Flight test: China Southern Airlines Dreamliner business class

THE ROUTE

London to Guangzhou, China

THE PLANE

Boeing 787 Dreamliner

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Sky Pearl Club, with all business class passengers entitled to visit the airline's international business lounges prior to departure.

UP THE BACK OR AT THE POINTY END

Business class, seat F12H

THE SEAT STUFF

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2-2-2 configuration with a generous seat pitch of 74 inches.

BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE

In business class, three pieces to a maximum weight of 23 kilograms per piece, along with cabin/hand luggage.

COMFORT FACTOR

China Southern's powder-blue and white business cabin, while not yet quite in the same class as some of the more established competitors such as Singapore Airlines and Emirates, features the now requisite flat-beds for long-haul overnight flights. But it's the Dreamliner itself that gives this flight much of its comfort, with the aircraft's new oversized windows allowing generous amounts of natural light into the cabin. But this flyer will reserve his judgment as to whether the new plane's much-vaunted ventilation system moderates jet lag, as has been claimed by its manufacturer, especially as the second leg of the flight on to Sydney was aboard an A380.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

Happily, I was asleep for much of this extended flight but business-class passengers have an individual 10-15 inch (25 to 38 centimetres) LCD video screen and can expect a choice of 127 movies plus 258 television programs.

THE SERVICE

China Southern's flight attendants are clearly still learning the nuances of Western expectations. English proficiency needs attention, with only one attendant in business class on this flight speaking fluent English.

FEEDING TIME

There's a choice of Western and oriental dishes, but it's the Chinese dishes that really tantalise - breakfast items like dim-sum with congee, or fried bean thread noodles with beef red chilli julienne. The light dinner menu tends to revert to classic Western-style choices like grilled rack of lamb with rosemary sauce and polenta ratatouille tart, though there's also a choice of deep-fried and poached chicken roll and sauteed shiitake mushrooms and steamed rice.

ONE MORE THING

Australians are eligible for a newly introduced 72-hour visa-free stopover program in Guangzhou en route to or from another destination such as Europe.

THE FREQUENCY

Daily between Guangzhou and London; twice daily between Sydney and Guangzhou and Melbourne and Guangzhou (note that from March 29 there will be 10 flights weekly between Melbourne and Guangzhou).

THE VERDICT

Already Asia's biggest airline, 440 aircraft-strong, at last count, China Southern is on the move in more ways than one. Its solid but uneven offering is rapidly improving and may one day soon prove a threat to more fancied regional competitors. The airline is offering extremely competitive fares to Europe for Australians as it aggressively establishes itself in this market before launching into other international territories.

Tested by Anthony Dennis, who flew as a guest of China Southern Airlines, Railbookers and Visit Britain.

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