21 Dec 2009
The night before, I had more or less decided that it was not going to happen.
Just a day earlier the prospect of a fly-for-fun trip had emerged. I had spotted the latest edition of Verve – EVA Air’s inflight magazine (that I had taken from the Evergreen Laurel Hotel in Penang a week ago) – lounging nonchalantly atop my unruly stack of printed matter. One thing led to another. Soon I was logged into my Evergreen Club account I had not even thought about in nearly a year to see if my little stash of miles was still there. Good news. I had enough for a one-way regional upgrade. The pinch was that a good half of them were ten days from expiration. With my annual leave fully depleted, I had one last window to make use of them – Boxing Day weekend, and how about a Saturday night at Taoyuan airport. Annoyingly the return flight to Singapore on the 27th had shown zero availability except for Business Class, which would have inflated the overall cost to nearly twice as much as the amount I had originally envisioned. I had spent two more hours toying with various alternatives – going through HKG, MFM, BKK, SGN, KUL, but in the end I had not found a satisfactory passage, price- and timing-wise, for the return. So I had gone to bed wishing I had never laid eyes on the magazine.
Yet on this Monday afternoon, December 21st, I found myself visiting the EVA website again, perhaps hoping to see that the outbound flight had filled up as well so that I could truly lay the idea to rest. Not a chance. Because all of a sudden there were seats available in Elite (EVA’s premium economy) on the return. Ten minutes on, I had booked myself an impulse trip.
What have I done. Confirmation email minutes after two phone calls and an online booking
I have known you forEVA
I boarded my first ever EVA Air flight 15 years ago, close to midnight at Newark’s Terminal B on a clear December evening. I remember walking down the aisle of the jumbo and being surprised by a wall where I had expected to see many more rows of seats, and then being awash in the thrill of flying on a combi aircraft for the first time. Wilson, my best buddy who was traveling with me on BR31 EWR-SEA-TPE after which he would connect to the SIN-bound flight and I to the SZB-bound one, was absolutely charmed by all the eye-popping green and strokes of glowing orange here and there. Wilson, whose tuition was being sponsored by the formidable Singapore Airlines and who would subsequently have to work for them, fell quite hard for the girl-scout earnestness of the EVA girls. Singapore girl who? He answered.
To me, the EVA design bordered on the comical, and I thought the plastering of Hello Kitties years later on a couple of their planes was very much in line with the airline’s projected image. One might even ask why that relationship didn’t happen sooner. But most importantly to me, EVA was excellent value, especially in Evergreen Deluxe (originally christened Economy Deluxe).
In the new millennium, they took the eye-popping green from all the cabin crew uniforms and trays and splashed it on the aircraft bellies instead. The look of the EVA girl matured and mellowed. Wilson would not have approved.
It had been more than four years since my last flight with them. What had kept me away? Mostly a change in location and flying patterns. But it certainly did not help that they had gradually cut down their frequencies to KUL and SIN. For example, where SIN used to see twice daily (or nearly), they now flew less than daily.
This morning I was excited to get reacquainted with the airline.
Automated email reminder 3 days before flight. Main course for the lunch service can be pre-selected online from a small list of signature dishes
The taxi ride was uneventful. I played with my newly acquired compact digital camera. For years I had balked at lugging around camera equipment while on trips. But this time I felt the itch of a trip report and finally yielded to it despite my misgivings about being the snap-happy nutjob in 7H. To the salesperson the evening before at a shop in the electronics temple known as Sim Lim Plaza I had asked for a “small small” camera. Now I was playing with it, trying to master the art of discreet and drive-by snapping.
Are we there yet? Passing under the Changi south taxiway crossing
Drop-off at Changi Terminal 1. Not apparent here, but there is ongoing renovation work in the background
No! No spotting… my hands are shaking
SATS Premier check-in
Check-in at the SATS Premier check-in lounge in Changi Terminal 1 hit a tiny roadblock. I asked to change to a window seat and was told that it would take a while because the EVA system was down. Still, it was a perk to be seated while the staff flipped through a register, stamped this, crossed that and finally presented me with a handwritten (in four different ink colors!) boarding pass. On the other side of the check-in lounge was a guarded frosted-glass sliding door, the looks of which implied some sort of priority immigration lane. Except I was met on the other side by no fewer than five lines for exit immigration. A quick glance to the right and I understood that it had merely been a shortcut to the regular departures area. Gotcha!
SATS Premier Club Lounge
The lounge contained the usual: lounging seats, computers, a buffet, a few service staff; and no guests in sight when I entered. Along one of the walls was a row of electrically-operated massage chairs. Deeper inside the lounge was an area reserved for First Class passengers. What might possibly have been a view of the tarmac was now covered from the outside no thanks to the ongoing renovation of the terminal. In the corner, a regional news channel was flashing footage of a Delta/Northwest A330; the box was on mute on nearly so, but the text and the ticker provided a concise and sickening update on the developing story. The man had intended to blow up the aircraft.
First class area
Massage chairs in a ‘forest’. No birdsong though and thankfully no insects either
Approaching the row of massage chairs, I discovered the only other guest in the lounge at this time and he was in blissful oblivion. He barely seemed conscious as the chair he was in whirred and rattled away. The massage looked rather violent. Absent the mechanical noise, he was the picture of someone having a rapturous fit. I have to try that, I thought. And so I did. The default 20-minute full body program left me with a headache from all that bouncing.
Buffet area. Fruit, salad, shrimp appetizer, grape-orange-emmenthal skewers, bread, fried vermicelli, chicken, nasi lemak, duck congee, cakes etc.
It was about that time too that more guests, including a family of Arabs taking the Saudi Arabian flight (I assumed) to Jakarta, started arriving. As I moved to a nearby pair of lounge seats, a woman from the family helped a limping elderly woman, quite possibly her mother, onto one of the massage chairs. It appears they were no stranger to such contraptions, because it was clearly not the default 20-minute full body program they selected. Otherwise the old dear would have been seeing stars in an instant.
My snack: Beer, shrimp appetizer, fruit-emmenthal skewer, fruit cup, duck congee
Departures. Air Zimbabwe to Kuala Lumpur!
As I took my last few swigs of the beer, it became obvious (even for someone, like me, seated facing away from the massage chairs) that the dear old lady was enjoying her chair very much. Naturally, as we have all been taught to be polite, no one appeared to hear anything. I beg your pardon, what was it you said? Lovely weather. My oh my, look at the time. I’m afraid we must be leaving now.
Sched dep: 13:10
Sched arr: 17:40
Acft: Boeing 777-300ER
Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s here.
As I walked towards gate D44 against a stream of passengers, the mix of Taiwanese and local accents led me to suspect that the aircraft had already arrived. Nearer to the gate, a glimpse of something bright green confirmed it. I had planned to photograph the BR 77W as it pulled into the gate but it arrived a little early.
Changi T1 renovation. Will there be a view after they are done?
Upon boarding I was shown to my window seat in the first row of the 18-seat second Premium Laurel cabin. The neighbor to my right, a mature gentleman, had already settled in and was completely absorbed in his reading. Seated behind me was a younger gentleman, trendily coiffed and most likely in his twenties. The passenger count in this cabin remained at three throughout the flight; I found it remarkable the seats had been assigned in this manner. Less walking for the crew perhaps. As we neared pushback time and I was about to ask to switch to another seat, one of the cabin crew approached my neighbor and invited him to move into any of the unoccupied seats. It was apparent from the tone and content of their brief conversation that she had met him before. He moved across the aisle and, throughout the flight, remained immersed in his reading and even declined lunch.
Premium Laurel on the 77W. Six abreast. 61” pitch. A total of 42 seats in two cabins
RR-powered CX 773 pulls in. Ours is bigger than yours
Nice. And no accidents in translation. Well done
Standard pre-departure service. Juice or water (but in a real glass!). Wet wipe (practical but not so classy). Newspapers, blanket, menus. Different cabin crew whizzing back and forth, dropping off the various items. I vaguely recall a visit from the purser to offer a personal welcome, but one so perfunctory that it barely registered. Such a contrast from the one business class upgrade experience I had on a similar flight more than a decade ago. I still remember how the purser worked the tighter aisle of the 767, presented my dad and I with a gift, and as much of a rush as she was in, asked about us in addition to delivering the standard ificanbeofanyassistancepleaseletmeknow. For a moment, this 77W cabin felt a little too wide and too impersonal.
Pushing back around 20 minutes behind schedule, the flight crew must have been in a hurry to get going. Roaring down 02C, the 77W rotated almost abreast of the south crossing, barely 25 seconds into the takeoff roll.
Early rotation. Wheels off the ground just past the south crossing
And up we go. View of T2 and T3
A good lashing as we smack into rain clouds
I had set my mind on enjoying the food and the hardware. Aperitif? Champagne, of course, as it was on the menu. What would they serve with that I wondered. Nuts? Rice crackers?
Or so I thought. The service protocol, as I was to experience, would be on fast forward today. I heard “Cabin crew service check.” An EVA girl appeared with a stack of linen. Table out right away, linen on. Blink. Tray with the appetizer. Blink. Water was being poured into a glass. Whatwouldyouliketodrinksirwehaveredwinewhitewine? Uhh… you… uhh… have… uhh… champagne? Blink. Blink. The champagne appeared on the tray and I had been served some bread. Then she left. Which girl? I don’t know. Was there just one? Were there two? Was there one with four arms?
First course. Smoked salmon and chicken breast with salad. Multi-grain bread. Champagne
Luckily for old me, the pace slowed after the first course. I deliberately took my time with the appetizer. I needed the time to collect my thoughts and sort out the initial blur. The smoked salmon and chicken breast were tasty. The accompanying salad was fresh enough and the citrusy soy-based dressing refreshing. While the cabin crew did not overtly rush the meal service, it was clear that they were not going to encourage me to stretch it out. No refills of anything were offered. It seemed pretty quiet for the gentleman behind me as well. Empty plates were quickly noticed. One EVA girl would stop by, keyibangninshoulemaa (can I clear this for you?) or ninyongwanlemaa (are you done with this?), and the plate would be whisked away. After the main course, the tray was taken away and the cheese plate and the fruit plate were served. The cheese plate should really be called the I-don’t-actually-like-real-cheese special, but this is Asia. The Boursin cheese spread made an excellent dip for the carrot and celery sticks. Half-expecting a thimble-sized sweet (because it just said “sweet” on the menu), I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the pre-plated dessert serving. Three types of sweet. By this time, I could have done with just a little bite of each item. But they were all quite quite delicious. Soon after, a spotless dish returned to the galley.
Main course. Braised soya duck breast. Tasty
Cheese and crackers, fresh and juicy slices of fruit
Sweet indulgence: Meringue cake, fruit tart and buttery almond cookies. Tea with lemon
The inflight entertainment was AVOD but I found the selection to be rather thin. I broke out the noise-canceling headset (Sennheiser, according to their website) and suddenly realized why newer headphone jacks had three holes and what I had been missing not ever having tried noise-canceling headsets; it worked wonderfully.
“Sleep” pre-set. Not flat but comfortable enough
I had nearly 2h30m to go on this 4h20m flight and not much else to distract me. The cabin crew did not seem a particularly warm bunch on this flight. So I decided to take a nap. Pressing on the “Sleep” preset did not make the seat a flat bed. For whatever reason, pressing the recline button at this point did not command it to recline any further, but instead lowered the legrest. Not a big deal. I slept for over an hour and then woke up to find a delicious packet of Japanese-style otsumami on the middle armrest. I was asked if I wanted a drink. Then it was again quiet time until landing.
Sunset across two windows. What a luxury
Outside of baggage claim, the immediate task was to find out how to get to new Novotel Hotel at Taoyuan. I don’t know the hotel shuttle schedule but you can take the airport bus towards the Aviation Museum, said a friendly lady at the airport information counter, if you run you might get the one that leaves just about… now. I sprinted. Not fifteen minutes later, I stepped into the handsome lobby of the new Novotel Taoyuan.
End of first half.