Cover image courtesy of Joao Carlos Medau.
Air China has had the brand new Airbus A350 on order for quite some years already. They were supposed to take their first aircraft in the fourth quarter of last year, though the CAAC (China's civil aviation agency) did not certify the A350 for Chinese airlines until July 30, 2018. As such, there were several A350s for both Air China and Chengdu Airlines sitting in Toulouse, completed but never delivered.
Well, now we have some details regarding Air China's onboard product onboard the Airbus A350, as well as its first routes!
First and foremost, Air China has not been known to have an industry-leading business class product, though they do have enclosed first class suites on their 777-300ERs and 747-8s. The business class product currently used is the B/E Aerospace Diamond seat, laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration across 787-9s, 777-300ERs, and 747-8s. Their A330s feature an angle flat product, also in a 2-2-2 configuration. The downside to this business class is that (1) the seats are not exactly very private, and (2) window seats do not have direct aisle access.
However, Air China has released photos of their A350 business class cabin, which shows a much-improved 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout. The entire business class cabin will be between doors 1 and 2, and due to the configuration, all seats will feature direct aisle access, as well as lots of privacy. From the photos, it looks like Air China has selected the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seat, which many may recognize on China Airlines, American Airlines, etc. Air China seems to have removed overhead bins in the center section, while advertising that all window seats have two windows, thus highlighting the spaciousness of the A350.
Some images of Air China's new Airbus A350 business class cabin, featuring B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access.
Quite interesting that Air China decided to use actual fish bones to describe the very private reverse herringbone layout!
Air China has installed "Premium Economy" on all of their international aircraft, though they solely consist of regular seats pitched at 38" instead of the normal 31-32". With the A350, however, Air China is finally going to introduce a dedicated premium economy cabin. This will also be pitched at 38", though the seats are going to be very similar to what is offered as domestic first class in the United States, as Air China has selected the B/E Aerospace MiQ seat for its A350 premium economy, the same model that is currently being used by United, American Airlines, and Delta. However, Air China has equipped all of their A350 premium economy seats with legrests, instead of footrests in every row except the bulkhead. This is a major comfort point for passengers on Air China's longest sectors.
Premium Economy class on Air China's A350.
The economy section also features some improvements. Air China offers some very inconsistent economy class seating products across its entire fleet, with the 787s featuring the Zodiac Z300, the 747-8s featuring the B/E Aerospace Pinnacle, and the 777-300ERs and A330s featuring a much older generation seat, though with more padding. With the A350, however, Air China is seeking to introduce another economy product - the Recaro CL3710.
The CL3710 is quickly being one of the most popular long-range economy seating products in recent years due to its customizability and comfort. Airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and even Delta have been implementing this seat in recent years. Air China's A350 seats are virtually identical to Delta's A350 seats, though Air China has opted to install footrests, except for the bulkhead row. All told, each economy seat will feature a 4-way headrest, a 11-inch diagonal length entertainment screen (Panasonic eX3), and power outlets. This will be quite a comfortable product, especially for 12-13 hour trips to China.
Air China's A350 economy cabin. Yes, they do like to use a panda as their promotional mascot...
Air China's A350s feature the same Recaro CL3710s that you'll find on Delta and Iberia, among other carriers...
Last but not least, the A350 is the first aircraft in Air China's fleet to offer WiFi. While there currently are no details about the pricing, Air China has indicated that it could be used for web browsing, booking flights/checking flight statuses, and managing your Phoenix Miles frequent flyer account. Given that the internet traffic would most likely be routed through Chinese servers, I'd imagine that it would be impossible to access Google and American social networking sites without a working VPN connection.
Air China's A350 cabin products, as they have stated, will become the standards for their international hard product as well as service. With the exception of business class, the rest of the plane is virtually identical to Delta's A350s. This marks a huge improvement for Air China, as they have introduced both a dedicated premium economy cabin, as well as a direct aisle access business class cabin. Historically Air China has not been known to provide very good service, so here's to hoping that the A350 will enable them to become a larger player in the global network!
Air China intends to take their first A350 in "early August," which could be any day now. As such, Air China has already published their A350 schedule, with the first flight being on August 14:
On August 14, the A350-900 will operate the following flights (all times local):
CA1557, Beijing to Shanghai, 11:30-13:40
CA1558, Shanghai to Beijing, 14:55-17:10
CA1885, Beijing to Shanghai, 18:30-20:40
CA1886, Shanghai to Beijing, 21:55-00:15 (August 15)
On August 15, the A350-900 will operate the following flights:
CA1405, Beijing to Chengdu, 07:40-10:45
CA1406, Chengdu to Beijing, 12:00-14:45
CA1407, Beijing to Chengdu, 16:00-19:05
CA1408, Chengdu to Beijing, 20:25-23:15
Based on the following schedule, it seems like these flights are all crew familiarization flights, with no schedule published after 8/15. However, I think the A350 will be running domestic routes for quite some time to come. Furthermore, Air China said last year that they would be launching A350 service between Beijing and Sanya, Hainan Island, though as of right now it is still unknown what their final plans are for the A350. Regardless of what happens, it should be a very comfortable ride for domestic Chinese passengers lucky enough to be on the above flights. Furthermore, I hope they start using the A350s to replace A330s on European routes, as those A330 aircraft are significantly dated and offer disappointingly inferior products.
Are you excited to be flying Air China's A350?
All images courtesy of Air China unless otherwise noted.