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From Lounge to Cabin: China Airlines’ branded premium passenger experience

Airline passenger experience innovations can be nicely summarized along the lines of the customer experience dichotomy of ‘time well saved’ (e.g, removing friction, with a strong focus on digital innovation) and ‘time well spent (e.g, creating branded and/or experiential spaces).

Following our trip last year on Finnair’s A350 to report on the airline’s ‘Nordic Experience’, this year we travelled onboard China Airlines’ A350, which is another example of how full service airlines are becoming more creative and bold in the design of their lounges and cabins in an effort to differentiate their brand in the midst of fierce price competition.

Lounge to Cabin
The idea of commencing the journey early by providing a lounge experience that comes near or matches the experience in the air has began to take hold.

Air China, for example, worked with its design firm (JPA Design) to develop a holistic ground to air experience which incorporates the story telling theme of the airlines’ new cabins including traditional Chinese iconography designed by renowned Chinese artist Han Meilin.

And Finnair, together with dSign, developed a ‘Space Alive’ design standard which is applied on the airline’s Helsinki lounge and its A350 cabins. The concept uses dynamic mood lighting and neutral furnishings to set a mood that suits the time of day, destination or season.

China Airlines NexGen initiative
In 2014, China Airlines launched its ‘NexGen’ program with a design team led by Taiwanese designer Ray Chen. Moving beyond the neutral lounge designs and generic grey and blue cabin environments, Chen sought to design a lounge and cabin environment inspired by the Song Dynasty that – in China Airlines’ words “serves as a platform to showcase Taiwanese culture.”

China Airlines flagship lounge
China Airlines’ Dynasty Lounge at Taipei Airport Terminal 1 has an authentic boutique style ?to it. Using a lot of muted tones, the lounge is dark and earthly. The entrance is dominated by natural elements, ranging from the airline’s logo carved into wood to a long passageway with walls made of rocks.

There are different seat configurations – mostly 4-seaters by the side, with shelves containing artworks, artefacts and selections of books. There is also a long communal table at the back with floor-to-ceiling windows facing a green wall.?Food in the lounge includes fresh dumplings, buns and a cooked-to-order beef noodles.

Business Cabin
Passengers board China Airlines’ A350 via the door 2 galley which features shutters with a persimon wood pattern, which provides a more welcoming entrance compared to the industrial-type galleys found on most airlines.

Upon entering the Business cabin one is pleasantly surprised by the spacious cabin – no luggage bins above the middle seats – which is set in a warm yellow-orange moodlight. Other non-conventional cabin design approaches are the seat shell – which has metallic patterns inspired by persimmon-textures, a thick and soft carpet with geometric images of the same persimmon fruit, plus the gradient polka-dotted sidewalls. The lavatories have a Chinese landscape ink painting on the wall.

Similar remarks about this cabin design have been made by the likes of The Points Guy (“From the moment I stepped aboard, I was impressed by China Airlines’ service and style. The cabin itself was beautiful, with wood finishings and a beautiful onboard bar and bookshelves,” Australian Business Traveller (“Design-wise, this is a beautiful cabin, with almost everything you see customised to bring a more refined feel to the journey, whether that’s on the cabin walls, the carpets, the seating shells…”) and Business Traveller (“The cabin design is beautiful, with striking wood panelling veneers and residential touches such as the charming personal table lamps.”)

Business Seat
With a three-class configuration, China Airlines’ A350 features 32 seats (Rockwell Collins SuperDiamond) in Premium Business, 31 seats in Premium Economy (Zodiac/Safran AIRgo FX) and 243 seats in Economy (Zodiac/Safran Z300). The 12 Economy seats that could be turned into Family Couch seats have been discontinued earlier this year.

The spacious Business seat (1-2-1 layout with a 18-inch IFE screen and personal table lamp) also provides a good space to work with its large and solid main table plus generous space to the side. Free wifi is included in Business, although a voucher has to be requested before flight which could leave some passengers unaware of this option.

Service is attentive and fast with meals individually served on a tray. Frequent travellers who want more choice or a guaranteed option can also pre-order their meal via the China Airlines mobile app.

Mood Lighting
As mood-lighting on the A350 is more advanced than that on the 777, China Airlines and designer Ray Chen had the opportunity to customize the A350’s cutting edge LED dynamic moodlighting system.

The design includes not only static colour combinations, but also floating scenarios such as take-off lighting scenes that mimick the aircraft flying through layers of clouds, plus special scenarios that celebrate a passenger’s birthday, Moon Festival, Xmas, and Chinese New Year (which sees imaginary Koi swimming through the ceiling).

Sky Bistro
The Sky Lounge concept found on China Airlines’ B777-300ER has also found its way to the A350, albeit it in a slimmer version.

Between the first and last service rounds the door 2 galley doubles as a self-serve bar and social area for passengers in Business. During the flight, passengers can choose to walk up to the lounge to enjoy food and drinks and have a chat with other passengers and/or the crew.

One side of the galley features a nicely designed floor-to-ceiling cabinet stocked with Taiwanese snacks and drinks, both alcoholic and soft. There are also coffee pads that can be placed in the Nespresso machine in the galley.

Our verdict
China Airlines’ A350 Business Class ticks almost all passenger experience boxes: A hospitable and spacious cabin inside a quiet aircraft, featuring spacious seats surrounded by silver shells, wooden veneer walls, thick and soft carpet, plus a Sky Bistro. Together with funky mood lighting and even music inside the bathrooms this creates a club-like atmosphere.

Our only recommendation to China Airlines would be to invest more in sleeping comfort – more concisely in a mattrass padding, a larger and more comfortable pillow, and a better eye mask.

Similar feedback has been voiced by Australian Business Traveller: “… but with every other detail of the seat so refined and finessed, this is where the product needs some improvement. For starters, the seat feels rock hard as a bed, and China Airlines provides no mattress cover to place on top to soften this. My usual trick is to use the blanket as a fill-in mattress, but this made little difference.”

Since branded bedding has now become a common feature on airlines around the world – examples range from Delta’s partnership with Westin, Finnair’s collaboration with H?stens, to Hainan Airlines’ recent announcement together with Sofitel – partnering with a hospitality or bedding brand would complete China Airlines’ premium passenger experience.

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