Travellers from Sydney to Beijing can look forward to a more comfortable ride next week: Air China will run its brand new Airbus A330 cabins, including market-leading fully-flat business class seats, on Beijing-Sydney flights starting Monday.
Flights CA173 from Beijing to Sydney and return flight CA174 will have the new seats, with Beijing-Sydney flights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays getting the upgraded planes, returning on Sydney-Beijing flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
A low-resolution seat map on the airline's website also shows that the cabin configuration will be a spacious 2-2-2 layout, over five rows at the front of the plane.
Sydney is one of the first routes to receive the new business class, according to a report at aviation industry site airlineroute.net.
Air China is revamping its business class on flights from Australia, with seats that recline 180 degrees into a fully-flat bed, plus a new entertainment system.
The new cabins are being rolled out across the Beijing-based airline's fleet of Airbus A330s, which fly from Sydney and Melbourne to Beijing and Shanghai Pudong.
Previously, Air China flew lie-flat seats into Australia on its A330s. The new fully flat beds are the first fully flat business class offering on the airline's flights, and the first fully flat option on a mainland Chinese airline. (Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has had fully flat business class beds for some time.)
Fully flat beds -- more comfortable than the angled-flat seats will give Air China an advantage in the direct flights business class race into China, ahead of local Australia-China competitors China Eastern, China Southern and Hainan Airlines.
Those airlines -- and Qantas -- only fly angled-flat sloped seats into China, which aren't as comfortable for a long flight as a fully flat bed.
Why aren't angled lie-flat seats as popular as fully flat beds? Don't miss our exposé on the business class lie-flat lie.
Air China is China's flag carrier and a member of the Star Alliance, the global airline network that Virgin Australia is looking increasingly likely to join one day.
Frequent flyers can rack up miles on Air China's Phoenix Miles program, or in other Star Alliance members' loyalty programs, plus other airline partners including Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic.
While there's no Australian member of the Star Alliance, it does have a global reach, with member airlines Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Austrian, Blue1, bmi, Brussels Airlines, Continental Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Egyptair, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, SAS, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, Spanair, Swiss, TAM, TAP Portugal, Turkish Airlines, Thai Airways, United Airlines and US Airways.