lucky to sample both of them.