We’re flying with China Airlines between Tokyo, Taipei and Bangkok. We are sharing a profile of China Airlines in anticipation of our trip; check back soon for our trip reports!

China Airlines’ motto Journey with a Caring Smile is carried around the world every day, with over 200 daily flights to 90 destinations around the world, and the airline has taken its place as Taiwan’s flag carrier and a world-renowned Asian brand. However, this hasn’t always been the case, considering the rise of low-cost carriers in Taiwan, and before then, Taiwan’s long-haul powerhouse EVA Air. Before this, China Airlines’ poor safety record, and Taiwan’s political status were obstacles in the airline’s quest for success. But, the beginnings of the airline can be traced all the way back to two Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boats in 1959, and a retired air force colonel with the goal of starting the country’s first national airline.

The History

The airline started out operating charters throughout Taiwan, before beginning domestic services in 1962, and international services in 1966 when the airline started flights between Taipei and cities in South Vietnam. After that, the airline took off, starting services to Japan and the United States, as well as expanding South into Southeast Asia, with the government’s backing.

In 1972, the airline’s expansion hit a roadblock when the Japanese government cut ties with Taipei and banned Taiwan-based airlines from operating flights to/from Japan. However, China Airlines continued to grow, adding Boeing 737 and 747 aircraft, and started non-stop service to the Mainland U.S. using Boeing 747SP aircraft in 1977. In 1978, Japanese authorities allowed the airline to operate at airports that Mainland Chinese airlines did not have scheduled service at, however, in airports around the world, Mainland Chinese and Taiwanese aircraft crossed daily — sometimes even hourly at airports such as Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport.

A China Airlines Boeing 747-200 pictured at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in 1990. Photo Credits: Peter Bakema

The airline expanded through Europe in the 1980s using its Bangkok hub and expanded to Canada and Australia in the early 1990s with its subsidiary Mandarin Airlines. However, the time also marked the start of China Airlines’ time in the shadows, as the combination of EVA Air’s rise and a series of major accidents demoted its international reputation. Between 1989 and 2002, seven incidents occurred resulting in the deaths of 747 people and the loss of all aircraft involved. One incident was Flight 605 when a brand new Boeing 747-400 ended up in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor after landing two-thirds down the runway at Kai Tak Airport and running off the end. While no one died, the incident exposed the faults in China Airlines’ practice of only hiring ex-Air Force pilots, who did not have the commercial training that other airlines’ pilots received. Travelers began flocking to EVA Air, hurting China Airlines’ reputation and finances.

The airline began to turn around in the late 1990s when the airline made improvements to pass the IATA’s Operational Safety Audit and began to renew its fleet. China Airlines’ former livery (which featured the Taiwanese flag) was phased out in favor of the politically-neutral plum blossom livery that stands today, which allowed it to start operating to other countries under its own brand, such as flights to Canada using its own airline name and aircraft.

A China Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-11 taking off from Taipei in 2001. Photo Credits: Sunil Gupta

In 2003, the airline became the first to operate flights between Taiwan and Mainland China, operating charters between Taipei and Shanghai via. Hong Kong. This agreement later expanded to include non-stop flights, regular weekend charter flights, and now scheduled flights that have operated since 2009. The airline now operates to 20 different airports on the Chinese mainland between itself and its subsidiary Mandarin Airlines.

After the airline fixed up its safety record, it moved onto improving its international reputation through joining the SkyTeam Alliance in 2010, the establishment of its low-cost subsidiary Tigerair Taiwan in 2014, and the implementation of its NextGen Plan to refresh the airline with the arrival of its new flagship Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The airline has rolled out a new, award-winning business class product, new uniforms, new routes and new aircraft, and plans to completely replace its long-haul fleet by the end of the decade, centered around the Airbus A350-900 and the Boeing 777-300ER.

The Fleet

China Airlines operates a mixed fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft. The Airbus A330-300 (24) and Boeing 737-800 (19) fleet operates flights around Asia, while the Airbus A350-900 (6), Boeing 747-400 (6) and Boeing 777-300ER (10) fleet operates flights around the airline’s European, North American and Oceania networks. The airline has orders for another eight Airbus A350-900s, and also has 18 Boeing 747-400 Freighters under its cargo subsidiary, China Airlines Cargo.

China Airlines’ first Airbus A350-900 departing Toulouse. Photo Credits: Airbus

The airline’s flagship premium product, known as Premium Business Class, is featured on its Airbus A350-900 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The product was designed by a consortium of Asian designers, with the goal of showcasing the “beauty of the East” and the “cultural creativity of Taiwan.” The Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 747-400 fleet have an older Business Class product with angled lie-flat seats.

China Airlines’ new Premium Business Class product, featured on its Airbus A350 and Boeing 777 fleet. Photo Credits: China Airlines

As part of its NextGen plans, the airline also introduced its Premium Economy Class product aboard its Airbus A350-900s and Boeing 777-300ERs, featuring 39 inches of pitch, compared to 32 in regular Economy. In addition, the airline unveiled its Family Couch product on the same aircraft, located in the Economy cabin; passengers can buy three seats together that can be converted into a large area for up to two passengers to lie down on, with the experience similar to lying down on a futon.

The airline features seatback IFE in every cabin aboard every plane, except for the Boeing 737 fleet. In addition, complimentary meals are served on every flight.

The Hub

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (IATA: TPE / ICAO: RCTP) is Taiwan’s largest international gateway and the main hub of China Airlines. The airport opened in 1979 to alleviate congestion at the downtown Taipei Songshan Airport, which today serves flights within Taiwan, to inner-city airports including Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport and Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport, and certain flights to Mainland China. China Airlines operates out of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at TPE, being the only airline to do so.

The arrivals corridor at Taipei’s Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Wing1990hk

China Airlines operates flights to the U.S, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mainland China from Terminal 2, while all other flights operate from Terminal 1. Terminal 1 is also home to China Airlines’ newest lounge, which was renovated as part of its NextGen plan.

The airport handled 42.3 million passengers and 2.1 billion kilograms of freight last year, making it the 11th busiest airport in the world by passengers and 6th busiest airport in the world by freight. Passengers can now access the station by commuter and express rail from Taipei Main Station, getting to the airport in as little as 38 minutes.

We’ll be seeing China Airlines in action, flying on their Airbus A330-300 in Economy from Tokyo-Narita to Taipei, and their Boeing 747-400 in Business from Taipei to Bangkok. Check back soon!

Featured image by Ltdccba via Wikimedia Commons.

Categories: Flyer Talk