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Friday 20 June 2014

A flight like no other: braving domestic economy on China Southern

No matter how many times you have flown with EasyJet, Ryanair or Tiger Airways, nothing can prepare you for the culture shock of a domestic leg on China Southern. 

First there are all the signs at the departure gate warning against excess hand baggage - which are ignored by just about every passenger, several of whom seem to want to have all their worldly possessions with them on the short 50-minute leg from Haikou, on Hainan island, to Shenzhen. 

I am the only non-Chinese person on this jam-packed flight, which means I get the seat in the back row, the row that doesn't recline, right across the way from the toilet. With the baggage locker where the staff had stowed all their bags. 

And the bloke in front of me goes into some yoga pose and slams his seat into full recline well before half of the passengers have boarded. My shout of "What the f....?" fortunately discourages him. 

Unfortunately the flight was delayed for an hour on the tarmac, with no explanation and heating on full blast, so the toilet was used by just about every flyer on board before take-off.

When we finally did push back and were making our way to the runway, there were passengers still in the toilet, and a couple wandering obliviously down the aisle. 

Our stewardess left it until the last moment to advise a passenger across the aisle from me that his hand luggage needed to be under the seat or in the locker above his head - rather than on his lap, where he had placed it.

The result was a full-on screaming match between the two of them that lasted for several minutes - right in my ear. At one stage it looked like they might come to blows.

Several passengers felt the command to turn off phones and mobile devices did not apply to them.

When we finally did take off, the in-flight entertainment was Dallas Buyers Club, which lasts 117 minutes. Not the ideal choice for a flight of under an hour. If you fly regularly with China Southern you might become heartily sick of watching the first half of a movie.

The in-flight meal consisted of one sweet biscuit, three dry biscuits and  tiny pack of pickled radishes - not a selection I can see Qantas introducing any time soon. 

After landing, well before the seat belt sign had been switched off, passengers were pushing their way to the front of the aircraft and making phone calls. 

But we all survived. And I had the chance to watch the second half of the movie on Emirates a couple of weeks later.   


  1. never underestimate the power of 'what the f...?'. Great post

  2. Sounds a bit like a flight I took on Dragonair. As well as being the only foreigner I think I was the only female. It was a 3 hour flight. The stench was beyond belief. And your 'meal' sounds familiar! An experience anyway.

  3. There's good travel experience and then there's the grist for good travel stories. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don't. My plane favorites? (And these were all US flights)? The woman who changed her baby's poopy diaper a seat away (not the bathroom, the seat), a shoving match on Mark Air's exit, and getting stuck on the tarmack for 4 hours because the Santa Anna winds kept us from landing at the correct airport about 100 feet before touchdown. The stews kept screaming at the passengers to properly hang up the plane phone then discovered the issue was their system not the passenger phone use. There was no food no refreshments no nothing, pickled beets or anything. I got home 18 hours later.

  4. Ha. Love it. I had a similar experience on a CAAC flight in 1976 Beijing-Nanjing. The "food" was much the same, the only entertainment was trying to devise ways of avoiding the by-product of 100-odd chain smokers, the whole plane rattled and the seat belt wouldn't connect.