One of the most interesting thing about China is that it has its own version of almost anything you can look for. Need a social media platform? Try WeChat. Need a video platform? Try SoHu. Payments? Try UnionPay, Alipay, or WeChat Pay. Need to search something? Use Baidu. China even has its own low-cost airlines! One of those is China Southern Airlines.
China Southern Airlines is one of the big three airlines in China – the others being China Eastern Airlines and Air China. (Don’t confuse that with China Air, which is the airline from Taiwan.) Now, if you’re searching for flights in China, especially domestic but also international ones, you might notice that China Southern Airlines comes up a lot. They have some of the lowest prices. The thing is, they are not exactly a budget airline. So, what should you expect from a flight with them?
Where China Southern Airlines Operates
They are one of the biggest airlines in China. As such, they have several hubs. (Airline “hubs” are cities/airports where they have headquarters or a high volume of flights. Typically, they have deals with the airports that give them their own terminal or something like that. As a result, you will see cheaper flights if you fly to or from those cities.) These include Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and Beijing Capital International Airport. When I flew throughout Asia while I lived in Beijing, I almost always took a China Southern Airlines flight.
They also have secondary hubs – meaning cities with a higher number of flights than usual. They are smaller or less frequent than the primary hubs, but many stopovers will be in these cities:
They also have several “focus cities”, where they have more traffic. I took several flights, and I stopped over in Shenzhen for one and Changsha for another. They have flights to over 200 destinations, and is the largest in terms of number of passengers. That might be because of the huge Chinese population – but it gives you an idea of why they’re able to have cheaper flights.
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: A 12 Hour Stopover in Changsha, China]
The Service with China Southern Airlines
What I Like
I have found that the service with China Southern is really great overall! They have a weird policy where they ask you to check in twice if you have a long layover (even if it’s about 12 hours). However, they have few other problems. They allow you to check in a bag for free! Their Chinese staff will always have someone who speaks English, though most of their check in assistants in China and outside it do. They have great prices if you are traveling in or around China.
They are a part of the Sky Team Frequent Flyer Alliance, which also has airlines like Aeroméxico, Air France, Delta Air Lines, and Korean Air. Remember that you can credit any flying you do with them to any of these other airlines.
What I Don’t Like
The only things that I do not like are their website and check in selectivity. The English version does not always work/load. In addition, if you book with any other site (including Expedia, CTrip, etc.) you will not be able to check in through their website. You will have to do it in person at the airport.
In addition, most Chinese airports have an option to check in via a machine. You should be able to scan your passport/ID card and then drop off your checked baggage at their designated lane. However, this option is available only for Chinese nationals, so you’ll be stuck waiting in line while everyone else can just use the machines.
Also, the flight attendants sometimes only speak Chinese. A good portion of them speak English, but very few of them speak any other language even on international flights. I took flights to and from Hanoi, Vietnam on China Southern Airlines, and most airlines would have announcements in Vietnamese. With both of my flights, all I heard were Chinese and English. This is not something that bothers me, as I thankfully speak both Chinese and English, but it was a slight problem for this adorable Korean family sitting next to me on my flight back. I didn’t see any Vietnamese people on either flight, but I found it odd that they had no Vietnamese speaking staff on the plane itself.
[Recommended Read: One Day in Shenzhen, China: Splendid China and Chinese Folk Villages]
The Seats on China Southern Airlines
One of the most important parts of a flight are its seats. I would rate China Southern’s seats at about an 8 out of 10 for these reasons:
They always come with a pillow and blanket.
Get cold on a flight? It doesn’t matter, because China Southern will always have pillows and blankets for you! You might have to ask for them, but for most of the flights I’ve taken they are carefully laid out on every seat already. They’re encased in plastic with verifications of cleaning, so you won’t have to worry about cleanliness, either. If you’re traveling to a warm part of the country – cough, cough, Shenzhen in the non-winter time – you can safely wear summer clothes without worrying about being cold on the plane.
They are fairly large and comfortable, and give you enough leg room even if you’re a towering giant.
Some budget or low cost airlines really tell you why they’re low cost. If you’ve ever taken Air Asia or Tiger Air, for example, you know what I’m talking about. I am barely 5’5″ (definitely closer to 5’4.5″ or 164cm) and my knees were bumping against the seat in front of me. The great thing about China Southern Airlines’ seats is that there is no such problem. They are very roomy, and no different from non-low cost carriers. If I sit in the aisle, I have folded up my legs and asked people to squeeze past so I don’t have to get up plenty of times. (Sorry, but you’re the one who wanted to sit at the window!)
They don’t always recline.
The regular economy seats don’t always allow you to lean back. On some planes, the seats are at a fixed angle, slightly tilted backwards. There is no way to get them straight or push them back further. This is good if you’re the one sitting in the back, but not so great if you want to get more rest.
[Recommended Read: Itinerary: The Ultimate 7 Days in Beijing]
The Food from China Southern Airlines
China Southern is not exactly a budget airline. They will give you pretty competitive prices, but they are not as low as what you can expect from a typical budget airline. The service falls into that same category – especially the food!
They have the food service of a typical airline. The nice thing is that, even on flights that are 3 hours or less, they have meal service. They also serve drinks twice, and you can choose between all kinds of beverages, including hot tea, coffee, and even hot water (a Chinese favorite).
The several meals that I got from them were all fine. I’m not a huge fan of airplane food but I don’t hate it either, and I think the food that I got wasn’t bad!
I definitely was not hungry for this flight, and I was tired as heck because of my trip, but this was still not a terrible meal. I was exhausted but the noodles were still great!
In short, I would definitely recommend China Southern Airlines! I have had a pretty good experience on all my flights with them so far. As an expat in Beijing, they almost always have the cheapest flight tickets out of the city. I would not hesitate to choose them if they offer a good itinerary for your plans!
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