A few months ago my brother and I were presented with the opportunity to review Mainland China’s only 5 star Skytrax rated airline on route from Brussels to Beijing and onto Australia after spending 4 days in the Chinese capital.
Hainan Airlines serves an extensive list of European destinations and also has direct flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and even Cairns.
There are only a handful of airlines with a 5-star rating, so I was curious to see how the Chinese carrier stacked up against some of the world’s best airlines like Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways.
For our flight to Brussels, we were scheduled on the A330-300 in business class which currently still features their “old” business class cabin in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration much like Thai Airways, Etihad and Emirates. The new business class product can be found on some routes such as Auckland, and recently there were some sightings on the Sydney – Haikou flight.
I was hoping a last minute product swap would mean we could try out the latest business class product and to my surprise, a few days before departure my aircraft change alert set up in Expert Flyer went off to notify me of a new seat map! The excitement however, was short lived when it reverted back to the old config 24h before departure.
Hainan Airlines isn’t part of any alliance (yet) but has a few unique partners who are of interest to points collectors. Hainan partners with both Alaska Airlines and Virgin Australia (who recently announced a codeshare) so you can earn both status and points when flying.
Hainan Airlines Brussels Lounge
In Brussels, Hainan Airlines uses the contract Diamond Lounge for its business class guests. It’s not the most exciting lounge especially compared to Brussels Airlines “The Loft” which features a DIY bar with Belgian beers on tap!
Boarding Hainan A330
Boarding was quick, Hainan pre-board business class passengers before starting the economy boarding process, which is excellent.
Once on board we were greeted by all the crew and cabin manager, everyone was happy to be there, and I knew right away this would be a great flight!
Right after boarding the cabin crew insisted on storing my bags for me, it’s something you usually only experience in a five-star hotel and the high level of service and care continued right through our journey to Beijing.
Having just flown the brand new Emirates 777 first class suite from Dubai to Geneva one day prior I must say that the Hainan Airlines business class service on this flight surpassed that of Emirates in first-class. Right now you probably think I’ve lost my mind, but it’s true.
On our flight to Brussels, all the cabin crew were Chinese but spoke fluent English and even wrote us a whole guide to Beijing after finding out it was our first time there! However, Hainan also does employ an international crew as on my flight from Haikou to Sydney I had a friendly French gentleman looking after our aisle.
Hainan Airlines A330-300 Business Class Cabin
The business class cabin is clearly well maintained but showing signs of ageing, so it’s timely that the roll-out of the new seats is happening right now. That being said, it’s a solid business class product, and when you pick either a window seat or centred middle seat, you’re guaranteed great privacy.
On our flight to Beijing, my brother and I opted for the middle seats positioned right next to each other, there’s a small privacy screen in between them, so it’s great if you know the person next to you, probably not so much if you’re sat next to a stranger.
The seats have a massive side table and go entirely flat when it’s time to catch up on some sleep. The staggered configuration means that the side table shields the window seats but the aisle/window seat is a bit more exposed. In the middle section, some seats are separated by the big side table and perfect for solo travellers.
There’s a single business class cabin with 8 rows for a total of 32 flatbed seats. I personally found the seat very comfortable for lounging although if you’re a larger person, you might not share the same opinion.
The display unit is on the smaller side but comes provided with excellent Bose QC25 noise cancelling headphones. The screen itself is fixed so it’s not possible to tilt downwards to get a better viewing angle when lying in bed. Operation is possible via the touchscreen or with the remote in your seat.
In terms of movies on offer, I found the selection very small compared to other airlines, but I did find a few good aviation documentaries to watch.
Amenity Kit & PJ’s
Hainan Airlines recently introduced a new Samsonite amenity kit on their international flights which features products from the French luxury skincare brand Clarins. This will eventually phase out the Bvlgari kit which I also received on the Sydney route.
Airline pyjamas are the best thing ever (in my humble opinion). Hainan Airlines offers a set of PJs to business class guests on international flights. They were very comfortable, light and fitted well. Together with the PJs, I received on Thai First class they are now my go-to loungewear around the house.
Hainan New Uniforms
Hainan recently updated its crew uniforms and they look very stylish and elegant while staying true to their Chinese heritage. Designed by Laurence Xu the the new uniform has elements of the traditional Cheongsam dress (also known as qipao), with a Western-style suit for the men.
The Design Air even voted the uniform as best of 2017.
Food And Beverage On Hainan Airlines
Having done some research on Hainan Airlines prior to our departure, I was looking forward to their F&B offering on board. Hainan Airlines has a dedicated sky-chef on all their international business class flights whose sole job it is to make sure you get the best possible food and drinks!
The chef came and introduced herself on the ground and explained the extensive a-la-carte, dine on demand menu. The menu features both western and Chinese inspired options which is great. I opted for a “signature” pre-departure champagne cocktail which was rather tasty.
For entree, I had the braised beef, scallop with black mushroom and soya sauce, followed by a pumpkin and cream soup. For my main, I opted for the grilled salmon and a garden salad.
The best part was the dessert where the crew rolled out a full table for guests to pick a dessert of their choice. The Chocolate praline salted butter caramel looked and tasted terrific. Purely for review purposes, I also got some Haagen-Dazs ice cream.
Between each course, the crew would replace our cutlery with fresh ones and deliver a new hot towel as well which I think is excellent service. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever received this many hot towels on any business class flight!
Breakfast was served around 1.5h before landing.
Upon approach, the crew handed out landing cards with a nicely branded pen; thoughtful!
For this trip, we received VIP ground service which is on par (minus the golf cart) with Thai Airways first class ground service.
When we arrived at our remote gate, the Hainan ground crew were waiting on the tarmac with a private minivan to drive us to the main terminal and escort us all the way from the aircraft to our car.
Hainan Airlines Free Limo Service
Hainan Airlines offers a free limo service to and from the airport when flying business class. However at this stage, it’s only to selected domestic and international destinations, and none of the Australian cities are on the current list. In Brussels, guests can enjoy a free limo within a 180km distance which is impressive considering a taxi will cost you 90 euro for a 30km ride. However, if you depart from Australia you can get a free pickup from the airport in China. For all the details check out the dedicated limo page here.
Part 2: Beijing – Haikou – Sydney
Flying back to Australia via Haikou I received the same excellent ground service and access to a private lounge. I also visited the business class lounge at Terminal 3 in Bejing to get a few pictures.
Once in Haikou, I was again picked up by a private car from the plane door and driven to the International terminal where It was still too early to check in since counters only open 2 hours before departure.
After receiving my boarding pass to Sydney, I was met by a team of 3 Hainan ground crew to escort me to my very own private lounge with an outdoor patio and fish pond!
After attempting to watch some Chinese TV, boarding commenced and my team of 3 were ready to assist me with luggage and another private car to the aircraft. I wish every airport experience could be like this!
This time I had selected a window seat which is perfect for solo travellers and gives you maximum privacy. Once again the crew were welcoming and showed genuine care to the passengers.
The food was spot on just like the first flight with a completely different menu on offer; great to see so much variety!
Food & Wine Menus
I noticed on this menu Hainan had an old-fashioned on the cocktail menu so naturally, I sampled a few. The Skychef (who is also in charge of cocktails) came and checked on my drink since apparently this was a new addition to the menu and she had only made a few beforehand.
Hainan offers a full turndown service in business class with a full mattress, big pillow and light but comforting blanket. Even though the bed isn’t the widest in business class, to me, it felt very comfortable, and I had a great few hours of sleep.
Upon landing in Sydney, the crew handed out express passes for the Sydney fast lane at immigration (which is a bit of a joke and hardly quick).
We also enjoyed some stunning views of Sydney on approach, but unfortunately, it was still too dark to take a good picture.
Hainan In Conclusion
We thoroughly enjoyed our Hainan Airlines business class experience. I was amazed with the high level of service by the crew which is what really made the flight. Excellent service combined with good food, compelling beverage menu and comfortable seats are a winning combination in business class.
Using Velocity Points To Book Hainan Airlines
Using Velocity points to book Hainan gives point collectors a very viable alternative to get to Europe or the US via China. Sydney and Melbourne require 78,000 Velocity points for a one way in business class Brisbane only 65,000 points and Cairns a low 53,000!
Most flights to Europe will come in at 78,000 points as well, and you can refer to Points Table 2 on the Velocity website to calculate the points required based on distance.
Online bookings aren’t yet available so you will need to call up the Velocity team to book between 7:30 AM and 10:30 Pm on 13 18 75.
To search for award space on Hainan Airlines, the most reliable method is using the Expert Flyer website and tool suite. They offer a free trial, and as a paid subscriber I can tell you it’s well worth it (especially for the award seat alerts!).
Full Disclosure: Flight Hacks traveled as a guest of Hainan Airlines and we would like to thank the Hainan team for making this possible!
For more info on Hainan Airlines flights visit: https://www.hainanairlines.com/