LOS ANGELES — I recently had the chance to fly on EVA Air out of Los Angeles International Airport to Hong Kong for a family trip. It was a trip of firsts for me, including:
- Flying on EVA Air;
- Departing from the newly remodeled Tom Bradley International Airport at LAX;
- Flying on a Boeing 777-300;
- Meeting my wife’s family;
- Fying on a Hello Kitty aircraft; and
- Flying on an Airbus A330.
Knowing the flight was going to depart from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, I got to the airport early so I could check out the new facilities and hang out in the new Star Alliance lounge.
I arrived at the airport so early the EVA Airlines check-in counter was not open, but it gave me a chance to walk around the new spacious facility. Aside from check-in counters, there were not many services available in the departure area.
Inside, the counters were large, well-spaced and ready for the onslaught of soon-to-be-departing international passengers waiting to check in. At the EVA Airlines counter, I was greeted by a smiling agent who seemed very happy to be there performing her job. Within a minute, I had my boarding pass, instructions on how to proceed through security and I made my way to the Star Alliance lounge.
On the other side of security, there was the normal compliment of high-end shops, as well as the obligatory duty-free stores. Not needing anything, I went to the Star Alliance Lounge.
I was very surprised to see how nice, modern and clean the lounge looked. There is an inside and outside bar, along with an observation deck that offers runway views, complete with a fire pit. It is the perfect place to do some planespotting while enjoying a beverage or your favorite snack. At the bar, in addition to the standards, the bartender was happy to make a Singapore Sling, Mojito or any other specialty drink you wanted. It did not seem like anything was out of his range, which was a very nice surprise compared to every other airport lounge bar I’ve experienced.
We had access to a large selection of buffet-style offerings for breakfast and lunch. There was also a build-your-own pho station, which was one of the best I have ever eaten.
If you forgot your iPad, you can borrow one while you are at the lounge. It also offers fast and free Internet access, and most of the chairs in the lounge come with AC outlets as well as USB power.
With my belly full and having spent an hour or so watching planes take off and land from the north runways, it was time to make my way to the gate for boarding. A short walk away was the gate and a slew of TSA agents performing what appeared to be a random check.
Upon boarding the plane, I was escorted to my seat in business class, given help stowing my bags, offered a blanket, pajamas, amenity kit and asked to choose a welcome aboard beverage. I asked for a glass of champagne and was told, “I’m sorry Mr. Coleman, for boarding we only have sparkling wine. Once we are in the air, I’ll be very pleased to bring you a glass of champagne.” And as promised, a glass of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2004 was served when we reached a safe altitude.
As for the seat, the first thing I noticed is the angle of the herringbone — which is much more dramatic than other carriers — and the seat width. Not only was I sitting at about a 35-degree angle, I was in a seat that felt like it was only 20 inches wide. Yes, there was more space in the foot well below than on other business class seats I have experienced. However, I found the seat angle uncomfortable.
In addition, due to the configuration of the seat, it is virtually impossible to see your seatmate, which is great on flights where you want to be left alone. However, if you are traveling with someone, you could not make eye contact with your traveling companion unless you lean forward to look around the seat. Other nice amenities include in-seat power and lots of storage. Noise-canceling headphones were provided.
When it was time for dinner, I found the seat tray table to be a bit strange. It pulled out from the center section and then unfolded outwards, towards the seat in front of me. The table was very large, but if I were an oversized American, besides finding the seat to be very narrow, I doubt I’d be able to extend the tray for dinner.
It seemed like there were 15 flight attendants in the cabin catering to every wish and desire of the passengers. They scurried up and down the aisles multiple times and because there were so many of them, it seemed a bit disorganized.
However, when it came time for meal services, everything was cooked to perfection and the meal was very tasty and enjoyable. I had a French red wine (2010, Chateau Lilian Ladouys) to accompany my Braised Pork Spare Ribs Wu Shi Style. After dinner, we were served cheese, fruit and Haagen-Dazs ice cream with a choice of port, coffee or tea.
Wanting to get try out the 180-degree lay-flat seat, I pressed the button and my pod converted into my bed for the next six hours or so. I did not realize how comfortable sleeping with a down pillow and comfortable could be on a flight, but having missed the mid-flight snack, I assure you, it was comfortable enough.
With breakfast trays cleared, it was not long before we were on the ground, taxing to the gate and headed through immigration. There were no issues with immigration and I was in the arrivals lounge about 15 minutes after touchdown.
Part II: TPE – HKG – LAX
The next part of my journey was a week later when I boarded an EVA Airlines Hello Kitty-branded plane headed for Hong Kong. This experience starts before you get to the airport, where you can select a Hello Kitty flight. At the airport, there are Hello Kitty self-check-in kiosks and a branded kids play area. And there’s a gift shop featuring nothing but Hello Kitty paraphernalia.
On board the aircraft, pretty much everything that can be branded is branded. These items include the seat pillow, the art on the walls, the boarding music, the menu (which I tried to take as a souvenir but wasn’t allowed), the food, the flight attendant aprons, kids coloring books and even the toilet paper.
The service was the same as the crossing from the United States to Taipei. The seat was similar to a domestic first class seat, but the pitch was much larger.
After landing at Hong Kong International, I was able to enjoy the Virgin Atlantic Lounge. I found it to be spacious and well-appointed, but missing some of the luxury features I heard about in other lounges. The décor was modern, and therefore slightly uncomfortable to me. However, I was greeted by a very enthusiastic host who was offering to take care of any requirement I might have. He presented me with a food and beverage menu. Again, no request seemed too small for them.
I placed an order for pork short ribs and beef noodle soup and a glass of sparkling water. Within a few minutes the ribs and water arrived along with an apology that the soup would take another minute.
Having thoroughly enjoyed my ribs and beef noodle soup, it was time to see if I could gain access to the United Club lounge. Much to my surprise, I was granted access. The lounge was full and bustling with travelers.
I grabbed a beer from the self-service cooler and made my way to a seating area that overlooked the boarding gates below. In Hong Kong, all the lounges are a level above the departing gates. I collected my things and made the short journey to my gate.
The boarding process commenced about two minutes after I arrived in a very orderly fashion. I was again escorted to my seat by a flight attendant and asked if I needed help getting settled or if I required a beverage. Sad to see this wasn’t another Hello Kitty flight, I made myself comfortable and immediately feel asleep for the duration of the short flight back to Taipei.
The flight from TPE to LAX was basically the same as the one going over to Taiwan. The service and plane were the same, which is to say, very good.
One thing to note was the maps that were displayed on the IFE. I’ve never seen the views like what were displayed on the EVA flights. It was nice to see something so different with fairly precise GPS.
As for all the firsts I experienced on this trip:
- I would definitely fly EVA Airlines again, even a Hello Kitty flight;
- Los Angeles World Airports did a nice job on remodeling the Tom Bradley building;
- I didn’t notice anything substantially different on the 777-300 versus the -200; and
- The A330 was larger than what I was expecting and a pleasure to fly on.