Should I Fly China Southern Again?

Filed Under: China Southern

As some of you may recall, earlier in the year I redeemed Korean Air SkyPass miles for a trip in China Southern and Korean Air first class.

On that trip I flew:

I had high hopes for both airlines, in particular China Southern, given their A380 service between Los Angeles and Guangzhou, and how much award space they released. While the Korean Air flights actually exceeded my expectations, the China Southern flights kinda left me speechless.

China Southern A380 first class

The trip report of my Los Angeles to Guangzhou flight ended up being my most read trip report ever, especially after it got picked up by Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Unfortunately it looks like the post was so popular that China Southern management took actions based on it, and demoted the entire first class crew and purser to “common” flight attendants. That made me feel horribly, because at the end of the day I’d attribute most of the failures to poor management decisions.

China Southern A380 first class

I received an email from China Southern’s “Assistant President Airline Products & Services Management,” claiming that they’ll work on improving the premium cabin experience.

China Southern will be launching 777-300ER service to New York JFK in a couple of weeks, and I’m a bit torn about whether I should book an award ticket on it or not:

  • I’m sure it’s something many of you would be interested in reading about, partly for amusement, and partly to see if the previous flight was a one off experience
  • At the same time, I don’t want the flight to lead to more flight attendants being demoted

What do you guys think? Should I give China Southern another shot? Put another way, is it time for Duc De Paris Part Deux?

China Southern’s fabulous sub-$5 per bottle first class champagne will leave you dreaming of Korbel

  1. Ofcourse. You need to followup and see if your trip report actually caused the airline to actually take notice and make improvements as they promised they would. If not, another even more damning report would be appropriate.

  2. Do it! It’s a win win win situation. We get entertained. The airline gets a second chance. You get another widely read review. You can’t refrain from reviewing just because at the earlier time the management blamed the crew for their own incompetence.

  3. Absolutely not. There are far better ways to use your miles – such as on a better product or fly somewhere a little tad more exciting. Leave CZ for now, and come back a few years down the road when they’ve actually had a proper chance to fully revamp their product. It takes more than a few months to train a good crew, and certainly a lot more to even get the cogs moving up in management. My view is that it wouldn’t be fair to yourself, the crew or the management (and in some sense the readers 😉 ) reviewing CZ again so soon.

  4. Just a general comment – as much as I love the First class trip reports, I think many of us are more likely to sample business class, given that (I assume) the majority of your readers don’t turn and burn miles quite on your level. So whether it’s CZ or another airline, I’d like to see more business class products…

  5. Given so many airlines fly NYC to Hong Kong (and fly it well), China Southern will have to be on its game on this route. I’d be interested to see how they do.

  6. I think China Southern took serious actions on your previous report. Demoting from first cabin to common cabin is a big punishment for Chinese flight attendants. Give the airline a second chance.

  7. Absolutely do it. But be discrete about the flight #s, day, time, and on board staff names, since obviously big brother in China will be watching.

  8. Sure, why not. What’s the worst that can happen? What are the odds that the newly demoted flight crew are on the new route? That would be my only issue as there’s no way in hell I could face the people that were demoted due to my actions (even if the blame could be placed on management’s shoulders).

  9. Sure, find a way to Guangzhou and snag a seat on the CAN to JFK inaugural. You can see if the management changed anything (Duc de Paris -> Dom or Krug / better food), then specifically rant on them if they haven’t changed anything. After all, for the mainland Chinese (which I’m not but I have so much experience with), they like to blame (which the management chose their flight attendants as a target), so if the food is still mediocre and the champagne is still awesome (I mean horrendous), specifically target the whole management and rant at them.

  10. If they see this they probably will have somebody check your name on their database every day and then prep your flight now. Maybe do a surprise booking, fly next day so they don’t have time to fake it, or ask a fellow blogger to fly it

  11. @ Anthony – According to Google and only CX flies HKG – JFK, so what do you mean by “many”?

  12. Please stop beating yourself up over things that are beyond your control. I would be interested in seeing if they have improved their service but since your recent “bucket list” post if there is a trip on your bucket list you should allocate the time & $$ to that instead of this. (As Anthony stated there are plenty of Asian airlines that fly out of JFK so taking China Southern, while highly amusing for me, sounds like cruel & unusual punishment for you.)

  13. Please, please do … not only because its fun to read, but because there ARE many travellers who’ll need/want to fly the JFK – Guangzhou route in the future. So you’re doing all of us a favor with your reviews. BUT please DO NOT let us know in advance which flight you’ll be taking — inaugural?? Choose a random flight but don’t tell your readers in advance which one. You do not want any window dressing. And for the specific flight attendants to be taken as scapgoats again.

  14. I say yes but don’t post when exactly you’ll be flying with them. Try not to give China Southern any warning.

  15. Alvin,

    United flies EWR to HKG direct… Obviously there are a lot of one-stops, but Emirates is a good option there.

  16. Do it! While I would probably never use my miles or money to fly them, I still love reading about it 😉

  17. Do it but make sure they do not “prepare” the flight to receive you on board. My point is that after all the buzz caused by your review they probably have someone checking your blog often to see what you are saying of them and other airlines. Thus, not impossible for them to track your name and find when you will be flying them again and then make sure you have an awesome experience 🙂

  18. You need to get a third passport with an entirely different name so you can do these follow up trips as a secret shopper.

  19. Delta is also a decent option from JFK to HKG now given the quick connection in Seattle.

    FWIW, Alvin, you are right in one sense – I thought there was one or two more airlines offering non-stop service to HKG.

  20. No, don’t do it. Don’t give them anymore of your spend. Whether it’s revenue or miles, don’t help them with an improved load factor.

    I recently flew an 8 segment route of which 4 segments were on Vietnam Airlines and 4 segments in China Southern Economy (revenue) and would never give them any business again. Or at least for the next 5 years.

    The booking process was extra-ordinarily difficult.

    After booking I started getting e-mails in Chinese (29 to be exact). I tried to figure out the first 10. And realised they were continually changing flight times by 5 minutes due to equipment changes. I notified them repeatedly that I do not speak any Chinese and requested English e-mails. Eventually they sent me an e-mail stating that I was wrong … …

    Then in the 27th e-mail I noticed they changed the date of my flight and rerouted me via Guangzhou instead of Beijing ( where I had planned a stop over under the 72hr TWOV like you did). After calling their Europe offices I was told to call China. China said if I don’t agree with the change I could cancel my ticket (3 days before my departure date) and could book on another airline. The agent was unapologetic regarding the increased cost of a last minute booking vs an advanced booking.

    According to the CZ website, the airline would request the TWOV. I contacted their FB team and was told that visas are the domain of the Chinese authorities and not of the airline. Then they sent me a link to their website for information. However the link they sent, contradicted the information they gave me and actually described the exact process I was trying to follow ( request the airline to apply for a TWOV from the authorities )

    Eventually, my departure day arrived. I headed to the airport in Europe with neither a visa nor a TWOV application.

    At the gate I was pointed to a senior Chinese CZ employee ( I think it was the flight purser). She was uninterested and just said that when I arrive at Beijing, I should speak to the CZ groundstaff and they would help me with the TWOV or to get a complimentary lay over hotel room.

    The flight was ok although the flight attendant seemed scared to talk to me (I’m a gentle non-scary guy) as her English was poor.

    We arrived at 5am in Beijing. The airport was dead. No groundstaff, no indication what to do as the transfer desk was closed. The flight crew didn’t want to help as they were now off duty.

    Eventually I went to immigration (eventhough I just wanted a room at that moment). There were only 2 immigration agents (possibly the only 2 people in the airport). The lady let me in without a visa or TWOV. She just stamped my passport for 24hrs. This was the 1st friendly person I had encountered… an immigration official…

    I still could not find any CZ staff. Eventually I ended up in front of a door with lots of codes on the 3rd floor of Beijing airport. This was the entrance to CZ’ offices in the airport. But as it was 6am, they were closed.

    I just ended up heading into the city annoyed at CZ and exhausted.

    That night I returned for my onwards flight. I wasn’t allowed any Skyteam proviledges (I’ve held an AF-KLM Platinum card (Skyteam Elite Plus)). Neither Sky Priority nor Lounge Access nor any other benefits.

    In all I was allowed Lounge Access for 2 CZ flights and was afforded Sky Priority once.

    To my horror, I realised that CZ changed my booking classes when they rebooked my flights. Therefore only one of my 4 CZ flights counted as Level Segments for my FFP status. That is the most annoying part as the aggravation was not worth it receiving only one level segment on what was ultimately a “Segment Run”

    Even though your bad experiences are entertaining ( que yesterday’s La Compagnie “the seatbelt sign is for us”), I would vote no on CZ as they should not be rewarded business with such service.

    Only my aggrieved opinion.

  21. you’re post already made it into the networks here.
    You underestimate what chances you would have here…
    But you’re just an American….

  22. It is a very interesting idea, but not sure how you can do it without them preparing for you in advance. If they know your flight in advance, I am sure everything will be “perfect” this time. However, the experience will probably be different for other people. Like other suggested, maybe have a friend or someone you know try it.

  23. i say hold off for a while. i doubt they could have improved anything in this short a time. you should definitely give them another chance, but also give them time to try to change first.

  24. @Charlie: That’s my point. It is like a Michelin Guide reviewer let the restaurant know in advance that he is going there for dinner and will review their food/service for the Michelin Guide. Lucky has to find a way to be totally anonymous on his next flight with China Southern otherwise they will make sure his experience is perfect.

  25. I say go for it —- make it the “Battle between China Southern and China Eastern” by redeeming Korean skypass miles for JFK-PVG on China Eastern first class on its a340 and then CAN-JFK on China Southern’s 77W (hopefully on the inaugural flight!!!!!!)
    I read up on China Southern’s new 77W and its first class only has 4 suites. With 4 suites in first class, I highly doubt any boy would defecate on the aisle. 😉
    Have a great time and do please keep us updated!

  26. I agree with other posters that the only way you are going to get a true picture of what current service is like is if you could somehow book under a different name. I would also second Chris’s comment above that it would be very nice to see more business class reviews.

  27. Of course, Lucky, you should fly on CZ another time.

    The informations you have provided so far is crucial for me as a Skyteam Elite Plus member.

    I’ve had the possibility to fly CZ a few times, but at the end, have never decided to do so for several reasons :
    * Their business service does not look as valuable as they claim to be (llok at the pictures from 1st class ! It’s like coach with additionnal plastic walls)
    * Their level segments policy is ridiculous. I prefer paying 50 or 100 € more in order to get 4 level segments instead of 1, than flying with them.

    As you’ve said, the problem seems to come from the management policy : they may have not fully undestood the frequent flyers specificities.

    I look forward to reading your article !


  28. I would say proceed with caution! You might end up with more then one little kid taking a “dookie” on the aisle! Just imagine the fragrance on the plane!

  29. As an American expatriate living in China for years, this doesn’t surprise me. Chinese people are generally very friendly and gracious, but the service industry here in the mainland is decades behind other nations. I honestly think it’s a by-product of the Communist system and a legacy of state-owned enterprises. No real competition = no real incentive to improve. Fortunately, things are starting to improve and Chinese consumers are starting to demand more. Still, travel delays, lack of transparency, lack of communication, indifferent and incompetent customer service are endemic in Chinese airlines. When I have a choice, I always choose a non-mainland Chinese carrier because they just seem to hold to a higher standard of service and accountability.

    Not to be pessimistic, but I’m afraid that CZ will just be content to punish the staff and fail to make any real changes. To me, the blame ultimately falls on management. Did they adequately train the crew on the kind of service expected by customers? Even if the cabin crew is violating company policy, the management is responsible to be aware of that and prevent it. [On a side note, I’ve often seen cabin crew on Chinese airlines sitting in first or premium classes. I’ve never seen them upgrade a customer, even to premium economy. On a recent flight, there were probably 20-30 premium economy seats, all empty; no upgrade even as a Star Alliance elite on AirChina)

    Chinese airlines will improve eventually, but until they do, I’ll be spending my points & dollars elsewhere.

    As a travel blogger, keep informing people. You don’t have to give dates and names, but unless the public knows, things don’t change.

  30. @ Anthony – Argh! Totally forgot about United’s EWR to HKG service (and at that, CX’s EWR to HKG service). But does UA fly it well, I don’t know.

  31. No. Better to try something else worth with the miles at the moment. In case, you need to burn miles in the future quickly, you might think about that option flying china Southern.

  32. Lucky,

    Why not have a friend fly for you. You have some great guest bloggers and that may be a fairer way to evaluate the service. If you take them up on the offer yourself, I am sure they will do everything they can to show you their improvements. But if you send in a “secret shopper” the outcome may be more accurate.


  33. Here’s another ‘no’ vote. I agree with those who say that it is way too soon to give China Southern another try, especially since there are still so many products you have yet to try. I do like the idea of perhaps trying another Chinese airline, especially Hainan Airlines. Hainan is developing an interesting route network and a review of their 787 premium product would be useful and probably entertaining. Though, I have no idea if Hainan belongs to any alliance at the moment.

    Or how about giving Aeroflot’s business class a shot and seeing that safety video first hand? Or trying Vietnam Airlines premium product on their long haul out of Paris? And then there’s always EgyptAir (hint, hint).

  34. I agree with many commenters about disguising your identity or make a surprise/last minute booking.

    How about you use the name Plucky instead? 😀

    Or give your Devils Advocate friend a chance to experience the unparalleled level of service aboard China Southern? I’m sure he can provide some interesting views to balance out your previous CS post.

  35. Yep, you should give it another spin. We still have no idea whether this was a one-off or routine

  36. No, you’ve already done enough damage with your previous review. Plus, the airline would know that you booked and the review would not be consistency with their normal service. And if the crew doesn’t meet management’s expection, I fear for their safety.

  37. @Imperator, sadly Hainan’s last first class service was back in April 2014 when the airline retired its A340 fleet. I don’t know anyone who has flown business class on the 787 but I think it’ll be impressive; it is a 5-star skytrax airline after all. 😉 I don’t believe Hainan is part of any alliance but it is an SPG airline partner.
    As far as the interesting routes go, it has to fly those routes since it can’t compete with Air China or any of the other Chinese airlines on the same international route ex-China.

  38. Please don’t fly with CZ. I agree with traveler. The quality and the attitude of the Mainland Chinese Service industry doesn’t deserve a second chance. Please don’t give them anymore business.

  39. I think the damage is done and Ill doubt that China will let you write such a devastating report ever again. Hence, even if you go “unannounced” I would think that once your name pops up during the Booking process they will make sure that your flight this time will be “pleasant”.

    Unless you go under a different name, any further trip report will be skewed, I am afraid.

  40. I say do it. Granted, It sucked before – maybe they made some changes to bring them in line with the other Star Alliance members – they probably had no idea what international business class passengers expect – everyone deserves a 2nd chance.

    You need to be incognito on the flight as stated above – and if they suck again, let the world know which would get some management imprisoned and or shot – maybe they’ll replace them with that Gwilo, Jeff Smisek – I hear he’s got GREAT street cred in travel circles…

    And of course, never fly them again.

  41. No, you shouldn’t fly CZ again, as much as all of us would like to see another trip report.

    As you know, flying is not without risks. What comfort do you have that the sloppiness, poor English and general lack of professionalism don’t extend to the cockpit crew and ground technical staff? I would certainly be very uncomfortable flying CZ.

    A bit of risk in life is OK (says he who has over the years ridden motorcycles, scuba dived and flown Cessnas), but I don’t agree that finding out whether CZ has changed their champagne is worth putting your life in their hands again.


  42. Why not a line up of horrors? Next should be Aeroflot, then Air India, then PIA etc. don’t tell me you have run out of ideas! And all of the airlines fly to hong kong with a stop… let’s get a comparision between third workd airlines (Egypt Air included)

  43. Yes I think you should review them. I believe you stay pretty objective in reviewing the product and service. And I think a lot of us read these reviews and use them when planning our own vacations or work trips. I certainly don’t fly as much as you do and it’s a “special” experience for me so I do my research to try and make it the best possible flight I can. thanks for all you do!

  44. As much as I enjoyed the first China Southern trip report and ensuing drama, count me as another vote for no!

    First, I would also think they probably have your name in their system. Heck, they probably have your picture distributed around their offices/planes. 😉 There’s no way you’d get a realistic view of the product that we, as your readers, would be able to use and base our opinion on.

    Second, there hasn’t been enough time since that first trip report for any meaningful change to have been put in place. If you sincerely believe that the blame for the issues outlined in the flight lies primarily with management, and not the crew necessarily, then there’s no way that the few months that have elapsed since would be enough for them to have come up with new policies, training, briefing, rules and policies, etc. and for that to have filtered on down properly to the staff/crew.
    You would essentially just be rolling the dice to see if your trip is more pleasant (first point above about you being in their system aside) this time around, and again, that would not necessarily be useful to anyone thinking about booking them again.

    Third, and related to point #2, if the crew isn’t up to par, which is likely given the management issues already outlined, the only thing this could result in is retaliation against another poorly trained flight crew. But this time, you would have to share in the blame for any punishment they get since you would have gone out of your way to find fault with them by flying them so soon after your first review.

    Fourth, as others have mentioned, there are tons of other products to review that would be just as interesting and helpful to us. China Southern isn’t going away, it’ll be there later for you to review, after enough time has lapsed and management has had (hopefully) some time to learn a thing or two about service and trained its staff accordingly.

  45. I find it interesting that Skyteam added a large number of China based airlines. In my opinion the Chinese airlines now have too big a presence in Skyteam.

    If I consider the level of service as well as the Chinese airlines’ hard products, it seems Skyteam is fast becoming the 3rd class (not econmy) alliance.

    Curse the day I decided to go for Lifetime Platinum. …

  46. You should try Hainan Airlines or China Eastern to check whether they are also offering the $5 champagne.

  47. Two words: Do it! I know you felt horrible, but that was not your fault and that was some of the most entertaining stuff I’ve ever seen on this blog, not to mention a great way to burn Sky Pesos (biz, at least).

  48. Do not fly them again. They know your name, and what you look like. If you want another article, have someone else take the flight.

  49. I’d say it depends: for First Class, have someone else do it and then report to you if you’re curious- but IMO, whatever changes CZ would have implemented would have either been haphazardly done or inconsistently done. It’s just too soon to have so many fixes put into place properly, especially with things like service and language.

    For Business Class, maybe, because it’s a different product, but then again won’t the service have the same issues as what you experienced in first class?

    But if you do fly CZ, I’d say fly something you haven’t flown on the other way, like AM out of Shanghai/Tokyo or CI out of Taipei/Osaka or MU out of Shanghai. But then again, I think MU is getting 77Ws soon with a new first class?

  50. Absolutely you should fly them again. As with many, my suspicion is that nothing much will have changed but it will be interesting to see what pif anything has for what should be a flagship route. I’d also be interested if your name does flag any extra effort on their part (and whether it is obvious or not).

    I’d also be interested in a business class report. For some of the fares they are offering seats for between MEL-LHR all it has to be is economy with a flat bed and I’d be more than happy (it is frequently cheaper than QF,CX,BA premium economy).

    Maybe you could fly on to Jakarta and give the Garuda First class experience a go?

  51. Send Tiffany this time instead. They won’t be looking for her, and she’s more objective. See e.g., her Lufthansa report . . .

  52. give cz another chance to see how much they improved or stayed the same. although, i am kind of concerned about when your name is in the booking system, they would specially accommodate(put on a show) your flight, do you think? as a religious chinese reader of your blog, i don’t think you should feel bad what you wrote in your post, because people want to know the real things even they are ugly

  53. I think it’s time you insert a poll in your blogs to show a good tally of your readers’ opinions.

    My vote: let one of your other BoardingArea peers do it the next time around, but don’t tell anyone.

  54. @Ben – I’d like to see a review of Business Class. I’m thinking of burning some DL Miles on them next month for a weekend to Asia.

    Does anyone know if their sparkling wine selection has improved?

    Anybody else have any ideas for good DL partner availability for as much J flying over a weekend as 140,000 SkyPesos will provide?

  55. Do it! It will be hilarious no matter what. Who knows what kind of things they will throw in the service this time. Just make sure there aren’t any babies sitting with their grandparents nearby…….(the detroit delta incident).

  56. Lucky, I would give CZ another chance. Many of you may not know that the reason why CZ is not able to fly its A380’s on long haul flights, especially to CDG, JFK, LHR, ORD, is the political power behind CA and MU. CZ is like an independent airline compared to CA and MU (whose money goes to the corrupted directly). CZ has to fight very hard to have the “upper level (big brothers)” to approve their long-haul flights.

  57. Why not? I am quite sure they will do better this time-or not.
    Skip the pseudo champagne. The OJ is probably better for you.
    It will be interesting to see if the crew is better, too.

  58. I wouldn’t, I flew on China Southern back in 2011, and we had amazing coach service on the way to China. It was so good that it was to the point of annoyance, the attendants were always offering tea or wine and constantly cleaning the bathrooms. We even had a video at the end of the flight showing you pressure points to help after a long flight, and the woman in the video was our flight attendant! But something was fishy, they were catering to this British man, he got bumped up to first class to sleep and then came back for meal service. Turns out he worked for Skytrax (I think thats right) and they rate airline quality and give them a star rating. Well, I think that a true rating is derived off of “secret shopper” mentality. China Southern obviously knew he was on there and adjusted their service accordingly.

    At any rate, we got none of that superior service they offered on the way home, the flight attendants barely even looked at us, much less clean the bathrooms at all. So I think that they are sneaky and won’t be getting a second chance from me anytime soon.

  59. Hi Lucky. I have enjoyed reading your blog for the past seven months. I’m not sure if you still plan on doing a trip report for Air China or how often you read other trip reports. I thought it would be interesting to share this brief trip report from the “The Filipino Traveler” taken on Air China’s first class March 14, 2014 Beijing to London. If you still plan on flying Air China, perhaps I should say “SPOILER ALERT!”.

    This trip report is not as detailed as any of your trip reports. However, from the pictures of the food and the conclusion of the trip report, it sounded lke the Filipino Traveler had a similar experience on Air China.

    FYI- I Goggled the champagne mentioned in the Filipino Traveler’s trip report. It retailed at ~ US$56.

  60. Do it. Fly their new route from JFK to CAN on their new 777-300er. We would like to see another follow up review even if it is bad.

  61. I would not fly Southern China ever again.

    On leaving New Zealand I asked the flight attendant for an orange juice and was given a tomato juice so I passed it back to my wife in the seat behind and was told by the flight attendant to wait my turn and not be so rude. The flight attendant then picked on our 2 yr old repeatedly for two hours to put his seat belt on after take off while two Chinese twins on the seats opposite stood on there seats for about 3 hrs and fought with each other. Our children were quietly colouring in there books and both wore there seat belts for 90% of the time. Getting to Europe was a nightmare with numerous domestic connections and having luggage checked where you cross a big room in the airport and have to get your bags scanned up to three times in the space of 200 meters. On returning to New Zealand I travelled back by myself and the wife and kids a week or so later where on both our trips flights were cancelled where your supposed to feel grateful that your given a night in a below par hotel in the middle of no where. We don’t believe with the wifes itinerary that there was ever a connecting flight and with myself there was a storm which is fair enough but we spent 6 hours in the plane on the tarmac in a cold plane waiting with no one telling anyone on board what was happening which then took a further 5 hours after to get to a hotel. Summing it up Southern China appeared to be in a shambles with there service appalling. You expect some service even if you fly cattle class. We wrote to Southern China our concerns for over 6 months in a polite way and have never received a reply. My only complaint ever as a 40 yr old.

  62. I wouldn’t feel too bad for the staff on the flight – they were probably complicit in the bad service.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the “proper” expensive champagne was souvenired by the crew to sell or for family & friends and the cheap $5 bottle was the replacement. It was probably substituted by the crew on the hope that unsuspecting first class passengers either wouldn’t know the difference, or wouldn’t raise any complaint.

    Hence management would be justified in applying disciplinary action, knowing full well what drinks were supplied or specified for their first class cabin.

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