Putting flat bed seats in single-aisle aircraft is hardly a new phenomenon. As the planes fly farther and passengers appear willing to pay for increased comfort that trend will likely continue, with seat manufacturers continuing to innovate in the space. Or, perhaps, taking a step backwards from time to time.
China Eastern Airlines introduced a new configuration to its fleet in the new year, upgrading the premium seats to an angle-flat option. The new seats are manufactured by AVIC Hubei Ali-Jiatai Aircraft Equipment Company (Jiatai). Jiatai distinguishes itself by claiming to be the seating supplier from China using its own intellectual property for options installed on Boeing aircraft.
The 737-800 flying the new seats (B-7591) operates on domestic routes from its home base at Kunming (KMG/ZPPP) in the western part of the country. Since returning to service the plane remains focused on two destinations, Tianjin and Yuncheng. The carrier’s intentions in terms of other routes that might see the service remain unclear. So, too, is the reasoning behind choosing an angle-flat seat to launch in the 2020s. But the airline did confirm that it expects five planes to fly with the new configuration as of mid-year.
Premium can play in Asia
In many markets passengers won’t pay a premium price for a premium product. Asia, however, has pockets of premium demand that (maybe) still deliver the revenue for airlines. Even for routes in the 4ish hour range there are opportunities. Starlux is one airline that hopes to take advantage of that starting later this year with its brand new fleet and cabin configuration. Singapore Airlines also manages to push a premium product on many regional routes, though those often deliver the yields because of onward connections. It is unclear that China Eastern has that same connecting traffic demand via its Kunming hub.
The new seats do come with a reduction in total premium capacity on board. The aircraft saw three rows of recliners swapped out to two rows of the angle-flat option.
Also notable in the China Eastern configuration is the comically small screens being used on the inflight entertainment system that is part of the new seats. They are not the smallest screens ever installed and even come in the 16:9 ratio suited for HD content. But they also appear to be no more than 10″ on the diagonal. They’re smaller than what is generally being installed on new economy class seats with modern entertainment systems on board. But there are screens installed.