Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trip Report: EVA Airlines Houston to Taipei in Business Class 777-300ER BR 51

Sadly there was a schedule change and all of my planning to ride the hello kitty plane was for naught. The flight attendants had their Hello Kitty gear on and the purser said they were all surprised by the non-kitty plane. Sigh. It's hard to be objective when the trip starts with such huge disappointment. That said…


pros
  • great award seat availability via Star Alliance 
  • good food
  • great service 
  • good, reasonably-priced wifi  
  • First Class-level amenities: pajamas, Krug, espresso, Rimowa amenity kit, mattress cover
  • great seats (similar to British Airways First Class)
neutral
cons
  • unreliability of the hello kitty plane schedule!

how i did it

I used 80,000 United miles + $5.60 for this trip (per person, one-way, IAH-TPE), nearly all of which I transferred in from my Chase Preferred card. Since I had to get to Houston to take this flight, I should also include the $439 JFK-HOU flight (though I did choose a more expensive flight there so I could fly into Hobby Airport instead of IAH and visit the Johnson Space Center on my layover). More planning notes here.

The Chase Ultimate Rewards points I transferred came from 3 main places: personal airfare and hotel purchases (4 destination weddings this year, we paid 3 months rent in Tokyo via AirBnB, etc.) which all get point bonuses, reimbursed travel expenses for my husband's work travel, and a slew of slow-but-constant purchases and bonuses through the Chase and United shopping portals for bonuses (e.g., household supplies from Drugstore.com, Christmas presents from Niemans and Macy's)

conclusions

Loved it, even without the Kitty. I'll actively seek this route out when looking to spend United/Star Alliance miles to Asia. The food, tea, and spa scene in Taipei was so fantastic that I'd love to do another long layover there, and the flight itself was as good or better than its competitors'. Plus, Taipei is very centrally located in Asia, so connections are all fairly short flights.

UPDATE: the Hello Kitty plane is moving from Houston to Chicago starting 31 May 2017

competition

On competitors' flights (e.g., ANA, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Cathay Pacific) there's a First Class cabin above Business Class and they need to have some differentiation to justify people choosing First over Business. EVA's Business Class product (called Royal Laurel Class) is the highest class of service on their long-haul planes, so there's no need to "hold back" niceties like pajamas, espresso, fantastic champagne, and high-end amenity kits.

The seat is a reverse-herringbone nearly identical to British Airway's First Class seat. But if I had to choose, I think I prefer a window seat in JAL's new Sky Suite to this. While the SkySuite is a bit claustrophobic, it offers the best of all worlds: aisle access for all, maximum privacy, AND the ability to chat with your seat-mate if you want. (The Sky Suite is also on the Korean Airline 747 that we flew home). 

US-based carriers have lagged their Asian competitors for years, but the new Delta One Business Class seems to at least have a great seat with a privacy door. I won't mention United's Polaris because the delivery of the new Polaris seats is on a very slow rollout schedule starting mid next year. 

boarding

Checking in online, I encountered a similar situation to my ANA flight – you have to combine your first and middle names in the First Name field online (e.g., "FirstMiddle").

The check-in counter gave me the bad news about the plane change, so I'd had an hour of drinking and pouting in the Houston lounge to get over myself before boarding 😜. It never occurred to me to ask if we could delay our flight one day to get on the Hello Kitty plane, but losing a day in Taipei plus the extra hotel would have been a steep price to pay even if the change had been free. I guess I'll have to try for another day. Or get on their new Gudetama plane instead.

The lounge was fine – bar, wi-fi, food, not too crowded, close to the departure gate… all the things you want. Once on board we were greeted with champagne and chocolate, as well as pajamas, a cool amenity kit, and menus. The Business Class was about half full. 

When I told the purser about our disappointment at missing the Kitty plane, she was so empathetic and understanding – she actually rummaged through the galley and found us a couple of Hello Kitty pens to take home as a consolation prize. 

pajamas, Rimowa amenity kit, and welcome champagne and chocolate

I'd even brought a Hello Kitty from the Johnson Space Center to ride on her namesake plane 😢

Welcome menus and Kitty-chan's seat

dinner

While I know this is beyond EVA's control (at least until the new anti-turbulence systems catch on), the turbulence was very strong and constant for the first 3 hours of the flight. Sort of like a 5.0 earthquake that goes on for hours. I was pretty queasy once the food service finally began, but I keep a bottle of ginger extract in my bag to help with that. 

While we waited for it to subside, I decided to purchase their T-mobile wi-fi package – $21.95 for the whole flight. The speed was reasonable and the price was great considering it's a 15+ hour flight. The entertainment system was quite good, and they hand out noise-canceling headphones to use with it. 

I forgot to take a picture of the menu, but there were Asian and Western options for both the evening service, and the pre-arrival breakfast. I chose Asian for both, and both were quite tasty. I was very grateful for the Krug, and had that with my meal. The one First Class thing that didn't sneak into their menu was foie gras or caviar, but the former is quite easy to screw up (Korean Air, I'm looking at you!), so I appreciate that everything they served was well-executed. 

Amuse-bouche

Seafood salad and bread

Spicy Taiwanese chicken

Cake and fruit for dessert

Espresso!


sleeping 

Given the long delay caused by the turbulence, I wanted to get right to sleep after eating. I switched into my pajamas, and yeah, Asian XL is a lot smaller than my Western XL body but they did the job. The FA helped me make up my bed with their padded seat cover and I was off to snoozy-town.  

The cabin was kept a reasonable temperature throughout the flight (this is important because like all 777's I've ever been on, your seat doesn't have a personal air vent). A hot cabin usually makes me have fitful sleep where I wake up over and over again. I managed to sleep 9 consecutive hours (!!) and got up just in time for breakfast. 
Bathroom with flowers, nice products, and spare toothbrushes and shavers

breakfast

I'm not a big fan of congee or any of its spiritual cousins: grits, porridge, oatmeal, etc… but this was the best I've ever had. Note to self, that orange lump in the middle of the tray is a huge glob of miso paste meant to flavor the whole bowl! Popping the whole thing into your mouth at once was a sticky, salty, unpleasant surprise! Oops.

After breakfast we were on the ground and through immigration with zero waiting. Baggage was speedy as well. We didn't seek out the arrivals lounge, as we were anxious to get into the city and eat "real" Taipei food, not airport food.


Congee for breakfast 

More fruit

a couple quick notes on Taipei

This was my first time in Taipei and Wow! what an amazing food scene! I'll very likely write wrote a whole post about it, but I'd definitely come back here again for another long layover. Check out my Instagram for pics and locations of places we ate. Anthony Bourdain has a great episode of The Layover about Taipei that's good for watching on the plane.

My Taipei food pics and check-ins on Instagram


It's central to lots of Asian destinations and this 15 hour+ flight seemed shorter than many of my daytime Atlantic flights half that duration.

Taipei has a large and very efficient metro called the MRT (we were calling it "Mister T") which is scheduled to reach the airport by Spring of 2017. Because we're train nerds, we opted to take the bus to the Airport High Speed Train station and ride their Japanese-built Shinkansen a couple of stops into the city. Trains, subways, buses, and Uber (Uber was recently ruled illegal) are all ridiculously cheap in Taipei, but be warned, Taxi princesses: the airport is FAR from the city and the traffic can be horrendous.


[ The next leg in this trip, Taipei to Kalibo, is here ]

Some trainporn for you…









No comments:

Post a Comment