Review: China Southern A330 First Class Guangzhou to Tokyo Narita

Filed Under: China Southern, Travel

China Southern 385
Guangzhou (CAN) – Tokyo (NRT)
Monday, February 10
Depart: 9:30AM
Arrive: 2:20PM
Duration: 3hr50min
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200
Seat: 1K (First Class)

Guangzhou to Tokyo Narita is one of the shorter routes on which China Southern offers three class service. This particular flight was operated by one of their Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which is pretty cool since it has just one row of first class. The cabin is in a 1-2-1 configuration, with fully flat seats.

Via SeatGuru, here’s the seatmap for the first and business class cabins on the A330-200:


The combination of the first and business class configuration is actually pretty impressive, since the aircraft has fully flat seats in both first and business class. The nice configuration isn’t really surprising, given that China Southern flies this aircraft to many longhaul destinations, including Australia and Europe.

Anyway, I quickly found my seat, 1K, which was the window seat on the right side of the aircraft.

China Southern A330 first class seat

The cabin felt really unique. I’ve never been in a first class cabin before with just one row, and on one hand it felt super exclusive, but on the other hand it felt a bit claustrophobic. On the whole I really liked it, though… I think.

China Southern A330 first class cabin

The seats are staggered slightly in that the window seats are a bit further back in the cabin than the center seats. So I feel like even if the cabin were full, the window seats would have felt pretty private, while the center seats would have kind of felt as if they were the middle of a stage.

China Southern A330 first class cabin

The business class cabin looked surprisingly nice as well, with fully flat forward facing seats. There were two rows of business class in the forward business class cabin, and then another two rows in the rear business class cabin, for a total of 24 seats.

China Southern A330 business class cabin

China Southern A330 business class cabin

China Southern A330 business class cabin

Anyway, once settled into my seat I explored the features a bit. The seat had a fairly large ottoman, and on it already were a blanket and duvet in a zippered pouch.

China Southern A330 first class seat

In the ottoman was a storage unit, perfect for a pair of shoes or a laptop.

China Southern A330 first class storage

The seat controls were on the left armrest, and were intuitive.

China Southern A330 first class seat controls

Then behind the seat to the right were the entertainment controls, headphone jack, and USB port.

China Southern A330 first class entertainment controls

Then on the front right side of the seat was the power outlet.

China Southern A330 first class power port

Waiting at my seat were two comfortable pillows, though given that I had all of first and business class to myself (that’s right, not only was I the only first class passenger, but there was no one in business class either), there was no shortage of pillows. 😉

China Southern A330 first class pillows

Once settled in I was welcomed aboard by the friendly flight attendant that would be taking care of me. While there was still a communication barrier, she seemed genuinely friendly and proactive. She offered me a Japanese immigration form and headphones almost immediately.

China Southern A330 first class headphones

She also offered me a pre-departure beverage. I asked to see the champagne, hoping that the champagne on the Los Angeles to Guangzhou flight was just a fluke. After seeing it was also Duc de Paris I just asked for a glass of apple juice.

China Southern A330 first class pre-departure beverage

While on the ground I was also presented with the menu, and my order was quickly taken. My menu was taken immediately after placing the order, which is the same thing that happened on the previous flight.

Right on schedule at around 9:30AM we began our pushback and taxi to the runway. The safety video began to play, and as is the norm at many airports in Asia, the ground crew waved goodbye to us as we began our taxi.

Ground staffing waving bye

Our taxi to runway 2R took about 10 minutes, and during this time the crew made a couple of announcements, including one informing us of our flight time of 3hr30min.

Our departure runway was only a very short taxi from the gate, so about five minutes after pushing back we were holding short of runway 2R.

China Southern A380 Guangzhou Airport

China Southern A380 Guangzhou Airport

Taxiing to runway Guangzhou Airport

Taxiing to runway Guangzhou Airport

Once a China Postal Airlines 737 landed we were cleared for takeoff, and began a really quick takeoff roll at 9:40AM.

Guangzhou Airport aircraft on final approach

Our climb out was steep and smooth, and made me realize just how massive Guangzhou Airport is. We must have been 1,000 feet in the air before we were no longer over the airport.

View shortly after takeoff

View shortly after takeoff

During the climb out I browsed the entertainment selection, and decided to watch an episode of Person of Interest.

China Southern A330 first class entertainment system

The seatbelt sign was turned off about 15 minutes after takeoff, at which point service began. The flight attendants started by closing the curtains between cabins. Even though I was the only passenger, they still did the full “bar setup” in front of my seat.

China Southern A330 first class bar setup

China Southern A330 first class cabin after takeoff

At that point the meal service began, starting with hot towels.

The lunch menu read as follows:


When I had placed my order I was informed they didn’t have any of the grilled beef tenderloin. I guess they skimped on catering because there was only one premium cabin passenger. So between the chicken and rice I chose the latter. I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect from “tri-color rice.”

First I was served the appetizer, which was Japanese inspired and extensive.

China Southern A330 first class lunch appetizer

China Southern A330 first class lunch appetizer

China Southern A330 first class lunch appetizer

China Southern A330 first class lunch appetizer

As far as the main course goes… well… I mean… really?

I don’t really know what they mean by tri-color rice, because the two things next to the white rice definitely weren’t rice. And the dish just smelled horrible, like warm dog food. Which I don’t really get, since it was supposedly just rice, no?

And what’s with the plating? Were they saving the other half of the plate for the return flight?

China Southern A330 first class tri-color rice main course

So I had a bite of the main course and then sent it back. After that I was offered a fruit plate.

China Southern A330 first fruit plate

And then a cheese plate. I had some tea to accompany it.

China Southern A330 first class cheese course

Anyway, the service throughout the meal was friendly and attentive, though given that I was literally the only passenger in the front half of the plane, I’d hope so. 😉

China Southern A330 first class airshow

China Southern A330 first class airshow

About 90 minutes into the flight I decided to get some sleep. I walked around the cabin for a little bit while the flight attendant did the turndown service for me. The bed was actually super comfortable, and I’d have no qualms choosing the seat for a longhaul flight.

China Southern A330 first class bed turndown service

After resting for a bit – I swear I hadn’t even fallen asleep – I decided to head to the bathroom for a quick tinkle. Literally the second I closed the lavatory door the flight attendant made an announcement saying we were on our final descent into Narita and would be landing shortly. That’s odd, I thought, since we weren’t even descending, let alone on our final descent!

I get back to my seat – there’s no way I was gone for more than a minute – and my seat is in the upright position, window shades open (ALL of the window shades in the first and business class cabins), and duvet is gone.

Man, I figured I must have slept really well and not remembered it. I mean, surely it wasn’t the alcohol…

I turned on the inflight entertainment, and we’re still 800 miles out of Narita – roughly 1hr40min out. So I was in fact only laying down for about 20 minutes.

I showed the flight attendant the screen and she said to me “we land in 30 minutes.” I said “but… the screen says we have 800 more miles to fly.” “We land in 30 minutes.”

China Southern A330 first class airshow a while after “final descent”

Rather than cause a stink I was curious to see how it played out. Did the captain have some sort of turbo charged engines he was planning on using for the last 30 minutes of the flight?

Nope, about 10 minutes later the purser came up to me and apologized profusely because they “were confused over the time, we are actually landing in 1hr30min.”

They were really apologetic and wanted to make my bed again, but at that point I figured it wasn’t worth it and decided to just recline my seat and watch shows on my iPad for the rest of the flight.

Anyway, about an hour later we did actually begin our descent, which was pretty turbulent.

View on descent into Tokyo Narita

The views as we came over the coastline were gorgeous, and a few minutes later the gear came out we initiated our final approach.

View on descent into Tokyo Narita

View on descent into Tokyo Narita

View on final descent into Tokyo Narita

View on final descent into Tokyo Narita

We touched down on runway 34L at 2PM, and once we vacated the runway we just held position for about 10 minutes. At that point the purser came on the PA to inform us that there was still an aircraft at the gate, and that we would need to wait another 10 minutes.

Aeroflot A330 Narita Airport

SkyTeam Terminal Narita Airport

Delta 747s Narita Airport

Aeromexico 787 Narita Airport

As it turns out we were waiting for an Alitalia 777 to push back, and sure enough within about five minutes it pushed back and we were able to park at gate 23 for an on-time arrival.

Alitalia 777 Narita Airport

Delta 747 Narita Airport

China Southern A330 Narita Airport

Upon arriving at the gate I headed for immigration where there was no queue. I took the bus to the Hilton Narita Airport, where I’d be spending the night.

China Southern’s A330s are nicely equipped for short-haul flying, so I found the hard product to be great. I also though the crew meant very well and was friendly, though being the only “premium” cabin passenger on the flight, I’d sure hope that’s the case.

The food left a lot to be desired, and I found it bizarre that the crew was off on our landing time by an hour. Everyone makes mistakes and this one wasn’t horrible or anything, but I still found it a bit puzzling.

  1. No review of the Hilton Tokyo Narita coming? I have stayed there but prefer the ANA Crowne Plaza Narita Airport Hotel right next door a lot more!

    I still do not understand how on such a short flight they could have thought that an extra hour had gone by!

  2. @ Paul Griffin — Since I reviewed it extensively a few months ago I figured there was no point in reviewing it again. Maybe again in a year or so!

  3. Uh oh. I can literally hear you walking on eggshells as you composed this review. Hopefully you find your voice again when you go on to review other airlines. As long as they don’t demote the timekeeper too 🙂

  4. @DBest – He did say the main course smelled like warm dog food. That doesn’t sound like eggshells to me!

    Demote the clocks!

  5. When you sent the rice away, why didn’t you ask for chicken? The fruit plate did look good.

    IS there any sort of wine list at all? On their website they write about their nice wine selection.

  6. I agree with @Dave – it didn’t feel like Lucky was walking on eggshells at all, given some of the (as ever) amusing comments! Another great review – thanks Lucky 🙂

  7. The seat appears to be the same as AF la premiere, except for the screen placement and monitor on the front of the companion seat

  8. Lucky mentioned a “communication barrier”; his lack of elaboration here is our only evidence of his “walking on eggshells.”

    Given the indicated travel date of Feb 10, I’d bet Lucky completed this entire review several days ago and simply scheduled its publication for today, whereas the employee demotion news itself broke only yesterday.

    We readers should beware confirmation bias.

  9. Totally going to remove China Southern from list of Airlines to fly. That’s the most pathetic main course i’ll ever seen in First Class. Disgusting.

    Do you have any plans to give Air China F a try? I’ve found the F class food on CA to be more like decent J food, but it has never tasted anywhere close to dog food.

  10. @ MEOW — After my China Southern experience can’t decide if I’m more or less inclined to try Air China first class. Maybe more inclined? Guess I should give them a try…

  11. I’m I having serious deja vu, or did you just write almost the exact same thing about a flight similar? Or was it the same flight?

  12. She’s probably cleaning toilets back at china southern hq because she read the time wrong. Perhaps you could have left that part out, I’m guessing it’s an extremely rare occurrence and likely not going to happen on any of your reader’s flights.

  13. Wow, serving a dog food-like meal for premium passenger is beyond my imagination ben, but it’s good that you have reported it truthfully even though you’ll probably send the F maitre d’cabin to educational camps…

  14. @Lucky
    Don’t bother with CA First. I recently flew on CA First from Sydney to Beijing. Although seating and hardware is top notch. But service and catering is much much much less desired. Catering is exactly same as Business only with a First presentation. Amenity kit is same as Business – Small White L’Occitane pack. No PJ’s provided on my particular flight. Although like yourself I’m the only person in First but during the flight at least 6 seats was taken by crew as resting seats. I believe this the norm of Chinese airlines to allow crew rest in empty premium classes. I’ve noticed on several flights with CA CZ MU feels there’s separate cabin dedicated for the crew to sleep. So Lucky, don’t waste your points on Chinese airlines, their not worth it.

  15. As odd as this flight was… it was a 4 hour flight. I think I would take that flight over almost anything you can get in the US on a 4 hour trip (depending on how much they charge of course… I cannot seem to find a round trip fare for CZ on this route…). The food on US domestic flights can be pretty hit or miss, with inconsistent service. Yes, the AA transcontinental service is better, but I would much prefer this flight for say a PHX to YYZ trip!

  16. Yeah, well, AA is on the same slippery slope regarding crew taking F seats. Happened to my friend on JFK-GRU, an overnight flight delayed 3 hrs primarily due to weather, an attendant in an adjacent seat kept reading lights and TV screens going, really messed up her sleep. Another attendant gave her attitude whenever asking for beverages and when asking for turndown service. Wonder if the Aunt Peggy dragon attitude from US (flyertalk trip report reference) is already leaking into AA service, or if that’s just another crappy Latin America route crew.

    @lucky, since AA sells those F seats around 7K roundtrip, what’s fair comp? She complained and was given 15K miles. Sorry for the OT.

  17. @ Jig — Ouch, that sounds pretty rough. Was your friend on a revenue ticket, award ticket, or upgrade? If an award ticket then I would say 15K miles is pretty fair compensation.

  18. @ Dylan — Totally agree, no doubt on the whole the experience is better than most flights in the US (thanks primarily to the hard product). For what it’s worth, first class on this route retails for $3,500 roundtrip.

    Keep in mind, though, that a fairer comparison would be to the service that Cathay Pacific and Singapore offer on their 3-4 hour hops within Asia. Admittedly those airlines are in a completely different league, though.

  19. Horrible service on all accounts and I’m not shocked by it. It was certainly obvious your previous flight with this airline wasn’t a fluke.

    BTW, the description under the fruit plate is wrong.

  20. @lucky


    She had a paid I fare of a bit less than $6K, then upgrade using her husband’s SWU. Make any difference to your expectation of 15K miles since it was not an award ticket?

  21. @ Jig — To be honest the issue is that in practice American isn’t huge about providing compensation for service failures. So while I do think something more would be fair, in practice I think that’s about as high as they’ll go.

  22. @Lucky, good point… Asia really does medium haul business and first class so much better than the US or Europe in terms of hard product (and soft product as well on OZ, SQ, CX, etc.).

  23. You should have asked for the chicken if you weren’t happy with the rice.

    I thought it absurd that the cabin crew could get the flight timing wrong. Beyond unprofessional.

  24. Great report Lucky!

    I’m impressed the FA apologized about getting the time wrong. I can’t imagine a UA FA ever admitting to such a mistake.

    You mention CX/SQ setting the standard for 3-4 hour Asia flights. I had a very poor crew on CX HKG-NRT this week. No service for the first hour, then the crew just disappeared after the lunch service. And most of CX aircraft on those routes have the regional J seat, which is not very comfortable (although this was the upgraded 330 with the Cirrus reverse herringbone seat).

  25. I always love your trip reports. In fact, I wrote my first one 3 days ago, about a business class flight on AA’s new triple 7. Check my new blog!

  26. I don’t get why the Chinese airlines do the descent announcements so early – CZ is 30 minutes and China Eastern I think is 35 minutes. It is unusual.

  27. Okay, so now we understand where the missing hour came from, can anyone explain what the heck that tri-color rice dish was supposed to be???

  28. @lucky any chance you’ll take an Aeroflot flight soon and review it? There are very few Aeroflot reviews out there

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