Flying Starlux's impressive new business class on the inaugural to Taipei
Editors' note: Starlux provided TPG with a free round-trip business-class ticket for the inaugural U.S. route. All opinions expressed here are the author's alone and were not subject to review by Starlux.
As an aviation enthusiast, there’s nothing more exciting than trying a brand-new business-class product on a new airline startup.
This opportunity doesn’t come around frequently, especially on an airline that says it wants to be as good as Emirates.
Yet that’s exactly the experience I had on Wednesday when Starlux Airlines began flying to the U.S.
If you’re not familiar, Starlux is a new Taiwanese luxury carrier that commenced operations at perhaps the worst possible time in commercial aviation history: January 2020.
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The airline had been in the works since 2017 with ambitions to become a major player in the aviation market in Asia and beyond. Moreover, the airline promised to elevate the travel experience for everyone — particularly in business and first class, where it introduced an all-new long-haul product.
While the pandemic put a nearly three-year pause on Starlux’s plans, the carrier is officially back in growth mode now that global travel restrictions are in the rearview mirror.
Starlux already flies from its Taipei hub to 16 popular Asian destinations, such as Bangkok and Singapore. On April 26, the airline started flying the Airbus A350-900 to Los Angeles, its first destination in North America.
San Francisco will become the airline’s next U.S. city later this year. Others, including possibly New York, are coming in 2024 and beyond, Starlux’s chief strategy officer Simon Liu told TPG in an interview.
Since its inception, I’ve had Starlux on my radar, but now that it flies to the U.S., the airline is more relevant than ever. Could the carrier really be as good as Emirates or at least rival its top-notch Taiwanese competitors, China Airlines and EVA Air?
Well, after flying in business class on the airline’s inaugural U.S. departure, I have an answer. Read on to find out.
Starlux Airlines business class booking
Getting a ticket to fly Starlux Airlines long-haul business class is about to become much more affordable.
That’s because the airline just announced a loyalty partnership with Alaska Airlines. You’ll be able to redeem Mileage Plan miles for Starlux flights beginning later this summer.
The introductory one-way redemption rates start at 20,000 miles for economy, 40,000 miles for premium economy and 60,000 miles for business class — fantastic values compared to Starlux’s cash fares. (Unfortunately, first-class awards via Alaska won’t be available.)
It isn’t clear yet how much partner award availability Starlux will release. Hopefully, the airline will at least make awards available when it has unsold seats at the last minute.
If you splurge for a round-trip cash ticket from LA to Taipei (which starts at around $5,500 in business class and a whopping $18,000 in first class), you can now credit your flight to Mileage Plan.
Starlux’s COSMILE loyalty program will soon allow mileage earning and redemptions on Alaska, Liu said. Even so, most U.S.-based travelers would be better off banking miles with Mileage Plan.
Starlux isn’t currently a member of a major airline alliance, though “joining an alliance is always our goal,” Liu said. Of the three major alliances, Starlux would seem to be best suited for Oneworld, possibly as a “Connect” member.
As mentioned in the disclosure above, Starlux provided TPG with a free round-trip, business-class ticket for the inaugural LA to Taipei flight, but all opinions expressed here are mine alone.
Interestingly, the first-class cabin went out completely empty on my flight. I inquired about a last-minute upgrade at the check-in desk, hoping for a similar outcome to my recent Air France La Premiere experience.
I was shocked when the agent told me the astronomical rates:
- Economy to premium economy: $1,000.
- Premium economy to business class: $3,000.
- Business class to first class: $5,000.
Suffice to say, I stuck with business class.
Starlux Airlines business class ground experience
While most flight experiences begin at the check-in desk, this one was special.
To celebrate the inaugural, Starlux hosted an invite-only media event at the Flight Path Museum and Learning Center, located adjacent to the general aviation area of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
The event began with speeches from the airline’s chairman, CEO and other partners. The line that stuck with me most was the chairman’s vision that “luxury shouldn’t be the exclusive experience of the elite but readily available to everyone [on Starlux]."
After the speeches, the airline previewed its upcoming tie-up with the Los Angeles Clippers and Dodgers. When the partnership begins in June, you’ll find Clippers- and Dodgers-themed meals and branding throughout the plane on flights from LA to Taipei.
Starlux’s rival EVA Air may have a dedicated Hello Kitty plane, but that’s not stopping the startup carrier from forging its own unique partnerships.
The media event concluded with a walk down the red carpet to the two-week-old Starlux Airbus A350, registered B-58503. It had just landed from Taipei and would head back there later that evening with me onboard.
After a brief tour of the plane’s four cabins, I was even more excited for my 14-hour flight — the business-class seats looked more impressive in person than in renderings.
Five hours later, I was on my way to LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal to begin the Starlux business-class experience.
I quickly found the airline’s check-in counters in row B — the only area with more staff than passengers.
The priority business-class counter had no line, and they issued my boarding pass within a few minutes. (Note that Starlux’s check-in desks don’t open until about three hours before the flight. Some passengers got there too early and were frustrated by the wait.)
My only gripe about the check-in experience is that Starlux doesn’t yet participate in TSA PreCheck. The airline is supposedly working on a tie-in, but until then, you’ll need to clear standard security at LAX. This process took me around 30 minutes due to how busy the terminal gets before the late-night departure bank of transpacific flights.
Once airside, I made my way to the Oneworld business-class lounge, just up a set of escalators in the main departure hall.
That’s where Starlux’s business-class passengers can relax before their flight, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend arriving early to camp out there.
The good news is that with more than 600 seats, the nearly 42,000-square-foot lounge doesn’t suffer from overcrowding even during peak periods. There are plenty of seating options, ranging from couches to individual recliners to coworking tables.
You can even relax on a circular couch surrounding an electronic fireplace.
That said, the rest of the lounge experience can be best described as “good enough.” The buffet featured an assortment of three prepared salads and three hot entrees, none of which looked too appetizing.
The bathrooms and shower rooms are in the far back corner of the lounge, and while they were clean, they weren’t the most spacious or luxurious.
As far as international lounges at LAX go, this one is in the middle of the pack. It’s not nearly as drabby as the Korean Air lounge, but it’s also not as good as the Star Alliance Lounge, which features an outdoor terrace and more natural light.
I’ve heard much better things about Starlux’s Galactic Lounge in Taipei, so I’m looking forward to checking that out on my return trip.
I spent the rest of my time before the 12:10 a.m. boarding call wandering around the terminal, which I find one of the nicest in America.
I got to the gate a bit early to see if any festivities were happening. However, aside from a few hanging posters, you wouldn’t have necessarily known that this was Starlux’s inaugural U.S. departure. I guess the airline kept the celebration limited to the outbound service from Taipei (and the media event).
Still, plenty of passengers knew what was happening; many were lined up against the glass windows snapping pictures of the plane. Some even came from the opposite gate across the hall — an EVA Air departure to Taipei — to grab some shots, too.
The excitement continued once I got onboard, as I saw many of my fellow flyers taking videos and posing for pictures in the new cabins.
As for me, my immediate focus was on testing out every nook and cranny of this brand-new business-class product.
Starlux Airlines business class cabin and seat
Starlux’s Airbus A350 features a seven-row business-class cabin between the first and second exit doors on the plane.
The 26 seats are arranged in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 configuration, giving each flyer direct aisle access with privacy.
Starlux decided to market the bulkhead row of the business-class cabin as first class, but there are no curtains separating the cabin. Rather, the four first-class suites are demarcated by higher privacy partitions and sliding doors.
At first glance, I was struck by how visually appealing the cabin was.
From the gold headrest accents to the illuminated seat number panels to the flower-themed design on the galley wall, Starlux business class certainly exudes a sense of understated luxury.
Moreover, the dimmable side lamps at each seat contrasted beautifully with the dark gray and brown tones of the seat finishes.
Combined with the mood lighting and the lack of overhead bins above the center seats, this is one of the nicest business-class cabins I’ve seen. (The one downside is that the overhead bins above the window seats were overstuffed.)
Don’t forget to take a whiff of the cabin once onboard: The airline partnered with perfume manufacturer P.Seven for a custom “Home in the Air” fragrance that it sprays onboard its planes.
Starlux is the launch customer for Collins Aerospace's new Elements suite, and I was very impressed by the “hard product.” (The good news is that it’s coming to more airlines, including the next batch of Etihad Boeing 787 Dreamliners later this year.)
Collins may be best known for its popular Super Diamond seat found on many major airlines, including American and British Airways. However, this next-generation product raises the bar for the business-class experience.
Many aspects of the seat design will be familiar if you’ve flown on Etihad’s Airbus A350 or in the British Airways Club Suite.
The 21-inch-wide seat was comfortable, and you could adjust the seat and its lighting using the 4.7-inch touchscreen panel on the armrest.
The seat also featured a unique “Zero-G” position, which was supposedly developed based on NASA’s neutral body posture specifications to help alleviate fatigue.
Just like the Super Diamond seat, there’s a small storage compartment that can be unlatched along the side table. It’s not that big or deep, so don’t expect to keep more than a wallet and AirPods inside.
That said, the new Starlux seat features one of the largest and deepest storage closets I’ve ever seen in business class. It opens at the push of a button and has plenty of room for all of your loose items. It could easily fit an iPad, but not a laptop.
I loved the gold-lined finish, the built-in lamp and the large selfie mirror in this closet — three design choices that show Starlux really paid attention to the details.
Finally, there was a small, exposed storage compartment along the side of the seat near the footwell and literature pocket, which was the perfect place to keep my amenity kit during the flight.
Another improvement over the Super Diamond seat was the armrest design. Not only can you raise and lower it, but you can also move it forward to enlarge the surface area of the bed by at least six inches.
When it was time to sleep, the seat converted into a 77-inch-long bed at the push of a button. Perhaps the biggest improvement with the Elements suite was the noticeably larger footwell area.
Personally, I had no trouble getting six hours of uninterrupted sleep during my flight.
While many airlines have installed doors in business class, the Starlux suite sports one of the tallest doors I’ve seen. It rose 50 inches from the floor.
I booked my flight at the last minute, and unfortunately, no window seats were available. I wasn’t originally looking forward to being a solo flyer sitting in the middle section. However, the privacy panel between the center seats (which defaults into the locked position) kept me shielded from my neighbor the entire flight.
In fact, at 18 inches high, the privacy divider appeared much taller than many existing products in the skies.
Just like the Super Diamond seat, the bi-fold tray table can be extended from underneath the entertainment monitor. It measured 16 inches wide and 18.5 inches long, and I appreciated the faux-wood design that Starlux chose here.
The Starlux A350 is also the first of its kind to feature electronically dimmable windows.
I played around with the windows while we were on the ground, and I found the slider controls to be intuitive and responsive, even more so than the comparable system on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Unfortunately, Starlux didn't install personal air nozzles on its A350. The passenger service unit above each seat only featured a light, and a digital seatbelt and a no-smoking sign.
Without overhead bins over the middle seats, the reading lights shine from way above. This can be distracting if your neighbor uses their light at night.
There are three nicely appointed lavatories for the 30 first- and business-class passengers to share. Two of them are next to row 8, so I’d avoid seats 8D and 8G at all costs — the bathroom door essentially opens directly into those seats.
The other lavatory is in the forward galley, and it's a tiny bit larger than the other two. All three feature touchless sinks, an arrangement of green succulents, Huygens hand cream and moisturizer, cloth towels and floss picks.
True to the airline’s mission, Starlux’s business-class seats are some of the most luxurious in the sky. It may not be the Qatar Qsuite or ANA The Room, but Starlux business class is certainly up there as one of the best products flying around.
Starlux Airlines business class amenities and IFE
Some airlines introduce fancy new business-class seats and then drop the ball on the rest of the experience.
Starlux isn’t one of them.
Waiting at my seat during boarding was a gold-colored pillow and a supremely comfortable duvet that was just as soft as the purple blankets in Qatar’s Qsuite (that I consider to be among the best blankets in the sky).
A Bric’s-branded amenity kit was also waiting at my seat. It was full of goodies, including sample sizes of Huygens lip balm, hand cream and facial mist, a dental kit, a Starlux-branded eye mask, socks, earplugs and a brush.
I also found a pair of disposable slippers tucked into the side of the seat during boarding. They weren’t the fleece-lined Saks-branded ones you’d find in United Polaris, but they did the trick.
When it was time to rest, a flight attendant turned my seat into a bed and placed a thick mattress pad on the surface, which made it much easier to doze off.
I also received a pair of comfortable Starlux pajamas. At first glance, I didn’t love the beige color, but I found that they fit well and offered pockets in the pants — something that too many airlines forgo in their pajama offerings.
Each business-class suite featured a high-tech, 24-inch 4K entertainment screen loaded with lots of content.
There were more than 145 movies, including new releases such as "The Fablemans" and "She Said," as well as 77 TV show titles, including "Tokyo Vice" and HBO's "The Time Traveler's Wife." The content library wasn’t as robust as you’d find on Emirates’ ICE or on Singapore’s KrisWorld, but you should hopefully find a few interesting things to watch.
I enjoyed playing around with the entertainment software. There was no lag whatsoever, and it even offered some nifty features, such as a digital food and drink menu.
My favorite feature, however, was Bluetooth connectivity, which allowed me to pair my AirPods Pro wirelessly without any dongles.
Starlux also provided a non-branded pair of active noise-canceling headphones, but they weren’t all that powerful. The sound quality wasn’t as good as on a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 or AirPods Max, for example.
While I primarily controlled the screen using my finger, you can also use a retractable trackpad remote built into the storage closet instead.
I mostly kept the screen tuned to the FlightPath3D moving map to track our progress. I was a bit disappointed that such a tech-forward airline opted not to install a live tail cam.
But my biggest frustration with the entire flight experience was the inoperable Wi-Fi. The “Galactic Wi-Fi” network appeared in my list of available networks, but it simply wouldn’t connect.
The purser tried resetting the system multiple times to no avail. After the flight, I learned that the Wi-Fi was also broken on the inbound from Taipei — the inaugural flight that the airline’s chairman, CEO and other senior company officers flew on.
Fast and reliable Wi-Fi is a must-have in business class these days, so hopefully, Starlux can fix these issues immediately.
I was impressed by the variety of charging options that Starlux installed, which included a universal AC outlet, a 60-Watt USB-C fast-charging port, a USB-A charging port and a Qi-wireless charging pad — all located in the storage closet.
Starlux Airlines business class food and beverage
I wasn’t sure how Starlux’s culinary offerings would stack up, but I landed in Taipei impressed with what I tried.
Service began on the ground with a refreshing pre-departure grape drink and a warm towel. I was then instructed to look at the menu and wine list waiting for me in the seat’s literature pocket.
Staff collected meal orders at the end of boarding, but the contents of the menu weren’t surprising to me.
That’s because I went onto Starlux’s “manage my booking” section of the website a few days before my flight to select my preferred entrees.
This wasn’t Singapore’s Book the Cook offering where you could pre-order off-menu items. (A similar service is available on Starlux's departures from Taipei.) Instead, it was a meal reservation system to guarantee that you receive your first entree choice.
After takeoff, flight attendants brought an amuse-bouche of sesame-crusted Boursin cheese on a poppyseed bellini and a dried fig with bottarga cream cheese. This came alongside a drink of choice — I tried the Starlux signature gin-based cosmos cocktail, which was just as refreshing as it looked.
Following these light bites, my table was set, and the grilled shrimp salad starter was served.
After I finished the salad, a flight attendant came around with a cappuccino mushroom soup and offered a choice from the bread basket (yes, a literal basket with three bread options).
I love when airlines offer soup in business class because it reheats well and keeps its flavor at altitude. This one was no exception.
At this point, I switched over to Champagne, and I enjoyed two glasses of the Bollinger Special Cuvee NV Champagne, which retails for about $80 on the ground.
Following the soup, staff served my entree. I pre-selected the braised Chilean sea bass, and it was about as perfectly prepared as I’d expect from an upscale restaurant on the ground.
The fish was flaky and cooked through, while the fried noodles weren’t too dry or overcooked.
I finished the meal with an apple pecan tart and a small fruit plate.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the late-night dinner. While I was somewhat surprised there wasn’t an Asian menu available, the Western offerings were just as good, if not better, than what I’d expect from a top-notch European or Middle Eastern carrier.
Before dozing off, I asked to take a peek at the snack basket, and I snagged some granola bars and Taiwan-made dried fruits.
I didn’t wake up for the warm mid-flight snack service, but I personally don’t see the appeal in ordering a burger just a few hours after a multi-course dinner. I probably would’ve gone with the wonton noodle soup option, but I was happy to prioritize sleep over more food.
I did wake up in time for breakfast service, which they served a full three hours before landing.
There was an Asian menu available for breakfast. However, I had preordered the chickpea quiche from the Western menu, thinking I would still be stuffed from dinner.
That proved to be the case, so I just nibbled at the breakfast, which came out in three separate courses.
The smoked salmon appetizer salad was a very premium touch for an airplane breakfast – a meal I often skip because of poor quality.
The quiche was also quite tasty, though it certainly wasn’t worth finishing considering that I was about to have “real” food in Taipei upon arrival.
I had no qualms about enjoying the fruit plate – it had just the right amount of fruit to provide a bit of a sugar rush to get my day started.
Starlux Airlines business-class service
What really set the Starlux business-class experience apart was the service. In many cases, it felt more like something you’d find in international first class.
Of course, it’s possible that Starlux hand-picked the crew for this inaugural. Still, after speaking to other flyers and learning more about the airline’s crew culture, I’m confident this service experience wasn’t unique to my flight.
Many of Starlux’s flight attendants come from other well-regarded airlines, including Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Qatar, so they are already familiar with elevated onboard service.
That, combined with the high standards that Starlux sets, should make for a very pleasant flight.
For instance, throughout the flight, I was consistently addressed as Mr. Griff, and the flight attendants consistently kneeled down to speak to me at eye level. The crew quickly found that I like to drink a lot of water during long-haul flights, and they consistently refilled my glass every 15 minutes.
Moreover, the main meal service was served plate-by-plate instead of via trays. That premium touch further elevated the dining experience.
I also really liked the design of the tableware and glassware, especially the gold-colored bread plates, the Riedel glasses, and the weighted salt and pepper shakers.
The service experience wasn’t perfect, however. The crew could’ve communicated more proactively about the inoperable Wi-Fi — it took nearly four hours into the flight for the purser to make a PA announcement.
Plus, Starlux could benefit from a dine-on-demand concept in business class, especially given the late departure from Los Angeles. Some flyers may prefer to head straight to bed after departure instead of having a big meal service.
Starlux Airlines business class bottom line
So, how does Starlux business class stack up?
Although it’s a brand-new airline, Starlux joins heavyweights like Qatar and ANA in offering one of the world’s best business-class cabins.
The next-generation suites are spacious, comfortable and private. The amenities, entertainment and connectivity options are pretty impressive.
Coupled with stellar dining options and a five-star crew, you’re poised to have a great flight in Starlux’s Airbus A350 business class.
But now, you’ll need to excuse me — I have 14 hours’ worth of emails and messages that need my attention.
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