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BUSINESS & TECH

Window or Aisle? China Train Riders Can Finally Choose

By Mo Yelin
A new service of China’s high-speed rail operator will allow passengers to select seats from a map that pops up during the booking process. Photo: IC
A new service of China’s high-speed rail operator will allow passengers to select seats from a map that pops up during the booking process. Photo: IC

Chinese bullet train lovers who buy their tickets online can finally decide between a window or aisle seat.

Such simple but important decisions, which have been open to travelers in the West for years, have officially come to China’s high-speed railroad with the launch of a feature that allows for seat selection when booking online. The move comes as the rail operator, China Railway Corp. (CRC), tries to become more customer-friendly as it breaks from its history as a government entity.

The new service, which began on Thursday, will allow passengers to select seats from a map that pops up during the booking process. If no seat is available, an automatic distribution system kicks in. A notice on the operator’s website detailed the booking process.

Unlike airlines, which are more market-oriented due to competition, trains in China were until recently operated by a government monopoly. But under new reforms, the operator has been forced to be more responsible for its own finances, and be more consumer-focused. Since then, CRC has been trying to make life more convenient for travelers, and now offers a number of services online.

The new online seat-selection service answers years of yearning from consumers, especially those traveling with families, who complained they could not sit together due to the inflexible ticket booking system.

The move was welcomed by ordinary consumers and experts alike. “It is a step truly putting consumers in mind and a milestone for the rail operator to truly transform from a government entity into a service provider,” said Feng Haining, a public affairs commentator for the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News.

Still, the new service was limited to types of seats, but not specific rows, which means that passengers still can’t select exact positions. In addition, the new service is limited to high-speed trains, and has yet to be rolled out on the conventional railways that remain a common form of transportation for many.

“The process to book a ticket for both high-speed and conventional trains is the same, which means there should not be any technical barriers excluding the latter,” Feng wrote.

Contact reporter Mo Yelin (yelinmo@caixin.com)

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