As Hainan Airlines continues to slowly update their Dreamliner fleet, we couldn’t resist jumping on board to check out their new 1-2-1 reverse herringbone Business Class product.
Hainan Airlines is one of just 10 airlines worldwide — and the only airline in China — to receive a Skytrax 5-Star rating. And as the best airline in mainland China, we’d been looking forward to trying out their new 787-9 Dream Feather seats since they were released just a few months ago. We’ve taken advantage of some incredible fares out of LAX to various cities in China (for as low as $1,462 round trip). Now that we’ve made the trip a few times, we decided to share our most recent trip flying LAX-CSX-PEK round trip. And since Hainan Airlines flights can be credited to Alaska Airlines, we’re earning a ridiculous 20,000 EQMs and 70,000 RDMs per trip, which we’ve covered in greater detail here.
Scheduling Limo Service
One of the great unique perks Hainan Airlines offers is complementary Limo service for passengers on C, D, I and Z fares, which should be most all Business Class fares. Each person gets 2 one-way transfer each, so two people traveling together is enough to cover all your inbound and outbound transfers. We scheduled rides to and from LAX and PEK, and found the booking process quick and easy. The airline provides the driver’s phone number which we found incredibly useful one time when we needed to do a last minute pickup location change. After a quick couple messages the driver said it wouldn’t be a problem and it was easier to coordinate than via email to HNA. Drivers were punctual and chauffeured Lincoln SUVs in Los Angeles and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans in China.
Arrangements can be made by calling +86(898)95339 or emailing email@example.com to request a form, and must be scheduled at least 24 hours before departure but no more than 30 days out.
This wasn’t always the case, but Hainan Airlines check-in counters are now intuitively located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal “C” aisle. A very welcome change from days of old, where they were hidden away in Terminal 2.
While battling LAX traffic took a significant amount of time, checking in was easy. We arrived at LAX a couple hours early and the Business Class line was empty, though the Economy class line was incredibly long.
They verify Chinese Visas at the counter, so if you are planning on traveling to China, make sure you don’t leave Visas off the to-do list.
Sidebar: Getting a Chinese Visa
It’s worth noting that while getting a Chinese Tourist Visa (L Visa) in Los Angeles isn’t difficult, it is fairly expensive. Fortunately they turn them around in just 4 business days. Keep in mind the Chinese consulate is walk-in only, so plan ahead and block out a half day for your initial appointment. Pickups are much quicker and can be done in about 15-30 minutes depending on time of day.
We briefly stopped by the Los Angeles International Lounge if only to snap a few pictures and then head back out to the terminal. TBIT is a beautiful terminal to walk through and is probably our favorite in the United States. Which is for the best, given the lack of amenities in the lounge. There’s a stark difference between the Los Angeles International Lounge and pretty much every other lounge at LAX. Needless to say, if you haven’t been to this lounge, you aren’t missing out on much.
Food and beverage options are limited to a few varieties of tomato juice, tonic water, a coke machine and a handful of liquors.
The lounge is very small and wasn’t at all busy when we visited. There are a few seating areas inside and on the balcony.
If we have to give credit somewhere, it’s the view from the 6th floor balcony — which also happens to be the coolest area in the lounge (it’s been very warm every visit). Lack of A/C is a very common practice in mainland Chinese lounges as well, so this is surprisingly good preparation.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll enjoy more time playing Shuffleboard or taking advantage of various Priority Pass benefits available at LAX instead.
I’ll start by saying Hainan Airlines has done a phenomenal job on the new 787-9 Dreamliner aesthetic. The Dream Feather interiors feature beautiful linoleum flooring in the galleys and it’s clear the Business Class seats are designed to be both practical and comfortable.
The amount of storage beats every other Business Class seat in the sky right now (and is an even more beautiful design than AA’s new Dreamliner version), with two compartments along the console, another large compartment against the aisle, and other smaller storage areas along the floor and footwell. The seat privacy is better than most reverse herringbone products we’ve flown, and the aisle compartment was fully height-adjustable so it could be used as an armrest of any height or raised fully to provide extra privacy. We also found the provided Bose QC250 headphones and Samsonite amenities bag to be of good quality.
Tray table placement and functionality is often overlooked in seat designs, but that is not at all the case here. The table pulls out from directly under the entertainment screen and has a small latch on the underside that locks it in several positions to allow movement in and out of the seat during meals or finding the perfect amount of recline to enjoy your dinner and a movie. The design felt like a small version of Japan Airlines first class tray tables and is a big improvement over the typical reverse herringbone design. As with most reverse herringbone designs, the window seats have a more spacious footwell.
Interestingly, there was a seat out of commission in the 26-seat Business Class cabin. They also only ever used a single jetbridge to board, so be prepared to be bumped a bit during boarding should the front-most cabin door be used.
We also captured an interesting notice at the end of the safety video, for whatever that’s worth to you. Every plane also had the Chinese equivalent of an Air Marshal who walks the cabin throughout the flight. This is true for all Chinese flights we’ve seen, and they usually are dressed in all black/dark blue with a badge and travel with the flight crew.
Service was attentive and gracious. We had 6 flight attendants, including the cabin manager and chef, servicing a full business class cabin of 26 passengers. Despite the cabin being very empty just a few weeks ago, it managed to completely book up by departure day. And although it was a full flight, the crew were incredibly attentive and meticulous in their service, comparable to what we’ve experienced on Singapore and Qatar Airways.
All other amenities are what you’d expect if you’ve traveled Business Class on other Asian airlines like Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines. Though when it comes to hospitality and courtesy, I would have to give a slight nod to Hainan’s flight attendants despite the very limited English spoken by the crew. Although not in all cases, there is typically one foreign flight attendant on the transpacific routes, who can assist with the language barrier.
Lastly, Hainan Airlines blankets are by far my favorite of any airline. They’re more like plush, fluffy duvets which I much prefer over fleece. On our outbound, we saw mattress pads in the overhead bin when we boarded, but they were never offered and nobody in the cabin received turn down service despite being a red-eye transpacific flight. On our inbound, the reverse was true, and the crew offered a wonderful turn down service.
Unfortunately, they only had limited pajama sizes that were hilariously short on me given that I’m over 6 feet — the sleeves only went down to my elbows. I’ll leave you with that mental image.
Areas for improvement
There were a few minor details that made us feel a little bit like we were beta testing for HNA.
The crew informed us early on that WiFi was not available on our flight. The foreign flight attendant, which they try to have on every flight to smooth over the English issues, later mentioned that Wi-Fi has not worked for months now on any flight. Similarly, power outlets and USB charging ports did not work on both our outbound and inbound flights into Los Angeles. We did ask the flight crew to reset the frozen entertainment system on our inbound which did trigger our outlets to turn on, but we weren’t as lucky on our outbound.
Western entertainment options were also surprisingly limited. Generally speaking, Chinese airlines aren’t known for having expansive inflight entertainment options, though we did expect more. Movies and TV shows were sectioned into categories, and there was no way to view the full library alphabetically. In total, there were a few dozen new releases, blockbusters and classics, and then a small handful of other movies and shows. Didn’t bother us too much, as we don’t generally spend a lot of time watching movies and shows in-flight — but this could be a major pain point for someone who does.
Dining was incredibly disappointing on the outbound, as it looks like Hainan is taking a page out of Garuda’s handbook. Per the cabin manager, there was an issue with their food delivery vendor that resulted in limited dining options and therefore they didn’t print menus. As a result, we were presented a handwritten menu featuring 3 light snacks and 2 main course options to choose from. The cabin manager denied my attempts to get a good photo of the menu, so I didn’t pursue it further than what is pictured below.
They later provided me with a copy of their regular menu, which has some excellent options on it that I hope to try at some point. I’m not a big fan of the “Dine Any Time” concept, as I’ve never seen it executed well, and unfortunately Hainan Airlines was no exception.
Pictures of the meals are below.
A few words of advice for connecting flights in China
If you’re connecting in China, I highly suggest you not check in a bag, and to also travel light. Chinese security is quite intense (prepare for a thorough pat down). Be prepared to lose any power banks that don’t have Watt-hours labelled specifically on the device, or if there is any degree of fading on the label. We’ve consistently had perfectly acceptable items (electronics, personal items, film equipment) confiscated out of our carry-ons, and have suffered even more losses in checked bags. They may also arbitrarily try to enforce carry-on baggage size for the carrier, but airline staff were able to resolve the issue in our experience. Checked bags will also need to be collected and re-checked in the Chinese port of entry/exit if you have a connection, so leave enough time between flights. You will also be required to get your onward boarding pass at this time as well. Depending on the city, the international and domestic terminals may also be quite a walk, and China is known for frequent and long delays.
Connecting in Changsha
For reasons unknown to us, the Changsha Huanghua International Airport in Hunan does not have sufficient signage or instruction in the airport, and they do not list airline names on the screens above the check-in counters. After landing in Changsha, you’ll have to get through immigration and exit to the departure level of the appropriate terminal to check in for your connecting flight.
The signage that does exist is incorrect, and most airport employees aren’t sure where to direct you, so we spent an incredible amount of time following bad instructions on our first go around. If you are on Hainan Business Class connecting domestically, go to the A aisle counters. If connecting internationally, go to aisle D.
Aisles B and C seemed to only serve Economy Class passengers and the lines were very long. Look for signage in Aisles A and D that says “Business Class, “Fortune Wings Club” or similar, or simply walk up next to an Economy check-in queue and ask for a Business Class check-in. Once you get your boarding class ticket, look for a security check line that is specifically for premium cabin tickets only. When you get to the gate for your next leg, make sure you hop on the Business Class shuttle for tarmac transportation to the aircraft, as in our experience HNA prefers remote gates where you bus instead of direct board at the gate.
Just past First/Business Class security, you’ll make a right to take the escalator up to the #14 Lounge (which is also available through Priority Pass).
Don’t expect anything beyond bottled water and soda, however, as this lounge certainly one-ups the Los Angeles International Lounge.
There didn’t seem to be A/C nor are there washrooms in the lounge, so the squatters in the washroom right after security are the closest thing to a toilet you’ll get until you board your next flight.
Final thoughts on Hainan Airlines and their new 787-9 Dreamliner
Is it worth flying China’s #1 airline on the new 787-9 Dreamliner? We think so.
Were it not for the lack of WiFi, catering snafu and electrical issues, Hainan Airlines’ new Business Class product would be one of our favorite in the sky, right under Qatar Airways’ Q-suites. The planes have a beautiful aesthetic, the service is spectacular, and I slept incredibly well at 35,000 feet thanks to comfortable and spacious seating accompanied by one of my favorite airline duvets.
On the other hand, Hainan’s greatest opportunity for improvement is on the ground, as the onboard experience is already great and has the potential to be amazing. I imagine the small kinks in the sky will be resolved in time, but the poor pre-flight and connecting experiences feel awfully insufficient for a Skytrax 5-Star airline. Granted, only so much of the experience on the ground is within the airline’s control, and is on par with all other Chinese airlines.
That said, we would absolutely fly Hainan Airlines again, now that our on-the-ground expectations are tempered and we’ve learned the ropes on how to connect. Both the hard and soft product are fantastic, and we believe the issues we experienced in the sky are easily solvable. Our best recommendation would be to limit time on the ground with short connecting flights, leave important items at home to avoid confiscation, and take advantage of the limo service.