I love the A380. It is as simple as that. So when I saw that China Southern operated the Airbus A380 between the two Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou, i decided to jump on the opportunity immediately. Below is my video review on YouTube which you can watch instead of reading the review.
Having flown the Airbus A380 with Qatar Airways and Emirates before, I was eager to see what China Southern had done with the aircraft and how it compared to the 5* offerings onboard the Middle Eastern carriers. I was also keen to see how it compared to Qantas and Etihad who have been reviewed on LondonSpotter by an ex-contributor, James, and as a guest review respectively.
Seeing as China Southern are based in Guangzhou, I decided to use this trip as a way of getting to Vietnam, my next stop on my Asia trip. I booked Beijing – Guangzhou – Hanoi as well as Guangzhou – Shanghai all in one booking for a total cost of £330 in economy.
This is a pretty good price for the three flights and I was lucky to find it. My go-to website for cheaper airfares is SkyScanner – have a go yourself and see just how low you can get the fares of your next trip. Remember to click all the way through to the booking agent as prices often go down from what is advertised on SkyScanner’s site.
I arrived at Beijing Capital Airport with around 2 hours until takeoff and was pleasantly surprised at the small queues and relative ease of getting through the airport. I checked my bag all the way through to Hanoi and walked through security which was right next to the bag drop desks.
To my annoyance, I had packed my bags in a bit of a hurry that morning and put my toiletries in my carry-on case. This resulted in me losing my shampoo and other bottles over 100ml – stupid mistake.
The gate was a two minute walk from the security exit and as soon as I was through, I noticed the huge A380 being loaded up at the gate.
The gate was directly infront of the China Southern lounge so business class passengers could simply walk from the lounge onto the aircraft in a matter of minutes.
People were seated but seeing as i wanted to get on the aircraft early, I started the queue for economy passengers. As is normal on Chinese flights, as soon as one person queued, everyone followed the herd and suddenly I was at the front of a 100 strong line!
Boarding began on-time and I boarded the aircraft as the first economy passenger.
I arrived at what I thought was my seat and sat down until a passenger came and showed me his boarding pass and it turned out I was sitting in 53A when in fact my seat was 53K. I politely moved to the other side of the aircraft.
As I was sitting in 53A, I noticed something very surprising. In the seat pocket was a safety card for a Boeing 787-9 aircraft. The A380 bares absolutely NO resemblance to a 787 so this posed a serious safety threat if the aircraft were to be evacuated in an emergency.
China Southern’s A380 is set up in a three-cabin configuration with economy taking up the majority of the bottom deck and backward eight rows of the upper deck. The lower deck is configured in a 3-4-3 setup which is an immediate setback from their A330 product which sits in a 2-4-2 configuration.
The upper deck, however, sports the 2-4-2 setup so if you get an opportunity to sit there, take it. The A380 can seat 428 passengers and by walking through the cabin I could estimate that it was around 75-80% full.
The seat is relatively large and comfortable although my legs were pushed up against the seat infront of me for the majority of the flight which was very uncomfortable.
The seats pitch is 32″ and the width is 17.2″. This compares to airlines like Qatar Airways who offer 18.5″ of width in economy – a much comfier option.
Boarding was completed about 25 minutes before departure and the jetbridge was removed from the aircraft giving me the impression that we were heading for an on-time departure.
How wrong I was…
After around 30 minutes of sitting on the ground, the cabin manager came over the loudspeaker to announce that we were delayed because of ATC restrictions but gave no time estimation on how long we would be stranded for. As this was only 30 minutes, I wasn’t massively fussed.
After about 40 minutes on the ground, the crew came around with the drinks trolley and began to serve drinks. I went for coffee which came in a plastic cup but tasted pretty good.
After this drinks service I pulled out my laptop to crack on with some work when I noticed the next serious failure of this aircraft. Above my head, towels had been stuffed into the ceiling to stop a leaking air-conditioner. While the towels were doing an ok job, drips were still coming through and the seat next to me began getting pretty damp – maybe this explains why it was empty.
I considered telling the cabin crew but I thought they had enough to worry about with the delays so put my headphones on and continued to work.
After around 2 hours on the ground, the crew emerged once again from hiding with breakfast. The option was chicken or pork and I went for the chicken.
The meal came with a side salad or celery, vanilla yogurt, a bread roll and some pickled vegetable in a packet.
The meal was piping hot when I opened it up but to my surprise the chicken dish was packed with celery… I’m not a huge fan of celery so the dish really wasn’t that pleasant for me. The yogurt and bread roll, however, were fine. Although I didn’t like it all that much, it was nice to have a hot meal unlike on Vietnam Airlines.
Our meals were cleared away and around 10 minutes later, we were on the move and finally ready to depart for Guangzhou.
We taxied out and departed out of Beijing for the 2 hour 40 minute flight south.
Having already eaten on the ground, I wasn’t expecting too much from this flight and in fact all we had in the way of service was another drinks service.
Each seat on the A380 is fitted with a personal monitor and remote control. There are also headphones waiting in the seat pocket. While the headphones are better than those given on China Southern’s A330, they were still poor quality and only worked when half way in and halfway out of the plug. This meant that I couldn’t watch the IFE and to be honest, after looking at the film options, I wasn’t fussed. I took my own headphones out and listened to music for the rest of the flight.
Something I found very annoying was the lack of power on this aircraft. I had heard that the A380s had power ports but I couldn’t find a USB or AC port at all.
Lastly, I found the crew on this flight to be very unwelcoming and borderline rude. Apart from one lovely crew member who served the food and drink, I found the others to be quite stand-offish. For the majority of the flight they all stood in the galley chatting with each other as the services had already been carried out on the ground.
We came into land in Guangzhou 2 hours late and the aircraft was empty soon after as everyone finally remembered how it felt to stretch their legs!
While I totally understand that China Southern had nothing to do with the delays, I think the way in which it was handled wasn’t great. We were given very little information and the crew seemed rude throughout the flight. The food may have been nice if you LOVE celery but to me it wasn’t very nice at all.
Having a leaking air conditioning system above a seat is VERY BAD. During the flight I had bits of ice falling down on me from above which was definitely not included in my ticket.
Finally, having a 787 safety card in the seat pocket posed a serious security threat and should not be tolerated on any airline.
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I have reviewed this flight both in writing and video format! Be sure to see my video review below.
Vietnam Airlines fly more than five times a day between the two major Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (yes, I refer to it as Saigon too!). They are in direct competition with Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet who operate a fleet of modern A321neo aircraft. I originally booked a ticket with VietJet for August 5th, but once I got to Hanoi I decided I really wanted to stay an extra night so I phoned up VietJet and they said I would have to cancel and rebook if I wanted to change my date of travel.
Not wanting to book another full revenue ticket, I looked into other options. I could see that Vietnam Airlines operated the route with widebody aircraft such as the B787, A350 and A330 so checked out prices. Being so late in advance, however, I decided to skip this option due to it being too expensive. Just as I was about to give up, I remembered that Vietnam Airlines are, of course, partners with Air France! I fired up my Flying Blue account and searched for availability and right there was a stack of award flights for 11,500 Flying Blue miles and £8.
I originally wanted to book the flight in business class but Air France had no availability so seeing as I didn’t would have had to cancel and rebook on VietJet anyway, I decided to choose Vietnam’s A350.
I arrived at Hanoi International Airport two days after arriving on my China Southern flight. The Vietnam Airlines’ domestic departures level at Hanoi is relatively small but was split between destinations instead of just having one big set of queues for everyone. Seeing as their were so many flights to Ho Chi Minh that day, I ended up in a long queue and after 20 minutes of waiting, I was finally able to check-in and drop my bag.
I asked the woman at check in for a window seat which she was happy to give but the only seat she said was available was 36A. I checked the seat map online and saw that the aircraft had a premium economy cabin. Knowing that no premium economy product was sold on this route, I asked if I could sit there but I was told that the cabin was reserved for SkyTeam elites.
A little disappointed that I was SO far back, I headed through security to find that FlightRadar24 was showing my flight as a B787 instead of an A350 – another setback. I had already missed Cathay Pacific’s A350-1000 product on my flight to Taipei because of an aircraft change to a Cathay Dragon A330 so was eager to make this one.
After walking around the small domestic area after security I ended up taking a seat and booking some more award flights!
Boarding started on time and still not knowing which aircraft I was on, I headed down to gate 10 where we boarded a bus which took us to the international stands to board our aircraft.
By the name of this review I’m sure you have guessed what’s coming next: I stepped out of the bus to see the stunning Airbus A350 boarding for my flight to Saigon.
I walked around the aircraft for a while seeing as I would have had to wait on the stairs anyway. It was fun being able to freely take pictures of the aircraft from the tarmac!
I boarded as one of the last passengers through the front door and walked all the way through the aircraft to find my seat.
Unfortunately, the aviation gods dealt me a bad hand and the seats 36 B and C were both nabbed. We pushed back soon after I got onboard and took off straight away to an amazing rainbow which appeared soon after we hit the skies.
Vietnam Airlines’ A350 economy class is set up in a 3-3-3 configuration.
Economy class is set up in two cabins from rows 16-43.
Each seat offers 32 inches of pitch and 18 inches of width.
The aircraft feels super modern and you can definitely tell the plane is new. Each seat is equipped with a personal IFE screen which was overwhelmingly large.
Below the screen is a USB plug which was great as I love to see USB plugs on long-haul aircraft.
The IFE system has a selection of films, TV shows, games, maps and music. I wasn’t able to try any of the video or audio out because headphones aren’t given out on this short flight.
I ended up put the map on the screen and watched as we made our way to Saigon.
Around 30 minutes after departure, the cabin crew made their way through the cabin offering out breakfast. I was expecting a hot breakfast option but the crew simply gave out boxes of crackers.
The drinks trolley followed and I asked for a coffee which they said they didn’t have. I then asked for some orange juice and was told that all they had was coke and water. This was a weird choice seeing as it was very early in the morning and I ended the breakfast still feeling very hungry.
For the rest of the flight I sat back and watched the views as we approached Saigon. The approach is simply stunning as you go over an enormous area of densely packed housing! You can watch the whole takeoff and landing below.
We landed in Saigon on-time and taxied to stand to complete my first flight with Vietnam Airlines.
Overall, I thought the flight’s service offering was poor. For such a busy route, I would have hoped Vietnam Airlines could offer more in the way of food and drink. In terms of the aircraft, I was super impressed. The A350 is super modern and the cabin is more spacious than on other Asian carriers. I hope to try out the business class product next!
Card: British Airways American Express Credit Card
Sign-up Bonus: 5,000 Avios (+1,000 bonus Avios if you apply using our link)
Favourite Perk: It’s free
The American Express British Airways Credit Card is one of AMEX’s lower end cards and sister of the Premium Plus card. The card’s main selling point is that it is completely free so even if you’re undecided if it is worth signing up, you should just do it.
Seeing as the card is free, the perks are limited in comparison to its older sister which offers a 25,000 Avios sign-on bonus and a 2-4-1 voucher. It is important to note that this card also gives users the ability to earn a 2-4-1 ‘companion voucher’ but only after £20,000 of spend… If somebody spends that much in a year, why the heck do they have this card and not the Premium Plus?
With that said, this card is definitely not a bad one. The 6,000 Avios sign on bonus comes after only spending £1,000 in the first three months of membership and you earn 1 Avios point for every £1 spent. That means after spending £1,000 you will have accumulated 7,000 Avios points which is 1,500 points short of a return to Europe and more than enough for a one-way flight.
From this article, I think you’ll see that while this card is no way near as good as its sister card it seems that because it is free, it is definitely worth applying for to start earning those Avios points.
The only thing to hold back on and consider is timing. I will go into this more in an upcoming article where I compare these cards but in my opinion, this card should be applied for after the Premium Plus card.
The £195 fee is actually refunded on a pro-rata basis which means that if you only use the card for three months, get your sign-on bonus of 26,000 points then call them up and downgrade to the basic ‘blue’ card, you will be refunded £146. You won’t be entitled to a sign up bonus for the blue card but you will have 26,000 Avios in your account which will get you a lot further than 7,000 off this card.
Card: American Express British Airways Premium Plus
Cost: £195 per year (worth it, I would argue)
Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 Avios (bonus 1,000 if you use our link)
Favourite Perk: A 2-4-1 voucher on British Airways flights
The British Airways Premium Plus card is an American Express credit card aimed at higher-end spenders who fly British Airways. The card has a hefty annual fee of £195 which its sister card (the British Airways American Express Credit Card) does not have. In this article I will review the card and say exactly why I believe this card is worth that money.
Applying for this card is just like any other American Express card – very simple. It isn’t in the same category of cards as the ‘Membership Rewards’ cards which means you can have this card and receive the large sign-on bonus as well as holding my favourite AMEX card, the American Express Gold Credit Card, and receiving the sign-on bonus for that, too. The sign on bonus for this card is set at 25,000 Avios if you spend £3,000 in the first three months (see what I mean about high-end spenders). For those that fly a lot of British Airways, this target will probably be met.
That brings me on to another aspect I love which is that if you spend that money on BA.com, you’ll receive 3 Avios for every £1 spent instead of the usual 1.5 Avios (still very good). This means that you could rack up 35,000 Avios (9,000 + 26,000) just by booking one family trip! Be sure to check out the ‘LondonSpotter Tip’ below to see how you can get this and save £146 too!
The main thing that makes this card worth the £195, however, is the ability to earn a 2-4-1 ‘companion voucher’ to use on British Airways flights. The companion voucher is added to your BA account when you spend £10,000 in your first year of card membership. The voucher essentially lets you purchase one reward flight and receive a ticket in the same cabin for someone else. If you want to learn more about BA reward flights, click here for my recent guide.
As with all AMEX cards, a nice and easy way to generate points is by referring friends and family. That’s right, I taught my family all about using miles and points and they now have more credit cards than they ever have done before! In fact, my parents are going on a huge trip this September all thanks to these amazing miles credit cards.
So, what do I think? Personally I think the £195 is justified. If you generate enough Avios you could jet off in First Class and take someone with you for free. Alone, that is worth at least a couple of thousand pounds. If you can’t see yourself being that big of a spender then have a look at the free BA AMEX card (full review coming soon) and go for that one instead. Just remember that if you choose the free card then want to upgrade to the premium card, you will not be eligible for the sign-on bonus.
Ready to sign up for this card? I suggest checking out ALL of the benefits here on American Express’s website before making your final decision. Be aware that if you sign up through links on LondonSpotter, you will earn a bonus 1,000 Avios welcome bonus.
To sign up and take full advantage of my bonus 1,000 Avios offer, click here
Something to consider is that the £195 is actually refunded on a pro-rata basis if you cancel before the year is up. This means that you can sign up for three months, get your huge sign on bonus, call up AMEX and downgrade to the blue card. They’ll refund you £146 and you’ll have 27,000 Avios to play with. This is definitely what you should do if you think you won’t spend enough to get the companion voucher.
Today’s blog post in the LondonSpotter Miles and Points series has been requested a huge amount of times by my UK readers who still find lots of complicated posts online about cashing in miles for reward flights on British Airways but no simple guide which lays out the basics – look no further as here is your A-Z guide with everything you need to know.
Still not 100% sure what miles and points really are and how to generate them? No problem, I have you covered. Go to Miles and Points and click on the lessons for dummies then come back here for your exclusive lesson in British Airways award flights.
The British Airways executive club is a great place to cash in all those hard earned points you’ve generated through flying or on your British Airways credit cards in return for cheap travel.
To start your search for award bookings and flights, go to BA.com and log into your executive club account. Once you’re logged in, go to ‘Spending Avios’ and select ‘Reward Flights’ to pull up the search page.
The search page will give you two options. You can either book a revenue flight (a full fare ticket) and upgrade using your miles (this option is more expensive as you still have to shell out for the flight but makes sense if you still want to generate airmiles on the flight as you will earn miles based on the cabin you purchased) or you can simply search for award flights under ‘Book with Avios’. Let’s go ahead and look at booking a flight with avios.
How many Avios do I need?
The amount of Avios you will need to pay for a British Airways Reward ticket is based on two things: The region you’re flying to (based on miles) and the cabin you’re flying in. Here is the British Airways chart which should be your go-to table when booking award flights.
Examples: So if you’re flying from London to Amsterdam you are obviously still in zone 1 so you’ll pay 4,500 avios (4,000 in off-peak times) and 9,000 in business class (7,750 in off-peak times). Next week, I will be flying to Athens in Greece in business class which falls into zone 3. I, therefore, paid 20,000 miles as it is peak season. Simple.
While booking revenue tickets with airlines, I’m sure you will have noticed that buying a return ticket drastically brings prices down. This is not the case with reward flights. Reward flights are one way tickets and buying a return is simply double the price of a one-way. This is great as it gives you much more flexibility when booking trips.
As an example booking, I’m going to search for London – Moscow on a one-way ticket on March 8th in economy class.
Straight away you can see that it says ‘off-peak’ so we know that we will be paying the reduced number of avios on the above chart. Seeing as Moscow falls into zone 3, that number is 8,500 avios. In the below picture, you will see that their is also an amount to be paid in cash – these fees are taxes, airline charges and government charges which are thrown into every ticket and HAVE to be paid. While flying within Europe, these fees are not huge. As you can see, we only have to pay £17.50 for this flight to Moscow but as soon as we start to book other tickets to further destinations, prices begin to ROCKET.
For example, if you book a business class flight to New York, you’ll be set back £372 in fees. I’ll come on to how to avoid these charges later on in the article.
Once you have selected your flight, you will then be given the option to reduce the amount of Avios you use in favour of using more money. Once you select the ratio you want to use, continue like you would with any other ticket, confirm your details, pay the necessary charges (I suggest paying using the British Airways Premium Plus Card as it gives you 3x bonus for transactions on BA.com) and submit.
So there is your brief overview on HOW to book British Airways flights on BA.com but what makes the system with executive club worthwhile is the fact that you can book flights with other airlines too and what is even better is that the charges on those flights are rarely as high.
I have booked several tickets on American Airlines using BA.com, too. Zone 1 fares have no been scrapped within the USA but you can still get some amazing deals. My favourite redemption has to be West Coast to Hawaii for 12,500 Avios and a killing $5.60.
Zone 1 fares may not be available within American anymore, but they are within Japan with Japan Airlines.
Avios can be used to book flights on any of BA’s oneworld partners as well as their non-alliance partners such as Alaska and Aer Lingus.
Avoiding hefty fees on British Airways flights:
As I mentioned above, booking flights with British Airways may not seem worth it because of the hefty charges they lay on. There are a couple of ways to reduce these costs such as: avoid flying British Airways and use your executive club to book flights on other carriers or don’t fly out of London. By routing your flight out of Dublin you can reduce the fees of that £372 New York flight to £163. Now obviously you have to start your trip from Dublin but it is easy enough to position there on a Ryanair flight eh?
I will make a much more in depth article on avoiding hefty BA fees soon but for now, play around with avoiding London and see just how big of a discount you can get yourself!
2. Secondly, I need you to subscribe to my website. You can do that very simply by scrolling to the bottom of this page and entering your email address.
3. The third part is on Instagram. You will need to follow me and also find the giveaway post on my feed. Once you find the post, tag 5 friends, check you have done all the steps and then simply screenshot the post, put it on your story and do not forget to TAG ME to finalise your entry.
It is so simple to do and I can’t wait to find a winner for all these incredible prizes. Be sure to check you have done all the steps as when I choose the winner, I will be checking and if the winner has not completed all the steps, a new winner will be chosen.
Dragonair officially became known as Cathay Dragon in November 2016 and since the original takeover in 2007, the Dragonair brand has become more and more similar to that of Cathay Pacific. Cathay Dragon now operate many of the short haul routes on Cathay Pacific’s network and one of those routes is Changsha.
I have made a video of this flight which gives you the opportunity to see first hand what the experience was like – watch it below.
I arrived at Changsha airport three hours before my flight departure as I didn’t know what to expect in terms of waiting times. The airport was pretty quiet at this time but check-in desks for Cathay were not open. I asked some people but it seemed nobody who knew spoke English. After about 20 minutes I googled it and found that Cathay’s desks only open 2 hours before the departure time. This meant I had to kill an hour in the departure hall before going through security.
Business class passengers are really taken care of here at Changsha – you get a red carpet all to yourself!
At check-in we encountered some issues with my bags. To cut a long story short, I was flying the route Changsha – Hong Kong – Taipei – Hong Kong but the girls at check-in wouldn’t allow me to check my bags all the way through as they were scared it wouldn’t make the connecting flight in Taipei in time. Anyway, after 40 minutes of standing around, they decided to tell me the best option was to abandon my bag in Hong Kong and hope that I found it later that night… You can watch the video below which highlights exactly what happened and shows you if I found my bag or not!
As I was heading through passport control, another setback occurred. The Chinese border guard spoke very little English. He made me stand aside for several minutes and then repeatedly asked me the same question in Mandarin which I made very clear I didn’t understand. After he finally called an English speaker, I could finally get to security. Security had no fast-track line and a huge queue so when I asked the lady for a business class line she simply walked me to the front, opened the entrance and pushed me into the queue that was more like a jostling mass of fanboys trying to get the front of the crowd at a concert.
I finally made it airside with around 20 minutes until boarding began and hit one more setback. The lounge at Changsha was under construction so there was a makeshift lounge in use. This lounge was called ‘No.16: First and Business VIP Lounge’. As I walked in, I realised there was nothing less VIP than this lounge and after a quick coke and a glass of champagne which turned out to be simple white wine, I was out and moved down to gate 44 for boarding.
Priority boarding was strictly enforced and as a business class passenger I was one of the first people to board.
As I entered the cabin I was instantly impressed. Without even needing to see any food or amenities, the 2-2 configuration was enough to reassure me that this was going to be an excellent flight. There are only two rows of business class seats which makes the cabin ultra private.
Because of this 4 abreast setup, the space next to the seats is great. There is room enough to store anything you brought onboard as well as the blanket and pillow that greeted you as you got onboard.
The seat has a small area at the front for your drinks, a storage area underneath the armrest, a table which folds inside the armrest and seat controls to adjust the recline and foot rest. I thought it was amazing that the A320 seats were fitted with a recliner. The seat recline didn’t take you to a lie flat position but a 3/4 position which was very comfortable.
Cathay’s own brand headphones are also waiting for you as you board the plane. These headphones were really good and were to be used when watching films on the iPad that was handed out to business class passengers before takeoff.
The iPad was equipped with Cathay’s own IFE programme and had an OK selection of media. I found this to be of very little use on a 1 hour 20 minute flight but did like the magazines that were loaded onto the iPad. I ended up reading Business Traveller during the cruise.
Alongside the iPad I was also given a menu. I was very impressed with this and Cathay Dragan once again showed British Airways up in this department. Food orders were taken on the ground and I chose the Sauteed Pork with Osmanthus lychee sauce, steamed jasmine rice and sugar peas. To drink I went for the Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne which I was very happy to see on the menu. You can see the full menu in the slideshow below.
As soon as I was comfortably seated, the offer of a welcome drink came around. On the tray was water, orange juice and a gin & orange juice cocktail. I chose the cocktail and was impressed. It had a strong gin kick which was excellently complemented by the orange juice.
Once boarding was complete we taxied out and departed Changsha, waving goodbye to the first stop on my China trip.
As soon as we hit our cruising altitude the crew made no mistake in getting our food out promptly. My Pork dish came around and was really nicely presented. The tray had my meal, a fruit salad, butter for bread that I assumed would come later, salt and pepper shakers, cutlery and two glasses.
After the meal was delivered, the crew came back to fill my glasses with the Taittinger I had decided on.
Next came the bread. Alongside the normal rolls, there was an option of hot garlic bread which I jumped straight on. I couldn’t help laughing as I remembered the joke my mum always makes when I eat garlic bread. It generally involves her saying I better not kiss anyone after eating it. I don’t think there was any danger of that on this flight, anyway.
After I had cleaned up my really excellent meal, I was offered tea or coffee and opted for a coffee.
Overall, I was left mega impressed by the food offering. My pork dish was amazingly presented and tasted fantastic too. The fruit salad was accompanied it well and the hot garlic bread was a nice treat.
Before I knew it, we were already making our descent into Hong Kong and out of the window were some of the best views I have ever seen from an aircraft. We approached Hong Kong and then banked over it as we began our approach into Hong Kong International.
As we came onto our final approach, headphones, ipads and drinks were all collected and we landed about 30 minutes late. I was first to exit the aircraft and was warmly sent on my way by the crew.
To conclude, I had an amazing flight in Cathay Dragan’s business class on this 1 hour 20 minute hop. The crew were fantastic, the food service excellent, the champagne great and the amenities even better. To be given an iPad and a menu really helps give business class passengers that elite feeling which so many other carriers fail to do.
Flying a 2-2 configuration is a real positive as it gives heaps of storage space and a very spacious cabin. If you have the opportunity to fly Cathay Dragon’s business class then do, it’s a really amazing product and one I can’t wait to do again in the future.
Like this review? See my latest 787 business class review here
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Hainan Airlines are one of 11 5* rated airlines and seeing as I had already flown on two 5* rated carriers (Qatar and JAL), it was time to tick off a third. Hainan Airlines recently started flying between London Heathrow and Changsha in Hunan province so I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test out the private Chinese carrier. I have made a full video review which you can see under this but it misses out some things. To get the full experience I suggest you watch the video and read the article.
Hainan are expanding at a rapid rate and have recently implemented new reforms in their onboard product which I was excited to test out. The first of these changes is in the design of the bed. Hainan have adapted to offer a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing bed design which I found to be fantastic on this flight. The second change was in the food and the third change is in the uniform.
Business class passengers of Hainan Airlines have the possibility of using their limousine service but so far this is only available at selected airports and London Heathrow is not one. My brother therefore saw me off at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and I arrived with around 4 hours until departure to see the finishing touches being added to Hainan’s check-in area. After a short wait, I checked in my bag, received my boarding pass and ventured to fast track security upstairs.
The fast track line at Heathrow’s T3 was really impressive this time around and I was through within minutes of entering.
The best prices i found to fly Hainan’s business class and even their economy class came from SkyScanner. These prices were extremely competitive so I advise you to have a look for yourself.
Hainan has no lounge at London Heathrow but instead offers passengers access to the No.1 Lounge. This lounge also accepts Priority Pass entries and pay to enter passengers which meant that it was a little busy and after queueing for around five minutes, I walked in to find a seat by the window.
The lounge is very spacious with lots of seating areas, a free bar and many private rooms including a library and a cinema. On this visit, lots of the private areas had ‘reserved’ signs on them which was a shame as it meant I had to sit in the main area which was very loud. In terms of food, I originally asked for a beef burger but they told me they were out so I instead went for the ‘Asian broth’ which was very bland and a poor choice.
After spending an hour working on my laptop I then ordered a salmon salad which I saw the person next to me eat and it restored my faith in the lounge a little. The salmon salad was excellent and a really good choice if you’re in this lounge.
The drink options were good but restricted. I originally asked for champagne and the barman told me I had to pay but when I looked disappointed he pointed at the sparkling wine and said this was the free alternative. I opted for the sparkling wine and to be honest it was actually really nice.
While it is a shame that Hainan don’t have a lounge of their own at London Heathrow, I think the No.1 Lounge is a really nice area to relax, eat and drink so all in all, I really wasn’t too disappointed. Remember you can see the full tour of the lounge in the above video.
As I left the lounge, gate 29 was called for flight HU422 to Changsha so I headed out on the 15 minute walk to the gate and was met by a completely empty business class queue. I walked straight up to the desk where my boarding pass was scanned and headed into the waiting area. I was really happy I arrived early as I ended up chatting to two cargo pilots who were positioning to Changsha to fly a 747-400 to Chicago via about five other places. It was really cool to chat to them and after around 20 minutes, we were called to board the plane.
Seeing as the plane was only a 787-8, only one jetbridge was used and after a short walk I was greeted by Orson who was the day’s cabin manager. The crew had been in London to attend the annual SkyTrax ceremony in which they were confirmed as a five star airline. The success was evident in their buoyant moods!
I headed into the first business class cabin of two as the only passenger and was greeted by two smiling faces. One of the girls to greet me was Dorlia who served me throughout the flight. It was extra special to have Dorlia serving me as she knew who I was and followed me on social media (major ego-boost moment).
Hainan has 27 787s in their fleet and today we were flying to Changsha on B-2722, the oldest of the lot. Being a 787-8 and not a -9 model, the aircraft was fitted with the old business class model instead of the new one. What this meant was that the seats were laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration instead of a more private 1-2-1 setup.
With this in mind, I was praying for a free seat next to me and believe it or not, my wish came true. When the doors shut, the seat next to me was empty and I can’t tell you just how happy I was.
The front business class cabin has only three rows and is therefore, very private. What makes the cabin feel even more spacious is the lack of overhead bins in the middle row. This is a tactic many other airlines use on the 787 such as Qatar Airways and something I really like to see.
Behind the first cabin are two toilets for business class passengers and a galley. Behind this is the second of the business class cabins which has three more rows in the same 2-2-2 configuration. Behind this cabin is the economy section of the aircraft.
As soon as I sat down, Dorlia was around with a choice of hot or cold towel. I haven’t seen the option on many airlines and so it was nice to be able to choose. I obviously went for the hot towel and before I could finish using it, the welcome drinks came around.
Now instead of asking which drink you would like, Hainan brings round a selection to see which looks best for you. On the tray was orange juice, grapefruit juice, champagne and a seasonal drink called blue coastline. Dorlia explained to me that they have a drink for each season and this one was effectively a non-alcoholic cocktail. I went for the seasonal option as I knew I’d be on the champagne very quickly afterwards. Alongside the drink, Dorlia gave me a small bowl of nuts.
Less than a minute later, another tray came round. This time I was presented with noise cancelling Bose headphones (yes Bose!!) which I have to say pretty much cancelled any noise very effectively.
Also on the tray was a selection of red, light grey and dark grey ‘phone handbags’. That’s right, Hainan knows that losing your phone on the plane is all too easy so they hand out cute little felted wallets to keep your phone safe. I chose red but Dorlia gave me one in each colour.
After this, more kept coming. I was given a choice of medium, large or extra large pyjamas, shown to my slippers which are stored in the footwell and shown my Samsonite amenity kit.
Before taking off I was paid one final visit by a very special member of the team: the Chef. That’s right, Hainan Airlines has one member of staff who is the chef and she came around twice before takeoff. The first time was to surprise me with a special drink of coconut juice and baileys which looked like milk and tasted incredible. The second time she came round was to take my order. She wanted to know what I wanted for starter, main and dessert but also took orders for drinks and asked exactly when I wanted them. It is clear that Hainan tailor this service to be exactly as you want it. The food options were so varied and you can see the full menu below.
Finally, the amenity kit by Samsonite was shown to me and oh boy was it packed. The bag has everything you’d expect from a business class amenity kit such as toothpaste, a toothbrush, lip balm, eye mask, ear plugs and socks but also throws in a couple of unusual items which I haven’t yet come across in an amenity kit. The bag came with a comb and a heavy bottle of what looked like perfume. You can see all the items below.
The old business class seat is by no means a bad one. The seat is 22.5 inches wide and provides you with 74 inches of legroom. I am 6”2’ and I could comfortably stretch my legs out which was a massive perk.
The footwell in front of the seat is very deep and when in a lie flat position, can be used as a storage area.
Beside the TV you have a storage area and a hanger for a jacket or shirt although I asked the crew to hang my shirt up when I was in my pyjamas.
In the middle of the two seats is a shared armrest with a small table at the front for a drink.
The armrest is pretty large but too small to be comfortably shared by two people. This middle section is where your seat controls are placed. The seat controls cover everything you could want. You can turn your seat fully lie-flat or fully upright and anything in between. You can also raise the leg-rest and adjust the headrest. One awesome feature is a little blue button you can press which gives you a lower back massage!!. After pressing the button the area on my lower back moved around a lot and gave a very pleasant massage!
Underneath the armrest is a USB charger, a power plug and a headphone jack. This area also stores your remote control.
We took off from runway 27L around 20 minutes late which was impressive. Just four hours before, the Heathrow control tour was evacuated due to a fire alarm and departing and arriving aircraft were all put on hold. Some aircraft had to wait upwards of an hour.
As soon as we were airborne I was given reading material such as The Economist and National Geographic.
This complemented the newspaper I had been given on the ground.
Pretty soon after takeoff and having taken our orders on the ground, food service began and my favourite part of the meal was brought around: the Chinese shrimp dumpling. Now I love a good Chinese dumpling but something about this one was just amazing and I could have eaten 100 more.
Secondly, I was brought a bowl of Chinese soup. I had been given the option of Western or Chinese and I of course went for Chinese. The soup was nice and hot and pretty flavourful.
Thirdly, I was brought a small salad with a sweet dressing on the top. If I’m honest, this was the low point of the meal. The salad was freezing cold and crunchy and I really didn’t enjoy it.
Onwards to the main course which I have to say was presented amazingly and didn’t disappoint in taste either. The dish I chose was ‘Szechuan pork with ginger and chili’ but it came with lots of Chinese style side dishes which were incredible. The crew also come around with choices of sauce. Dorlia suggested that I don’t eat the really spicy one (as she could see I was a bit of a weak soul, obviously) and so instead I went for the sweeter one.
The dish was so filling that I actually skipped the offer of ice cream and even when the Chef came around with what looked like sugar tart, I listened to my stomach and said no.
By this point I was starting to feel pretty tired and so I asked Dorlia to show me the new bed design so I could test it out. The new design is aesthetically very pleasing with its gold lining.
The feel of it once I got in was also pretty impressive. The two layers of cover mean you are lying on a very soft surface and you are kept warm by the thick duvet above you too. Once I got changed into my pyjamas, Dorlia was even so good as to tuck me in. What a lovely crew member eh?
With my bed comfortably set and wearing my fresh pyjamas I decided to lie down and see what was offered on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.
Seeing as the screen is far away from you there is no point it being touchscreen and it is controlled by the remote control which is found next to your seat. The control is easy to use and also controls features such as the light above your head and calling cabin crew. The system is very responsive and has a little feature which I found incredible useful. While watching a film, you can press the little airplane button and the flight map will appear in the top right corner of the screen. This is a really nifty way of seeing where you are without leaving your film. I watched one film but then stuck the map on for pretty much the entire flight.
The selection of TV and films is good but nothing to brag about. Noteworthy films include all three Lord of the Rings films which you could probably just about get through in 12 hours right? Other films include the Dark Knight Rises and some old classics too. The system also has a selection of Asian films and TV series.
With the Dark Knight Rises playing on my screen, my tiredness got the better of me so I paused the film and nodded off pretty much instantly.
After around three or four hours of sleep I woke up and was almost immediately asked if I wanted a cup of tea or coffee and some fruit. Within a minute or two I was given a cup of coffee and two hot towels. This service was so quick that Hainan must check very often if you’re awake to be ready to serve you.
Soon after waking up I set to work on my laptop and something extremely strange happened which you will have seen in great detail if you watched the video! All of a sudden, my nose started bleeding very badly. My table was up so I had to chuck all my laptop stuff onto the seat next to me and run to the toilet by which point I was already bleeding pretty badly and had ruined my new pyjamas!
It was a very weird situation and has never happened to me before. The way the crew dealt with it was fantastic. As I was holding my nose they wiped down my hands which by this point were covered in blood and got me a set of new pyjamas to put on. What was also very sweet was that after I returned to my seat, the chef came up with a bowl of cherries saying that they would help my blood. This was another example of how Hainan crew took initiative throughout the flight.
Before landing, the crew came round with one last meal option. For this service I went for the noodles and was not disappointed.
The noodles came with a side soup, a hard boiled egg, some sauces and a sweet bread which the crew said was very popular in China. I’d never had it before but it tasted fantastic and I almost asked for more.
Once I had finished my first breakfast dish, they brought a second one on me. This time I was given a plate of fresh fruit which tasted really amazing and was the perfect way to wrap up the food service.
After this final dish I got changed into my clothes and headed back to my seat to watch the stunning approach into Changsha play out. Just before we came into land I was then surprised by Dorlia as she brought me a little Hainan squidgy toy plane which doubled up as a turtle! Madness!!
This gesture may have only been little but it summed up to me just why Hainan are a five star airline. When I flew London-Changsha the crew were simply unbeatable. They spoke fantastic English, they were caring, genuine and thoughtful and it didn’t seem like they were doing things because they had to which you see with so many airlines today.
The food was amazing and when I said it trumps any other airline food I’ve had, I may have been a little brash but it is definitely up there.
After landing, I was met by my limousine driver who took me to my hotel in Changsha. This was a very nice welcome to a foreign city and I’m glad Hainan offer this limousine service.
Hainan Airlines has a charm about them which you don’t see a lot of nowadays. They are classy, visibly Chinese in attire but at the same time very western in their service. The crew don’t seem like they do it because its their job but because they enjoy it and that is what I love to see in an airline.
Finally, do Hainan deserve to be a 5* airline? My answer is yes, they do. My experience was not 5* worthy because of one thing: the seat and cabin. While the seat was good, it was no way near a 5* product. I am eager to try Hainan’s new business class product as I am sure that the new seat mixed with the amazing crew, fantastic amenities and incredible food will be about as 5* as you can get. Based on soft product alone, my flight was 5* by all means.
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disclaimer: this flight was provided by Hainan Airlines. I was under no pressure to state any particular opinions and all views are my own and based on this flight.
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow is famous for showcasing the style of Virgin Atlantic and when I knew I was going to be visiting this lounge I decided to film a short video to show you inside as well as showing you the main features in this article! Enjoy!
Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse is positioned with the other airline lounges in Terminal 3. It is lounge H if you are following the signs and above the American Airlines lounge. I’m a big fan of T3 as security tends to be very quick and the lounges are all in one place which helps if you’re hopping between them with your priority pass through AMEX.
As soon as you enter the lounge you know it is special. The entrance area is staffed with friendly Virgin Atlantic faces who check your ticket, walk you in and even show you around if this is your first visit.
My first impression of the lounge was amazing. I was shocked by just how big it was. The high ceilings and large windows looking out to the airport improve the lighting and make it a really welcoming environment.
As soon as you take a seat in the lounge, one of the staff will attend you and ask what drink you would like. The length of the drinks menu was so long that I asked what they recommended and two minutes later, a glass of the ‘Virgin Redhead Cocktail’ turned up.
The drink was lovely and I opted for one more before heading to the Champagne. Virgin offers three champagnes: Lanson, Follador and Jenkyn. I opted for the Lanson and wasn’t disappointed.
The bar area is nice and big which allows people to work but also sit and chat with friends over a drink. It was very well staffed and everyone was happy to help as much as they could.
Once your drink is finished, the staff come and ask if you would like something to eat from the ‘bar snacks’ area of the menu. All the options looked great but I opted for the baked chicken wings with hot sauce. The wings were very nice and left me with very dirty fingers. They gave me a knife and fork but who in their right mind eats chicken wings with cutlery?!
After I had eaten my bar snacks I went for a quick visit to the other food area. Just to the left of the entrance is an area where you can get salads, breads, meats, cheeses and fruits. There was a fantastic selection but I decided to save my appetite for the flight which turned out to fail as you’ll see later on!
Another fantastic area in the lounge is the mezzanine which has a pool table, lots of TV screens showing the news and sports matches and a long sofa on which two people lay fast asleep (we can only hope they made their flight!).
The upstairs area then leads up some stairs to the third level which is the outside terrace. The terrace is amazing if you’re into aviation as you can sit outside on the sofas with a drink and watch the planes taxi infront of the famous LHR tower. Do note that it can get pretty noisy out there!
The area below mezzanine has more tables of which a few had a ‘reserved’ tag on them. I’m not 100% how you go about booking a table and if it costs much but this was cool to see and gave this area of the lounge a restaurant feel.
After I’d been outside I came in to do something I was very excited about – get a haircut. I’d seen many people do this and so was very excited to actually get a trim in an airline lounge! I headed up to the spa desk and inquired. She said that there was a relatively long wait for the haircuts but that I was welcome to have one of their complimentary treatments instead. This was a shame but I was totally happy she mentioned the complimentary treatments as mine turned out to be absolute heaven.
The complimentary treatment I opted for was the ‘head and scalp massage’. The complimentary treatments may only last 15 minutes but once you’re in there you can relax into it amazingly and 15 minutes is plenty to relax before your flight. The woman at the desk asked me to listen to the loud speaker in the lounge as she would announce when it was my time to return to the spa and low and behold as I was sitting down with another glass of champagne I heard ‘Could Mr Stevenson please make his way to the Clubhouse spa for his treatment!’ so off I went!
The spa area is kept cool by a fan and kept dark to help you relax during your treatments. You are asked to fill in a small form stating if you have any illnesses or diseases and once you’re done, you’re led into the spa and fully taken care of. After the treatment, you are offered a glass of water and led back into the lounge feeling fully refreshed. I have to say this was my absolute favourite part of the lounge experience.
After my spa treatment I still had about 30 minutes until boarding began so I treated myself to one of the meals on the menu. After deciding that I couldn’t be bothered to save my appetite for the plane, I opted for the ‘southern fried chicken burger’ – lots of chicken today, I know – and couldn’t have been happier that I did so.
The burger was packed full and served with chips (or fries as it said on the menu), BBQ sauce and pickle slaw, spicy mayonnaise and lettuce inside.
After (partially) destroying the burger and chips, I sat down to sweat off the huge meal I had just almost finished and before long my flight was called and I headed on the 20 minute walk to gate 21 where my Boeing 787 to JFK was boarding Upper Class passengers.
I still can’t decide whether this lounge is more of a hotel, bar, spa, viewing terrace or restaurant but one thing is clear, it has elements of them all.
The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse has to be one of the best lounges I have ever visited and almost certainly the best LHR lounge (I still haven’t visited the Concorde room but when I do it will be very interesting to compare).
I was very impressed with the level of service, the space, the whacky hanging chairs, the dine-on-demand service, the drinks and above all the ability to relax into a massage chair for 15 minutes while getting a relaxing head massage.
If flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class isn’t on your bucket list then you’re doing something wrong – flying Upper Class is an incredible experience in itself and being able to come to the Clubhouse beforehand makes it even more special.
Tip: Booking Upper Class
If you want to fly Virgin Atlantic Upper Class then what are your options? Revenue fares can be quite high, especially at peak times of the year, so I advise to use miles and points. If travelling at peak times, Virgin will charge you £371 and 57,500 miles to book this flight. At off peak times, you can get it for as low as 47,500 miles and £371. However, those fuel surcharges are still very high.
The flight is also bookable through Delta SkyMiles who are an American Express partner with a 1:1 transfer ratio which can help to reduce the surcharge.
If however, you don’t have points to spend then revenue is what to go for. I would advise booking through SkyScanner as they have great prices.
Stewart Airport, a mixed civil and military airport in Orange County has taken a major step in its rebranding programme to become New York Stewart International Airport. The move comes just over one year after Norwegian started their direct flights from Europe on the 737MAX aircraft.
I visited Stewart in August 2017, just two months after Norwegian started operating and whilst talking to the staff there, I got a huge sense of excitement for what the future could hold for Stewart. One year on, I arrived at Stewart keen to see just how well they were doing.
I had the opportunity to talk to Ed Harrison once again who is General Manager at Stewart. On this wonderful occasion, Ed stressed how important this was for the airport but also for the surrounding location. As I mentioned in last year’s article, the surrounding area in Orange County has much to offer including a new Legoland which will be completed in 2020. I was told that the management team there expect 30% of all customers to come from Europe which could be a total game changer for Stewart. Coinciding with this opening, a new arrivals hall will be opening in 2020 which is part of their major development plan. The arrivals hall will be costing Stewart $30 million to build but with passenger numbers increasing in the 100s of thousands every year and predictions showing Stewart exceeding 1 million passengers by 2020, it isn’t surprising that they have begun to expand.
I told Ed that I had a special place in my heart for Stewart airport but he simply assumed I say that to every airport I talk to – the truth is, I really do. When I visited Stewart for the first time, it was one of my first ever press trips and I had the incredible opportunity of flying over the airport and into Manhattan with the Stewart based company Independent Helicopters. Who could forget an experience like that? Independent are just one of the many companies based out of Stewart and since my last visit, two new companies have invested in Stewart to be the location for their new hangars.
It is important to stress that the fact that load factors are increasing rapidly isn’t just down to Norwegian. Domestic load factors are also up and Ed Harrison believes this is due to people using Stewart to get to Europe from all across America. With airlines such as Allegiant and American offering routes out of Stewart, people can easily use it as a connection point onto Norwegian’s network. In terms of airline expansion however, Norwegian’s rough financial situation could threaten the airport’s future. With the Edinburgh network already being reduced in size, could the prospect of Norwegian being bought out impact small-aircraft routes such as these? Ed stressed that there is high level of interest from other airlines but I will remain slightly worried until these new routes are announced. On the other hand, Norwegian now operate 28 flights a week compared to 21 last year. Dublin has become a real success and now offers a 2x daily service.
What I loved about Stewart last time and found had been bettered this time is the Stewart Airport Express bus service. The journey can take as little as one hour but often takes longer and only costs $20. It has been improved since last year and a stop has been added – the shopping outlet of Woodbury Commons. Travelers can now land, be picked up by the bus, ferried to Woodbury Commons, shop and then be picked up and finish their journey into New York – cool right?
Stewart is definitely growing and the name change will do much to help it as it starts to be recognised as a New York Airport, the area’s local economy is ‘humming’ and Stewart have proved they can handle larger aircraft. During the winter snow that shut down JFK airport, Stewart successfully handled a Singapore Airlines A380 jet and took all the passengers into New York without trouble. While financial issues may be holding the expansion of Norwegian back, new airlines and routes need to be welcomed into Stewart so that the new developments can be utilised.
The New York airport of the future? I certainly think it’s possible.
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