The airline with the best average rating is China Southern with 7.6/10.
The average flight time is 3 hours and 13 minutes.More information
In late 2018, China Southern announced its intentions to bid farewell to its then-current alliance mates in SkyTeam. While I had booked some rewards with China Southern over the last couple of years, I’d always ended up cancelling before departure for one reason or another.
But with the countdown on for the airline’s departure from SkyTeam, the clock was ticking on trying their premium products using Delta SkyMiles. And thus, this series of flight-reports, which will chronicle a quick impromptu trip to China and back to be able to “check off” China Southern on my list of experiences before its heading off for greener grass on the other side of the airline alliances fence.
Well, might as well just let all out now, since it’s pretty self-explanatory from here.
Having booked my travel to and home from Beijing, now there was just the small matter of what to do with my one day in Beijing. I’d already booked a room at the Cordis at the airport, as it was on for a very good price on Rocketmiles. So… what to do with my day of leisure?
The sane thing to do would have been to have played tourist in Beijing since I’ve never actually been to the city proper.
But I’m not one to do the sane thing.
Just over a week before departure, my SkyMiles for my trip to Johannesburg had come in, and China Southern had downgauged my CAN-PEK flight from an A380-800 to a 777-300ER. One of the primary reasons for doing this trip was that it was likely my one shot to fly the China Southern A380.
A quick search revealed that on my off-day, I could fly back to CAN from PEK in First on the 787, and then back on the A380. I had to go for it. Barring other equipment changes, it would mean I’d get to try Business on the 777, and First on the 777, 787, and A380, which would happily cross the significant highlights of CZ off my to-do- list.
So I booked it for 60,000 SkyMiles, and 100 CNY (about $20 CAD) and my adventure was complete.
… he was at the Cordis Beijing Airport, having flown in from Guangzhou. I got a decent night’s sleep but fell asleep way too early, so I was up way too early. I was first awakened by a popping sound I couldn’t quite explain just after midnight, but I quickly realized it was fireworks for the New Year’s celebration.
I caught the 5:30 shuttle to Terminal 2, and headed upstairs for check-in.
Happy New Year, China!
I look for something resembling Sky Priority check-in but don’t find it so resign myself to checking in a regular domestic line. There’s only one family in front of me, but they take quite some time to get checked in. A man in the group turns to me part way through to apologize for them taking so long. They have some batteries that need to be taken out of luggage to be checked. Not a problem.
When it’s my turn at the counter, the agent scans my passport and immediately picks up a phone. After talking to someone for a few seconds, she turns her attention to me.
“Business or First Class?”
“Ahhh. I can’t check you in here. There’s VIP check-in.”
“Oh, where’s that.”
“Wait here. My colleague will take you.”
And sure enough, another agent appears and takes me for a short walk out of the main check-in area, and towards a large, check-in area in red, with a big red VIP Check In China Southern sign overhead. I feel like an idiot foreigner. Which I am.
Unfortunately, since I’m being escorted, I don’t get a picture of the check-in area. But there are some seats, a few desks at which you sit while the agent checks you in. The agent escorting me hands me off to a check-in agent here, who quickly confirms that I’m bound for Guangzhou, then asks if I want aisle or window, and checks me in without difficulties.
A male agent then appears and takes my boarding pass and passport, and motions for me to follow him. We walk through the check-in area, following a red-carpeted path towards a dedicated security lane for First and Business. I should have known.
He leaves me at the security checkpoint, but as soon as I’m through the scanner, another young male agent is waiting to pick me up and walk me the rest of the way to the lounge. As we pass the point in the hall that leads to Gate 20, from which we’ll be departing, he motions that my gate will be that way.
A few more turns and we arrive at the Sky Pearl VIP Domestic Lounge.
The agent doesn’t even stop at the front desk, just exchanging acknowledgment with the agent at the counter. He takes me straight to the back corner, to a separate room with 20 or so seas, marked the VIP area.
He then asks me, through a translation app on his phone, if I’d like him to return to escort me to my plane for boarding. It’s a nice touch, but I decline. I’d rather leave early and be more comfortable taking a few pics along the way.
Both the lounge and the VIP area offer a view onto the apron, although there’s not much going on.
There’s an older Chinese couple in the VIP section, and a couple of handfuls of people in the central part of the lounge, to the point where there’s almost more lounge staff than guests. I suspect this is because today is New Year’s Day, and this would not have been the case a couple of days beforehand. This is all, of course, due to my well-planned strategy, and not at all total dumb luck.
The VIP area has a decidedly dated living room feel to it, and just a few food and drink options, none of which particularly excite me.
As soon as I sit, I'm offered a hot towel from a towel-warmer in the VIP Room.
I head out into the main room to explore a bit. It’s a small space with a few varied seating options and some iMac workstations. There’s also a playroom for the kids and a sleeping room for those needing naps.
There’s a long buffet, and some made-to-order soups and rice dishes available in both the VIP and main rooms.
I accomplish my primary goal of heading out here — getting myself a cup of coffee to help me feel alive.
I have trouble connecting to the WiFi, as the domestic lounge WiFi here requires a phone number, and doesn’t seem to appreciate my Canadian cellphone number. When I ask, the agent primarily staffing the buffet summons another agent, who gets a WiFi access code using her phone and logs my computer in. Once I’m through the rigmarole of logging in, the WiFi is fast. Corporate shot, with lots of CZ action!
I also ask the buffet agent how I order noodles, and she takes my order for shrimp wontons, delivering it to the VIP room. I’m quite hungry by this point, and it’s pretty tasty but light. I’ll definitely be ready to eat by the time we’re in the air.
The homey feeling of the VIP room continues in the main room, which features bookcases like this, mixing up some books, and a few interesting models of China Southern aircraft. I like their taste in decorating!
The domestic lounge here is definitely a step down from the one in their home base of Guangzhou, but this is likely at least in part a function of the age of the terminal and the available space, as well as PEK not being their primary home. The service culture is still on full display, though, as there are many agents, and all are quite attentive.
About 7:30, 15 minutes ahead of scheduled boarding time, I decide to take my leave, after checking the FIDS to make sure we haven’t (yet) been delayed.
About this time, I get a notice from Delta that there’s a travel advisory due to winter weather expected in DTW for my flight home. Hopefully, nothing will come of it, but it’s something to keep an eye on for sure. Such are the joys of winter travel in the northern part of North America.
I follow the signs towards Gate 20, and when I’m almost there, look what I find just about one gate over! Another China Southern lounge. I wonder why, then, I was taken to the farther away lounge. Perhaps this is a smaller facility and less impressive for VIPs?
There’s a 787-8 in CZ colours on the gate, so I haven’t been TGed today.
Boarding is already well underway as I approach, despite it being a few minutes before the posted boarding time. So I join the empty Sky Priority queue and eventually find an opening in the steady stream of passengers in the economy lane. My boarding pass is scanned, and I’m headed on board.
From: Beijing Capital (PEK)
To: Guangzhou Baiyun (CAN)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
ATD (STD): 08:45 (08:30)
ATA ( STA): 11:43 (11:50)
China Southern is one of the few 787-8 operators in the world to offer a First Class cabin, a one-row four-seat affair with a decidedly different hard product than is available on the 777 and A380. You know how they say BA F is the world’s best business class? I wouldn’t go so quite so far with the CZ 788 F product. While it’s a comfortable seat, there’s minimal privacy to it and very little storage in the seat. Regarding hard product, there are many business class products I’d prefer to this.
I’m welcomed at the door and shown to seat 1K. As I stow my backpack overhead, I notice the purple-packaged blanket and mattress pad are located in the overheads for the window seats. There are no centre overheads in row one due to the overhead crew rest area, so for those seats, the blanket and mattress pad are buckled in with the seat belt.
The first thing I notice when I board is that the plane has apparently been sitting here overnight. It’s quite cold on board, and the seat itself is cold to the touch.
Seat controls are in the armrest.
As was the case on my CAN-PEK flight yesterday, slippers are laid out for me near the ottoman at the front of the suite.
The ledge is about the only functional storage on this seat, but there is a bin under the ottoman large enough to stow shoes once I’ve swapped out for the slippers. The IFE screen seems unnecessarily small, although as it’s a shorter suite, it’s still reasonable enough. The power port is located in the wall of the suite near the ottoman.
There’s a CZ-standard water with lemon at my seat, but sadly no cookies this time.
The headphones are located near the back of the ledge, near the headphone and USB ports, and wired IFE remote, of the non-touchscreen variety. Clearly, the whole IFE system on this plane is a generation older than what was offered on the 777.
The headphones are the same as those offered on my YYZ-CAN flight, but not on CAN-PEK. They’re great for airline-offered headphones.
A look out one of the three windows in the suite as boarding continues. Not very exciting.
And a look across the aisle. This time, ExpertFlyer was correct, and I would be alone in the four-seat F cabin.
The business class product is also a downgrade from what’s offered on the 77W. Here’s the mini-cabin immediately aft of F.
Service begins with a hot (errr…. lukewarm) towel and a drink request. Remembering my fond memories of yesterday’s flight, I request some champagne. The young female flight attendant seems a bit surprised that I’m seeking a drink at this early hour but happily offers a pour nonetheless.
I’m not entirely convinced it’s the same as yesterday's offering, but it’s still a very nice champagne, and maybe a bit better, in fact. Owing to the cold state of the plane, the champagne is unintentionally chilled this time.
As boarding continues, who should pull in next to us than the Chinese Whalebus? Judging by the fact that it’s pulling into a domestic gate, I presume it’s operating the flight an hour after my own flight down to CAN. This suggests that I’ll be seeing this particular aircraft again, as it’s likely going to be the frame operating my trip back up to Beijing later today.
As soon as I drink it, my champagne is proactively refilled. I salute the A380 with this glass. I’d end up having three glasses before we got off the ground.
A little bit of entertainment as boarding continues, as I watch the steady stream of CZ flight attendants heading off buses and onto the newly-arrived A380. It’s amazing how many people it takes to staff the big bird.
The flight attendant serving F would stop by to take my meal order. No menus on this flight, unfortunately. Main course options are beef noodle soup, presumably, the same as that I enjoyed on CAN-PEK, a pork rice dish (likely the hot pot), and some sort of fish dish. I go with the hotpot and ask to continue with the water and champagne to drink once we’re in the air.
We push back right at 8:30, and get a goodbye wave from two of the apron crew working our flight.
It’s not a long taxi as we head over our departure runway. Our only pause is to wait while our big sister in Hainan colours taxis in front of us for departure.
By 8:45, we’re off and into the air. My attempts to shoot low-altitude shots are somewhat spoiled by the dirty window in direct and strong sunlight causing focusing issues, so you’re spared the boredom of a bunch of departure shots.
As I switch to the slippers and stow my shoes in the bin underneath the ottoman, I notice that this is where the literature is stored in these seats. I don’t think many people are likely to see this.
A look at the beautiful 787 wing as we climb.
Service begins promptly about 20 minutes after departure, as the table cloth is offered, and the CZ-standard nuts are offered along with my drink requests.
A hot towel is then offered.
The meal starts with this chicken soup, which is different than yesterday’s chicken soup. It’s piping hot, so apparently whatever lukewarm soup issue we had on YYZ-CAN was an anomaly.
The starter is up next, with a couple of shrimps, some crab salad, and a couple of walnuts. A bit of an odd pairing, but all three are quite good.
Shortly after takeoff, the crew dims the electrochromic windows, although I still have control of my windows so brighten them back up.
The main dish is up next. The pork is a mix of some sort of sausage, and few slices. The sauce is too sweet for my taste, but it’s a pretty good dish. Not nearly as good as the beef noodles I had yesterday. In fact, had this crew asked, as my FA did yesterday, if I’d like another main, I probably could have been convinced to have another round of the beef noodle soup.
Dessert quickly follows that, a sweet bean soup that I thoroughly enjoy.
Throughout the meal, my drinks are refilled by the FA serving F (read: me) from bottles at my seat. From this, I am able to learn that the champagne being poured on this flight is Piper-Heidsieck 2012, for the information of the champagne snobs in our midst.
Dinner ends with some fruit, which is fresh and very good.
I’m then offered another hot towel to freshen up after the meal.
By this time, the moving map indicates we’re well underway,, but we’re still just a hair over an hour into the flight. With only one passenger to serve, there’s no problem with pacing on this meal.
She asks if I’d like some coffee, and I ask if they can do a cappuccino. They can, so I accept her offer.
While that’s being brewed, I head forward to check out the one lav at the front of the plane for F passengers. It’s a pretty bog-standard 787 lav.
Back at my seat, the female flight attendant is accompanied by a male peer as they drop off my coffee.
Perhaps she’s reserved, and he’s outgoing, or maybe his English is just much stronger than her’s, but while communication with her is easy, and we understand each other quite well, he’s quite chatty, kneeling down to chat me up about my travels, how I got over from Canada to China, how I’m heading home, that fact that it’s significantly colder in Beijing than it is in Toronto on this particular day, the temperature differences between Beijing and Guangzhou, and the uniqueness of having a 788 with First Class, among other topics. He explains with great pride that they’ve just added the 789 to the fleet over the last few months and that it has WiFi. He’s a friendly and interesting guy.
The coffee, meanwhile, is excellent. And the guy stops by again to show me the Illy packs they use for their espresso drinks.
Once I’m done my coffee, I decide to try to get in a power nap, mostly because I want to be able to report on the bed on the 787. The things I do for you people! I set it up, complete with the mattress pad and blanket. It’s actually a very comfortable bed — more comfortable than the business class seat in bed mode on YYZ-CAN. That improves my opinion of the seat by a bit.
I’m not sure how much I sleep, but as I slumber, a bottle of Gordon Bay is dropped off for me to enjoy afterwards.
About 40 minutes out of Guangzhou, announcements are made that we’re about to start our descent, and the house lights are brought up. The female FA stops by with candies, and one more hot towel.
Soon enough, we’re starting our descent, so I pack up the bed and some of the kit I’ve got out. Time for one last visit to the lav. But the forward lav is occupied. A female FA I haven’t seen before is there and suggests I go to the business class lavs by doors 2, going as far as to show me there. But as I get there, the male FA I’d been chatting with earlier looks surprised to see me in business, and motions me forward, where the lav is now available.
Back at my seat, a look at the 787 wing as descent begins.
Heading past the airport, then doubling back to land.
Unfortunately, we taxi right past the massive main terminal and end up waiting for a while to cross an active taxiway, which I suspect means we’re bound for a remote gate.
Oh yeah, definitely a remote gate. Note the novelty of a winglet-free 737-800 parked next to us.
One nice thing about the bus gate is it means a couple more (cliché) shots of the aircraft as I deplane. They hook up the airstairs door 1L well before the stairs for 2L start moving into position, so I’m the first off.
And then on to the little VIP bus for the trip back to the terminal.
Along with the wingletless wonder, we have a rather unique spotting of a government of Cambodia aircraft as we head out.
Back towards the massive terminal at Baiyun.
We pass under the terminal and drive a little further for our journey to end at this rather unimpressive drop-off point.
From there, one just has to walk through the vast domestic luggage hall to arrive landside in the rather grand arrivals lobby.
From here, it’s just a short trip up an escalator to start out on my next adventure, so I’ll leave this one here.
Thanks for reading along with this, and I hope to see you as I head back up to Beijing in a few hours.
I'm glad to have had the experience of flying on the China Southern 787, but I wouldn't be in a rush to do so again, or recommend it for a longhaul F product based on the seat.
For this short a flight, though, it was a decent seat and a nice bed, and the privacy challenges of the seat were mitigated by having the cabin to myself.
Soft product was on par with that offered on my other CZ sectors thus far. Once again, the service was friendly, courteous and proactive, and the catering was good, if perhaps a step down from what was provided ex-CAN.