By David Armstrong, Contributing Editor
Like most business travelers, I fly a lot. I figure there aren’t many major international airlines I don’t know about. But there are exceptions, and until recently, Taiwan’s EVA Air was one of them.
In Taiwan, government-linked China Airlines, founded in 1959, has long claimed pride of place as the island’s flag carrier, and that has left EVA Air, privately owned and founded in 1989, working to catch up.
Judging from my September round-trip on EVA Air between Los Angeles International Airport (IATA code LAX) and Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (TPE), it is getting there.
EVA Air is a serious, emerging competitor, not just to older, larger China Airlines, but to other players in the burgeoning Asia-Pacific market, as well. In June 2013, EVA Air extended its global reach by joining Star Alliance.
Taipei-based EVA Air’s growing route system, extensive in the Far East, also includes seven cities in North America: Toronto and Vancouver, in Canada; and, in the United States, New York JFK, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles.
I prepared for my outbound flight to Taipei in the spacious new Star Alliance lounge in LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal, reading, writing, Web-surfing, checking e-mail, sipping, snacking. A wide range of complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and light meals were available.
Moreover, there was a welcome quiet area. It was a relaxing place, and as I boarded EVA Air flight BR15 for the westward journey across the Pacific, I was ready to fly.
The flight took off as scheduled at 4:50 p.m. for the 14 hour, 15 minute non-stop trip.
I was flying in an elevated, hybrid form of business class, which EVA calls Royal Laurel, boasting some of the luxurious touches usually found in first class. However, Royal Laurel doesn’t appear on every route.
On some international routes, EVA offers a somewhat lesser variant of business class, dubbed Premium Laurel. (EVA’s premium economy, on offer since 1991, is known as Elite. Economy is called, er, Economy.)
I plopped down in my preferred window seat in the Boeing 777-300ER and stowed my carry-on gear in reasonably spacious overhead bins. (Additionally, two pieces, each up to 70 pounds (32 kilograms) can be checked-in free.)
The 312-passenger plane had 38 business-class seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration, along two aisles. (In the ‘other’ business class, Premium Laurel, which is installed in EVA Air’s Boeing 400s, Airbus A330-200s and A330-300s, there are 24 to 36 business seats, usually aligned in a 2-2-2 configuration.)
All but two Royal Laurel seats on my outbound flight were occupied. My aircraft also had 63 premium economy and 211 economy seats.
Royal Laurel flat-bed seats have a pitch of 78 to 81 inches (198 to 206 centimeters) and are 26 inches (66 centimeters) wide. Premium Laurel, not offered on my flights, has 26-inch-wide seats, but a shorter seat pitch of 61 inches (155 centimeters).
Elite class recliner seats have a 38-inch (96.5-centimeter) pitch and are 19.5 inches (49 centimeters) wide. Economy seats have a 33-inch (83-centimeter) pitch and are 18.3 inches (46.5 centimeters) wide.
By way of comparison, EVA’s 26-inch seats are the same width as in most European business classes. EVA Air’s 81-to-87-inch seat pitch is longer than the 78-inch pitch offered by the new Lufthansa business class seats on the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental. That aircraft has a 2-2-2 Business Class seat configuration in the big downstairs section and a 2-2 single-aisle configuration in the upstairs cabin.
The seats in Royal Laurel class, which EVA Air refreshed in 2013 on its Boeing 777-300ERs, convert into 78.7-inch (200-centimeter) flat-beds encased in a hard, molded shell with a metallic sheen. Personal space includes a fold-away personal video screen and a sliding cabinet for storing your shoes.
EVA Air’s quietly efficient flight attendants are clad in green, a reference to Evergreen Marine Corp., a big Taiwanese ocean cargo outfit that was the airline’s founding company and remains a 20 per cent shareholder.
Just after take-off, I settled into my seat and rummaged through the Royal Laurel-class amenity kit. Designed by 116-year-old German luggage maker Rimowa, the kits are a dark forest-green in color, made of high-sheen polycarbonates and have a ribbed exterior.
In short, these smart items look like miniature versions of Rimowa luggage; Rimowa first made aluminum luggage back in the 1930s, reportedly inspired by the metallic skin of aircraft.
Inside, the amenity kit comes with a toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, eyeshade, ear plugs, and soft socks – EVA Air forest-green, of course. Also included are the requisite lotions and creams. Among them: lip balm and a skin-care moisturizer with soothing Shea butter and rice bran oil.
Dinner, served shortly after take-off for this evening flight, was well-paced and nicely presented. My entrée, Scottish trout with anchovy Niçoise vinaigrette, seasonal vegetables and fingerling potatoes, was just moist enough and amply proportioned.
A small but good selection of wines went with dinner service, as did a variety of liquors and Western and Japanese whiskeys.
Deep into the flight, feeling peckish, I wandered to the galley and retrieved a tasty hot noodle dish.
I reclined my seat during the long flight to Taipei but didn’t convert it into a flat-bed. Truth to tell, I am not a fervent fan of flat-bed seats. I prefer the old-style, easy chair-like airline seats for cocooning and nodding off.
Still, it’s good to have flat-beds available for passengers who like them, as many do. On my flight to Taipei, most passengers had the seats all the way back, as they alternately snoozed or peered forward in the darkened cabin, watching Asian and Western movies and TV shows.
We arrived on-time at 10:05 p.m. in Taipei.
Happily, Taiwan has recently built a well-designed, well-organized, modern terminal at TPE, known until 2006 as Chiang Kai-Shek International, after the late Nationalist Chinese generalissimo.
On the ground at the airport, modern military aircraft are prominently displayed – a pointed reminder that the People’s Republic of China, looming nearby, still considers Taiwan a renegade Chinese province; the de facto island nation seems to be in a state of constant readiness.
My return journey to Los Angeles, on EVA Air flight BR2, was notable for the carrier’s gracious service and a decided lack of drama – just the way I like it.
This time, I used the in-flight entertainment system for a goodly portion of the 11 hour, 50 minute non-stop journey to LAX. I sipped a Chardonnay, listened to Adele’s powerhouse rendition of the title song from the James Bond flick ‘Skyfall’, and dipped into vintage rock, jazz and classical music.
Before our 4:10 p.m. on-time arrival at LAX, I tucked into a Provençal omelet with good pan-fried chicken sausage. Then, just before deplaning, I slipped the amenity kit into my carry-on.
I still have it, a stylish reminder of my belated and largely enjoyable introduction to EVA Air.
David Armstrong is a San Francisco Bay Area journalist specializing in features, news and reviews about travel destinations, airports, airlines, hotels and resorts. He is the former tourism, aviation and international trade reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and covered tourism, movies, media and theater for the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He is the author of five books and numerous travel articles for TheStreet.com, Travel + Leisure, Global Traveler, Napa Sonoma Magazine, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), Toronto Star, Chicago Sun-Times, Aviation.com and many others.