In October 2012, China Southern adopted the world’s most luxurious Airbus A380-800 to operate the Guangzhou-Los Angeles route, investing new experiences in “Canton Route”. China Southern is a proud member of SkyTeam and together the 16 member airlines offer its 384 million annual passengers a worldwide system of more than 14,500 daily flights covering 958 destinations in 173 countries. In 2010, China Southern Airlines reported a net profit of CNY5.8 billion ($883 million). China Southern Airlines itself has more than 1,930 daily flights to 193 destinations in 35 countries and regions across the world.
The Guangzhou-London route is a relatively new route having started on the 6th of June 2012 just prior to the London Olympics. With the introduction of the non-stop route between Guangzhou and London, thankfully gone are the days when people first travelled to Hong Kong, and then took a 4-hour coach ride to Guangzhou (and not to mention the tireless border crossings).
The London to Guangzhou route with China Southern Airlines also offers passengers a suitable connection to many exotic destinations within close proximity to Guangzhou. These include Sanya (less than 1 hour flight from Guangzhou), Guilin (less than 1 hour by flight from Guangzhou), Saipan Islands (less than 4 hours from Guangzhou), Kunming (less than 2 hours), Vietnam, Macau, and many other destinations. Guangzhou can also be a new stopover hub for those people who want to go to Melbourne for example. You can fly from London to Guangzhou, and then explore Guangzhou for a few days before taking the connecting flight onto your Australian destination.
The introduction of this route has been eagerly awaited for over 8 years by people who would want to travel to Guangzhou non-stop from London without the hassle of going to Hong Kong (or any other destination), first. Air France has been flying to Guangzhou since the early 2000s, and for a certain period even Finnair, and Lufthansa German Airlines flew this route. It would be interesting to see if British Airways, bmi, or Virgin Atlantic may tap into this lucrative destination. There are a lot of Cantonese people living in the UK (cities such as Newcastle, Belfast, Glasgow, Birmingham, and even London have large amounts of people with connections to Canton), and this route would bring them closer to home (rather than going to Hong Kong first!).
“Based in Guangzhou, a city with millennium ancient long history, our exclusive Canton Route will be bridge between Europe and Australia,” said Mr. Si Xiamen, General Manager of China Southern Air Holding Company and Chairman of China Southern Airlines Co., Ltd., adding, “the successful opening of this Guangzhou - London route is an import part of China Southern Airlines’ global expansion strategy. It will significantly enhance China Southern Airlines’ route network and strengthen the importance of Guangzhou aviation hub”.
According to Mr. Si, China Southern Airlines plans to open additional international routes and, “steadily push forward the process of internationalization in a planned and selective way. We expect by the end of 2015, China Southern Airlines will operate more than 110 flights every week between Australia and China and our Southeast Asian flights will continue to increase in frequency”.
He said that, “China Southern Airlines is also looking at route expansion into South America, Africa and other emerging markets to expand our hub network. The broader vision of China Southern Airlines’ Canton Route is to build Guangzhou as a global comprehensive long-haul aviation hub”. China Southern Airlines is proud to be the only airline in China to operate the superjumbo Airbus A380 that will provide for extended, long-haul service to/from China.
“With opening of this new Guangzhou - London route, China Southern Airlines has increased its Europe navigable points from our two points of Paris and Amsterdam now to three. On June 15, with the increased frequency of our Guangzhou - Amsterdam route, China Southern Airlines will operate 17 weekly flights to/from Europe”, said Mr. Si, adding “with the dense route network of SkyTeam in Europe, arriving passengers can easily transfer to Milan, Berlin, Frankfurt and other European cities. China Southern Airlines has also established close cooperation with British Airways and other airlines in London. Arriving passengers from Guangzhou can quickly transfer to British Airways flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Manchester and other cities within the United Kingdom”.
On September 28, 2012, China Southern was honored with the Diamond Flight Safety Award by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), becoming the leading Chinese carrier to maintain the highest safety records in China. China Southern has been honored as the "Best Airline in China" by several international media organizations and was honored with the "Five Star Diamond Award" by The American Academy of the Hospitality Sciences in January 2004.
China Southern Airlines has three nonstop flights a week from Guangzhou to Heathrow- Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. All flights depart Guangzhou at 9:00am, and arrive at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 at 15:25pm the same day. China Southern Airlines uses the Airbus A330-200 aircraft fitted with four classes for this route.
This route is special to me because I have been flying for over 10 years between London and Guangdong province, and I have mostly flown to either Hong Kong or Shanghai first before getting a connecting flight (from Shanghai), or coach (from Hong Kong) into Guangzhou. It would be fair to point out that despite the relative closeness of Guangzhou to Hong Kong, many British people would probably never have heard about Guangzhou (or Canton as its known), and only knew about Hong Kong. I decided to check out their brand new business class cabin on this exciting new route.
Route: LONDON HEATHROW (LHR) – GUANGZHOU BAIYUN (CAN)
Departure date and time of flight: October 2012
Flight number: CZ304 (ICAO callsign: “China Southern 304 heavy”)
IATA Code: CZ
IACO Callsign: CHINA SOUTHERN
Flight duration: 12 Hours 15 minutes
Class: BUSINESS CLASS
Aircraft type: AIRBUS A330-223 (16 aircraft in service)
Aircraft registration: B-6531 (First flight 13th of May 2011)
Engines: 2 x PW PW4170
Aircraft Serial Number: 28855 - line 1190
Frequent flyer programme: Sky Pearl Club
Seat configuration for this aircraft:
First Class: 4 Suites in a 1-2-1 configuration at the front in a single row
Business class: 24 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration,
Premier Economy class: 48 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration
Economy class: 232 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration
Any baggage issues:
China Southern Airlines flies from Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport. Terminal 4 has been designated as the terminal used by airline companies that are members of the SkyTeam Alliance. When checking-in for the flight it can be a bit tricky as the economy, and premier economy class passengers have to check-in at ‘Zone F’, while business and first class passengers check-in at ‘Zone H’. However when one enters the terminal departures check-in area it does not mention this anywhere so all passengers end of going to the main check-in desks in ‘Zone F’. Because I, just like the other passengers, was not aware of this separated version of check-ins according to the cabin, so, therefore I ended up checking-in at the economy class desks.
Irrespective of the cabin you are flying in, every checked-in luggage bag must not exceed 23kg maximum. So, business and first class can carry up to a maximum of 69kg each, however that must be split into 3 separate bags of 23kg maximum each. Economy class passengers can carry only one piece of luggage of 23kg maximum.
China Southern Airlines flight CZ304 departs Heathrow at 10:30pm, so it is one of the last departures of the evening (the others being Air India, Uzbekistan Airways, Sri Lankan, Gulf Air, Jet Airways, Air Arik, and Aeroflot). The time it took to go from the check-in desk, to the passport control, and through to the security checks took under 20 minutes (rare to be so fast at Heathrow!).
LOUNGE EXPERIENCE at Heathrow Terminal 4:
Passengers flying with China Southern Airlines can enjoy the usage of the SkyTeam Lounge, which is located after security checks. The lounge offers some of the finest hot and dish dishes, as well as a whole selection of hot and cold drinks. The lounge also focuses on providing an excellent array of internet facilities (all complimentary), reading materials in various languages, and live television. Clean, and spacious shower and bathroom facilities are all available should one wish to use them.
China Southern Airlines normally uses ‘Gate 5’ at Terminal 4. To get to the gate from the Lounge takes around 15 minutes (or 5 minutes- if you walk as I do, which is probably not a good idea as you’ll end up getting sweaty on a cold day by the time you get to the gate).
Punctuality of the flight, and route taken:
Departed on time, and landed on time at Guangzhou. London Heathrow Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, and certainly gets busy during the peak hours unlike some other airports around the world. Considering that Heathrow only has two runways (27L/09R, and 27R/09L) where one is used for take-offs, and the other for landings, so therefore there tends to be a long queue of aircraft waiting to take-off (as was in this case). However, if you are an aviation enthusiast, then Heathrow is heaven for you because you can see airlines from all around the world (and going away to all corners of the world). It seemed to be a dance of the Airbus A330s taking off in the evening. Ahead of us was an Egyptair A330, a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A330, and an Aeroflot A330 (and we were an A330 too!).
Taking off from runway 09R on a slightly cloudy and rainy evening, we departed on a Clacton departure towards Ipswich, then North Sea, Scandinavia, North Russia, Siberia, North Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Xi’an, and then finally heading down south into a hazy Guangzhou evening (landing on Runway 02L).
Our flight was 100% full, with 100% full cargo too. The flight time was 12 hours and 15 minutes. However, the thing that impressed me most was the feeling of leaving Guangzhou airport, and getting on a coach and being home in Panyu within an hour and a half of landing. If I had gone to Hong Kong first, then it would have easily taken me around 4 to 5 hours to get home from Hong Kong airport (taking into account the busy border crossings). I only wish they had this route between London and Guangzhou years earlier. On top of this I hope that British carriers may also consider flying this route.
Comments regarding the pre-flight service:
Business and first class passengers are offered wet towels, and a choice of welcome non-alcoholic drinks including apple, orange, and water.
Comments regarding the pre-meal service:
Drinks from the trolley included red and white wine. Various juices were also offered, including orange, apple, lemon, and grapefruit. There were two types of red wine on offer:
Bourgueit (Cuvee les Rochettes, 2010)- French
Dona Carolina, Carmenere, 2011 – Chile
I opted for the French wine to accompany my dinner.
Comments regarding the first meal:
China Southern Airlines have taken their in-flight menu to new heights in all of their international and domestic flights (OK, so domestic flights may be an exception, but international flights have definitely been improved). The recipes used have been specially developed using the ingredients that are naturally high in quality, but low in salts, sugars, oil, and carbohydrates. The chefs at China Southern Airlines have made the dishes catered for both Western and Chinese tastes in mind- and that comes evident with the flavours that explode in the mouth as you take each spoonful. A light dinner service consisted of the following:
Smoked salmon and avocado, with radish and fennel salad.
The dish has carefully adopted characteristics of Asian cuisines, such as matching beautifully created roll of the salmon, a bit like a big wrapped sushi with elegant garnish of radish and fennel salad. A nice wedge of lemon, as well as the broad beans was a welcoming sight for the taste buds. The respect for the blend between Cantonese and Western cuisine tastes at China Southern Airlines never seem to end. A beautiful garnish of cream is well placed in the middle of this mouth-watering starter. It was the well chosen salmon that made this dish extra special.
Mixed assorted lettuce in Thousand Island, French, or Balsamic dressing.
I opted for the French sauce to be blended in with the mixed assorted lettuce with radish, and carrots cut into shapes that look like French fries. The salad dish was made even more delicious with the French dressing.
There were three options for the main course, including:
- Brioche stuffed chicken supreme with thyme jus and buttered vegetables.
- Grilled salmon with white wine sauce, Saltimbocca potatoes, and Tuscany vegetables
- Stir-fried butterfly prawns with assorted vegetables and steamed rice.
I opted for the ‘grilled salmon with white wine sauce’ dish. Apart from the obvious attraction of the lovely salmon, the thing that made this dish extra special were the three baby potatoes wrapped with thin slices of bacon. The baby cucumber and ripe tomatoes added some seriously wanted energy into this rather sludgy dish. Mind you, those potatoes are worth eating again, and again (and forever!). All three dishes were, however, richly flavoured and had plenty of coloured in them (which is difficult to get with in-flight meals).
Soft and hard bread rolls from the basket accompanied the main dish.
- Passion fruit tart with coconut flakes and raspberry.
- Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream
- Smoked Cheddar served with Jacobs English biscuits
- A selection of seasonal fruit platter
It has to be concluded that the ‘passion fruit tart’ must be one of the best desserts I have EVER had on any flight. I say again- it was the best dessert I have had on any in-flight meal. Kudos to the chefs at China Southern Airlines- they deserve something big from someone at a big catering company. I am not kidding you, and other 5-star airlines should note that I am damn serious when I wrote this. The dish was so good that it actually made me smile after I took the first spoonful (even the cabin crew noticed that). Why? It’s the taste of the passion fruit that stuck out more than anything did. The flavour, and the gist of the fruit felt as if I was actually eating the original passion fruit, and not just a dessert. Very original, and just gorgeous. They even provided three pieces of coconut. Nevertheless, the magic happened in the mouth was when I mixed the raspberry, the coconut, and a spoonful of the passion fruit tart. I really wish I could have a dish like this every day. It would go perfectly well with afternoon tea, or even for breakfast. Even Marks & Spencer don’t have this dish.
Comments regarding the after meal drinks and in-flight snacks:
Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English Tetley tea, and Chinese green tea) were also available. On top of this there were a selection of herbal teas including green tea with jasmine, peppermint, blackcurrant, and camomile with honey.
The bar is located behind the galley in business class, and also in first class (behind the cockpit).
The bar also offered the following all throughout the flight:
- Salmon quiche and prawn skewer
- luxury chocolates
- Fine wines, soft drinks and juices.
- Cheese platter
- Assorted sandwiches
- Chinese beef noodle soup
- Seasonal fruit basket
- British Royal Tea (black tea with milk, and sugar)
- Panini with beef steak, and grilled Panini with mozzarella and chicken
Comments regarding the second meal:
Breakfast was served around about an hour and a half prior to landing at Guangzhou Airport. There was a good selection of options available including:
- Chilled fruit juice
- Fresh seasonal fruit
- Choice of cereals
I opted for fresh orange juice with fresh seasonal fruit, which came across as being highly colourful, yet ridiculously mouth-watering (and healthy!).
Fresh ham cold-cut with assorted cheese (which included Stilton)
What seemed to look like a typical European style breakfast dish to wake up the senses. Plenty of red colour in the dish, and no doubt that the rich tastes of the salami and the ham would go wonderfully well with the egg, tomato, and the cream. I did not finish eating the selection of ham pieces on offer, though the rest of it seemed to be just fine.
Main breakfast dish:
- Spanish scrambled eggs with pork sausages, grilled herbed tomato, and rosti potato..
- Garganelli pasta with parmesan cream sauce, ham, and assorted mushroom
- Assorted dim-sum in Lingnan style, with congee, and side dishes
- Chinese wheat noodles ja jian mien cucumber, and spring onion julienne
I opted for the ‘Spanish scrambled egg’ breakfast. The dish looked a bit empty. Perhaps this was because there was no bread or toast as a side on. The egg was delicious, and made just as you would expect it to be. Though for the price that one pays for the seat, you would have assumed that a bit more on the plate would have been on offer. Though I am not complaining for the excellent quality of the food that was presented. Accompanying the main breakfast dish were a selection of hard and soft bread rolls, and croissants from the breadbasket. I took a chocolate croissant, and a twisted apple and maple syrup covered bread stick.
Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English tea, and Chinese green tea) were also available.
Comments on the in-flight entertainment system:
In-flight entertainment at China Southern Airlines has improved dramatically in the past number of years. The Personal Television (PTV) behind each seat in first and business is a generous 16 inches, while in the economy class it is 6.9 inches. There are over 400 channels offering movies, songs, serials, TV serials, and even games in at least 5 different languages (Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, and others). All business and first class passengers are provided with noise cancellation headphones. In economy class, passengers are provided with normal headphones.
All seats in business and first class come with a plug for the laptop.
Comments of professionalism of the cabin crew:
All of the cabin crew spoke very good English, and were very professional in what they did. In complete contrast to domestic flights, China Southern Airlines seems to choose their best staff for international flights to show the perfect Guangdong hospitality. The cabin crew are all native Chinese, and came across as being very proud to work for their company. The warm welcome and the hospitality provided on China Southern Airlines is something that some Western carriers can learn from. The high quality of service and personalisation totally exceeded my expectations from this crew, and airline. Everything from the check-in process to the disembarking went smoothly. I have no doubt that China Southern Airlines will be a airline that would rival any other western 5-star airline.
Comments on the interior of the aircraft (including seat comfort):
All the newer aircraft have bright sky blue clothing fitted onto the economy class seats. The business class seats come in three shades of grey, while the first class seats are fitted with royal purple clothing, and pillows with the lotus company logo. Business and first class seats can be turned into a flatbed during night flights, while both the economy and premier economy cabins have seats with a comfortable pitch. In premier economy, passengers can comfortably fold their legs with safe distance from the seat in front. This Airbus A330 is new, and so all the main features of the plane (PTV, seat comfort, ambiance, and environment, toilets etc.) were clean and modern.
Business and first class seats also come with personal seat lamp, personal seat controls (for turning seat into a bed etc.), and a large luxurious dove feather blanket. The aircraft, which I flew on was brand new, and smelt new and fresh too! First class seats have a fully flat bed (78 inch pitch, and 26 inch width), business class seats have a flat bed (74 inch pitch, 24 inch width), premier economy class are comfortable (37 inch pitch, 17.5 inch width), and economy class seats are one of the most comfortable around (35 inch pitch, 17.5 inch width). All seats in all classes have a PTV (Personal TV).
Passengers in business class are provided with a Bio-Essence designer amenity kit bag containing a comb, toothpaste & toothbrush, eyeshades, Tanaka white moisturiser (Bio-Essence), Hydrating & moisturising cream, and earplugs.
Passengers in first class are provided with a Bvlgari design amenity kit bag containing a comb, toothpaste & toothbrush, eyeshades, Bvlgari body lotion, Bvlgari lip moisturiser, and a Bvlgari Eau De Cologne.
China Southern Airlines logo and livery:
With one of the most nostalgic airline liveries around, China Southern Airlines adorn a red lotus flower (the symbol of Guangzhou) against a sky blue background. The fin consists of this beautiful lotus flower. The fuselage is all white except the cheatlines that wrap the nose and body of the plane, but stop short of the tail of the plane. The cheatlines consist of a thick sky-blue line, with a slightly thinner gold line running below it. This pattern of sky-blue and gold is repeated below as well. Sandwiched in-between the top and bottom sky-blue and gold cheatlines is a dark blue cheatline. This dark blue cheatline widens out when it wraps the nosecone of planes. All the planes have a silver belly.
The titles of China Southern are written across both sides of the fuselage in both English capital letters, and in Chinese. All planes proudly display the Sky team logo next to the cockpit window on both sides. In 2011, the China Southern Airlines logo was ranked at number 5 in the top 20 airline brands globally. In the same year China Southern Airlines was ranked 6th in the top 100 brands in China.
The cabin crew at China Southern Airlines wear uniform in the colours of the airline's branding image (these are also the colours of the city of Guangzhou's lotus flower and blue background)- which are blue and red. The ladies wear a blouse that has a gold necklace lining, and a matching skirt; while the gentlemen wear black trousers and a white shirt. Senior cabin crew, including the chief purser, wear a blue coloured blouse (ladies only), and normal cabin crew wear a red coloured blouse (again, women only).