Air China's new Airbus A350 business class raises the bar

By David Flynn, August 9 2018
Air China's new Airbus A350 business class raises the bar

Air China has revealed its all-new business class for its Airbus A350 fleet as the first of the advanced jets took wing from Toulouse to Beijing overnight.

The date was not by accident: a delivery flight on the eighth day of the eighth month reflects the importance of the number eight in Chinese culture, as this is considered to represent prosperity and success.

Travellers will certainly feel that Air China's choice of business class seat reflects those values, with the Star Alliance member rolling out a modern and spacious seat with direct aisle access and a lie-flat bed for every passenger.

And there's good fortune in familiarity, too, with these seats being the same Super Diamond model from B/E Aerospace as seen on airlines such as Virgin Australia, Qatar Airways and American Airlines.

All 32 of these business class seats are located in the same cabin at the front of the A350, with no first class to be seen.

To increase the sense of space in the A350's cabin, Air China has opted to remove the central overhead bins – happily, our experience with other aircraft sharing this design is that the very large side bins combined with the nature of business class passengers to pack light when it comes to carry-on means there will still be plenty of room for everybody to share.

Behind this cabin are 24 premium economy seats arranged in rows of 2-4-2.

This is another step forward for Air China, which has previously made do with regular economy seats set further apart to increase legroom.

The new premium economy seats match a 38-inch pitch with a wider, more comfortable design and an integrated leg-rest (this seat is also from B/E Aerospace and is the same as the new international premium economy seat used by American Airlines).

Nine more A350s will follow this week's inaugural delivery and each will come equipped with inflight Internet, although pricing is yet to be announced.

This first Air China Airbus A350 will begin flying on domestic routes from Beijing, including to Shanghai and Chengdu, and will later be swung over to international destinations.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 387

On ekey reason that stops me using the three mainland China major airlines (plus others) is a perception that staff on board have extremely limited English skills.

Reviews online re Air China imply that it is worse than China Southern, with China Eastern somewhere in the middle. Hainan Airlines seems to be a bit better regarded, but all look to have a long way to go to catch up with non-mainland Chinese Asian airlines such as China Airlines, Cathay, Singapore, Philippine, Korean, Japan and ANA to name some.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Sep 2012

Total posts 240

I've noticed that China Southern and Hainan are also hiring western cabin crew. Not sure about Air China. The Chinese carriers keep improving on product which is good. So long as safety keeps up and they keep developing their staff, they'll be a formidable presence moving forward.


30 Jul 2015

Total posts 109

Very true. I know someone from Portugal who speaks perfect English as well, was just hired by a Chinese carrier along with many other Europeans. The Chinese are slow but not stupid....when they act its quick and they know they need to have English speakers onboard.

08 May 2018

Total posts 19

So proud of Air China's choice of product - although standard, its a preferred product it basically means you get the same premium product at more competitive prices. Their Premium economy is also an improvement from their Economy Plus-like product.

Although China is a large market - if mainland Chinese carriers want to make themselves a global name - they need to cater for non-Chinese speaking customers and have product consistency (Something SQ does really well)

28 Mar 2018

Total posts 31

The hassle of a Visa is what stops me going to China and flying many Chinese carriers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685


A competitive Chinese 'Premium' product might well force the legacy western carriers - think QF / NZ / BA etc - to reevaluate their current 'premium', over-stretched pricing offers.

Bring it on, I say.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2018

Total posts 42

Agreed! Just booked a China Airlines (CI) flight SYD-TPE-LAX return in J for $3,840. Looks like a brilliant product and I love those claw foot lamps on the side table.

QF, for same dates and times want $7,416 on a "Business Sale". Even for PY, they are trying to extract $4,007, $167 MORE than business on CI. Fare differences in J to Europe are even more absurd, most at less than half the QF fares, even during so-called "sales".


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jul 2016

Total posts 57

I've done Syd-Lax with CI and do Syd-Lgw in two weeks time. A great alternative when status is achieved for another year with QF and I'm looking for better value.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 193

they had quite a bad safety reputation to start with and also as mentioned most of the flight crew hardly speak any english plus they rude as well!

10 Apr 2018

Total posts 3

Were you talking about Air China (CA from mainland China) or China Airlines (CI from Taiwan)? China Airlines had bad safety reputation, but have improved significantly lately. Air China's safety record has been good all along.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Jul 2016

Total posts 57

China Airlines already has A350, direct aisle access and spacious Premium Economy – and there's no visa requirements going via Taipei. It's also excellent value and provides good comfort and service. Highly recommended.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

13 Mar 2015

Total posts 79

Doesn't matter how nice the cabin is when the on board service is poor... not good quality food, not really good wines, most of the crew has very limited English... CA only when is no alternative on the destination.

Qatar Airways

06 Jul 2016

Total posts 48

I’m currently in the middle of a China & Vietnam trip, using China Southern in F and J and can confirm terrible lack of English. They left my luggage in CAN en route between PEK and CXR and have been impossible to get hold of for information, despite me being Skyteam Elite plus (platinum). Terrible J seats on A330-200, terrible food and wine. I will avoid at any cost in future and probably avoid all Chinese carriers too. One flight canx and they didn’t even notify me!

27 Dec 2011

Total posts 2

Recently flew CA J between Europe and Australia on a really cheap fare I had low expectations. Certainly cannot complain about cabin crew service/attitude (1000% better than a certain UK carrier) or lack of English (which was no worse than other non-English speaking carriers, and in CA’s case was often better). Sure, there are other airlines that have superior products: (yes, I have flown J and F on the likes of QF, BA, EK, QR etc) but there was nothing terrible (IMHO) about the CA experience.

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