The following is quite a long trip report including BKK-TPE-LAX return flights on EVA AIR, a Scenic Airlines sightseeing flight ex-Boulder City Airport and some info on spotting at Las Vegas McCarran and Los Angeles International.
Begin January I booked a trip from Bangkok to Los Angeles. The lowest available air fares were with Asiana Airlines, a combination of Asiana and Korean, a combi of Asiana and EVA AIR, and EVA both ways, respectively. The flight times of Asiana were very inconvenient, with a huge layover at Seoul, and for some reason Korean Air doesn’t sound very appealing to me. So we chose to book the return flight with EVA AIR, in J class.
On Sunday 28 January we took a taxi to Suvarnabhumi Airport. I was a bit worried as there had been some delays there over the past few days due to resurfacing works of the western runway and a taxiway (fixing some cracks), but today everything seemed to be quite alright delay-wise. Check-in took quite a long time but everything was done correctly – we got the seats we reserved when booking and vouchers for the VIP lounges in Bangkok and Taipei.
We then proceeded through immigration towards the lounge in concourse F, one floor below the main shopping level. The lounge was quite nice – spacious and light. There was a selection of cold and hot snacks and various drinks. Free internet access is available thru either desktop computers or WiFi. A shame though that the windows are covered with black dots to keep the sunlight out; it would have been an excellent spot otherwise to photograph aircraft, including Rwy 01L departures. From our seats, we saw our aircraft arrive at 11.45 – EVA’s second Boeing 777-300ER. It was a bit delayed on arrival and the delay on departure would turn out to be 15 minutes – nothing to complain about.
28 Jan, EVA AIR BR212, BKK-TPE
Scheduled 1235-1655, actual 1250-1700
Boeing 777-300ER B-16702
Photo © Mark Tang - HKAEC
Boarding was a bit messy, via an overcrowded gate E6. But once inside, all hassle was over and done with. What a fantastic cabin! We sat in seats 9D and 9G, in the middle and rear row of the front J-class section. Very comfortable seats with a 61 inch pitch and loads of gadgets. Although I can imagine that the fully reclined position, being tilted forwards slightly, isn’t entirely perfect for an overnight flight, it was very comfortable for this three hour fifteen minute trip to Taipei.
The service began immediately after being seated and continued almost non-stop till the approach into TPE. The cabin crew was very friendly, attentive and professional – but I must say that this ‘Hello Kitty’ craze of theirs, flight attendants wearing silly pink aprons with that blasted cat on front, looks a bit childish and cheap… After enjoying a very nice lunch I spent some time playing Tetris on the IFE system.
The menu on this flight was as follows:
- Hors d’oeuvre: Salpicon of apricot salmon roll
- Main course: Grilled beef fillet with pink pepper sauce, mixed vegetables and gratin potato, or Prawn with provencal sauce, sauteed spinach with shallot and pumpkin gnocchi, or Chicken thigh green curry Thai style, vegetable melange and steamed rice.
- Cheese and seasonal fruit
- Mocca cream brullee or strawberry ice cream
All this of course a wide range of wines etc. I had the beef for the main course, and ice cream as dessert.
The approach into TPE was a bit bumpy, coming in along the mountains on the western side of Taiwan. Just before touchdown I saw a Boeing 747-400 LCF Dreamlifter standing near the Evergreen maintenance hangars, painted in its new, white livery – unfortunately I wasn’t able to take a picture of it…
We parked at the C-gates of Terminal 2 and proceeded to the transfer area, passing a security screening. I must say I was a bit disappointed with this airport, it was nothing special really. A lot of fancy, expensive stores, but lacking the atmosphere of Singapore Changi or KLIA, for example. Instead of going to the EVA AIR lounge, which was quite far from the boarding gates, we decided to make our way to our gate for the flight to LA.
Here again, the gate was very crowded. The passports and boarding cards were checked before going through yet another security screening – where, by the way, nothing was done by the screeners with this new ‘put liquids, gels and creams in clear plastic bags’ rule, having placed all of these meticulously in two small bags before leaving home – and then down one level to the waiting lounge, which was hot and unpleasant.
28 Jan, EVA AIR BR012, TPE-LAX
Scheduled 1840–1405, actual 1900-1330
Boeing 747-400 B-16411
Photo © Miguel Arteaga
Anyway, boarding started more or less on time, but took very long to be completed, and we made our way to the upper deck of the 747-400. We installed ourselves into our seats, 13H and 13K, for the long trip across the Pacific. Granted, the seats in the older 747 are not comparable with the ‘space capsules’ in the 777, but I still found them to be very comfortable and perfectly adequate. Although the seat pitch is less, there is still plenty of leg room, and in any case it beats a seat in economy class by 1000%! Especially as I normally always fly economy class. Apart from the seat itself, the biggest difference I would say with the 777 is the small LCD screen with limited choices for the IFE. I kind of liked the exclusivity of the upper deck, in this case with 32 business class seats. The cabin service was as good as on the first flight. The flight attendant took away the menus before I could snatch one, so I can’t list the food choices here, but it was very good yet again. I had spareribs for the main course and Haagen Dazs ice cream for dessert.
Our route took us via Tokyo and not far north of the Hawaiian Islands, which surprised me because I thought we would fly closer to Alaska instead. According to the great circle mapper, this route is about 800 miles more than via Alaska, and I suppose the prevailing winds along this stretch more than make up for the extra distance. We were making good progress, with speeds of up to 1250 km/h at a maximum altitude of 38,000 feet.
I slept a couple of hours, and breakfast was served about two and a half hours before landing. We approached LAX from the north, making a right downwind and coming in over the famous In-N-Out Burger. Our early arrival was quickly punished though… After leaving the runway, we sat on a taxiway for about 20 minutes before a gate became available at the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Deplaning and clearing immigration was a breeze. I had heard some horror stories about immigration at JFK, but here at LAX everything went fine. Both the immigration and customs officers were very pleasant. Our suitcase appeared on the belt in no-time and we were soon standing outside, to take the shuttle bus to the Dollar Rental Car premises, where we picked up our Chrysler Sebring. Very nice car, by the way! The In-N-Out Burger is not the only good spotting location under the approach path… you can get some excellent shots from the Dollar premises as well!
Los Angeles and Las Vegas
Having spent a lot of money on the air fare, we would stay in motels during our time in the US. But we should have known better than not arranging one for the first night. Instead we thought it would be easy to find a place while driving around. On top of that, we saw a couple of motels in the airport area which looked ok, but thought that it might be a bit too noisy – sure, I love aircraft noise, but a good sleep after a long trip is also worth something. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we ended up in some less desirable areas of the city, took the I-110 freeway to the north and eventually ended up in Pasadena, of which I heard there were plenty of places to stay. Well, they either moved them or we were simply in the wrong part of Pasadena, but we couldn’t find any! We then made our way towards the Alhambra/San Gabriel area, where in the end we found a decent Chinese-run motel with a clean room. And, to my great surprise, wireless internet access.
After spending the Monday exploring Los Angeles and doing some shopping on Tuesday morning, we got in the car for the drive towards Las Vegas. The weather was quite bad, with some heavy downpours leading to slow traffic and bad visibility. It took us quite a while to get out of the LA metropolitan area. We pretty soon decided to split the drive up into two days and spent the night in the town of Barstow, off the I-15. After a great BBQ dinner, a comfortable night in the Quality Inn Motel and an excellent country breakfast, we continued our journey to Sin City, where we arrived around 12.30. I managed to find the hotel we wanted to stay in quite easily, as it was the Best Western McCarran Inn along the road towards the airport terminals. The hotel is located near the threshold of Runway 19L so I asked for a room on the front and the highest floor, and got it. From the third floor window I had an overview of aircraft holding for and lining up on this runway. Not too good for photography because of the many cables, but great just to watch aircraft and no problem for reading registrations. Here again there was free wireless internet in the room, which I used to book a sightseeing flight with Scenic Airlines the next day. Later that night we cruised up and down The Strip and had some delicious spare ribs at the Hard Rock Café.
Las Vegas is… well, how should I describe it? ‘Sin City’ more or less sums it up. It truly is one big playland, very artificial, yet it has its own kind of charm. Apparently it is also the wedding capital of the world, as some 150,000 couples get married here each year. Check out this monster:
We started off Thursday 1 February with a good breakfast, followed by some spotting at McCarran. We made our way to the spotting location along East Sunset Road, near the Rwy 25L threshold. It’s a very nice spot offering a great overview of both Rwy 25L and 25R operations and traffic on the taxiways and at the terminals, although the high, thick fence is a shame. Even with a high ladder you wouldn’t really be able to get completely clear shots. The possibility to listen to ATC via FM 101.1 is a nice feature here. In any case, I was delighted with all the pictures and the video footage I could take, as it was my first time here and all the aircraft were new to me! (I will add some LAS pictures later, as I took them with my analogue camera and must get them developed…)
At 13.45 we set off for Boulder City Municipal Airport, a half-hour drive. Scenic Airlines operates a complimentary shuttle service from various Las Vegas hotels, but we decided to drive down there ourselves. The Scenic Airlines ‘terminal’ was a bit tricky to find as it wasn’t signposted at all; from outside, it just looks like those portacabins they use at construction sites. Once inside, it actually looks like a real little terminal, with check-in counters, a waiting lounge and a shop. Check-in was done quickly and included standing on a scale for calculating the correct weight and balance, and my boarding pass consisted of a sticker to put on my shirt, with the flight number, group number and my seat, 5A. There was another flight scheduled around the same time, to Grand Canyon Airport with a group of people who would stay there two nights before flying back.
Scenic Airlines SA1514, BLD-BLD
1 February, 1510-1610
De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter VistaLiner N127SA
We boarded the plane at 15.00 and I of course made plenty of pictures during the short stroll from the terminal to the aircraft. My seat was on the left-hand side, just in front of the door (the configuration is 1-2 with a maximum capacity for 19 passengers).
Engines were started up and we taxied to Runway 27L, the longest of the three runways here, for a quick departure to the east, turning 180 degrees and overflying the airfield.
The first sight was Hoover Dam, and after that I must honestly say it was a bit boring (flying along Lake Mead). But once we reached the western rim of the Grand Canyon, it was absolutely stunning. What a sight to behold! It’s not much use describing it really, you should see for yourself if you haven’t been there yet. We flew eastwards till Grand Canyon Airport and turned 180 degrees to head back towards Boulder City. Here and there I saw other Twin Otters and helicopters sharing the airspace with us.
The small cabin of the Twin Otter
We touched down smoothly on Rwy 27L and after parking I thanked the pilots and had a little chat with them. What a great experience this was. Not cheap, but well worth it, both for the chance of flying in a Twin Otter and seeing the Grand Canyon.
The sun was going down as we drove into Las Vegas again but I decided to have another go at the spotting location, which really was quite neat with all those colourful lights of The Strip on the background. After a short rest in the hotel we went out for some food, followed by some filming while driving over The Strip.
We left Vegas on Friday and decided to make an overnight stop in Barstow again. After settling into our hotel, the Ramada Inn this time, and in the spirit of my hobby I decided to pay a visit to the local airport, Barstow-Daggett. This field is located along the I-40 freeway towards Needles, some 12 miles from Barstow. Not that there was much to do there but, well, another airport to add to my list, I suppose.
On Saturday we arrived at our hotel in LA around 15.30 after an effortless drive through the city jungle this time, following the I-10 towards Santa Monica and then the I-405 south. We chose the Best Western Airpark on West Manchester Blvd because of its location and its price. The few things to do on our list in LA were all in the LAX and Santa Monica area and, as I had hoped, from our room on the third floor I had a clear view of aircraft approaching runways 25L and 25R...
After breakfast and some shopping in a mall on Sunday morning, I headed towards the In-N-Out Burger on Sepulveda Blvd and spent the afternoon there. Monday I dedicated the whole day to spotting. First I went to the Imperial Hill, which is an excellent location to see traffic on the southern side of the airport. Cargo planes taxiing to the ramp pass right in front of you, enabling some great head-on shots. Runway 06R/24L is currently out of use as it’s being resurfaced and widened to accommodate the A380. After lunch and a short break, I headed to the In-N-Out again for some time, but pretty soon went back to the Hill to get some nice sunset shots. During my time at these locations I met some interesting folks, including a London Heathrow controller, an American Airlines check-in agent and a business traveller who brought me up-to-date on all the US airlines and their service standards…
I love the colours of Air Tahiti Nui
JAL's JA8916, Yokoso Japan
Taken at the In-N-Out Burger
Virgin Atlantic A340-600 ready for take-off Rwy 25L
Unfortunately the day arrived to go back home, concluding an excellent holiday. Or had it? After a good breakfast and handing in the rental car, we took the courtesy shuttle to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The EVA AIR counters were open – our flight was scheduled at 15.35 - so we walked straight to the business class counters, where a security agent told me I should have put the suitcase through the screening first. So I walked back, had that done, went back to the counter, and only when handing over the tickets and passports found out that our flight had been cancelled, or at least postponed, due to weather conditions in Taipei. Later I found out that TPE was covered by a very dense fog and numerous flights had been either cancelled or delayed considerably. The new estimated time of departure was now 08.35 the following morning. Most people checked in their luggage already, but we preferred to take it with us to the hotel we’d be staying for the night. EVA reserved a room for us in the Hacienda Hotel, on Sepulveda about one mile south of the airport. We took the shuttle there, wondering whether our flight would indeed leave as planned.
We checked into a decent enough room and also received vouchers for lunch and dinner. As it was only two o’clock in the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and do some more spotting. I took the hotel shuttle to Terminal 1, the Southwest terminal, and walked along the perimeter to the In-N-Out. There I met up with two guys from Southwest Airlines, who were in LAX for some business and spent some free time taking pictures from this location. Within 30 minutes, a cop on a bike pulled up and walked over to check us out. The Southwest guys showed their badges and I showed my passport, and the cop said it was ok but we shouldn’t really be standing there taking pictures. Having said that, we weren’t on airport property and he had no good reason to send us away, so after he left we just continued taking pictures as before. I didn’t really feel like walking back to the terminal so I was thinking of my options – either take the shuttle bus from parking lot C or a cab direct to the hotel - but the SWA guys were nice enough to give me a ride back to the terminal, from where I caught the hotel shuttle again.
The next morning early I tried to check the flight status online. LAX’s website didn’t mention it, just EVA’s scheduled departure later that day. EVA’s website did mention the flight and it said that the estimated departure time was now 10.30 instead of 8.35. I tried to call EVA’s office at LAX, but there was no answer, and I didn’t want to take the risk. So we hopped on the shuttle at just before seven, after having to wait for the second one as there of course were many people going on the same flight, and once there first went through the screening of the check-in luggage. The counters for flight BR015 were packed and not open yet, but luckily there were other counters for our flight BR011, which were much less crowded. As we were already checked in, we just gave the suitcase and received vouchers for a meal because the VIP lounge was either too overcrowded or closed, I didn’t really quite get that. But that was ok, because the vouchers enabled us to get a good breakfast for USD15 each. After that we made our way through security and towards the gate. What surprised me most is that the terminal is so sparse, with very limited shopping facilities, especially for an airport that prides itself for being the most important gateway to the Asia-Pacific region. The gate areas were overcrowded. Our plane would arrive at gate 103, which still was occupied by a LAN 767, and at gate 102 a China Airlines 747-400 was being made ready for departure. The other adjacent gates were occupied by a Korean Air Boeing 747-400 and 777-200, and an Air Tahiti Nui A340 which would soon leave for Paris.
Our plane appeared at 09.30 but the gate was still occupied by the 767, and it had to wait another 30 minutes before it could park there. Boarding finally commenced at 11.15 in a very chaotic way; the P/A system was almost intelligible, and there were no clear lines for the different travel classes. Some people, being tossed around from here to there since the day before, were getting somewhat annoyed and upset. But once we had climbed the stairs to the upper deck and settled into our comfortable seats (12H and 12K), the worst was over. We finally pushed back at 12.00, three and a half hours later than planned and with a total delay of over 20 hours. Still, we were in the plane, and we were on our way.
EVA AIR BR011, LAX-TPE
Scheduled 6 Feb 1535-2155+1, actual 7 Feb 1200-1750+1
Boeing 747-400 B-16410
Photo © Chad Thomas - Jetwash Images
After taking off from Rwy 24R, our routing took us along the California coast, out over the Pacific towards Alaska, following the Aleutian islands and on to Japan. Just as we entered Japanese airspace, the purser announced that a passenger needed urgent medical attention and asked for a doctor or nurse. The request was made again five minutes later. In the meantime, I was keeping my eye on the moving map to see whether we might divert to Osaka, the nearest large airport. Our ground speed dropped, but we stayed on the same altitude. By the time we reached southern Japan, our ground speed had dropped to a mere 660 km/h.
The menu on this flight was as follows:
- Hors d’oeuvre: Grilled scallop and shrimp with Thai sweet chilli dressing
- Main course: Squid and shrimp with sha-cha sauce, mixed vegetables and stir fried noodles, or Beef steak with red bell pepper cream sauce, western vegetables and potatoes, or Glazed pork tenderloin with balsamic sauce, seasonal vegetables and spinach and artichokes risotto.
- Cheese and seasonal fruit
- Chocolate mousse cake or Haagen Dazs ice cream
This lunch was served about one hour after take-off, and I had the pork and ice cream.
We later got a snack, and the choice was:
- Pork Siu Mai, har gow and rice roll with BBQ pork
- Goat cheese foccacia with oven dried tomato
- Cup noodles
- Hot chocolate and cookies
Finally a hot refreshment was served two hours before landing, where the choice was either Chinese or Western. The Western style included:
- Fresh fruit
- Choice of bread with butter
- Chicken breast with herbs, saffron risotto with peas and red pepper
- Assorted pralines
We landed at Taipei at 17.50 local time. After deplaning we headed towards the transit counter, which of course was crowded. We were rebooked onto the 23.15 flight to Bangkok. I was handed over the new boarding passes, two meal vouchers of 250 Taiwan dollars each and vouchers for the Evergreen VIP lounge. First we headed to the Evergreen Transit Hotel, right next to the lounge, and got a room for three hours to just relax a while and take a nap. No matter how comfortable an aircraft seat is, nothing beats a comfortable hotel bed. At USD 39, it is not too bad a deal and gives a good opportunity to chill out for a while and freshen up. Then we went to the lounge which, I must say, was very disappointing. First of all it was overcrowded, the seats weren’t very comfortable and the selection of food and drinks was very limited. I just checked my emails there and we soon went on to the Starbucks, on the same floor, to have some coffee and pastry with the vouchers from EVA AIR. Around ten thirty we headed towards our gate, C4.
While we had originally reserved seats 8H and 8K on flight BR061 of the previous day (an Airbus A330), our boarding passes now showed 7K and 9C. I asked the agent at the gate whether he could change seats and put us together, but he claimed that the flight was full. While it could be true, with all this shuffling around and rebooking of pax, I got the idea that he simply was too lazy to check and that the plane would only fill up in Bangkok for the BKK-AMS leg. This turned out to be true, as there were four empty seats after boarding was completed and I swapped my seat with a friendly Thai gentleman.
8 Feb, EVA AIR BR075, TPE-BKK
Scheduled 2315-0200, actual 2345-0205
Boeing 747-400 Combi B-16407
Photo © William van Wanrooy
Flight BR075 is the Taipei-Bangkok-Amsterdam service. The Combi has a different configuration to the 747’s we had to and from LAX, with eight First Class and 16 Business Class seats, as well as an extra lavatory in the rear of the upper deck.
The menu on this flight was as follows:
- Hors d’oeuvre: Turmeric scallop salad and smoked salmon slice
- Main course: Chicken takitori on skewers with teriyaki sauce, seasonal vegetables and steamed rice, or Herbal roasted rack of lamb with rosemary sauce, assorted vegetables and gratin potatoes, or Pan fried halibut with dill cream sauce, mixed vegetables and red skin potatoes
- Fresh fruit
- Opera cake
After eating we both almost immediately fell asleep, only to wake up when the descent into Bangkok was announced. The landing was smooth and we parked at gate E6, which is quite a long way from immigration. We got our stamps, picked up our suitcase and got an AOT limousine home.
All in all, and despite some hitches here and there, I was very pleased with EVA AIR’s service. Obviously the problems caused by the weather conditions at TPE were not their fault and they solved them pretty ok. In my list of preferred airlines, EVA has gained position number two, behind Singapore Airlines and ahead of Emirates, and I will certainly not hesitate to fly them again.