The Five-Star airline club is an exclusive one. Though many can argue the merits of the Five-Star designations given by a certain U.K. firm, in this report we’ll take a look at one of the lesser-known members of the Five-Star club, Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines. Though Hainan may not enjoy the same level of name recognition as some of the other Five-Star carriers, the development of this carrier over the last decade has been impressive. As the largest privately-owned carrier in China, Hainan Airlines have managed to differentiate themselves from the larger state-owned Chinese carriers as the more upscale option. With ten destinations in North America served from multiple Chinese cities, Hainan have grown their global presence despite the restrictive Chinese “One route, one Airline” rule.
Recently, Flight-Report had the opportunity to discover Hainan’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner between Chicago and Beijing and visit the carrier’s flagship PEK lounge: the HNA Club.
We begin our journey on a beautiful sunny day at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport.
The international Terminal 5, which is mostly used by non-U.S. carriers, is on the small side with all ticket counters in the same area.
We head to the Hainan Airlines Business class counters to check in for our flight to Beijing.
The boarding pass is given along with a lounge invitation card in a golden “VIP Lounge Invitation” ticket jacket. These little extras show that Hainan pays attention to little details.
Here we are airside.
Swissport Lounge Terminal 5
Hainan uses the Swissport lounge in Terminal 5
The lounge isn’t very large and the furnishings seem mostly dated—but the worst part is the lack of natural light as the lounge has no windows.
Work stations are available
The selection of reading materials is pretty slim
As far as the catering goes, it isn’t much better with some drinks and a few sandwiches available in a fridge…
…and some instant ramen noodles—nothing terribly exciting. However, spirits and wines are available at a self-service counter, which is convenient.
Some industrial packages cheese can also be found…
…along with some snacks.
The lounge does have a coffee machine.
An unimpressive snack—typical of U.S. lounges.
Being that the lounge experience isn’t particularly glamorous, no need to stick around too long. Let’s head to the gate and check out our Boeing 787-9, which is pulling in to the gate just as we arrive.
Our aircraft today carries with it some AvGeek value as it is one of 4 painted in a special Kung Fi Panda livery, each of which is a different color.
Boarding was generally well organized. We did have the opportunity to pre-board, which allowed some time for clean cabin photos.
Priority boarding lane
At the bottom of the jetbridge there was a selection of newspapers in English and Chinese along with headphones for Economy class passengers.
At the time of this flight, the cabin crew were still wearing the old uniforms; however, since the 6th of June, new uniforms designed by Laurence Xu have been introduced throughout the airline.
Let’s begin our visit of Hainan’s Dreamliner with the Economy class cabin and its 258 seats beginning at door 2.
The Economy class seats are in the typical 3-3-3 configuration and feature individual IFE screens.
Seats in Economy offer a standard 32-inch seat pitch.
Business class consists of 30 fully-flat forward-facing seats in a 2-2-2 configuration.
Hainan Airlines has two different seat models on its Boeing 787 fleet—the Aura lite that we see here, on the 787-8 and part of the 787-9 fleet, and the Cirrus on some 787-9s—both models from French aircraft seat manufacturer Zodiac Aerospace.
The seats are upholstered in Hainan’s signature red, which gives the cabin a distinctively Chinese feel.
Below the central armrest we find the IFE remote control, a universal power outlet, and a USB port.
The seats are equipped with nice and large 15 inch (38cm) IFE screens.
Some small storage spaces between seats—not terribly convenient as you have to take off your seat belt to reach them.
The foot rests are great as they allow for unrestricted leg and foot space. Many Business class seats these days have small spaces for the feet, so this is definitely a positive.
The seat control panel allows the seat to be adjusted in multiple ways. There is also a massage function and a memory function that can be programmed to remember your favorite seat position.
Seat pocket contents which includes several magazines and the Hainan Duty Free catalog, which is quite popular with the Chinese clientele.
There is an oshibori service during boarding. The hot towels are presented on a dish rather than being laid directly on the center armrests.
The hot towels are followed by a pre-departure welcome drink served with mixed nuts.
The drink offered is the mocktail of the month.
Alcoholic beverages are not offered on the ground for departures from the U.S. due to U.S. taxation rules. Cabin crew then offer a large and eclectic choice of reading materials.
The noise-cancelling headphones in Business class are high-quality Bose headphones.
The safety video, which plays after pushback, is modern and showcases the airline’s home island of Hainan.
Location of exits on this 787-9
Our route from Chicago to Beijing will be polar rather than transpacific.
A quick taxi to the runway …
…and takeoff powered by the 2 GEnx engines.
We climb out as we leave the huge Chicago O’Hare airport behind us.
The moving map is powered by “Airshow”
The airshow offers a preview of today’s flight.
Heading north parallel to Lake Michigan.
Hainan Airlines provides some decent comfort items in Business class, including slippers in addition to an amenity kit.
The amenity kit has a good amount of content
It features high-end Bvlgari products for a discerning international clientele.
Hainan distinguishes itself in Business class from most other carriers by offering pajamas.
The 100% cotton pajamas are quite soft and stylish.
The welcome note included with the pajamas is a nice touch.
For passengers who wish to change into the pajamas, cabin crew offer bags to store clothing.
Economy class cabin in flight
Business class cabin
Two of the lavatories in Business class feature a window. The rose brings a nice decorative touch, though it is artificial.
The products in the lav are also Bvlgari
Let’s take a look at the menu
Starting with the wine list
An amuse-bouche is served with the aperitif drink service.
Canape Shrimp dumpling, mushroom shaped bun
The menu includes 3 services.
The tables are set by the cabin crew with supplies from a cart.
Unlike the tray service seen in many carriers’ business class, Hainan does a restaurant-style plate service.
Each passenger received a basket of breads for the meal.
Nice scenery of northern Canada outside the window
Another high-end service element is the turn-down service. This is something you usually see in First class, rather than Business class.
The turn-down service includes a mattress laid over the seat, a comfortable and light cover, and two pillows.
The cover features a discrete and classy embroidered Hainan logo.
In such comfortable conditions it wasn’t difficult to get some sleep.
Though there is no true bar area, a portion of the galley is set up with snacks, fruit, and cheeses.
A midnight espresso is accompanied by a hot towel and a box of Godiva chocolates.
According to the airshow, we’re overflying Russia, close to Kakutz.
The airshow also features some nice images of the airline.
Our route today, which came very close to the North pole.
Some hot snack options are also available on demand.
Pan-fried dim sum
Focaccia Grilled tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, black olive tapenade
A cappuccino to enjoy afterwards showcased the artistic talents of the onboard chef with a cute cat made out of the foam ^^
To finish on a sweet note the crew bring some little cakes and an apple cut in the shape of a crab…again, adorable.
And the animal shapes continue with a hot towel folded like a rabbit ^^
The Hainan Airlines Boeing 787 fleet features the modern Panasonic Ex2 system and wonderful Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
The IFE system is available in several languages besides Mandarin and English, including German and French.
The different categories are presented as a series of slides—the system is generally intuitive and reactive.
We find recent Hollywood hits, older movies, TV series, documentaries, games, and music.
Based on the time of departure, many airlines would have served a breakfast prior to arrival; however, this second meal service is adapted to the local time of arrival with another lunch/dinner type meal.
There are two options for this meal.
The Chinese option:
Fried noodles Pork, mixed vegetables Chinese broth, pickles, dim sum, salted egg
And Western option:
Mushroom ravioli Sautéed shrimp
We’ll be landing shortly.
A typically smoggy approach into Beijing.
The taxi time is quite long, assuming we were waiting for a gate.
However, in the end we parked at a remote stand.
Though inconvenient, remote parking is always good for tarmac shots on deplaning.
The HNA Club at Beijing Terminal 2
Prior to flying back to Europe, we had the opportunity to visit Hainan’s flagship lounge: the HNA Club.
A very walk welcome from the agents. Near the check-in area is a space to leave cabin baggage for those who would prefer not to carry them around with them through the lounge.
This stylish hallway…
…leads to the lounge’s main room.
The lounge’s overall atmosphere is quiet and relaxing with tasteful furnishings and soft lighting.
A curved flat-screen TV displays promotional videos on the airline.
Some of the decor elements make the spaces feel like a living room.
There are many different type of seating—something for everyone.
Like solo seats for those travelling alone.
Seating for couples
And chaise lounges for relaxing
There are large windows with nice tarmac views.
There are convenient work stations offering privacy with high walls.
There are power outlets and USB ports throughout the lounge, which is very important in these days of passengers travelling with multiple devices.
There is a large restaurant-like dining area.
There is a large selection of food options, including a salad bar…
And a noodle bar with 3 different dishes and a soup.
Condiments for the noodle bar
Several types of breads
Due to the late hour some dishes have been taken out, which is unfortunate for those with late flights.
Sandwiches, bagels, pastries, and fresh fruit.
A large selection of ice cream flavours.
There is also a good variety of drinks; the wines and champagne are the same found on board.
A professional grade Nespresso machine
Chocolates and biscuits to enjoy with coffee
Tea drinkers have not been forgotten
There is also a wide variety of reading materials
WiFi is obviously available
There are two TV rooms in the lounge
For those looking for calm and relaxation, massage chairs are available for use.
The massage chairs have remote controls with several settings.
There are several relaxation rooms for those with long layovers wishing to get some rest.
This hallway leads to the restrooms and shower rooms.
A light snack with a glass of champagne
Customers in the lounge can order fresh dishes. The staff give buzzers that will notify you when your dish is ready.
Noodle soup with soya braised beef brisket
A designer bowl with quality chop sticks.
With generous portions of meat, the soup is delicious.
A little dessert to finish our visit.
That concludes our visit of the HNA Club
PRACTICAL INFORMATION From the US, Hainan Airlines operates flights to China from Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Jose, and Seattle.
The Chicago – Beijing flight operates 4 X weekly.
Hainan’s Boeing 787-9 fleet is configured to accommodate 258 passengers in Economy class and 30 passengers in Business class.
Business class passengers are offered 150MB of free WiFi onboard the Dreamliner fleet.
A chauffeur service is offered on departure and arrival to Business class passengers at most Hainan destinations (excluding award tickets).
Flight taken by Flavien for Flight-Report as a guest of Hainan Airlines
The overall quality of the Hainan Airlines product is undeniable. The Chinese carrier has successfully differentiated itself from the other Chinese airlines with impeccable service and all the makings of a high-end Business class experience which included coursed plate service, pajamas, and turn-down service.
The cabin crew are young, energetic, and eager to please. Their English language skills were quite good compared to other Chinese carriers.
The onboard meals were excellent and well presented, though several items were not listed on the menu. The wine list was average and the choice of champagne could have been better—aside from this, Hainan certainly know how to do onboard dining well.
Hainan have differentiated themselves mostly on the soft-product as the hard-product consists of a common seat on Dreamliners. Though fully-flat and comfortable, these seats, in a 2-2-2 configuration, can be seen on many carriers including LATAM and Air India.
The IFE system is quite good with a decent amount of content and interface in multiple languages. Adding to the good IFE experience are the excellent Bose QC25 noise-cancelling headphones.
The only disappointing part of the experience was the lounge in Chicago, which felt dark and had limited catering.
Overall, Hainan is an impressive carrier deserving of its 5 stars.
- A very attentive and enthusiastic cabin crew with good English-language skills - Comfortable fully-flat seats - Quality catering and on-board chef - Turn-down service with mattress, two pillows, and pajamas - Good IFE system with excellent noise-cancelling BOSE headset - Free WiFi - Overall advantages of the Dreamliner: Higher cabin pressure, large windows, mood lighting, quiet ride, and higher air humidity level, all of which help fight symptoms of jetlag.
- Dark Swissport lounge in Chicago - Frequent Boarding/Deplaning by bus in Beijing
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Thanks for spreading the word, I had thought all Chinese carriers much the same. Obviously not.
I was taken a bit by surprise when HU was awarded a skytrax 5 start recognition.
I work very closely with them and I have seen how they fold the used Economy class blankets upon arrival from SEZ for the return flight to China.
Not only that, even the Business Class and Economy pillows are re-used with the same pillow cover!!!!
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