Kitty White is a female white Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow more commonly known as Hello Kitty. She is a $5 billion empire, has an affinity credit card with Bank of America and her image adorns the exteriors of several planes operated by Taipei-based EVA Airways. Hello Kitty was recently ranked as one of the World’s best know brands. EVA Airways, while not widely known is no small cat, an affiliate of Evergreen Group, one of the world’s largest shipping conglomerates.
Despite its low profile compared to Hello Kitty and the likes of some of Asia’s better know carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, EVA since it started flying in 1991 has been an innovator – one of the first airlines to offer Premium Economy and also First Class seats that went fully flat, horizontal turning into beds over a decade ago .
With a fleet of 61 aircraft, it recently joined Star Alliance, a marketing group of carriers that includes United Airlines, Lufthansa, Thai International, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Air China, Swiss, South African, etc.
Still it remains a bit of a secret, which is surprising because its Royal Laurel Class introduced about two years ago can go head to head with any business class I have flown on. The seats – similar to those that Cathay Pacific operates in its new business class – turn into beds – and they are in the same league as the First Class seats on United Airlines international fleet or British Airways. Each pod has great shelf space for files and plenty of storage pockets, plus plenty of legroom and foot space even in its bed position. The airline doesn’t have a First Class, so Royal Laurel with its business class pricing is the top of the line product.
EVA’s hub at Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport lacks the sex appeal of modern airport terminals in Incheon, Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok but is functional and on my two recent visits provided extremely easy transits (read no lines for security and short walks). The Royal Laurel lounge is divided into two sides, one with a W Hotels -modern feel, the other traditional Taiwanese, so the option is yours. There are extensive food offerings, bars and nice showers with typical amenities you would expect such as free WiFi.
EVA offers Royal Laurel passengers an extensive menu they can pre-order at least 24 hours before flying, you are personally escorted to your seat, then greeted with Dom Perignon when you board. Whomever supplies this airline with its towels for hot and cold service is making a mint. I lost count after four. On your personal screen TV on my recent flights the EVA Airways orchestra was playing. I’m not sure if it is an endorsement deal or perhaps this is the only airline in the World that has its own musicians on staff. Either way, the video with scenes of the Taiwanese countryside and accompanying music was a pleasant way to start 14-hour flights. There is of course a large selection of movies, TV programs and other entertainment. Service from flight attendants is excellent. There are Rimowa amenity kits, and while there may not be the dazzle of in-flight bars, limo service and personal assistants on the ground, EVA is as good a choice as any for those headed to Asia, particularly if you don’t want to pay First Class fares. It’s flight schedule from North America – New York JFK, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles is designed to provide convenient connections. Many of its flights from Europe route through Bangkok, although there are also nonstops to Taipei.