China Eastern Airlines will soon be debuting new cabin products for its Airbus A330-300 (A333). According to CARNOC, the second largest Chinese carrier is planning on introducing yet another type of lie-flat Business Class seat, the Vantage XL model from Thompson Aero, while adding Premium Economy Class, likely Economy Class seats with extra legroom (38 inches). These new seating products are also expected to be installed on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350-900XWB.
Over the past few years, >talkairlines has dedicated a number of posts to the evolution of China Eastern Airlines. In 2014, we wrote about the new Zodiac Cirrus lie-flat Business Class products chosen for the long-haul fleet, including the Boeing 777-300ER (77W) and Airbus A330-200 (A332). The new cabin products and connectivity have quickly transcended the perviously poorly reputed airline to become far more competitive.
Interestingly, China Eastern drifted away from Zodiac while deciding the new A333 Business Class seats. Instead of the Cirrus model, the carrier has chosen Vantage XL from Thompson Aero for the A333. There will be 32 staggered seats in a 1-2-1 layout spread across 8 rows. Each seat will feature a 15-inch PTV and USB outlets.
>talkairlines finds the switching of manufacturer to be confusing. The Vantage XL directly competes with the Cirrus model in the market of 1-2-1 lie-flat Business Class market. Most global carriers choose one between the two; it is rarely heard of that airlines choose both models. It is likely that the reasoning is related to the recent Zodiac scandals. If one is simply judging from the configuration of both models, the decision-making of China Eastern does not make much sense. Let’s try comparing the A333 seat-maps of 4 different airlines: 2 Vantage XL users, including Qantas and SAS Scandinavian Airlines, and 2 Zodiac Cirrus users, including Cathay Pacific and American Airlines (ex-US Airways jets). It is easily notable that, in the typical Business Class section before doors L2 and R2, both models can allow airlines to install around 30 seats. This further increases the possibility of Zodiac delays being the reason behind the decision making.
In Economy Class, China Eastern will install 262 seats, each with a 10-inch PTV and USB outlets. There are also reports on a new Premium Economy Class, though it is unclear whether China Eastern is simply following Air China in offering Economy Class seats with extra legroom or China Southern in introducing a more spacious seat-type. However, judging by the number of seats, it is more likely that there will not be a new premium design.
China Eastern is likely to utilize the color palette seen in the Boeing 777-300ER cabins for the Airbus A330-300. The newly delivered narrow-bodies, including the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 families, along with the refurbished Boeing 767-300 of Shanghai Airlines, have already started having seat covers with warm brown leather.
Wireless internet access will be provided on the A333. China Eastern has been a pioneer in Wi-Fi-related innovations among its Chinese peers and arguably global airlines. Every week, around 300 China Eastern flights are operated with in-flight connectivity. The carrier has also been active in making the Wi-Fi portal a platform for e-commerce, real-time payment, and call button-replacing communications (Microsoft XiaoIce). On the A333, customers can also expect to enjoy the benefits of a more connected cabin.