MIAMI — Taiwan-based EVA Air recently invited Airways to try its Elite Class premium economy service. The carrier was one of the first to experiment with premium economy, rolling it out back in the early 1990s. But whether EVA or Virgin was first is the subject of an ongoing heated debate.
The aircraft for the 10.5-hour scheduled flight was one of the carrier’s increasingly rare Boeing 747-400s.
Boarding began 15 minutes late due to a late arrival from the prior flight. Business class and rewards members board first, followed by Elite class. Thanks to dual jetways and being the first economy-level passengers to board, there was no backup typical of the boarding process.
The seat is 20A, located immediately behind the mid-section galley. Consequently, it is also a coveted bulkhead row, granting a little extra space than the cabin already has. Bags easily find space overhead in the bins. There may not be pre-flight drinks passed around, but there is a bottle of water.
The aircraft is approaching 20 years old and, while in good condition, still shows its age. The most noticeable is the older onboard product. Unlike the Boeing 777-300 I flew in on earlier that week, the Queen of the Sky has one of the older iterations, now a step or two removed from the latest and greatest.
Yet first impressions can be deceiving; despite its age, the product isn’t half bad. Arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, each Elite Class seat has 19.5 inches of width and 38 inches of pitch. The recline is substantially more than economy, though exactly how much I’m not sure. There is a leg rest, too, though I’ve never found them to be terribly useful at the shallow angles most are restricted to (EVA was not an exception). A USB and multi-national power port kept devices powered up. It was a very welcome plus I didn’t expect that is not available in regular economy.
The biggest plus, however, is far more simple: it’s just comfortable. Big, plush-type seat cushions reminded me more of a 1990s domestic business class than the slimline style of today. A nice pillow and heavy blanket helped to make the best of the long flight, and I slept nearly five of the 10-plus hours on board.
While the rest was more than welcome, it was also problematic, as I somehow slept through both major meal services. The friendly cabin crew offered me the option to eat each time afterward, but a mildly queasy tummy left me not wanting to partake. Rumbles of hunger did manage to overcome the queasiness long enough to enjoy a heavier snack; a meat and cheese croissant sandwich. It hit the spot nicely and tasted just fine, but wasn’t anything to brag about.
Beverage choices were predictable; a mix of juices, sodas, and alcohol. I stuck with my usual return flight plan, alternating between juice and water.
To help whittle away the time, I watched a handful of movies on the inflight entertainment system, Star Gallery. Run from the eX2 platform, it consisted of the usual suspects: movies, TV, music, map, etc. Western, read American, selections were a bit limited; something I’ve noticed on other non-U.S. carriers (really shouldn’t be surprising, but for some reason we Americans expect it all to revolve around us). I did manage to find a few good movies, knocking off the better part of five hours. A pair of provided headsets was above average in quality.
The flight landed on time, at just past six in the evening in Seattle. The only international arrival at that hour, there was no wait in Seattle’s typically congested immigration hall. With no bags checked, I was on the curb in 15 minutes.
While it recently upgraded its product on its Boeing 777 fleet, its aging 747s have not received the love. And it probably won’t either: EVA says it has no plans to place new interiors into its three-strong 747 fleet. Then again, the jets won’t be around much longer, most likely another two years at most.
Yet the airline also faces an increasingly strong threat from ever-stronger regional entrants to the market. China Airlines, Singapore Airlines and others have recently added, upgraded or announced new, competitive products and service. In addition, they’ll fall across the exceptionally wide premium economy experience spectrum.
As to where on that spectrum EVA falls, its service was closer to economy plus than business class lite. Despite claims that the food is a little better, it tasted on par with what I’d expect from regular economy. Several EVA regulars I spoke with on the flight also said that they hadn’t noticed any discernible difference. Almost everything else, service-wise, is the same as the folks in back.
That leaves Elite Class resting mostly on the value of its hard product. The 747, as noted, certainly wasn’t the newest or shiniest. But I’d be hard pressed to find something more comfortable.
If you’re looking to buy, do your homework on the options. If you’re looking more for a business class lite, you won’t find it on EVA. But if an extra comfy economy-plus is your game, Elite Class has your name.