Aircraft Type: B747-400
Class: Business Class
Date: May 2014
Best for: Affordable business class travellers wanting excellent service and good connections across Asia.
Most likely to sit next to: Local Taiwanese travellers, or connecting European flyers utilising the Skyteam partnership.
Business or pleasure: Pleasure. Without wi-fi onboard, and a service concept that makes you feel like you are at home. This concept is all about relaxation. For transfering business passengers, the lounges however, are perfect for working.
Routes: The 747 runs on most long haul routes, which offers the best business class cabin. The newer 777 fleet coming online this year will take over the prestigious routes the airline flies.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Dynasty Flyer. All the usual perks attached to a four tier frequent flyer program, but with the added benefit of being attached to Skyteam, with farther reaching benefits around the world.
Best bits: IFE, dining and service.
Worst bits: If we had to say it, the seats, as they are lie-flat, and although very comfortable, they are being phased out already into fully flat beds.
China Airlines 747 Business Class Report
We have had our eye on China Airlines since they announced their new cabin product for their new 777-300ERs. Always one to shy away from angled lie-flat seats, we were keen to see how the airline’s current product would stand up against the increasingly commonplace business class product of fully flat seats and aisle access. When the opportunity arose to fly with the long-established Taiwanese carrier, we jumped at the chance. The 747 is the airline’s most up to date business class cabin, and according to SeatGuru, offers 70 seats with 60 inch seat pitch. Whilst this doesn’t sound like a lot, take it from us (all 5’10” of us), it’s plenty, and if you are above 6 foot, then perhaps take of the bulkhead seats, as they will offer the most legroom onboard.
On the Ground
Frankfurt Airport is large, and we were connecting from a European flight on Lufthansa. We gave ourselves 2 hours connection time and with that, we reckon we had approximately 30 minutes time to spare without it being uncomfortable. China Airlines departs from Terminal 2, along with most of the long haul international carriers. Terminal 2 is much smaller than Terminal 1 and is accessible via Frankfurt’s SkyTrain.
The check in space is large, and when we arrived, approximately 1 hour 20 minutes before departure at the check in desk, the check in area was reasonably empty. This is part due to the wealth of check in desks that China Airline occupies for its flights. We headed to the business class check in desk, which was decorated with patterned floor carpets, and cordoned-off by barriers. On arrival we were greeted by a smiling check-in lady, who referred to us by name and quickly and efficiently provided us with a boarding card and lounge invitation. In total the check-in process took a couple of minutes.
Finding how to get to the lounge and gates however was a little more confusing. The way Frankfurt airport is constructed means there are a wealth of access points airside, and finding the right one took us a few finger points from helpful staff, and when finally we found our way through security, we were pleased to see priority lanes for business class passengers.
Being an out-station, China Airlines unsurprisingly uses a shared lounge at Frankfurt, and with the only other options being operated by actual carriers such as JAL, Cathay Pacific and Emirates, China Airlines shares the ‘Sky Lounge’ with a variety of smaller carriers. The lounge itself is OK, offering wifi, showers, and a self-service bar along with comfortable seating, but it is by no means a ‘designer lounge.’ Frankly, the lounge in Frankfurt is one of the lows of the trip.
A long walk from one side of the terminal to the very other, (which took 15 minutes) took us to our waiting aircraft, which even though was an hour late arriving to Frankfurt, was fully ready for an on-time departure. As we arrived, boarding for business class had already commenced, and without waiting at all, we walked straight through to our seats.
China Airline’s entire brand operates around the plum-blossom motif. (Interestingly, each plum blossom on every aircraft’s tail is hand-painted on. If you look closely, you will notice each tail is ever-so slightly different) So on entering the cabin, we were greeted with a calm and comforting palette of mauve, pink and soft pale lavenders. This inherently female colour palette is refreshing to see in a sea of masculine and strong interior concepts around the world. We had two seats, 17A & 17B which were bulkhead seats right behind the business class entry door.
The business class cabin itself is split into three sections on the European long-haul fleet, compared to two on the flights to America due to these aircraft also having a fully-flat bed First Class product (well worth flying in!). In the nose cone section, the cabin offers 4 rows of 2 x 2 seating, with an extra 2 seats in the middle at the back. In the main cabin section there are a further 4 rows, of 2 x 3 x 2 seating. Then being the ‘Queen of the Skies’ the 747 offers an intimate upper deck of 6 rows of 2 x 2 seating.
Whilst there are no public spaces on this traditional 747, there is a sense of space throughout the cabin, as the calming environment, and artworks adorning the bulkheads make the cabin feel more like a home than an aircraft. Obviously this interior concept, will be replaced by their new designed 777 interiors which offer a lot more tactility and depth as it starts being rolled out later this year.
Interestingly, the seat, which would be considered a traditional business class seat a few years ago, before many carriers invested in fully flat beds, is still incredibly spacious, and China Airlines has kept the maintenance of their seats to the highest standard. Our seats felt brand new still, and all the finishes were impeccable. Covered in a soft metallic lilac finish, the shell means that you are not only cocooned but also don’t impede on the passenger behind you as you recline.
Being the bulkhead seats, our seats differed from the rest of the cabin slightly. The main difference being we had IFE monitors that rose from inside the centre console separating the two seats. The seats, in fabric rather than leather was a sensible move, meaning that there is less slip when sleeping on an angle. After 8 hours sleep, we didn’t awake to find ourselves in a little ball at the end of the seat. The fabric has a beautiful swirled design, and on closer inspection, almost every soft furnishing has a detail in it.
The seat offers a leg rest, two lumbar support units, a fully electric operating seat that goes to a decent lie-flat position. Between each seat there is also a privacy screen and both a moveable reading light and overhead light. As for in-seat power, there is a USB socket and 110v socket, which is plenty power to keep your PED and laptop powered throughout the flight. For most seats, expect 15 inch screens, (not touchscreen) although for the bulkhead seats you are trading a couple inches extra legroom for a couple of inches on your TV screen.
Whilst we are looking forward to experiencing the new flat-bed business class seat, we were ultimately happy with these seats offering us 8 hours uninterrupted sleep, and for us, that’s quite the achievement.
AVOD is a must have for any long haul flight now, and only a few select carriers still offer looped programming. We were delighted that there was a large selection of movies and TV programs available on offer, and almost instantaneously from take off. The screens are high definition and offer a great contrast. When delving into the IFE programming, we were pleasantly surprised by a good selection of fairly new movies, and supported by a larger selection (around 30) of older movies – perhaps a few years old. Even for seasoned travellers like ourselves, we still found movies that we hadn’t watched. There is also a large selection of ‘foreign’ films, meaning no matter which nationality you are, you are bound to find a title to suit.
When checking out the TV programming however, the choice of standard American titles, such as comedies, light entertainment, or popular TV series was limited, with a majority of the shows taken up by the series called Suits (we were happy as we love this series!). There is also a host of extra information, including moving maps, destination guides, games and music. All in all, the IFE is well suited to last a long flight, although perhaps a couple more blockbusters would be great to see!
The food, along with the service, is by far the best element of the airline. And it is nice to know that these traits will continue across to the new hard product (although we know that both service and food offerings will also be further improved along with the Next Generation cabin offering) We were incredibly impressed by how looked after we were throughout the flight.
From boarding, we were provided with juice and water along with snacks (and huge apologies that the champagne wasn’t chilled enough to serve) and continually throughout the flight a selection of hot and cold towels to refresh ourselves, and the drinks service was constant and varied. After take off, the initial food service commenced, and after having our menu discussed, we were told our online meal selection had been noted and our menus already prepared. It was nice to see this online service working efficiently, although neither of us could remember what we had ordered.
Our large seat tables were set for service and an unannounced amuse bouche was delivered to our seats. The food was great, and our amuse bouche consisted of a date filled with a cream and walnut dressing, along with a bruschetta of thinly sliced beef and mandarin. It was a delight to eat, and went well with the champagne which was delivered to our seat as soon as it was chilled.
The starter consisted of a delightful seafood filled tomato basket, which was chilled, refreshing and tasty. Next to be brought to our seats were both a fried red snapper which was light and fragrant, and a chicken breast cooked in a rich and warming calvados sauce. All the dishes were supported by a seasonal garden salad and freshly baked bread rolls or garlic bread. To follow we had both a fresh fruit plate and then a chocolate cake with a raspberry coulis.
After the food service, the lights were dimmed, preparing everyone for an early nights sleep, as due to the timezone, passengers would be arriving early Taipei morning. Through the night flight, there was a service of a sandwich and again, cabin crew who constantly were on hand to offer drinks.
Roughly two hours before landing, the lights were slowly raised, and we were woken to a warm towel service and fresh juices. Waking from a blissful slumber we propped ourselves up for a breakfast service. My colleague went for a western ‘refreshment’, which consisted of a warm vegetable tortilla with seared chicken whilst I opted for the Chinese ‘refreshment’ which was a Pork noodle soup with assorted garnishes.
Throughout all the dishes, there was a wealth of taste and flavour and we were impressed by the quality and presentation of the dishes and wine list.
China Airlines offers a whole host of extras that make the flight more enjoyable. From hot and cold towels, to slippers for every guest. Whilst the amenity kit, by none other than ultra high-end Lanvin, has all the regular elements that make up a kit, I was saddened not to see a men’s or women’s differentiation, however, 2 hours before landing, separate shaving kits were handed out to the male passengers, a lovely more personal touch than just expecting them in an amenity kit. The extra elements of service make a huge difference too, such as taking your jacket without asking for a boarding card, and returning it to you before landing, or greeting you by name on boarding. The large fluffy and soft duvet and thick comfortable pillow were perfect for lulling us into an 8 hour deep sleep.
When we did our research on China Airlines it was hard to find a good example of what the offering onboard was going to be like. So we had to base our opinion based purely on the limited information available. We hate to admit, but we were pleasantly surprised. We were blown away by the offering of China Airlines, the genuinely attentive service had an element closer to being served by a friend than a cabin crew, and nothing was too much of an ask. The airline has all the makings of an excellent 5 star airline, and with the introduction of the new hard product, we have no doubt that next year, people, including us, will be singing the praises of the airline. Whilst it seems unfair to mention their rival EVA air, it makes sense to do so, as both airlines business class offering will be almost identical in regards their hard product. Yet, with the warm customer service found on China Airlines along with the quality of food, it seems as long as the new fleet work outs, China Airlines has just stolen the lead.
The Big Picture