I recently flew Hainan Airlines Business Class on Dreamliner 787-9 from Shanghai (PVG) to Boston (BOS). This was actually my first flight with Hainan Airlines, and it was a long 14-hours international flight at that. I’m happy to share that it was a fantastic flight. Hainan Airlines blew my expectations out of the water!
At the time of booking, I was looking for a stopover city. I was considering either a city in Japan or Shanghai. Since I visited Japan a few years ago and I had never visited Shanghai, it was an easy decision. I decided to try out Hainan Airlines for the first time. Hainan is supposedly a highly rated airline, though I had a tempered expectation of its Business Class. They had been using a dated 2-2-2 configuration in Business for its long haul service, which affords less privacy than the 1-2-1 herringbone business class configuration.
A Word about Hainan’s Website
The experience on Hainan’s website is a bit of a disappointment. I redeemed for my flight using miles through Alaska Airlines, and I can’t look up my reservation using either the e-ticket number or Hainan’s confirmation code. I contacted Hainan and got confirmation that my reservation is on file. As far as choosing seats, I was told that they would be assigned at check-in. Compared to my experiences on other airlines, it was a bit unsettling not being able to manage my reservation online.
Check-in at the airport
At the Shanghai Pudong International Airport (Terminal 2), there is a designated lane for Hainan’s business class passengers. We got to the airport at least 3 hours before the flight. I don’t know if I was expecting madness, but check-in was calm. No one was waiting in line at the business/priority lane when we got there, and there was only a short line in the economy lane.
My check-in went fine, but it didn’t fare quite as well for my traveling companions. The check-in staff had to call in to verify names. We had to wait 15-20 minutes for that process. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones experiencing check-in issues. While we waited, the staff was also working on another passenger’s issue where they had to call the back office as well.
The Hainan’s staff who helped us was professional. He apologized for the delay. From time to time, he reassured us that they were still working on our issue for us.
While it wasn’t the most efficient check-in process, we also weren’t in a hurry. Still, I think part of this verification process could be sorted out ahead of time. Once the verification was completed, the staff printed out the boarding passes along with a lounge invitation.
People tend to start queuing up before boarding even commence. I had read elsewhere that boarding tends to be a mess, but that had not been my experience. There were two boarding lanes, one for each cabin. Interestingly, there was no signage posted (the signage bracket was empty) though a Hainan staff was directing passengers to the lines. Boarding was organized and uneventful.
Aircraft: Dreamliner 787-9
It’s a two-cabin plane, with 30 business class seats. The business cabin was only half full. For more details on the new aircraft, you can read more on Hainan’s website.
I like the new entertainment handset. You could opt to watch entertainment on the big screen or on the handset. There is a chat feature so you can “text” with your seatmates. Other new promoted features include the new Nespresso system for coffee lovers.
The seats are fully lie-back seats. Sadly, I couldn’t fall asleep due to jetlag. It also got pretty warm in the cabin at one point.
Service on the flight
The Hainan’s cabin staff was just phenomenal. Upon boarding, I was immediately greeted with pre-departure drinks and snacks. I was also immediately given a blanket and a food menu. The amenity kit containing Bvlgari products was already provided inside the seat’s side storage area.
Later in the flight, a flight attendant stopped by to ask if I want to be set up with bedding. I declined, though it was a nice touch.
The staff came by to take dinner order shortly after boarding. As part of the process, she also asked if I want to be woken up for food service if I’m asleep. It was a resounding “Yes!” from me. I don’t like to go hungry on a long flight. There had been times when I slept through the food service on Cathay. By the time I got up, it was too late as flight attendants were busy with per-arrival procedures. This was another nice touch by Hainan.
The entree with scallops and cod was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, while I was fiddling with the entertainment headset, the flight attendant must have thought I was done. She took away my dinner before I could say anything. Granted, I was almost done anyway, but still…
This is another “entree” option for the dinner service.
Pre-arrival food service
Shortly after the main dinner service, flight attendants came by to take our pre-arrival food order. These are mine:
I got hungry mid-flight and wanted some light snacks. I asked for a bag of chips, but the flight attendant gave me two bags along with a sparkling water! It doesn’t take much to make me happy. They were gone in no time.
Pajamas for Business Class Passengers
Shortly after boarding, flight attendants handed out pajamas. Somehow, they missed me so I had to ask for it. I know a PJ is a small thing, but it really makes a difference in the overall experience.
And the PJs are yours to keep as a keepsake:
Extra Service: Limo Service
Hainan also advertises a unique limo service for its business class passengers who are booked into its C/D/Z/I Fare class. You need to schedule it at least 24 hours before your departure.
For what it’s worth, the taxi ride from downtown Shanghai (from the bund area to Pudong airport) is about $270 RMB (or just over $40 USD)
I know I lucked out big-time due to the equipment swap. The Dreamliner 787-9 was awesome, as was the Hainan’s service on board. My flight experience with them is comparable to some of the business offerings of other major airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Eva Airways, Delta Airlines. Extra amenities like the limo service and the cabin staff’s attention to details all added a nice touch to Hainan’s business class offering.
The only caveat? They should work on their website.
Based on other reviews, I was expecting:
- A decent hard product with its 2-2-2 configuration (I ended up with an awesome new aircraft.)
- A bit of a messy boarding process (It turned out to be uneventful.)
- Mediocre or inconsistent service. (The Hainan staff was polite and attentive, on the contrary.)
Hainan really blew my expectations out of the water. Obviously, I don’t know if I’ll get consistent experience every time I fly with them (like I know with Cathay), but I’d be willing to fly them again.
Especially if it’s their 789-9 aircraft.
Have you flown on Hainan Airlines for its international segment? What has been your experience? Sound off below!