Aircraft Type: A350-900
Class: Business Class
Date: March 2017
China Airlines last year won two awards from us for their formidable turn-around of their inflight and ground product, especially in business class. Their A350-900 is the latest aircraft to join the fleet and features their brand new Business Class product, based on Ray Chen’s design found on the 777-300ER. The two cabins are slightly different, and this trip report allows us to showcase those differences.
On the Ground
Being a connecting flight from Bangkok, we didn’t get to enjoy the usual time in Taipei International airport including their impressive lounge. However, we have covered these products before, and on a recent visit, they were still up to the same standards. In fact, in their VIP rooms, they now offer an at table ordering service which has elevated the product even higher.
Being on a late inbound flight, we were concerned about missing our connection, however, the airline has excellent ground service, and made sure that we were rushed through security and taken straight to the gate whereby we were the last to board.
It is good to point out that our luggage also made the connection, which based on 30 minutes from wheels touching the tarmac to pushing back, is an impressive addition to point out.
Entering from Door One rather than the main entrance door, we weren’t greeted by the expected black-lacquered bulkhead decoration that greets passengers with the bronze ‘Business Class’ sign, however, we were greeted with the unmistakable persimmon wood veneer that is so iconic to the brand now.
One of the most noticeable differences to the A350-900 cabin compared to the 777-300ER is the height of the ceiling. It certainly adds space to the cabin, and there’s an impressive sense of height, but the centre storage units did add more of a sense of privacy to the Boeing interior.
The mood lighting in the A350-900 is also impressive, and on boarding, a soft peach-like dusky light was employed, that didn’t strain the eyes but gave enough light to navigate the seat and overhead bins. The lockers were large, and for just 32 business class passengers, offered enough space for everyone.
The seats were arranged in the traditional super-business layout of 1 x 2 x 1, each with large well appointed shells that meant most passengers eye-line was below the seat architecture. This added to a sense of privacy when in the seat. The aisles were wide enough and featured a deconstructed persimmon wood grain design.
To the rear of the business class cabin (there is no mini Business Class cabin behind the Door 2 galley) is the slightly smaller Sky Lounge which features the same concept as it’s larger 777-300ER sibling, but with slightly less space.
During boarding the space is finished in wooden decked panels, which after the meal service is opened out into a walk-up bar area that is constantly manned. It offers fine wines, snacks and coffees and teas which can be freshly made using the onboard nespresso machine.
Like the 777 the aircraft also features perfectly appointed bathrooms, with music playing and a dot matrix print design on the walls. No part of the aircraft has been left out during the design process, which makes the entire aircraft feel complete, considered and welcoming.
Regular readers of the site may notice subtle differences in the product here, however most passengers will see the seat product as almost identical to the one found on the 777-300ER. The fundamental hard-product is the same, but the finishes are different and there has been some progression based on consumer feedback.
The seats fabric and finishes in total are younger and fresher, something we covered here. The instant impression is that it’s more futuristic, and less in keeping with the ‘study’ atmosphere the 777 imparts. The metallic trim, printed shell to the seat and Dragon Claw lamp give a sense of ‘Futuristic Asia.’ The details are exquisite.
The storage areas now also feature a mirror, and the bright blue touches add colour to an otherwise muted and luxurious finish. The tray table in brushed aluminium folds down to reveal the persimmon wood grain, and the addition of the shoulder harness actually removes the need for the padded seat belt, which caused a bit of restriction when sleeping.
What is clearly evident here is the attention to detail. The finishes were almost blemish free, perfect and felt solid. The designers had gone to great detail to find fabrics that complimented each other, and the cocoon of the seat felt textured, soft and warm, something quite hard to do on a hard architectural mechanism.
The seat itself was comfortable, with a variety of seat settings that eventually reclined the bed into a fully flat surface.
The one criticism of the seat is the folding tray, which can be restrictive when fully reclined as a bed, as we found ourselves occasionally knocking our knees, however, that said, it was one of the best nights sleep we encountered on an aircraft, partly also due to the lower cabin pressure found on the A350, thanks to its composite frame.
Even though this was a late night flight, there was a full service for dinner and breakfast, made possible by the 13.5 hour flight, giving ample time between to rest and sleep. On boarding we were given menus and we opted for an orange juice.
Although as we were late boarding, our service was efficient, friendly, but certainly a slightly rushed offering. It’s a small mention, but we have to admit there were one or two elements we thought were better on the 777 product, one of these were the menu designs. The bright colourful designs worked better on the older design cabins, but in such a beautiful environment, they seemed somewhat out of place.
After take off, we were quickly handed an ice cold glass of Moutard Perl et Fils Prestige Champagne – as wonderful as this was, it wasn’t as impressive as the 2004 Pol Roger Vintage that was available on the 777-300ER.
As always though, the catering on China Airlines was sublime. Starting with a trio of Foie Gras, Toast, and Stuffed Pepper, Italian grilled vegetable salad and beautiful warm breads. The serviceware, like the 777 product, are delightful and beautiful, however, the cutlery, found on the older business class product that accompanied the tray were sub standard in comparison. Another small gripe.
Following the starter course came a warm and filling pumpkin soup that came with more fresh bread as well as a potato frittata and garlic bread. This in itself was a hearty meal.
Destined to dine us into a slumber, the ever attentive crew then followed this with another superb course, this time the main course, which was substantial and beautifully presented.
The grilled spring chicken was as if it had come from a restaurant. It had wonderful black pepper sauce and the vegetables were Al dente which was a perfect accompaniment.
If that wasn’t enough there was a duo of cakes, beautifully presented, and a selection of cheeses, which we had to decline at this point – but should we have wanted more, there was Ice cream and a range of coffees teas, and snacks available throughout the flight including a variety of noodle dishes.
After waking up, approximately 2 hours before landing, we were presented with a western breakfast, which included fresh pastries, muesli, fresh fruits and a cheese and mushroom omelette with new potatoes and sausage.
Once again, the food was perfectly presented. It’s just a shame that certain parts of the food service, like champagne, cutlery and table cloth weren’t to the same standard of the 777. This is a small difference, but think it would be a winning formula to build the consistency of customer experience across the new long haul fleet.
China Airlines has adopted the Panasonic ex3 system on the A350-900. It offers a wide range of movies, TV shows and other entertainment options. The movie selection is much larger than their magazine would lead you to believe, but that is most likely because the magazines cater for the entire fleet of aircraft, that have a more limited capacity. The system also allows for seat to seat chat, games, a powerful 3D aircraft map and other connectivity such as USB connections to the IFE system. The touch screen system, with its large screen, is supported by a secondary handset.
As well as in-seat power, the seat also offers USB charging, the dragon claw lamp and small reading lamp that allows passengers to work or read, including their range of inflight magazines. The dynasty magazine is good, but in need of a modernisation to match the exceptional next-gem product seen across the rest of the airline.
The amenities at China Airlines are truly exceptional. The amenity kit itself is well appointed, and features brands such as Institute Karite Paris. The hard-shell case they are served in is also high spec.
Sadly, the last comparable difference between the 777 product and the A350 is the lack of bedding. While China Airlines offer a soft and thick blanket, gold velour pillow and slippers for the night flight. There is nothing quite like the white linen bedding that they offer – however, as the A350-900 is smaller, there are loading limitations to what amenities can be brought into the cabin. The fact the A350-900 doesn’t feature the overhead bins in the centre of the aircraft means there is less storage space for these bulkier items. The noise cancelling headset is standard across the premium products on the airline and of good quality.
China Airlines has produced yet another fantastic business class product. Like the rest of the cabin classes on the A350-900, there is an amazing attention to detail, delightful surprises and an environment that feels more residential than aircraft. China Airlines’ A350-900 product well deserves its Best New Business Class title. It’s very exceptional, and our only gripes are in relation to its other Business Class product on 777 – should there be the addition of bedding, new menus and improved dining, this would be an exceptional and hard to beat product. We were as impressed as ever with China Airlines product. It constantly manages to punch above our expectations.