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Hello Kitty fans, rejoice! EVA Air really goes all out to honor the celebrated Sanrio character, decking out everything from the livery to the toilet paper. The Pros: Great service and a spacious, nine-across economy cabin. The Cons: the in-flight entertainment selection left something to be desired.
There’s certainly no shortage of special liveries being proudly flown by airlines worldwide. American Airlines has legacy liveries for each of the carriers that merged throughout history to form the current fleet, while JetBlue has special liveries that include tributes to the NYPD, NYFD, our nation’s veterans and even the Boston Red Sox. On the other side of the Pacific, Qantas unveiled a special LGBT-themed livery and ANA has a pretty decidedly badass Star Wars-themed series of planes.
And then there’s EVA Air, the Star Alliance carrier that partnered with Sanrio to bring characters such as Hello Kitty and Gudetama to its fleet. When I found out the Hello Kitty plane was coming to Chicago, I knew I had to fly it — who can resist those wonderfully bright-colored characters? It turns out the great service and industry-leading nine-across seating was just icing on the cake.
I booked this flight as part of my bachelor party trip to Taiwan — three of us flew together, so I used 35,000 United MileagePlus miles transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards for each ticket (total of 105,000 United miles), plus $5.60 in taxes and fees. As a member of Star Alliance, you can also redeem miles from other partners’ loyalty programs, like Asiana, Singapore Airlines (Krisflyer) and Air Canada (Aeroplan).
If you want the true Hello Kitty experience, pay close attention to the schedule. Thankfully, EVA publishes a nice site to tell you which routes are scheduled to have the special equipment. The carrier does make every effort to operate these routes with the special livery planes listed, but in the event of an equipment swap, they’ll still load the plane with special service items as scheduled, even if the plane’s exterior isn’t as pretty.
Chicago is currently the only North American route that features Sanrio — BR 56, Taipei to Chicago, operates the special aircraft on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The return, BR 55, my flight, operates just after midnight on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays. Note that if you aren’t on one of those scheduled flights, you won’t be getting the special livery or service items and it’ll just be a regular ol’ flight. And where’s the fun in that?
Check-In and Lounge
I arrived at O’Hare’s international Terminal 5 at around 9:30pm — happily for me, the flight’s late departure time made the traffic from downtown a bit more bearable than usual. Upon arrival, I headed to the EVA check-in counters, where I found a good number of passengers in the economy line, but the Elite line (ie. premium economy) and Royal Laurel line (ie. business class) lines were wide open. As a Star Alliance Gold elite, I was able to use the business-class line.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Hello Kitty experience begins immediately. Everything is branded — luggage tags, boarding passes, lounge passes, even the hand-carry sticker — and it’s wonderful.
Naturally, I attached as many Hello Kitty items as I could to my luggage. EVA does request that you tag one bag as hand-carry luggage if you’re carrying on two, presumably so that when cabin bin space is at a premium, the flight attendants can enforce placing the smaller one underneath the seat in front of you. My flight wasn’t packed to capacity, so this wasn’t an issue later.
I got through security pretty quickly and headed to the lounge. As a Star Gold elite, I was given an invitation to use the KLM/Air France lounge, which is the contract lounge used by Eva. It’s also a Priority Pass lounge, but unfortunately, it closes to those members at 9:30pm. Due to the late departure of the flight, there aren’t actually any Priority Pass lounges accessible that late at night.
Chicago O’Hare is known for lackluster lounges — other than the wonderful United Polaris lounge! — and this one is no exception. It might be one of the better ones in Terminal 5, but that isn’t saying much. I visited the lounge for a bit, but chose to spend most of my time in the restaurant and food court area of the terminal since I was traveling with two companions and I was only allowed one guest in the lounge with my Star Gold status.
The lounge itself wasn’t impressive. Chairs were uninspired, lighting was dim and there wasn’t much to write home about. On the bright side, it was never overpacked and there was plenty of space in the room to the left of the check-in counter.
The food and beverage options certainly didn’t stack up to any respectable international business class lounge, but they were at least better than the standard domestic lounge offerings, featuring pre-made sandwiches for the taking in the refrigerator, always-delicious Milano cookies, and cheap Maruchan ramen instant noodles. It’s not much, but it’s something. The sandwiches weren’t all that bad, but I’d recommend eating before you get to the airport, or at least grabbing a bite at the newly redeveloped food court in Terminal 5 to hold you over.
Before long, it was time to board — note that it was announced in the lounge very early. Lounge attendants were making final call and kicking people out as I left, but when I got to the gate, the agents there hadn’t even started boarding Group 1 yet. Since the EVA flight is really the only one leaving at that late hour that uses the KLM/Air France lounge, I would’ve liked to see the gate and lounge agents communicating a little better at least.
To EVA’s credit, the boarding area was exceptionally well-patrolled. Agents held up large numerals and guarded the boarding line, discouraging crowding. In fact, they did such a good job that they needed a manager’s approval to let my two companions board with me in Group 1. Although we were all on the same reservation, they had not received priority boarding on their boarding passes.
Cabin and Seat
EVA’s economy cabin on the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft is a little special these days: the carrier still maintains a nine-abreast 3-3-3 configuration, which is fantastic, while many other airlines are moving to a 10-across 3-4-3 configuration, including nearby Asian rival Cathay Pacific.
The seats are a comfortable 18.3 inches wide, while in comparison, American Airlines’s Boeing 777-300ER has only 17-inch wide economy seats. That bit made all the difference — it’s no business class, but I felt comfortable and not at all cramped for space during the 14-hour flight. The legroom was great at 33 inches, and if you’re especially tall, consider picking the bulkhead row as there’s essentially unlimited legroom.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. As you can imagine, everything imaginable was branded with Hello Kitty. The seats all featured a decked-out headrest cover and pillow. Just about the only thing not branded at the seat was the blanket, pictured above — since it was the most comfortable economy-class blanket I’ve ever gotten, with just the right thickness, I’ll let the branding slide.
Diving deeper, even the safety cards, vomit bag and headphone bag (but not the headphones themselves) were branded.
The soap, mist and hand lotion in the lavs were all Hello Kitty branded, as were the cups and, to my surprise, the toilet paper! The bathrooms were also regularly stocked with toothbrushes, earplugs and eye masks, which I really appreciated. If you do need to change, the bathrooms all the way at the back of the aircraft were spacious and provided plenty of extra space.
The in-flight entertainment system was the biggest improvement area, in my opinion. The carrier uses the same Panasonic system Delta uses on its newer jets — it’s fast, responsive, and it doesn’t require you to punch the seat in front of you to register commands and features a USB port right on the front so you can charge phones and small devices easily.
Unfortunately, however, the system simply didn’t have many film or entertainment options. In most genres, there were a total of maybe five or six movies or TV shows to choose from in each category, so it wasn’t as much as an “Oh, what do I want to watch today?” question, but rather a, “Hmm, which of these five movies can I tolerate?” situation.
EVA does everything else so well and I really wish it would improve its selection on these long-haul flights. Of note, the seats do not have an under-the-seat entertainment box, so you can have the entire space in front of you for your feet and/or belongings.
Before taking off, the flight attendants also went around to each of the kids on the plane and offered them a puzzle toy to keep them occupied during flight. It’s a great idea in my opinion, and I wish more airlines would do this.
Food and Beverage
Upon boarding, we were offered a Hello Kitty menu — pretty impressive considering we were in coach! Our main meal consisted of smoked salmon potato salad, seasonal fruit, coffee mousse cake and our choice of:
- Braised chicken with mustard white wine sauce served with mashed potatoes, or
- Braised pork meatballs served with steamed rice.
The food was edible, but nothing special. I ordered the braised chicken, and it was good, but not phenomenal. I found it slightly under-seasoned, and overall, bland. But it certainly wasn’t bad, and the coffee mousse cake was delicious. I enjoyed the smoked salmon as well, but didn’t care as much for the potato salad. Once again, we saw elements of Hello Kitty branding — the utensils were purple, as was the napkin, as you can see in the photos below.
Vegetarians will need to special order their meal at least 24 hours in advance, but other travelers should consider ordering a special meal as well. The flight attendants did a great job with speedy meal service, but the fact of the matter is it’s a midnight departure — by the time meal service was over, it was at least 2:00am and I was dead tired. I wish I had ordered a special meal, which would’ve been served first. That way I could’ve slept immediately.
EVA did an excellent job with beverages, too, even in economy class. Various teas, soft drinks, juices, liquors and wines were offered, as well as a few choices of beer. Flight attendants were phenomenal here, passing through the aisles immediately after takeoff to offer water and orange juice to thirsty travelers. After the meal was served, flight attendants again made passes of Chardonnay, coffee, and tea. I was incredibly impressed with the crew’s dedication and service in economy class, which was friendly and efficient.
About two thirds of the way through the flight, we were offered a ham and egg salad croissant and a chocolate biscuit. They were decent, but not overly filling.
There was also a basket stocked with snacks, including a branded bag of nuts, available in the galley.
Prior to landing, we were offered a choice between a Chinese style and Western style breakfast. Options included:
- Egg pancakes with pickled turnip, fish floss, congee with chicken and pickled mustard cabbage and seasonal fruit
- Yogurt, Spanish-style scrambled eggs, served with turkey ham and potatoes with seasonal fruit.
I ordered the Chinese style breakfast, which wasn’t bad — I wouldn’t recommend the fish floss if that’s not something you’re used to eating though!
My friend who ordered the Western option enjoyed his meal considerably.
Despite middling food (still very good for economy), this was one of the best long-haul economy flights I’ve ever had. The biggest win was service — I cannot emphasize enough how impressed I was by the service from the crew, who were professional, courteous, accommodating, efficient and kind. Even the bathrooms were cleaned and stocked regularly, and I never once saw it fall into uncleanliness.
Between the wide 3-3-3 configuration and the great service, the only significant failure here was the lackluster entertainment system selection, which, hopefully, EVA will work to improve. Flying aboard the Hello Kitty plane was a fantastic experience, whether you like the celebrated Sanrio character or not — embrace it, and you’ll have a lot of fun. The attention to detail on this flight was phenomenal and the airline really did a great job with this product. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly EVA Air again, Hello Kitty or not.
Have you flown on Eva Air’s Hello Kitty plane? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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