Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It Was Cheap, And It Was Chinese: Our Experience Flying Hainan Airlines

When we booked our Spring Break trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong Disneyland Parks, we chose Hainan Airlines almost entirely because of price.  We had read online reviews of China Southern Airlines that were less than favorable, but the ones of Hainan were pretty good.  We were willing to take a chance in order to be able to afford an exotic Spring Break, but would the flight be pleasant in addition to being affordable?  Would there be any movies in English?  Would the English movies be ones I wanted to see?  How would the food be?  Would the flight attendants be able to speak and understand English? 

We needn’t have worried.  As soon as we boarded, Hainan set themselves apart with the most entertaining safety video since Delta's safety video with the Finger-wagging flight attendant.  I have never seen bikini-clad actresses in a safety video before, but I counted no fewer than seven of them in this one.  I was both stunned and completely entranced with the absurdity of it.

The movie and TV selections exceeded my expectations.  I watched a British movie called The Bank Job  and Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett.  I started The Hurt Locker but quickly decided that my already-frazzled nerves couldn't handle the suspense and then watched something else that was apparently entertaining but was also forgettable.  Josh watched a season of Elementary, and the kids watched family-friendly options.

Upon boarding we were given an amenity kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, headphones, and an eye mask along with a menu of food options.  Each of the two meals served had both Asian and western options, and we all found things that we were actually looking forward to eating.
Knox's child's meal included pasta and some yummy junk food.

My meal of teriyaki beef was fine, not delicious but also not tasteless.

Note: We always ask for a child’s meal for Knox when we fly internationally because they serve the special request meals first.  He’s a super slow eater anyway, so getting his food early helps him have more time to sleep after meal service.  But if you want to get your meal early on pretty much any airline, even adults can call or get online a few days ahead to make special meal requests.  Airlines differ in their offerings, but most offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-free options.  Of course, you don't have to prove that you're a vegetarian or anything, so you can request a vegetarian meal with the sole purpose of getting your food earlier than everybody else.  

There are also some really unusual special request meal options on some airlines.  One is called Jain.  It’s kind of vegan plus no root vegetables, with the idea that you don’t eat anything that kills the plant when you eat it.  Pulling a root would kill the plant, so no carrots, potatoes, onions, etc.  Anyway, you can ask for that on some airlines, though why you’d ever want to subject yourself to that is beyond me. Other unusual options are carb-free, low-sodium, diabetic, Muslim (no pork and all meats are Halal), Kosher, Asian vegetarian, or Hindu vegetarian (which actually sounds spicy and kind of delicious).

Speaking of food, Hainan put out snacks in the galley in the back of the plane that guests could go and grab whenever they got hungry (or bored).  There were sandwiches, Oreos, chips, pretzels, coffee, a selection of teas, and soft drinks.   Can you imagine an American carrier doing this in economy class?  They don't even always give you the full can of Coke, so I doubt they'd put out a buffet of free snacks for passengers to graze on for 13 hours.
Josh helps himself to some snacks during the flight.

The crew replenished the snack baskets frequently during the flight.

The thing that impressed me most happened repeatedly on both the flight to Shanghai and the flight home.  Recently, I have begun drinking warm water as my drink of choice.  It's calorie-free and keeps my hands warm as I hold the cup.  Each time drink service came by, I asked for warm water.  The flight attendants on both flights remembered my request for hours and brought me cups of warm water without my reminding them.  As far as I could tell, they never wrote down my seat number or anything, but they still remembered.

Overall the staff was kind and helpful (though it bewildered them when I was taking pictures of the snacks in the galley), and their English was what I'd call good enough.  It wasn't fluent by any stretch, but it was good enough.  My biggest critique is that the English announcements were difficult to understand.  It was almost as if they chose the flight attendant with the most seniority to make the announcements instead of the flight attendant with the best English pronunciation.

The verdict?  I would definitely fly Hainan again, and their service far exceeds what you'd expect for such an affordable price.  Here how I'd break it down.

Service A
Price A
English B-
Food B+
Entertainment A
Aircraft A+
Leg Room in Economy B+
Safety Video A+
Flight Attendants' Uniforms A- (I can't help it.  I'm a sucker for a well-accessorized flight attendant uniform.  I'm sure they're terribly impractical and uncomfortable, but I've found that the quality of an airline's service is directly proportional to the style and impracticality of the flight attendants' uniforms.)

Thirteen hours after leaving Seattle, we arrived in Shanghai, more well-rested than we expected to be (thanks to those empty seats on our flight that I mentioned in my last post) and ready to face the immigration officers that were the last hurdle in our visa exemption plan.  And it was a good thing we were rested up because immigration in Shanghai was not a cakewalk.  My next post will tell that story plus fill you in on the Toy Story Hotel!
Here's a little Toy Story Hotel Preview!

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