你好, and welcome to another flight report!
April 2019 rolled around and I sat in front of my computer at work, clacking away at the keyboard as usual. One monitor out of my three-monitor setup always has a tab open for kayak.com, looking for deals to far off places. I had saved enough paid time off of work to fuel my wanderlust for a two week trip at the end of the year to somewhere in the world. It had been close to a year since my last long-haul trip which was to India, so I was itching to go on another long-haul journey somewhere, possibly to make my foray into East Asia, a region I had yet to explore in depth at the time. Having talked to a friend regarding his upcoming solo trip to Japan, I was instantly inspired to snag a "cheap…ish (yes, my just-entered-the-workforce bank account screamed at me)" $1400 deal that I had found on China Airlines from Los Angeles to Taipei, for my own solo trip to the beautiful country of Taiwan! Upon researching more things to do in the country, the Taroko Gorge National Park struck me as one of my major draws to the country. As such, with the day trip to the park, the final itinerary for the trip is as follows.
The trip began precisely 48 hours before departure from LAX, at the beginning of the check-in period for China Airlines. As I had already selected seats earlier, the online check-in process was a breeze and within no time, I was checked in. Due to operational reasons, I could not use an e-boarding pass (which is perfectly fine as I normally collect all of my printed boarding passes from the check-in desk anyway :))
Check-in complete webpage
Arrival at LAX
After a wonderful dinner with a couple of friends near LAX, it was time for me to be dropped off at the airport. As the departure time of 2330 is during peak hours at the Tom Bradley Terminal, I made sure to start the journey to the airport early, around 4 hours before departure. Even then, insane traffic upon arrival in the general vicinity of LAX meant that I had to wait around 45 minutes to get from just the intersection of Century Blvd and the 405 Freeway to the arrivals section of Terminal 1. I asked to be dropped off there to make exiting LAX a little more painless for my friends. On a positive note, I got to see CI 8 land on Runway 25R, which was really exciting (although I could not take a picture since I got my phone out a little too late).
From the entrance of Terminal 1, I walked the rest of the way to the Tom Bradley Terminal (which felt nice to stretch my legs before the long flight!)
A reminder of the worldly reaches of LAX
Entrance to the Tom Bradley International Terminal
Airport Check-In and Security
The check-in counters for China Airlines were clearly marked with their beautiful logo just outside the row of counters.
Location of the China Airlines check-in counters
The China Airlines check-in counters
While I did not receive an e-boarding pass, a benefit of checking in online with China Airlines is that there is a dedicated line for online check in, for which the queue turned out to be much shorter than that of the traditional counter check in. A courteous agent checked me in and since I did not have any baggage to drop, I headed to the security check point within 15 minutes of entering the terminal.
Earlier in the year, I decided to purchase the 5-year Global Entry pass for a nominal fee of $100. With this, I am now able to go through TSA pre-check at most American airports with participating airlines and to make entering the United States fast and hassle-free. At the Tom Bradley terminal, the left entrance to the security check-point from the check-in area is dedicated to TSA pre-check and while the line for regular security check was insurmountable, there were only 3 people ahead of me in my line. In all, the TSA pre-check process went extremely smoothly, and without having to take off my peripherals, I was able to exit security in less than 5 minutes. NOW THE REAL EXCITEMENT BEGAN! >:)
The almost non-existent TSA pre-check line
Airside and Boarding
Airside in TBIT
Once airside, I had a full 3 hours to stretch my legs and to view all of the activity that was going on both inside and outside of the terminal. I love the buzz of the people in an international terminal, as it is a treat to hear so many different languages and to see people from all walks of life on their way to far off places.
Departures out of TBIT on the night of December 20, 2019
CI 7 left out of gate 157, so I made that my first stop on my quest to view most, if not all of the operations out of Tom Bradley that night.
Information for CI7 at gate 157
B-18053 being prepared for departure to Taipei
At around 2200, the gate crew for CI 7 had begun preparations for boarding. Boarding was conducted in a very orderly fashion, with people needing assistance called first, followed by the premium-cabin passengers, and lastly, economy class passengers called from the rear of the plane to the front. As I sat in seat 51K, I was one of the last groups to board the aircraft. Before long, I found myself walking through the jetway to board my first ever flight to Taiwan!
Boarding group poster for China Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Scheduled Departure: 22:45 (LAX Time)
Actual Departure: 23:35 (LAX Time)
Scheduled Arrival: 05:20 (+1, TPE Time)
Actual Arrival: 06:03 (+1, TPE Time)
Scheduled Duration: 14h 35m
Actual Duration: 14h 28m
First Impressions and Departure
The entrance to the plane was marked by the pinkish hue of the mood-lighting that filled the cabin. After a cheery hello from the flight attendant by the door, I was directed to the back of the plane where I found my seat, 51K. The cabin itself consists of the slightly cramped 3-4-3 seat layout. While the layout slightly detracted from the overall comfort, the overall design of the cabin was very easy on the eyes and even felt a little luxurious. The dark carpet blended well with the faux wood designs on the bulkheads and the light grayish color of the cabin walls. The seat itself was a dark gray color which added to the "upscale" feel of the cabin.
There was a standard pillow and a comfortable blanket placed on the seat. I was slightly surprised that the blanket was not wrapped in shrinkwrap and was thrown off by its slightly funky scent, but in the grand scheme of things, I did not mind (as it probably would have smelled funky by the end of a 14.5 hour flight xD). The seat was not as well padded as I would have liked, and later in the flight, I realized that the recline feature did not work quite well, as I had to put an unusual amount of pressure on the button in order for the seat to start even creaking backward. Sadly, due to these issues with the seat, the flight turned out to be a little less comfortable than I had expected. Nevertheless, the seat comfort was adequate enough to not cause any major issues for the duration of the flight. The legroom was decent for my 5'7" frame.
Overview of Seat 51K
Legroom for seat 51K
The seatback consisted of a very responsive, 11.1" size screen which had a USB port to charge handheld electronic devices. The audio input was a two-prong input that was located in the right armrest. The tray table was foldable, which made it easier to place snacks and drinks without having the entire table protruding into personal space. There was also a small coat hook next to the PTV to store outerwear for the duration of the flight.
*PSA FOR ALL!* I had just purchased a pair of Beats Solo Pro headphones to accompany me during my travels. The sound quality and the noise canceling feature of the headphones is absolutely amazing, however, I was a little disappointed regarding the fact that Apple had swapped the Aux input for a lightning adapter. While Apple does sell a lightning to Aux adapter, I was not ready to fork over $35 for a chord that should be priced much less. In the end, I purchased a third party chord from Best Buy, which to my utter dismay did not function during the flight :( China Airlines did provide earbuds, but they were of a very poor quality and I had to perform a balancing act with the prongs inside the jack in order to hear sounds in both my ears.
Overview of seatback
Pushback from gate 157
After a relatively short taxi time, CI7 rocketed off on Runway 25R toward Taipei!
The pilot announced a total flight time of 14 hours and 21 minutes while taking us over Northern California, the Southern portion of Oregon, while making landfall a second time over Anchorage, then crossing Siberia and flying over the Sea of Japan and finally making direct heading toward Taipei.
Post-flight route of CI7 (from flightradar24.com)
As soon as we leveled off, a warm, savory smell started wafting through the cabin as the flight attendants were preparing for dinner. Meal service commenced right after and the flight attendants served the economy cabin from the front of the aircraft to the rear. A first cart was rolled out which served an assortment of drinks including various juices, soft drinks, and water, to which I selected a refreshing cup of water. About the same time we were over Fresno, CA, the meal carts were being rolled out and the flight attendants started to serve the economy cabin from the front of the aircraft to the rear. As I was sitting in the forward section of the cabin, I had no issues in getting my choice of meal. No paper menus were handed out, but when the flight attendant reached my section, she pointed to a really adorable menu card that was placed on the cart at eye-level for the passengers to see. I forgot to take a picture of the card, but it was decorated with cute cartoon images, something that I found very common in Taiwan. The choices for the meal service were a shredded chicken noodle with steamed vegetables, and a peppered beef with rice and steamed vegetables. Feeling the need to eat something a little light as it was already 1 AM CA time, I went with the chicken noodle.
Location of aircraft during dinner service
Beverage selection during service
Dinner is served!
Along with the chicken noodle dish came a creamy and refreshing potato salad with some fruits and a Toblerone bar for dessert. The roll that came with the dinner seemed to be only partially warmed as half of it was cold and rock hard, while the other half was warm and soft. Overall (even though I expected the noodle dish to be light…) it was a wonderful dinner, with the noodles cooked perfectly and with an ample amount of chicken pieces, covered with a thick, garlicky sauce. The bok choy worked very well with the noodle as it was crunchy and juicy at the same time, offering fresh flavor and a contrasting texture to the chicken noodle. During the dinner service, the flight attendants were walking around holding bottles of white and red wine, offering them to anyone who requested them. Overall, I was very satisfied with the dish and was looking forward to a good nap after this! The bottle of water that came with the tray was helpful throughout the flight as it remained handy in the seat pocket for whenever I felt thirsty.
The dinner service was cleared approximately 40 minutes after it began and was followed by a quick coffee and tea run. I declined the hot beverages this time as I wanted to sleep for a little while to acclimate myself to Taiwan time as best as I could. With that, I settled in for a short nap!
A (very grainy) view of Anchorage
I was delighted to have woken up just in time as I saw the shimmering lights of Anchorage shine beneath the aircraft. While the picture above does no justice to the wonderful scene below us, it is always a surreal experience for me to see cities from 36,000 ft. above in the night sky. The city lights give so much character to the scene below, especially in the darkness of night.
It was around this time that I decided to check out the entertainment system. While I was not completely overwhelmed by the selection, I found entertainment to keep me busy throughout the remainder of the flight (such as documentaries on geography, information on China Airlines, and movies such as Ad Astra). I was surprised by the lack of mainstream TV shows in the comedy section of the selection, though, as I had not heard of any of the shows that were present in that section. (They did have season 8 of Game of Thrones in the drama section, though, so I was ok with that ;))
The main entertainment selection screen
A shot of the mood-lit cabin during cruise
The cabin crew did frequent water runs throughout the flight which was definitely helpful to combat the dryness of the cabin.
Around this time, I started to get slightly hungry, so I went to the rear galley to hunt for snacks. The attentive flight attendant immediately sprung into action and offered me a variety of Taiwanese snacks to choose from, such as crackers and cookies. With a warm smile, she handed me snacks and a cup of water and I went back to my seat.
A light snack during the flight
After the light snack, I spent the remainder of the time until we reached the sea of Japan in and out of sleep and watching the flight map, peacefully basking in the China Airlines experience. I should note, though, that it was around this time that I started feeling some pain in my lower back due to the lack of padding on the seat. I did a couple of stretches to get rid of the pain as best as I could (since I decided not to get up due to my seatmates being fast asleep).
It was above the Sea of Japan when I started smelling the familiar waft of food floating through the cabin when the flight attendants started preparing the breakfast service. Once the moodlighting was set to simulate dawn conditions, the trolley carts were rolled out and the flight attendants started distributing the breakfast. Once again, an adorable menu card was shown with the breakfast selections. A western egg dish was offered, along with another chicken noodle dish. Expecting a different "taste of Taiwan," I chose the chicken noodle dish… only to receive the same exact dish that was served during dinner! While it was as good as it was during dinnertime, I was slightly disappointed by the fact that there was not a different dish that could have showcased another type of food from the country. Nevertheless, the service was efficient and the smiling flight attendant happily obliged with my request for a coffee. In addition, there was a blueberry yogurt, a (nicely warmed) bread roll with butter, and interestingly, a banana, which I found to be a nice healthy option.
Location of the aircraft during breakfast service
Breakfast is served!
Perusing the airline information section prior to arrival in Taipei
Within the hour, the flight attendants started preparing the cabin for arrival. Customs forms were handed out for Taiwan which took less than a minute to finish.
"Please put your seatbacks upright, tray tables and cabin baggage stowed."
I was about to get my first glimpse at the beautiful country of Taiwan and as soon as we started to descend beneath the clouds, the first rays of light began to illuminate the sky.
Descent into Taipei
First glimpse of daylight above Taiwan
During descent, I had my eyes glued to the window.
Descent and arrival into Taipei!
The sterile and airy arrival hall at Taipei Taoyuan, Terminal 2
The smiling crew bade me farewell at the door of the plane and I took my first breath of the wonderfully humid and cool Taipei air. While this was the end of a good flight, this was just the beginning of an amazing deep-dive into the culture, people, food, and geography of a country that I have always wanted to visit!
China Airlines met my expectations for a solid, Asian carrier, with a beautifully designed interior, ample entertainment options, and of course, wonderfully charming crew. The slight lack of comfort of the seat, the limited comedy section of the entertainment system (very nit-picky comment), and the lack of a variety of meals during the flight detracted a little bit from the experience, but China Airlines is definitely a carrier I would love to fly again. While it was not, say Singapore Airlines, it was still a wonderful way to start my first foray into East Asia proper! 謝謝!