Back in Guangzhou, I instinctively knew where to go, having spent so much time in the airport while experiencing a delay. Thus it was a short walk to the International security check area since I already had my boarding pass issued from Shanghai.
China Southern First & Business Class lounge
There was a huge bunch of Chinese tourists since it seems to be the school break and many teenagers seems to be headed to Los Angeles as well. In addition, a huge bunch of tour group was being briefed before they head to immigration. I was quick enough to bypass this huge group to a quick security check before waiting in line for immigration and passport check. While it is unusual for passport check on departure in North America, it is common in Asia.
Transfer to the Departure Hall in Guangzhou Baiyun airport
Past immigration, the international terminal really feels different with rows of high-end duty free stores.
Duty free shopping in the International Terminal
Past the shopping, the terminal opens out into a walkway with the Premium Lounge that caters to airlines other than China Southern and its Sky Team partners. That means most of the Star Alliance and oneworld airlines uses this lounge.
Premium Lounge in the International Terminal
At the end of the walkway, a huge poster marks the entrance of the China Southern First & Business Class lounge. There is a gate agent outside checking the boarding passes. Past the first agent, there is a patio of sorts before a glass door welcomes guests to another reception desk. The staff at the desk check if one is a Sky Team elite member or travelling in First & Business as guests are sent to the left or the right. First & Business Class passengers are directed to the left side of the lounge.
Orchids in the lounge foyer
The ground floor of the First & Business Class lounge is dedicated for dining with a complete buffet table and ample seats.
Lower dining area with restaurant style seating
Though my first priority is to get a shower, hence I head upstairs where the showers are located at. The lack of elevators meant I had to carry my luggage up the stairs, though they did have a luggage storage room that was guarded by a staff member beside the entrance foyer.
I was able to snag one of the limited number of shower rooms and while I had some low expectations based on my past experience with shower rooms in Chinese airlines' lounges, the one in Guangzhou was very good. The shower room was spacious and even more so than some hotel bathrooms. There is a large wardrobe by the wall that can support my hand carry luggage. Ample amenities are also provided including hair dryers, toothbrush, combs and they even placed fragrance sticks inside!
Private shower room
A walk-in shower cubicle and toilet occupy the other part of the room. The shower area is even decked out in mosaic tiles, giving it some designer feel, so this was a nice space for a shower, especially considering how warm the whole lounge feels in Summer afternoons. For a fact, I actually sweated after the shower that kind of negated the shower.
Shower cubicle and toilet
Fortunately the weather cooled after I finished my shower as the sun slowly sets. This was a nice time to relax after the shower by one of the chaise lounges facing the tarmac. Surprisingly there was very little people using them. Aside from these chaise lounges, there are 3 day rooms that was unfortunately occupied during my visit.
Lounge chairs with a view
As the sun sets, the dining area downstairs actually got cooler so I headed downstairs for my dinner. But because it was also dinner time, it is common for staff to direct guests to dine with those dining alone. As I was travelling alone, I had a table-mate halfway during my meal.
Dumplings in soup
The buffet table during dinner time was quite a spread and consists of fried spaghetti with black pepper and onions, fried rice in Thai style, steamed meat ball with radish, fried egg with chopped green onion, fried Potato with vanilla, fried breaded chicken fillet, baked basa fillet with citronella and lemon, stir-fried broccoli with garlic, beancurd with pickled cabbage and mashed chicken and corn soup.
Selection of hot food from the buffet
There was also a noodle station that made wontons, dumplings, egg noodles and beef noodles in soup with various condiments. Wines and beers are also available in the lounge though since I did not drink either, I can't say how good they were.
Finally there are fridges containing desserts like custard cream cake pudding and jelly, sponge cake with raisins, black forest cake, fruit and salad bowls. While there are coffee machines, I was more attracted to the packets of Sumiyaki instant coffee packs which makes for some tasty coffee by just adding hot water. Another feature I liked was the Ferrero Rocher chocolates they supply in the lounge in addition to some crackers and chocolates.
Dessert and fruits
For some reason the staff in this lounge is really afraid of passengers taking photos. First the reason they gave was that it intrudes on other passengers' privacy. Then they said it was just prohibited (when I just started taking photos of items on my tables which meant no passengers in the picture), though there were no signs stating so. Then finally, a male staff member approached me and asked what was my purpose for taking photos. Apparently he tried to ensure I had no complaints whatsoever and wanted me to provide any feedback to him for improvement.
Seats in the lounge at the upper floor with a green wall on the right
As it got noisy in the ground floor due to the dinner service, I headed back upstairs which was still quite warm. It was then that I noticed a small air conditioned room that I wanted to enter but I was stopped as it seems to be reserved for First Class passengers or VIP only. Beside the room there was a tea ceremony area that had regular hours where a staff member would display the art of brewing Chinese tea. Though this area was unoccupied at night.
Tea appreciation corner
There is also a small work station area at the corner on the second floor beside the row of chaise lounges, another buffet table setup that was not as complete and a main seating area with a green wall setup. For lounging only, the second floor offers guests far more options and the lounge also stocks up on publications like Wall Street Journal and Financial Times which is impressive considering some of these are rarely available in other lounges inside China.
It feels like this lounge incorporates some great design themes from other lounges and I would say it would be a fantastic lounge if not for the overzealous staff that seems to watch your every move. In addition, I really hope China Southern staff would finally solve the temperature issue in this lounge as it is unbearably hot in the summer!
Second floor dining area
However with all that being said, there is a lot of effort put into this lounge from the range of food and beverages being offered, to having day rooms even for Business Class passengers, and ample shower stalls that are well equipped. There are also thoughtful amenities like a phone charger cabinet on the second floor and small touches to add privacy and comfort. And finally even adding a staff member to oversee luggage and ensure a peace of mind and more space for guests makes it one of the better airline lounges I have visited and I think even gives Cathay Pacific's lounges a run for its money (probably why they are also continuously upgrading their own lounges). All in all, greater variety for travellers with the competitive premium class market!
China Southern Business Class on the A380
CZ327 Guangzhou Baiyun CAN - Los Angeles International LAX STD-STA: 21:30-19:40 Actual: 21:47-18:53 Airbus A380-800 B-6139 Gate A106 Seat 11K
I made my way to the boarding gate, as boarding was called while I was in the lounge. The departure gate was at the end of the concourse and there was already a huge crowd waiting as expected with an A380. It was really a long line-up for Economy and it looks quite chaotic. I just lingered since boarding has yet to commence, and I took this time to capture images of the Ethiopian Boeing 777 just beside us.
Line-up to board the A380 in Guangzhou
Queues for First and Business was also reasonably long though the 3 agents manning the counters checked us in fairly quick once boarding commenced, and I made my way to the upper deck. It sure was exciting to board another A380 since it is currently my favourite airplane to fly on. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture a nice photo of China Southern's A380 since it was late at night and there was no windows at the end of the concourse meaning the A380 was hidden from view until the aerobridge. Not the smartest way to hide the flagship jet from passengers.
Boarding the A380
Forward Business Class cabin
The staggered seating on China Southern's A380 was similar to what OZ uses and definitely better than Qantas' sky bed which does not allow aisle access for window based passengers. The staggered seating allows for all seats to gain aisle access. Initially I thin China Southern also seems to place a premium feel on the cabin. The first thing that stood out again was the cabin temperature was quite warm that I started to sweat a bit.
Bulkhead magazine shelf
For my seat, I had been re-assigned and was given 11K a seat in the bulkhead beside the stairs. I had initially thought it might be a noisy area and requested for a change of window seat. I mentioned it to the flight steward who introduced himself as Jason. However he did not get back to me with regards to the change in seat assignment, though he was very helpful with regards to other inflight matters.
Quilted seat headrest
On every seat, there was already a bottle of Evian mineral water for passengers. This was in addition to pillows, quilt and blankets packed neatly under a golden coloured sheet. There was also slippers as usual like in most Asian based airlines.
When I requested for water as my welcome drink, Jason got me a glass of water with a lemon inside. This was an attention to detail that adds a touch of luxury to the flight.
At this time, the purser was making her rounds as well and I asked if they provide a pair of pyjamas. She got back to me with a nice pair of pyjamas later on. The cabin crew were also very proud of the cabin and showed passengers around including the inflight bar at the front of the plane above the stairs leading into First Class. Walking around the cabin, I also noticed the forward space beside the stairs was used as a galley. I thought it was such a waste of space considering other airlines did something to the space. In fact this galley was rarely used at all.
Inflight bar at the front of the cabin
Front galley on the upper deck
As I settled back down on the seat, I was provided with the menu for today's flight. This time around, there was also a drinks menu. And the headphones are the noise insulating kind with soft-touch texture that makes it feel like a Bose. So it seems the inflight amenities are much more complete than their other transpacific flight such as the one to YVR.
Inflight dining menu
Even the amenity kit was 'branded' by Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. The contents are also generously proportioned and would not feel out of place in a First Class cabin since it included a facial mist to refresh after a long flight. The only other time I saw something like that was on a First Class cabin.
Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit
I made myself comfortable by switching to the slippers and found there was no space for my shoes and I conveniently chucked them on the side storage space found on the upper decks of the A380s. This huge side storage option makes it a hidden benefit to always select the windows seat on an upper deck A380.
Side storage space
Boarding an A380 always seems to take forever and this time it was no difference. I was basically able to explore the front cabin, get magazines, sit down and read them while the crew seems as busy as ever. Since China Southern collects back all the inflight menus after taking down the meal orders, I took this time to think about what to order and take quick snaps of the menu offerings.
The menu for the flight read as follows:
Main meal menu
While the wine and beverage menu is listed below:
Red wine menu
White wine and port
Champagne and liquor
Cocktail and tea
I was expecting Jason the steward to come over and take my meal order but I guess he was far too preoccupied in settling down the whole cabin. I got around to checking out the seat controls with the most common one-touch function button located on the side and the precise controls on the pull-out panel which will be hidden under the glass holder when not in use. The whole seat side panel design is very nifty indeed.
Seat operation manual
Nifty seat control panel
Eventually he did come over to take my inflight meal order after boarding has more or less been completed. Though some other passengers meal orders had to be taken after we took off. For what it's worth, we actually managed to take-off more or less as scheduled since there was a very short taxi. As usual, the take-off on an A380 is perhaps the most comfortable ever and for that the A380 reigns the skies for now.
Magazines and safety card
Once we were on the air, the crew got around to serving supper. Again, the meal seems to be closer to First Class and China Southern is really making it a point to make the Business class onboard the A380 as their flagship service. The meal started with a ramekin of mixed nuts and then canapes as listed in the menu. However the staff seems to have forgotten to serve one of the canapes and later served it to me individually.
Canapes and nuts with champagne
Wine and drinks orders are also presented along with the canapes. The crew were also very proactive at offering more than one beverage during the service. The canapes were okay I guess, but something that I can expect in an airport lounge.
Tomato cheese tart
After the canapes were served, hors d'oeuvre of roasted chicken breast and smoked salmon with capers came next. The appetizers were really disappointing since the chicken breast are dry and tasteless. Then the smoked salmon just lacked the right condiments in place. A bread basket was then offered with the appetizers and I got the garlic bread. Again the garlic bread this time was quite tough and lacked the garlicky taste. It was not as good as the one I had on the Vancouver-Guangzhou flight.
Roast chicken breast and salad
Fortunately, the soup was as good as it gets. It is something likely to be served in an upmarket Cantonese cuisine restaurant and on par with what Cathay Pacific First Class serves its passengers.
Chicken soup with red dates and dried longan
The main highlight of this meal though has got to be the main course. I picked the steamed scallop and konjac that came with 2 pieces of roast goose. This was a classic Cantonese cuisine which befits the origins of the airline and by far one of the best main courses I had on a plane. Even though I was quite full from the dinner at the lounge, I was left wanting for more roast goose. The scallops and konjac was also cooked perfectly.
Main course of steamed scallop with konjac, roast goose, vegetables and rice
For dessert, the fruit platter was served and I was asked whether I wanted the green tea mousse or the ice cream as they were not shown on the trolley like on the smaller Business class cabin on the 787. I got the ice cream but was surprised it was not another Haagen Dazs. Usually that is something I welcome since I get to try new local ice cream but the strawberry sorbet was far too sweet such that I did not finish it.
At the end of the meal Jason asked me if I wanted the cheese platter. Usually I do not eat cheese but this time I just obliged since he asked. Nothing special and I just nibbled on it.
Cheese and crackers
With supper done, I go on the same routine of walking around the cabin and that was why I liked the A380 with lots of space for me to roam especially with the whole upper deck devoted to the Business Class cabin. The cabin is probably 70% full with some empty seats at the back. On the middle of the Business Class cabin some of the passengers were still having their meal service so I think it was kind of slower back here.
Last row of Business Class
Like most flights on the A380, the front and rear staircase are roped off for safety reasons so I did not venture beyond the upper deck.
Rear most galley and crew rest
The stairs at the back
All things considered, I would always try to pick a seat in the forward Business Class cabin which seems smaller and have a larger lavatory since the lavatory located on the rear and middle of the plane seems to be standard sized. The front lavatory is spacious as it took up the left corner beside the staircase.
At this time, a fruit basket and a plate of chocolates were set up in the inflight bar along with all the variety of drinks available during the flight. Most passengers were just happy to recline and sleep though since my worries of heavy traffic around the front galley was unfounded. I decided to turn in as well and brushed my teeth at the lavatory which was not occupied since most passengers did not really utilize the front lavatory.
Inflight bar after the meal service
There was no turn down service in Business Class but I had not trouble making the bedding myself. A good part of a warm airplane cabin is that I could use the blanket as extra padding for the bed. The leg cubby hole is also wide enough for me to stretch into and I think the space was just right for me. Admittedly, I am not the largest size (for comparison purposes, I usually get my shirt in 'Small' size) and so the space was good enough that I slept soundly for several hours.
Seat in full recline bed mode
On waking up, I was feeling quite hungry and so I asked if there was any snacks or light meals like noodles. However, there seems to be only chocolates and Jason mentioned that breakfast would be served in about an hour time.
While waiting, I switched on the inflight entertainment system. The selection includes a good variety that should keep most travellers occupied even though if it is not the most complete. Since I do understand Chinese and enjoy Chinese movies, I was suitably entertained. There are also American TV shows but they are usually only 2 or 3 episodes of each series.
Relaxing on the seat
Eventually about an hour later, breakfast was served. The service started with the stewardess asking what kind of coffee or tea I wanted. I asked for the illy espresso and it was a good cup of coffee. Then the cereal was served to passengers and there was a choice of corn flakes or chocolate cereal of which I chose the latter. Milk was then provided for the cereal.
Cereal with milk
Another crew member came around with a basket of fresh pastries and I got myself some croissant and danish pastry.
Warm croissant and pastry
When I finished my cereal, Jason came over to clear up the bowls and another stewardess came by to present the main breakfast course. I had opted for the Chinese option of congee with shitake mushroom and chicken as well as a plate of assorted dim sum. The congee was ordinary but still good enough for me and it came with a whole set of condiments like spring onions and peanut which improved the overall taste of the congee.
[ Congee with shitake and chicken and assorted dim sum plate
My favourite section of the meal was the BBQ pork puff pastry in the dim sum plate. The dim sum also included a preserved sausage roll and pan fried taro cake and steamed golden shrimp dumpling, but I think only the puff pastry was good.
Fruit plate and mimosa
Finally when I was done with the breakfast, the crew came over to clear the tray and I asked for a mimosa to be served with the fruit plate. This pre-arrival meal was impressive considering how the service went. After breakfast service concluded, Jason came by and asked me if I would be willing to provide my feedback and I obliged considering the crew has been fantastic so far. Since I was asked to do a feedback form, I asked the crew for some memento and they provided some poker cards. I actually do collect poker cards from airlines, though China Southern missed the opportunity to market their A380s on the cards' background (which is something Thai Airways did).
I got ready to freshen up before the start of descent so that I could relax in my seat and not have to jostle for the lavatory. The cabin's mood lighting was also changed to project a relaxing ambience.
Inflight cabin prior to descent
As I returned to my seat, I asked for a cup of tea as I was feeling quite dehydrated after the long flight and I really do like China Southern's wide range of Chinese tea. And the crew also came around with herbal lozenges for passengers during this time. It was a really nice touch to end the flight with. During our descent the weather was quite good and there was no turbulence. In fact the sunset view on our descent into LAX was nice and it provided me a nice view of downtown Los Angeles!
Sunset view of Los Angeles
We actually landed quite early into Los Angeles though there was quite a long taxi on the way to the terminal. Our plane was even escorted by a police car and the long taxi meant I got to observe various planes alongside us including a FedEx McDonnell Douglas trijet and Southwest's New 737.
Southwest new 737 at LAX
Tom Bradley International Terminal
Once we came to a complete stop, the disembarkation was very orderly and I managed to be one of the first few to come off the plane. The immigration queue at Los Angeles at this time of the day was not too bad. In fact it was actually faster than I anticipated so I was quite pleased with the service at the new Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Seat 11K after the flight
Arriving into the new terminal was really nice with a spacious baggage claim area. I was also grateful for the efficient baggage service since my bag was actually one of the first few to appear on the carousel so the Priority tagging does work after all!
The new Tom Bradley International Terminal arrivals
Baggage claim area
Overall, the cheerful welcome by the crew to the great service onboard the flight and the nice airplane meant that I had a wonderful flight. With the pleasant weather on arrival and the fast arrival procedure into the United States, I was really happy with this flight and I think China Southern deserves a praise here given the value I obtained for this flight.
Final Note on the A380 vs the 787
Since I flew on the outbound via China Southern's 787 and the return via the A380, I figured I should write a comparison note about my experience on these 2 flights.
Staggered setup in Business Class on the A380
First of all, I realize there was much fanfare about the new 787. However after being on both aircrafts, I still do prefer taking the A380 and I would even pay a slight premium for flights onboard the A380 as it still offers better passenger comfort.
Overhead lights on the A380
The main difference is actually onboard space. Whether in Business class or Economy, most airlines will have better products on the A380 and China Southern shows it has a better hard product on the A380 compared to the 787 with all Business class seats having direct aisle access. Then there is also the quiet cabin and stable take-off and landing aboard the A380, while it was really shaky and creaky on the 787. That meant it was more comfort to the passenger on the A380!
China Southern Business Class Lounge
Guangzhou - CAN
Los Angeles - LAX
Worthy flagship service onboard an A380 makes China Southern's offerings to be a decent competition for the price of their flights. There was plenty of food, lots of space and comfortable amenities for a long haul flight.
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