BY Kai-Chin Shih/ 10 SEPTEMBER 2014/ TOKYOJAPAN/ talkairlines.wordpress.com
For China Eastern Airlines, 2014 may be the most important year in its 26 year history. With logo and corporate branding revamp, new plane arrivals, cabin refurbishments, and more service innovations, the previously lowly reputed Mainland carrier is poised to transcend into a game-changer in the Chinese airline industry! In this post, >talkairlines will be going through the exciting changes China Eastern will be introducing or has introduced in this particular year.
NEW LOGO/ LIVERY/ CORPORATE BRANDING: FIRST REBRANDING IN COMPANY HISTORY
Back in May, >talkairlines published an exclusive report on the leaking, by Boeing, of the new China Eastern VIS (visual identity system). Despite speculations that the leaked livery may not be the finalized version, the China Eastern press conference on 9 September 2014 has proved that the leaked information factual.
The new VIS, designed by renowned Beijing-based design firm Bang Strategic Brand Design, includes retouched the iconic ‘Swallow’ logo of the airline. Bang chose to maintain the current red-and-blue color scheme while giving the swallow a more vivid and lively look. The wings of the bird now represent a sky bridge while the tails represent the curvy Huangpu River. The logo is also an artistic transfiguration of the word ‘CE’, the initials of the company name.
Also revealed was the finalized version of the new livery: an all white fuselage consisting solely of the company names along with the swallow logo on the tail. China Eastern stated, in its official press release, that the new livery follows the trend, created by airlines including Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Japan Airlines (JAL), of having minimalistic and eco-friendly plane coatings.
There has been lots of harsh criticisms, including those from >talkairlines, regarding the new livery. Nevertheless, China Eastern should be applauded for making a step forward in deciding to revamp its logo. The carrier’s rebranding is the first for the airline since its establishment and, more importantly, the first among the Chinese Big-3 (three major national carriers including Air China, China Southern and China Eastern). The introduction of a new corporate identity is extremely significant to the carrier as it is trying to have a fresh new start and improve its reputations.
NEW BOEING 777-300ER: BETTER PRODUCTS & TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS
>talkairlines unveiled the new China Eastern Boeing 777-300ER cabins back in June. The cabin products, designed in a surprisingly elegant manner, includes suites with slidable doors in First Class, Zodiac Cirrus lie-flat seats in Business Class, and a comfortable Economy Class. A total of 316 seats (6F 52C 258Y), all with warm and visually-comforting butter yellow covers, will be installed.
China Eastern will also be introducing, on the 777, various technological innovations that will be complemented by the Wi-Fi service. The carrier collaborated with credit card company China UnionPay and Chinese third-party payment processor Yeepay to come up with an Air-Ground Wireless Transaction Platform. The system can allow real-time payments and prevent the transaction failure issues of in-flight duty free. Customers can easily pay through the platform on PTVs, pads (tablets) provided by the crew, and personal mobile terminals.
Utilizing the platform will be the new Sky Mall. Aware of how existing print duty free catalogues can no longer satisfy travelers’ abundant purchasing needs, China Eastern decided to create a more diverse and straightforward e-shopping system that can allow passengers to order meals, pay for upgrades onboard, purchase duty free items, and even rent everyday necessities. The next generation shopping experience can be completed on PTVs, tablets provided by the crew, or personal mobile terminals.
Some other eye-catching features of the China Eastern 77W include the new cabin facilities. In First Class, a mini-bar located in the first row; in Business Class, a self-serve bar, named ‘Afternoon Teatime’, to provide passengers with food, drinks, books and magazines.
Also at the bar area is the new duty-free showcase. Being the second airline in the world to feature a physical duty-free shop, China Eastern hopes that flyer will purchase items after window-shopping while enjoying snacks from the bar.
In the galleys, China Eastern is introducing devices that have rarely been seen before in the industry: rice cookers and toasters! Japan Airlines was the pioneer in providing decent rice in the air. The airline equips many aircraft with special microwavable containers for ‘cooking’ rice. Yet, the JAL way is not necessarily equivalent to ‘cooking’. China Eastern, on the other hand, will be installing electronic rice cookers on-board to provide customers with better quality rice. Another interesting electronic is the toaster, rarely been heard of in the business, espresso machines and wine coolers. All these appliances show the effort China Eastern is putting in to the plane to satisfy customer’s taste buds.
Furthermore, for the convenience of the iPad-equipped crew, there is a specially installed tablet holder in the galley. Crew can place their tablets there when both hands are busy. Besides storing the typical crew application pack, the iPad also has tutorial videos on how to operate the various machines. For example, there is a video on the rather complicated Nespresso so that crew don’t hurt themselves while making coffee.
A final touch to the new aircraft is the new tea & coffee service. Cabin crew were sent to coffee factories in Taiwan and tea shops in China to learn about stories and making methods of coffee and tea. The specially trained flight attendants will provide and introduce beverages to First and Business Class passengers. The crew will also be leading passengers to experiencing traditional Chinese tea steeping in the air to spread the Oriental tea culture.
The new Boeing 777-300ER will take over the carrier’s entire North American network. Starting in November, the Los Angeles (LAX) and New York City (JFK) routes will be the first long-haul routes to see 77W deployments. All 20 777s will be delivered by the end of 2018.
NEW A330-200 (A33E) LONG HAUL CONFIGURATION: LIE-FLAT BUSINESS CLASS SEATS
Supporting the Boeing 777-300ERs on China Eastern intercontinental routes will be the newly configured long-haul A330-200s (coded as A33E). The new A33E will replace the previous 2-2-2 configuration in Business Class with an 1-2-1 reverse herringbone layout. There will be 232 seats on the A33E, including 30 Business Class seats and 202 Economy Class seats.
The A33E will come into line with the 77W by offering the same Zodiac Cirrus Business Class seat-type, which will provide lie-flat beds, PTVs, foldable tables, personal reading lights, USB ports and universal power outlets. Yet, the A33E Cirrus seats will feature a different color combination: dark blue and purple instead of warm yellow.
Economy Class is configured in the standard A330 2-4-2 configuration. Each seat will have its own PTV, foldable table with cup holder and indentation for tablets, personal reading light, USB port, universal power outlet, and seat pocket with multiple layers.
All of the long haul A330-200s will be reconfigured with the new cabin products over the next few years. After the reconfiguration of the planes, China Eastern will be able to provide high-end customers with a more comfortable and uniformed in-flight experience.
CONCLUSION: THE ‘UGLY DUCKLING’ IS TRANSFORMING, YET MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
>talkairlines is excited to see the huge changes at China Eastern. With the new product offerings, the carrier is finally catching up with its competitors. Even more than that, all the innovations China Eastern will be introducing may shake up the Chinese aviation business and pose serious threats to airlines including Air China, China Southern, Hainan Airlines, and even foreign carriers that have been ‘stealing’ Chinese transit passengers for years.
Yet, >talkairlines isn’t suggesting that China Eastern is close to becoming a serious player in the business. There is still a lot that needs to be improved. For example, the new payment platform is lacking the internationality for a global carrier. The system is exclusive to UnionPay and Yeepay customers, yet the two companies are not popular among travelers that are not from China. The lounges of the carrier at airports including Shanghai Pudong also need complete refurbishments and service upgrades, as the offerings are rather poor. Finally, the airline needs massive reforms regarding its customer service. Now, with the hardware products upgraded, the airline should turn all attention to improving passenger experiences. After all, airlines are all about services. Without decent services, even the most luxurious seats can mean nothing at all.
China Eastern’s latest moves have proved the airline’s willingness to completely change its brand image and reputation. >talkairlines hopes that the carrier can continue this aggressiveness and eventually become one of the primary choices of travelers from all over the world.