Top-Notch Premium Economy: Flying EVA Air From Taipei to New York
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After getting to fly Delta's first retrofitted 777 in a Delta One Suite from Detroit (DTW) to Beijing (PEK) I spent two very jet-lagged days in the Chinese capital before heading home to New York City. There were plenty of options to choose from to get home, including Air China's nonstop flight from PEK to Kennedy Airport (JFK) and China Eastern's nonstop flight from Shanghai (PVG) to JFK. However, one option stood out — a premium-economy ticket on Taiwan's Star Alliance carrier, EVA Air. TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva had a fantastic flight in EVA's business class from Seattle (SEA) to Taipei (TPE), and the carrier has a stellar reputation, so I jumped at the chance to give it a try for myself.
I originated in Beijing, and flew on the exact same aircraft from there to TPE, and then onward to JFK (some of the daylight photos in this review are from the PEK-TPE flight, which was much less full), but this review will focus on the TPE-JFK leg, which happens to be one of the longest flights that EVA offers. While I wouldn't have a lie-flat seat for the almost-14-hour flight, I figured I'd still be much more comfortable than in a regular coach seat. And, I was right — as I found out, EVA's premium-economy product is a significant step up from economy and is plenty comfortable even for very long flights.
EVA is a member of the Star Alliance, meaning my first instinct was to check United.com for award availability — but I soon remembered that United doesn't allow partner premium-economy bookings with miles. Next, I checked Aeroplan, but had no luck there. Thus, I resorted to finding a cash ticket, which unfortunately wasn't cheap. The one-way ticket cost $1,802, which we charged to The Platinum Card® from American Express, in order to earn 5x Membership Rewards points for the purchase. In total, we earned 9,010 MR points, which are worth approximately $171, according to TPG's latest valuations.
Also, since this was a paid ticket, I was able to earn miles for my trip. EVA is a Star Alliance carrier, so I decided to credit my trip to United's MileagePlus program. As a MileagePlus member without elite status, I earned a total of 8,879 redeemable and Premier-Qualifying miles (PQMs), since my K-class ticket was eligible to earn 100% of the distance flown for both categories.
Check-In and Airport
My journey began at Beijing's Capital Airport (PEK), where I checked in via EVA's dedicated Premium Economy line. Check-in was a breeze, and in just a few minutes I was on my way to the security checkpoint. But this is where things really slowed down. After checking in, I had to walk quite a ways to a tram that would take me to the concourse where my gate was located. The tram dropped me off at the concourse, where I joined a very long non-Chinese passport-check line.
The process was incredibly disorganized. Airport employees were barking directions at passengers in very long lines. I finally made it to the front, and sent my bags through the X-ray machine. Unfortunately, however, the screening didn't end there. My bag was flagged for extra checks and I basically had to unpack the entire bag and then re-pack it after it was discovered I wasn't bringing anything dangerous onboard the aircraft.
By the time I was through with all the screening, it was basically time to board my first flight from Beijing to Taipei. I immediately headed to the gate. In a very welcome change from the norm, boarding was orderly and quick, and soon we were airborne, on our way to Taiwan. As I said earlier, I'm focusing on the long-haul segment between Taipei and New York, but this quick flight was an excellent experience and made me excited to be traveling for 14 hours with the airline.
All EVA Air flights operate from Terminal 2 at Taoyuan International Airport (TPE), and connecting there was a breeze. I decided to forgo the three Priority Pass options in T2 and explored the terminal instead. I wanted to walk around and stretch my legs as much as possible before boarding the very long flight in my immediate future. Plus, I'd been served a full meal on the flight from PEK, so I didn't want to eat more in a lounge before eating yet again on board the flight.
The terminal itself didn't make me miss the lounge — it felt more like a high-end mall than an airport terminal. And, I found the actual gate area at TPE to be a pretty decent place to relax before the flight. It wasn't a typical gate area, but rather a space with bright colors and interesting displays to look at and read to kill time.
Then, I went down a level to a more traditional (read: drab) gate area to secure the first spot in the premium economy line.
Just as it was in Beijing, boarding in Taipei was an orderly — even relaxed — process. In no time at all, I was on board our Boeing 777-300ER (photographed at the gate in Beijing), registration B-16720, which began flying for EVA in June 2014.
Cabin and Seat
The premium-economy cabin on this version of EVA's 777s is arranged with seven rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, which creates some obvious winners and losers in terms of seat assignments.
Obviously, the middle section isn't ideal, so if you're able, be sure to select a seat on either side of the plane where there are just two seats.
I was able to grab a window, which was both good and bad. Good, because I love the window seat, as I like to control the window shade and rest my head against the wall of the aircraft. Bad, because I'd have to crawl over my neighbor if I wanted to stretch or use the bathroom. Which I did. A lot. Luckily, my neighbor was a little kid, so I could easily get out without him also having to get out.
Each of the 56 seats measures 19.5 inches wide and offers 38 inches of pitch. As is normal for a premium-economy seat, there wasn't much storage to speak of besides the seatback pocket. It was stocked with all the usual literature as well as a pair of headphones and a pair of slippers. It was stretchy enough for me to store my wallet, phone, passport and AirPods while I was sleeping.
There was plenty of power at each seat, too, which I greatly appreciated. There's nothing quite like the dread you feel going into a 14-hour flight with less than 20% battery. No dread here though!
Another nice feature of the seats was the footrest — for some reason having that little rest for your feet makes sleeping that much easier and more comfortable.
The recline was generous enough, and allowed me to get several hours of solid sleep. I also liked the fact that the seats were covered in fabric rather than leather — I definitely don't enjoy sticking to a leather seat for 14 hours.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
At each seat was a better-than-average pillow, a blanket, bottle of water, headphones and a pair of slippers.
I probably get more excited than I should when I see that I'm getting a pair of slippers on a flight — I love not having to put my shoes on every time I get up.
The IFE screen seemed on the small side, though it was very responsive to touch.
It could also be controlled by a remote control located in the armrest of each seat.
The IFE system itself was a breeze to use — the design was fresh and modern, and it was very intuitive. I finished one movie and started another before I succumbed to my drowsiness.
EVA offered Wi-Fi on this flight, and I somewhat foolishly purchased a 24-hour pass for $22. It worked very well for the short amount of time I used it.
Food and Beverage
Just a few minutes after takeoff, flight attendants passed through the cabin to distribute menus. On the menu, the meal was divided into five "courses," but all of it was served at once. There was just one option for the appetizer: a seafood tomato jelly with fruit and vegetable salad. The whole dish looked unappetizing, so I skipped that part.
Besides the gelatinous appetizer, the rest of the meal was fantastic. The salad was fresh and actually a decent size.
For the main course, there were two options:
- Wok-fried fish in a black pepper sauce served with steamed rice
- Roasted chicken with herb brown sauce and mashed potatoes
They had me at mashed potatoes. I went with the chicken dish and it was delicious — without a doubt the best chicken I've had on an airplane. It was tender and the sauce gave it a lot of flavor. And those mashed potatoes! Even the healthy vegetables tasted great.
The meal was rounded out with a selection of fruit and ice cream — I was pretty full after the meal so I skipped the ice cream.
I was very intrigued by the "leisure delight" option that was listed on the menu — a pepper beef and cheese croissant(?!) — but I fell asleep almost immediately after the first meal service and didn't wake up until it was about time for the next meal service.
This meal, referred to as the "refresher," was served about 90 minutes before landing at JFK, and also all at once. The Chinese option included the following items:
- Marinated water bamboo shoots with soya beans
- Egg pancake with dried turnip
- Savory porridge with shredded chicken and pumpkin
- Seasonal fruit
There was also a Western option for this meal, which included:
- Roasted turkey with ricotta cheese
- Penne pasta with pork and a mushroom cream sauce
- Seasonal fruit
- Peach Jell-o
I chose the Western meal, and was again very impressed. The meal didn't look the best, admittedly, but I thought it tasted great, and seemed just as fresh as the first meal.
My first flight with EVA Air was a resounding success. I must say, I've been very spoiled and have gotten used to flying in premium cabins with lie-flat seats, so at first I was a little apprehensive about not being able to go all the way flat on a 14-hour flight. However, EVA's premium-economy product bridged the gap between economy and business class exceedingly well. First and foremost, the seat itself was comfortable, and I was able to sleep for several hours with no problem.
As an added bonus, the airline nailed it in terms of food (except for that weird appetizer) and service. Flight attendants were very kind and accommodating, but they didn't hover or disturb unnecessarily. I'd certainly fly this again, though next time I hope I can book farther in advance and score a cheaper ticket.