Graham Clarke Atrium in Vancouver International Airport
With some business stuff to deal with in Shanghai, I had to fly on short notice into China and a cursory search online gave me some good value fares onboard China Southern in Business Class. Best of all it allowed me to return via Los Angeles allowing me to attend a family wedding there as well. The outbound routes me via Guangzhou on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner which will mark the first time I board this plane. The return will allow me to try China Southern's A380 (also the only Chinese carrier to operate an A380).
In order to purchase this special fare though, I had to call up their travel agency in Los Angeles and reserve a ticket the traditional way. Fortunately it was easy enough to do this via e-mail and with a credit card. I was also able to get my seats selected after booking the flights. However all other online functionality like booking my meals and online check-in was virtually non-existent as China Southern's website was very clunky and not user-friendly at all unless passengers have a Chinese mobile number and is based in China.
China Southern check-in counters
On the day of departure, I boarded the sky train which is conveniently located in downtown from my apartment. The journey took about 25 minutes and dropped me off at the airport. On arrival, I head straight to the international departures and check-in area and was amazed to find an empty check in counter for China Southern (CZ). There was no wait for business class, even the queues for economy was short. For this SkyTeam flight, I decided to credit miles to the Air France FlyingBlue program since I think only Air France has an aspirational award for miles. I am actually a lowly Silver with GarudaMiles but I figured I will consolidate all future SkyTeam flights with Air France instead.
During check-in, I also managed to confirm my window seat as I only had an aisle seat previously since CZ seems to block the first 2 rows. With the boarding pass in hand, I made my way past the check-in counters and noticed that YVR is slowly becoming a SkyTeam hub with AF starting daily flights to Paris while CZ, MU, CI and Korean Air already operates flights into the city. Meanwhile KLM has seasonal flights in summer, if I am not wrong.
International Departures atrium
There is really not much to prepare for security that day since I did not pass by United States, and that meant short queues at security. No bothersome US immigration here made the journey much more a breeze. I was even able to do some duty-free shopping before proceeding to the lounge.
Entrance to the Plaza Premium Lounge on the International Terminal
China Southern uses the Plaza Premium Lounge like other Sky Team or non-affiliated airlines which was quite decent. In fact I might even say they are somewhat better than the Air Canada Maple Leaf Transborder or Cathay Pacific Lounge in Vancouver.
On entry there is a small rotunda where the receptionist will check your credentials. Some credit cards allow entry into this lounge like the American Express Platinum card.
Deli Counter in the Lounge
Once inside, there is a small deli counter and a row of work-station. The deli counter serves coffee and other beverages along with a selection of baked goods and sandwiches.
Plaza Premium Lounge seating space
By the window there is the main seating area, and there are also a couple of seats past the deli that looks into the main departure waiting area. To the left of the entrance foyer, there are some enclosed VIP sections that should be reserved for First Class passengers. And a section of the lounge was dedicated only for Air France/KLM passengers.
Beside the lounge area, there are shelves that stocks a good range of newspapers with IHT, FT and WSJ. There are also local newspapers too with another shelf along the corridor for magazines.
Newspapers on the shelf
In between the main lounge and the dining area, there is a large washroom with some shower rooms. Aside from that the lounge is quite small in size and can feel crowded. The lounge does not seem to have their own wifi as I just logged into the airport's free wifi which is better than most lounge wifi signal anyway based on my experience at the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge.
Lounge corridor and washrooms on the right
Walk past the corridor and guests arrive at a nice and large sit-down dining area. As it was lunch time, the place was busy though I did manage to get a seat.
Sit-down dining area
The buffet area has a decent selection of stuff including a cookie and candy jar.
Candy and cutlery
For hot dishes, there is fried rice and dumplings.
To cater to the all day dining in the lounge, I think they have pastries and a decent coffee machine. There are also tea and juices available along with the usual soft drinks from the freezer.
Pastries and water pitcher
Coffee and tea
For Asian travellers, the buffet selection was just close to perfect. No alcohol seen here but since I am not a drinker, that does not matter to me. I do believe beer was available and some wines too.
Salad and fruit bowl
Soft drinks chiller
There was also a couple of soup on offer. One was a curry coup that was savoury and a bit spicy with another being a classic Asian dessert soup of Red Bean that was sweet.
Red bean soup
The best feature of the dining in the lounge though was the noodle bar. Even though they only have one selection, it is good enough to make me think this is probably the best airline lounge for international passengers in Vancouver.
Made-to-order noodle bar
Noodles and dim sum for lunch
The lounge was quite crowded when I visited and there are barely enough seats but the food selection was very good and I can certainly make myself full before I board the flight. While the food was catered to Chinese and Asian passengers, the food does taste good and it might also have to do with the lounge user demographics. With that being said, I still think the Plaza Premium Lounge is one of the better lounges in the International section of the terminal and definitely worth a drop in to enjoy the food here.
China Southern 787 at YVR
Just right after boarding was called for in the lounge, I head out towards the gate which is a short walk away. Getting on a new airplane is always something special and I was eager to try out for myself the benefits of flying on the Dreamliner!
CZ330 Vancouver International YVR - Guangzhou Baiyun International CAN STD-STA: 13:05-17:50(+1) Actual: 13:25-17:25 (+1) B787-800 B-2725 Gate D67 Seat 11A
Business Class cabin on China Southern 787
A tray of Chinese newspapers greeted passengers from the entrance on boarding, though there was lacking the smiling crew members or the cheerful welcome that I usually see on great flights with Singapore Airlines. Once onboard, there was no assistance provided for luggage when boarding, neither was there crew members assisting with coat storage.
Forward Business Class cabin
China Southern has 4 rows of 6 seats on business class spread over 2 sections from the second door. Slippers, shoe case and amenity kit were already below the foot rest while there is a pillow and a thick blanket on the seat. There is also a pair of ordinary flimsy headphones on the seat.
Looking forward from seat 11A
Up front, there is also a small First Class cabin with just a row of 4 seats. First Class was empty when I boarded and thus I took some shots of that cabin. In the middle of boarding, my seatmate arrives which was a lady, though for some reason, she decided to head back and get another seat at the back. Thus the seat next to me remained empty even after take off.
Slippers and amenity kit, with a shoe bag and shoe horn underneath it
Amenity kit contents
Pre-departure beverages included champagne but there was no drinks menu available so I wouldn't know what it was. Instead I just chose orange juice. The crew also came around with cold towels that was refreshing in summer.
Pre-departure beverage and hot towel
Headphones and seat controls
Menu for the flight was handed out and the crew came around to take orders. There was 2 meal for this long haul flight and several choices are available including at least a western meal choice. Though all the passengers looked Chinese to me, and the business class cabin was nearly full except for my seat beside me in the front section.
Air Canada 777-300ER seen during taxiing to the runway
Right after we finished boarding, the crew began to prepare for pushback. Between the completion of boarding to eventual take-off, it was quite a fast taxi since there does not seem to be much of a wait. Today's flight route was via the northerly polar route as we head towards Alaska. This gave me a nice view of Vancouver Island and the Inside Passage as we took off and cruised north. And to think a few days before I was just kayaking over there!
Gabriola Island seen after take-off
Flying past Nanaimo
The take-off experience on the 787 feels rough, and it could be due to the small lightweight stature of the plane. There was vibrations in the cabin that could be felt and thus far nothing could beat the composed take-off onboard an A380. I also did not feel that the 787 was any more quieter than the A380, having taken the A380 a couple of times before.
Snow capped peaks of Vancouver Island
The first meal started with a plate of peanuts with another drink and another cold towel service. It was during this time that I powered up the inflight entertainment since I always enjoy watching some show while dining during a flight.
Inflight entertainment with nuts and ginger ale
Inflight entertainment is controlled via a touch screen monitor. It comprises of a good selection of Asian movies and there are also some TV shows but do not expect whole season as they only have one or 2 episodes of each. Overall, it is a good selection that should keep a wide range of audience satisfied but still nowhere near Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Business Class inflight service
At this time, someone from 12D came over to sit beside me and the crew did not even bother to tell me about it and just proceeded to move some magazines I had placed on the seat beside me. I thought the service attitude by the crew was a bit lacking. The least she could do was inform me about it.
There was some time in between before meal service, which started with the placement of table cloth and laying the cutleries. In terms of table top set up it felt more like First Class. The menu for the flight was as follow:
Lunch menu on the inbound
Pre-arrival meal on the inbound
Lunch menu for the YVR-CAN route
Pre-arrival meal for the YVR-CAN route
Dessert menu for the YVR-CAN route
Dishes were also served in turns with the appetizers and soup served first. At least the hard product was quite good as the soup was very tasty and made a nice start to the meal.
Chicken and Young Coconut Soup
Smoked duck and prawn with potato salad
The crew came around with main courses based on passengers who have finished their appetizers. In this respect the whole meal service was kind of nice actually as it was catered to each individual passengers.
Cod with dried scallop sauce and egg fried rice
There was also a bread basket for passengers and it includes garlic bread. I actually found the Chinese food to be quite on par with what Cathay Pacific serves or even better!
Stainless steel cutleries
The only drawback in the meal service is the wine selection is limited and there was a French or Australian Chardonnay, also some reds and Chinese beer I think. Again there was no menu so I wouldn't know for sure. The crew were also not very good at refilling the glasses. I needed to consistently ask for tea refills.
Fresh fruit and Haagen-Dazs
For dessert the crew came around with the choices on a tray and showed them to passengers. A fruit plate was also served with the dessert. At the end of the meal, everyone was given a bottled water though somehow I had a different smaller bottle and thus I got an additional one from a flight attendant from the galley. By this time my seat mate has fully reclined for a nap.
Since it was a day flight not everyone slept and when I played with the windows to take some photos, the crew made some comments about passengers needing sleep. I prefer the shutters actually since they can be better for discreet photo taking and it is more instantaneous. It took a while for the windows tint to disappear and to darken.
Business class cabin mid-flight
I took the time to walk around the cabin after lunch and had a look at the economy class cabin which was in a 3-3-3 configuration with no premium economy option. Pitch-wise it looks decent enough for an international flight.
Economy Class cabin
Not feeling tired during the daytime flight, I got myself some more tea. The cabin crew also passed out immigration forms during this time and started advertising duty free sales.
Tea service with immigration forms
After finishing my movie, I reclined the seat to a full lie-flat bed and placed the quilt over the seat as the cabin was warm enough such that I do not need the quilt as a blanket. I had a good nap but did not really manage a deep sleep as it was just a 2 and a half hour rest.
Seat converted to a bed
Once I got back up, I pressed the call button for an attendant and a cabin crew came over to assist me. I requested for more tea and some snacks, but apparently they only had chocolates and sandwiches. Thus I got some peanuts instead.
Snacks onboard the flight
Flight over the Arctic
By this time, we were somewhere over the Arctic and making our way back south. About an hour later, the cabin crew started the second meal service. And I continued with my second movie choice while they set up the table cover. For this service, the cutleries were neatly arranged for me, quite a more elaborate dining that once again resembles First Class.
Table setup for the second meal
Bread was offered to passengers through a basket, before the starters were presented.
Beef shank, smoked salmon and beancurd noodle
The cold noodle appetizer with the smoked salmon was nice though the beef shank was a bit tough. This is an average appetizer that is average at best.
Stir fried seafood noodle
I got another noodle as the main course as this is a dish difficult to get wrong. Commonly served in Asian restaurants, the stir-fry seafood noodle was as I expected. It is like a comfort food and the seafood was still succulent and delicious.
To end the meal there was another dessert and I got the chestnut sago pudding this time round. The pudding was good but not as delicious as I expected. Though I really appreciated the food quality and quantity as it was good enough to make me full, which was good since I would not really have dinner later due to a series of travel mishaps.
Clouds over Northern China
We were somewhere over northern China by the time the second meal service ended and I head to the lavatory to freshen up. The lavatory was nothing special but it was still maintained by the crew at the end of the flight. There are also adequate amenities like lotion, shaver and mouthwash in the lavatory.
Sandwiches and chocolates
On the way back to my seat, I cannot help but notice that the sandwiches and chocolates seems to be left untouched in the galley. I think the amount of food for the meal service is generous for this transpacific flight. That is probably why they did not cater any chips since the chocolates and sandwiches were still aplenty.
As we got closer, I switched over to the moving map and noticed a weird diversion in our flight path. It will start to make sense later as I land in Guangzhou to the reason why we had what seems like a holding pattern.
Safety instruction and inflight magazine
It was a cloudy day in Guangzhou as we descended and the flight even made a nice fly-by over the city centre before turning back north to land in Guangzhou Baiyun airport.
Flying past one of the tributary of Pearl River
Flying over downtown Guangzhou
Upon landing we were actually docked near the gate but for some reason, we had to board a bus to the main terminal. As I am not in a hurry, I did not need to rush since I had adequate time until my connection. There was some delay in passing through immigration as there was quite a bit of a queue but I was able to pass through without the need to collect my luggage.
Landing at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport
In summary, the addition of this direct service between Vancouver and Guangzhou is a plus for passengers based in Vancouver or heading there as it brings down the prices. China Southen provides a decent service that is comparable to the North American carriers. And if you enjoy Chinese food, the quality of the food was good while the quantity would not leave you hungry. Other than that I have no complaints to say about anything else really, so for a rate of about $2785, a return Transpacific flight to Asia on a Dreamliner is pretty good value for money.
Plaza Premium Lounge Management Limited Plaza Premium Lounge (International Departures)
Vancouver - YVR
Guangzhou - CAN
China Southern has a comfortable business class cabin on the 787 but I am not sure if I actually feel the improvements touted on the 787. I was also pleasantly surprised with the catering supplied onboard the flight. For their low prices, I would deem them to be better value compared to competitors on the route to Asia.
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