Airline review: China Southern business class

Flight test: China Southern, Guangzhou to Sydney

THE ROUTE

Guangzhou to Sydney 

THE PLANE

A330-200

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Sky Pearl Club, China's largest frequent-flyer program. The airline is also part of the SkyTeam alliance that includes China Eastern, Delta, Garuda Indonesia and Vietnam Airlines. In Guangzhou, business-class passengers use the airline's lounge; in Sydney, passengers can access Qantas's business lounge. A SkyTeam lounge – complete with four full-body massage chairs – is due to open at Sydney airport in December. 

CLASS

Business class, seat 5D – an aisle seat in the middle section. 

DURATION

Nine hours, 15 minutes. We take off and land on time.

FREQUENCY

China Southern flies twice daily between Sydney and Guangzhou and 10 times a week between Melbourne and Guangzhou. 

THE SEAT

The flat-bed seats have a pitch (distance between rows) of 72 inches (182 centimetres) and are 20 inches (50 centimetres) wide. The blue-and-white cabin features 24 seats in a 2-2-2 layout. Bendy, over-the-shoulder reading lights help keep the cabin dim.

BAGGAGE

Business-class passengers can check two pieces up to 32 kilograms each and board with cabin luggage up to 7kg.

ENTERTAINMENT

Business-class passengers have a personal TV screen measuring 30 to 38 centimetres (row five's seatback screens are larger than row four's wall-mounted ones). The selection of recent Hollywood releases is limited – and even though my flights to and from China are in different months, few new titles are added. However, going by the giggling teenager in my row, the Chinese-language options are hilarious. 

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COMFORT

This is a daytime flight but, after little sleep on an overnight flight from Kathmandu, I crank out the bed almost immediately. If I could have bothered rummaging in the chocolate-brown Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, I'd have discovered facial mist, eyeshade, earplugs, comb, toothbrush and paste, cotton buds and cotton wool pads.  

SERVICE

The flight attendant doesn't blink an eye as she kneels to help me out of well-worn hiking boots and into slippers. Conversation during the flight is limited to meal and drink requirements. Knowledge of what's on the drinks trolley could improve: an "Australian red" turns out to be a Kiwi pinot noir.   

FOOD

Sitting in the last row of business means you can miss out on what you fancy for lunch. My first choice (steamed pork with spicy rice powder in lotus leaf) isn't available so I opt for a Chinese version of surf'n'turf – a steamed stuffed sea bass roll served alongside braised beef with black pepper oyster sauce. It's delicious, as is the ginseng, wolfberry and silky chicken soup for starters. For brekkie there are Western and Chinese options: I slurp the deluxe beef noodle soup ensemble with relish.   

ONE MORE THING

Business-class passengers transiting through Guangzhou are personally escorted through the terminal. Guangzhou is one of a growing number of major Chinese airports offering Australian passport holders a 72-hour visa-free stopover when en route to another country. 

THE VERDICT

China Southern's business-class fares are often similar to other airlines' premium-economy fares. If business has always seemed a wallet-busting indulgence, this is an affordable way to find out how the other half lives. While the drinks and entertainment options aren't as wide-ranging as those offered elsewhere, who can argue with the joy of flopping back onto a flat bed for a long-haul flight? See csair.com.au

Tested by Katrina Lobley, who flew courtesy of China Southern Airlines.

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