Hainan Airlines is the only mainland Chinese airline to have a Skytrax 5 star rating. The small but mighty airline is only 25 years old but has a reputation of being among the best carriers in China, and is fighting for attention on the global stage. With a growing route map connecting China with Europe and several destinations in North America, Hainan Airlines Business class should not be ignored.
I recently flew Hainan Airlines business class from San Jose, California to Beijing, China on the Kung Fu Panda 787-9. The beautiful plane departed San Jose slightly early and had all passengers on board and ready 15 minutes before departure. This trip is actually my second on Hainan Airlines, as I previously flew Hainan Business Class between Los Angeles and Changsha on the 787-8 The -9 series is very similar to the older -8, but features a business class cabin that is one large cabin instead of two separated by a galley and boarding door.
Boarding & Departure
By the time I left “The Club” and made it to the gate, the flight was already in final call. The plane boarded early, and I was unaware as I was sitting in the lounge. No flight announcements are made in The Club. I boarded the plane through door 2L and was escorted to my seat in the forward cabin. At the boarding door were two flight attendants, one Chinese and one Western. I was surprised to see a Caucasian flight attendant on a Chinese carrier. Sure enough, there were two! At the boarding door, there was also cart with headphones and newspapers geared towards those in economy class. The Chinese FA was the one who walked me to my seat while the German FA stood by the door waiting any remaining guests.
After sitting, the German flight attendant welcomed me on board with a warm towel, mix nuts, and a drink of my choice. His welcome tray included a selection of water, and orange and guava juice, and a mocktail. Hainan Airlines does not serve alcohol on the ground before departure. I opted for the mocktail which was very sweet!
Seats are stocked with several items before departure. Each seat has a small pillow and slippers waiting for guests and other items or delivered while the crew preps for take-off. Before take-off, another flight attendant brought around large duvets, amenity kits, and Bose Q25 noise canceling headsets. Overall ground service was impressive, but some bubbly would have been nice.
Hainan Airlines Business Class Inflight
Inflight service was typical of most flights. Flight attendants were very attentive and did not skip a detail. Meal orders were taken slightly after take-off and dinner service began about an hour in flight. Service is very scripted but elegant. Yet then again, isn’t most dinning service in the air scripted?
Meal service started first with drinks and canapes. I had wine with dinner. Whenever wine is served in Hainan Airlines Business Class, it is all about the experience. All wines are presented to guests, tasted, and then served in a full glass. If a guest does not like the wine, the flight attendant will fetch something different.
After the starter, plates are cleared away and each table is set with a white table cloth for diner service. White tablecloths, elegant salt and pepper shakers, and fine china make up the presentation for dinner. A warm bread basket is placed on each table, along with silverware and a soup spoon with a personal cradle. The entire set up is quite nice and the entire breadbasket is carbohydrate heaven!
Once the table is set, it is time to indulge! Each guest eats at their own pace and once a dish is consumed the flight attendants work in teams to clear plates and serve the next course. Dinner can take 90 minutes or longer depending on one’s eating speed. An express service is available for those who want to speed through dinner and sleep.
For those still hungry, after the main course is finish, the dessert cart is available with cheese, fresh fruit, Hagen daz ice cream, or today’s special, a chocolate lava cake! Other than the desert cart, there are not charts or trays in the aisle during dinner.
After dinner is done, it is time to rest up. Turn down service is available to all passengers. Flight attendants dim the cabin lights and prepare beds for sleepy passengers. Each seat goes flat, a full size bed well over 6 feet in length. FAs will cover the seat with a thin sleeper pad and another larger pillow for extra comfort. In addition to making beds, flight attendants offer Hainan pajamas for guests in business class. I personally love in-flight pajamas and have about 20 pairs at home. Yet the main reason I love them is because I can change out of my clothes and not feel as grungy upon arrival at my destination!
After dinner service, I tried to sleep but after a two hour nap I was wide awake. With a 12:30 pm departure from San Jose, I was not really sleepy. During the rest of the flight, flight attendants were visible in the aisles to check on passengers and to ensure needs are met. I would see them offering food, refilling drinks, and ensuring customers were comfortable. A FA pass through was done at least every 15-20 minutes.
Two hours before arrival in Beijing, breakfast began. Once again this was a full meal service and nothing was overlooked. The meal was severed faster than dinner but was done professionally and gracefully. The entire meal was on one tray. For those who enjoy carbs, the entire breadbasket is available a seconded time. I opted for the Chinese meal though and passed on the bread. I was having rice.
Arrival into Beijing and Final thoughts
Arriving into Beijing includes ground service transfer help and special services for business class passengers. Many of Hainan Airlines planes use remote gates. Business class passengers receive their own small van to whisk them to the terminal. Economy class passengers share large buses with standing room only. For passengers who are transiting in Beijing, a ground service guide walks you through customs and immigration and on to the check in counters for continuation flight. Being escorted does not result in expedited services. One still must wait in the regular lines at customs and immigration.
Overall, Hainan Airlines Business class on transpacific flights are top notch. Catering of meals is decent but wines are cheap, around $8 a bottle. Meal time service is impressive and more individualized than on other airlines. The crew speaks decent English, or at least tries to with a smile. Service can be robotic in a typical Chinese fashion, but friendly. Hainan Airlines slightly reminds me of Cathay Pacific Business class service, or at least the style and robotic-like behavior. The seats do not provide any privacy and are dated despite the planes being brand new. Thankfully the seat next to me was empty, so I had extra space and privacy! A 2x2x2 configuration is my least favorite, but it beats 2x3x2 configurations seen on some carriers 777s.
In the end, if the price is right, I would recommend flying Hainan Airlines Business Class. Hainan Airlines often offers round trip flights for less than $2000 in the premium cabin. Sometimes fares are even as low as $1400 round trip to China! Although the airline might not be Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, for a mainland Chinese airline they have it together. Domestic flights and IRROPS on Hainan Airlines are a different story, but if flying long haul, Hainan is a good choice!
For more pictures of the seat in bed mode or other photos of the cabin, read my Hainan Airlines Business Class Changsha to LA review.