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

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Review Overview

There's not much to differentiate economy class seats intra-China, though this was a stress-free experience, with an easy ground experience, a comfortable seat, and a hot meal.


My time in Yunnan was great. I’m still not sure what to take away from it, though I thoroughly enjoyed my hike, which I’ll be briefly talking about in the next installment. For now, though, I’ll explain my flight from Lijiang to Shenzhen, which was operated by a…different China Southern A320.

On the last day of our trip we pulled up to Lijiang Airport’s domestic terminal, which is pretty nice. It was a beautiful day, as you can see reflecting off the glass exterior below.

Lijiang Airport Departures Hall Exterior

The terminal itself isn’t architecturally stunning by any means, though it’s reasonably nice due to the amount of natural light.

Lijiang Airport Domestic Departures Hall

While we wanted to check in for our flight, check-in didn’t open until 10:25, so we sat around in the check-in hall for around 20 minutes.

Lijiang Airport Domestic Departures Hall China Southern Check-In

Once check-in opened for our flight, our flight number was displayed on one of the check-in screens, along with the destination, gate number and check-in time.

China Southern Check-in Signage Lijiang Airport

I’d imagine an airport would put more effort into their translations, though that’s China for you…

Lijiang Airport Misspelt Signage

By the check-in lines I saw signs listing a few items that shouldn’t be put in your check-in luggage.

Lijiang Airport Signage

Check-in was rather quick, and I was assigned seats within a cluster containing quite a few of my friends, which I was happy with. We then had to say goodbye to the amazing leaders of our group, Shannon and Derek (if you ever read this, hi!), and made our way past a painless customs process into the departures hall.

Past some duty free, the departures hall is located one level below immigration, which made for some pretty neat views.

Lijiang Airport Domestic Departures Hall

I walked around some of the duty-free shops with some of my friends and sat by the gate, where we watched our A320 pull in. While our outbound A320 was six years old, I learned through FlightRadar that this plane would be over three times the age of our outbound aircraft (fun fact: China Southern has 129 A320s, all of which operate as part of their 551-plane fleet. Yowzers, that’s a lot of aircraft!).

This plane ended up being the third oldest of all of China Southern’s A320s, being delivered in October 1997 (exactly 20 years before our flight). I was excited to spot any differences between this old plane and the newer A320 that we traveled with on the outbound.

China Southern Airbus A320 Lijiang Airport

By the gate was some signage warning people to check the flight number on their boarding pass before boarding, lest they accidentally board this flight in place of the adjacent Shenzhen Airlines flight also headed to Shenzhen.

China Southern Boarding Signage Lijiang Airport

Boarding was soon called, though as a group we decided to board last. On the jetbridge we had rather nice open-air views of a Beijing Capital Airlines A319.

Beijing Capital Airlines Airbus A319 Lijiang Airport

We also saw some rather entertaining translations, warning us not to “up and down the bridge Warning”.

Lijiang Airport Signage

I sure was excited to board this rather retro A320!

China Southern Airbus A320 Lijiang Airport

China Southern Flight 8548
Friday, October 28, 2017
Origin: Lijiang (LJG) Gate: 5 Dep: 12:25 (12:35)
Destination: Shenzhen (SZX) Gate: 27 Arr: 14:45
Duration: 2 hr 20 min (2 hr 35 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A320 Reg: B-2352
Seat: 38A (Economy Class)

We walked into a rather old business class cabin, which was different to the business class cabin on the outbound aircraft most noticeably by the lack of headrests.

China Southern Airbus A320 Business Class Seats 1A and 1C

I’d imagine these seats were really well padded. Pictured below are seats 2H and 2K – longtime readers know I’d pick 2K if I was seated in business class and had my choice of seating, since I wouldn’t be reclining into anyone if I chose to recline during the flight.

China Southern Airbus A320 Business Class Seats 2H and 2K

Past that was four rows of SkyPearl Economy, which China Southern only decided to outfit onto these planes in 2010. Wow, these seats looked retro. They seemed well padded, but they clearly hadn’t been refitted (rather just reupholstered), and were decked out in a blue colour that seemed like it tried to add a sense of modernity with the blue squares, but in fact just added to my thrill of flying this old aircraft, due to the mismatched seat covers.

China Southern Airbus A320 SkyPearl Economy

I mean, what is this upholstery? While I’d stated that the SkyPearl Economy upholstery on the new A320s were fit for “a padded chair at my grandma’s house”, these seat covers seemed fit for an Air Koryo Tupolev aircraft from 1987.

China Southern Airbus A320 SkyPearl Economy

We then walked into economy class, which was upholstered with the same striped blue upholstery as our outbound aircraft, despite the seats looking wider, more “winged” and more worn.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

I was assigned row 38A, which I was thrilled to find out was an exit row seat – I had really lucked out in that regard. I had a ton of legroom and a window seat, which I certainly didn’t mind.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Seats 38A, 38B, 38C

One disadvantage of these seats are that due to their position by the exit row the airline decided to remove their reclining capabilities, though with economy seats like these on a short flight I’d take extra legroom over recline any day. Look at the amount of legroom that we had!

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Row 38

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Exit Row Legroom

Seat 38A was nestled into the left side of the emergency exit row, and the door handle acted as a second armrest, since the one originally provided was cut short due to its placement.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Seat 38A

Not only was I able to stretch out at this seat, but I could cross and uncross my legs with ease, which I really appreciated.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Legroom

While the aircraft was old, I appreciate the effort that they put in with audio jacks, though I never used them (all I had brought with me was my wireless earphones, which wouldn’t have been compatible with an audio jack anyway).

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Audio

The tray table was massive, and folded out from the side of the seat. Families might want to avoid this row as the armrests are fixed in place (and you can’t lie across all three seats), though these tables would be amazing for working with a computer, so I was bummed that I couldn’t bring mine along for the hike (especially since the row in front can’t recline either – it’s worth noting that row 37 is also an exit row and is outfitted with the same capabilities).

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Tray Table

As an old A320, this aircraft featured the old Airbus passenger service units, though I was happy that air nozzles were provided, despite the aircraft not being overly warm.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Passenger Service Unit

After a manual safety demonstration, the crew all bowed at the same time, which I wouldn’t expect on a Chinese airline. Shortly after that, the crew came over to greet us at the emergency exit row and gave us notices containing instructions of sitting in exit row seats (don’t open the door to grab some fresh air, etc.).

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Emergency Exit Notice

By this time the cabin was prepared for takeoff. It’s worth noting that while another school group was also traveling back to Hong Kong through Shenzhen on this flight, they took over the SkyPearl Economy cabin – they could’ve been traveling with a smaller group, since it’s not uncommon that economy and SkyPearl Economy cost the exact same on China Southern.

We probably had heaps more legroom in our emergency exit row than they did anyway, so I’m not complaining. 🙂

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin

We were held up for a while, but at 12:35 PM we pushed back and made our way towards the runway.

Traffic Lijiang Airport

Traffic Lijiang Airport

Before takeoff, while I was trying to grab pictures of aircraft, the purser came by and said that I would have to put my camera away during takeoff, and I’d be allowed to use it again during cruising. I wasn’t stopped by any other crewmembers when I kept taking photos, however, so I continued.

At around 12:50 PM, we were ready to takeoff and began a quick takeoff roll towards Shenzhen.

Views upon Climbout Lijiang Airport

The views were great upon takeoff, though unfortunately I couldn’t capture the full beauty of the scenery, since my camera was playing up and half my photos weren’t processed.

Views upon Climbout Lijiang Airport

Views upon Climbout Lijiang Airport

Once again the seatbelt sign was turned off silently, though no one was stopped from accessing the lavatory this time. In the meantime I decided to check out some of the “regular” economy seats since the back few rows were basically completely empty. I decided to stick to my exit row seat due to the extra legroom, though these seats aren’t bad for spending a couple of hours.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class

The seats featured decent recline – I believe the recline was more substantial than on the newer A320s, though obviously this comes at the expense of the legroom of the person behind.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Recline

The back row was devoid of any reclining capability but fortunately was completely empty.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Row 54

The legroom at the normal seats was definitely limited, though not too bad, if you ask me. I’d be able to survive this legroom on a 2-3 hour flight.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Legroom

While I was at it I decided to use the lavatory, which is probably what you’d expect from a well-maintained 20-year-old Airbus aircraft. The modern lever by the sink seemed uncommon, and one of the toilet paper tips was still folded. All in all, a rather clean toilet for such an ancient aircraft.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Lavatory

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Lavatory

While I was at the back I was also able to take some good cabin photos from behind, and the crew were happy (though slightly annoyed) to let me pass when I decided to go back to my seat.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin

Back at my seat I was able to spot Kunming Airport during our initial cruise. What a beautiful airport, and one with such great potential (I don’t get why one of the big Chinese airlines can’t run a ton of longhaul flights out of it and use it as a big hub, since western China is mostly underserved, and this airport has a very high capacity).

Flying Over Kunming Airport

Views upon Cruising

I had just missed the meal cart upon getting back to my seat, though they were happy to serve me when I asked for a meal. The disk I was served was some pork with cabbage and pickled vegetables with rice. The rice was really mushy though delicious, the pork was packed with flavour, though the cabbage was bland. I felt like the pork was too spicy and the pickled vegetables overpowered the dish, but hey, very pleasant for catering out of western China (and, for the record, this blew China Eastern’s Christmas cupcakes out of the water).

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Meal – Pork with Picked Vegetables

I was also served a bun and a yoghurt drink, which I didn’t touch.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Meal Box

When the drinks cart came over, I decided to order a cup of Wanglaoji, a herbal drink that I had always known about, but never really appreciated until this trip. It tasted like Wanglaoji on the ground (it’s a Chinese commodity, and just as common as orange juice is in the Western world, or milk tea is in Hong Kong).

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Wanglaoji Drink

I was on my phone for quite a bit during the meal service, and wasn’t stopped by any of the crew, nor did I see the crew stop anyone else from using their mobile phones in flight mode.

While I didn’t take advantage of this, you could connect to the audio port to watch the movie showing on the overhead PTV screens.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Overhead Screens

I scrolled through photos for a while, and made some edits on my phone. Soon we were ready to land at Shenzhen Airport, where it was a beautiful day.

Views upon Cruising

Views upon Descent Shenzhen Airport

Views upon Descent Shenzhen Airport

It was nice being back in smoggy Shenzhen, where being on the left side we had a direct view of Shenzhen’s airport terminal.

Views upon Landing Shenzhen Airport

I was able to spot a Xiamen Air 737 departing Shenzhen as we arrived.

Xiamen Airlines Boeing 737 Taking Off Shenzhen Airport

I was also able to spot China Southern’s headquarters in Shenzhen. They aren’t based in Shenzhen, though it’s clear that they operate a lot of flights out of there, based on their massive office building.

China Southern Office Shenzhen Airport

We began a quick taxi to our gate, which was located on the runwayside area of Shenzhen Airport.

Traffic Shenzhen Airport

As we neared our gate, we had a rather clear view of a stunning China Southern A330, which features a decent onboard product across all cabins.

China Southern Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport

We were also able to spot a China Southern A321.

China Southern Airbus A321 Shenzhen Airport

We parked in the vicinity to Shenzhen Airlines’ new A330, which they only recently delivered. I’m curious to know what business class product is featured on that aircraft (neither ExpertFlyer nor SeatGuru will give me an idea, since neither site features Shenzhen Airlines seatmaps), since in my understanding they offer angled lie-flat seats on their A320s in business class.

Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport

Between the Shenzhen Airlines A330 and our aircraft was a stunning Hainan Airlines 737.

Hainan Airlines Boeing 737 Shenzhen Airport

I took a few last cabin shots from my seat as we deplaned.

China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin upon Deplaning

On the jetbridge we had stunning views of the exterior of Shenzhen Airport.

Shenzhen Airport Exterior

Shenzhen Airport Exterior

Once we entered the arrivals hall we had a rather nice view of the A320 that had brought us here from Lijiang.

China Southern Airbus A320 Shenzhen Airport

The arrivals hall was under the departures hall, and really nice, in my opinion. It featured lots of natural light, and was architecturally stunning.

Arrivals Hall Shenzhen Airport

People with trypophobia might hate this final hallway that led towards the baggage reclamation area.

Arrivals Hall Shenzhen Airport

The baggage reclamation area was airy and stunning, though be aware that when flying in China you do have to keep your luggage tags on your boarding pass with you, since they have to verify that the luggage you take with you is your own.

Baggage Reclamation Area Shenzhen Airport

Seriously, what a stunning baggage reclamation area! I particularly loved the butterfly-like display that was hanging off the ceiling from the departures hall above.

Baggage Reclamation Area Shenzhen Airport

Our bus back to Hong Kong was parked quite a distance away, so we got there by passing a metro station of sorts, which was architecturally stunning in its own right. It seemed like an extension of the airport, and was also airy – Shenzhen Airport really put a lot of attention into the beauty of their airport.

Walking to Bus Area Shenzhen Airport

Unfortunately the bus driver made the stupid decision of using Cross Harbour Tunnel when bussing us back to Hong Kong on a Friday night, so we were stuck on the bus for almost three hours, which is insane for a journey from Shenzhen Airport to Hong Kong.

Bottom Line: China Southern A320 Economy Class

While it’s a lottery draw on whether you get a brand new, two-month-old A320 or an old 20-year-old A320, I’m happy to report back that my experience across both aircraft was really consistent. We were offered decent meals (though in some cases you have to choose wisely – pasta of any sort on a plane in economy on a Chinese airline is rarely ever going to be good), service was well-intentioned, and the seats were well-padded on both aircraft.

As far as IFE-less narrowbody economy goes, I think that China Southern offers a decent experience. If I were traveling domestically within China, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose China Southern if the price was right, though I wouldn’t go out of my way by any means to fly them.

Given the chance, I’d be willing to try China Southern on a longer flight, potentially in a premium cabin.

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