Airline review: China Southern Airlines

THE PLANE

The Airbus 330-200 seats 218 passengers, with four in first class, 24 in business, 48 in premium economy and 142 passengers in economy.

THE ROUTE

Melbourne to Guangzhou

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Sky Pearl Club. Points can be accrued through flights on any SkyTeam airline, and can be redeemed on China Southern, Sichuan Airlines and China Airlines flights.

CLASS

Economy, seat 42D.

DURATION

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Flight time is scheduled at nine hours and 30 minutes, but a mechanical problem delays departure by  two hours. The flight arrives into Guangzhou two hours late.

FREQUENCY

Once daily from Melbourne to Guangzhou on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, with two flights on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. From Sydney there are two flights daily.

THE SEAT

Economy seats are in a 2-4-2 layout, with the four rear rows having a 2-3-2 configuration. The seat pitch is 32 inches (81 centimetres) and width is 17 inches (43 centimetres).

BAGGAGE

Checked baggage is 32 kilograms. Carry-on baggage is limited to one bag weighing up to five kilograms.

COMFORT

Flying through the night, I'm hoping for a little space to sprawl. Knee room is plentiful and I can easily stretch my legs under the seat in front without hitting a set of heels. The aircraft's interior has the comforting smell of new fabric, as though the plane has just been rolled out of the showroom.

ENTERTAINMENT

Screens have possibly the best optics I've encountered on a flight, but they're let down by poor sound quality. Even at full volume I can barely hear dialogue over the hum of the engines, and eventually I give up watching. There's a small but quirky and interesting selection of English-language movies. Music choices are equally varied with the "western classics" ranging from Taylor Swift to Green Day and Simon and Garfunkel. The TV selection is less appealing with a dozen "drama" series (a selection that includes the undramatic likes of Two and a Half Men) and just two Candid Camera-style prank shows on the comedy channel.

SERVICE

Is this the world's easiest airline on which to get an upgrade? Moments before we depart, the man beside me asks a flight attendant for an upgrade to business class and it's casually granted. Service is generous, if at times almost too attentive – at one point I'm woken by an attendant lowering my seat back to supposedly make me more comfortable. The only glitch in the service is that there are almost no updates about our departure during the flight delay.

FOOD

With the delayed departure, it's almost 2am before dinner is served. There's no menu, just an offering of "pork" or "chicken potato". It's tasty but as basic as it sounds. Less than four hours later, the lights switch back on for breakfast – well-spiced, tender beef noodles or an omelette. Wine selection is as straightforward as red or white.

VERDICT

The long flight delay in Melbourne clouds much of the experience, with an abiding frustration at the lack of information and the resulting inflexible meal times, which leave little time to sleep once we're in the air. Take away the poor sound quality on the entertainment system and it's a solid, well-serviced approach into southern China.

Reviewed by Andrew Bain, who flew courtesy of SpiceRoads.

See also: Flight test - Qantas business class

See also: Flight test: Fiji Airways business class

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