China Eastern have taken delivery of the first of 20 Airbus A350-900s they have on order. Although they aren’t the first Chinese carrier to receive the A350, the arrival of the service is still very exciting, especially when you clap eyes on the gorgeous business class cabin.
As the world’s second largest Airbus operator, CEA are somewhat setting the bar for what we can expect of other A350s as they arrive at their carriers. They already operate 306 A320s and 50 A330s, but want this flagship model
You can see a promo video of the delivery below:
What can we expect from CEA’s A350 business class?
The cabin is arranged in a three tier layout, with 216 seats in economy, 32 in premium economy and business class with 40 seats. In economy, passengers are greeted by Rockwell Collins designed seating and 12 inch IFE displays, the largest in any airline.
But what we’re really interested in is their unique and exiting take on the business class product, and whether its as good as their neighbouring rival’s A350-900 product.
For a start, let’s talk about those seats. We’re looking at the Thompson Vantage XL seats, complete with sliding screen doors for extra privacy. These are laid out in a staggered, forward facing 1-2-1 configuration.
All seats are completely lie flat, naturally, with controls hidden on the top of the side table for a sleek finish. The IFE is provided by an 18 inch HD display, and there are AC and USB power outlets for charging on the go.
Talking of charging on the go, CEA have taken the unusual step of installing NFC card readers on every seat, enabling passengers to pay with contactless cards for any shopping they do in flight.
Seeing as both China and Delta have chosen the Thompson XL for their business class seat, it gives us hope that perhaps this will be the standard for the new ‘upper class’ that Virgin are preparing to unveil in their new A350s.
China Eastern’s Premium Business class
There’s not really a first class on CEA’s A350, but there is a ‘better than standard’ business class. The front row of seats have more space in front of them and a few other added extras to make these a premium business class seat.
One of the most interesting features of these seats is the ability to convert them into what China Eastern are calling an ‘Air Living Room’. In their own press release they stated;
“The two premium business class seats in the middle row are also foldable, allowing flight crew to reshape the space into a community area that up to four people can comfortably use for a business meeting or family gathering.”
What basically happens is a wooden tray cum table top emerges from the centre console, turning it into a dining table, board game receptacle or meeting desk. Additional meeting attendees can take a seat on the ottomans beneath the IFE screen, as you can see in the screen grab below from the delivery video.
It’s not just funky seating that you get with these top end business class seats either. According to CEA, they come equipped with a 32 inch HD touchscreen IFE screens. That’s really big; in fact, it’s bigger than most airlines supply in First.
Passengers in these seats will also have access to a mini bar, storage lockers and additional power outlets. Rather than a lap belt, a more comfortable three point seatbelt is installed.
It’s not clear yet if these seats will be extra to purchase. With only four available on each A350, we think they probably will. They can’t really be sold as ‘First Class’, as that implies a separate cabin, so we’re thinking they will be premium business or perhaps business plus.
In fact, the decision to not have First Class (as BA have also decided) may have been influenced by current debates around whether Chinese government officials should be allowed to fly first class. By producing a product somewhere in the middle, they are ticking boxes on both sides of the argument.
While they’re not exactly up there with the Qsuite, these seats offer an interesting flexibility of space. Whether they make a good investment for your average business traveller will depend very much on pricing. And, of course, how much you need to be able to hold a four person meeting mid-flight.
Catering and connectivity
We are loving the sound of CEAs ‘Kitchen in Air’ concept for the catering. Their new facilities on board the A350 include top of the range coffee machines for high quality brews, multi-functional fridges and new high spec microwaves.
Also worthy of mention is the inflight connectivity. Like all other wide body aircraft in the CEA fleet, the A350-900 will offer full Wi-Fi access throughout the flight. This is provided with the next generation of inflight connectivity gear, bringing passengers connections of up to 200Mbps.
Where will the CEA A350 be flying?
The very first A350-900 flight was from Shanghai (SHA) to Beijing (PEK) yesterday. China Eastern have said that the routes will focus on short haul while the crew and airline get used to their new craft. Other destinations slated for service in the next couple of weeks include Chengdu (CTU) and Guangzhou (CAN).
From January onwards, the A350 will start to operate long haul flights to Europe, Australia and North America from the hub in Shanghai. Another two A350s are being delivered imminently, with all 20 due to be delivered by 2022.
We’ll keep you posted as routes and itineraries are released, but in the meantime enjoy this clip from Airbus of the manufacture of the CEA A350.