Credit: Southern China Airlines
Credit: Southern China Airlines

The haul from Brisbane to Beijing is long and on most China Southern flights, jam packed. Ours was no exception, but my VIP, Sky Priority Business Class ticket ensured avoidance of any pre and post flight scuffles. Whilst the service could do with some upgrades, both cosmetic and other, on the whole the flight was pretty comfortable with the food a sure highlight. Read on for more details.

Route: Brisbane to Beijing via Guangzhou.

Aircraft: China Southern A330

Flight Time: 8 hours 30minutes from Brisbane to Guangzhou; 2 hours 30minutes from Guangzhou to Beijing.

Check-in: Brisbane check-in was quick and easy, mind you I was three hours early like a child awaiting entry to a theme park, eager to test-ride the lounge before boarding. The counter was at the furthest end from the entrance, but the free carts on offer at Brisbane International Airport were more than enough to transport my luggage to the desk.

The Lounges: Air New Zealand Koru Lounge Brisbane and Southern China Lounge Guangzhou

Brisbane International Airport
China Southern share the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge at Brisbane Airport, something I was really excited about upon arrival. After flashing my VIP boarding pass, I stepped through into the lounge area where I was immediately underwhelmed. It was small, almost at full capacity, and hardly emitting the ‘wow’ factor. Whilst the mix of charcoals and woods in the décor are modern and some of the sofas rather comfortable looking (I had to settle for a hard upright seat and small round dining table), the lounge’s overall impression was one of being somewhat under-dressed.

It was breakfast time so I shot straight to the buffet, where I found three trays featuring the remains of goey scrambled eggs, one leftover strip of overcooked bacon, and a few lonely hash browns. Searching for a side plate I ended up having to also search for staff, and when I finally tracked a waitress down I had to request fresh plates, and ask for fresh food tray re-fills. In the meantime I settled for a pastry from the very small selection, and awaited the arrival of fresh eggs and bacon. Honestly, I had time to brew a cup of tea, power up my laptop, shoot off three emails and even take a quick trip to the toilet before a new tray of eggs came out, sadly the supporting tray of bacon took another fifteen minutes.

The bar, however, was fully stocked and I’ve heard the evening buffet is quite an upgrade from the breakfast.

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport
The new China Southern VIP Lounge in Guangzhou is the best I have been in, boasting two levels of absolute luxury. You’ll find a very extensive, and well-lit, buffet-style dining area downstairs, whilst the upstairs area is a never-ending series of swanky relaxation chairs, comfortable lounges, upright dining areas and shower and toilet facilities. To the side of the mood-lit comfort zone, there’s also a plush bar area with light snacks and refreshments, however the alcohol selection was disappointing; there was no champagne and only two white wine choices including a Chinese dry white wine and French Chablis, yet there were four bottles of red ranging from France to Australia.

The free wifi was a bonus, however we discovered the first of an ongoing China tour dilemma – no Facebook accessibility (China enforces strict social media policies).

Punctuality: Our departure from Brisbane was delayed by around thirty minutes, shortening our time in the snazzy Guangzhou lounge, whilst our domestic flight through to Beijing (actually it was the same plane, you just have to disembark whilst they clean it and change crew) was on time.

Seat and cabin layout: Business class, 2-2-2 configuration, with 24 seats. I had seat 3C. The 20-inch seats have a 64-inch pitch, and extend to 160-degree incline for sleeping – I enjoyed the opportunity to stretch my legs but it surely didn’t compete with any flat bed offered on other airlines.

The ageing cabin needed a good scrub, with visible scuff marks on the seat bases attracting my attention before I could sit down. The head rests are slightly tilted down when the seat is in an upright position, which I found incredibly uncomfortable on the neck during take-off and landing. Once in the air I could adjust the seat which was a vast improvement.

The 160-degree incline is great for lazing about in front of the on-board entertainment system, but when it comes to sleeping – nothing beats a flat bed. Unfortunately the lack of flatness meant an ongoing battle with gravity as my body constantly slipped down towards the floor; needless to say I slept poorly.

Baggage allowance: Checked baggage allows up to 40 kilograms, and 1 carry-on bag with a maximum weight of 5 kilograms.

On-board entertainment:
Passengers who had loaded up their iPads with movies pre-departure were either very well prepared or had flown with China Southern before. The on-board entertainment is limited at best, with a handful of English language titles, TV episodes and radio stations, and no touch-screen.

Service: The crew was either exceptionally tired or in need of some serious re-training. There was a lack of warmth from the hostesses, except when it came to serving beverages (the champagne was warm). Only one menu circulated all 12 Business Class passengers, and I found the language barrier caused a lot of confusion between the crew and English-speaking passengers. Upon arrival to Guangzhou there was much confusion as to whether we needed to actually disembark the plane (we did) which was flying us onto Beijing. Loose transfer instructions were given over the on-board intercom after we had already landed.

Food and beverages: No champagne upon arrival on-board unless you ask, and then it’s a matter of whether they are actually carrying it that day or not. Mine was served warm, as was the white wine and beer I had later during the flight. My glass was, however, consistently re-filled, with French bubbly, and after I finally requested the crew pop the bottle into the fridge for 15 minutes before my next pour, we were making progress.

The food, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise – if your selection was available. The seven-course meal featured a favorable mix of Chinese and Western dishes, the highlight being the China Southern Deluxe Beef Noodle Soup Ensemble served with fresh garnishes and cut chilli on the side.

China Southern Deluxe Beef Noodle Soup Ensemble

With only 13 main meals prepared for 12 guests, however, it was a real pot-luck getting what you wanted. My first choices for both entrée and main meal were already out, and I was only the second row back from the front! The cabin manager told me this is a problem that the airline is working on solving – let’s hope they do.

Delicious snacks were served throughout the flight.

The snacks throughout the flight were varied and consistent, with a good selection of cheeses, cakes, fruit and Chinese dumplings on offer.

Flight Frequency: China Southern Airlines operates four return services per week out of Brisbane to Beijing via Guangzhou, and Business Class fares start from $5800 return.

For long-haul flights, Business Class is always my preferred mode of transport, if anything just to stretch my legs and eat a decent meal. For just under $6000, you can do that on China Southern, but forget about fancy seats, chilled champagne or getting a good night’s sleep. I’d like to see an improvement in the service including hiring more English-speaking staff and spending some money on upgrading the cabins and entertainment system. Positives were the flight was only slightly delayed and the Guangzhou lounge was fabulous - wish I could've spent more time there!

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