China Southern is one of the world’s largest carriers in terms of passenger numbers, fleet size, network and revenue. In 1988 the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) was carved up and China Southern was one of the six regional airlines born. At the time of its creation it operated a mixed fleet which included Soviet built aircraft and flights were concentrated at its home airport in Guangzhou (Canton). In the early 1990’s China Southern began purchasing modern Boeings and forged relations with Western airlines and service providers to improve standards. In 1997 the airline opened a route to Los Angeles and in 2000 they arrived in Australia. From 2000 China Southern merged, absorbed and brought into several domestic rivals. By 2008 relations with Taiwan had thawed and the airline celebrated its first flights to Taipei. As part of the airline’s rapid growth and improvement in services the airline joined SkyTeam in 2007. China Southern is listed on the Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York Stock Exchanges. While US airlines struggle to avoid bankruptcy, China’s largest airline recorded an enviable US$813 million profit in 2010.
China Southern provides pleasant on-board service from a nicely attired smiling crew. The airlines uniform seems almost retro, which matches the interiors and overall image of the carrier. The airline’s ‘look’ is very reminiscent of the 1960’s heyday of air travel. Crew are attentive, respectful and exclusively Chinese. Few speak European languages and the airline is aimed primarily at its main Chinese market.
China Southern is China’s largest airline and serves almost every conceivable location in China either directly or through one of its several affiliate airlines. The airline also has an expanding network with a comprehensive hub at Guangzhou serving Asia, the Pacific and Europe. They also operate several international services from other Chinese cities. Guangzhou’s Baiyun International Airport underwent a $3 billion makeover in 2004 and is one of the World’s most efficient and fastest growing gateways. It’s both a pleasure to transit and an example of China’s bright economic future.
China’s travelling public are skilled bargain hunters and are not disappointed with China Southern which is very competitively priced. Non Chinese who step outside their comfort zone and book with this airline are usually pleasantly surprised at how much money they save and also discover first hand that there is nothing inferior about the service. On flights between Europe and Australia for example travellers can save hundreds of dollars for the same type of service they’d get from British Airways or JAL.
China Southern’s on-board catering in all classes is unmistakeable airline cuisine. Economy passengers receive generously sized TV dinner style meals served in aluminium foil with plastic wrapped stale bread rolls while premium passengers may enjoy some quite delicious Asian or European airline servings on distinctive Chinese linen and chinaware.
China Southern generally has the older style of main screen entertainment at the front of the cabin with smaller drop down screens in side rows. The system is basic. There are several audio channels in a variety of languages and the relatively standard (i.e. dull) in-flight magazine. Before complaining about the entertainment system remember you have paid several hundred dollars less than the airline with seat back individual entertainment units and what you’re now seeing was standard only a few years ago. Bring a book and your iPod. On a long flight, bring two books.
China Southern attracts budget travellers with their lower fares and some come to the airport with the kitchen sink which can cause long delays as staff negotiate over excess baggage. However the standard of check-in varies from airport to airport. In China service is very efficient as there are plenty of staff. Baggage handling in China is far more reliable than the US or UK and transfers between flights are typically done without delay. Ticketing issues can be fobbed off by Help Desks which sometimes should be called Unhelpful Desks.
China Southern has First Class and Business Class which are both priced very attractively, however do not compare with the genuine luxury airlines like Asiana and Taiwan’s China Airlines. Cabins are spacious, seats are comfortable and there is plenty of room for laptops and in-flight work. If you’re after luxury extras like Etihad’s Salon and Emirate’s on-board shower you will be disappointed, but China Southern is typically half the price. If you are after space, rest and plenty of tasty food then you’ll be satisfied. China Southern’s Lounges are OK but nothing to write home about.
China Southern has Economy and Economy Deluxe. Economy Deluxe’s larger seats are excellent for bigger built travellers or the elderly, especially on long haul flights. Meals and baggage allowance is the same. China Southern’s Economy Deluxe fares are usually around the same as other airlines normal Economy, so represent good value. China Southern’s Economy offering is very reasonable; baggage allowance is generous, meals are OK, service fine and prices usually cheap.
Once China Southern joined SkyTeam in 2007 there became a reason for non-Chinese to join their frequent flyer programme, Sky Pearl Club. However, basically Sky Pearl Club members need to take dozens of flights before any benefits appear and individual Miles are worthless. When upgrades are being considered staff rarely refer to the airline’s policy and upgrade Sky Pearl Club Gold or Silver members first, as they are supposed to. They just pick anyone. There are plenty of better loyalty programmes within SkyTeam to pick if you intend to book only the odd flight with China Southern.
China Southern was very poorly administered a decade ago, but the old ways simply will not be tolerated anymore. Corruption, nepotism, incompetence and substandard management was once widespread but is systematically being eliminated from the company. Junior staff are seeing an improvement in their conditions and once, where there was simmering malcontent, staff are seeing things get better. While Legacy US, European and Australian airlines cut standards, China Southern is one of the rare exceptions to be demanding better outcomes from itself and its manager. It still has a long way to go before it matches Emirates.
China Southern has issues with safety but is addressing them. Its aircraft have been known to ignore directions from airport control towers, pilots have missed flights and therefore been crewed by co-pilots, planes have attempted to land at the wrong airport and pilots often have poor English and misunderstand control tower instructions. China has one of the worst airline safety records in the world and incidents are more likely to be hidden than investigated. However China Southern is buying new aircraft and the technical expertise of their Engineering departments matches those of US airlines.
An average, but improving airline at a cheap price. China Southern represents good value for money.
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