China Southern Airlines is one of the largest airlines in Asia and forms the “Big 3” of Chinese airlines together with Air China and China Eastern Airlines. Back in January 2011, the airline reached a milestone by becoming an official Skytrax rated 4-star airline. However, complaints for the Chinese carrier were still streaming in and some were not convinced that the airline should get a 4-star rating.
China Southern operates a wide variety of Airbus and Boeing from the A300, A319, A320, A321, A332, A333 and the upcoming A388 to the B733, B73G, B738, B752, B772, B77E and the upcoming B788 in addition to a small fleet of ATRs, Embraers and McDonnell Douglas. It is a dream airline for aviation enthusiastics alike to sample various types of aircrafts although the onboard service might not be the dream kind of service one would expect. The airline’s main network is flying domestically in China. Besides having a large hub at Guangzhou, it also maintains a smaller hub in Beijing with focus cities in Changsha, Changchun, Dalian, Hangzhou, Shantou, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Urumqi, Wuhan and Zhengzhou. The “Southern” name does not apply to the airline anymore as it has networks spread throughout the whole of China. This also means that you can fly with China Southern from almost any first-tier or second-tier city in China.
I decided to give the carrier yet another chance to prove themselves to see if they really deserve a 4-star rating. They tout themselves as “your home in the skies” although I have never felt that day and have always wished that my flights with them will end as soon as possible. Despite all that, they manage to offer good fares for domestic flights in China which made me fly them time and again, causing them to become my 3rd most flown carrier behind Thai Airways International and Singapore Airlines.
This report will cover China Southern’s service on the short route from Shantou to Guangzhou. This intra-province flight is popular among locals as it provides a link for Shantou citizens to connect to the various international flights that China Southern offer out of their main hub.
Due to the huge amount of people travelling between both cities, locals will usually choose to take a bus over a plane as taking the bus only costs 110 yuan while flying may cost anywhere from 400 to 1000 yuan. Not forgetting to mention, the average salary of Shantou citizens are just around 4000 yuan.
Join this crazy foreign man that chooses to fly on this short route between Shantou and Guangzhou. At the end of the report, I will also give a verdict if China Southern deserves a 4-star rating based on this flight and my previous experiences.
Booking was again done on www.ctrip.com, where I always engage them to book domestic flights in China as their fares are pretty attractive. Since China Southern operates both the Boeing 737-300 and Boeing 737-800 on this route, I wanted to get on the Boeing 737-300 which flies majority of the routes except for the 2nd last flight of the day.
The flight was booked quick and easy. I was issued with my e-ticket a few minutes later for CZ 3857 departing Shantou at 5.30pm and arriving at Guangzhou at 6.30pm, just in time to join my relatives for dinner in Guangzhou. A few days later, I was met with an email stating that CZ 3857 for the day was cancelled and I was booked on CZ 3859 departing later in the day at 9.10pm which happens to be the only Boeing 737-800 flight of the day. Of course, I declined that offer and enquired if I could change to CZ 3581 departing at 4.40pm instead and that request was settled within a day. This has got to be the reason I am ctrip’s loyal customer.
My Life in Shantou
Shantou is still a very unfamiliar city to many a.netters. It is a city located just 400km east of Guangzhou although in reality the lifestyles of both cities are completely different. Shantou citizens take the motorized tricycles which resembles that of Thailand’s tuk tuk to work or school which is a sight that is not seen in any major cities in China. Besides that, they also take the conventional transportation like taxis and buses. However, you will not find any metro in the city; all transportation modes are on the road.
Wonderful home cooked meal
The house I stay in
A local delicacy. It costs only 3 yuan (0.46 USD) for this whole packet and it consists of delicacies such as quail’s egg and prawns!
Beef kway teow, another delicacy. A big bowl for only 5 yuan (0.77 USD)!
Supermarkets may be aplenty in the modern cities we are used to but Shantou citizens will rather visit the wet market and conventional stores to get their daily necessities much like in the olden days. Restaurants are considered a rare treat for most citizens and they choose to visit shops that are family owned which gives a sense of home and the prices are cheaper.
A local family owned eatery
I had the privilege of staying in my relative’s house for my 10-day stay in Shantou. What made me keep coming back here was the wonderful home cooked food and Teochew dishes that I do not get to savour in Singapore plus the wonderful atmosphere of having dinner together with your family members. Sit back and relax as I bring you through my journey in Shantou, China.
This madam has big guts. Her house is on the fifth floor!
Shantou surroundings. Notice how different it is from the likes of our modern cities?
The way home
Almost all flats are equipped with this for security reasons
Shantou Waisha Airport
Shantou Waisha Airport is by no means a modern airport. Right after reaching the airport, you can feel that it is in the 1980s with old style decorations. Check-in counters are indicated by the red marquee texts showing the flight and time when the check-in for that particular flight will be closed. The only modern gadget in the terminal would be the 4 China Southern self check-in machines located right at the entrance.
CZ check-in machines
I got dropped off at the airport at around 1.30pm just after lunch which was 3 hours before my flight. A quick farewell later, I was left all alone to wait at the airport. As I stepped into the domestic departures hall for the second time, I can’t help but to notice the huge difference between this airport and the other airports I have been to. What greets you is a stall selling some traditional tea sets and books and a small café on the other side which is only just as big as a hotel room.
I decided to check in using the self check-in machines to print my boarding pass and choose my seat first. To my astonishment, the row number starts from row 31 which made me think if CZ has sent an A330 or B777 as a substitution. However, the configuration remains as 3-3 so I believe it is still a B737. To test the ground staff’s reaction, I decided to head to the small ticketing counter located at the other corner of the airport to enquire about an upgrade to Business Class for the flight although I am sure that the B733 is in all-economy class layout. As I expected, the ground staff were uninterested in providing information and answers were given with their eyes on their computer monitors like it will be stolen if they take their eyes away from it for just a second.
My boarding pass
After getting my boarding pass, I decided to explore the airport further. As you head further into the airport, you will arrive at the mini domestic arrivals section which is linked together with departures, unlike most airports where both are at different levels. A small duty free shop is present selling the usual but with some uniquely China potteries and tea sets.
Link between domestic arrivals and departures
Where I arrived last time
The proposed airport that is opening in 2014
Selling a Mercedes in the airport. Any takers?
Duty free shop
The timeframe between lunch and dinner time seems to be the rush hour for the airport with several flights departing close to each other. Despite being my 4th time flying through the airport, I have never seen such a crowd in the airport. The PA was kept busy announcing the check-in, boarding and last calls for various flights to domestic destinations. The international terminal, on the other hand, was not even open due to the lack of flights today.
To help pass time, I went to the mini café at the corner of the airport to sit down and have a drink. I also tried searching for a wifi network but to no avail. Despite being small and unattractive, the prices in the café were expensive. A small 350ml bottle of orange juice that would have been sold for 3 yuan (0.46 USD) is being sold for 15 yuan (2.31 USD) here! However, I had no other form of entertainment so I just decided to sit by and let the time pass by.
View from my seat in the café
Food and snacks on sale
After more than an hour in the café, I decided to walk around the airport as check-in will open in just 30 minutes. However, being such a small airport you can finish walking the whole domestic terminal in just 3 minutes which left me standing by the check-in counters and waiting for check-in to open while watching the action going on. Lots of Chinese were queuing up for flights to various destinations like Shanghai, Beijing, Changchun and Wuhan… etc.
Queuing for check-in
I guessed that counter 4 will be assigned for my flight as the check-in for the previous flight closes at 3.15pm and my flight check-in opens at the same time. Sure enough, the check-in was opened and I made a beeline to the check-in only to be beaten by 3 other passengers by 2 seconds. Man, they are sure very fast! However, the agent was fast and I got my baggage checked-in within 3 minutes.
Since there was absolutely nothing more to do landside, I decided to head airside for more exploration since I did not have the chance last time.
initious From Singapore, joined Dec 2008, 1053 posts, RR: 15
Reply 1, posted (3 years 2 months 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 15771 times:
Flying the Boeing 737-300
A short escalator ride from the check-in area brings you to immigration where you identity is checked against the boarding pass and formalities like the security checks are being processed.
Escalator up to departures
Airside in Shantou has more action than landside. The airport features 7 gates in total; Gates 1 and 2 are right after security while you have to go through the long row of shops selling various stuffs from Chinese novels to the usual China porcelain and (fake) airplane models to get to gates 3-7. There was also a small eatery here but I did not bother going in as I was unsure what kind of food they offer.
Rows of shops to the other side of the airport
View of waiting room
CZ lounge in Shantou
I sat at one of the many benches at the shared waiting room looking at various flights boarding to destinations all over China. It’s amazing how big of a country is China! A China Eastern flight to Hangzhou was delayed from 3.45pm to 7pm due to poor weather in Hangzhou and I felt sorry for the passengers having to wait in the waiting room with almost nothing for entertainment except for a few TV sets. Shortly after the announcement of the delay of the Hangzhou flight, a delay was announced for my flight and the new departure time will be 4.55pm, 15 minutes later than the scheduled time due to late arriving aircraft.
China Southern Airlines Flight CZ 3581 – 13MAY11 Origin: Shantou Waisha Airport (SWA/ZGOW) Destination: Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN/ZGGG) Registration: B-2926 Aircraft: Boeing 737-300 Scheduled Time of Departure: 04:40pm Actual Time of Departure: 05:43pm Scheduled Time of Arrival: 05:30pm Actual Time of Arrival: 06:26pm Class of Travel: Economy Seat: 45A
On the other side of the airport, the PA was announcing for the last few passengers to board an Air China flight to Beijing. Interestingly, the announcement goes by the flight number followed by telling the passengers to board the aircraft with the registration number. Like this, “Passengers travelling on flight 3581 to Guangzhou, please proceed to boarding gate 4 and board aircraft 2926 (B-2926) immediately”. I found this a nice way to announce as it makes us a.netters easy to record the registration.
4.55pm quickly approached and I was still waiting in the waiting room with no announcements as of yet. The inbound aircraft has already arrived from Guangzhou and my fellow passengers were also getting impatient. At 5.03pm, a further delay was announced due to a mechanical problem. There was not a time given for this delay but thankfully boarding was announced at 5.13pm which resulted in over 140 passengers rushing for the gate at once.
I was warmly welcomed onboard by a female FA (first time ever on CZ!) and the shuffling down the aisle to my seat in row 45 started. As boarding was not called by rows (which happens for all the domestic flights I flown), there were passengers seated at the front already trying to place their carryon into the overhead bins so it resulted in a very long walk down the short aircraft.
Reaching my row, there was already a gentlemen seated at the aisle seat so he had to stand up to let me pass. Once I sat down, I found out that the seats were very narrow and legroom severely lagging. It felt worser than an LCC seat. I basically could not move at all but I told myself to sit back, relax and enjoy my first Boeing 737 classic flight.
View from my seat
I love the Boeing 737 classic wing!
Very tight seat pitch
FA greeting passengers
Pushback soon commenced and we headed to runway 4 for takeoff. Our liftoff time was 5.34pm, 4 minutes after our scheduled arrival in Guangzhou. I can sense most of the passengers were not so pleased to speak of. On another note, it seems like most of the passengers on this flight will be transiting in Guangzhou and there is just a handful that will be terminating in Guangzhou like me.
Around 15 minutes after takeoff, snack service began. The snack on this sector consisted of a pack of almond biscuits and herbal tea drink or a bottle of mineral water. I guess this is standard service even down here in Southeast Asia as the flight time is too short to do a more elaborate service, even if they wish to. We were flying right above a layer of clouds which make us seem like we were flying quite fast – Makes the time pass faster!
Cabin view shortly after takeoff
I love this view
At cruising altitude
Contents of the snack service
The windows on this Boeing 737-300 are pretty low and for a tall person like me, I had to bend over to peep out of the window and that resulted in me having a backache after the flight. Soon, we started out descend towards Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport and touched down at 6.26pm, around an hour behind schedule. By the ATD and ATA of this flight, it actually means that I have got my original flight time (5.30pm-6.30pm) despite being on an earlier flight.
ronerone From Jordan, joined Aug 2004, 1653 posts, RR: 53
Reply 4, posted (3 years 2 months 4 days 10 hours ago) and read 14714 times:
Great report Daniel. I have been following your upates on this trip since they commenced on Facebook. So i am glad to see you strolling the skies once again.
China Southern seems to have an attractive hardware offering on their long-haul aircraft, though i do hear of very mixed reviews about them. I am quite interested to see what they have in mind for the A380, and more importantly, where will the airline deploy this aircraft beyond China? ..
Quoting initious (Thread starter): This report is dedicated to fellow a.netter Sandeep Das (AI151) whom has passed away on 20th May 2011. RIP Sandeep.
My sincerest condolences. May he rest in peace, and God Bless his loved ones during these times; they are difficult for us all as he will be truly missed.
Thanks for sharing this TR, and looking forward to more!
A Stop Away From One-Stop, Is Non-Stop : Airbus A340-500
ba319-131 From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2001, 8484 posts, RR: 55
Reply 7, posted (3 years 2 months 3 days 22 hours ago) and read 13707 times:
Quoting initious (Thread starter): This report is dedicated to fellow a.netter Sandeep Das (AI151) whom has passed away on 20th May 2011. RIP Sandeep
- Very sad to hear, I always enjoyed Sandeep's TR's. My sincerest condolences.
Quoting initious (Thread starter): Back in January 2011, the airline reached a milestone by becoming an official Skytrax rated 4-star airline. However, complaints for the Chinese carrier were still streaming in and some were not convinced that the airline should get a 4-star rating.
- I take no notice of these Skytrax ratings, worthless rubbish.
Quoting initious (Thread starter): On the other side of the airport, the PA was announcing for the last few passengers to board an Air China flight to Beijing. Interestingly, the announcement goes by the flight number followed by telling the passengers to board the aircraft with the registration number. Like this, “Passengers travelling on flight 3581 to Guangzhou, please proceed to boarding gate 4 and board aircraft 2926 (B-2926) immediately”. I found this a nice way to announce as it makes us a.netters easy to record the registration
- Interesting way of boarding, is that to save on directing staff?
initious From Singapore, joined Dec 2008, 1053 posts, RR: 15
Reply 8, posted (3 years 2 months 3 days 13 hours ago) and read 13264 times:
Quoting debonair (Reply 2): True, same problem with Chinese Hainan Airlines 5* rating.
Quoting ckblah (Reply 3): I find Skytrax ratings a joke. Their world airline awards has like X number of categories (where X is a HUGE number), allowing many many airlines to win multiple awards.
Quoting ba319-131 (Reply 7): I take no notice of these Skytrax ratings, worthless rubbish.
I used to believe in the ratings until recently HU got 5*, but I was unable to comment on it since I have never been on them. The worst shock was that CZ got upgraded to a 4*! That is absolutely rubbish for sure.
Quoting ckblah (Reply 3): That said, I flew CZ from Dalian to Beijing couple of years back and it was similar to your experience. Short flight, they got the job done, that's all.
They get you from A to B that's all, true enough.
Quoting ronerone (Reply 4): Great report Daniel. I have been following your upates on this trip since they commenced on Facebook. So i am glad to see you strolling the skies once again.
Hey Roni, thanks for the comment! I will definitely continue strolling the skies..
Quoting ronerone (Reply 4): China Southern seems to have an attractive hardware offering on their long-haul aircraft, though i do hear of very mixed reviews about them. I am quite interested to see what they have in mind for the A380, and more importantly, where will the airline deploy this aircraft beyond China? ..
Both their hardware and software is lacking which makes me think what even made them achieve a 4-star rating. I mgiht give them another chance if their A380 product looks good though. However, that will be very very long in time to come as I have some better airlines to try first.
Quoting AirIndia77W (Reply 5): Nice trip report. Very interesting and nice to see some photos from Shantou.
Quoting Quokka (Reply 6): Have they started yet? If not, they had better pull their fingers out.
Construction already started when I visited last June. In fact, the terminal building is almost done from the exterior. I'm confident they'll get it done by 2014. It looks wonderful as an airport and who knows I might be the first a.netter to report on that particular airport again.
Quoting Quokka (Reply 6): Ha, ha. You'll just have to get out of bed earlier.
I will next time, haha.
Quoting Quokka (Reply 6): Good to see the airport has A.netters in mind.
Quoting ba319-131 (Reply 7): Interesting way of boarding, is that to save on directing staff?
Unsure about that. However, there isn't really much confusion going around since the gates were labelled quite clearly and I guess I was the only person who bothered looking at the aircraft reg before boarding the plane.
Luxair747SP From Germany, joined May 2010, 504 posts, RR: 17
Reply 12, posted (3 years 2 months 3 days 13 hours ago) and read 13198 times:
thank you for this interesting read about a very unique destination not covered at all here on A.net
Your Shantou pictures are really interesting because I did not know much before about this town.
The flight on CZ is not 4 star like in my opinion as well, but they brought you on time to CAN and even served a snack so I wouldnt complain.
Many condolences to the family and friends of Sandeep, who will forever stay in our thoughts as a great member of Airliners. RIP
Im looking forward to the next TR of this series
Thank you again for sharing
Quoting initious (Thread starter): As I expected, the ground staff were uninterested in providing information and answers were given with their eyes on their computer monitors like it will be stolen if they take their eyes away from it for just a second.
What an attitude... Apparently they were not at all interested in passenger service.
The aircraft is in an all-economy layout which I believe is nearing the highest density. However, the row starts from 31, not 1. I'd think it's impossible to squeeze 45 rows on a B733 seeing only 30 is possible on an A320 which I believe is longer in length than a B733.
I actually expected that even before going onto the plane.
Quoting HiJazzey (Reply 16): However I can;t help but play devil's advocate here and say you might be a little harsh on CZ by insisting on flying on the classic when a more modern plane was offered.
I have been on 4 flights onboard CZ's B738 (which I believe is the "more modern plane" you meant) and it was equally disappointing unless you were in a bulkhead or exit row. Service wise it was the same with the disinterested service and no formalities to speak of. Choosing the B733 over the B738 was because I had never flown on a 737 classic before and I wanted to see how does the product compare between both aircrafts but I can say it was exactly the same from seat pitch to service.
HiJazzey From Saudi Arabia, joined Sep 2005, 864 posts, RR: 1
Reply 20, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 6 days 12 hours ago) and read 10490 times:
Quoting initious (Reply 17): I have been on 4 flights onboard CZ's B738 (which I believe is the "more modern plane" you meant) and it was equally disappointing unless you were in a bulkhead or exit row. Service wise it was the same with the disinterested service and no formalities to speak of. Choosing the B733 over the B738 was because I had never flown on a 737 classic before and I wanted to see how does the product compare between both aircrafts but I can say it was exactly the same from seat pitch to service.
Fair enough dude. I've never flown CZ myself. I just mentioned the equipment because in many cases older airplanes will have an older generation product.
initious From Singapore, joined Dec 2008, 1053 posts, RR: 15
Reply 21, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 5 days 18 hours ago) and read 10139 times:
Quoting HiJazzey (Reply 20): Fair enough dude. I've never flown CZ myself. I just mentioned the equipment because in many cases older airplanes will have an older generation product.
I have been on 3 kinds of narrowbody aircraft from CZ (A321, B733, B738) and all of them has the same product. I believe the other narrowbodies has exactly the same product whether new or old. It was a torture flying SIN-CAN/CAN-SIN on their A321 with LCC-style seat pitch!
Luftfahrer From Germany, joined Mar 2009, 1012 posts, RR: 2
Reply 22, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 9335 times:
I finally found time to read and comment on this installment of yours, Daniel. Once more, you presented us with a really well done trip report. I especially liked how you brought in some elements of your stay in Shantou.
Quoting initious (Thread starter):
This report is dedicated to fellow a.netter Sandeep Das (AI151) whom has passed away on 20th May 2011. RIP Sandeep.
As I mentioned before, may Sandeep rest in peace.
Quoting initious (Thread starter): The “Southern” name does not apply to the airline anymore as it has networks spread throughout the whole of China.
I bet. China has become such an important market for the German luxury class car manufacturers. So in Chinese airports they are up for sale, while in German airports they are displayed by rental car companies. Interesting.
initious From Singapore, joined Dec 2008, 1053 posts, RR: 15
Reply 23, posted (3 years 1 month 2 weeks 6 days 22 hours ago) and read 8821 times:
Quoting Luftfahrer (Reply 22): I finally found time to read and comment on this installment of yours, Daniel. Once more, you presented us with a really well done trip report. I especially liked how you brought in some elements of your stay in Shantou.
If they replaced the flight with an A332 or B772 I wouldn't mind actually. However, I don't think SWA has the capability to handle widebody aircraft since the gates are obviously built for only narrowbody aircrafts. Interestingly enough, you only see 737s and A320s around the airport.
Quoting Luftfahrer (Reply 22): I bet. China has become such an important market for the German luxury class car manufacturers. So in Chinese airports they are up for sale, while in German airports they are displayed by rental car companies. Interesting.
Yeah, I did not see lots of luxury cars on the roads in Shantou though. Most people travel by motorcycles.
Quoting Luftfahrer (Reply 22): Indeed, that's pretty handy if you can't spot the registration number on the aircraft. I wonder what they actually intend by mentioning it?
The holding area for flights is actually a centralised area so I guess it's to prevent passengers from getting onto the wrong aircraft. I think 99% of the people won't even know where the registration of the aircraft is located so it can only appeal to us a.netters.
Quoting Luftfahrer (Reply 22): I have had a better seat pitch on LCC carriers. Not to mention legacy carriers, like KLM, where the seat pitch on the B734 was excellent.
Thankfully it was only an hour.
Quoting Luftfahrer (Reply 22): Wait until you get to fly on the CRJ... now these windows are low.
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6714 posts, RR: 78
Reply 24, posted (3 years 1 month 2 weeks 6 days 21 hours ago) and read 8794 times:
finally I have found the time to read your nice CZ domestic report. I really enjoyed reading, reports about domestic flights in China are quite rare here. I flew PEK-SHA on MU and SHA-SZX on FM in late 2008.
Quoting initious (Thread starter): A local delicacy. It costs only 3 yuan (0.46 USD) for this whole packet and it consists of delicacies such as quail’s egg and prawns!