Sometimes I wish there was a rule in place stating that every flight in the world must depart at 10:30am. No earlier. No later. I don’t want to even think about the logistics of that and how it wouldn’t work at all, but man…waking up at 4am to catch a flight is something that gets tougher for me as each year passes and quite frankly I’m getting tired of it. 10:30am is my sweet spot – it’s not too early, but early enough to get a good start on the day and still have a lot of time left over to get stuff done.
So that’s where this trip report begins. My iPhone alarm jolting me awake at 4am, an hour much too early for me to instantly comprehend what was happening. “What the hell is that noise?!” was the only thing that my still half-asleep brain could muster to think. Making the realization that it was actually my alarm clock and that it was time to wake up just made things worse, and the only thing that fuled me with enough energy to drag myself out of bed was the fact that I would get to try two new-to-me airlines that day. I guess that’s worth getting up for, right?
I pulled myself together as best I could and made my way down to the hotel lobby and into a taxi. I should point out that these early morning taxi rides are always kind of interesting to me, as seeing a large city asleep makes my imagination wander. On this particular morning I started imagining myself as the lone survivor of Taipei after a deadly virus outbreak had exterminated…well….maybe I’m revealing too much about what really goes on in my mind sometimes. On with the trip report. 😃
Taipei, Taiwan (TPE) – Seoul, South Korea (ICN)
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Duration: 2 hours 16 minutes
Seat: 11A (business class)
My mind was still in “chill / relaxed / early morning” mode as the taxi driver pulled up to terminal 1 at Taoyuan International Airport, so it was quite a shock for me to step inside and experience the utter chaos that hit me like a bolt of lightning. The hotel, taxi ride, and exterior of the terminal were all calm and quiet, but wow – things were hoppin’ here inside the departures hall of TPE this morning, forcing me to wake up a lot faster than I really wanted to.
It took me a moment to find the China Airlines check in counters through the sea of people, but once I found it I then immediately started looking for the business class queue. The economy lines were packed 20 deep as they snaked through the terminal, and there was no way I wanted any part of that. The problem was that I looked and looked but I couldn’t find the business class check in desk. I’m sure it was there, but I just didn’t see it.
I aborted that plan as soon as I saw a row of check-in kiosks hidden behind a mob of of people trying to wedge their way into the economy class line. I forced my way in there through the crowds, and tried to get to the one available kiosk I saw. I wasn’t three feet away from it when a middle-aged Chinese guy swooped in from my right and took it. Ok then – I guess I’ll wait. Looking around, I started noticing a lot of other people hovering around the kiosks and being overly aggressive about being next. It’s not my style at all, but I hovered over that Chinese guy like a vulture and blocked anyone else from getting in there once he was finished. The competition was brutal that morning!
The feeling of relief was overpowering as the kiosk spit out my boarding pass, and I wasted no time getting out of that departures hall and into the queue for the security checkpoint.
Once on the other side of security, I found myself trapped in the Duty Free shop which wasn’t avoidable. All passengers have to pass through here before continuing into the main terminal, but luckily the business class lounge was nearby so I ducked in there to decompress a bit and grab some breakfast.
After doing my thing in the lounge, I left a bit early so that I would have enough time to look around the terminal before the flight. Two words describe my experience of walking around terminal 1 at TPE that morning: big and bland. This is a huge airport, and frankly, there isn’t much to see. It’s just a series of very long white hallways with doors to gate areas that aren’t any more interesting to look at. It totally reminds me of terminal 3 at LHR, but on a much larger scale.
I was the second passenger to arrive in the gate area for this flight up to ICN this morning, so I just hung out for a while since there was really nowhere else to go. Let that be a big tip for anyone traveling through TPE – there’s no need to come out of the lounge until it’s time to start boarding!
Thankfully the boarding process started right on time and I was more than anxious to get onboard my first China Airlines flight. I’ve flown on Air China from PEK to LAX in business class several years ago, so I was really curious to see how the China Airlines business class product compared.
Once onboard, I was pretty much blown away. I guess my expectations were set too low, because what I found was a very upscale business class cabin with highly-configurable seats and very nice textures and materials on every surface. The most interesting thing was the woodgrain finish everywhere. I’ve never seen woodgrain on a commercial aircraft before, but I will admit that it looked very warm and classy.
I was immediately greeted by the lead flight attendant upon sitting down, and was offered the usual assortment of pre-poured beverages on a tray. I declined, but I did appreciate the quick followup with a hot towel and breakfast menu. Speaking of breakfast, the choices looked quite good and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to choose when she came back around taking orders. More on that in a bit…
The skies over Taipei were gloomy and gray as we pushed off the gate, and we rolled around giving me the opportunity to see a lot of the airport on our way out to 05L. TPE is definitely one of the most diverse airports I’ve ever been to when it comes to the types of airlines and aircraft that serve it, and I’d love to spend a sunny day here taking pics of everything that flies in and out of here.
It was a very bumpy departure as we cut our way though the clouds, and unfortunately, those bumps never really went away once we were above them.
The bumps were noticeably difficult for the flight attendants, who were always grabbing the walls or overhead bins as they were working the cabin.
And that’s a perfect segway into the next portion of this trip report: breakfast! I was actually a bit surprised at how soon the breakfast service started – it felt like we were still climbing to cruising altitude when the flight attendants started coming by with tablecloths and drinks. I wasn’t all that hungry yet due to the big meal I had in the lounge, but the breakfast orders did look interesting enough to give it a go. And hey – what international business class trip report would be complete without a description of the meal service?
I went with the Chinese meal option this morning considering I had eggs and sausage in the lounge a few hours ago, and I did my best to eat as much as I could before putting the fork down and pushing it aside. It was quite tasty, typical of what I’ve experienced on other Chinese airlines. It was good – but not anything I’d label as phenomenal.
The breakfast service seemed to take a while, leaving not much time left in the flight once the tray tables were cleared. I spent that time with a quick nap, and then a lot of picture-taking out the window.
There really wasn’t all that much to take pictures of en route, but the descent into ICN was beautiful with all the snow and ice on the ground. The only other time I’ve been to Korea was in the Spring, so seeing all the snow and ice was interesting.
Despite how wintery it looked out there on approach, the weather at ICN was downright beautiful upon landing. Bright sunshine and warm-looking temps, even though it wasn’t anywhere close to being warm. You could have fooled me though – I didn’t have to go outside so the cold was of no matter to me. It looked warm out there, so that’s all that mattered.
So what are my final thoughts about China Airlines 777-300 business class? Good question. I found the hard product (seats / cabin) to be very nice. Much nicer than the business class hard product that Air China offers. The soft product (service) on the other hand, was typical of what you’d find on a US airline. Friendly and efficient, but the crew didn’t really seem to go out of their way to make sure I had everything I needed for a comfortable flight. The main thought I was left with after this flight was how much I wanted to try this business class product on a longer route. Two and a half hours wasn’t enough, and I’d imagine that this would be excellent on longer segments. The seat was really that good!