Tianjin Airlines has announced that its economy class will no longer offer complimentary meals. [Photo/VCG]
Tianjin Airlines has announced that from Oct 28, its economy class will no longer offer complimentary meals, allowing it to offer cheaper tickets.
Passengers who would like to eat in-flight can book ahead online. High-end economy class will still offer free catering services.
The carrier also said that passengers who bought tickets for economy class with discounts of above 60 percent off will have to pay for checked luggage. Previously, all passengers could check their luggage for free.
The carrier is altering its services partly as a result of cost pressures. Last year, Tianjin Airlines transported 71.69 million passengers, spending 1.52 billion yuan ($219 million) on providing in-flight meals.
Providing meals usually accounts for 3 percent to 5 percent of an airline's total costs, according to the earnings report of its parent HNA Group.
"Not providing free food has been one way to boost profits among budget airlines, but we found that budget and full-services airlines are gradually integrating in China in recent years," said Lin Zhijie, an aviation industry analyst and columnist at Carnoc, a leading Chinese civil aviation website.
"This business model is a future growth avenue for the aviation sector, as it is beneficial for both sides. For passengers, they can pay for any services they require, and if they don't need extra services, they can buy cheaper tickets. For airlines, they can lower operational costs and raise profits.
"In addition, they can add new income sources by providing higher-quality additional services," he said.
Following its latest move, Tianjin Airlines is offering notably cheaper flight tickets. For example, a flight from Tianjin to Sanya, Hainan province, in November, could be discounted by as much as 95 percent, costing only 120 yuan.
In-flight meals are a major source of waste, as they are often unpopular with certain passengers, either due to taste or timing preferences. Tianjin Airlines' website now offers various food packages, including simple meals priced at 37 yuan and set meals at 99 yuan.
"In China, the government doesn't allow airlines to charge for seat selections for domestic flights, and Chinese consumers are used to one ticket covering all services. Also, budget carriers' market share is small in China and they are not competitive," Lin said.
"In the United States, full-service airlines suffered a huge blow from budget airlines, and they had to offer cheaper flight tickets to compete with budget carriers. Therefore they canceled those extra services."