China Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Taipei to Sydney

China Airlines logo 2011
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TRANSFER IN TPE

My flight to Sydney will be departing from the D concourse, which is either new or newly renovated, because it doesn’t look quite as drab as the arrivals concourse my flight from Singapore ended at. Taipei has two Terminals and technically, the D concourse belongs to Terminal 2, which is not the China Airlines terminal. There is a China Airlines lounge on the D concourse, but from what I understand, their main lounge is over in Terminal 1. But that seems like just too much of a schlepp right now.

If you’re transferring between international flights in Taipei, you will not need to go through either immigration or customs, but you will have to undergo security screening.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

The entrance to the lounge is right opposite from gate D4, which rather conveniently happens to be the departure gate for my flight to Sydney.

The lounge looks new and well maintained. Like the rest of the D concourse, it’s basically one long and narrow room. It has all the basic facilities, including computer work stations, toilets, showers and a dining area with a noodle bar. The lounge is located in the basement, so there are no windows.

It’s not a bad place to wait for your connecting flight. But my layover is nearly five hours and for that both the terminal and the lounge are not really very pleasant.

BOARDING

Boarding starts with a slight delay due to ‘ground operation’ issues – whatever that means. Never mind, it’s only a minor delay and all I plan to do on the flight is sleep. There is a separate air bridge to the L1 door for Business Class passengers. Economy Class passengers use the L2 door.

CABIN

China Airlines has a herring bone seating configuration on its A 350-900, which provides direct aisle access for every passenger and a lot of privacy. On China Airlines, the seats are staggered, so that once you’re seated, you can’t actually see your neighbour on the other side of the aisle unless you lean forward.

The colours China Airlines has gone with in the cabin are very dark. And admittedly, that does make the cabin look elegant and stylish. But with the dimmed lighting during boarding for one, and the fact that I have seriously deteriorating eye sight for another, the upshot is that it’s rather difficult for me to actually see anything much as I stow away my things and settle in for the flight. It also strikes me that the colours they’ve gone with for the carpets, upholstery and the shell of the seat do not reflect the livery or the logo of the airline.

Storage space on the seat is somewhat limited though. There is a small compartment in the armrest adjacent to the aisle, but that already contains the amenity kit and a bottle of still water. Then there are two small compartments by the window for storage, but one of these contains the slippers and the earphones. And then there’s another compartment by the side of the seat, but this is not very large either and couldn’t hold more than a kindle, and certainly not a laptop.

But there is more than ample storage space in the overhead bins, even if there are only bins on the sides of the cabin but not in the middle.

CREW

The crew on this flight is much better than the previous one. They’re welcoming and go out of their way to make sure passengers are comfortable. They also make a point, I think, of interacting with the passengers and chatting with them about little things. And it seems quite natural.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, a welcome drink with a packet of nibbles is served. To drink, there is a choice of still water, orange juice, champagne and smoked plum juice. Of course, it goes without saying that I try the plum juice, because it sounds interesting.

Having tried it, I’m guessing it’s probably an acquired taste. More than anything, it’s just very sweet.

While we’re still on the ground, I quickly nip into the loo and change into my shorts to be ready to sleep once we’re airborne.

THE MEAL

The flight’s scheduled departure time is 23h55 and the flight time is announced at eight hours and forty minutes. Even at this time of night, the crew are planning on doing a full meal service after take-off and a breakfast service later on. But I tell one of the flight attendants that I will not be having anything, despite having pre-ordered my dinner, and will be going straight to sleep. And indeed, the last thing I remember is the crew handing out the wine list. And then I’m off to the land of nod for nearly seven hours.

When I awaken, I’m feeling rather hungry. The maître de spots me and says ‘oh, you finally woke up’ with a laugh. She also asks me if she can bring me something to eat ahead of the breakfast service. I may perhaps agree to that a little over eagerly, because she laughs again and a short while later returns with plate of fruit, cheese and crackers.

About thirty minutes later, the cabin gradually starts to dawn and the crew start preparing the cabin for the breakfast service. The breakfast is served on one tray. It includes:

A croissant with butter

There are no refills though, and no jam either.

Müsli

A small ramekin of müsli with fruit and nuts.

Fruit

A bowl of fruit salad.

Hot breakfast

A hot dish with frittata, tomato, bacon and polenta.

The meal is tasty and hits the spot nicely. It’s quite a large meal for a second service, especially considering that the flight is not that long.

AMENITIES

The vanity kit comes in a nice hard shell case I may actually be able to use. What’s more, this one also includes a small bottle of Moroccan mint oil, which I can use to keep my beard from drying out the skin on my face. And there’s also an A 350 Sticker! So full brownie points to China Airlines for that!

The slippers are of the same fluffy variety as those on the previous flight. Other than that, China Airlines does not provide pyjamas or bedding for the seat. 

ARRIVAL

Much to my surprise, the weather’s really shitty in Sydney. It’s overcast with a chance of rain and visibility is limited. I know for a fact that we flew past the Sydney CBD with the opera house and the bridge on the approach, but I very much doubt the passengers on the port side were able to see anything much.

We come to a stop on the last stand on our pier and from there it’s a long schlepp to immigration and customs. China Airlines provides its passengers in Business Class with express immigration vouchers, which give passengers access to the fast track. However, if you have a biometric passport, you probably needn’t bother, as the e-gates are much faster and more efficient than the fast track.

I’m taking public transport into town. I exit through customs and do a sharp right turn. Then I continue to the end of the arrivals concourse where the entrance to the railway station is marked out. To purchase your ticket, you can either queue at the counter or at a vending machine, or you can just badge in and out with your credit card.

The T8 line will take you right into the heart of Sydney, with stops at the central railway station and Circular Quay. I’m staying in Darling Harbour tonight. Normally, I think I’d probably take the train to Town Hall and then walk to Darling Harbour from there. But with the rain, I decide to get off at Central Station and then take the 501 bus instead, which more or less drops me off right in front of my hotel.

CONCLUSION

I rather enjoyed my China Airline experience. I think their product is solid and makes for a pleasurable journey. The crews were good and especially the crew on this second flight were very pleasant. Of course, it also helps that the A 350 is a pretty mean machine. It’s quiet in the cabin and the interior design of China Airlines’ aircraft is very glitzy – even if the seat could do with a bit more storage space. As I already mentioned above though, next time I transfer through Taipei I think I would try to get a shorter connection, because the airport really isn’t very pleasant for a longer layover.

China Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Singapore to Taipei

China Airlines logo 2011
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INTRODUCTION

I spend 22 hours in Singapore, which just gives me enough time to have a rest, get some food and have a shower. And now I’m off again. This is one of those slight detours I mentioned previously… The reason why I’m taking it, or rather, one of the reasons I’m taking it, is that I’ve been wanting to try China Airlines for some time now and it’s also been a while since I logged a new airline. As I write that, I can literally just see my friend, the wiry R. doing an exaggerated eye roll.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In Singapore, I’m staying at the Sofitel City Centre, which is on the MRT line that goes to Changi. It’s twelve stops from the hotel to where the line branches off for the airport. The journey from the Sofitel to the airport takes me close to an hour to complete.

My first stop of course, is at the MRT service desk, where I return my travel card and have the depot refunded in cash.

CHECK-IN

China Airlines checks in at Terminal 3 in Changi and their counters are located on row 11, right in front of the escalators that bring you up to the departures hall from the station.

I’ve already checked in online, but seeing as I’ll still have to go to a counter to pick up my boarding passes, I figure I might as well drop off my carry-on suitcase so at least I won’t be carting that around with me.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

China Airlines is one of only four carriers to use the DNATA lounge in Terminal 3. In all honesty, it’s not a very pleasant place. That last time I visited was with the tall, blond M. and it hasn’t improved much since. It’s also very hot inside. So I leave the lounge after only spending about ten minutes there and head one floor down to the food court for a bowl of noodles.

The views downstairs are much better too, as the windows in the lounge are covered in dots. What kind of cruel soul does that…?

BOARDING

The flight is late arriving from Taipei, which is why boarding is delayed by about thirty minutes. In Singapore, the security check takes place at the gate. In other words, there is no centralised security checkpoint. This can be a bit of a nuisance at times, but seeing as the flight is delayed, most passengers are already in the holding area by the time I reach the gate.

Oh yes, and there are no loos in the holding area. So think twice before you enter… The first boarding call is for passengers in Business Class and passengers with children and other disabilities. There’s a separate air bridge for Business Class passengers leading to the L1 door. Economy Class passengers use the L2 door.

CABIN

As it happens, I’m the first to enter the aircraft, so I take the opportunity to take a few photos before the masses arrive. Initially, I’m on 1A and there’s another person sitting on 1B. But the seat pair on the other side of the aircraft is still empty, so once we’re airborne, I pack up my things and shift to seat 1K, which is also a window seat but has nobody sitting on the aisle seat. So now I can really spread out!

The Airbus A 330 is one of my favourite aircraft, because I think it’s just so elegant to look at. This example though, is clearly starting to show its age on the inside. The seats are in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration and the inflight entertainment system seems almost prehistoric! The flight time is announced as four hours and ten minutes, so I think I’ll live…

There is one feature of the seat that’s quite irritating: the position of the armrest between the two seats is awkward. On the one hand, it’s uncomfortable to rest your arm on it. But also, more than once I accidentally hit one of the buttons to extend the seat into a bed or raise the footrest inadvertently.

CREW

There isn’t really very much I can say about the crew. Their English language skills appear to be much better than those of crews working for the airlines of mainland China. But other than that, interaction with the crew is limited.

SERVICE

The service begins on the ground with a welcome drink, served with a packet of nuts and Japanese crackers. To drink there is a choice of champagne, water or orange juice. Once that has been cleared away, the crew distribute cold, scented towels.

After take-off, thick slippers and the menus are distributed for those passengers who haven’t already ordered their food. I should perhaps explain that the China Airlines app is really good and allows you to pre-order the meals for all your flights, even if you do not have any special dietary requirements.

THE MEAL

As I already mentioned, the flight time is just slightly more than four hours. This means that in Business Class the first service consists of a drink and three small canapés. The main meal is served about ninety minutes out of Taipei.

The canapés are: duck, crab meat with apricot and bell pepper with tomato pesto.

Exactly two hours out of Taipei, the lights in the cabin are turned on to bright again and the smell of hot food comes wafting through the cabin.

The meal consists of:

Starter

Prawns with a ginger and mango salsa and salmon with crème fraiche and capers.

Main course

Herb crusted fillet of beef in a red wine sauce with mashed potatoes, zucchini and pumpkin.

Dessert

Bowl of fruit and a choice of either ice cream or a coffee and chocolate mousse cake.

I’m not really sure what exactly I was expecting from the meal service on China Airlines, but this is actually very tasty and much better than what I was expecting. The salmon and the prawns are not at all fishy, the beef is perfectly cooked for my taste and tender, and the mashed potato is divine and so creamy!

ARRIVAL

I finish the meal with another cup of black tea from the Sun Moon lake region of Taiwan and then close my eyes until it’s time to land.

Eventually, we arrive in Taipei at 18h50, with a delay of only five minutes. The last time I was in Taipei was exactly 11 years ago. Alas, the airport hasn’t really changed much during that time. It’s still an odd layout, old and gloomy and seriously unattractive. I now have nearly five hours to make my connecting flight.