CHINA SOUTHERN AIRLINES (Beijing Capital Airport to Guangzhou Baiyun Airport), AIRBUS A380-800, FIRST CLASS
China Southern Airlines was formed on 1st July 1988 and is one of the three major carriers in China. The airline’s hub is at the ultra-modern Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport- which has in time become China’s 3rd busiest airport, as well as becoming a major international passenger and cargo hub . China Southern Airlines has 450 aircraft, including 4 Airbus A380-800 aircraft, the largest aircraft in the world. The airline has 4 of the 787 Dreamliner on order, which should commence service in late 2012. The airline has also got another 126 aircraft on order at the time of writing. 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). In 2011, China Southern Airlines earned four-star status from Skytrax, the world’s most prestigious airline performing evaluation organization.
China Southern ordered five A380s in April, 2005, becoming the first A380 client in China. China Southern Airlines is the seventh A380 operator. In October 2012, China Southern Airlines started using the A380-841 on the Guangzhou to Los Angles route, and also started using the A380 on the Guangzhou to Shanghai Pudong route as a test route. The fifth and final A380 aircraft for China Southern Airlines will be delivered in late 2012 or early 2013.
The configuration for the domestic flights is that the First Class suites are known as ‘Deluxe First Class’, and the Business Class is known as ‘First Class’. For international flights, such as the Guangzhou to Los Angles route, China Southern Airlines will use the First Class and Business Class as names for the respective cabins on the Airbus A380. At the moment of writing there are 2 daily flights between Guangzhou and Beijing (and vice-versa).
I decided to check out their brand new Business Class cabins (known as First Class on the domestic route) of this brand new aircraft that just entered service in September with the airline.
Route: BEIJING CAPITAL (PEK) – GUANGZHOU BAIYUN (CAN)
Departure date and time of flight: November 2012
Flight number: CZ3104 (ICAO callsign: “China Southern 3104 heavy”)
IATA Code: CZ
IACO Callsign: CHINA SOUTHERN
Flight duration: 2 Hours 15 minutes
Class: FIRST CLASS
Aircraft type: AIRBUS A380-800 (4 aircraft in service)
Aircraft delivery date to CZ: 14th September 2012
Aircraft registration: B-6139 (first flight 26th March 2012)
Engines: 4 x Rolls Royce Trent 970
Aircraft Serial Number: 88
Frequent flyer programme: Sky Pearl Club
Seat configuration for this aircraft:
First Class (known as deluxe first class on domestic routes): 8 Suites in a 1-1-1-1 configuration
Business Class (known as first class on domestic routes): 70 seats in a 1-1-1-1 configuration,
Economy Class: 428 seats in a 3-4-3 configuration (lower deck), and 2-4-2 configuration (upper deck)
Any baggage issues:
China Southern Airlines flies from Terminal 2 at Beijing Airport. Terminal 2 has been designated as the terminal used by airline companies that are members of the SkyTeam Alliance. First and Business Class passengers have a separate checking-in area which makes the whole experience a quick, smooth and hassle free one. After checking-in First and Business Class passengers can have the special privilege of walking on the red carpet that leads to a separate security and customs area just for First and Business Class passengers. The whole process from check-in to the airline lounge and gate takes around 10 minutes at the most. It’s very convenient. Gate 21 is specially used for the Airbus A380-800 flights from Guangzhou to Beijing. Terminal 2 has two sections, a domestic flights section and an international flights section.
Each piece of checked baggage may not exceed 50kg in weight and 40*60*100cm in dimension. For the domestic routes, every piece of check-in baggage cannot exceed 50kg and must be under a volume of 40x60x100cm; for international or regional routes, every piece of check-in baggage cannot exceed 32kg, and the total sum of the three edges of each piece should not exceed 158cm (or 62 in). Baggage not within the specified range cannot be transported unless approved by China Southern Airlines otherwise.
The free baggage allowance (including checked and carry-on baggage) for all passengers of domestic routes is: 40kg for First Class passengers, 30kg for Business Class passengers and 20kg for Economy Class passengers. Passengers with an infant-fare ticket is granted 1 kg of free baggage allowance.
LOUNGE EXPERIENCE at Beijing Capital Airport Terminal 2:
First and Business Class passengers flying with China Southern Airlines on domestic flights from Beijing Capital Airport can enjoy the usage of one of the three lounges:
· A lounge exclusively for First and Business Class passengers
· A lounge for China Southern Gold and Platinum members
· A lounge for all First and Business Class passengers flying with Skyteam
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.
Punctuality of the flight, and route taken:
Because of the heavy traffic in Beijing, the flight departed around 2 hours late. The Captain did everything he could to bring the flight into Guangzhou as quickly as he could. Beijing Capital 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. However, it is also worth taking into consideration that Beijing has 3 runways, and sometimes all three are used simultaneously for take-offs or landings. So it is common to see three planes landing at the same time (each runway is spaced out by at least a mile), or likewise it’s common to see three planes taking off at the same time.
Our flight was around 60% full. While Economy Class on the lower deck and the rear of the upper deck seemed to be 100% full, the Business Class (known and treated as First Class on domestic routes) on the upper deck was only around 10% full, and the real First Class (known as Deluxe First Class) was empty (only the relief Captain was in one seat). The actual flight time was 2 hours and 15 minutes, while the total time taken including delayed was 4 hours and 15 minutes (the Captain did a fantastic job in shaving off 30 minutes by flying fast).
Comments regarding the pre-flight service:
Business and First Class passengers are offered wet towels, and a choice of welcome alcoholic and 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 four types of wine on offer:
Jinjue white/red wine - Chinese
Dynasty white/red wine 2008 – Chinese
I opted for the Dynasty Chinese 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, some domestic flights may still be an exception, but international flights have definitely been improved). For the A380 flights, the food is much better than that offered on other aircraft. This is simply because the airline wants to showcase the aircraft and its amazing product. 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.
The dishes for the A380 services are specially designed and made by the chefs at the famous Beiyuan restaurant in Guangzhou. The restaurant is more famously known as Beiyuan, and began in 1928. It is now a brand synonymous with matchless Chinese fine dining. The exquisite culinary skill of their chefs is inspired by the Lingnan Cuisine. Liu Haisu, a renowned Chinese oil painter and art educator, once visited a banquet in this restaurant at the grand old age of 87. Whereupon it is known that he took a paint brush and wrote: ‘Fine taste that lingers infinitely’.
A light dinner service consisted of the following on this A380 flight:
Hot spicy green soy bean salad, and sweet osmanthus, lotus root stuffed with sticky rice; and chicken jelly with lily and jasmine
What made this dish special were the carefully cut lotus root pieces stuffed with the sticky rice. You just can’t argue with the chefs at the Baiyun Restaurant. The chicken jelly tasted somewhat bland without any particular sweet, sour, or salty feel to it.
Pigeon boiled with American ginseng and wolfberry.
My first thought when this dish came forward was, ‘pigeon?, shall I eat that?!’. In fact to my nice surprise there was not a single scent of pigeon meant anywhere- it must have all dissolved in the soup!
There were three options for the main course, including:
Brised been tendon
Braised duck with traditional secret recipe
Peppered pan-fried bream fish
I opted for the ‘peppered pan-fried bream fish’ dish. The fish was not spicy at all, though I do dare say that it was oily. However if you blended in a nice spoon of fish, rice and vegetables then that would have been perfect.
Steamed aromatic rice accompanied the main dish.
Comments regarding the after meal drinks and dessert:
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.
On the A380 aircraft is a bar located on the lower deck behind the cockpit (for the Deluxe First Class passengers, and on the front of the upper deck for the First Class passengers (i.e. for the Business Class passengers if this were an international flight). The bars have various bottles of international and local Chinese wines, and spirits.
The bar also offered the following all throughout the flight:
- Sweet warm soup with white fungus, pear, and wolf berry
- Fine wines, soft drinks and juices.
- Seasonal fruit basket
- BAXY Ice Cream
BAXY ice cream is actually very nice. It is China’s answer to Haagen Dazs, and it does an equally good job too. The warm soup is a popular Cantonese dessert dish. It does not taste too sweet, but the warmth and the texture of the wolf berry blended in with the warm pear give it a truly healthy and authentic flavour. I remember trying the same dish at the Lai Heen restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Guangzhou around two years ago. It was nice to try this beautiful dish on the A380 aircraft. Next to every first and business class seat there is a bottle of Chinese branded premium mineral water.
Comments regarding the second meal, and drinks:
Ground coffee, and decaffeinated coffee or tea (English tea, and Chinese green tea) were also available. Just prior to landing passengers in the First and Business Class were offered a bottle of thick yoghurt and an orange.
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 Class is a generous 16 inches, while in the Economy Class cabin 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.
During the flight, I sat in the Premier First Class and had a long educated chat with the relief Captain. I asked him why the Business Class was almost empty while the Economy Class was full, and whether that would be a good business model. He told me that the A380 must have the Business and First Class full to at least 80% in order for the airline or the flight to make profit. While Economy Class was 100% full, that did not necessarily mean that the flight can hit the profits. The A380 is an amazing product, and passengers in China should feel proud to spend and enjoy the fruits of the aircrafts service and food. One-way flight tickets on Business Class from Beijing to Guangzhou start from around RMB 4000 on the A380, and considering what China Southern Airlines offers, it really is worth spending that amount of money on it for the privilege.
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. This Airbus A380 being 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 (78 inch pitch, 26 inch width), and Economy Class are very comfortable (37 inch pitch, 17.2 inch width). The A380 does not have a Premium Economy Class cabin. All seats in all classes have a PTV (Personal TV).
The most amazing thing about flying the Airbus A380-800 is that it is quiet- remarkably quiet even on take-off and in the cruise. The quietness of the cabin allows passengers to talk to each other at ease and without the hassle of having to shout or be afraid of having your ears popped. While in the climb, the ears don’t pop either. The cabin air pressure does not make you fatigued either. You just got to thank the remarkable engineers at Airbus for creating a castle in the sky. It really is like being inside a luxurious building, but flying at 35,000 feet. People take such luxuries of life for granted without knowing how much human effort and sacrifice went into making their lives easier and comfortable. Many test pilots and engineers have probably lose their lives in the cause of making life easy for others to enjoy. The A380 is an amazing piece of technology.
The stairs of the Airbus A380 on China Southern Airlines are decorated with a blue ribbon all throughout. It’s perhaps a salute and garnish to this new aircraft.
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.
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