Introduction: 5-Star China On The Cheap
Review: Hainan Airlines LAX Limo, Check-In, And Lounge
Review: Hainan Business Class 787 Los Angeles To Changsha
Review: Sheraton Changsha Hotel
Review: Changsha Airport Lounges
Review: Hainan Business Class 787 Changsha To Los Angeles
Hainan Airlines 7924
Los Angeles (LAX) – Changsha (CSX)
Monday, February 8
Aircraft: Boeing 787-8
Seat: 18A (Business Class)
I boarded through the second door on the left, where I was greeted by two of the flight attendants. Upon presenting my boarding pass they pointed me right towards the second business class cabin, where my seat was located.
Last week I wrote a post entitled “Chinese Airlines’ War On Cell Phones,” about the issues I had with taking pictures on this flight. I’ll mention it now so I don’t have to bring it up again in this review. Basically there was a language barrier with the crew, and they initially didn’t want me taking any pictures. Later it became clear that the policy was actually:
- Cell phones aren’t allowed to be used on any Chinese airline, even when the phone is in airplane mode
- The crew didn’t seem to want me taking any pictures of them, but was apparently fine with me pictures otherwise (it took a while till I was on the same page as the crew on this)
With that out of the way, let’s continue with the actual review.
Hainan’s 787 business class cabin consists of a total of 36 seats, spread across six rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. The first three rows are in the forward cabin, between doors one and two, while the other three rows are behind that cabin, separated by the business class lavatories.
I also quickly grabbed a picture of the economy cabin, which is in a tight 3-3-3 configuration. The tight economy cabin on the 787 is another reason I prefer the A350 to the 787.
Hainan’s 787 business class seats are fully flat and forward facing. There’s an ottoman at each seat which is attached to the seat in front of it, and then that ottoman becomes part of the bed when you put the seat into the fully flat position.
The legroom was quite generous, as the seats have 74″ of pitch. In other words, the seats were so far from the ottomans that you couldn’t really put your feet on them unless your seat was reclined.
I had assigned myself seat 18A, which is the window seat in the last row of business class. The aisle seat next to me was empty, so it was nice to have two seats to myself. I find it a bit odd that Hainan has alternating fabric on the left, center, and right seats. I get the concept of that in general, though it sort of looks cheap with how they did it, in my opinion, as if they ran out of fabric and decided to mix things up. I think it would look better if there was more contrast between the varying fabrics, rather than just minor variations.
One great thing about the ottoman was that there was storage below it, so you could use it to store your shoes, laptop, etc.
The seat controls were located on the center armrest between seats, and were easy to use. The controls were nice and versatile, so you could easily adjust just one aspect of the seat’s position, if desired.
Below the center armrest was the entertainment controller, as well as a water bottle holder.
Then behind that was a 110v adapter as well as a USB port.
On the front side of the center console was a storage unit, where the headphones were stored in a pouch.
The headphones were fine, though nothing special. Certainly not the Bose headphones which American even offers in business class.
Once I was settled in, one of the flight attendants came by my seat to introduce herself by name and offer me a pre-departure beverage. I was impressed by the way she introduced herself, which was a nice touch.
Unfortunately Hainan doesn’t serve any alcohol pre-departure. Instead the choice was between orange juice, apple juice, and water. I was also offered a warm towel and some mixed nuts.
I was impressed that Hainan offers nuts on the ground in business class, which is something you don’t often see. At the same time I couldn’t help but wonder what their nut budget was, because my ramekin had 10 nuts in it. And that wasn’t a fluke. The flight attendant offered me the nuts off a tray with a handful of ramekins, and they all had a similar number of nuts.
Shortly thereafter I was offered an amenity kit, to complement the slippers which were already waiting for me at my seat.
I was also asked if I wanted pajamas. I said “yes, large ones would be great.” She looked at me and said “mmm, I think extra large would be better for you.” I was sort of like:
The slippers were decent quality, and even had the airline’s name on them, which you don’t see that often.
The amenity kit was well stocked, and featured BVLGARI amenities, which I’m a fan of. The amenity kit had a toothbrush, comb, earplugs, eyeshades, socks, and a few BVLGARI goodies.
The pajamas were rather… imperial looking. I ended up only putting on the pants, and kept on my hoodie. For what it’s worth, I’m happy she recommended XL pajamas, because even the XL pants were barely long enough.
The pajamas specifically came with a card indicating you can take them home (as you’d expect).
A few minutes later the flight attendant came by to offer me the menu and beverage list for the flight.
Boarding was pretty quick, given that the flight was less than half full. I looked out the window for a while, as an Air Canada 767 pushed back from the gate next to us, and a Qatar Airways 777 pulled into the gate.
As boarding finished up I ran into Eric Rosen from The Points Guy, so I’m sure you’ll see his review shortly as well. He ended up sitting in the two center seats across from me, given that the cabin was fairly empty. There were a total of seven people in the 18-seat rear business class cabin.
At 12:15PM the door to the cabin closed, 20 minutes ahead of our scheduled 12:35PM departure. At this point the captain came on the PA to make his welcome aboard announcement. I was amused when I realized he was either from the US or Canada, based on his accent (I had also seen him in the gate area, though didn’t know whether he was European, American, or what).
He informed us of our flight time of 13hr35min, and anticipated we would be landing in Changsha on schedule.
After doing some research it seems like Hainan Airlines has a lot of ex-pat pilots. They seem to promote their ex-pat pilot program pretty heavily in this beyond-cringeworthy video:
At 12:20PM the safety video played, which was Peking-opera themed:
I found the video to be extremely amusing.
At 12:25PM we began our pushback, after waiting for a few minutes for traffic in the alley to clear.
As we started our engines I noticed two Japan Airlines planes taxiing right behind one another, including the 787 headed to Osaka and then the 777 headed to Tokyo Narita. It’s not often you see an airline’s only two daily flights taxi right behind one another to a runway.
We taxied out to runway 24L behind the Japan Airlines 777, which was just taking off. One of the great things about terminal 2 at LAX is that it’s right by runway 24L, so the taxi takes just a couple of minutes.
At 12:35PM we were holding short of runway 24L and immediately cleared for takeoff. You can’t beat already being airborne at your scheduled departure time!
Our takeoff roll felt quite long for a 787.
It was especially awesome to sit by the window and see just how much the 787’s wing flexes as you begin your climb out.
Our route after takeoff from LAX was odd, as we climbed out over the Pacific and then turned east to fly inland, which had me concerned for a moment, as I covered in a recent post.
Eventually our path normalized and we flew along the California coastline.
Shortly after takeoff the cabin manager, Richard, came on the PA to add his welcome aboard. This flight had about four or five male cabin crew, which is the first time I’ve seen that on a Chinese airline. Maybe I just haven’t been very observant, but I don’t ever recall seeing a male cabin crew on a Chinese airline before, so I found that to be noteworthy.
It took about 20 minutes before the seatbelt sign was turned off. That seemed like a long time for an Asian carrier, but then I realized we had an American pilot. Every time we had even the slightest bump the seatbelt sign was turned back on. It was an exceptionally smooth flight, but the seatbelt sign must have briefly been turned on about 20 times during the flight. That wouldn’t be a big deal, except Hainan must have the loudest seatbelt signs I’ve heard on any airline.
As we climbed out I played with the 787’s window dimmers a bit. The 787 doesn’t have window shades, but rather has windows which “dim.” I’m not a huge fan of these, since you can’t make the cabin completely dark. There are five settings you can choose from, but even the darkest doesn’t have the same effect as a window blind.
After takeoff I checked out the plane’s lavatories. The two main lavs for business class are between the two business class cabins, just in front of the main entry door. There’s also another lavatory up near the cockpit, though the mid-cabin ones are more conveniently located.
The lavatories weren’t huge, though were always immaculately clean (the crew did a great job with that, to the point that they creased the edge of the toilet paper frequently) and had BVLGARI amenities, which was a nice touch.
When I got back to my seat I checked out the entertainment selection. It was a bit better than I was expecting, but still not as good as what you’ll find on other airlines. There were only about five different comedy TV shows to choose from, though they had several episodes of each. There were also a couple dozen movies, though not really many Blockbuster hits.
That’s not a big deal to me since I don’t watch much TV, and when I do, I’m happy to bring my own shows on my iPad.
About 25 minutes after takeoff a flight attendant came around the cabin to take meal orders. She kneeled as she got to my seat.
“Hi, this is Maria. I am the purser. How may I address you?”
“Okay Mr. Big Ben, I call you.”
Maria was lovely. While there was a communication barrier, she was extremely charming and willing to go out of her comfort zone a bit, which I appreciate. We talked for a few minutes, and I asked how she enjoyed her layover in LA. She said it was her first time visiting LA and she loved it. They had four nights there, and she visited Universal Studios, Disneyland, and Catalina. Goodness, she had quite a packed schedule!
The crew was Beijing based, so the way they “work” this trip is that they fly from Beijing to Changsha as passengers, spend the night, then the next day fly from Changsha to Los Angeles. Then after a 3-4 day layover (since the flight is only 2x weekly) they fly from Los Angeles to Changsha, and then are deadheaded back from Changsha to Beijing. Sounds like a cushy trip, minus the return, which sounds exhausting.
Maria took my meal order, and also asked if I wanted to be woken up before landing for the snack (I told her I’d be awake, but to please wake me if I am sleeping).
The menu introduction read as follows:
The menu read as follows:
And the beverage list read as follows:
To start off I had a glass of champagne. Hainan serves Mumm, which is much better than what China Southern serves in first class. The champagne was served with a few hot snacks.
After that Maria set my table, which she did with great care.
I was impressed that Hainan offers a personal breadbasket in business class, which contained garlic bread, crostinis, a wheat roll, and a white roll.
The butter was even in the shape of a flower.
Along with the table setting I was also offered a warm towel.
For the first course I ordered the shrimp with couscous and mango salsa.
It was delicious. I was impressed by the presentation and taste. It was really well done.
Next I ordered the creamy soup of asparagus puree, which was also tasty. I thought the presentation was great, because when it was placed on my tray it still had a lid on, which was removed at that point. Very impressive, and the taste and temperature were great as well.
Since Eric was seated across from me and ordered differently, I also snapped a picture of his pork bouillon with watercress and red dates.
After that I was served a small salad.
For the main course I had the salmon, which was exceptional. Perfect presentation, taste, and temperature. It was one of the best main courses I’ve had in business class on any airline.
Meanwhile Eric went with the Chinese option, which looked great as well.
After the main courses were cleared the dessert trolley was rolled around, which had ice cream, cake, and then a cheese board. I asked if I could try a little bit of everything (just so I could get pictures, of course), which they were more than happy to accommodate.
Maria even joked “it will make a good picture,” as she saw I was taking pictures of all the food.
To finish off the meal I had a cappuccino which was tasty, and also had a beautiful design on it.
The meal was done less than two hours into the flight. I was so impressed by the meal, in terms of the quality of food and service. The food was exceptionally good for business class, and the service was extremely attentive, especially from Maria.
But what impressed me most was that after the meal one of the flight attendants walked around the cabin with gloves picking crumbs off the floor. Never before have I seen that on any airline in any class. Amazing!
After the meal, arrival cards for China were distributed.
As this point we were out over the Pacific, just northwest of Seattle.
I asked to have my bed made since I was quite tired. Maria took care of the turndown service quickly and with amazing care. I’ve never seen someone put so much effort into making a bed, as she made sure every crease was perfect.
While I’m not a huge fan of the Hainan seat itself (though it’s nice if you have an empty seat next to you), the bedding was top notch. The seat had two plush pillows (perhaps the best I’ve had on any airline) and a thick blanket.
I was also given a bottle of water along with the turndown service.
While I would have liked to sleep all the way to Changsha, unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky, and woke up after a couple of hours.
As I headed to the lavatory I noticed that the crew had set up some snacks in the mid-galley, including fresh fruit, cheese, chips, cookies, etc.
Since I couldn’t sleep I decided to get some work done on my laptop. I was extremely impressed that the crew kept passing through the cabin every 10-15 minutes, even though the cabin was less than half full and most passengers were sleeping. They also paid close attention each time they walked by, and when they noticed my water bottle was mostly empty they’d always bring me a new one.
I worked for a couple of hours, at which point I was offered a mid-flight snack. The snack menu read as follows:
I ordered the wonton noodles with shrimp dumplings, which were delicious. Hainan gets high marks for nailing both Asian and Western cuisine.
I worked for several more hours, with the occasional glance out the window to enjoy the scenery below.
I also looked through the inflight magazine and noticed some Hainan-branded stuff which looked cool, including a Hainan pilot teddy bear. Upon inquiring about duty free sales I was informed they don’t offer them on this flight, since duty free is only loaded on flights to/from Beijing. Bummer!
I should also note that while it didn’t bother me too much, there were a lot of screaming babies on this flight. The bassinet seats in business class seem to be in the first row of the rear business class cabin, and then the first row of economy also has bassinets. So I felt like I had crying babies in surround sound at times, being seated between the two bassinet rows.
I finally managed to get in a solid nap about three hours before landing, and upon waking up the meal service began.
The pre-arrival menu read as follows:
Maria first came around with a tray consisting of apple juice, orange juice, and grapefruit juice. As I was going to grab am apple juice, she recommended I try the grapefruit juice instead, since it was the only one which was freshly squeezed. Good tip!
I was also offered a warm towel, and ordered a coffee.
This time I went with the Asian offering, which started with some dumplings.
The main course consisted of stir-friend eu foo noodles with beef, and was really tasty.
It was also served with a variety of accompaniments.
Finally for dessert I was offered some fresh fruit.
And then I was offered a cappuccino to finish off the meal, which featured yet another type of “art” on it.
About 30 minutes before landing the captain came back on the PA with updated arrival information, informing us we’d touch down in Changsha at 6:15PM, about an hour before our scheduled arrival time.
We approached right as the sun was setting, which made for some beautiful views.
As we made a turn to line up with the runway, I could view the sunset exclusively through one window on the other side of the cabin, which made for an equally gorgeous view.
Sure enough we had a smooth touchdown in in Changsha at around 6:15PM.
Our taxi to the gate took about 10 minutes. Changsha Airport was bigger than I expected, and we pulled into a gate next to a Hainan 737.
The walk to immigration was quick, and once there I was through in a matter of minutes.
The downside to arriving an hour early is that my chauffeur wasn’t yet there. I couldn’t find a single person from Hainan Airlines who spoke English, including the Hainan representative in the arrivals hall who had a sign (in English) reading “Transfer Help.” So I hung around in the terminal, and sure enough a guy showed up with a sign that had my name on it about 30 minutes later. He didn’t speak a word of English either, though drove me to my hotel in an Mercedes E-Class in about 45 minutes.
Hainan Airlines business class bottom line
Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hainan Airlines. They’re a 5-star Skytrax airline, though I never could make sense of the system. So my expectations of Hainan were pretty low, and I wasn’t expecting them to be materially better than Air China or China Southern, for example.
Well, I was extremely pleasantly surprised by Hainan’s soft product — the food was exceptional, the service friendly and attentive (even if there was a language barrier), the pillow and blanket among the best I’ve had, etc.
However, the seat certainly isn’t ideal. On this flight it worked well since I had an empty seat next to me, but if I had someone sitting next to me I wouldn’t have enjoyed the flight as much. I always say “business class is all about the seat,” and that’s an area where Hainan lags, in my opinion.
Still, all things considered, Hainan business class exceeded my expectations. If they had reverse herringbone seats, I’d say it’s a world class business class product.
How does Hainan business class compare to what you were expecting?