Ok team, let’s get airline serious. To travel the 18,000km home involves a minimum of two flights, 22hours in the air, 6 hours waiting in airports and at least one moment where you want to kill a child. And that’s a minimum.
Given the hellish journey I have always paid the extra to fly either Singapore, Air New Zealand or Emirates. The service on them is miles above the rest and anything to make the journey a little better was worth it. That was until I became a skint Kiwi living in London. Prices for those airlines are now totally unreachable for me, to the extent that a trip home wasn’t even on the cards. But then I found a sale price for China Southern (£629 return) and without thinking about it too much I booked.
Then I read the internet reviews and instantly regretted it. They foretold of a never-ending trip with unclean airports, rude staff and food that could kill you. So here is my full review of China Southern, which I will start by saying I would totally fly them again.
When I rocked up to the check in counter at Heathrow I was a little concerned to receive a full page of instructions about my stopover in Guangzhou. I’ve done stopovers before and never needed instructions, what had I gotten myself in for? But that was still 12 long hours away, so after a stop at Pret I made my way to the plane.
All of the China Southern planes (at least the ones on the London – Auckland route) are brand new, and I would even go as far to say that they were the nicest planes I have flown on. They had touchscreen media systems in the back of the seats (rows of three, four, three), new lighting systems that mimicked sunrise and sunset and frighteningly futuristic windows. Not manual shades here, they are so 2012, instead you got a button that somehow dimmed the glass? Which was cool because they all automatically opened for takeoff and landing and then darkened for nap time.
The tv system was entertaining to say the least. If you do fly China Southern I highly recommend you watch a violent movie. The powers that be have edited out all the close up violent bits, which gives you the most disjointed (and for me incredibly funny) viewing experience. I watched Wolverine (the one set in Japan) and they had taken out all frames where a punch connects, or a samurai sword enters mutant flesh. But the bit where I really noticed was when Mr Jackman pushes a bad guy off the roof, you see everything up until the actual push, and then next thing you know the bad guy is in a pool 15 floors down.
The most delightful good bit was China Southerns style of flying. I’m not sure if it’s the new planes or airline prerogative but on all four flights they flew lower for longer at takeoff and landing. When was landing in New Zealand we flew low enough to see the beaches all the way from Cape Reinga to Auckland, past 90 mile beach and Kaipara Harbour. For a homesick (and by then overtired) kiwi I was crying in my seat to see my beautiful homeland in a real life panorama.
Now for the bad bits, first up the food. Yes it was bad. I think I ate one meal out of eight, because the rest were either unidentifiable or I knew what they were and they looked surprisingly grey and gelatinous. And the food was all covered in rather ratty glad wrap which I know is pedantic but it freaked me out. Other airlines have little plastic tops for the dishes which made me feel a lot better about food safety. But I was prepared, I took with me nuts, muffins, fruit, Nakd bars, bread rolls and other snacks. Which I think I might do on all flights now, after all you know what you like and what you need to get through. So the food think is of no real importance if you are prepared (or stock up at a cafe before you board).
The biggest downside (and the only one that would make me hesitate before flying them again) was that the announcements that they make on the plane are unclear. They first say everything in Mandarin and then in English, but none of my four flights had an English speaker that I could understand – it wasn’t just the accent, it was also that they were clearly not confident so spoke very quietly with odd pauses. Now normally that is not a big deal, after flying a few times you can pretty much conduct the announcements yourself, that is except for the last two hours of my last flight. The flights had been completely smooth sailing, but those last two hours had pretty horrendous turbulence. They made quite a few announcements during the turbulence and I could not understand a single one, which just served to freak me out more. Yes it is a Chinese airline so you could say that it is just part and parcel of flying with them, but English is the official language of the skies so I do quite brutishly expect to be able to understand the announcements.
Last thing I’m going to quickly talk about is the stopover in Guangzhou. No you don’t need that bloody stupid set of instructions they give you, just follow everyone else and read the signs…it ain’t rocket science. The airport itself is just like any other international airport (although don’t expect the dreamworld that is Singapore’s Changi which comes with its own butterfly garden) with a few shops, a couple of cafes and most importantly plenty of seats. I spent over ten hours there on my trip and thought it was absolutely fine, not where I would choose to spend by time but ok for a stopover. The warning I would give you is don’t buy any food there, which if you took my advice above shouldn’t be a problem. I say this because I thought it would be a good idea to grab a coffee, the drink was fine but the NZ$16 or £8 price tag was definitely not. I would say serves me right for not checking the RMB exchange rate, but to be honest all the drinks were a similar price so if you wanted a hot drink you just had to pay and cry skint tears into your latte.
I know that was a long list of good and bad, but all things considered I would for sure fly them again. They are just so much cheaper than their competitors at the moment, and if you are moving home for good (or are prone to a spot of shopping) the two bags of 23kg luggage allowance will sweeten the deal.
Phew, so after all that runawaykiwi is back in London Town! Which means that you guys will have to put up with a mix of Auckland/London post for the next few weeks. It’s good to be back, Christmas is coming … someone give me a flat white!
Any questions about flying China Southern, or if you have your own experience to talk about, please leave a comment below.