Aircraft Type: B777-300ER
Class: Premium Business Class
Date: November 2014
Best for: One stop travellers connecting from Asia to the US in need of connectivity and comfort.
Most likely to sit next to: Quiet business professionals.
Business or pleasure: This airline is built for business. Great schedules, frequent services, good connections and wifi onboard, means for a logical choice for those on business.
Routes: Mainly intra-asia, however the 777-300ER will be flown on its long haul routes to the US to start with, followed by Europe.
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: The new premium business class product, with fully lie-flat seat.
Worst bits: Need more long haul routes!
China Airlines B777-300ER Business Class Report
We have been writing about the China Airlines 777-300ER for quite some time, as the airline is one of a handful of carriers that are really reinventing their passenger experience from the ground up. Both Fiji Airways and Etihad have both also done the same recently with their new products. When we were invited to test out China Airlines product on one of their regional test flights for the new long haul product we jumped at the chance, and decided to write up the experience as a business, premium economy and economy traveller in one hit (stay tuned for our other reports). It’s hard not to be impressed by a carrier who decided to invest heavily into creating a truly industry leading product, utilising already existing products to bring the best of the market to the skies in one perfectly packaged aircraft.
On the Ground
As we were connecting from Europe on the airline’s previous business class product, we were warmly greeted off the flight in Taiwan, and escorted to the lounge for our flight on the 777. Whilst not normal practice to be greeted, we realised connecting in Taipei was both efficient and fast. The route was well signposted, and we were off the plane, through security and in the lounge within 10 minutes.
The lounge itself was one of two lounges China Airlines currently operates, and as one of them was being renovated (the larger of the two) we were taken to the only operational lounge, which in its own right is comfortable, beautifully designed well equipped. The lounge is a long thin lounge situated below the main concourse offering as a smaller seating area situate above. Within the lounge is fast Wi-Fi that doesn’t need a password, along with a fully stocked self service bar with snacks including dumplings and a freshly made noodle bar, where you can select whichever noodle dish you like – and it is cooked to order.
The lounge also is split into two sections below, with a more residential relaxation area by the central staircase, and a bistro-style area near the self-serve bar where you can sit at a table to enjoy the food, although our tip, if you are feeling a little jet lagged, the residential seats are the place to relax and enjoy your noodles.
We were greeted by a very friendly staff member who escorted us from the lounge to the plane when it was time to board. The gate was a small walk from the lounge, but this will be shorter once the new more centralised lounge opens up soon. At the boarding gate there are two lanes, one for economy, which also includes premium economy, and one for first and business class. In Taiwan, they use two aircraft doors to board the plane too. As this was usually catered for by a smaller A330, the aircraft was relatively empty, and as such boarding was very quick.
On boarding, you are hit by a brand-new look for the carrier. The persimmon wooden veneer starts the visual impact, and it’s a very welcome sight. The new cabin is amazing, bright and is well grounded with deep coloured carpets and chair coverings. The high ceilings created by the newer 777 overhead bins bring a welcome sense of space and the bright white ceilings are lifted higher by the clever use of slightly shaded walls, which have a subtle grey tone to them. The sense of space, especially coming from the previous flight with the 2 x 3 x 2 configuration is increased by the 1 x 2 x 1 all-aisle access seating, and obviously less seats per square metre.
The business class is set into two cabins, the front section with 6 rows, the rear section with a further 4 rows, meaning a total of 40 seats. Separating the two mini cabins is a walk up ‘Sky Lounge’ which offers passengers a chance to escape from their seat and stretch their legs. The Sky Lounge is actually a very beautiful and elegant idea with a simple promise, to inspire their passengers with locally curated literature and treats. The rotating monthly collection of books from ultra-cool bookshop Assouline are there to entertain passengers who wish to read rather than watch movies, and on the starboard side of the aircraft, a selection of 6 Nespresso coffees, including two locally sourced Taiwanese specialties. On the port side, are 6 Taiwanese Oolong teas, which will be made for you by the dedicated staff member who mans the space.
In the centre of the Sky Lounge, which is actually one of the galleys, is a full bar, with spirits which can be made to your liking, as well as continually changing snacks and products, all beautifully packaged for this new look China Airlines. The space is decked out in a mix of wooden veneer and highly polished black surfaces, with poems and famous quotes etched into the surfaces, which can be occasionally spotted if passing in the right light. There is subtlety here, and it helps to add longevity to the experience, as passengers will continue to find something new each time they travel.
What is also impressive in this space, is the mood lighting, and a first for the 777-300ER, a collection of 20 different light presets, allowing subtle differences between lighting for both ‘Chill Out’ and ‘Relax’ for example. The swashes of colour completely changes the space, and makes the business class experience seemingly continually evolve on a long flight, to help with jet lag.
The toilets even have been carefully considered, offering their very own window in business class, and wonderful ink paintings depicting Taiwanese landscapes.
China Airlines has opted for the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond seats in the business class cabin, which offer 78 inches of bed length when flat. The seat when arriving, is almost a jigsaw of interlocking storage spaces, surrounding the seat itself. The seat offers two flat storage areas next to the seat, which when closed form a flat table area perfect for resting your laptop on whilst dining, or just for keeping a drink on during the flight. One of the storage areas contains the IFE controller which can be used instead of the touchscreen TV, it also contains the headphones and jack, along with two USB ports for charging your devices.
On the top is a reading lamp, which offers diffused lighting around the seat, for more light, the overhead light floods the space a little more, and there is also a three setting angled light by the seat which is ideal for reading a book or menu.
Below the side table is more storage, a large deep open-cupboard, perfect for putting your shoes in. By your shoulder is a touchscreen seat control with both preset and fully adjustable controls to get the seat anywhere from fully flat to fully upright. Whilst there is no massage function there are two lumbar supports that sculpt to your body. To the aisle side is a retractable arm rest, that stays up for take off, but can be retracted to provide more space whilst flying, and offer more shoulder room during sleep. Inside the armrest is a deeper storage unit, there are almost so many storage cubby-holes you are scared you will leave something on board when you land.
In front of you there is a large footwell, with two shelves, both for you to find the perfect relaxation position, and eventually the padded one to complete the 6foot 6 inch bed. The feet are cocooned in the footwell, but there is ample space to turn your feet as you sleep. Above this is a bi-fold table, in the same charcoal grey as the rest of the seat when folded closed, but when unfolded, decorated in the same wood veneer. The table can move either folded or extended, and uses a simple locking mechanism to slide it toward you if you want to eat.
In front of you is also an 18″ touchscreen monitor with a brilliant user interface, hi-definition imagery and animated menus that is similar to the interface found on Windows 8. The system is quick, responsive, and even has a slider on the tv and movie programming allowing for a very quick swipe to the point you wanted to watch from.
There are hundreds of movies and TV channels to chose from, as well as audio channels. The system is simple to use, and is easy to navigate. The Panasonic ex3 system also has a wealth of extra options, from onscreen food and drink menus, seat to seat chat and a very powerful moving map system full of extra functions to keep the very best #avgeeks entertained.
The food that we had between Taipei and Hanoi wasn’t indicative of what is available normally on the long haul product, and the cutlery and service items are the older style, so we will only touch on this lightly, but what is impressive is the service, as this has now been changed for the smaller business class passenger numbers making a much more personalised service.
For such a short flight, there were still very large and excellent items on the menu, whilst a couple of us opted for the fish course, there was also the Taiwanese traditional option, which was both filling and delicious. The prawns were tender and accompaniments very tasty. Because of the short duration of the flight, the starter was brought at the same time, but the dessert was served later as a separate course, to be enjoyed with a Nespresso.
The large selection of excellent wines and aperitifs were the perfect accompaniment to the food, and there is no doubt on their long haul offering passengers will be subjected to some excellent and authentic Taiwanese cuisine.
We were informed on this trial flight that the Sky Lounge, (the walk-up bar) which will offer extra snacks between meals will be available after the first service on the long haul trips and will continue until the second food service.
The airline offers Lanvin toiletries on their business class cabins, and whilst on this short flight we didn’t receive them, on long haul flights they are filled to the brim with amenities to keep you hydrated and skin moisturised. Whilst there is the Sky Lounge, which is the airline’s biggest and most impressive extra, for the entertainment, there is an improved noise cancelling headset for passengers, which is far superior to the already decent previous version.
Quite simply, China Airlines has blown us away. We are incredibly impressed with the product, and has shown how a carrier with the right focus can completely turn around their product to not only sit along an industry standard, but step way above it and offer something very special. All of the judges were delighted to see a genuine excitement from the crew with regards to the newer Premium Business Class, and how it delivers not only extra comfort to the passengers, but also a better service opportunity from the crew. Whilst this was only two hours, all of us in Business Class wanted the flight to last longer, and a majority have categorically suggested they will chose China Airlines in the future when it’s feasible to use them. We were delighted to be invited onboard this trial flight, and whilst we were guests, this hasn’t influenced our genuine excitement in a truly special business class product, that many airlines will now struggle to compete with. Whilst there are still a few little elements that will be ironed out before the long haul service, we are excited to see the first fully operational long haul flight in action! Anyone want to go to Los Angeles?