China United Airlines (CUA), a low cost subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines (CEA), announced it will remove first class from its cabins and instead feature a two-class configuration (business and economy class) only.
The changes will be implemented immediately with the first two aircraft already flying in the new configuration.
CUA’s move follows China Southern Airlines’ announcement last week to remove first class from its domestic fleet in response to dwindling demand as a result of Beijing’s continued anti-graft campaign.
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 RMB1.1 billion (US$179 million) in revenue, according to a report posted on the eastday.com news website in February.
All “Big Three” mainland carriers have mentioned declining domestic premium travel demand as one of the reasons for their disappointing first-half 2014 financial results.
Beijing-based CUA was officially rebranded as a budget carrier in July. However, the transformation only affected the back end of the plane. Despite its low-cost image the carrier retained its premium cabins upfront.
CUA is currently expanding and said it is looking to increase its current fleet of 27 aircraft to 80 by 2019.
The airline operates from Beijing’s military Nanyuan field and, interestingly, is currently the only mainland carrier that makes part of its fleet available for military training purposes in conjunction with China’s air force. In fact within the air force, China United Airlines is jokingly known as the 34th Air Division.
Dominic Sebastian Lalk