Flight review: EVA Air Boeing 777 in business class from Houston to Taipei
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. To help keep you entertained — and maybe inspire you — we are also republishing a selection of our most popular reviews from 2019 and 2020, including the one below, which was originally published in August 2019. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Note that EVA Air’s flight schedule is currently reduced. According to Airlineroute, the flight from Houston to Taipei reviewed here is operating only once a week. So are EVA Air’s services to Taipei from Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco and Seattle.
This review has been lightly edited from the original.
First-class quality catering (including an extensive menu for preordering meals and vintage Champagne), high-end amenities and top notch service.
A disappointing ground experience for the late-night departure and an embarrassingly small IFE selection.
I get asked regularly what my all-time favourite airline is. There’s simply no competing with the likes of first class aboard an Emirates A380 or Singapore Suites, but I then tell people why I consider EVA Air (pronounced “ee-vee-ay,” not “eev-uh”) to be the most underrated airline out there.
I had the chance to fly EVA Air’s business class almost exactly a year ago when I was moving from Chicago to Shanghai, and I was blown away by the quality of the food and service. EVA’s hard product is great, though by no means unique or revolutionary, but every element of the soft product felt like it belonged in first class, not in business.
I was excited when the opportunity arose for me to give EVA’s business class a more in-depth review on my way back to Shanghai after a trip home to see my family. Unfortunately not every part of the experience was outstanding, thanks to the mediocre (at best) ground experience in Houston.
Though the final score of this flight was weighed down by the poor ground experience, that has more to do with this specific route than the airline, which provided a great onboard experience. Still, I can now say definitively that EVA is my preferred airline for crossing the Pacific.
Since it is a member of Star Alliance, you have plenty of options for booking business class awards on EVA Air. We opted to transfer 75,000 U.S. Amex Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan in addition to around $110 in taxes. (Note that Aeroplan isn’t a transfer partner of U.K. Membership Rewards — only in the U.S.) You could also book through Avianca LifeMiles, United MileagePlus and Singapore KrisFlyer.
EVA flies to a number of US destinations, including Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), New York-JFK, San Francisco (SFO) and Seattle (SEA). All US flights are operated by the carrier’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, but the Seattle route is served with the smaller Boeing 787-9 because of the capacity reduction due to the pandemic.
I arrived in Houston around 9 p.m. on a United flight from Washington National, grabbed my bags and headed over to Terminal D, where most foreign airlines operate from. I was a little nervous that I would arrive before check-in opened for our 1:25 a.m. departure, but EVA opens check-in four hours before departure, so the counter was fully staffed when I got there.
I was impressed to see that the check-in counter was staffed by EVA employees (as opposed to contract workers, like you often see at outstations), as you usually get a slightly higher level of service when you’re interacting directly with the airline’s own employees.
There wasn’t much of a line, but the people ahead of me took a good 15 minutes to check in, to the point that the economy and premium economy lines were moving faster than the dedicated business-class and Star Alliance Gold line. Once I reached the podium, I was helped quickly and issued boarding passes for both my flights, as well as an invitation to the Executive Club.
Security was a breeze this late at night, especially since EVA Air joined the TSA PreCheck program earlier this year. After clearing security, I walked past a sign for the Amex Centurion Lounge which closed at 9 p.m., well before the late-night departures. United also operates a Polaris Lounge in Houston, but that’s located in Terminal E and closed at 10 p.m., also well before my very late departure.
As far as I could tell, there were only two other flights departing out of Terminal D that night, a Qatar Airways flight to Doha (DOH) and an Air China flight to Beijing (PEK), which meant that the concourse alternated between empty and deserted gates and complete chaos as the other jumbo jets began to board.
Priority Pass members can normally access the Air France – KLM lounge in Terminal D, but it closes at 5 p.m. For the late-night flights, premium passengers were invited to the Executive Club.
This lounge was subpar, even compared to the lounges at Shanghai Pudong Airport that I’m so used to complaining about. There were no windows or outside light, and the bright fluorescent lighting was too much, given how late at night it was.
There was ample seating but not much in the way of privacy, so it got pretty loud at times.
There was a small conference room on one side of the lounge, as well as a small TV room that looked like the living room in someone’s house.
The lounge didn’t have its own bathrooms, which meant that you had to go out into the terminal instead.
The food options were limited and uninspiring, with questionable-looking meat dishes, assorted sandwiches and chips and pastries.
There was a bar at the back of the lounge, which is also where all the nonalcoholic drinks like water or soda were stocked.
While this was probably the least exciting lounge I’ve visited before a long-haul flight, I chalk that up entirely to the late-night departure. If our flight had left just a few hours earlier (or if I’d opted to fly out of O’Hare or JFK instead), it would have been an entirely different story, and one more reflective of the high-quality experience on board.
Cabin and Seat
After about three hours in the lounge, I’d had enough, so I wandered up and down the terminal and stretched my legs before boarding began at 12:45 a.m.
There was a table full of newspapers waiting in the jetway, in both English and Chinese.
EVA doesn’t offer first class, and the 38 business-class seats were split into two cabins. I preferred the smaller, 16-seat minicabin behind Door L2, as it was much quieter during the flight. The only downside was that all economy passengers walked through this cabin during boarding, but once the door was closed things settled down very quickly.
I was in Seat 9A, the left-side window seat in the second row of the minicabin. EVA uses standard reverse-herringbone seats in business class, similar to what you’d find on Cathay Pacific or China Eastern.
The cabin finishes were relatively neutral, but I liked the picture on the bulkhead, which added a splash of colour to the cabin.
The seats featured a good amount of storage space between the counter and the little cabinet.
Directly to the left of the seat was the inflight-entertainment remote, as well as the headphone jack, USB, power outlet and reading light.
Below that were the seat controls.
While the centre seats were better if you were travelling with someone, they didn’t feature any additional privacy divider, just the small partition shown below. This offered some privacy, but not a ton if you were spending 15 hours next to a total stranger.
One reason I liked this configuration so much was because the footwells were relatively spacious, so you didn’t have to cram yourself in when it was time to go to sleep.
You could also raise the armrest to give yourself additional privacy.
After dinner, the flight attendant offered to make my bed up for me. Since the entire middle section of the cabin was empty, I asked her to make Seat 9D into a bed for me so I could use 9A to lounge.
While turndown service in first class is an impressive ordeal (I’ve even had flight attendants try to tuck me into bed before!), this simply consisted of the flight attendant putting the fitted sheet over the seat. She didn’t even recline it into bed mode, so I had to do that and grab the blanket to put on top.
EVA uses a starry-night ceiling feature, which I find much more relaxing than simply sending the cabin into pitch-black darkness after the last tray is cleared.
With only five passengers in the rear cabin, I was able to open my window and watch the sunrise as we made our way to Taiwan. I loved the wings on the 777, and how tiny they looked next to the massive GE90 engines.
There were a total of four bathrooms available for business-class passengers, two in the galley between the business-class cabins and two more at the front by the cockpit. The bathrooms in the middle galley were significantly larger, though all featured a number of toiletries and extra amenities and were kept spotless throughout the 15-hour journey.
Amenities and IFE
Waiting at my seat upon boarding were a pair of headphones and sturdy slippers.
Before we pushed back, a flight attendant came through the cabin distributing Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits and pyjamas by Jason Wu, each of which came in a drawstring case.
Though I still haven’t been able to get my hands on one of EVA’s hard-sided Rimowa amenity kits (which are only distributed on flights departing from Taipei), this kit was a huge upgrade over the one I received last time.
The black leather pouch contained a number of goodies including a dental kit, comb, socks, eyeshade, earplugs and even a screen cleaner for a laptop or phone.
There was a small pouch inside the amenity kit that had tubes of Ferragamo hand cream, body lotion and lip balm. For what it’s worth, these were the same amenities Asiana used to offer in its recently discontinued first class.
I was a huge fan of EVA’s old blue-and-white striped pyjamas, but the new ones are … different.
Maybe I just don’t understand fashion, but the off-center snap-up collar is hard to pull off on a plane, let alone in the real world. The bottoms also didn’t have any pockets, so I left mine on the plane at the end of the flight.
Each seat featured a crisp, 17-inch touchscreen TV that popped out of the seat in front of you, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about EVA’s inflight entertainment.
The content selection was abysmal, especially from an airline that pays such great attention to detail otherwise. I spent most of the flight sleeping or watching the airshow, but I’d strongly recommend downloading your own entertainment before flying with EVA.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Even with economy passengers boarding through the rear business-class cabin, the flight attendants still came by to offer me a predeparture beverage just a minute or two after I’d settled in. I selected a glass of Champagne, which was served with a hot towel and a Valrhona chocolate.
EVA served Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2006, which retails for about $160 (£125). Not only is it pretty rare to see an airline serving vintage champagne in business class, but La Grande Dame is one of my favourite Champagnes ever. It’s incredibly rich and smooth without sacrificing a deep flavour profile. EVA has always been a leader in the beverage department and has even been spotted serving Dom Perignon 2004 in business class recently, an older and higher quality vintage than you’ll find in Emirates or Singapore first class. Let that sink in for a moment.
Beginning 30 days before departure, business-class passengers can preorder meals from an expansive menu, including dishes that aren’t normally loaded for the flight. I selected the poached lobster and butternut squash with pumpkin ravioli.
Before we pushed back, a flight attendant came by to confirm my preorder. There was a bit of a mistake, as the system indicated that I’d also preordered congee (which I don’t love) for breakfast, but she was able to switch my order to the mushroom-and-onion quiche. EVA takes meal and drink orders for both dinner and breakfast before departure, which I don’t love because I’m not sure what exactly I’ll want to eat and drink 15 hours in the future.
Service began about 50 minutes into the flight, with canapés of ratatouille and cheese tartlet and a grilled scallop and tomato on a rosemary skewer. First of all, kudos to EVA for serving canapés in business class instead of just defaulting to warm nuts like most carriers. The small bites were delicious, and I especially loved how they used a sprig of rosemary as the skewer to pack even more flavour.
Along with my canapé, the flight attendant also brought out a champagne flute, but she forgot to fill it. It was about 2:30 in the morning at this point, and I was so tired I didn’t even notice, but when she came back to clear my plate she realized her mistake and rushed to fill my glass up.
Next, my table was set for the main meal, including a tray with a bread roll, olive oil and balsamic and butter. EVA used to use beautiful tablecloths (as you can see in the photo below from Alberto Riva’s review of EVA business class in 2018), but for this flight we were served on plain, white tablecloths.
Along with the bread, I was also served a starter of smoked duck with orange and couscous salad. I don’t like duck, so I mostly picked at the salad, and the flight attendant asked if everything were OK with the dish before clearing it. I was also offered a selection from a breadbasket and chose a few pieces of garlic bread.
My main course was served about an hour into the flight, and while it was very tasty, it was also a bit confusing.
On my previous flight in EVA business class my lobster dish was a full lobster tail, but this time around I had to rotate the plate a few times to find the few buried pieces of lobster meat. The pumpkin ravioli were delicious, but the plate was 75% salad and Parmesan with barely any lobster. Still, the flavours complemented each other very well, and I really enjoyed the dish.
For dessert, I had a fruit plate and the tiramisu, which came with a little sign in case you were confused about what it was. It was a small and delicious way to end the meal, and not too heavy.
My only critique of the meal service was that at times the flight attendants were a bit slow with drink refills. I’m sure that if I’d asked, a new drink would have materialized in seconds, but they were hustling to finish dinner service so that everyone could get to sleep, and to their credit the entire meal was done 90 minutes into the flight. When I’m reviewing a flight, I also like to sit back and observe the natural flow of service — it’s more important for me to see how long it takes them to come around with drink refills than it is to get another drink a few minutes sooner.
EVA had a small inflight snack menu consisting of a burger and noodle soup, but I decided to wait until breakfast. About two hours before landing, a small pop-up on the TV alerted us that breakfast service would begin soon.
Breakfast was served on a tray, including a small fruit plate and a blueberry yoghurt. I also had a carrot-and-fruit juice, which was fresh and delicious.
For my main course, I had the mushroom-and-onion quiche with asparagus and potatoes. Egg dishes on an aeroplane are always hit or miss, but this knocked it out of the park. From portion size to temperature to the fresh flavours, this had to be one of the better business-class breakfasts I’d ever had on a plane.
From the minute I boarded the flight, I could tell we had an exceptional crew. I should note that this crew spoke English with more fluency than my previous EVA flight, which allowed for flawless service start to finish. EVA is stricter than most airlines about not leaving your personal items out during takeoff and landing, and when the flight attendant noticed me struggling to store all the stuff I’d taken out of my backpack, she brought me an EVA tote bag to pack up my pyjamas and amenity kit and everything and store it in the overhead bin.
I was addressed by name at every turn, and the flight attendants always knelt at my seat when talking to me. Before I’d even sat down, the flight attendant was unwrapping my slippers and placing them by my chair so I could slip them on with ease. On the one occasion that I pressed the call button to order an iced coffee, a flight attendant was at my seat smiling in no more than five seconds. It simply doesn’t get better than that.
After flying together on EVA, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “Wow, that was the best first class ever!” EVA doesn’t offer a first-class product, but they don’t really need to. The service, food, drink and amenities are all first-class calibre but at a business-class price. Sure, the late-night departure made our ground experience less exciting, but it also made it easier for me to sleep on the plane and let me spend a full day with my family before departing. When you remove that from the equation, as it’s really only an issue on this Houston-to-Taipei route, the only complaint I have about EVA is the lack of entertainment. So load up your iPad with a few favourites before your flight and enjoy the world’s most underrated business-class product. I’m already looking for a chance to fly EVA again.
All photos by the author.