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Airline Review: China Southern A330 Sky Priority Business Class

December 27, 2012, 3:47 pm Angie Takanami Yahoo!7

How does China Southern's Business Class service fare among the world's airlines? Angie Takanami takes to the skies to test ride the A330 Sky Priority service.

Airline Review: China Southern A330 Sky Priority Business Class - seating
Rating:
(5)

The haul from Brisbane to Beijing is long and on most China Southern flights, jam packed. Ours was no exception, but my VIP, Sky Priority Business Class ticket ensured avoidance of any pre and post flight scuffles. Whilst the service could do with some upgrades, both cosmetic and other, on the whole the flight was pretty comfortable with the food a sure highlight. Read on for more details.

Route: Brisbane to Beijing via Guangzhou.

Aircraft: China Southern A330

Flight Time: 8 hours 30minutes from Brisbane to Guangzhou; 2 hours 30minutes from Guangzhou to Beijing.

Check-in: Brisbane check-in was quick and easy, mind you I was three hours early like a child awaiting entry to a theme park, eager to test-ride the lounge before boarding. The counter was at the furthest end from the entrance, but the free carts on offer at Brisbane International Airport were more than enough to transport my luggage to the desk.

The Lounges: Air New Zealand Koru Lounge Brisbane and Southern China Lounge Guangzhou

Brisbane International Airport
China Southern share the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge at Brisbane Airport, something I was really excited about upon arrival. After flashing my VIP boarding pass, I stepped through into the lounge area where I was immediately underwhelmed. It was small, almost at full capacity, and hardly emitting the ‘wow’ factor. Whilst the mix of charcoals and woods in the décor are modern and some of the sofas rather comfortable looking (I had to settle for a hard upright seat and small round dining table), the lounge’s overall impression was one of being somewhat under-dressed.

It was breakfast time so I shot straight to the buffet, where I found three trays featuring the remains of goey scrambled eggs, one leftover strip of overcooked bacon, and a few lonely hash browns. Searching for a side plate I ended up having to also search for staff, and when I finally tracked a waitress down I had to request fresh plates, and ask for fresh food tray re-fills. In the meantime I settled for a pastry from the very small selection, and awaited the arrival of fresh eggs and bacon. Honestly, I had time to brew a cup of tea, power up my laptop, shoot off three emails and even take a quick trip to the toilet before a new tray of eggs came out, sadly the supporting tray of bacon took another fifteen minutes.

The bar, however, was fully stocked and I’ve heard the evening buffet is quite an upgrade from the breakfast.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport

The new China Southern VIP Lounge in Guangzhou is the best I have been in, boasting two levels of absolute luxury. You’ll find a very extensive, and well-lit, buffet-style dining area downstairs, whilst the upstairs area is a never-ending series of swanky relaxation chairs, comfortable lounges, upright dining areas and shower and toilet facilities. To the side of the mood-lit comfort zone, there’s also a plush bar area with light snacks and refreshments, however the alcohol selection was disappointing; there was no champagne and only two white wine choices including a Chinese dry white wine and French Chablis, yet there were four bottles of red ranging from France to Australia.

The free wifi was a bonus, however we discovered the first of an ongoing China tour dilemma – no Facebook accessibility (China enforces strict social media policies).

Punctuality: Our departure from Brisbane was delayed by around thirty minutes, shortening our time in the snazzy Guangzhou lounge, whilst our domestic flight through to Beijing (actually it was the same plane, you just have to disembark whilst they clean it and change crew) was on time.

Seat and cabin layout: Business class, 2-2-2 configuration, with 24 seats. I had seat 3C. The 20-inch seats have a 64-inch pitch, and extend to 160-degree incline for sleeping – I enjoyed the opportunity to stretch my legs but it surely didn’t compete with any flat bed offered on other airlines.

Credit: Southern China Airlines

The ageing cabin needed a good scrub, with visible scuff marks on the seat bases attracting my attention before I could sit down. The head rests are slightly tilted down when the seat is in an upright position, which I found incredibly uncomfortable on the neck during take-off and landing. Once in the air I could adjust the seat which was a vast improvement.

The 160-degree incline is great for lazing about in front of the on-board entertainment system, but when it comes to sleeping – nothing beats a flat bed. Unfortunately the lack of flatness meant an ongoing battle with gravity as my body constantly slipped down towards the floor; needless to say I slept poorly.

Baggage allowance: Checked baggage allows up to 40 kilograms, and 1 carry-on bag with a maximum weight of 5 kilograms.

On-board entertainment:

Passengers who had loaded up their iPads with movies pre-departure were either very well prepared or had flown with China Southern before. The on-board entertainment is limited at best, with a handful of English language titles, TV episodes and radio stations, and no touch-screen.

Service: The crew was either exceptionally tired or in need of some serious re-training. There was a lack of warmth from the hostesses, except when it came to serving beverages (the champagne was warm). Only one menu circulated all 12 Business Class passengers, and I found the language barrier caused a lot of confusion between the crew and English-speaking passengers. Upon arrival to Guangzhou there was much confusion as to whether we needed to actually disembark the plane (we did) which was flying us onto Beijing. Loose transfer instructions were given over the on-board intercom after we had already landed.

Food and beverages: No champagne upon arrival on-board unless you ask, and then it’s a matter of whether they are actually carrying it that day or not. Mine was served warm, as was the white wine and beer I had later during the flight. My glass was, however, consistently re-filled, with French bubbly, and after I finally requested the crew pop the bottle into the fridge for 15 minutes before my next pour, we were making progress.

The food, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise – if your selection was available. The seven-course meal featured a favorable mix of Chinese and Western dishes, the highlight being the China Southern Deluxe Beef Noodle Soup Ensemble served with fresh garnishes and cut chilli on the side.

China Southern Deluxe Beef Noodle Soup Ensemble


With only 13 main meals prepared for 12 guests, however, it was a real pot-luck getting what you wanted. My first choices for both entrée and main meal were already out, and I was only the second row back from the front! The cabin manager told me this is a problem that the airline is working on solving – let’s hope they do.

Delicious snacks were served throughout the flight.

The snacks throughout the flight were varied and consistent, with a good selection of cheeses, cakes, fruit and Chinese dumplings on offer.

Flight Frequency: China Southern Airlines operates four return services per week out of Brisbane to Beijing via Guangzhou, and Business Class fares start from $5800 return.

Summary:

For long-haul flights, Business Class is always my preferred mode of transport, if anything just to stretch my legs and eat a decent meal. For just under $6000, you can do that on China Southern, but forget about fancy seats, chilled champagne or getting a good night’s sleep. I’d like to see an improvement in the service including hiring more English-speaking staff and spending some money on upgrading the cabins and entertainment system. Positives were the flight was only slightly delayed and the Guangzhou lounge was fabulous - wish I could've spent more time there!

More Information

www.flychinasouthern.com/

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19 Comments

  1. sj12:41am Friday 06th September 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    i am wondering if i am reading this about the same airline. My children flew this business class on A380 form LA to China. I rang up LA, then Cambodia (the final destination) and then the "hotline" in China merely to request a sea food meal for my daughter. After ringing 3 different countries I was finally asked to talk to their "canteen". After 3 calls to 3 countries i gave up! And all this for a mere sea food meal for a business class passenger. Astoundingly incompetent and no concept of service whatsoever. and all the while they behaved as if they were doing me a great favor. When the children got on the flight they were given a menu with several choices- except that nothing except beef and pork were available. We finally canceled their return flight and took Malaysian - never to even think about this terrible airline. if this is how they behave with business class passengers I wonder what maltreatment the economy passengers get.

    Reply
  2. Robert P12:05am Friday 30th August 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    China Eastern and China Southern from Melbourne to Shanghai or Guangzhou tickets are available at amazing discounts if you pay in $US. I go to China at least 3 times a year and on one occasion had to return in a rush as I was very ill indeed. The attendants took really good care of me and even though I do not speak Chinese it was obvious to me that they were very concerned about my welfare. The service is ok but if you want something to eat and drink on what is a long flight, just get up and ask for it and they will oblige. Cheap efficient and on one occasion, very reassuring indeed.

    Reply
  3. Peter08:10pm Saturday 03rd August 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I am an Aussie and am proud to have a Chinese wife, we travel from Melbourne to Guangzhou usually a couple of times a year, not being in a privileged position we travel basic economy. The flight is around 9hrs 30 minutes, and have travelled both overnight and during daylight. Yes, seating legroom is limited and most flights very full we have no complaints as to the service - staff have always been most respectful and DO understand and SPEAK English if you are patient, food has always been excellent and service good. Make an effort to speak some Chinese and you will be rewarded - Recommend fly at night, slightly more expensive, but worth not loosing the time and sleep!

    1 Reply
  4. P G S03:37pm Friday 05th July 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I have flown with China's Southern & Eastern - no problem at all. Food was good - oddly enough I expected Chinese food (and you can check the menu online....). Subbed movies were fine; even the ones without subs were good for a chuckle. No, I don't understand the language. Staff on both were great. I agree, Singapore Air can't be beaten on service, but they are getting rather expensive. Although they are OK, I'm not fussed on the idea of Thai from here again until they send planes a bit younger than the 20+ year old ones we had been getting. Malaysian is also worth a trip or two. Scoot is a good idea - but check your connection times. The flight from here lands in Singapore too late to connect with most practical outbounds the same day. Scoot Sydney to Bangkok requires a 22 hour stop in Singapore, as the flight to BKK leaves Changi 2 hours before the one from Sydney lands.

    Reply
  5. Paul07:33pm Sunday 26th May 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I can't comment on cabin service as I didn't get that far. I made my reservation well in advance of travel to make other arrangement. One month later my travel agent notified two out of four flights had been cancelled. Asked for the airline to rebook me with another carrier on the same days. Told this was not going to happen. My travel agent has advised a refund can take as long as eight weeks. Of course, this may not be the airline, bit overall a bad experience.

    Reply
  6. Kim03:41pm Friday 12th April 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I have done seven return flights with China Eastern, some to shanghai others to beijing and one to new york and never felt safety was an issue and will be flying with the again in about 10 days time. Yes chinese airlines are not 4 or 5 star skytrack rated airlines they are 3 star and priced accordingly. The entertainment systems have limited english selection so if you dont like to watch somthing different with subtitles then load up the laptop or ipad. They offer a very affordable version of business class and if having some space is your priority then thats what you are buying. The bonus of a quick check in and reasonable lounge (China Eastern use the qantas club in Oz) and have their own in China which are very basic. The big plus is that if you like chinese food it is very good, i dont drink when flying so have no idea about the wine selection. The new a330'S they are operating from melbourne are less than a year old but the 340's from Shanghai to New York are well over the decade old but appear well maintained and I at no stage felt my safety was compromised. Its business class basics at a great price.

    1 Reply
  7. Michael06:48pm Tuesday 02nd April 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I don't lnow what you expect all you people. i have flown four times from Sydney to Guangzhou, waited for the right time and got very cheap "Cattle class" tickets, I have no complaints. Hey Birdie, if you don't like Chinese food then why did you go on a chinese airline, what did you think they would serve? Curries?

    1 Reply
  8. Ann Wilson08:21pm Wednesday 13th March 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    There are still the other Asian Airlines, Malaysia Air, Thai Air, both excellent and can be competitive, but what about Scoot to Singapore and then pick up an major airline from Singapore - cheaper too. We flew to UK with Thai Air last time and they were wonderful as well. Singapore Air is the tops and the stopovers so good - I rate Singapore Air as the top airline in the world, courtesy, service are second to none - and I am a kiwi but wouldn't fly Air NZ to UK., Air Asia is still worth a try too. However this route is only going to become more and more competitive, all good for the consumer.

    Reply
  9. Birdie4903:41pm Wednesday 13th March 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I would not feel safe with China Airlines and I hate Chinese food. I do not think they can serve decent Western food either.

    Reply
  10. sunshine03:15pm Wednesday 13th March 2013 ESTReport Abuse

    I have read the safety concerns with Chinese airlines and it is not that good i think i would be scared flying with them

    Reply