This is the homebound segment of my trip to China in January 2019. For this particular leg I was looking for a good trans-Pacific reward redemption back to the U.S. Unfortunately, my dates were inflexible because I am visiting friends in Chicago and New York immediately after this journey. I narrowed it down to either this flight or ANA from Tokyo. I have never flown either, but I know that you can redeem 120,000 Virgin Atlantic miles for a roundtrip first class in ANA, so using 110,000 UA miles for F or 80,000 for J seemed overly expensive. Plus, I have been to Japan before and have never been to Taipei. This trip cost 80,000 UA miles plus taxes and fees. The actual ticket would have costed $4,206.
2019 January Trip
Lufthansa, ORD-FRA, 747-8I, First, United Polaris Lounge (Click Here) Lufthansa, FRA-PEK, 747-400, Business, Lufthansa First Class Terminal (Click Here) Air China, PEK-HFE, 737-800 (Click Here) China Eastern, HFE-TPE, A320, Economy (Click Here) EVA Airways, TPE-ORD, 777-300ER, Business, EVA The Infinity Lounge (You are here!)
Taipei Taoyuan International Airport
I arrived at Taipei Taoyuan at around 4:30pm, quite a bit early for my 8:10pm flight. I had just gotten into Taipei earlier from a day-trip to a number of small towns in the Northernmost part of the island. It was raining and I was quite exhausted. So instead of trying to squeeze a little more into my Taipei visit, I decided I would just go straight to the airport. The Royal Laurel check-in was easy enough to find and there was no line. The agent weighed my carry-on (and to no one's surprise it was quite a bit overweight). She simply asked me to re-arrange and re-distribute some of the weight among my bags later. Unfortunately, I received the dreaded SSSS designation on my boarding pass (my first time!).
The security lines were rather long - I estimate it took about 20 minutes to get through it. All in all it seemed to proceed at a decent pace.
Many of the lounges at Taoyuan Airport are on the 4th floor, one level up from security and the gates.
Singapore Krisflyer Lounge
I decided to go to the Singapore Krisflyer Lounge first because I knew it would close soon. The agent was friendly and informed me the lounge would be closing around 5:45pm, but that I could just switch to the EVA lounges at that time.
It is a long, narrow room and was quite crowded as it was right before boarding for SQ 879 (Singapore's 5:35pm flight to Singapore).
What's cool about this lounge was the little display right inside of the entrance. Especially fitting for Taipei were the Hello Kitty Singapore flight attendant dolls.
The buffet is in the back of the room. Fairly average, though I preferred it to what was offered in the EVA lounges. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
There were a number of soft drinks, juices, and bottled water available in the refrigerators. There were also self-serve wine and liquor. The usual coffee, tea were available as well.
I ended up grabbing one of the pork puffs, a few pieces of fish, and a bowl of the "Singapore Signature - Bak Kut Teh." The Bak Kut Teh is just a Singapore variant of pork rib soup. Interestingly enough, the Mandarin name is Pork Rib Tea, even though there is no tea in the dish. They were all pretty good and hit the spot as I wasn't too hungry.
The bathrooms were kept fairly clean during my short stay in the lounge:
Here's another shot of the lounge after most passengers had left for SQ 879.
You can see it has pretty much emptied out. This lounge seems ideal if you just need the time between 5:00pm and 5:45pm as it is far less crowded than EVA's own lounges. Before then, however, it is quite crowded as it is a smaller lounge. I spent less than an hour in the lounge before I got antsy and decided I needed a change of scenery.
Themed Gates at Taipei Taoyuan
Instead of going directly to the EVA lounges, I decided to take a walk around airport and explore a little bit. Taoyuan has these great themed gates that show off a little bit of Taipei's culture and personality. I really enjoyed them.
Gate C4 - Taiwanese Ceremonial Waiting Lounge
Gate C5 - e-Library Waiting Lounge (you can even spy an actual little library in the back corner).
Gate C6 - Taiwan Image Waiting Lounge
Gate C7 - Taiwan Roc Waiting Lounge
Of course, I saved the best for last. Gate C3 - The Hello Kitty Waiting Lounge. There's a Sanrio shop right next to it.
EVA The Infinity Lounge
The EVA's lounges can be found on the fourth level, on opposite side from where the Krisflyer Lounge was. The Infinity and the Star are the lounges for Star Alliance business/first class passengers and Star Alliance Gold passengers, respectively.
In addition to the agents at the desk, there were one or two agents standing in the main entranceway checking passengers' boarding passes. The agent was very friendly and let me know I could use either lounge. I asked about the robot that used to be here and he informed me that it was undergoing repairs because too many passengers had been a bit rough with it. Folks, this is why we can't have nice things!
The Infinity was one long room with a few adjoining rooms (lockers, work stations, bathrooms, etc…) to the right. Everything had this neon, futuristic decor about it. I actually found it to be a bit jarring, almost headache-inducing. There were tons of seats, but at the same time, given how many trans-Pacific flights EVA has departing in the evening, it was very crowded.
The buffet area is on the right towards the end. The buffet had a decent spread of hot food, including soups, dim sum, and even a sort of self-creation beef noodle station. You can see that when I arrived (around 6:00pm), some of the items were being replaced. For whatever reason nothing looked appetizing to me.
The drinks station was similar to what you found in the Krisflyer Lounge. You'll notice the Kavalan Classic (~$66, WhiskeyExchange). I found the idea of a Single Malt whiskey not from Scotland to be fascinating, so I tried some. I didn't particularly enjoy it.
The best part was probably the Häagen-Dazs station. I tried some strawberry ice cream and it was great.
I sat around for a while, half dozing off (I was still exhausted from my daytrip). Eventually I decided to go take a shower before my flight. You have to ask the agents at the front desk. There was no wait despite how crowded the lounge was. I was handed a token and 20 minutes was the suggested time I can use. There are four shower rooms that you have to use your token to swipe into. They have some…interesting names.
The rooms were decently spacious and cleaned after each use. I was given the room "Fantasy Flow." I assume that all the rooms are the same though.
The rooms were well-stocked with L'Occitane and 3Lab amenities. You had everything you need, such as shaving cream and hair gel.
After my shower I decided to head over to the Star to check out what the difference is.
EVA The Star Lounge
The Star was decked out in a much more normal decor. I preferred the Star as the Infinity was a bit too stimulating and harder to relax in.
The buffet was more or less the same, so I did not take new pictures.
One thing to note is that instead of Kavalan, the Star had Omar Bourbon Single Malt (~$72, WhiskeyExchange), another Single Malt whiskey from Taiwan.
I ended up sitting on one of the counter seats for about 20 minutes before leaving the lounge altogether. The view from the EVA lounges are not great as the fourth level is just an elevated platform level above the third level. All you can see is the check-in area.
I headed to my gate roughly 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled boarding time so I would have time for the security screening. BR56 was departing from Gate C8 - Taiwan Cinema Waiting Lounge. You can see the line to enter is already quite long. There was no one in the Royal Laurel line though, so I zipped on through.
What is interesting about these gates is that the themed waiting area is not actually the gate waiting area itself. You are checked in and then there is a further gate area one level below.
The secondary screening didn't take very long. They were handling one passenger at a time, but the actual search through my luggage took maybe 3 minutes tops. The security officers were very courteous throughout the process.
Moreover, because the screening area was behind the check-in counters, I was able to board first, right after the passengers who had to pre-board. Boarding began at 7:40pm exactly. I boarded through the first set of doors even though I was in the smaller business cabin so I could take a picture of the main cabin. Upon showing my boarding pass, I was welcomed aboard and escorted to my seat - already a step up from the usual business class service you find on many other carriers.
Here's the main Royal Laurel cabin. It has 5 1/2 rows of reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 layout with the last row having only two middle seats (hence half a row).
Here's the smaller, secondary cabin. There are 4 rows. There is a nice picture at the front of the cabin. In contrast to the main business cabin, there is no rack of magazines behind the last row.
I also snuck a peek at the Premium Economy cabin right behind. It was arranged in a 2-4-2 layout.
The seat is a normal-looking reverse herringbone seat, though I am not sure how new this particular variant is. I've actually never sat in a reverse herringbone seat before so I was quite excited to try it.
The seat was decently wide and comfortable. There were a lot of areas for storage mid-flight, but nothing can be stored for takeoff and landing - a minor inconvenience. Waiting for you at the seat is a nice fluffy pillow and a pair of slippers, as well as a thick blanket. The aisle-side armest can be lowered to give yourself more space (and is lowered by default). You can see the footwell is nice and large, very comfortable for sleeping. The remote control had its own touchscreen so you can watch two things at once. The screen itself flips out from the seat. This, unfortunately, meant that you cannot watch anything during takeoff or landing. I should add that the default screen was not the duty free, I'm not sure why I didn't take a picture of the IFE immediately - this picture came from later in the flight.
Speaking of the IFE, the controls were very responsive, whether on the remote or via the touchscreen. You can skip ahead (a function I find tremendously valuable). The resolution was very clear and crisp. My only complaint was that the choices, especially for TV shows, were rather lacking.
The slippers were sturdy and comfortable. I changed into them immediately.
The flight attendant working my side of the rear cabin, Tracy, came by shortly to introduce herself and bring me headphones and the menus, as well as to take my coat. At this time she also asked me for my choice of a pre-departure beverage. I requested champagne, to which she informed me that there was only sparkling wine available on the ground. I went with that. The headphones were fairly good, but not Bose.
She came back shortly with a hot towel, a glass of sparkling wine, and a Godiva chocolate. I have a sweet tooth, so I appreciated the chocolate as opposed to the traditional nuts.
Tracy came back with pajamas and amenities kits a little while after that. She offered M or L. I asked her what she thought, and she suggested the Large. I was surprised, but they fit just about right. The bottoms are ever so slightly too long (I'm 5'8), but a Medium would have been too short. The pajamas by APUJAN were very comfortable. In fact, I am wearing them as I write this report. Soon there will be a new designer for the pajamas - Jason Wu. Some flights already have them and soon enough all flights.
The amenity kit was a new red Rimowa one! It came in a little red fabric bag and contained the usual amenities inside.
One thing I must commend Tracy for is how agilely she managed to maneuver the boarding to deliver service every time. It seemed like she magically weaved in and out of the boarding passengers without slowing them down or slowing down the service. After boarding was complete, she came by to confirm my meal orders as I had pre-booked my meal orders online a few weeks ago.
For dinner I had chosen the rack of lamb.
For breakfast I had chosen the Taiwanese porridge.
Interestingly enough, she also asked for my drink orders at this time. I told her that I would like to start with champagne and will figure out the rest of the drink orders as I go. So don't feel obligated to pick your drinks early, just ask to pick them later.
Here is the drinks menu:
Here is the dining menu for the Taipei to Chicago flight:
The Captain made his welcome announcement while we were still parked at the gate. He warned us there would be turbulence for the first 8 or so hours and that it may be especially heavy the first 3.5 hours. The rear cabin ended up being only 3/16 (though all of us were in the port-side window seats). I'm sure I could have switched to the starboard side if I wanted to, but I had already settled in and it didn't feel worth the effort. Sitting in front of me was a young EVA pilot (not sure his exact position, I didn't ask).
We pushed back at 8:21pm and the safety video began to play. EVA's safety video was an interesting interpretative dance. I'm not sure what to make of it.
The cabin lights were dimmed and the crew came by to make sure the IFE screens were secured.
We taxied for a while and took off at 8:33pm. I noticed at this point that it was rather hard for me to reach the window itself to take pictures out of it. There's some distance between where you are in the seat and the window. Given my short arms, it was a stretch for me to reach the actual windows.
At around 8:46pm the captain gave the first announcement, warning there was a bit of turbulence and to remain seated until the safety belt sign was turned off. At this point, I opted to start with Mission Impossible - Fallout, as my first movie. It was quite a good action movie, I would recommend it.
Service began about 30 minutes after takeoff with a hot towel (not pictured).
The amuse bouche was served first, a red capsicum jelly with tomato and asparagus tartlet and goose liver mousse. Both were excellent.
With the amuse bouche I had the very drinkable 2006 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame (~$160, Vivino). A very, very fine champagne for business class.
Next, Tracy laid out the beautiful tablecloth and refilled my La Grande Dame. Throughout the meal service, Tracy was very proactive about refilling my drinks.
She came by with the appetizer (a dish containing a marinated prawn, cajun spiced scallop, and organge duck terrine) and the bread basket. I selected some garlic bread. Both the appetizer and the garlic bread was delicious.
Next up was the white asparagus soup with truffle cream. It was quite possibly the best soup I've ever had on a plane.
Salad was next. I opted for a mint yogurt dressing with it, but it was a rather forgettable course. I only picked away at it. In fairness to EVA, I just don't like salads for the most part and it's very rare when I actually do finish off a salad course. In fact, I seemed to have forgotten to take a picture of it. You'll have to take my word that the presentation was nice enough.
In preparation for my main course, I switched to the 2011 Chateau Larmande (~$68 Vivino), a fine Bordeaux. It paired excellently with the lamb.
EVA described my main course as: "rack of lamb cutlet coated with lime herb crust with rosemary sauce served with mixed vegetables and red skin potatoes." In any case, it was delicious and cooked a perfect medium rare (to my surprise!).
Dessert was served from a cart. I skipped the cheese and fruit and went for the orange and strawberry mousse cake. Tracy was very surprised when I declined the ice cream (a small cup of Häagen-Dazs).
Overall, this is one of the best meals I've ever had on a plane. The service was very much at-your-own pace. I noticed that I was eating more slowly than the other two passengers in the rear cabin, but it was never an issue. I think I finished about 2 hours into the flight (quite a bit slower than the other two). Tracy made sure my empty plates were cleared swiftly and refilled my drinks regularly. Each course (except for dessert) was brought out individually from the galley. The china on which the meal was served was also very stylish. Meal service ended with another hot towel and a bottle of Fiji water for bedtime.
At this time I went to the lavatory to change into my pajamas. The bathrooms on the 777-300ER were about the size I expected, I'm not sure what else to say. EVA stocked Harnn amenities in the lavatory.
Upon exiting the lavatory with my clothes, a flight attendant immediately offered to hang my shirt and pants. She even gave me a small duty-free bag to put my t-shirt in. I chatted a bit with a few of the flight attendants in the galley for a while. They were all very friendly and more than happy to talk about EVA. I learned that EVA doesn't really view the Royal Laurel Class as a business class, but more of a business-first hybrid. That explains why the soft product is so phenomenal.
I asked Tracy to make my bed for me, though in the upright position. For the turndown service, the flight attendant adds a little pad that hooks onto the top of the seat. It isn't the softest setup in the sky, but it was more than comfortable enough.
Soon enough, the crew dimmed the lights. There was a pretty starry night display on the ceiling.
EVA's bedding, especially the thick blanket, was very comfortable and combined with the space in a reverse herringbone seat meant I had no trouble falling asleep. I usually can sleep fairly well on a trans-Pacific flight in contrast to trans-Atlantic flights and this one was no exception. I fell asleep somewhere around Japan (about 2.5 hours into the flight) and slept for almost 6 hours. In fact, it was 2 more hours than I intended to sleep because I was worried about being able to sleep when I got into the Chicago. In my opinion, it is always easier to have a morning rather than an evening arrival because it is a lot easier to power through the day than it is to force yourself to fall asleep. Anyhow, I woke up somewhere along the coast of Alaska. The rear cabin was so private and the bed so comfortable that I slept the entire time despite forgetting to put in ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones. The rear cabin may be a little more hectic during boarding, but it is definitely worth the quiet during the flight. Since you can order your main courses ahead of time, you never have to worry about the crew running out of something either.
There were some gorgeous views out the window when I woke up.
I walked up to see if there were any snack displays in the galley:
In any case, I prefer to walk up and ask for service in person on long flights - it gives me an excuse to stretch my legs. I asked for a cup of the Taiwanese Pouchong Tea. I've never had it before. It was served very quickly. I enjoyed it, though I would still strongly prefer Maofeng or Longjing over it.
I also asked for a bowl of the porridge with shrimp and scallops. It was very delicious and EVA catering was quite generous with the shrimp and scallop portions. Even though this was an in-flight snack, it was served with a hot towel first and the proper tablecloth was laid. That's another thing I loved about EVA - they don't skip out on the details even for something like an in-flight snack.
After the snack, I turned on a new movie: Ant-Man and the Wasp and also spent some more time gazing out of the window.
After the movie was over I discovered that EVA's IFE system had Go (Igo/Weiqi/Baduk)! You had the option of playing against other passengers or against the AI. When I tried to see if other passengers were online, it auto-disconnected me. I settled for playing a game vs. the computer. I think the difficulty increases after each win, so I think players who are in the weaker kyu ranks can have a good time, but the AI probably won't get strong enough to be of much interest to stronger players.
As the sky was darkening, it was time for the breakfast service. It was breakfast time in Taipei, of course, but dinner time in North America. The announcement was made approximately 2 hours 20 minutes from landing (about 5:00pm Central Time) and service began 10 minutes later.
Service began with a hot towel and my 5th or so cup of tea.
I appreciated that for the breakfast service was that they did not turn on the cabin lights. This is very nice for passengers who wanted to continue sleeping. Nothing annoys me more than the cabin lights being turned on two hours before landing for breakfast. That said, given that we were scheduled for landing at 8:20pm…if you were still sleeping at this time, you were going to have a heck of a hard time dealing with jet lag.
The tablecloth was laid for the third time and breakfast was served on a tray at all once. It was, like the name suggested, a traditional Taiwanese porridge and quite good - though not as good as the in-flight snack porridge.
A small plate of fruits was served afterwards.
Overall, breakfast took about 40 minutes in all for me. Approximately 40 minutes after breakfast, the captain came on to announce we were going to begin our descent in approximately 10 minutes and an estimated landing time of 7:20pm. The U.S. Customs video was played shortly afterwards.
Before service ended, Tracy came by one more time with a basket of various little candies. I took one just to try it. Like everything else about this flight, it was great!
Soon enough, we were closing in on Chicago O'Hare, with some nice night views.
We landed at exactly 7:20pm and arrived at our gate at 7:33pm. We were parked next to an United 737-800 with an Aer Lingus A330 in the background.
I was genuinely sad to be leaving this flight as I had a wonderful time. EVA provides such a solid hard product and the soft product is absolutely phenomenal, rivaling many first class soft products.
I also want to commend Chicago O'Hare on my arrival - I went from my plane to the exit in 12 minutes and I don't even have Global Entry!
EVA Air / The Infinity
Taipei - TPE
Chicago - ORD
Lounge: I'll focus my comments here on EVA's Infinity and Star lounges. They're normal business class lounges, but nothing spectacular, unlike the airline's inflight service. The biggest issue is how crowded they are in the evenings when most of their trans-Pacific flights leave. Personally, I prefer the Star over the Infinity just because of the decor, but they're more or less the same lounge.
Cabin & Seat: The reverse herringbone seat is a very solid product. My only complaint is the lack of storage during takeoff and landing. otherwise, it was a very comfortable seat and how they're angled meant I would have had to crane my neck to see any other passengers.
Service: The service was impeccable from start to finish. While not having the pampering you might expect in first class, EVA came close. I would say that the service just about as close to first class as you can get given the flight attendant to passenger ratio (which in my cabin was first class-esque 1 FA for 3 passengers). I expect that if I had sat in the more crowded front cabin, I wouldn't have noticed a difference in the amount of attention I received.
Meal & Catering: The option to book your main course ahead of time is phenomenal and something everything airline should have on long-haul international premium cabins. It not only ups the level of the catering (usually), but also eliminates waste - a win-win! Just about every course on this flight was delicious, from start to finish. I would say it may just be my favorite plane meal of all time - even counting first class meals.
Bottom Line: EVA Airways is phenomenal and very well may be my new favorite way to cross the Pacific. The Royal Laurel Class really blurs the line between first and business class. If you haven't had the chance to try them, I would highly recommend it.
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