Amenity-rich: A review of EVA Air premium economy on the 777-300ER, Taipei to San Francisco
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Pleasant ground experience in Taipei, intuitive IFE system and plenty of other amenities on offer.
Disappointing food and the Wi-Fi was very expensive and almost useless.
I recently flew premium economy from Taipei to San Francisco on Taiwanese airline EVA Air. TPG staffers have had great experiences with the airline — particularly in business class — describing it as “terrific,” “the best,” “business the way it should be” and “the most overlooked transpacific business-class option.” Even though I wasn’t up front on this flight, I was still eager to experience such a highly regarded airline.
We booked this premium economy flight for the solid price of $801. We put the ticket cost on The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card’s 5x bonus category on flights booked directly through the airline. In this case, we earned a total of 4,005 Membership Rewards points, worth about $77 according to TPG’s current valuations.
Unfortunately you can’t yet book partner premium-economy tickets with MileagePlus miles yet, nor can you with Aeroplan, another surefire way of securitng award availability on Star Alliance carriers. However, since we paid cash for this ticket, I was able to earn miles. I credited this flight to my United account and earned 6,455 MileagePlus miles for the same number of miles flown.
I arrived at Taipei, Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) a couple of hours before boarding time, because I needed to check a bag and didn’t want to get stuck waiting in lines with a lot of other people. My fears were unfounded, however: I arrived at an exceptionally empty airport. TPE’s bright Terminal 2 has its moments of chaos and crowdedness, but this wasn’t one of them.
I made my way to the bank of seven check-in kiosks and input all of my information. The seat map showed one available aisle seat left, so I claimed it.
The agent at the dedicated premium economy desk was one of the friendliest I’d ever met. He had my bag whisked away, a boarding pass in my hand and directions to my gate inside before I finished taking photos.
There was a screen just past the check-in counters which showed your bags being sent through the conveyor belt system to be loaded onto the plane. A sign asked that travelers wait in the area until they saw their luggage safely through.
EVA Air has a famous partnership with Japanese brand Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty. As such, there was an entire exhibit in TPE Terminal 2 dedicated to the mouthless cartoon cat. Hate her or love her, it was definitely worth a quick visit.
The entrance to the secured portion of the terminal was right next to the Hello Kitty installation, so I said goodbye to my mom there and went in.
Security was relatively straightforward, with immigration immediately after the scanners. Both took me a combined total of eight minutes to navigate, and I emerged next to rows of gleaming duty-free kiosks.
Once inside, I made my way to the two Plaza Premium lounges on the upper floor, accessible to anyone traveling with a Priority Pass membership. However, EVA premium-economy tickets don’t include lounge access, so I’m not including the experience as part of the score for this section.
I was in pursuit of showers, having been suckered into a game of H-O-R-S-E with my brother right before I left. If you’re similarly inclined, this is what you’re looking for:
Inside was a lot of seating with a lot of people in said seats. There was a buffet to the left and made-to-order counter with several hot options to the right. I highly recommend a bowl of the Taiwanese beef noodle soup.
The showers were easy to sign up for. I notified the check-in desk agent that I wanted to book one and was handed a towel and told to choose any stall that was open. Inside, the shower was bright and cheery with a mounted shower head that absolutely did not pass the Brian Kelly shower test. (He’s 6 feet, 7 inches tall.)
About 10 minutes before boarding time, I left the lounge and made my way toward the gate.
I actually walked past C7 at first because it was tucked away half behind a duty-free store hawking Godiva chocolates. There were two lines, one for coach and the other for first/business/premium economy travelers.
After an agent checked my passport and boarding pass, I was directed down a flight of stairs to the waiting area.
The holding area was packed with people and not quite enough seating, and I didn’t even bother looking for power outlets. Fortunately, we began boarding almost exactly on time, and the process was quick and relatively drama-free.
A variety of newspapers were available on the jet bridge as passengers boarded the aircraft.
Our 11-hour, 39-minute flight departed the gate three minutes early but landed 39 minutes late, according to FlightAware. When we landed in San Francisco, it ended up taking me about 40 additional minutes for my checked bag to emerge.
Cabin and Seat
EVA Air’s premium economy cabin features eight rows and a whopping total of 64 seats in a 2-4-2 layout. Window lovers should note that rows 21 and 24 do not have windows, as shown in the photo below.
On board, I discovered comfortable leather headrests on fabric seats measuring 19.3 inches across with 38-inch pitch. These were some of the most comfortable headrests I’d ever experienced, with a wide range of vertical adjustment and firm, supportive wings.
I had a bulkhead seat but swapped with the traveler behind my assigned seat because I prefer stashing my bag under the seat ahead of me instead opening the overhead bin throughout the flight. I had plenty of legroom for my 5 feet, 2 inches of height.
The screens felt somewhat small for premium economy but could tilt for the best viewing angle and were very intuitively designed.
A footrest folded out from the seat in front and could be adjusted to different heights.
There was a power bank between the two seats on the left side, which included a sturdy power outlet, one USB port per person and a headphone jack that could accommodate two-prong or three-prong headphones.
The tray table manually folded out of the righthand armrest, away from the aisle. The bifold table felt a little bit on the flimsy side at just under 15 inches wide when fully extended and about 8 inches when folded.
There were only two lavatories nearby, behind premium economy past the first section of economy seats.
They were small but not unbearably so, and featured a variety of products including hand soap, face spray, hand cream and facial moisturizer. There also were individually packaged dental kits and earplugs.
I noticed a fun touch when the cabin lights dimmed for takeoff: Tiny perforations in the business-class cabin ceiling made it look like the night sky. As far as I could see, this didn’t extend into the economy section.
Amenities and IFE
Waiting at my seat as I boarded were a small pillow and a plastic-wrapped blanket with a bottle of water, while a pair of disposable slippers was tucked in the seatback pocket next to plastic-wrapped over-ear headphones.
Soon after boarding, a flight attendant came by to hand out Furla-designed amenity kits. These were sleek, zippered pouches of vegan leather in medium gray and bold yellow, and included socks, an eye mask, a comb, earplugs, a dental kit and lip balm.
Each seat included free disposable slippers. I appreciated them because they allowed me to avoid shoving my feet back into my sneakers for midflight bathroom runs.
I found the unbranded headphones to be rather uncomfortable. Audio quality was sufficient, but something about the shape of the headband landed on pressure points behind my ears, which led to a headache.
I found the Wi-Fi packages on board to be unsatisfactory. Not only were they priced by usage — $19.95 for 100 MB and $29.95 for 300 MB — access was inconsistent and spotty, and I burned through the vast majority of my 300 MB data package trying to run an unsuccessful speed test. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to log in and switch Wi-Fi access between my cellphone and my laptop. Still, I could barely access email or get a web page to load in less than 10 seconds.
However, there were a lot of other ways for me to pass the time. EVA offered one of the most intuitively designed user interfaces for their inflight entertainment, and the touch screen was sensitive and easy to navigate. I particularly appreciated the visual layout and the fact that I could rewind and fast-forward through movies by dragging my finger across the screen instead of tapping tiny arrow buttons.
It was difficult to count the number of movies and TV shows because they were organized only by genre, but I would describe the total using the scientific measure word “enough.” I did count the new releases, of which there were 45, including the new live-action “Lion King.”
I was handed a paper menu before takeoff, but the full list of available beverages was also available on the screen in front of me.
EVA’s overall amenity offering on this flight was impressive, and I found myself very happy with things like the slippers, the amenity kit and the contents inside of my kit. I really can only fault the Wi-Fi offering on this flight. This is a long flight, especially for business travelers who may rely on the time to get important work done. The carrier needs to work on improving the consistency of its inflight connection, and make it cheaper so that it can be of real utility to travelers.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Meals for Purchase
I was given a menu and a small package snack before takeoff, and meals were served a brisk 45 minutes later.
I chose the wok-fried fish for my first meal and regretted it. The minced pork sauce was flavorful, but fried elements are best when perfectly hot and fresh from the kitchen, and there’s simply no way to store crispy fish doused in saucy sauce for hours and have it remain texturally appealing.
To the dish’s credit, it didn’t smell fishy in the least, which is extremely important on a multihour flight. Still, this dish really missed the mark for me. There are countless braised dishes that improve with time spent marinating in a fridge, and EVA could have gone with one of those instead to really nail this meal.
The chicken in the appetizer dish was bland, and the salad was even more blah. So I noshed on my rice, the sauce from my fish, the cooked veggies, my fruit plate and my bread roll. I don’t generally enjoy bread, so that tells you how unpalatable the rest of the items were.
For my second meal, I chose a cream-based pasta. I would say that the most memorable part of this meal was the coffee panna cotta, which was delicious. Everything else was … fine, but felt more like a typical tasteless economy meal served on prettier dishes. I was offered whole-wheat rolls from a basket shortly after the meal was delivered to my table, and beverage service included wine, beer, spirits and an array of nonalcoholic drinks including tea, coffee and water.
Flight attendants were prompt, polite and efficient.
With such a large cabin, I was really curious to see how the service flow would hold up. The crew still managed to be extremely attentive, but not overly effusive. There were absolutely no service issues that I experienced, though I wouldn’t say that there was anything particularly memorable, either.
I had a great flight with EVA, but it wasn’t the best premium economy experience of all time. I think that at the price we paid for this flight, it was an effective bridge between economy and business class. However, if we’d had to shell out much more for this flight, I would say that there’s room for improvement, especially with respect to the onboard food.
I just didn’t like the food, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t. I’m Taiwanese, and food is a massive part of our culture. In fact, you greet people in Taiwanese by asking, “Have you eaten yet?” I feel like there were so many other ways the EVA Air menu could have been set up to appeal to both Western and Eastern palates. As it turned out, the meals turned out to be a classic example of trying to appeal to everyone and pleasing nobody.
All photos by the author.
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