Qantas and China Eastern Airlines will continue their partnership until at least March 2023, following approval by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission of the ongoing 'joint coordination agreement' between the two carriers.
However, the impact of COVID-19 played a large part in the consumer watchdog's decision to give a tick to the tie-up.
In its determination, the ACCC said "in times of more normal levels of demand for services between Sydney and Shanghai, as was the case prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and likely will be again in the medium to long term, the lessening in competition between the Applicants on the Sydney – Shanghai route as a result of the Proposed Conduct is likely to result in a significant public detriment."
When Qantas and China Eastern launched their partnership in 2015, both airlines flew between Sydney and Shanghai, with that route accounting for an estimated 23% of all travel on direct flights between Australia and China.
How COVID changed the equation
"However, the ACCC notes that current demand for flights between Australia and China is low and there is uncertainty about the extent and timing of a recovery in demand that is likely to occur."
"Further, it is not apparent that if Qantas and China Eastern were operating independently of each other, there would be sufficient recovery in demand to fuel a strong return to the route for both airlines in the short term. As noted, the ACCC considers that the extended JCA will assist Qantas and China Eastern in reinstating services as demand picks up."
As previously reported, Qantas also intends to establish a similar 'joint business' partnership with Japan Airlines, promising new routes and improved frequent flyer benefits between the two Oneworld members from the second half of 2021.
Qantas says "the coordination made possible through a joint business would enable Qantas and JAL to ramp up flights between Australia and Japan sooner than would otherwise be possible."
China Eastern's sweet business suites
China Eastern's pre-pandemic schedule saw both the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 flying from Shanghai to Australia, with each jet boasting the airline's latest private business class and seats bookable using Qantas Points.
This highly-customised version of Thompson Aero's Vantage XL+, developed by London-based aviation specialist studio Factorydesign, sees each seat framed by high walls and a sliding privacy door.
The first row of the cabin raises the bar with four super-spacious 'business plus' seats, each with its own mini-bar and an upsized 32 inch touchscreen display.
The paired middle seats can double as a social space or ad hoc meeting room for four passengers by opening up an extra-wide table and flipping over each suite's ottoman to reveal a padded, seatbelt-equipped companion bench.
But if you're flying solo, the window seats certainly won't see you slumming it.
ET review: China Eastern Airbus A350 business class