a row of blue seats with white sheets on them

Review: China Southern A320 Economy Class (SZX-KMG)

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Review Overview

China Southern receives a lukewarm rating as there's nothing that sets the airline apart, though they did provide a largely stress-free experience, as well as a hot meal on this short intra-China flight.


We were bussed to Shenzhen Airport, where I truly got to see the beauty that is the Shenzhen Airport terminal. Some of my trypophobic friends had trouble getting through the terminal, but I found it stunning.

people walking in a terminal
Shenzhen Airport Exterior

The first hurdle at Shenzhen Airport happened during the security check that we had to undergo before we were allowed into the terminal. I was pulled aside as they alleged that I had a canister in my suitcase (which they couldn’t find), but I was let into the terminal soon enough.

The check-in hall was even more stunning than the exterior, and reminded me somewhat of the Hong Kong Airport Midfield Terminal.

a group of people in a large airport
Shenzhen Airport Check-in Hall

There were Chinese flags hung up from the ceiling (which detracted from the minimalistic nature of the airport), in homage to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China that they were hosting at the time.

a large white ceiling with red flags
Shenzhen Airport Check-in Hall National Congress Decorations

We quickly found the China Southern check-in counters, though they weren’t set up for checking us in as a group. We were then directed to the other side, where a single desk was opened just to accommodate all 50 of us. Doesn’t sound like the most intuitive option to me…

people in an airport
China Southern Check-in Desks Shenzhen Airport

I was especially intrigued by the boarding pass I was presented, which was printed out on printing paper.

We then had to go through security, where my portable charger was confiscated because the power capacity wasn’t displayed anywhere on the charger (I’ve had my old portable charger for a couple of years, so the power capacity display had been scratched off). Thankfully my power bank was particularly cheap (albeit being quite trusty as well), though the new power bank I bought post-security was significantly more expensive.

On the plus side, the departures hall is stunning.

a large white building with many people walking with London King's Cross railway station in the background
Shenzhen Airport Departures Hall

I was originally misinformed that our gate was gate 15, so I walked down a rather beautiful looking back hallway sandwiched between the tarmac and the Shenzhen Airlines King Lounge (which looks really nice, so I hope to afford myself a visit one day).

a man standing in a hallway
Shenzhen Airport Departures Hall

While I didn’t find my gate there (my gate was close to where the immigration desks let out), I got a rather panoramic view of a Disney-themed China Eastern A330.

a blue airplane with cartoon characters on it
China Eastern Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport

I then found my way to gate 23, where our flight was departing. While Shezhen Airport is architecturally beautiful, I feel like they could’ve done more with their dull, dark green chairs.

a group of people in a terminal
Shenzhen Airport Gate Area

The main area didn’t feature as panoramic views as the wing that I’d walked to, so we only got a partial view of our beautiful A320 taking us to Lijiang. Boarding was called at pretty much the scheduled time of 1:15 PM, starting with business class and SkyTeam elites.

a plane on the tarmac
China Southern Airbus A320 Shenzhen Airport

Since we were traveling as a school, we ended up boarding last. Down the jetbridge we had some really nice views of the exterior of the airport.

a large white building with hexagons
Shenzhen Airport Exterior

I was excited to fly China Southern for the first time, and was curious how they’d compare to their counterpart China Eastern on a similar route.

China Southern Flight 3451
Saturday, October 21, 2017
Origin: Shenzhen (SZX) Gate: 23 Dep: 13:45 (13:40)
Destination: Kunming (KMG) Gate: 61 Arr: 16:15
Duration: 2 hr 30 min (2 hr 30 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A320 Reg: B-6813
Seat: 50A/54A (Economy Class)

After boarding, I passed a full business class cabin consisting of 8 seats in a 2-2 configuration (worry not, plenty of photos to come soon), and China Southern’s Pearl Economy cabin, featuring 24 extra legroom seats in a 3-3 configuration. I then walked into a modern-looking economy cabin, featuring 120 seats in a 3-3 configuration.

China Southern’s seats are a standard blue, featurig subtle patterns that felt slightly past their prime for a six-year-old aircraft, though otherwise inoffensive.

a blue and white seats on an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

While the front half of the cabin was filled upon boarding, the back half was more or less empty prior to our arrival.

people sitting in a plane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

a row of blue seats with white sheets on them
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

Since the school booked our flights, I didn’t get to choose my seat. However, I lucked out with window seat 50A, which I was happy with.

a row of blue seats with white sheets on them
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

a blue and white airplane seats
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Seat 50A

I was happy to be a few rows from the back, so I could easily observe the service flow.

a person sitting in an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin

a plane with blue seats and white signs

a person's legs in a seat with a blue fabric in the back
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Legroom

The tray table was unfoldable and on the large side for an economy class seat, which I appreciate.

a white rectangular object on a blue chair
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Tray Table

While I never took advantage of this, I appreciate that China Southern outfits audio entertainment on their A320s.

a seat with buttons and a red light
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Audio Port

I was also excited to see air nozzles outfitted onto this aircraft, which seems to be an oversight (in retrospect, most A320s I’ve been on have had air nozzles, which I like).

a close-up of a ceiling with lights and a sign
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Overhead Air Nozzles

At 1:35 PM boarding was complete, and a manual safety demo was completed (due to the lack of television screens). The captain came on the PA and explained our flight time of 1 hour and 14 minutes.

an airplane wing on the ground
View out of China Southern A320 at Shenzhen Airport

I saw that the last row was completely empty, and together with a friend we decided to conquer three seats on each side. I took 54A, located in the back left of the cabin, and she took 54K, situated on the right side. My friend Marco soon came and joined us, where he took seat 54C.

a row of seats on an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Row 54

I decided to ask the flight attendant for a pillow, and she gave me a blanket, saying that they were currently out of pillows. Very soon she came back with a pillow. I really appreciated her proactivity, though it’s kind of sad that they don’t have pillows for everyone – furthermore, the pillow and blanket were probably ever so slightly above par for economy (the blanket was thin though not scratchy, and the pillow was above average in size though not very supportive), but overall nowhere near the level of the supportive pillow that I was given in China Eastern economy class.

a white pillow on a blue and white striped blanket
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Pillow

a sock with a white and blue design
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Blanket

Parked beside our A320 before our pullback was a stunning China Southern A321.

a plane on the tarmac
China Southern Airbus A321 Shenzhen Airport

When seated at the back, the flight attendant came up to me with six names of people who had ordered vegetarian meals (funny enough they actually hadn’t, but their names were on the list because of miscommunication between the school and the airline, which I can’t blame on this crew). She asked if they could stay in their own seats and not switch around. Okay, it was a little too late for that…

I offered to scout around after takeoff and tell them where the six of my friends were seated (since I knew them by name and the flight attendants didn’t), and they gladly agreed to that.

Meanwhile we lined up and took off at around 1:55 PM, where we had great views of the airport below.

an airport with many round roads and a tower
Takeoff Shenzhen Airport

an airplane wing in the sky
Takeoff Shenzhen Airport

an airplane wing and land below
Takeoff Shenzhen Airport

It was a beautiful day in Shenzhen (though can anyone see the layer of smog sat on the horizon?).

an airplane wing above water
Takeoff Shenzhen Airport

an airplane wing in the sky
Takeoff Shenzhen Airport

The seatbelt sign quietly turned off, but I was told to return to my seat when I was about to use the lavatory. The crew said that “we will tell you when you can stand up”.

Once I was allowed to I took a cabin picture from the very back of the rather neat-looking cabin. Look at all those ads at the back of the headrest covers!

a group of people sitting in an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin View

The lavatory itself was nothing special – it was clean and I was the first person to use it, and I appreciate that the tips of the toilet paper were folded.

a toilet in a bathroom
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Lavatory

I appreciated a little less than there was a piece of tissue hanging around in the sink, but it was overall a pretty clean and sanitary toilet.

a sink with a napkin in it
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Lavatory

The flight attendants then grabbed me so I could locate the people who’d ordered vegetarian meals. They were rather disorganised throughout the process, but whatever – we’d switched seats, so I can’t blame anyone.

The cabin was served from the back and Marco and I were the first to receive our food. First came a snack box, reminiscent of a rather…disappointing lunch that I had from Kunming to Hong Kong on China Eastern.

a pink box with white text and blue text on it
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Meal Box

I still didn’t touch the contents of this package (consisting of packaged pickled vegetables and a piece of bread), though at least nothing seemed like it was created last month (or for that matter, last Christmas).

a hand holding a muffin

a plastic bag of food
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Meal Box Items

I was offered the choice between dim sum and chicken noodles. I chose the dim sum, which was actually pretty good. The buns were nice and fluffy, and the cake in the middle tasted pretty nice. It tasted like store-bought dim sum, which isn’t a criticism, since store-bought dim sum can be tasty sometimes (and in this case was perfectly edible).

food in a foil container
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Dim Sum

Marco wasn’t as happy with his sloppily presented, dry and overspiced chicken noodles, which left him screaming over how spicy there were. The chicken meat was also way too dark, which he didn’t appreciate.

a tray of food on a table
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Chicken Noodles

Also offered was herbal jelly, which I didn’t touch (since I wasn’t sure if the date printed on the cap of nine days before the flight was the manufacturing date or the expiry date).

a round container with text on it
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Herbal Jelly

Soon after the flight attendants came around for a drinks run, where I selected Sprite.

a glass of water on a tray
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Sprite

The flight attendants were friendly, though otherwise pretty strict about the no phones policy, and not only reprimanded but lectured everyone who seemed to have their phone out during the flight.

I had a look at the photos I’d taken for a while, as well as occasionally scrolling through my phone (the flight attendants seemed oblivious to me using my phone at most times despite me being seated right next to the galley). I also talked to Marco a bit when he woke up from a short nap.

Soon enough we were landing in Kunming, where it was a rather cloudy afternoon.

an airplane wing in the sky
Landing Kunming Airport

The views landing into Kunming aren’t all that exciting.

an airplane wing and land and water
Landing Kunming Airport

an airplane wing and a city
Landing Kunming Airport

an airplane wing and a city
Landing Kunming Airport

an airplane wing on a runway
Landing Kunming Airport

However, the airport is stunning. We touched down at around 4:05 PM, and made our way towards one of the most stunning airports I’ve been in (bar Shenzhen Airport, which I believe takes the cake). The airport is really large, and I’m surprised it doesn’t have more international traffic, given its size and capacity (I also ran an airline on Airline Empires based in Kunming a few years ago, and made quite a lot of money with it).

As we landed we were invited to keep our belongings on the plane since we’d be on the same plane to Lijiang, though we decided against it.

a large building with a curved roof and planes in the background
Taxiing Kunming Airport

an airplane wing on the runway
Taxiing Kunming Airport

Despite the lack of international traffic I was still intrigued with the different airlines we saw, such as a Ruili Airlines 737.

a plane on the runway
Ruili Airlines Boeing 737 Kunming Airport

Soon we were parked at gate 61, and underwent a very fast alighting process, considering the entire plane holds less than 200 passengers. I had my first chance to look at the empty business class cabin at that point (don’t worry, I have better pictures on the second leg).

a plane with seats and windows
China Southern Airbus A320 Business Class

I was able to catch a glimpse of our A320 when exiting the aircraft.

an airplane on the tarmac
China Southern Airbus A320 Kunming Airport

Once we entered the arrivals area we were told to wait for a bit on the side. An agent had new boarding passes printed out for us, and our old boarding passes were given to her and replaced by new boarding passes printed out on actual cardstock. After we were given our new boarding passes, we were let through into the departures area.

a glass doors in a building
Transit Area Kunming Airport

Bottom Line: China Southern A320 Economy Class

China Southern features a pretty nice economy class product. The hard product was nice, well-padded, the aircraft was clean and I like that the seats feature individual air nozzles.

The flight attendants were rather disorganised on this flight, though I can’t blame that squarely on them, as we moved around a lot, and they were well-intentioned.

Overall I probably wouldn’t hesitate to fly China Southern if it was the most direct way to get to my destination. I wasn’t happy about my portable charger being confiscated in Shenzhen, though, so despite how stunning Shenzhen Airport is, with China’s asinine aviation policies I’d avoid flying out of there in the future.

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