China Southern Airlines plans to change the name of its first class cabin to business class in a bid to reclaim official customers amid Beijing's crackdown on wasteful government spending.
All passengers sitting in the newly named business class will enjoy the same service as first-class customers after the change takes effect on October 26, the carrier said in a statement. The move will include China Southern's narrow-body jets flying domestic routes.
Chinese carriers have been hit hard by the government's anti-corruption campaign, which has generated a sharp decline in business and first-class travel.
A China Southern ticket agent said the carrier currently offers first class, premium economy and economy seats for most domestic routes. It is unclear whether first-class fares will be cut after the name change.
The initiative, which has not been matched by Air China, China Eastern, or Hainan Airlines, has spurred heated debate on WeChat, a popular mobile messaging app.
Some expect the name-change to bolster China Southern's passenger loads while others say the move is the airline "returning to the reality".
For its part, China Southern said in its statement the name change is "to satisfy market demand".
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made cutting back on extravagance and waste a key theme of his administration, seeking to assuage anger at corruption and restore faith in the party.
Last year, China banned officials from holding extravagant galas linked to official meetings, which has hurt the image of the government.
Government employees also have been ordered to fly domestic carriers as much as possible when going abroad.
If domestic carriers do not provide a direct international service, officials should fly on a domestic carrier to a nearby country and then transfer to a foreign carrier that can take them to the destination country, the rules state.
The corruption crackdown has helped to sink airline earnings, which also have been hit this year by a weakening yuan.
Air China had warned about an up to 65 percent fall in its first-half earnings. China Southern said it could post a big loss.