China Southern rebrands ‘first class’ as ‘business class’

27 Aug 2014 by Clement Huang

China Southern Airlines (CSA) plans to change the name of its first-class cabin to “business class” in a bid to reclaim government officials amid Beijing’s crackdown on wasteful government spending, says Reuters.

Corruption in the mainland was once rampant – certainly, we still remember the Bo Xilai scandal that shook the country and alerted the world to how deeply corruption is anchored. However, in recent years the Chinese government has rolled out a number of anti-graft and anti-corruption laws that have often hit the upper echelons of Chinese society with a vengeance.

Intent on avoiding coming under Beijing’s spotlight, many government officials have since been deterred from booking travel in premium cabins. China Eastern Airlines (CES) last year alone lost 1 million premium passengers, or 1.1 billion yuan (US$179 million) in revenue, according to a report posted on the news website on February.

Air China (CA), China Eastern (CES) and Hainan Airlines (HU) have not yet followed suit, but given the underlying factors, a move in that direction would seem probable. CES has in fact just launched a new first class suite product on its new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft (see here) so it will be interesting to monitor how they are going to market it.

To passengers, nothing will change – other than purchasing tickets on mainland carriers could get more complicated. Travellers ought to bear in mind that when they book “business class” on CSA in the future, they will end up in first class and receive all the benefits thereof, i.e. first class lounge access, frequent flyer accrual rates and points.

On mainland domestic routes, CSA currently only offers first class, premium economy and economy. Here the “downgrade” to business will be easy. On the carrier’s flagship A380, CSA has always been following the rather odd classification of “luxurious first class”, “first class” (aka business class), premium economy and economy (see here).

Luxurious first class on the A380 

The question that remains is what is going to happen to CSA’s first cabins on their other aircraft types on international routes? The largest airline in Asia by fleet size, CSA operates fleets of Boeing 777, 787, Airbus A330, 321, 320 and 319 all currently featuring a first class section.

Our prediction is that this will be rebranded as something along the lines of ‘super business class’ to avoid any reference to the coveted “first” cabin. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific has contacted CSA and is still awaiting further comment and clarification.

The changes will come into effect from October 26.

Market conditions for China’s “Big Three” are volatile. Half-year results are still outstanding, but Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines have all warned of significant profit drops and losses. Results will be announced August 28.

Dominic Sebastian Lalk

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