Has China Southern Improved Since My Comically Bad Flight With Them?

In 2014 I flew China Southern’s A380 first class, a ticket I had booked with my Korean Air SkyPass miles. At the time my goal was to try every A380 first class product out there (which I’ve done at this point), and China Southern is one of the airlines operating the plane.

China-Southern-First-Class

Well, the flight was bad. Amusingly bad. From the $5 sparkling wine (literally $5 in international first class), to the flight attendants double bunking in all the empty first class suites, to the inside of the toilet consistently looking like a dessert you’d order at TGI Friday’s due to the crew’s use, it was probably my worst international first class flight.

China-Southern-First-Class

My review seemed to gain some traction on Chinese social media, and I suspect to save face China Southern’s management reprimanded the entire first class crew & purser.

The airline’s “assistant president of airline products & services” emailed me to reassure me they’d be making changes based on my feedback. The email read in part as follows:

On reviewing your comments, the company management put heavy emphasis and asked the service dept. to conduct an immediate and thorough survey towards what you have pointed out. And internal discussion has been made on how to improve our premium passenger service and international flight services especially on software, e.g. catering service, cabin supplies and service staff in a short term.

Well, while I’d like to fly China Southern again soon, I haven’t had the chance yet. So I think it’s only fair that I share the email that reader Brian sent me, regarding his recent China Southern business class flight from New York to Guangzhou.

China-Southern-Business-Class

The email read as follows, in part:

First (and perhaps most importantly), I can report that they’ve retired the illustrious and incomparable Duc De Paris in favor of a respectable Taittinger (I did not catch the year). I have no idea if they serve something else in F. On my outbound flight the Taittinger was served at room temperature, which I chalk up to the general Chinese disdain for chilled beverages of any kind. Coming back to the US it was chilled somewhat. So you may have victoriously struck a blow on behalf of bubbly drinkers everywhere with your review.

The service was generally good, though somewhat quirky. The FAs were very attentive and well-intentioned; they frequently refilled glasses and checked if the passengers needed anything. They were smiling, polite, and helpful in a way that FAs on the legacy US carriers rarely are.

However, they still insist on taking your food order for the entire 16 hour flight at the beginning, after which they take the menus away. The depth of English comprehension by the FAs is generally shallow, which isn’t a huge problem as I’m not necessarily trying to discuss 19th century French philosophy with them, but it would be nice to be able to go beyond basic phrases and gestures, especially as one would expect on flights originating in or going to the US.

The food itself has not changed much since your last review – the items range from quite good (a lamb chop), to more or less inedible (some of the canapes).

They apparently did take your criticism of the bathroom to heart – the J lavs were kept pristine during the entire flight, with the FAs actually folding back the tip of the toilet paper after each refreshing of the lav.

Much like your impression of F, the J hard product is very nice – I had a “true” window seat which was very private and comfortable. Despite being 6’0″, I slept easily.

Their ground operations were also surprisingly nice – I connected to PVG at CAN, and they had someone meet me immediately after deplaning to escort me to my connection via golf cart. Considering the distance between the terminals at CAN, this was very helpful.

Overall, I had a positive experience with China Southern and would definitely consider flying them again, particularly when comparing J fares with their competitors (in the interest of saving my employer a few bucks).

Wow! Now, while service on Chinese carriers can be hit or miss (as I recently learned on China Eastern flying from Los Angeles to Shanghai and then from Shanghai to Colombo), color me impressed that they’ve upgraded the champagne significantly. While that’s not the most important aspect of a flight, it is an investment on management’s part, and shows they’re listening. I wonder if the bathroom was so clean simply because this happened to be a good crew, or if they’ve changed the requirements.

Regardless, kudos, and it sounds like I might have to take another China Southern flight sometime soon!

Has anyone else flown China Southern lately? What was your experience like?

Comments

  1. Flew them in J last December, and I can echo Brian’s comments.

    A380 LAX-CAN:
    – Seat was very good, IFE fairly standard. I got a good 6-7 hours of sleep.
    – Food was ok…not SQ, but that’s asking a lot. I don’t remember the booze selections.
    – Cabin was clean, modern, overall quite nice. Lav was massive (upper deck) and spotless.
    – Service was as he described.
    – Connection in CAN: they could do with some better signage for Sky Priority passengers, as there’s thankfully a separate line. The non-priority line was very long.

    77W CAN-LAX:
    – Again, the seat was good. The forward mini cabin was quiet as expected. The IFE was different than the A380, and I found it a bit quirky. The touch screen remote was cool, but wasn’t the most user-friendly.
    – Food/cabin/service similar to above.
    – Lounge is reasonable, not the best, not the worst. The breakfast/brunch options were not particularly amazing, but bar/coffee items upstairs were ok. The sitting area near the window upstairs provided some nice views of the ramp.

    TLDR: I’d fly them again. Their paid J fares are quite competitive, and from the west coast to various points in Asia, it’s a good option.

  2. One thing I forgot to mention before hitting submit..for us Skyteam folks, particularly DL flyers, the earning rates on CZ revenue flights take a hit since they’re a Cat 3 partner of Delta. So, keep that in mind.

  3. This is the plane with the Singapore-like double bed configuration for the center F seats, right? If the service isn’t terrible anymore and there won’t be crew or self-upgraders filling up the empty F seats I might just take this flight…

  4. Charles – I agree with your comments on the lounge, which I forgot to mention in my email to Ben. Their flagship lounge in CAN isn’t bad, especially when compared to U.S. domestic lounges, but is definitely a notch below other Asian lounges (SQ, CX, etc.). Ben’s initial review was pretty accurate. I didn’t find any of the sitting areas particularly comfortable. The worst thing was that it was way too hot for my American tastes, but Chinese people usually keep things warmer in office buildings and homes.

    The nice shower rooms were a pleasant surprise. A far cry from the disgusting showers in the SkyClub in JFK.

  5. @Brian D – agree completely on that point. The lounge was definitely muggy, but the showers were good. The lounge overall is a decent place to pass time as the terminal itself isn’t particularly exciting. There were a few interesting shops down by the gates (not the high-end stuff by the lounge heading towards the other concourses) where I was able to pickup some fun items.

  6. Lucky, it would be nice if after improvements made, that you could re-visit and review the airlines. Or at least someone from OMAAT does it.

    Thanks Brian for the short review on CZ.

  7. Australian perspective here: we really get stung by Qantas and the big brands for business class long haul fares, so CZ and others are good for providing competition. I flew SYD-CAN-CDG return in 2014 and the experience was similar to those described in comments above. In summary, hard product (A380 and A330) was good, new, clean, everything worked, lie flat seats. IFE is not as good as CX or SQ, not a good English or European selection, but good enough for me. Staff are polite and attentive, their English is adequate to the task, I’m not there for a big conversation. The quirks: got pyjamas on the daytime A380 flight but not the nighttime A330 flight. Dinner menu was long and impressive but most of it was unavailable. Food was ok. At breakfast we were offered “butter or jam” and there didn’t seem to be enough to have both. CAN lounge was good enough, ok food, good showers, not crowded, massage chairs (!!).

    At the right price CZ is perfectly acceptable. Air China (2016) was similar to above with less quirks.

  8. I wonder what is the depth of Mandarin or Cantonese comprehension by the FAs of U.S. airlines flying on similar routes, as it would be nice to be able to go beyond basic phrases and gestures, especially as one would expect on flights originating in or going to China.

  9. I just flew Business class (77w) PVG-CAN-JFK on Sept 3;
    Ground service: really nice and efficient, meeting you at plane, pushing through each step and taking you entire way to lounge (or gate).
    Seats: got one of the true window seats, good hardware (same level as KLM and Lufthansa), IFE was great and I actually was impressed w audio quality of headphones.
    Food/drinks: limited wine list; not even an actual wine list, had to ask for wine and them got “australian” or “french” as options. Food OK, eatable but not more.
    Service: attentive, but overall leaving you alone which I like. Taking food orders up-front I actually like and telling you serving times which helps planning the sleep.

  10. Xi Wu – I agree, the U.S. airlines should staff Chinese-speaking FAs on flights to and from China. I wasn’t trying to imply anything otherwise.

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