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I arrived at gate 148, the departure gate, at around 9:20PM. My boarding pass said boarding was at 9:30PM, though that’s an hour before departure, so I was fully expecting the actual boarding time to be 10PM or something (in my experience non-US airlines usually board 30 minutes in advance at most).
The first thing I noticed about the gate was the number of duty free packages people on the flight had purchased. There were several massive carts, and there were so many people that had made purchases that they “roped” off the area and created a queue.
To my surprise there was already an agent holding up a sign for business class passengers to queue, so I asked the agent where first class passengers should queue. He looked at my boarding pass and said “first class no wait, you can board anytime.” So to my surprise he directed me to the lady scanning boarding passes and she let me aboard over an hour before departure.
First aboard translates to more cabin pictures, woohoo!
China Southern 328
Los Angeles (LAX) – Guangzhou (CAN)
Thursday, February 6
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Seat: 2A (First Class/Platinum Private Suite)
China Southern’s first class cabin is on the lower deck, so I boarded through door 1L. Of the airlines operating the A380, Air France, British Airways, Korean Air, Malaysia, Qantas, and Singapore have first class on the lower deck, while Emirates, Lufthansa, and Thai have first class on the upper deck. While airlines with first class on the upper deck typically have more first class amenities (since there’s an area in the front of the first class cabin with a bit of extra space), the lower deck is significantly wider, so the cabin feels more spacious.
China Southern has just eight first class seats on their A380s, in a 1-2-1 configuration. Per SeatGuru, here’s the seatmap:
Of the A380 products I’ve flown it reminded me most closely of Malaysia’s, which also has eight seats on the lower deck, though they’re not fully enclosed suites.
Anyway, China Southern’s A380 cabin felt a bit sterile in terms of the colors, though was ridiculously spacious and comfortable.
The flight attendant at the door directed me to place my belongings in the locker. There were eight lockers in front of the first class cabin on the left side, similar to what Lufthansa has in their A380 first class. That’s a great feature, given the lack of overhead bins in first class on the A380.
I took seat 2A, which I had pre-selected, though as soon as I sat down the flight attendant came by and asked me if I wanted to switch to seat 1K because “it may be more quiet.” I was a bit puzzled. Yes, the galley is immediately behind the first class cabin, but unless they were planning on having a Chinese New Year party in the galley with a live horse performance, I didn’t think that would be relevant.
Since I couldn’t really figure out whether they were trying to extend a courtesy or were requesting I make the change, I decided to move to 1K. I think I figured out the logic on that later, stay tuned.
So I settled into 1K. The seat was extremely spacious. There was a large ottoman which contained a storage compartment big enough for shoes.
The seat controls were located on the panel to the right, while behind that was a storage compartment and the entertainment controls.
There’s a power port on the right side of the seat as well.
At my new seat they brought the pre-departure “tray,” which consisted of a drink in a martini glass, the first class menu, and some sweets.
While I thought the presentation was beautiful, as it turns out it’s apple juice in the martini glass. Really… really?
China Southern must have one of the least reviewed first class products in the world, and based on asking on Twitter I couldn’t figure out which champagne they served before my flight. So I was really curious, and requested a glass of champagne pre-departure. What will they serve? Dom? Krug? Grand Siecle? Cuvee Louis?
I ordered a glass and asked her to bring out the bottle. What do they serve in international first class? You ready for this?
Duc de Paris sparkling wine. It retails for 3.75Euro (~$5). I mean, is that the world’s cheapest airplane champagne? I don’t think any other airline even serves champagne that cheap in coach. I mean, I joke about airlines serving Korbel, but this is on a whole different level…
I had a glass just to see how bad it was. It tasted just like the Welch’s sparkling grape juice my mom would be me for New Years Eve when I was about 11.
So hands down this was the worst champagne trip of my life, between the lack of champagne in the lounge and the $5 champagne aboard. Anyway…
I was then offered a Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, pajamas, slippers, and headphones. I appreciated that when she brought them to me they were packaged, and she asked if it would be alright if she unwrapped them for me. She also placed the slippers on the floor by my feet. Classy touches!
The pajamas – while not branded – were comfortable and large.
The amenity kit consisted of face cream, lip balm, cologne, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, earplugs, and eyeshades.
While the headphones weren’t Bose or anything, they were fairly comfortable.
Within 10 minutes of settling in the flight attendant came by to take both my dinner and breakfast order. I found that a bit odd, because I didn’t yet have the opportunity to review the menu. I said, “okay, let me take a look at the menu please.” So I opened the menu and instead of her giving me a few minutes, she stood here and waited for me to order.
So she took my complete dinner and breakfast order, and then asked to take the menu. I asked if I could hold onto it for a bit because I wanted to review what I was eating later, which she was fine with. Then five minutes later she came back to try and collect my menu again.
I found it odd that there was no wine or beverage list. I mean, in business class Air China has a tea list that’s as long as the Bible, and as a tea enthusiast I quite appreciate that. Meanwhile China Southern doesn’t list beverages anywhere, aside from their website, where they state that they offer “over 8 kinds of of beverage.” I guess that kinda explains things… 😉
Since business class boarding still hadn’t started I quickly headed upstairs to take a peek at the business class cabin, which looked really nice. Business class is in a staggered configuration, similar to what Alitalia has in their business class.
Sadly there was no bar or lounge in front of the business class cabin, but rather just a small beverage display and some counters.
Once back at my seat another flight attendant came by my seat and said “my English not good, what I can call you?” I said “Ben” would be great, and she introduced herself as Tian Yuan.
At this point (seemingly out of nowhere) she closed the door to my seat. I’m not sure if they were sick of me already or they thought that was a courtesy, but I just found it a bit odd that they closed the door without asking. They didn’t check on me for about 30 minutes.
Anyway, at around 10:15PM the two other first class passengers arrived, and they were seated in 1D & 1G.
Shortly before 10:30PM the captain came on the PA to advise us of our flight time of 15hr12min – yowzers, now that’s a longhaul!
At 10:30PM we began our pushback as the safety video began to play.
We had a really odd taxi which lasted 45 minutes. First we taxied to the northern runways, as if we were going to take off on runway 24L. Then we crossed the airport and taxied to the very end of runway 7R, where we held for about 10 minutes. And then we taxied along the entire length of runway 7R till we were at runway 25L, where we eventually took off at around 11:15PM. Given that our flight was blocked at 15hr10min and we had a flight time two minutes longer than that, it was clear we’d be at least an hour late (which worked great for me given the super-early arrival in Guangzhou!).
Our takeoff roll felt odd from the cabin. Usually I find they apply a bit of power for a few seconds and then the maximum power they’ll apply for the takeoff roll after a few seconds. In this case the pilots seemed to apply moderate power for at least 10 seconds, before going to takeoff power. Not judging them, but was just an odd sensation I wasn’t used to on the A380.
Our climb out over the Pacific was smooth, and eventually we turned north and overflew Santa Barbara, San Francisco, etc.
One cool thing worth noting is that China Southern makes their entertainment system available on the ground, so I could watch TV and sitcoms during the 45-minute taxi. I did find it a bit odd that all of the ads before the entertainment programming were in Chinese, even if the show was in English. Seems like a missed opportunity for advertisers…
One not cool thing worth noting is that the airshow was more or less broken. It would work for about five seconds, and then would say “Flight Data Unavailable.” The same thing happened the entire flight. They don’t have a nose or tail camera either, sadly.
About 10 minutes after takeoff the flight attendants got up. The seatbelt sign remained on – actually, the seatbelt sign remained on for the entire flight despite it being one of smoothest transpacific flights I’ve had in recent memory.
First the flight attendants distributed blankets and the mattress pads, which were placed on the ottoman. I found that a bit odd as well, figuring they’d distribute the mattress pads on request when the time comes.
Then 10 minutes later the flight attendant came by to offer me a drink. I ordered a Diet Coke, which was nicely presented on a tray with some (room temperature) nuts.
At that point the dinner service began. The dinner menu read as follows:
And for reference, the Guangzhou to Los Angeles menu read as follows:
Service began with my table being set. So I thought the presentation itself was quite nice. There was also a breadbasket with two pieces of garlic bread and two rolls, though they were all lukewarm by the time they were served.
They served the soup first, which was a cream of carrot ginger soup. It was fairly good. I’m not sure why they served the soup before the appetizer, which seems backwards.
Then they served the hors d’oeuvre. I selected the tomato mousse and crabmeat with sundried tomato dressing. That was the only part of the meal that was exceptional, in my opinion.
Then for the main course I ordered the stir fry prawn dish, which was also fairly good, though not exactly “first class.”
Next I had a cheese course, which was nicely presented, if nothing else.
And lastly I had blueberry cheesecake with a cappuccino.
So the service was extremely efficient. From the time the soup was served to the time the cheesecake was cleared was just over 30 minutes. I was the only one eating, so the flight attendant was like a hawk when it came to clearing plates.
I can’t say service was friendly or unfriendly. I understand when there’s a language barrier it often makes the crew less confident in their service, and that can be perceived as indifference.
So I didn’t get any smiles and didn’t get any questions as to how the food was, but at the same time she was on top of the service, so…
But the food itself was really a good business class meal at best. None of the food really “felt” very first class, and between that and the lack of decent champagne…
After dinner I asked for my bed to be made, which was promptly taken care of.
I took the opportunity to check out the first class bar, which is located on the left side in front of the cabin. It just featured a fruit basket and some wine.
I also visited the lavatory. There’s just one for the first class cabin, and it’s located in front of the cabin to the right. It also seems to be the official bathroom for the entire 20-person crew, because it was occupied for 20-minute periods for 90% of the flight, and smelled accordingly. Not only did it smell accordingly, but there were consistently brown “streaks” in the toilet bowl. It sure seemed like they took the whole “year of the horse” thing pretty seriously.
I was tired so headed back to my seat to sleep. The mattress pad itself was really thin and more of a sheet than anything. The blanket was great – it was comfortable and at the same time not too hot. And there were two pillows which were good as well.
The seat was incredibly spacious and it’s great to have a door that closes, so I slept exceptionally well – possibly the best airplane sleep I’ve gotten in a while. I slept for six hours solid, and woke up with about eight hours to go to Guangzhou. Man, these ultra longhauls are long!
At this point I noticed that all eight suite doors were closed. I couldn’t quite figure out why since there were only three passengers, so I peeked over the barriers to see what was going on. As it turns out the other five were all occupied by flight attendants.
Ultimately that didn’t bother me since it didn’t detract from my experience (or lack thereof) in any way, but I just found that a bit odd, as most airlines have a policy against that.
I eventually fell asleep again for another four hours, and woke up with about four hours to go to Guangzhou. Again, all the suites were still occupied, though this time with different people. The (one person) suite behind me had one lady and two small kids in it. What the…?
When I went up to use the restroom I saw the captain sitting in the flight attendant jumpseat reading a newspaper. Just very, very odd…
I was rather hungry at this point, and couldn’t believe that China Southern really doesn’t have any in-flight snacks on a 15 hour flight. Heck, on Cathay Pacific I’m pretty sure my favorite food they serve are the mid-flight snacks, between the crab cakes, noodles, and egg tarts.
Meanwhile China Southern only had saran wrapped ham and croissant sandwiches. So I had one of those, and followed that up with some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from the dessert menu from dinner.
At this point I was awake so watched a few sitcoms on TV. I eventually ordered another cappuccino and accidentally spilled some. I was in the “bed” position and the lavatory was occupied (or else I would have gotten napkins myself), so pushed the flight attendant call button and asked for some napkins. She didn’t understand me. I pointed at my shirt, made a “rubbing” motion, and again asked for some napkins. She nodded her head as if she understood what I meant.
A minute later the other flight attendant shows up — “my partner says you need something?” “Yes, I spilled coffee all over my shirt, could I have a napkin please?” Again, I’m pointing at my shirt which has coffee stains all over it. She says “ah, you would like more coffee?”
I again said “napkin,” and made a rubbing motion on my shirt as if I was trying to clean it. She comes back a minute later wearing gloves with a box of Kleenex tissues. Maybe she misunderstood the rubbing motion I was making? I dunno…
After that ordeal I decided to watch some more TV shows, and started with The Mentalist, which I found oddly enjoyable.
About two hours before landing breakfast was served. The breakfast menu read as follows:
And for reference, the Guangzhou to Los Angeles breakfast menu read as follows:
I had ordered the dim sum. It really wasn’t good at all, unfortunately, though the presentation was nice at least.
It was served with cereal, and I selected Frosted Mini-Wheats, which was probably the best part of the breakfast.
There was also a breadbasket consisting of a muffin, croissant, and toast. I’m not sure why, but the toast was hard as could be, unfortunately.
After breakfast I changed out of my pajamas and stowed my carry-ons. We began our descent, and as we initiated our descent one of the flight attendants came by to say “I hope you fly with us again.” I wasn’t sure what to say, so just said “thank you” and nodded.
We touched down in Guangzhou on runway 2R at around 6:15AM, and had a roughly 10 minute taxi to the gate.
We arrived at gate 106, and from there it was quite a hike to immigration. The flight from Amsterdam had just landed so there were quite a few passengers ahead of me, though fortunately they were almost all Chinese citizens. So the foreign immigration line was short.
Unfortunately once I got to the window I was informed that since I was transiting without a visa I’d have to go to “the transit office.” I asked where that was, but he didn’t understand me. So I got out of line and another agent approached me, and I showed him my e-ticket and said “transit.” He directed me to the “Special Services” lane, where the agent helped me. It did take him about five minutes to process my entry, though soon enough I was on my way.
Once past immigration it was just a quick walk through baggage claim to the outside roadway.
I took a taxi to the W Hotel, which took about 45 minutes.
China Southern has a really solid hard product on their A380. While I’m not a huge fan of the color scheme, the suites are spacious, and with only eight seats it’s a very private cabin. That being said, the soft product left a lot to be desired. The food was business class quality, and the alcohol selection was pathetic. The service seemed indifferent at best, though that may have in part been due to the language barrier.
Believe it or not, I wouldn’t really avoid them in the future, though I would come in with different expectations. At the end of the day there’s not a much more comfortable product in which to get ~15 hours of sleep… assuming you can sleep that long.