Grrr: Hainan’s 787-9 Aircraft Swap Insanity

Filed Under: Hainan, Travel

Hainan is driving me nuts. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before…

My last failed attempt to review Hainan

Last December I had intended to review Hainan Airlines’ new 787-9 business class, though shortly before departure I was hit with an aircraft swap.

Hainan’s new 787-9 business class

I had been monitoring the seatmap, and a few days before departure the seatmap updated from a 1-2-1 configuration to a 2-2-2 configuration. While not usually the end of the world, I was taking that flight specifically to review their new business class, so I decided to book a different flight instead. After all, I didn’t need to review Hainan’s “old” 787 business class again.

Hainan’s old 787-9 business class

Hainan is notorious for last minute aircraft swaps, so I figured I’d have better luck next time.

Trying to fly Hainan, again…

After having to cancel last time, I’m scheduled to fly Hainan from North America to Asia in about a week, as this is how I’m positioning to Taipei in order to fly Starlux Airlines.

I’ve been monitoring the seatmap constantly to keep an eye on the configuration. When I booked, the flight was scheduled to be operated by a plane in a 1-2-1 business class configuration.

In the past seven days, Hainan has changed the seatmap for my flight six times. SIX TIMES. That’s nearly once per day (for those who are really bad at math).

In each case it switched between this seatmap…

And this seatmap…

Look, there are a lot of airlines out there that are notorious for last minute aircraft swaps.

But how on earth is it possible to be so disorganized that in a seven day period — not even within a week of departure — you change the aircraft type on a route six times?

Are they actually consciously making these changes, or does Hainan have randomly generated seatmaps daily that are based on absolutely nothing? Wouldn’t it make sense then to just manage expectations and always display the old seatmap, and then within a couple of days of departure, when plans firm up, display the correct seatmap?

As I’m sure you guys can appreciate, this presents a challenge for me. I’ll only fly Hainan if the flight features their new business class, while I won’t if the flight doesn’t feature their new business class.

But I also have to position to my transpacific gateway. I guess I should just book a positioning flight, but be prepared to throw it away if this doesn’t work out?

How many Hainan 787s have new business class seats?

Hainan has two types of new business class seats, though both are reverse herringbone. I’ll take either of them, but I’ve been trying to figure out just how many of Hainan’s planes have these new seats.

The reason it’s tough to figure this out is because the airline is sort of in financial ruins, so they’ve returned some new planes, and it can be tough to track how many planes are actually still flying.

Best I can tell:

  • Hainan has around 29 Boeing 787-9s in their fleet
  • All of the 787-9s delivered starting in May 2017 have the new seats, give or take:
    • About nine of those 787-9s were delivered before May 2017
    • About 20 of those 787-9s were delivered in May 2017 or later

If my assumptions are correct, it seems about two thirds of Hainan’s 787-9s have the new seats, which seems like good odds? Can anyone confirm or deny that?

Bottom line

Hainan sure doesn’t seem to want me to fly their new 787-9 business class! There are plenty of airlines known for last minute aircraft swaps, though I’ve never seen anything quite like what Hainan is doing before.

Six aircraft swaps in seven days?! Wow…

  1. It comes directly from the aircraft scheduling software (they aren’t manually going in and updating the seat maps). My guess is they’re just moving aircraft around for operational reasons, which is completely normal, but most airlines try to keep the configuration on a given route the same. It seems HU doesn’t care about that, especially when business class is relatively empty (there are no oversales to worry about)

  2. I am not the least surprised. I think Haian will get stellar awards on this point as I have yet to find any airline doing this. Their preflight service appalling from every aspect in total contrast to the excellent in flight service.

  3. Ben – do you reckon that Thai Airways have a competitor when it comes to equipment swaps? In 2012 you seemed to refer to equipment changes as “getting TGed”. Now, eight years on, do you reckon that we could now describe equipment changes as “getting HUed”? Rhymes with ‘screwed’, as in ‘screwed over’, as well. And apologies for yesterday – I should have specified that I
    meant Lufthansa BUSINESS Class. I know that you are still a huge fan of LH first class. I’ve heard a rumour, as well, that apparently up to 10 B777-9s will have First Class on them – apparently to replace the First Class capacity in Frankfurt, that got shifted to Munich a few years back.

  4. @ Alex — Hah, I think HUed is exactly right. As I was writing this was thinking about the “TGed” term, but realize that Hainan is in a different league.

  5. Hainan is definitely second to none in terms of its genuine inflight service, in spite of its last minute aircraft swaps. They have superior flight attendants and pursers who really care about the passengers comfort!

  6. Why don’t you just set an aircraft change alert on Expert Flyer? This triggers anytime a seat map changes even when the aircraft type stays the same. Then you don’t have to monitor. Of course 6 changes in a week might get old having to refresh the change alert….

    Hope you get to try them!

  7. That is smart business acumen. They know there are a ton of folks out there that make a living of reviewing airlines and pushing cards. For them they keep on switching planes so they book time and again on the wrong flight. You should book a 2-2-2 to begin with and then allow them to switch you to a 1-2-1

  8. and what it the point of this post? Hainan does switch the aircraft? We all do know that. Just a suggestion: next time write something that has a value.

  9. Sounds like when AA had re-configured the “majority” of their 767s and decided to only show that improved seat map up until 24 hours before departure. Got screwed on that so many times

  10. Ben well it’s 1 week before the Chinese New Year. The largest human migration is taking place as we speak. Must be hectic for Hainan. Also with that outbreak in Wuhan you’re brave to fly to mainland China.
    American stopped DFW PEK for this entire month and most of their flights from LAX are oversold and they flip flop back and forth between 788 and 789.

  11. Aw….I had the same problem last November when I flew to Beijing from LAX. The route was LAX -CSX -PEK, and PEK-CTU-LAX. Only 1-2-1 configuration that I had was, PEK to CTU in return which was a short route. Other than that, I had to suffer with 2-2-2 configuration! So, on my return flight, I just said, I want aisle seat. That way, at least, I can go in-out of my seat without bothering anyone!

  12. First, make a list with all tail numbers Hainan is operating and map them to a specific configuration (using their website and flightradar24). Then, wait until a tail number with new configuration is enroute to LAX for example and book a last minute ticket for the return flight from LAX to China. Is that a viable strategy?

  13. Hainan may not have that many frames with new seats and on top of it around 40% of the 789 fleet is grounded. Don’t know the exact reason but maybe due to financial crunch.

  14. Glad to hear Hainan’s in flight service has improved since I last flew it in 2014 The rest of the airline is a disaster. In 2014 I flew first class return from Toronto to Beijing on an A340-600. The flight was full except first class which had 1-2-1 seating and 3 seats occupied . They didn’t have thes planes that much longer. The AV system was broken. Half the functions on the seats didn’t work and the plane was dirty. The one flight attendant spoke no English. The menu was bilingual but English on half of this was difficult to decipher. On the return flight the only change was the flight attendant spoke a little English. Only psgr on the return in F class. Should’ve known as it only cost about $3400 US. Biz was $2600 US. It was worth the extra $800.00 for the space as biz was 2-2-2 and was full both ways. Glad things have slightly improved but a 5 Startrex airline it isn’t.

  15. If they are in financial trouble it is probably a waste of time to review them. Seems they are trying to pad their earnings by booking flights with more bus class seats.

  16. Why don’t you fly BR or CI pending there’s space? It’s been a while since you’ve reviewed those…

  17. Major storms across the US this past week left Hainan scrambling to reroute thousands of customers (this lady included)

  18. Just flew on Hainan and encountered this issue, booked on a 1-2-1 and seemingly switched to a 2-2-2. Ultimately, they used the 1-2-1 configuration we originally booked.

    Biz class roulette?

  19. Ben imagine working for this mob…

    HNA have cash issues which is creating lease issues. They’re parking aeroplanes left right and centre. That’s probably the source of these daily changes.

  20. This is the reason I do not fly Qatar Airways. Just terrible. They also don’t know anything about revenue management. I was flying back to JFK booked in Economy, there was a seat left in Business, but they wouldn’t upgrade me for free. I deserve that upgrade. What kind of idiots work in their revenue management department?

  21. @John tell me an airline that does otherwise than Qatar and I’ll fly with ya. Man I still can’t stop laughing.

  22. @JW First off, English mf – do you speak it? Second, do you know who I am? I am top tier with Delta, United, American, Qatar and Singapore Airlines. You know what that means? It means I deserve those seats. You belong in the back.

  23. I experienced this with 7 aircraft changes 5 of which were in the week before travel. Finally ended up on the same plane I originally booked with the new business class but was downgraded to premium economy at the airport. They refunded my entire ticket but their service in PE was terrible.

  24. @RC it’s for 1 month. They must have figured out how empty the loads were around Chinese New Year in the past.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *