REVIEW: China Southern Airlines. Dubai Guangzhou Sydney. Business Class. B777-300/A350

REVIEW: China Southern Airlines. Dubai Guangzhou Sydney. Business Class. B777-300/A350

REVIEW: China Southern Airlines. Dubai Guangzhou Sydney. Business Class. B777-300/A350

Today’s article is from TLFL writer Jason. You can follow Jason on Instagram here @planejayds

China Southern often has some great deals to Australia and South East Asia. But what do you actually get for your money? Jason investigates  



If I were asked what the biggest airline in Asia was, I would probably hazard a guess at JAL or ANA or maybe Singapore. And I would be wrong. China Southern is the largest airline in Asia in terms of fleet size, revenue, and passengers carried and the 6th largest airline in the world measured by passengers carried. So, I was a little surprised when I really struggled to find recent reviews online, especially of international flights on the 777-300 or A350. What I did know was that Mainland Chinese carriers, in general, don’t have the most stellar reputation for operational reliability and inflight comforts, but always keen to try an airline I hadn’t flown previously.

I booked a one-way ticket to Sydney from Dubai on CZ for around 1300, which represented fairly good value as tickets to Australia were sky-high at the time. I was fortunate as I was able to book, pay for, and manage my booking, all via the airline’s own website. In the few reviews, I did find constant irritation from other passengers who seemed to have issues with either being unable to pay via the CZ website or, when booking a ticket via a third party, unable to manage any aspect of their booking on the airline’s website.

Confession time: when I booked, I didn’t realise that CZ had left the SkyTeam alliance (I hung my avgeek
head in shame). Nonetheless, I entered my KLM Flyingblue account details into the CZ website and
was surprised to see that both the miles and XP points posted on my return just as if they still were
in the alliance.

Although I was departing from Dubai to fly to Australia, China Southern has flights from London to
Guangzhou, Wuhan and Beijing and from China onwards to Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne and
Sydney. They also have an extensive network from other European cities where you will generally
find the most attractive business class fares.


Dubai Guangzhou


We arrived at 22:00 for our 01:00 am departure from DXB terminal one, and I always find it fascinating how the airport seems at its busiest and most chaotic when most European airports are closed for the night.

This, of course, is part of the Gulf carrier’s success: hubs that operate around the clock so the home airlines can have 24-hour utilisation of their valuable aircraft assets. We had no bags to check in but were unable to check in online.

We located the China Southern check-in desks easily, and there was no queue at the ‘CZ Priority’ desks, which are open to passengers in business class, premium economy or who are members of the airline frequent flyer program with Elite Plus or Elite status.

The agent asked us to scan a QR code and complete a health declaration online before issuing our boarding passes all the way through to Sydney. Next was passport control, and despite the long queues, the process was very quick, thanks to the outbound e-gates. Security followed, which was also quick, with no need to remove my laptop. I didn’t see any priority queues for business class passengers through passport control or security.

We made our way to the train that shuttled us to D gates and then located the Marhaba Lounge, which CZ and many other airlines use. The lounge also accepts priority passes and other lounge club entries. The lounge was very busy when we arrived, which is not surprising given the midnight peak.

 Aesthetically speaking, it wasn’t particularly pleasing, but the food offered was pretty decent. I noticed some passengers being escorted to a separate room, and I asked if it was for business class passengers. Indeed, it was, but only for certain airlines, not CZ. I had a bit of a wander around and then noticed there was a large, quiet area that was kind of hidden behind the food area, so we moved over there and relaxed for a while.



We made our way to the gate just after midnight, and there were two queues, one for ‘CZ Priority.’
and one for the economy. The priority queue was not long, and boarding started promptly at 00:30. Whilst it is more common for airlines to have 4, 5, or even nine boarding groups, this system seemed to work better with it being very clear which queue you should be in. However, I guess it wouldn’t work so well for an airline like BA, where the ‘priority’ line would likely be as long as the economy line. We were warmly welcomed at door one and turned right to find our seats.

My first impressions of the cabin were good; it seemed nice and fresh, with a neutral colour palette of light blue and a light wood accent, which complimented the pink of the cabin crew uniforms. I believe China Southern 777’s used to have a configuration of 4 first class seats and 34 business class seats; however, CZ has given First Class the chop, and their 777’s now sport 28 Business Class seats, 28 Premium economy and 305 in economy class. CZ chose the Stelia Solstys product (the same you will find on Thai, Iberia, Vietnam ITA, etc.) and is configured over seven rows, taking up the entire forward cabin.

The blue fabric upholstered seat is a staggered all-aisle access product that, whilst not the newest on the market, is still very comfortable and offers an assortment of seat choices depending on whether you are travelling solo or not. The 1 x 2 x 1 configuration alternates along the windows between one seat closer to the window (best for privacy if you are travelling solo) and one seat closer to the aisle (less privacy but a larger footwell).

The middle blocks of two seats alternate between ‘honeymoon pairs’ where the seats are close together, and the side tables are towards the aisle on each side, to the opposite, where the two side tables are in the middle, and the aisle seats are on the other side more exposed to the aisle.

Stowage is relatively limited in terms of cubbyholes and compartments, but a small backpack or handbag can be stowed under the ottoman, and there is a shelf that could hold a pair of glasses or such. There are USB or multiplug charging options and three lighting settings. There were three bathrooms, which was a very generous ratio, with two at the front of the cabin and one behind. They were kept neat and tidy throughout the flight.

Another thing that seemed out of place these days and made me smile was the large newspaper and magazine racks on the rear bulkhead stuffed with actual newspapers and magazines. The all-female Cabin Crew were positioned throughout the cabin, welcoming passengers, and I noticed them offering to lift large bags for young and able passengers into the overhead lockers.

I knew I was in for a different travel experience when a crew member approached me, removed the brown hessian bag from the top of the ottoman, removed a pair of slippers, plumped up the front of them and positioned them graciously at my feet. This seemed to be the standard greeting for all customers as I saw the crew carrying out this task throughout the cabin. At my seat was also the bedding, which consisted of a decent-sized pillow and blanket. The blanket was not in any kind of wrapping and looked very ruffled, and I am pretty sure it was re-used from the inbound sector, simply being folded and replaced at my seat.

When I saw the same bedding from CAN in the following sector was in packaging, my suspicions were pretty much confirmed. A different crew member then approached me and gave a really lovely and very thorough welcome on board. She introduced herself, asked how I would like to be called, provided the flight duration (7hr3min), and advised me at what time both the post-take-off and pre-landing meal would be served. She also provided a photocopy of a list of the meal options (no menus were presented) and asked me what I would like to choose for both meals. I really appreciated her going through the full brief instead of an abbreviated version, as I could tell she was struggling with her English.

I gave her 10/10 for persevering and ensuring I received the same level of service as the Chinese passengers on board. The English-speaking crew wore little badges that indicated they spoke the language, and I didn’t experience any real barriers at all.

Apple juice, orange juice or water were offered, followed by large, thick, branded hot towels. Washbags were not offered. On the subject of the crew, I noticed one interesting crew member on both of my flights. A male, seemingly dressed more in a pilot’s uniform (two stripes) but staying in the cabin during the flight and wearing a bodycam.

He just seemed to help the crew out in the galley from time to time, and judging by all the safety video scenes about behaving appropriately on board and not trying to open doors and exits unless, for an emergency, I am going to assume it was some kind of security officer, though I am not certain. The door was closed at 01:01 am, and I counted seven empty seats.

The Purser made a welcome announcement in English and Mandarin whilst the cabin crew stood at the front of the cabin and bowed. The safety video was played, which was quite heavy on behaving oneself during the flight, then the crew passed through no less than three times very theatrically, double and triple checking all the overhead lockers were fully closed. Pushback was at 01:08 am, and at 01:22, we were rolling down the runway.



Once airborne, things were a little slow to start, with the crew not being released from their seats for a good twenty minutes. On the subject of this, the seat belt signs were not actually switched off the entire flight, so it was a little weird knowing when you could and couldn’t move around. When the captain REALLY needed people to be strapped in, it seemed the seat belt signs would flash twice. Another hot towel was delivered, and I was actually in the bathroom when this was done. And just an example of the crew’s attention to detail, the crew member looking after me made sure she came back and offered me a hot towel individually when I returned so I didn’t miss out.

This really set the tone for the crew on this flight. I found them incredibly well-intentioned, and they really strived to make everyone as comfortable as they could. Next up was a tablecloth, followed by the drink service.

A photo of a red wine with a small bowl of nuts and a glass of water

I had ordered a red wine before taking off (of course, not sure what type it would be with no menu), and the glass was placed on my table with a small bowl of nuts and a glass of water. The wine bottle was then brought to my seat, presented (it was a South African Pinotage), and poured, which was a nice touch.

I started to scroll around on the IFE, which contained 94 movies in English with a couple of new releases as well as individual episodes of Western TV shows. I popped on ‘I Tonya’, which is a great movie; it’s impressive how they made a dramatic real-life event so into a quasi-comedy. There was no Wi-Fi. A gueridon then rolled down the aisle, and each passenger was laid up restaurant style and an assortment of bread was offered from a basket with the crew member encouraging me to take a second.

A photo of Chinese soup served

It was then a ‘soup surprise service’ (there was no mention of a soup offering on the one photocopied menu), and everyone was soon offered a choice of Chinese dumplings or (western) mushrooms. I took a Chinese soup, and it was delicious, hot and full of flavour.

The Gueridon reappeared with a choice of starter, which was either smoked salmon or prawn with cabbage, and I selected the smoked salmon, which was delicious.

beef fillet with gnocchi

The starter was cleared, and my main beef fillet with gnocchi was presented, which was a 10/10 for presentation, having been plated individually in the galley but a little dry and overcooked.

Once the mains were cleared in dessert, cheese was offered from the Gueridon. I like when meal courses are offered this way when I can see the options before choosing. I was fairly full, so I just had some fruit. I was really impressed with the meal service; it felt very premium, and also it flowed very well. Helped by the fact that there were four crew serving the 21 passengers this quite elaborate service was completed in just under an hour. Bottles of Evian were handed out, and the lights dimmed.

My game plan was to try to sleep a couple of hours on this sector as we would have around 8 hours in Transit at CAN, and then I would try to sleep most of the way on the overnight flight from CAN to Sydney. I managed a couple of hours of sleep and was gently woken by one of the crew at 10:05 am Guangzhou time. A tablecloth was laid, and I was brought a cup of (instant) coffee. The trolley appeared with an assortment of snacks crisps, chocolates, mini eclairs alongside a pack of nuts and dried fruit. I selected a couple of the chocolates, and the poor crew member struggled as she attempted to silver-seal the round chocolates onto a plate with a fork and spoon.

My main course, which was noodles, was then presented. Like dinner, this was a very generous serving in a massive bowl, and the crew member delicately placed three little plastic pots of condiments alongside a pair of CZ-branded chopsticks. The noodles were delicious and filling. Another round of drinks was offered, and another crew member then came around to each passenger and gave an ETA as well as the local temperature, which was cute. Service concluded with a final hot towel and a plate of mints passed around. When they prepared the cabin for landing, PA was made, and the crew again stood at the front of the cabin for the duration of the announcement and bowed at the end. We landed in a cloudy (or smoggy?) Guangzhou at 12:45 pm.


Guangzhou Airport Transit

Transit was fairly straightforward; we followed the signs for connecting flights, which was well signposted.

Our passport and boarding pass were inspected by some CZ staff, and our boarding pass was stamped. We then proceeded through security, and an immigration officer checked our passports again. And we were then in departures. The terminal was large and really quiet, which contrasts with most airports I visit these days, which seem to be bursting at the seams. The international terminal at Guangzhou seemed the opposite, like a huge space with no people to fill it.

There were loads of shops and cafes, but most were closed and stayed closed the whole 8 hours we were at the airport. Wanting to get my steps in, I went for a few long walks the length of the large terminal, and at times, there would be entire wings of six or eight gates with not a single flight departing. It actually feels a little eerie.

The China Southern business class lounge is located one level up from the main departure concourse. However, it only sports the airline’s branding. The lounge itself is owned and operated by a third party and accepts other airlines’ premium passengers as well as Priority Pass.

It was a modern and comfortable lounge with plenty of comfortable recliners with footrests dotted about.

There were no Western meal options at all in the lounge, but the noodles from the made-to-order bar were delicious. The only let down of the lounge was the bathrooms were closed for repairs, so the nearest ones were back down the escalator on the main concourse. There was free Wi-Fi, but it was clunky to log into, and viewing was very restricted (and yup, I had downloaded a VPN, but it didn’t seem to get around much). A feature I really liked the idea of was there was an outdoor courtyard garden but it rained the entire time we were there, so we didn’t check it out.


CAN SYD. A350 8hr40min


Boarding started at 20:20 for our 21:00 departure to Sydney, and again, there were just two lines a
priority one for business/top tier and a second one for everyone else. Again, we got a warm welcome at the door from the crew, and we entered the A350 cabin. The cabin was really beautiful; it felt more modern and elegant than the 777 cabin.

The seats were upholstered in leather, there was a dark woodgrain effect on some of the surfaces, and the mood lighting of the A350 always helped with the ambience. Like the 777, the A350 has an all-aisle access flatbed product; however, they differ slightly. The A350 also has the same number of business class seats as the 777 (28); however, it chose a The Recaro product on this aircraft is the same as you will find on TAP or El Al.

The configuration is essentially the same, the main difference being that the middle blocks of the two alternate between angling more toward the left or right instead of being close together or further apart as on the 777. The window seats alternate with being closer to the window or aisle and also with a slight angle toward the aisle or the window. For this reason, the closer to the window (A or K) seats are the way to go for privacy, with the C and H seats being quite exposed.

Overall, I felt I had more personal space in this seat than I did on the 777. The armrests are also lower when sleeping, which increases shoulder space, and for storage, there are two cubby holes.

For lighting, I had three options and also a DND button. To keep my devices juiced, there were two USB outlets and a multiplug charger. The IFE had the same content, but the screen had a much better resolution and was far brighter and crip.

The cabin was completely full in this sector, and there were only three Westerners, including Fer and I out of the 28 customers, which explains why CZ has a product very targeted to the local Chinese market.

Fortunately, my bedding was wrapped and definitely unused on this flight, and again, as I took my seat, the slipper ritual commenced. Consistent with the previous flight this was followed by orange juice, apple juice or water and how towels. Again, no washbag; this was oddly given out after dinner (it was Salvatore Ferragamo branded but contained no products from them).

Like in the previous sector, I was given a personal welcome and briefing by one of the friendly English-speaking crew and the meal order was taken. Unfortunately, there wasn’t even a photocopy to reference like on the previous flight, so options were limited to ‘beef, chicken, fish or noodles’.

The additional male body camera-wearing crew member was also present in this sector, and the welcome announcement and bows were made; door closed at 20:51, safety video played and pushback at 20:54 (6 minutes early), and we were airborne sixteen minutes later at 21:10.



The crew were again not released until about 20 minutes after take-off, but service didn’t really get started until 50 minutes after being airborne. The service in this sector seemed a fair bit slower, there seemed to be less crew in business class, and although I never worked on the A350 at BA, ex-colleagues tell me the confined galley space is very challenging.

Almost an hour after take-off, hot towels were handed out, and at 22:15, a table cloth, small bowl of nuts, wine glass and glass of water were placed at my table. On the flight from Dubai, two bottles of red were presented (the same Pinotage or an Australian Shiraz) and poured onto the seat.

A gueridon came down the aisle and laid up each passenger individually with the cutlery, a side plate, butter and amuse bouche, followed by a selection of bread.

A choice of beef or carrot soup followed; I again chose the Chinese option and was not disappointed. It was served hot with some dried garlic and was delicious.

Starters then followed, and I was glad I could see the options before choosing, as there was no menu. There was a choice between prawns or dried beef, and I selected the prawns. They were a little dry, but the spicy tomato dipping sauce helped things.

Manila was just out to my left as my main course was served. I chose beef again as it seemed the safest option without a menu or description to refer to, and it was better cooked and not as dry as on the Dubai to Guangzhou flight.

Fer had the salmon, which he said was also good.

Dessert described only as ‘cake’ was offered, and as there seemed no option of cheese, I took the fruit plate (which was uniquely garnished with parsley).

There were just over 6 hours left when Evian bottles and washbags were passed out, and the lights dimmed. About four hours later, at 5:15 am Sydney time, the lights were slowly illuminated, and breakfast commenced. A hot towel was offered just as we crossed into Australia over the Gulf of Carpentaria and had just over two hours remaining. Tablecloths were laid, and I was asked what I would like to drink; I asked if they had espresso coffee and immediately perked up when they said they did. The table was again laid restaurant-style from the Gueridon, and an assortment of jams, spreads, cereals and yoghurt were offered, as well as an assortment of bakery items from the basket.

I ordered the Chinese breakfast, which was a dim sum selection and congee. I enjoyed it but found it odd the dim sum had no dipping sauce (maybe it’s a Chinglish thing?). I enjoyed all the little individual condiments to add to the congee. Fernando ordered the ‘western’ breakfast and took a picture for the team.

A fruit plate was then offered to everyone at the end of the meal. Further drinks were offered, and I asked for another espresso, but this time, it was definitely an instant coffee but poured the size of a double espresso. Eh ho.

Breakfast was all wrapped up as we crossed the Queensland border into New South Wales, and the cabin was prepared for landing along with a final bow from the crew. We landed in Sydney International, and the door was actually opened 35 minutes before our scheduled arrival.


Final thoughts

I really enjoyed my flights on China Southern, and although their service style is understandably very geared to their main customer base, I found the airline really made a sincere effort for non-Chinese customers to feel valued and catered to as well. The service felt very premium in terms of proper table layups, main meals plated in the galley, and wine presented. The food was fantastic and plentiful, even on reasonably short flights. Every staff member I interacted with was gracious and helpful even if their English was not the best; however, it was never at a level where communication was difficult.

Both flights were bang on time (or early), and I felt very safe onboard. The crew seemed to take securing the cabin seriously, which I think demonstrates a good safety culture, which is important to me when I travel. I wish that China Southern would find a way for its customers to view the menu options. I am all for saving trees, and a printed menu isn’t necessarily the only option; all their long-haul aircraft have modern IFE systems that can incorporate the menus into them.

Additionally, as much as I was impressed by the quality of service, it would perhaps be a good idea to have some kind of ‘express meal’ option or a more streamlined meal service on overnight flights as there was only a four-hour window between services on the Guangzhou to Sydney flight, which is quite short on a flight of 8hr40min.

I would happily fly to China Southern again, and I felt I had really good value for money compared to what the competition was charging. I would also recommend them to my friends and family.

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