Flight test: China Southern premium economy

Route Sydney to Hanoi, via Guangzhou.

Aircraft Airbus A330 Sydney-Guangzhou; A319 Guangzhou-Hanoi.

Class Premium economy 31K, Sydney-Guangzhou; premium economy 32H, Guangzhou-Hanoi.

Flight time 9hr 10min, then another 2hr on the connecting flight to Hanoi. A slight departure delay from Sydney due to air-traffic control was made up for in the air. With a five-hour stopover in Guangzhou, the flight took 16hr 20min — comparable to alternative routes via Singapore and Malaysia.

Seat width and pitch Width 17.5 inches; pitch 37 inches.

Seat configuration 2-4-2 layout on the A330 for 47 seats in premium economy; 3-3 layout on the smaller A319 for 24 seats.

Luggage allowance Checked luggage is 35 kilograms in premium (30 kilograms in economy); seven kilograms of carry on.

Comfort This is an airline stripped to the essentials but space is ample in premium economy, with generous legroom. Recline is limited, though seats are on the right side of firm and passengers are encouraged to relocate to empty rows and stretch out.

Entertainment There is a blend of Hollywood and European cinema, as well as contemporary Chinese films. Unfortunately, on this particular aircraft, personal television systems are available only in higher classes. For everybody else, shared screens play a subtitled pre-selection. (There are seat-back screens in all classes on some aircraft operating into Australia.)

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Service The Chinese take service seriously: in Baiyun Airport, Guangzhou, the performance of customs officials can be reviewed by passengers via a touchpad displaying a series of smile and frown faces. Onboard, the China Southern crew is consistently on the "smile" end. An amenities bag and extras in the bathroom, imported from business class, mean I leave the plane feeling fresh and alert. Premium economy priority check-in and boarding in Sydney is fast and efficient.

Food and beverages Coffee aficionados beware: it comes ultra-sweet with creamer added. Lunch is basic, though the "chicken with spice" dish avoids the stolid heaviness of much airline food, with big pieces of chicken, white rice and vegetables. Chocolate-coated macadamias are a welcome indulgence.

Flight frequency China Southern flies from Sydney to Guangzhou 11 times a week and 10 from Melbourne, with daily connections to Hanoi. A premium-economy fare to Hanoi costs about $1400 including tax. In June, the airline begins its "Canton Route", from Sydney and Melbourne to London via Guangzhou.

Online csair.com/en.

Lance Richardson travelled courtesy of China Southern.

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