Saturday, June 28, 2014

China Airlines Brand New 777-300ER Interiors Revealed

From Now News in Taiwan, renderings for China Airlines' brand new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft interiors have leaked. A China Airlines website dedicated to the new design apparently went public prior to the scheduled release date. While the site has since been pulled, renderings and full descriptions were quickly copied down by observant readers. 

Although it is difficult to say for certain if the pictures actually represent the final product, they do look quite professional and polished. Many of the details in the article also match previously reported features of the new design.

In recent years, the other major Taiwanese carrier, EVA Air, has made significant improvements to their hard product in addition to taking the major step of joining Star Alliance. This created a brand new lie-flat business class award redemption option across the Pacific and beyond. EVA Air's Royal Laurel Class, based on the ubiquitous Cirrus Reverse Herringbone layout, arguably remains one of the best business class seats in the industry.

Not to be left behind, China Airlines has finally decided to overhaul their outdated interiors, starting with their soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 777-300ERs. The first three aircraft are scheduled to commence scheduled flights in September of this year. In total, ten 777-300ERs will arrive by 2016, replacing a rapidly aging fleet of 747-400s.

Not surprisingly, China Airlines has decided to completely forego their first class offering, opting to follow EVA Air instead with a lie-flat business class, premium economy class, and standard economy class. Even less surprisingly, their brand new business class will feature the B/E Aerospace Reverse Herringbone design with slight modifications.

China Airlines new business class

The business class cabin will have a total of 40 lie-flat beds in a dark-blue color scheme and wood panel accents. A brand new Panasonic eX3 AVOD system will showcase 18-inch screens, the largest among Taiwanese carriers, and even the remote control will feature a 4.1-inch multi-touch display. Other amenities include fully-adjustable headrests, storage closets, power outlets, USB inputs, and noise-canceling headphones.

Business class lie-flat bed

AVOD system and storage

One slight modification from the EVA Air and Cathay Pacific designs can be seen in the removal of the side storage cabinets to create a more spacious feel for passengers. While the cabinets were well thought-out and useful, I did find that it required passengers to twist uncomfortably to the side to access. China Airlines' version places the seat and AVOD controls, as well as additional storage space, at arm level within easy reach. The reduced obstruction will also better facilitate conversation between couples seated in the center aisle.

Business class passengers will have access to the VIP Sky Lounge, featuring magazines, self-service alcohol, refreshments, and snacks in a comfortable and social environment.

Business class Sky Lounge

The 777-300ERs will introduce China Airlines' foray into the growing premium economy sector. Upon first inspection, the seats appear to be better than EVA Air's offering, with a fixed-back, forward reclining design that will prevent intrusion into the rear passenger's personal space. While Cathay Pacific used a similar design in their economy cabin with disastrous results, I believe these seats are more akin to true business class seats, and look far more comfortable. Details about width and pitch have yet to be revealed.

Additional features in premium economy include larger dining tables, front tray tables with cup and bottle holders, coat hooks, personal reading lights, USB and power outlets, and a large 12.1-inch multi-touch AVOD screen.

China Airlines new premium economy class

Fixed-back forward reclining seats

While no renderings of standard economy class were included, one interesting tidbit was the announcement of the Family Couch, which will allow the middle two armrests to fold up completely and an extra set of three leg rests to prop up horizontally, forming a fully flat bed of sorts for families. This idea is not new, as Air New Zealand pioneered the unique configuration years ago on their Economy Skycouch.

According to the article, China Airlines plans to introduce ten rows of their Family Couch in the economy cabin, for a total of 30 seats (I'm guessing only the center aisle). In addition, the seats will feature a specially designed harness for safety. Pillows, blankets, and even a mattress pad will be provided for extra comfort.

China Airlines Family Couch in economy class

Of course, the big question is what this all means for award redemptions through Delta Skymiles. Round-trip travel from the U.S. to Taipei costs 70,000 miles in economy and 140,000 miles in business. Delta imposes mild fuel surcharges on China Airlines, and they tend to run about $350 for a round-trip award ticket.

China Airlines award space is searchable on its own website even if you are not a Dynasty Flyer member, and availability should match what Delta agents can see, as long as the booking classes are correct (X for economy, O for business).

Unfortunately, Delta does not display China Airlines award space on its website, so the only booking option via Skymiles is to phone in. Air France's Flying Blue website is supposed to display China Airlines award availability, but it does not appear to be working right now. Another paid option, ExpertFlyer, only displays economy award space for China Airlines.

Oddly enough, after speaking to multiple Delta Skymiles agents, not one award seat in any class from October all the way through the end of the schedule could be found. Intra-Asia routes came up empty as well. A few hours later, I called in again and seemed to get an agent who knew what she was doing. This time, plenty of award space in both economy and business showed up. On certain days, there were even three or four business class seats available. So as the old saying goes... hang up and call again!

If you want to preemptively book a seat on the new 777-300ERs, China Airlines has initial plans to fly them on regional routes to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh City beginning in September 2014. The aircraft will then be deployed across the Pacific to Los Angeles in December, with continued expansion to New York City in February 2015.

Flight schedules featuring the new 777-300ERs have already been loaded, so an award search on China Airlines' website can quickly determine if you will get the new product. Of course, last-minute aircraft swaps are always a possibility, so keep your fingers crossed. The current route map can be found here.

China Airlines award search showing the new 777-300ER

Available business class award seats

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