Hello, and welcome to another Aeroplan adventure — this time chronicling a quick trip from Toronto to Hong Kong with EVA Air in business class. Here’s the rundown.
BR35 YYZ-TPE 11/20/2016 - You are here BR871 TPE-HKG 11/21/2016 - Coming soon BR858 HKG-TPE 11/23/2016 - After that BR36 TPE-YYZ 11/24/2016 - Later still
I’ve flown with EVA before — they’re a fantastic way to spend Aeroplan points since there’s no fuel surcharge, and availability is great within two weeks of departure. Or at least, that’s traditionally been the case. I actually found this availability about six weeks out. So maybe EVA is making some award seats available to partners a bit earlier. That would be a nice change — although I’ve always loved EVA for the “I just want to go away for a few days” last-minute booking. The flight is timed a little earlier than it was when I previously flew it — it’s a small difference, but somehow “a couple of minutes past midnight” seems so much less painful than “almost 2:00 am” when it comes to departure times.
Earlier Saturday, I decided to check in on Flightradar24 to see how my ride to Toronto is coming on its inbound flight. This is the nice thing about flying the “visitor” airline — you can be pretty sure what plane you’re going to be on. I’m pleasantly surprised to find this flight will be served by B-16727, a barely four-month-old 77W. Hope it still has that new plane smell! And since it was delivered to EVA in June, in the airline’s new livery, this should mean a good excuse to hit the model shops in Hong Kong. Excellent!
I arrived at Pearson’s Terminal 1 about 9:30, two and a half hours before flight time. I was immediately struck by just how quiet things were at this hour of the night on a Saturday. This really is a great time to be flying out of here. Except, of course, for the lack of flights.
Inside, it’s equally quiet as I trek down to aisle 13 at the far end of the terminal, where EVA is located.
When I get there, I find the action. There are a fair number of people here. This flight to Taipei is always well-populated. The last time I flew it, Business was full of Toronto-based Vietnamese Canadians heading home for a visit.
There are separate lanes for Business/EVA top-tier elites and Star Alliance Golds, Elite (premium economy) Class travelers, and the general rabble. The woman directing traffic here is very thorough, making sure first I’m traveling with EVA, and then that I am, in fact, in business class. I guess I don’t fit the profile. But there’s no lineup once I’m in, and I’m given both my boarding passes to Hong Kong, as well as lounge invites both for YYZ and TPE.
Keeping with the “not very busy” theme, security is very quick, and once I’m through, I discover to my considerable surprise that the fast moving sidewalk isn’t down for the near-constant “preventative maintenance” it requires. Oh, lucky day!
My lounge invite is to the Plaza Premium lounge here in the T1 international zone. But we’re not going there first. Oh no. Our first stop is my familiar stomping grounds — the Maple Leaf Lounge International. The food’s better there, and I’m in the mood for a little snack before second dinner at 2:00 or so this morning on the flight.
A quick boarding pass scan, and I’m in. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not very busy. Surprisingly quiet, in fact, for this often-packed lounge. I guess enough of the AC lift across the Atlantic is out at this hour that the crowd is kind of thinning.
The foyer as you walk in.
The “main” seating area.
And the “other main” seating area.
The lounge is what it always is — it’s a pretty comfortable place, although nothing cutting edge or outstanding. I grab a seat, and head out to check out the food situation.
Salads and veggies.
Coffee, tea, and desserts.
Chips, dips, and pickles.
And hot dishes — a paella, a chicken marsala, some veggies, mashed potatoes, and two types of ravioli — meat and mushroom. The pho station that had been here my last few times through here is no longer present, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of desserts, aside from a couple of types of cookies.
I grab myself a snack, and pour myself a nice and spicy Caesar. Oh, how I’ve missed you on my Delta-flying. Bloody Marys are fine, but they’re just not the same.
As for the food, I give it a mixed grade. The chicken was tasty but very dry. The raviolis were pretty good. The mashed potatoes were gluey. Not the best offering I’ve had here at the MLL.
I hop online to check on things — the lounge WiFi is easy to connect to, and plenty fast. Of course, with the lounge at maybe one tenth capacity, it’s not exactly being tested. Of course, it wouldn’t be a flight-report without the corporate shot, would it?
Back to the buffet for a bit more of a snack — a couple of pickles, and some humous and corn chips. All pretty good, actually.
To round out my culinary experience here in the MLL, I head back to the bar and pour myself a little taste of Glenlivet, a very nice little this late evening.
One major oversight and inconvenience with this lounge is that there are exceedingly few power outlets, and basically none at many of the seating areas.
At this point, it’s about 10 minutes before the posted boarding time, and they make an announcement in the lounge that the MLL will close in 15 minutes. I take one last walk around, and the place is pretty much deserted.
Downstairs I go, and it’s a short walk to the gate area for my flight. I’m greeted by this scene.
Yikes. That’s a lot of wheelchairs. And a lot of a mob by the gate. We’re not at all helped that gates E76 and E77 are side by side. The former is our gate for tonight, and the latter is hosting the late-night flight to Heathrow, which has just started boarding. Literally, there are two flights in Terminal 1 yet to board tonight, and they are in side-by-side gates.
Yep. We’re the last flight out until the morning. At least from Terminal 1.
There are agents trying desparately to get people in later boarding zones to take a seat, but they’re hampered by the reduced seating available in this section of T1 thanks to the new restaurant-style seating available, and by the fact that nobody wants to give up their space in the mix.
The mob continues to gather. Clearly it’s going to be a full flight. About 11:30, they start boarding the myriad wheelchairs. The mob presses forward, and eventually the agents put up signs for the various boarding zones. I find my way into the “line” for Zone 1, as chaos continues to grow around the gate.
About 11:45, they call Zone 1, and my line starts to move forward. So I guess I chose correctly. Yay me. My boarding pass is scanned, and away we go. Unfortunately, E76 is one of those gates at Pearson where it’s literally impossible to get a picture of the plane at the gate, so we’ll have to hope for an opportunity once we reach Taiwan.
Anyway, onto the flight.
Flight: BR35 From: Toronto Pearson (YYZ) To: Taipei (TPE) Date: 11/20/2016 Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER Registration: B-16727 Seat: ATD (STD): 00:49 (00:05) ATA (STA): 04:31+1 (04:55+1)
At the door, my boarding pass is inspected and I’m shown to 3K, near the middle of the larger of two J cabins on the EVA 77W. I arrive there and stow my gear. EVA was an early adopter of this reverse herringbone seat, and it continues to be a very good business class hard product today, even if it’s not at the cutting edge anymore.
Waiting for me at my seat is a pillow and noise-cancelling headphones.
Slippers are already in the aisle-side cubby. But no amenity kit to be found as of yet.
The IFE screen is large and bright, the only unfortunate part about it is that it’s of the “must be stowed for takeoff and landing” variety, as opposed to the fixed setup that some airlines (AC included) are now using on their reverse herringbone product.
A quick tour of the various seat storage areas. On the outside wall of the pod, there’s this little storage area. I put my headphones in there, but a flight attendant quickly comes by and tells me it must be kept empty for takeoff and landing, and tells me I can keep the headphones next to me on my seat, or she can put them in the overhead compartment for me. I’m not sure how it’s more secure loose on the seat next to me than in this compartment, but okay.
Behind that is your reading light, the wired remote for the IFE, and all your ports, including a headphone port, two USB ports, and an electrical outlet.
Seat controls are right below that.
Under the seat, there’s another storage cubby, and a blanket is available. The footwell is actually quite generous and spacious compared to some other products.
Outside my window, it’s our neighbour, AC858, soon departing for Heathrow. She should be about to leave now.
A flight attendant comes around and introduces herself by name (Kristy), checking the pronunciation of my last name before continuing. A nice detail. She asks if I’d like orange juice, water, or sparkling wine for a pre-departure beverage, and I choose the the sparking wine, of course. It’s delivered quickly, along with the first of what will be many hot towels, and a Godiva chocolate. A very nice start to the service.
Next, pajamas are offered. I love that EVA offers PJs in business class. It’s such a nice little touch. And by the looks of it, they’ve changed the colours up from the brown jammies I’ve received on previous flights. They’re available in medium and large, and they run on the small size. If you’re a North American medium, you’ll probably want to go large. If you’re a North American large, they’ll be a little tight. But we’ll get to that later.
Shortly after that, food and drink menus are offered. The meal menu. This menu covers both YYZ-TPE and TPE-YYZ. But I'll save the latter menu for the latter flight.
And the drink menu. Interesting that EVA’s champagne offering continues to evolve. It was one of their distinguishing points in the past. When I first flew them, they were (I believe) the only airline serving Dom in business. My next flight with them, it was Krug. Now, Veuve. Still a fine champagne, but I guess it shows that even a proud five-star airline has to rationalize its offerings sometimes.
Kristy is back quickly to take my order. She confirms that I’ve pre-ordered a meal. EVA is among the growing number of airlines that allows premium-class passengers to book a meal online in advance, including some unique options that are only available for pre-orderers. In my case, I couldn’t resist trying the lobster thermidor on the pre-order menu. Kristy confirms my dinner and breakfast selections, and asks what I’d like to drink with both meals. I think it’s interesting that she takes breakfast drink orders before departure. Next, she confirms if it’s okay to wake me up for the meal service. I don’t suspect it’s going to be an issue — I’ll likely be up well before that point, but I give her permission to wake me should I have dozed off.
So…. do folded newspapers somehow take up more energy and emit more CO2? I’m confused here.
As boarding completes, here’s a look forward in the cabin. I like the detail of the paining at the front of the cabin.
The safety video rolls. It’s been updated since last I saw it, but still very clearly appropriate in tone and style for the official airline of Hello Kitty.
Pushback, and we’re almost on our way.
But first, that sure, depressing sign that winter is here — it’s time to stop by the de-icing station for a quick coating on the wings as it’s been cold (although above freezing) and damp all day.
It’s a short taxi, and there’s not exactly a long lineup for the runway — the only one I believe they’re allowed to use at this late hour — and very quickly, we’re up and on our way to Taipei.
As we climb, I start to explore the IFE. First, let’s unpack those headphones. Rather than a “premium” brand, they’re presented as “Thunder by EVA.” But they’re excellent headphones with great sound, and extremely comfortable. There was no temptation at all to grab by Bose set from my backpack. These may be the best “included” headphones I’ve seen in business class. Possibly in any class.
The IFE has been updated since last I saw I saw it, but it’s very responsive and easy to navigate, and the movies category is well-stocked, which is important for a fourteen-hour-plus flight.
I’m feeling in a lighter mood, and want something shorter since the meal service should be quick, and then I look forward to some sleep. So Finding Dory it is. As expected, it’s very cute and quite entertaining.
One more look out the window before we break through the cloud layer. This flight is going to be entirely in the dark. Also, a fun fact — I boarded at 11:45 or so on Saturday night, and will get off this flight at 4:00 or so on Monday morning. So my whole Sunday will be spent on this plane.
Once the seatbelt light is out, I start to get ready for the night. The slippers EVA offers are of excellent quality and very comfortable. Again, ahead of the offerings of many of their peers.
Before I can get up, Taiwan arrival cards are offered. I’m on a layover, but it’s long enough that I intend to go landside and take advantage of TPE’s free transit tour offering to help pass the time.
I head for the lav, and end up in the starboard side one, just behind door R1. The amenities are nice, but it’s nothing special in terms of size or space. Surprised to see a little bit of water on the floor already. EVA crews usually keep the lavs spotless.
I put on the pajamas. As before, they’re a tight fit, but still quite comfortable. They’re nice and light, which is a good thing, because you can count EVA in the ranks of carriers that keep their cabin on the warm side.
Back at my seat, and my champagne it brought by, accompanied by the amouse bouche.
I really liked this little bite. I’m not a big fan of livery pates, but in this case, paried with the cranberry, I though tit was really quite delicious. The cheese and chutney canape was also very good.
And now the amenity kits are presented. Good to see that EVA still offers its signature Rimowa kits on Royal Laurel (its brand for Business Class on the 77W) flights, in two shades of green — one each for flights inbound of or outbound from TPE.
And here’s the kit de-constructed. It has just about everything one would expect.
Service continues with hot towel number two for the flight.
And then the tables are set — a nice patterned linen.
Then a bread plate and accessories, utensils, and the starter are presented, along with drinks. I take a refill of the Veuve, and some still water to go with dinner.
The starter was excellent, with very nicely prepared and lightly-peppered tuna, along with a couple of very tasty shrimp. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
The bread basket visits next, and I pig out, grabbing a couple of slices of garlic bread — a very potent, very delicious garlic bread, and a piece of pretzel bread. All very good.
As soon as I finish the starter, my plate is cleared, and less than two minutes later, my main is presented. With this being such a late night flight, the focus is on getting the supper done quickly so passengers can get to sleep. The veggies and rice were okay, but nothing too special. The lobster, however, was fantastic. Just unbelievably good. It’s a little different from any thermidor I’ve had before, a little less creamy and a little more spicy — perhaps leaning more towards mustard than cream in the sauce. But it was delicious. The serving was a decent size, but I wish there were more because it was just so tasty. I’d considered getting a lobster dish catered out of YYZ a risk when I ordered it, but I feel like that risk was rewarded in spades. Yum.
As soon as I’m done that, the plate is cleared and a little light dessert is presented. The chocolate and pecan tart was okay, and the fruit was very good. EVA’s fruit always seem very crisp, cold, and fresh — perhaps moreso than any other airline I’ve flown. I’m not sure what they do differently, but I find it a noticeable difference.
Coffee and tea are offered with dinner, but I decline, wanting to get to bed as quickly as possible. Finally, the meal service ends with hot towel number three for the flight.
Immediately after dinner dishes and linens are cleared, bottled water is offered for the night. EVA offers Fiji. I’m not a big bottled water snob, but I do like Fiji, and again, I think it speaks to EVA’s attention to the little details and polish in its business class service.
I used to think of catering as EVA’s weak point in its offering, but after this meal, I’m not sure I feel that way anymore. This was a very good meal. We’ve already discussed the hard product aspect, but I want to say that EVA’s strongest point was, and still is, service. Kristy and Ann, the two flight attendants primarily working my aisle, were both excellent. Friendly, proactive, with great attention to details. They’re quick to offer service, and almost always offer thanks for being allowed to serve, usually in situations where I feel I should be the one offering thanks. Like “Thank me for taking away my linens? No… that’s not how it works. I thank you for doing that for me.” Either way, it seems genuine and the service is all but perfect.
I get up to stow my shoes, and quickly, Kristy offers to make up my bed for me. Who am I to say no? I didn’t recall EVA offering a mattress pad in the past, but indeed they do now. It’s not super-plush, but it does provide a more pleasant surface to sleep on than the fabric of the seat. And I guess it’s superior from a hygenics standpoint.
I put my seat back into bed mode, and settle in. I quickly drift off to sleep, before chronicling the progress of my flight. This is an oversight! Fortunately, I wake up only a short time later, and find the house lights have been turned out, and the stars on the ceiling have come out. Such a cute little touch.
By this point, we’re over Rankin Inlet on our way towards Asia over the top. I note that for posterity, and settle in for some sleep.
Sleep comes quickly. I find the bed quite comfortable. I’m able to move pretty freely any way I may so choose. The pillow is thin, but very dense, so can easily be moulded into any shape or configuration that works for you to sleep. I was concerend with it, but very much enjoyed sleeping with it. The blanket is a comfortable, but a bit heavy given the temperature of the cabin.
In all, I get about five hours of sleep in — four solid hours, and then an hour in and out of sleep, before deciding it was time to get up. I woke up feeling well-refreshed, not long after we’d crossed over into Siberia.
I head to the lav to freshen up a bit, and Kristy appears from out of nowhere to see if I’d like anything to eat or drink on my return. I request the beef burger from the snack menu, and a Coke Light.
Back at my seat, I select my next movie, deciding to continue on the theme of catching up on big-name animated films I haven’t seen yet. Angry Birds was okay, but nothing too exciting.
My burger arrives about two minutes after I order it. I’m not sure if they have a number of them warming, or if it just reheats really quickly. I’ve had the burger in the past, and while I recall it being somewhat different than this one, it was excellent. And this one is too. It’s juicy, and tasty, and quite delicious. A real treat. Even the potato wedges are really good. EVA retains its title of “best airline burger I’ve had.”
My dishes are quickly cleared, and a couple of times throughout the movie, I’m checked on to see if I’d like anything else to eat or drink. Enough that I feel I’m being looked after, but not enough to feel I’m being bothered.
Partway through the movie, I head forward to check out the lav in front of door L1, immediately behind the flight deck. It’s a lot larger, and a bit more ornate than the other forward lav. Clearly, I should have come here to change into my pajamas earlier.
By the time the movie is over, we’re further into Siberia — and I’ve discovered that the IFE remote does a much nicer job of presenting the whole route than does the moving map on the main IFE screen.
We’re a little shy of six hours out of Taipei at this point, and I choose my next movie, opting to continue my animation festival with The Secret Life of Pets. I watch it and work some on this report.
Note that EVA offers WiFi on this flight, but I don’t feel compelled to shell out for the service on a nighttime on a Sunday. I really don’t have to pay much attention to work.
About five hours out of Taipei, I decide I’d like to try the other snack item. I poke my head into the area between the forward and aft business cabins, and immediately the three flight attendants (Kristy and Ann included) sitting here are on their feet and practically racing to be the first to answer my request. I got the feeling there was a tinge of embarrassment or disappointment that an additional snack was not proactively offered.
It’s delivered a few minutes later, with another fully dressed table. It’s also quite delicious. Not too heavy, but nice and peppery, with just a little bit of heat to it. A satisfying snack that should keep my happy through to breakfast.
As the movie continues, I recline my seat into full bed mode, and actually doze through the end of the movie. When it’s over, it looks like we’re about to leave Siberian airspace.
I decide to get a bit of a nap in, as it’s in the very late hours Taipei time, and we’ll be landing a little after 4:00 am. I like sleeping with my headphones on — when the movie’s not playing, EVA plays classical and opera music as background music for the IFE user interface. That combined with the noise-cancelling aspect of the headphones makes it very quiet and private. I get a good little nap in and wake up just off the coast of Korea.
The lights are still down, but there’s a bustling in the cabin with flight attendants rushing through. Sure enough, it’s about 2:30 from Taipei, and breakfast service is about to start. They told us this would be the case shortly after takeoff, although I do wonder why so early? It’s a pretty simple meal service pre-arrival, and it’s such an early arrival into Taipei, I’d think they’d try to make it easy for pax to sleep as long as possible. Oh well. I know you’re shocked, but service begins with a hot towel. Again.
I select my next movie, a stark contrast to what I’ve been watching the rest of the flight, with the drama Captain Fantastic. It should match pretty well with the remaining flight time, less some time for bathroom breaks and changing back into street clothes.
Drinks are delivered, both orange juice and black coffee.
And then the table is dressed and my breakfast — congee, “traditional delicatessens,” a little omelet, and some tofu, all arrive together. The first tray-baed meal of the flight. The congee’s boring, but jazzed up by some of the delicatessens. The tofu and mushroom, and the omelet are particularly good. All in all, a light but pretty enjoyable meal.
It’s followed up by some fruit, and a little bit of orange juice. Again, EVA’s fruit is excellent.
I follow that up with a nice little shot of espresso. It really hits the spot.
And finally — one more (probably the last?) hot towel.
I put my seat back into a relaxing position, and watch the rest of my movie. A few minutes after my breakfast dishes are collected, the “is there a doctor in the house?” call goes up through the cabin. I hope it’s nothing too serious. At least we’re not too likely to divert somewhere else at this point, I would think, since I’m not sure what airports are closer to us than TPE at this point, as we’re out over the sea south of Jeju heading south towards Taiwan.
About 550 miles out of Taipei — naturally, just as I’m about to get up and change back into my street clothes — we hit a bit of turbulence, of the “cabin crew, please take your seats” variety. It doesn’t really amount to anything, though, and a few minutes later, I decide it’s safe enough to go get changed. Once again, the “big lav” is occupied, so I have to change in the phone booth. Nuts.
By the time I get back, we’re in descent in earnest, and according to the moving map, we’re getting very close. Kristy pops by to collect the noise-cancelling headphones, and pick up the variety of plastic wrappers that have accumulated from said headphones, amenity kits, etc.
Soon enough we break through the clouds into the pre-dawn skies over Taipei. There’s a mixture of clouds, but it looks like it’s not quite as heavily rainy as the forecasts had suggested. This bodes well for my plans for the day. Because my flight onwards to Hong Kong doesn’t leave until late afternoon, I’m planning to go landside and take advantage of the free transit tour offered at the airport. It’s not exactly an extensive way to get to know Taipei, but I figure it’s better than sitting in the lounge for twelve hours.
Despite leaving a bit late, we actually land about half an hour early — I’m sure a combination of favorable conditions and some slot-time padding. Probably mostly the latter, but whatever. I think I’ll make my connection just fine.
The outside lights are super-bright, and the cabin windows are fogging up from the relative heat and humidity outside the plane, so it’s hard to get good pictures of the airport.
Here’s the sign in case you’re unclear where you are.
We settled into a gate just down from our twin, also sporting the new livery.
Once we pulled into the gate, the seatbelt signs were quickly extinguished, we collected our gear, and were invited to depart through L1, getting goodbyes from all the assembled flight attendants. Unfortunately, the gate where we arrived was one that was not very friendly to getting a picture of our ride, so this is going to be one of those rare timesI don’t get a picture of my plane at all. Disappointing, but I’ll live.
I arrive at the transit connection point, and ask the attendant if it’s possible for me to hit the lounge prior to heading landside to enroll for the tour, since it’s at least an hour before the desks even open to accept would-be passengers. He tells me no, it’s not possible. Something tells me I just should have shown my outbound boarding pass, and figured out how to get landside later. Oh well.
The arrivals areas at TPE is about as busy as Pearson was the night I departed. Nevertheless, I end up in the only open line for non-citizens, and behind a family that seems to pose some sort of a challenge to the immigrations agent — it takes her a good while to clear them. I, fortunately, am through in no time, and since I’m just traveling with carry-on, I’m landside in no time. It’s also very quiet here.
Fortunately, there’s some comfortable seating in the arrivals hall, with ample access to power outlets, so it’s easy to kill a little time until the registration desk opens for the transit tour by working on this flight-report.
There’s also good, fast, and wide-open WiFi available throughout the airport. Y’all have been busy while I’ve been in the air!
About 5:30 in the morning, the tourist information desk opens, and with it, chances to register for the transit tour. I’m quickly registered up, and ready to go. I’m warned that I should not bring my trusty carry-on with me, as there may not be room on the bus. Rather than the suggested avenue of putting it into a locker, I decide to just head upstairs and check it in to Hong Kong.
The inclinator up to departures arrives right in front of the business class and elite members check-in, and it’s not very busy up here at this hour of the morning, so within a few minutes, my bag is checked and (hopefully) on its way to Hong Kong along with me, and I’m back downstairs to kill a couple of hours before the tour leaves, mostly by working on this trip report.
If I get any good photos of the tour, I’ll include them in the (likely much shorter) report of my TPE-HKG segment later today.
Thanks for reading this very verbose flight-report, and I’ll see you for the next segment!
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge International
Toronto - YYZ
Taipei - TPE
I’ve taken this flight three times now, and all three times, it has been an outstanding experience. While its service and hard product have been excellent as long as I’ve been traveling with them, I used to consider catering EVA’s soft spot. Not really weak, just not great. Based on this flight, at least, I’m not sure I can say that anymore.
I think EVA longhaul business class is probably the best value for spending Aeroplan miles, and probably just about any other eligible Star Alliance loyalty currency as well. They certainly lived up to their five-star rating on this flight.
If I do decide to fully abandon AC in favour of DL for next year, BR reward flights will be one of the things I miss the most. Fortunately, I’ve still got enough miles cached to have (at least) one more kick at the can another time. Just for old time's sakes.
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