a row of seats on an airplane

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.

people walking outside a building
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.

people in a terminal with people waiting for their flight
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.

a group of people in a terminal
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.

a sign with a blue and yellow text
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…

a sign with a cartoon character on it
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.

a sign with text on it
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.

a large building with people sitting in chairs
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.

a plane on the runway
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.

a sign with writing on it
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.

a plane parked in front of a building
Beijing Capital Airlines Airbus A319 Lijiang Airport

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

a yellow sign with black text
Lijiang Airport Signage

I sure was excited to board this rather retro A320!

a plane parked on the tarmac
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.

a seat on an airplane with a cooler and pillows
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.

a seat with a white pillow and a white pillow on the side
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.

a seat on an airplane
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.

a seat in an airplane
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.

a row of blue chairs with white cloth on them
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.

a row of blue seats on an airplane
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!

a group of people standing in an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Row 38

a blue seats with a striped pattern
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.

a seat in an airplane
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.

a person's legs and feet in the airplane
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).

a close up of a device
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).

a white rectangular object with a hinge
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.

a close-up of a panel
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.).

a red and white sign with black text
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. 🙂

a group of people sitting in an airplane
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.

an airplane wing in front of a building
Traffic Lijiang Airport

an airplane wing in the air
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.

an airplane wing with mountains in the background
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.

a wing of an airplane flying over a mountain
Views upon Climbout Lijiang Airport

an airplane wing in the sky
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.

a row of seats in an airplane
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.

a row of blue seats with white seats in the middle
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Recline

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

a row of seats in an airplane
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.

a person's legs and a pocket on a seat
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.

a toilet with a seat open
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Lavatory

a sink with a faucet
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.

a group of people sitting in an airplane
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).

an aerial view of a city
Flying Over Kunming Airport

an airplane wing and clouds
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).

a tray of food on a table
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.

a burger and a box
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).

a glass of brown liquid on a white table
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.

a screen on the ceiling of an airplane
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.

an airplane wing in the sky
Views upon Cruising

the wing of an airplane
Views upon Descent Shenzhen Airport

an airplane wing over water
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.

an airport runway with a tower and buildings in the background
Views upon Landing Shenzhen Airport

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

a plane flying in the sky
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.

a plane on the runway
China Southern Office Shenzhen Airport

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

an airplane wing on a runway
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.

an airplane on the runway
China Southern Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport

We were also able to spot a China Southern A321.

a large airplane on the runway
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.

a plane parked at an airport
Shenzhen Airlines Airbus A330 Shenzhen Airport

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

a plane parked at an airport
Hainan Airlines Boeing 737 Shenzhen Airport

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

a seat on an airplane
China Southern Airbus A320 Economy Class Cabin upon Deplaning

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

a large building with many cars parked on the side
Shenzhen Airport Exterior

a large building with a large white structure
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.

a group of airplanes at an airport
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.

a white structure with a glass railing
Arrivals Hall Shenzhen Airport

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

a large hall with people walking
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.

a group of people standing in a terminal
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.

a large hall with people walking
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.

people walking in a large 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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