In late August 2018, I found an incredibly cheap airfare to Europe on China Southern Airlines departing from Cairns via Guangzhou. This airfare was available to the public, I paid the retail price without discounts and my travel report is not influenced by any airline sponsorship or discount.
China Southern Airways currently depart from Cairns three times a week with worldwide connections through Guangzhou, which is in mainland China just north of Hong Kong. Guangzhou offers a 72 hour visa free transit program. This allows for a stop if you prefer to break your journey.
Most of the connections to Europe require a long stop in China, but China Southern airlines provide you with a room at an airport hotel and transfers.
Here a short account of my trip. I start with the flight to Europe:
• Check-in in Cairns: two hours before departure, only about ten people in front of me. Check-in took a long time, we were told that there was a computer glitch.
• Once in the departure lounge my name was called to the gate and I was allowed a quick aircraft inspection before the other passengers boarded. I got to see business class, the menu and had a chat to the staff members. I was also lucky to be offered a seat in premium economy, which is a cabin that officially does not exist. This cabin class will be replaced soon by economy and business class only and does not exist on other CZ planes, therefore it is not bookable in the system but high Skyteam frequent flyers might request an upgrade. Upgrade is also available after boarding, but I don’t know how much it costs.
• The daytime flight to Guangzhou was very pleasant. The staff were very friendly and helpful. The bathrooms were spotless and each time a passenger used them a staff member made sure it was clean for the next person. There was plenty of room on the flight, it was not heavily booked.
• The drinks trolley came around regularly and the meal was tasty and the quantity was sufficient. I highly recommend always to choose the Asian option when you have a choice of meals. They tend to be tastier than the European options such as the omelette.
• There is in-seat entertainment with movies in English and Chinese. The choice of movies was a bit limited but there was enough to choose from to keep entertained.
Arrival in Guangzhou:
• I have been through this process twice, once on the outbound sector and once on the inbound. It is not difficult, you just need to know what to do and where to go. It requires some patience as the Chinese authorities are not to be rushed. For my own good clients I have an instruction sheet on the procedure. For online bookers: Good luck to you!
Nine hour stop in Guangzhou:
• It takes you two to three hours to get out of the airport and be transferred to your airport hotel and you will get transferred back about three hours before your next departure. So on a nine hour stop you will have about three hours at your hotel. However, three hours at a hotel to put up your feet, have a shower and a change of clothes is better than killing nine hours at an airport between flights. I stayed at the Days Inn. This hotel had a simple room, clean sheets, clean bathroom and a TV with lots of Chinese and a couple of American channels. There was also a restaurant downstairs and a small street with shops across the road.
• Checking back in was quick and easy as I already had my boarding pass for the next flight.
Long Haul Flight:
• China Southern is part of Skyteam and the main airline partners are Dutch KLM and Air France. The best connections to Europe are through Amsterdam and Paris with the above mentioned airlines taking you to almost anywhere in Europe.
• The flight from Guangzhou to Amsterdam was quite full and I was in a window seat next to a lovely lady from Guangzhou. Again we found the drinks trolley coming around regularly, the meals were fine and the bathrooms clean. During the night staff members kept coming around with water.
Connection through Amsterdam:
• I had booked a short connection. I was meant to have 1 ½ hours in Amsterdam between flights. We must have had head wind or something, by the time I got to Amsterdam I had 48 minutes between flights. Schiphol is a very big airport. The monitors show you how long you have to walk to the gate you need to be at. I had a 29 minute walk to get to my gate. If you have mobility issues I’d advise to book longer connections or wheelchair assistance as this was a bit of a race.
Arrival in Frankfurt:
• I had suspicions that my luggage might not have made the short connection in Amsterdam. When I arrived in Frankfurt I found a text message on my mobile phone that there was a problem with my luggage and to see the staff at the baggage counter. I was glad about the message, this was far better than waiting at the carousel till the last bag is gone and realising yours isn’t there. At the luggage counter the staff member was very professional. We filled in the details of where the luggage was to be delivered and I continued on with my hand luggage only. I was promised my luggage either the next morning, which was a Saturday, or on Monday by the latest.
• I have travelled a fair bit and have dealt with many delayed bags for customers. I was not particularly stressed that my bag was late. I always pack my hand luggage with a change of clothes and have my essential paperwork, medication, tickets and electronics in my hand luggage.
• My sister’s address is in very rural Germany, my luggage was delivered on Monday morning to her house. Dutch KLM apologised and sent me a claim form. I am getting a refund for the items I had to buy during the three days. This was all very easy.