Hainan Airlines leads the pack when it comes to premium service from a Chinese airline. Everything about this carrier is designed to impress - from the fashionable uniforms worn by flight crew to the glamorous presentation of its inflight service. What it may lack in name recognition, it certainly makes up for with genuine hospitality.
Hainan’s modest number of long-haul flights complements its impressive domestic network - connecting China with Europe and North America. While Hainan is not part of an airline alliance, it does have its own frequent flier program, Fortune Wings Club. It is best suited for China-based fliers and those that fly Hainan often.
Other travellers may be pleased to know that it also has a frequent flier relationship with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan - with Alaska members able to earn and redeem miles on Hainan. Other airline partners include Etihad and TAP Air Portugal.
Chinese airports can be enormous with less-than-friendly security and immigration processing and poor lounge facilities. Hainan operates from numerous Chinese gateways including Beijing, Xian, Chengdu, Chongqing and Changsha.
Passengers can expect dedicated check-in lanes for Business Class passengers where service is swift, but language barriers for English speakers are not unusual. In Europe and North America, Hainan uses contract agents and local partners where the experience may be more appealing for Western travellers. When available, priority security and lounge access are provided.
In China, some lounges can be busy with limited food suitable for Western tastes. Average wine and beer selections are on offer with liquor available in certain airports. Outside of China, the contract lounges are better, but the offering varies by airport and time of day.
In China, lounges are not something one would want to arrive particularly for before a flight. The only exception are the flagship HNA Club in Beijing, which is Hainan’s own branded lounge, and an additional HNA Club in Hangzhou. With ample hot and cold food buffets, an impressive bar selection and the ability to order food to your seat via touchscreen, HNA Clubs are significantly ahead of most other lounges Hainan uses in its other gateways. When possible, try and depart from Beijing to take advantage of them.
Priority boarding is a perk of Business Class, but the dedicated lanes are not always respected in China or by other passengers eager to board a flight. A flash of your boarding pass to the gate agent should get you through the crowd though.
The bottom line is that the airport experience really depends on the departure city as it can vary wildly.
The airline’s long-haul fleet consists of Boeing Dreamliner 787 plus Airbus A330 and A350-900 planes. The seating depends on the plane type, however. Hainan’s fleet includes a 1-2-1 setup in reverse herringbone pattern, 1-2-1 in a staggered pattern, or a much less desirable 2-2-2 setup. The layout depends on the aircraft, and swaps are not uncommon so it is always important to monitor the seat map right up to departure time.
In the 1-2-1 configuration, everyone has direct aisle access and plenty of work and dining space whether it is reverse herringbone or staggered. In the latter, seats are positioned either closer to the window or closer to the aisle. Opt for one that has the table adjacent to the aisle for more privacy. Seats closer to the aisle, which exist in each alternating row, are easily disturbed by people moving past. Those in the centre section with the table closer to the aisle will find that the seats are very close to each other limiting personal privacy if not travelling with your seatmate. For that reason, reverse herringbone on most of the 787-9 aircraft remains the best layout of all the aircraft.
The 2-2-2 setup is less popular since window seat passengers will have to step over a seatmate to reach the aisle. In addition, these are older seats, albeit still quite wide.
No matter the aircraft type, each seat is surrounded by a hard-shell exterior adding greater privacy especially when the seat is fully reclined. For those in the centre section, often preferred by couples, there is a small privacy shield that can be drawn, but it is not very large. Solo travellers will want one of the window seats, but all seats have the same ensuite amenities including side tables that fold up to reveal more storage space and remote control for the large television screen.
All seats recline to a flat bed, which is helpful since most Hainan flights are rather long. Easy-to-use controls adjust the seat to the upright, relax or fully flat position with the option to lounge with the footrest extended, while sitting close to upright. A magazine pocket keeps literature organized, and there is a pocket for a water bottle as well as much-needed power and USB outlets. The tray table folds out of the side of the seat with ease, and a reading light allows you to illuminate the tray or your lap without disturbing other passengers.
On Boeing Dreamliner aircraft, dimmer switches control the windows rather than a traditional shade. This means that you can have it at a bright setting or dim it a bit while still being able to see outside. Some flight crews, however, lock the system limiting your choice on being able to see out or having it completely dark. The Airbus planes have more traditional window shades for those that prefer them.
There is no charge to make a seat assignment in advance.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes images, videos and seat maps for most airlines and aircraft Search results also include details such as seat pitch, width and recline. This way you can see the seat and cabin configuration of the flight in which you are interested, before making your choice.
After takeoff, flight attendants visit each passenger to offer them a beverage of choice served with nuts and discuss their menu plans for the flight. Since the entire flight is dine on demand, passengers can eat when they see fit - choosing as much or as little as they like.
Everything is served directly from the galley since people will mix and match their preferences and dining times. On offer are bowls of soup, salads, western and Chinese appetisers, a similar range of main dishes, a cheese course and dessert. Most passengers opt to have the first meal after takeoff, and an onboard chef dressed in traditional attire often comes through the cabin to help serve meals and provide dessert options from a multi-tier trolley.
Other dining options include a lounge and bar menu with lighter bites including sandwiches and noodle soups. Pre-arrival meals vary based on the time of day and are also available upon request at any time in the flight.
It would be nice to have a snacking station where you could grab a bite to eat or drink without asking anyone, but the service is so doting that the flight crew will bring you whatever you want to eat or drink at any time. They encourage the use of the flight attendant call button.
Service is exceptional, and the menu range is unbeatable when compared with other Chinese airlines. Meals are presented in attractive dishware from a notable Chinese designer that are often organized in unique patterns to create a visually appealing table. No trays are used during the main meal to recreate a restaurant experience. For example, bread is served in individual baskets left on each table, and the range of condiments that comes with each meal includes the airline’s own blend of uber-spicy sauce. Try it if you dare! It’s delicious in small portions.
Special meals are available for pre-order, which vegetarian or children’s meals among others.
Before takeoff, water or Champagne is offered to each passenger, which is not always the case with Chinese airlines. Hainan uses numerous vintages including Champagne Leventre-Dedieu Grand Cru Brut on its flights and in HNA Clubs. A full wine list details all the bottles served aboard, which further highlights why the carrier earns such high marks.
After takeoff, more beverages from the bar are available including three white wines, three red wines, several international beers, spirits and aperitifs, and Chinese alcohol. Cocktails and mocktails are on offer in addition to a range of juices and soft drinks. Tea spans the globe including several Chinese options, and the coffee list includes iced coffee, cappuccino and espresso. Refills are not always proactive, but the crew is always happy to top up any glass.
Bottled water awaits at every seat.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on which Champagne is served in Business Class and First Class on many airlines. We do our best to keep track of any changes, but feel free to let us know if there is something we missed.
Hainan flight crews will surprise you. The service is more akin to First Class on other airlines with great attention to detail serving food and drinks upon request and trying their best to make conversation. While the English language is not their strongest suit, it is clear that they aim to please and show off the airline’s hospitality.
Unlike most Chinese airlines, Hainan proactively recruits flight attendants also outside of China, making their cabin crew more diverse.
Cabin crew wear beautifully designed uniforms, unveiled at the 2017 Lawrence Xu Haute Couture Show in Paris. Designer Lawrence Xu was behind the attire, which combines traditional Chinese elements, such as cheongsam dresses for women and jackets with Mandarin collars for men, along with more Western touches such as double-breasted coats.
Large television screens in front of each seat are loaded with first-rate movies, sitcoms, documentaries and music channels. The controls are easy to use including touch-screen on many planes; all have remote controls as a secondary option. Impressive noise-canceling Bose headphones are available at each seat. The moving map on the Dreamliner and A350 planes is particularly entertaining for its 3D capabilities that shows all of the notable things being passed along the way.
Chinese airlines are helter-skelter when it comes to Wi-Fi with many not offering it, including Hainan.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on inflight entertainment and Wi-Fi.
Hainan Airlines amenity kits are beautiful anf highly collectible. They change regularly and have included hard-shell Samsonite kits in various colours and zippered pouches stocked with designer products. On most flights, passengers are proffered pajamas to wear and take home. Slippers are standard.
Lavatories stock Clarins beauty products including facial toner and lotion.
Impressive blankets and pillows are provided on all long-haul flights, and these are in partnership with the Sofitel hotel group and its MyBed product. They are exceptionally comfortable although Hainan tends to keep the cabin quite warm for Western tastes so may not always be necessary.
Families travelling with infants can request a bassinet on long-haul flights to use at certain seats.
On shorter flights using the same widebody aircraft, entertainment programming remains the same while the meal service is slightly abbreviated, but equally impressive. The airline does not skimp on the bar list on shorter flights although meals are typically served on a tray rather than directly on the linen-lined tray table. Missing on these shorter flights, understandably, are amenity kits, pajamas and chefs operating beautiful dessert trolleys.
Hainan raises money for carbon offsetting and helps to plant trees and green spaces in the communities that it serves. Like other airlines, it has switched to an electronic flight kit for its pilots to reduce the weight of manuals carried, and the company is constantly looking at ways to reduce fuel through more efficient route planning and airport operations.
The flight search on BusinessClass.com includes information on CO2 emissions for each flight. Our quality algorithms also give a higher score to flights operated by the most modern and environmentally friendly aircraft.
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