I had been looking forward to this flight for quite some time. Ten years ago, China Airlines was THE airline to avoid but the company has had an amazing turnaround; the new business class on the A350 has won several awards already.
China Airlines departs to Taipei as one of the last flights of the day from San Francisco at 1.40AM and I showed up quite a bit early. My plan was to go to the American Express Centurion Lounge and then head over to the China Airlines Lounge later. Good plan but the online check-in would not issue any boarding passes for this flight and the counters didn’t open until 10PM. Oh well!
The Centurion Lounge has a new menu and the food is even better than before.
They also have a new set of beers on tap (inc. my new favorite IPAs) and they have revamped the wines. After a quick visit, I walked out of security and over to the other side of the International Terminal. The lines looked long but moved fast (that side has no TSA Pre✓ and almost no airlines are participating in it anyways).
The China Airlines Lounge is right after security on the left but it is pretty miserable. It is dark, cramped and the food looks horrible.
It was surprisingly crowded but I had no intention of staying. Before my last Air France flight, we had checked out the Air France-KLM Lounge, a Priority Pass lounge (which also serves Qantas customers), so I tried here again.
The food was not as good as last time but there were still a number of high-quality items and I was entertained until 1AM, which is when the lounge closes (and was also boarding time for our flight).
The first thing you notice when you enter the new China Airlines Business Class on the A350 is how beautiful it is. It’s like someone’s living room – warm colors, perfect lighting and just a feast for your eyes!
It is completely devoid of the ‘sterile’ plane atmosphere you usually get. China Airlines uses the Zodiac seat (you may know it from Cathay Pacific, EVA Air or American/US Airways). It comes in a 1-2-1 configuration and the mini-suites are a little smaller than what you see on the 777-330ER (if only by a few inches), which is the workhorse aircraft over the Pacific these days.
The seat comes prepared with all the amenity kits, slippers, headphones and water for the long flight. There isn’t any work left for flight attendants and they can focus on newspapers (which I found a bit old-fashioned) and pre-takeoff drinks.
Business class was full with the exception of 3 seats. We moved one row back but were really too close to the galley for my taste. The cabins were really quiet and well-behaved and I took the opportunity to check out the premium economy and economy sections. All were full that night and were equally well-designed. Even the bathrooms had faux wood decor and the displays in economy class seemed huge and a joy to look at.
I thought this whole plane was just beautiful and I was curious if it would also be practical.
After a quick taxi and takeoff, we did two easy turns and were on our way towards the southwestern islands of Alaska. I wanted to watch a movie but fell asleep almost right away, though I first managed to delay my food service and ask for pajamas (which are not provided).
Everyone else seemed eager to eat and the full meal service ran for three hours, with most passengers participating. The Zodiac seat goes fully flat and I can stretch out almost completely. What was surprising is that I had trouble turning; it usually works but this seat was just a few inches smaller, so it would wake me up from time to time. I still slept an almost solid 10 hours and woke up over Southern Japan. I asked the flight attendant for my meals and she offered to serve breakfast first and then dinner right after.
I liked the congee served for breakfast a lot and the muesli I asked for was equally delicious.
The seafood spaghetti wasn’t great but wasn’t bad either; it just clearly had been cooled for a bit too long and wasn’t fresh at all.
For dessert, tiramisu would be offered (the vanilla ice cream was all gone).
The entertainment system was pure bliss – a very responsive system with a crisp touchscreen. It does exactly what you want, how you want it.
Movies can be resumed and all the options are where they belong. I can’t think of any improvements that could be made to it.
I don’t like the little remotes and feel the airlines are just making it harder; you won’t need yours on this flight, though.
The headphones worked well; the A350 is just so much quieter that you barely need noise cancellation.
The staff were wonderful at all interactions; they were attentive, well-trained and spoke English well. I’d rate them as one of the best teams flying over the Pacific.
In sum, China Airlines has gotten a wonderful product – maybe a bit by accident – but the results are fascinating. The interior design of the A350 is unmatched by any other airline, the entertainment system is a delight, the seat is almost perfect and the food is very good, too. How an airline that was barely able to keep up before has leap-frogged beyond Singapore Airlines (the de facto local champion) and almost on a level with Qatar is amazing. It shows that you CAN get things right – it is not impossible.
China Airlines needs more marketing but if they can keep up the level, they will see amazing success, with demand over the Pacific from the US.