There are only 9 airlines in the world that have been given a 5-star rating by Skytrax. One of them is China’s Hainan Airlines.

Hainan Airlines’ 5-star rating brings it in line with carriers such as Singapore Airlines, ANA and Qatar Airways. But did it live up to such high expectations when our member Wanderlust_tim recently flew them from Melbourne to Xi’an? The answer appears to be “no”.

The aircraft used for the 11-hour flight from Melbourne to Xi’an was not equipped with seatback in-flight entertainment screens. Instead, barely functional tablets were distributed.

As a first experience this was a nightmare. Check in was smooth however I was shocked to discover upon boarding that the aircraft was an A330-200 with no seatback IFE. Entertainment came in the form of a Chinese built tablet that had approximately ten movies dubbed into English – One Russian, One Italian and One Japanese that were particularly memorable. The sound on the tablet did not work – going quiet by 30% every 5 seconds or so.

Luckily, the food was significantly better than the (lack of) in-flight entertainment.

It was not all doom and gloom. The food was the opposite of the IFE, I ate everything on the tray which is a rare occurrence and staff were attentive. English skills were a challenge with the handful of westerners flying referred to a lovely Eastern European attendant who was fluent.

It seems that fluency in English is not a requirement for Hainan Airlines’ international flight attendants. On this flight, as well as the return flight back to Melbourne, all English-speaking passengers were served by a single flight attendant that could speak English.

The return flight, operated by a new A330-300 with seatback entertainment, was a somewhat better experience. But was it enough to change our member’s opinion of Hainan Airlines?

Would I fly Hainan again? On the basis of the first flight – not on your nelly, but on the basis of the return flight – maybe. If you are price sensitive, can live without IFE or have your own iPad then Hainan is a fantastic option – particularly as like China Southern they offer free accommodation if you transit overnight (I did not take the offer of this up). Are they a 5 star airline? No, I don’t think so and I do wonder what criteria Skytrax use.

There has been a massive increase in the number of Chinese airlines flying to Australia in recent years. Many of these airlines have opened up new city pairs to secondary Chinese cities not previously connected to Australia. This has opened up new opportunities to Australians doing business in China, and facilitated a welcome boost in inbound Chinese tourism to Australia.

With so many new flights, the Chinese airlines have been offering extremely competitive fares. But after their Hainan Airlines experience, Wanderlust_tim has decided that they would prefer to pay a little more to fly Qantas on their next trip.

I will fly to Beijing on Qantas for the long weekend in June (thanks to the double status credits offer and a multiple entry visa) and for an extra $200 I have a feeling that this will be money well spent.

Hainan Airlines is now a partner of Virgin Australia. You can earn and redeem Velocity points on Hainan Airlines flights between Australia and China.

Read the full trip review HERE.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at edi[email protected]