In terms of the number of passengers carried in 2018 China Southern (139.8 million) and China Eastern Airlines (121.1 million) are the two largest air carriers in China and the whole of Asia. Until earlier this year, both airlines were members of the SkyTeam alliance. In my experience, that’s where the similarity ends. As far as customer experience, the difference between the China Southern and China Eastern is more like 180 degrees rather than the 90 degree difference the names suggest.
As an example of China Southern service, last year, I also flew Bangkok to Guangzhou to Beijing on China Southern except the flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was in first class on a China Southern A380. I was connecting on a separate ticket to an American Airlines flight to the U. S. The flight to PEK was delayed for three hours by air traffic control. (Three more hours in a Platinum Suite on a China Southern A380 – No problemo! I’ll take a delay like that anytime.)
The issue, however, was the ATC delay got me to PEK only about 30 minutes before my AA flight was scheduled to depart. To further complicate things, I arrived at Terminal 3 and the AA flight departed from Terminal 2. Ruh roh, as George Jetson’s dog Astro would say.
But low and behold, upon arrival in Beijing a China Southern rep met me at the plane, escorted me to a transfer desk to get the AA boarding pass, expedited me through China passport control and security, and put me on a post-security bus to Terminal 2. At Terminal 2, another rep met me at the bus and escorted me to the departure gate. This service was all the more remarkable because even though I was Executive Platinum with American, I had no status with China Southern, my AA flight was on a separate ticket, and China Southern and American had no relationship at the time other than AA owning 10% of China Southern’s stock.
I got to the gate about five minutes after the scheduled departure time. Except for the gate agents and some security personnel, the gate was deserted. The plane was still there though with jet bridges connected. I was the last passenger to board. All of the pre-departure service in business class was complete. In this case, I didn’t mind missing out. I got some quizzical looks from other passengers in business class who seemed to be wondering who was this Black guy who American Airlines held an international flight for in China. As soon as I stowed my carry on and backpack (no checked bags) and took my seat, the pilots pushed from the gate.
This post is a quick review of a flight in business class on a China Southern narrow-body aircraft that provides further evidence that China Southern is a terrific airline and much better than China Eastern.
How I Booked It
When China Southern was a member of SkyTeam, I booked this flight on delta.com using 40,000 Delta SkyMiles for a one way flight in business class from Bangkok (BKK) to Guangzhou, China (CAN) and a flight in first class on a 777-300ER from (CAN) to Beijing Capitol Airport (PEK).
Even though China Southern left SkyTeam on January 16, 2019, my previously booked ticket was valid even though I traveled on January 30. In fact you could still book China Southern awards with SkyMiles for some time after China Southern left SkyTeam.
While you can no longer use SkyMiles to book free flights on China Southern, the good news is that China Southern became a partner of American Airlines when it left SkyTeam. Now, the entire trip would cost 32,500 American miles because the flight from CAN to PEK was in first class. Flying business class the whole way, would only require 22,500 American miles! Either option is a great use of American Airlines miles.
China Southern Flight CZ 3036
China Southern 737-800s have eight recliner seats in business class. The seats are 24 inches wide and have a 42 inch pitch according to SeatGuru. Seatmaestro agrees with those stats and notes that these seats recline up to 120 degrees.
My seat was 2C. It was roomy and comfortable. China Southern mounts a fold up video screen and power outlets in the console between seats. A footrest is attached to the seat in front.
These seats are typical of business-class seats on 737 and A320 aircraft in Asia. I’ve experienced basically the same seat on EVA Air, China Eastern, Malaysia Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia Airlines.
Before departure flight attendants offered apple juice, fruit juice or water. A copy of China Daily was at every seat. Amenities were a pillow, blanket, slippers and a dental kit. The flight attendant removed the slippers from their pouch, placed my shoes and dental kit inside and stored them under the seat for takeoff.
CZ 3036 departed Runway 19L at 02:33. The captain announced a flying time of two hours and 20 minutes to cover our route to Guangzhou 1,060 miles distant by a direct great-circle route.
In-flight service and experience is another area where China Southern distinguishes itself. Its departure from SkyTeam was a loss for that alliance and Delta Air Lines but a win for American Airlines which then made it a partner.
Service began about 30 minutes after takeoff.
Boarding at 02:00 and arrival scheduled for around 06:00 this was the quintessential red-eye flight. I expected little service. But the Flight attendant took orders while at the gate. He apologized because catering did not load the proper items but described what was available.
This is what should have been available:
Beverages were not listed; however the flight attendant brought bottles of the red and white wine for visual inspection. I selected a white wine and was impressed with the way the flight attendant served it. Not only did he offer a tasting but he served the wine with a cloth over his arm. That’s the way wine is served if first class on five-star Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and ANA.
While the meal did not match the menu, it was way more than what I expected for 03:00. on a 737.
Compare to a China Eastern meal on an afternoon 737-800 flight,l.
And a breakfast offering on a red-eye flight.
China Southern had a good selection of movies and TV shows from around the world to peruse in the remaining time before landing.
The flight landed at 05:35. A small bus transported business class passengers to the Guangzhou terminal.
In spite of the catering snafu, the service and efficiency of the flight attendants was impressive and reinforced my high regard for China Southern Airlines. This flight and other experiences with China Southern and China Eastern leave no doubt that China Southern’s departure from SkyTeam is a big loss. I’m glad that American Airlines is now partnering with China Southern and that I can continue to use frequent flyer miles to fly this airline. In fact it will take about 25% fewer American miles than Delta miles to fly intra-Asia first class and nearly 50% fewer American miles to do so in business class. Delta is now stuck with China Eastern as its primary China partner while American has Cathay Pacific and China Southern on its team.