Hainan Airlines began Manchester to Beijing flights in June 2016, making it the first direct scheduled service to China from the UK outside London.
It was such an important event that the Chinese President Xi Jinping and then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron came to Manchester to celebrate when it was first announced.
Now the service has been operating for six months and already has seen a healthy 92% load factor in the high season, with 38,000 passengers carried so far.
The Manchester to Beijing flight, HU7903/4, is operated by Airbus A330-300 equipment, although the smaller -200 variant is sometimes substituted, as was the case on my visit today. This is purely down to operational requirements on the 4x weekly flight.
Hainan Airlines uses Terminal 2 at Manchester Airport. I arrived early to meet with the airport’s press office and to head through security to visit the aircraft, B-5955, which had just been brought back to the gate from its remote stand, ahead of its 11am departure back to Beijing.
Welcoming us were the cabin crew who would be performing the flight, and airline staff based at Manchester.
The airline offers 32/36 business class seats and 176/262 economy seats on the aircraft (depending on the A330 variant). All passengers have large LCD screens and plenty of space, but business class is really special. The cabin crew, who took us through the luxurious amenities provided to the passengers in this front cabin, explained that Hainan Airlines’ slogan is “cherished experience”, which they try to make true of every flight.
Business class seats recline into a bed, and include massaging back rest, reading light and outlets for devices. Passengers also receive Bose noise-cancelling headphones, silk pyjamas, and a complimentary Bvlgari amenity kit which oozes luxury.
As well as a tour of the smart economy section, the tour included a look at the flight deck of the A330, and a walk around the outside of the aircraft.
Hainan Airlines is China’s only Skytrax 5-Star rated airline – something which doesn’t come easy, and reflects the level of service on board. Part of this is down to the food service, which has been prepared partly in association with a Michelin-star chef.
The needs of both Western and Chinese passengers were important when developing the on-board food, and both options are available on the 9-hour Manchester to Beijing flight. Today, I was able to sample the elegant Afternoon Tea option, designed to reflect true British cuisine and developed with the science of aircraft noise, light levels and passenger dehydration in mind to make it as appealing and tasty as possible. I can fully agree that it is tasty!
Manchester Airport’s Hainan Airlines service came after three years of planning, and the airline doesn’t rule out more routes “when the time is right”. Incidentally it has just applied to serve London Heathrow from both Changsha and Chengdu, and offers many onward connections within China.
For aviation enthusiasts in England, this is a great (and affordable – return flights start at less than £500!) way to get to Beijing, one of the busiest airports in the world, and all of the spotting highlights it has to offer. Book your flights here https://www.hainanairlines.com