Hainan Airlines review: 787-9 economy class Shanghai to Seattle

Hainan Airlines review: 787-9 economy class Shanghai to Seattle

01. Xiamen Airlines 787-9 business class Los Angeles to Xiamen
02. Xiamen Airlines 737-800 business class Xiamen to Chengdu
03. Sichuan Airlines A330-200 economy class Chengdu to Shanghai
04. Hainan Airlines 787-9 economy class Shanghai to Seattle

Ever since I wrote a brief summary of the Hainan Airlines flight from Tijuana to Beijing that a friend of mine took last year, I’ve been itching to do a Hainan Airlines review of my own. Everything about that particular flight looked interesting (except for the 3am departure time of course), and I’ve been chomping at the bit to see for myself just how good everyone says this airline really is.

The good news is that I was able to do it in a way which didn’t involve crossing the border and venturing into Tijuana in the middle of the night. Yeah, sprinkling a pinch of danger into a trip report is a guaranteed way of making it more exciting and entertaining – I understand that. But if I get drugged and kidnpapped on the way to the airport (and forced against my will to work in a crystal meth lab for the rest of my life), the content as you know it here on SANspotter.com would quickly grind to a halt.

Then again, being known as the AvGeek who went to work for the Mexican cartel does have an intriguing ring to it…

Shanghai, China (PVG) – Seattle, WA (SEA)
Monday, May 6, 2019
Aircraft: 787-9
Registration: B-1135
Duration: 9 hours 47 minutes
Seat: 57G (economy class)

Hainan Airlines 787-9 side view
Hainan Airlines 787-9 side view illustration by Norebbo.com
PVG-SEA flight track
Our route from Shanghai to Seattle today.

Choosing to do a “pros and cons” breakdown for my Hainan Airlines review video seemed like a really good idea when I first sat down to edit all my footage. However, it sort of backfired on me since this is a really good airline (as I’ve heard from so many others) and it naturally skewed heavily towards being overly positive with very few cons:

Shanghai Pudong Airport is an excellent place to begin a Hainan Airlines review

Yes, it certainly would have been more exciting to explain how I had to fight off a feisty street gang or two as I walked into the Tijuana airport to catch my flight. However, Shanghai Pudong Airport is extremely nice and I suspect what I’m about to show you will make you forget that I even mentioned TIJ in the first place.

PVG airport departures level
No street gangs (or wild donkeys) to be seen here at PVG, which makes this opening pic of my Hainan Airlines review a *lot* less thrilling than it would be if I were departing TIJ instead.

I arrived roughly 4 hours before my schedule departure time, which ended up being perfect since the checkin counter for the flight to Seattle opened just as I walked through the main entrance. It’s almost as if they were waiting for me, and they all scrambled into position as soon as SANspotter arrived. I said “almost” because I can assure you I’m not that important and it didn’t actually happen that way.

Hainan Airlines economy class
Yup, this is the spot. How much you wanna bet that I was the only one who took a picture of this sign today? Or…like, ever?
Hainan Airlines check in PVG airport
If you’re just dying to know, I ended up checking in at position number 18.
PVG ticketing hall
To all you toddlers out there who think it’s pointless to learn your ABC’s, this pic is proof positive that it’s absolutely…not necessary. There’s a helpful information desk just off to the right which will help you find your way if you get lost.

The total time it took to check in and clear security and passport control took was 45 minutes. It would have taken far longer if I arrived just 15 minutes later though – because the line behind me at the checkin counter grew awful quick.

Anyway, everything seems to be going right with this Hainan Airlines review so far. Let’s just hope the happy and trouble-free vibes continue once inside the main terminal…

The best thing about Chinese airports is how ridiculously massive they are

What is it with Chinese airports and the need to be nothing short of massive? I’m not complaining by the way – I quite like the feel and ambiance of airports the size of small cities, and PVG is no exception. I should note that it didn’t feel as grand as the Beijing airport however. My only experiences through there (most recently on JAL) left me feeling nothing short of amazed as I roamed around admiring the architecture.

PVG airport terminal
While not as impressive as PEK, it’s still really fun to look straight down the barrel of a huge Chinese airport terminal and not be able to see the far end.

I still had nearly three hours to kill before my flight to Seattle was scheduled to depart, which was extremely convenient since I found one of the most amazing bowls of fried rice I’ve ever eaten. Don’t worry – the actual Hainan Airlines review you came here to read is coming real soon…but first I gotta post a pic of my lunch:

Shanghai airport food
It’s difficult for me to choose what is the most impressive about this pic. Is it the delicious rice? Or the fact that I’m successfully(ish) eating rice with chopsticks?

The time spent between lunch and boarding went by in a flash thanks to my natural curiosity to walk the entire length of the terminal (several times). PVG is an amazing international airport offering many distractions to those who enjoy watching planes and people. I wasn’t disappointed.

Hainan Airlines 787-9
My ride to Seattle today! A fine looking airplane indeed, though I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed that it wasn’t one of their panda-themed planes. Hey – I may be a grown heterosexual male with actual adult-like responsibilities, but I’m not afraid to admit that flying on planes with panda bear and Hello Kitty stickers plastered on them would make me extremely happy.
SANspotter PVG airport
SANspotter: inadvertently making other travelers nervous since 2013.
Gate d77 Shanghai Pudong Airport
Gate D77 today. With a peculiarly weird icon of a seated person about to be crushed by a moving wall.

Hainan Airlines flight number 7955 to Seattle now boarding at gate D77

Well, there wasn’t actually an announcement that kicked off the boarding process or anything. People just started naturally forming a line at the boarding door, and I couldn’t resist claiming a spot of my own before things got too unwieldy.

Hainan Airlines boarding pass
Little did I know that there was a line starting to form as I stood here trying to nab my usual “look at me I’m about to fly!” pre-boarding pic. Professional airline reviewers such as QFS Aviation, Moments in the Sky, and Bay Area Traveler would have skipped such nonsense and grabbed one of first spots in line, I’m sure of it. I’ve got a lot to learn!

All in all, being proactive and nabbing a spot in line semi-close to the front worked out well – despite having a boarding pass for seat 57G (all the way at the back of the plane). The gate agents weren’t boarding by zones or rows (as best I could tell), and somehow I managed to be one of the first groups of people onboard. I’m not always a fan of free-for-all boarding, but sometimes it works in my favor.

PVG airport jet bridge
I should be feeling really excited about boarding my first ever Hainan Airlines flight, but instead all I can think about is how and why HSBC decided to plaster their logo on airport jet bridges all over the world.
Hainan Airlines 787-9 boarding door
How long do you suppose it’ll be until we see HSBC logos on airplane boarding doors? For a brand that has nothing at all to do with travel and aviation, I admire their determination to logo-bomb some of the biggest airports in the world. It’s weird though, and I suppose it would be like me slapping SANspotter logos in gynecologist offices all over the place.

The glorious red guts of the Hainan Airlines 787-9

Having already experienced what an airplane with a blood-red interior is like on my recent Sichuan Airlines flight from Chengdu to Shanghai two days ago, I was quite prepared for what I saw once I stepped onboard. Really, there isn’t many bad things I can say about an aircraft interior sporting red seats in all cabins, so just a word of warning: this section of this Hainan Airlines review is going to be really positive…

Hainan Airlines review
Hainan Airlines 787-9 economy class: Red. Everywhere. (But unfortunately not on the walls and ceiling)
Hainan Airlines 787-9 interior
A better shot of what it’s like to walk down the aisle without anyone else’s butt occupying 80% of the frame. Seat 57G (mine) is up on the right at 2 o’clock.
Hainan Airlines 787-9 economy cabin pic
I didn’t realize it before, but the center seats are actually a lighter shade of red than the outer (aisle and window) seats. More useless info, I know, but writing airline reviews are my full time job now and I gotta look like I’m paying attention and doing actual work…
Hainan Airlines 787-9 economy leg room
You almost can’t even see my feet! A fitting way to retire these shoes I guess (yes, like it or not, new shoes will debut in my next trip report series).
Hainan Airlines economy class seats
I wonder which Chinese airline will be the first to do red seat backs and walls? Everything else in here is red, so we’re not far off!
Hainan Airlines 787-9 row 58 blocked window
Speaking of walls, avoid row 58 at all costs. That’s not even my seat but it get all hot and flustered just looking at it. And not in the good way…
Hainan Airlines review economy class no window
Another view showing the devilish horrors of row 58 in comparison to the sunshiny happiness of row 57. Choose your seats wisely!

In terms of overall comfort, these seats were just a step above what I experienced on that Sichuan Airlines A330 from two days ago. The leg room (seat pitch) was a little bit better, and the personal video screens at every seat were much larger and more vivid. This is no surprise considering how much newer this 787 is compared to that A330. I’d actually be mortified if the economy class experience on this 787 was worse.

Hainan Airlines passengers
The satisfaction of wearing red shoes onboard this airplane today felt great – until I realized I was upstaged by someone who wore both a red shirt AND a red jacket.

One thing that totally took me by surprise was the fact that there were full amenity kits at every seat upon boarding. The first time I ever experienced an amenity kit in economy class was on Emirates from Dubai to Los Angeles one year ago, and it totally blew my mind. And here I was one year later on Hainan Airlines, and I was feeling equally shocked while rummaging through this one (and not because all of the contents were red). Long haul economy class has come a long way over the years!

Hainan Airlines economy class amenity kit
The amenity kit. LOL at the “please wake me up” text on the eye mask. I didn’t check, but I wonder what the other side said? “**** off” perhaps?
Hainan Airlines 787-9 safety card
The nice thing about flying a Chinese airline is that I can’t understand the language enough to overhear anyone making fun of me while I take pics of the safety card.
Hainan economy review
A quick peek up the aisle and it appears that this is a very full flight today. However…
SANspotter selfie Hainan Airlines
…bam! Quite possibly the only empty seat on the plane, and it’s between me and this guy (who looks as if he has no idea what an AvGeek is).

Having an aisle seat with no view to the outside world wasn’t a big deal to me on this flight, since we’d be flying over the water in complete darkness anyway. At least that’s what I kept telling myself as we taxied out to the runway for departure.

What are the meals like in Hainan Airlines economy class?

With a flying time of just under 10 hours to Seattle, I had a pretty good feeling that the first meal service would be coming soon after departure. At least that’s what I’ve experienced on other airlines on these routes from Asia back to the mainland US. Would Hainan be any different?

Shanghai to Seattle flight
Moments after takeoff. Are we there yet?

Menus were distributed once we reached cruising altitude, which was yet another thing that I was not expecting. It’s one thing to be handed an extensive menu in business class, but it’s a bit more of a surprise way back here in economy next to the toilets. A very welcome (and very much appreciated) surprise I might add.

Hainan Airlines economy class menu
The menu – which (quite interestingly) says “Pudong-Seattle/Boston” on the front cover. I wonder what’s served on the Tijuana route these days? If it’s tacos, I’m gonna be crazy jealous.

I decided to try the chicken. And much to my joy and amusement, it was vivid red just like everything else inside this airplane. Seriously – if there’s one take away from this entire Hainan Airlines review, it’s that I really like the color red. Especially when it’s slathered so freely inside an aircraft interior (and in my food).

Hainan economy class meal
Hainan Airlines calls this “chicken in sweet and sour sauce”, but the factory that mass-produced it probably refers to it as “unit number P7630” (or something equally non appetizing).
SANspotter Chinese airline
“I wonder if she’ll trade me her P3281 for my P7630?”
SANspotter airplane food
The things I do for trip report content.

The meal itself was OK. I’ve certainly eaten better economy class food over the years, and I’d say that this particular meal was in the bottom 1/3 of all the airline meals that I’ve experienced to date. It wasn’t bad, and it was certainly edible. It was just extremely basic and it didn’t do much else for me than to serve it’s purpose of providing me with enough calories to survive until my next meal.

The biggest drawback of the meal service, by far, was the attitude from the flight attendants. I’m not sure if it’s just because I was one of the last rows to be served and they were just flat burned out, but I didn’t see them smile at all. Not even once.

Worse than that, the way she asked what I wanted was extremely cold – and borderline rude. She looked at me with absolutely no expression on her face, raised an eyebrow to imply that I needed to tell her my choice (like NOW), and she proceeded to take it out of the cart and throw it down on my tray without any expression at all.

This attitude was a stark contrast to the incredibly friendly and engaging cabin crew on my Sichuan Airlines flight from Chengdu to Shanghai two days prior. Perhaps I was just unlucky, but I found it odd that the entire cabin crew on this flight seemed to be in a really pissy mood. Either that or they were none too pleased that I was watching their every move in order to write my first ever review on Hainan Airlines. Heck, I’d be pissy too if there was a nerdy guy standing behind me (watching my every move) as I edited my latest YouTube video.

Detroit seamount
Detroit Seamount. We meet again old friend!

The time spent between the lunch service and the breakfast service went by in a flash thanks to my need to catch up on all the writing that I needed to do for sanspotter.com. I never used to be able to write very well on airplanes, but I’m slowly coming around. As a matter of fact, I’ve recently found that it’s an excellent place (and time) to get some work done.

Hainan Airlines experience
Probably somewhere over Alaska at this point. Hopefully the pilots have a better idea of our exact location than I do.
SANspotter yawn
Practicing my Axl Rose impressions the further we push east.

The breakfast service began with approximately 2 1/2 hours of flying time remaining, and I was extremely curious to see if the flight attendants would be in a better mood this time. I’m not exactly sure why they were so grumpy and cold when they came through the cabin earlier, but I do believe they could all learn a lesson or two about customer service from the amazing crew that I had in Norwegian Airlines 787-9 economy from London to Los Angeles. That entire cabin crew was simply astounding!

Hainan Airlines economy cabin interior
Who’s hungry? If the camera was pointed at me, you’d be seeing me raise my hand high towards the ceiling.

Anyway, I went with the Chinese option for breakfast. And unfortunately, there was no red sauce to be found, which only goes to show that not everything on this airline is red. How many other Hainan Airlines reviews have you read which have pointed out that little tidbit of juicy info? Yeah, some of the the info I choose to include in these reviews may be utterly useless, but you can’t fault me for being thorough!

Hainan Airlines economy breakfast
No, I’m not upset that it’s not slathered in red sauce.

As far as the quality and taste of the breakfast service goes, it was pretty good. If anything, I found the portions to be somewhat small. Otherwise there’s really not much to complain about.

Oh, and yeah – the flight attendants seemed to be in a somewhat better mood this time. I know it sounds somewhat petty for me to be latching on so heavily to stuff like this, but a happy and engaging cabin crew can make a really big difference in the overall quality of the in-flight experience. At least it does for me anyway…

Wrapping up this Hainan Airlines review with a few important thoughts

With approximately one hour of flying time remaining, I was starting to form an opinion about this airline, as well as the message that I would be sending in both this written review and my video. Basically, my opinion is that Hainan Airlines is quite good – despite some minor issues with the grumpy crew that I described above.

Everything happened on time and on schedule as promised, and I found these economy class seats here on the 787-9 to be quite comfortable for a long haul international flight. I especially appreciated the generous amenity kit and menus – something which many other airlines aren’t doing at all.

Hainan to Seattle
Almost there now. So nice to see US soil again (if only virtually) after a long trip abroad!

As far as the grumpy crew goes, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt by saying that it was probably just the result of them working so hard and so fast to get everyone served in a timely manner. Being seated all the way in the back of this airplane gave me a first hand perspective of how quickly they moved through this cabin during meal services.

I thought for sure that they wouldn’t have time do to serve me breakfast before we landed in Seattle, but they did it with ease and with plenty of time to spare. Maybe that grumpy “game face” is just how they operate when being so focused on the task at hand? It could be, because otherwise they seemed generally pleasant during other portions of the flight.

Our arrival into Seattle was just a few minutes ahead of schedule under an unexpectedly sunny and clear blue sky – which was weird because I thought it was always rainy in the Pacific Northwest? And come to think of it, aren’t all Chinese airlines supposed to be downright terrible?

Hainan Airlines arrival in Seattle
Yeah, I know it’s gonna be 30 minutes before I’ll be able to walk off this plane, but standing up and stretching after such a long flight feels sooooo dang good.
Hainan economy seat backs
The end. Well, as soon as I walk the entire length of this 787-9, that is.

I walked off that plane feeling somewhat tired but mostly satisfied and happy with my current situation. If anything, it left me with a feeling of being excited to write my next Hainan Airlines review – which I’m hoping happens a lot sooner rather than later. I’m even willing to fly out of Tijuana to make it happen!

Comments (8)

  1. Albert

    June 19, 2019
    • SANspotter

      June 19, 2019
  2. Dennis

    June 29, 2019
    • SANspotter

      June 29, 2019
  3. Bryan

    July 2, 2019
    • SANspotter

      July 4, 2019
  4. Jerry Wu

    November 11, 2019
    • SANspotter

      November 11, 2019

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