We live in Iceland and several of our family members live near Melbourne, Australia, so we decided to spend Christmas there. The two airports - Keflavík and Melbourne - are not exactly close to each other, the distance being 10,539 miles (about 17,000 kms). If there was a direct flight it would overfly Svalbard, Eastern Siberia, North-East China and Eastern Indonesia and it would take about 21 hours. But there's of course no direct flight. So how should we get there?
We knew we didn't want to fly economy and we didn't have the budget for most business class flights, so we had to look for an exceptionally good deal in business class. Connecting flights from Iceland to Africa, Asia or Australia are never good value. London, Copenhagen, Frankfurt or Germany are usually among the more expensive departure airports. Amsterdam or Paris can have better deals but none was available at that time.
We checked premium economy as well, and although Singapore Airlines' great premium economy was bookable at a reasonable price from Stockholm to Melbourne via Moscow and Singapore, we still hoped for a good price in business.
We considered for a long time, and we even held a booking for some time, to fly from Cairo. A CAI-MCT-KUL-MEL in business class was offered by Oman Air and Malaysia Airlines at a price similar to many economy class flights from Europe to Australia. But direct flights from Europe to Cairo are overpriced even in economy and connecting flights can have unfavorable schedules.
So what was the solution? Oslo is usually, maybe surprisingly for some of you, the cheapest airport for long-haul business class flights from Europe. And there came a promotional offer: Oslo to Perth with Qatar Airways and Auckland to Oslo with China Southern. Yes, we wanted to fly to Melbourne but why not to visit Western Australia for a few days? And yes, the return leg was from New Zealand but we could finally visit NZ as well - and the flight was even slightly cheaper than a return from Australia.
China Southern is not among the best known airlines outside of China. It is certainly less known, at least in Europe, than Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines or Singapore Airlines but it has a larger fleet than any other airlines in Asia or in Europe with 817 aircrafts - that's a lot! Its main hub is Guangzhou. It is of course one of the options if you want to fly from Europe to China but it also offers good connections to Australia and New Zealand.
Check-in was very slow for everybody and it took us about 20 minutes at the business class counter. They could not see our onward segments in the system as our Auckland to Guangzhou flight was on 2nd January and our connecting flight to Amsterdam was on 4th January. They found later our full itinerary, could see we were eligible for the 72 hour transfer visa and we were checked in but only until Guangzhou. We tried to have some of our luggage checked in all the way to Oslo but this was not possible.
Auckland is a large, nice and well organised airport but with so many long-haul flights it was crowded when we were there.
I liked that I could see people from various parts of Ocania such as Fiji or Samoa - countries where I would like to go.
Priority check-in, priority passport control and priority security really counted - it would have been about one hour extra to go through all these in economy.
The map of the terminal
The public areas are quite nice
But we went to the lounge
More specifically to the Strata Lounge
Used by a large number of airlines
The Auckland Strata Lounge is also available for Priority Pass holders among others or you can just pay NZD 55 (or EUR 33) to gain access.
The lounge is large and has enough seating area
We were there around 9am. The breakfast spread was huge and was similar to what you'd find at a good hotel.
I liked the presentation of the drinks
Look closely at this screen: it shows departure information on the language of the destination! French for Noumea, English for Goald Coast, Fijian for Nadi, Tongan for Nuku'alofa, Japanese for Tokyo, French for Papeete, Chinese for Guangzhou and Korean for Seoul. A big plus for Auckland Airport for this!
On our way from the lounge to the gate
Our aircraft today was a B787-900, registration number B-1297, delivered in June 2018. Note that Seatguru shows only B787-800 with a three class configuration for China Southern but this was a B787-900 with a two-class configuration.
Boarding was on time and we were welcomed with a smile.
The first impressions were excellent: beautiful interior in a very good condition. Configuration is 1-2-1 in six rows with a total of 24 business class seats. My seat was the first on the right hand side. This was my bulkhead view:
Legroom is huge. The business class seats in the front row - seats 11 AGEK - have bigger footroom. Note that a shoebag was offered alongside the slippers.
The overall view of the seat
The seat has a lot of space, enough storage area and a reading light among others
This seat has three windows
A hot towel and a welcome drink were offered immediately: water, orange juice or apple juice, and the seat functions were explained.
The amenity kit
A manual safety demonstration was held and an expected flight time of 10 hours and 45 minutes was announced for a scheduled flight time of 12 hours.
Some aircraft spotting during taxi
We took off at 10.15 from runway 23L.
The cabin was remarkably quite even when climbing plus good soundproofing headphones were provided.
The view right after take-off
Some more beautiful views over New Zealand during the first half an hour of the flight
A branded hot towel was offered 30 minutes after take-off
Meal order was taken before take off. There was no dining on-demand.
Here is the menu for the main meal (lunch).
Lunch service started about 50 minutes after take-off. The different courses were served very quickly one after each other.
Let's start with some champagne: Charles Heidsick. Refill was offered several times.
The table was set nicely
Smoked Pork Lardon & Puy Lentil Soup - a good spicy lentil soup.
Panzanella Jelly with White Anchovies. It had a very strong and original taste - good in some ways but not sure if most people would like it.
I wanted to order Stir Fried Prawn & Scallop with XO Sauce but there wasn't anymore left after the first two passengers in our aisle so I ordered Salmon Glazed with Lime, Carrot Pickle and Creamed Corn. It was very good.
Fresh fruit salad was offered plus a choice of cake or ice cream from the cart after the main course. The fresh fruit was, well, fresh
The cheese plate was tasty
Overall a very good five-course lunch - I would give five star.
The wine list:
A choice of two beers: Warsteiner from Germany and Tsingtao from China
A great choice of tea with detailed descriptions
I put my seat in a flatbed position:
I slept very well for one hour after lunch. We were near Brisbane when I woke up.
I'm not sure about the exact size of the screen but it was big enough. The screen had excellent reactivity
Movies were available in English and Chinese of course but also in German, Italian, French etc. There were mostly art movies. Not a large number of movies but well selected and well categorised.
Some of the Sky TV selection. I watched some very nice documentaries called Aerial China.
There was a big choice of Chinese music and most of the western music was classical music, jazz and oldies. Maybe the airline tries to avoid all music that can be considered as controversial?
Free wifi was available. The password is the last four digits of your passport number used for check-in. It was for browsing only; my mobile applications such as Facebook or Messenger didn't work the same way as they didn't work in China.
We flew near the Queensland cost for a long time and we actually reached Australia near Cairns
A not very good sandwich was offered a few hours after lunch (no photo).
Halfway was between Australia and PNG (Papua New Guinea)
Some cakes came about another two hours later - right before "breakfast " was served about two and a half hours before landing. I didn't understood why a breakfast was served instead of dinner at 19.00 Auckland time and 14.00 Guangzhou time.
Here is the breakfast menu - note that breakfast order was taken before take-off so about nine hours before it was actually served.
I first had some fresh fruits
Although the meal was called breakfast and European-style breakfast items such as cereals and jam, butter and bread were offered I had a hot Chicken Dumpling Soup which was more like a proper dinner meal for me.
I asked for a capuccino for breakfast (dinner for me) which was more coffee with milk but it was OK.
We overflew the Philippines
Overview of the business class cabin in mood lighting
It was time to have a look at the on-board magazine. China Southern has quite a few routes within China…
Routes to Western Asia and Europe.
Some very long-haul flights to Australia, New Zealand and North America
One of the cabin crew came to tell me about the expected time of arrival, the temperature in Guangzhou, told me to dress up for the cold weather, and asked me how I liked the service about one hour and twenty minutes before arrival.
We overflew Guangzhou for quite a long time at a low altitude so we had some interesting views even if the weather was not very nice
Landing preparations started 50 minutes before arrival. We landed at 16.15, 45 minutes ahead of the scheduled arrival time of 17.00. It took another 5 minutes for the plane to reach its final parking position.
Flight information after landing
We had a 31 hour stopover in Guangzhou. You don't need a visa to China if a) you come from one of the eligible countries (includes most of Europe but also Australia, Canada and the US) and your passport is valid for at least three months, b) you have a connecting flight through China between two different countries (you can't simply have a return flight to China) c) you stay not longer than 24, 72 or 144 hours and you stay within the same province (the length of the stay depends mostly on the airport of your arrival) d) the flight does not have a stopover within China e) you arrive to one of the eligible airports which includes most of the airport that have international flights. Conditions can of course change so check details of the current visa policy before you book a flight with a stopover in China. Wikipedia's Visa policy of China page is quite detailed.
Although more people can speak English in China than some tourists think strangely enough some of the airport staff in the immigration area didn't speak English. Getting the visa free transit took us 70 minutes, a longer time it should have as we first went to the regular passport control queue instead of turning right to the visa-free counter and also because the landing form we had received on the plane was not the right one and we had to fill a different one at the airport.
But we managed eventually to enter China. The airport is big, nice and very modern. Don't take a taxi to go to downtown as there's an efficient, bilingual and very cheap metro line (Metro number 3) between the airport and downtown. You need to change money at the airport as most of the foreign bank cards are not accepted. A day pass for the metro costs 20 yuan or about 3 USD.
Thank you for reading my flight report and please feel free to comment!
Auckland - AKL
Guangzhou - CAN
China Southern offers a very high standard long-haul business class. The brand new Dreamliner on this route was with very comfortable, spacious flat bed seats. The five-course lunch was lavish, although I found very strange to offer breakfast as an evening meal instead of dinner. The entertainment system has a good selection of movies I liked, although the choice of music was limited. The cabin crew was well trained and well intentioned. Altogether I had a very enjoyable flight and I wouldn't hesitate to book China Southern business class again.
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