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China: Airlines refit planes to chase lucrative first-class revenues

Airlines around China, especially the big carriers, are trying to improve service and facilities in first-class and …

Airlines around China, especially the big carriers, are trying to improve service and facilities in first-class and business-class cabins to lure more high-end customers in the booming air travel market.

Air China, the country`s flag carrier which operates the most international flights among mainland carriers, said it will spend about 600 million yuan (US$72.29 million) in the next three years to refit its first-class and business-class cabins.

The improvement will focus mainly on 15 twin-aisle aircraft flying on long-haul international routes and we`ll refit seats in first class to be flat and those in business class to be near flat, said Air China spokesman Wang Yongsheng.

Air China will not be the only mainland carrier to catch up with the global trend of providing flat seats in first class and business-class. Its two arch rivals, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Co Ltd and Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines Co Ltd, will offer similar facilities on their new planes.

China Eastern has made seats in the two premium classes on three Airbus A340-600s flying between China and the United States wider and flatter.

The cost of these seats is much higher, but we received a warm response from passengers, said Fang Yanyun, a China Eastern staffer who works with its product design department.

Enjoying a comfortable trip is especially important for passengers who spend a dozen hours on planes.

In-flight meals, which are widely criticized as lacking tastiness and being all the same, are also on the list of airlines` improvements.

From today, Dragon Airlines Co Ltd, the smaller of Hong Kong`s two carriers, will offer premium passengers between Hong Kong and Shanghai meals cooked by chefs in the five-star Hilton Shanghai hotel.

For economy travelers, it will provide Shanghai-flavored food cooked by famous local restaurant Xiao Nan Guo.

We hope to bring passengers special and delicious meals by famous restaurants instead of just serving them the same dishes, said Aaron Chan, regional manager of Dragonair`s Eastern China business.

He said the cooperation with Xiao Nan Guo would extend to the airline`s Beijing-Hong Kong service from April.

China Southern, the country`s largest carrier by fleet size, now gives high-end customers 76 menu choices, which travelers can select the day before their flight.

China Southern will change offerings like snacks and coffee into well-known brands.

Fang said it was not until the last two to three years that domestic carriers began to realize the importance of enhancing service for first-class and business-class passengers who are the biggest source of revenue.

In the past, it seems the only extras for customers who pay much more were a bit more room and slightly better meals, Fang said.

Now carriers are busy enriching the in-flight entertainment systems with more movie options and enabling premium passengers to decide where they`d like to sit before getting on the planes.

But Ma Ying, an industry analyst with Haitong Securities Co Ltd, said the basic requirements of a good airline were punctual flights and convenient transfers. Otherwise, there`s little use talking about the high end.

Vicky Karantzavelou
Co-Founder & Chief Editor - TravelDailyNews Media Network

Vicky is the co-founder of TravelDailyNews Media Network where she is the Editor-in Chief. She is also responsible for the daily operation and the financial policy. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Tourism Business Administration from the Technical University of Athens and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Wales. She has many years of both academic and industrial experience within the travel industry. She has written/edited numerous articles in various tourism magazines.