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.