Taiwanese Carrier Face-off: Eva Air (BR) v. China Airlines (CI)

Taiwan has two major international full-service carriers: China Airlines and EVA Air (E-V-A Airways). China Airlines is the oldest and was partly started by Madame Chiang Kai Shek, Eva Air is privately owned and only just 20 years old but has since put itself on the map as a top international carrier, it was also one of the first along with Virgin Atlantic to introduce premium economy class. Among frequent fliers in Taiwan there is often a question of who exactly is the better carrier, especially nowadays that Eva Air is a Skytrax (with a grain of salt) 5 star airline and China Airlines has curtailed their poor safety record (while Eva hasnt had a crash, it has had its fair share of incidents that its extremely effective PR department suppresses) and significantly improved their hard products. Well, having finally experienced both airlines in all three cabins they offer on flights (Business, Premium Economy, Economy), I offer some of my own opinions. However, this comparison is primarily of business class as the two carriers are very similar if not the same (albeit different seats) in economy (both airlines have 3-4-3 on the 777s) and premium economy. The differences show in the premium experience. Do note however, that China Airlines offers the “Family Couch” in economy on their 777s and A350s for couples or families, which is the same as Air New Zealand’s revolutionary Skycouch.

Who wins? As you will see below, there really is not a clear winner between these two airlines. They each do a certain thing very well, and when solely comparing just these two, one does it better than the other. It just depends on what you prioritize in your flying experience, especially long-haul. For me, I will probably stick to China Airlines for the better fares and the fact that I’ve been a long time status frequent flier. However, there will be times when I would choose Eva, based on its frequency and network.

I will compare Airport Lounge, Cabin/Seats, Food & Beverage, Inflight Entertainment, Service, and Amenities. These are what I personally look for when traveling. Unfortunately for Taiwanese carriers, there isnt a fancy departure or arrival ground experience (ie: dedicated premium terminal, or security lane), both airlines have a dedicated check-in lounge for their top tier frequent fliers however, though it is rarely used as its tucked in the back of departures in Terminal 2.

 

Airport Lounge

None of the Taiwanese carriers of groundbreaking lounges. However, from a design, food and beverage, and atmosphere perspective, there definitely is a winner.

Eva Air: Eva Air has multiple lounges in Taipei. There is the main business class lounge: The Infinity, which is the most accessible. There are ones reserved for the different tiers of Infinity Mileage members, The Garden, The Club and The Star.  The Garden and The Star feel like upscale cafes on the departure hall as they are both exposed and open and do not feel or look like an airline lounge at first glance. They are all across or adjacent to each other on the second floor departures level in Taoyuan Airport’s Terminal 2. Since I was only a business class passenger and do not have status with Eva, yet, I only had access to The Infinity. It is designed like a spaceship, and quite frankly does not feel premium or on brand at all. The buffet area was small with minimal choices of food and beverages and I was disappointed to see that there is no hot noodle station like China Airlines or Cathay Pacific. The lounge does offer free wifi, shower and business facilities. Furthermore, this lounge is small, and was crowded when I went. Unfortunately I do not have picture of this lounge as pictures are not allowed inside.

China Airlines China airlines operates a total of three lounges in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. The best is Terminal 1 which was remodeled to the airline’s new interior and design standards back in 2015. The good news is that the larger lounge in Terminal 2 is now under renovation and will reopen with similar design and updates in September this year. Meanwhile, in Terminal 2, near security there is a small “Plum Blossom” lounge available for passengers as well. I have personally never been to this lounge as it used to be only for Paragon and Emerald dynasty fliers. Even with the old design, the China Airlines lounges were better than Eva, but with the updated and consistent design between Terminal 1 and 2, China Airlines’ lounges will certainly outrank Eva’s. The lounges offer a nice selection of hot and cold foods in the buffet, as well as their popular made-to-order noodle station, including a more wide-range of dim-sum unlike Eva’s which only contains buns. Further there is free wifi, a business center, showers, restrooms, wide selection of reading materials, and separate areas for paragon/emerald card holders (with its own mini-buffet but you can also order from an attendant from the main buffet). The design aesthetic may be dark but it nonetheless feels comfortable, inviting, and exclusive. It is also very much on-brand and fits with the airlines’ two flagship longhaul products on their 777-300ER and A350-900.

Winner: China Airlines

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China Airlines Terminal 1 lounge buffet and noodle station
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CI Terminal 1 Lounge
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CI Terminal 1 Emerald and Paragon members zone

 

Cabin/Seats

Both airlines use reverse herringbone seats in business class on their longhaul fleet. Eva Air offers lie-flat on most regional wide-bodies while China Airlines has angled-lie-flat, and both have classic recliner seats with no PTVs on their narrow-body fleets. The reverse herringbone is one of my, as well as many others’, favorite business class product.

Eva Air Eva Air uses a similar reverse herringbone as Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, American Airlines and the likes. The TV swivels out and must be stored during takeoff, taxi, and landing. The side storage spaces cannot be used during these times as well, which I found very odd. The seat itself is good and comfortable. Once the TV is stowed there is ample space. The seat reclines to multiple different positions and has adjustable aisle armrests and adjustable headrests. There are in-seat power outlets and USB ports as well as multi-surface consoles. While there is enough storage, I still found it to be a bit lacking, the side storage has room for a water bottle and amenity kit. The lower side storage barely has enough room for headphones, pajamas and shoes (there is no space under the ottoman for storage). But the above grievances are minor because I slept like a baby for about 6 hours in these comfy seats. Eva has starry nights on their ceilings in business class, much like Emirates does in First Class, this was a fun and warm addition. Finally, Eva has better boarding music, the instrumental Taiwanese folks songs played on arrival and departure is very soothing, nostalgic and welcoming.

China Airlines China Airlines’ version of the reverse herringbone is more similar to those found on Qatar Airways, Virgin Australia and Air Canada. TVs are set in front of you rather than swivel, the tray table also folds out from under the TV. China Airlines’ seat has more storage options. In addition to a lower side compartment, the adjustable aisle armrest is also a storage unit for water and amenity kits, on the inner-armrest area there are two storage compartments where you will find your console, charging stations and headphone jack as well as space for other items. The space below the ottoman is open and allows for storage of shoes or smaller bags. The addition of a lamp adds to the over all beauty of China Airlines’ cabins on their A350 and 777s. These cabins, designed by Ray Chen, use faux-wood to draw a Song-Dynasty scholarly and cultural aesthetic, and in my opinion it is very nice and unique, the lavatories even have Chinese ink paintings as wall paper. But because the TV is stationary, it eats into the space of your seat as such some have complained that it can feel narrow and once reclined, one often hits their knees on the TV unit. Personally I have never had much issue with these seats and like Eva Air, have always slept comfortably in them. China Airlines uses classical music during boarding, which is fine and welcoming but just lags a tad bit behind Eva’s Taiwanese flare.

Winner: Tie, personally I prefer China Airlines, mainly for the added storage and aesthetics.

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BR 777-300ER cabin
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Eva Air seat with TV swiveled out
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Eva Air seat with turn down service
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Eva Air starry night cabin
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China Airlines A350 Business cabin
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CI 777-300ER Business seat with storage open
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CI Turn down service
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CI Sky Lounge walk-up bar

 

Food & Beverage

Eva Air Eva Air business class passengers have a sort of “book the cook” type service available to them up from 10 days to 24 hours prior to departure, in addition to the options available in-flight, there is a long list of special pre-order items you can select for the dinner/lunch service on long-haul flights, the breakfast items remain the same as those available in-flight. I chose to use this service and booked a special Taiwanese pork tendon dish that turned out to be just ok. Eva Air has gone away with tray service for their main meal service and each course is served individually, which adds to the over all premium feel of the dining experience, the breakfast is still tray service and they utilize trolley dessert service as well. However, over all the food on Eva, while good, was just ok as was the presentation. For breakfast I always order the congee with Taiwanese Delicatessen on either China Airlines or Eva Air. Personally I think China’s offerings of delicatessen are better. I did not get to try the mid-flight noodle snack as I slept right through, however the other snacks available were all average packaged snacks. However, Eva Air has a much better beverage offering than China Airlines. On select routes, I believe it is now down to New York, Paris and Houston, they serve Krug, all others get Veuve Cliquot Grand Dame. Eva pays the taxes in the U.S. to serve pre-departure champagne as well. The wine selection, while not terribly extensive, is great and offers some very nice and tasty bottles as well as sherry and port for dessert. Furthermore, Eva has a selection of “house” cocktails and a favorite is their iced-coffee.

China Airlines As I mentioned above, China Airlines’ breakfast congee is better than Eva in my opinion. Over all China Airlines’ food is also from my experiences slightly better from a taste perspective. Aboard the A350 and 777s the presentation of foods is also much better, despite using trays for both meal services. The chinaware used is all designed by Ray Chen to conform to the over all aesthetic and really offers a refined cultural dining experience regardless of if you order western of Taiwanese options. China Airlines unfortunately does not have special pre-order items, but you can still pre-order your meal online. The snack options on China Airlines are more wide-ranging in my opinion as they have house-branded cup noodles, pineapple cakes, Taiwanese teas, Taiwanese coffees, fruits and sandwiches available at the Sky Lounge walk-up bar, further their mid-flight snack is always very comforting. China Airlines’ beverage offerings, while still great, are slightly less impressive than Eva’s. China Airlines still serves great Champagne, the last I flew was Pol Roger, and they also have a good wine-list but not as impressive as Eva’s. China Airlines doesnt pay U.S. taxes to serve any alcohol pre-departure for U.S. outbound. China Airlines also does not have house-cocktails, but they do have nespresso despite not having iced-coffee.

Both airlines serve Kavalan Taiwanese Whiskey, which is excellent.

(NOTE: pictures below are not the entirety of what I ate on either airline, just a handful of items)

Winner: Food: China Airlines; Beverage: Eva Air

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BR canape with Veuve Cliquot Grand Dame
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BR amuse bouche with bread
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Pre-ordered pork tendon and mushroom dish
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BR Signature cocktail Aurora
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BR Congee breakfast
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CI appetizer and salad
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CI Soup
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CI main noodle dish
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CI Congee breakfast

 

Inflight Entertainment

Eva Air Eva’s entertainment system is not as intuitive to navigate and is not very well categorized. Furthermore there just is not a wide-ranging selection of movies, tv shows or music. I have always thought this of Eva’s entertainment regardless of what cabin I fly.  The selection of new release films was decent but over all Eva’s Star Gallery does not have an extensive list of films to choose from. I found it difficult to navigate and some films would pop up in one category but not another that they would clearly belong to as well. For an international airline, I also expected more foreign films, especially Taiwanese, Cantonese and Chinese films, but these selections were also limited. I did not explore to see if the system had any additional functions. I will say though that Eva’s thunder noise-cancelling headphones are quite good.

China Airlines China Airline’s Fantasy Sky is actually quite a good system. It offers a great selection of films, around the same amount of new releases as Eva, but a far more extensive list of other films, including foreign films from the world over. It is also much better categorized and easier to navigate. The list of tv shows is also more extensive. Additional features include seat-to-seat texting and seat-to-seat gaming. I always enjoy catching up on my foreign films, especially East-Asian ones, on China Airlines, but they also dont skip out on a healthy selection of European, Latin American, Middle-Eastern, or South Asian foreign films as well. There is also a wide selection of kids films as well as classics. The generic noise-cancelling headphones though arent as great on China.

Winner: China Airlines

 

Service

Eva Air Eva Air has excellent service. Their flight attendants, interestingly enough an airline that only hires female flight attendants, are very professional, courteous, welcoming and most importantly, pro-active. I was addressed by name the entire flight, never once was I was I asked what seat I was in. Upon seeing that I had finished my meal and was about to go change into my pajamas, my flight attendant offered to make my bed for me. They all bent down to take meal orders or confirm my pre-ordered meal, I was even asked if I’d join the regular meal service time or if I’d like to rest first then enjoy my meal. Wine was served in front of you and each time they let me taste a bit of the wine before pouring me the full glass. The service was well-paced and not rushed. At least on flight attendant consistently came through during service to collect items or ask if we needed anything else. Upon seeing my empty bowl of congee and some remaining side dishes, the flight attendant offered to top it off for me to continue enjoying the sides. They offered to place items in the overhead bin for takeoff and landing since none of the in-seat storage can be used. When I woke up and asked for the midflight snack, they informed me that breakfast would be served in 20 minutes, as I returned to my seat a flight attendant brought out the snack basket, worried that I was starving. Over all Eva’s service in Business Class really impressed me.

China Airlines China Airlines’ service is good but definitely not as great as Eva’s (for the most part, I have had excellent above and beyond service on China Airlines). Flight attendants are very friendly, professional, courteous and welcoming but just not quite as proactive as Eva’s (especially after the flight attendant union’s successful strikes to renegotiate contracts). Meal orders are taken bent down and passengers are still addressed by name. The flight attendants are very efficient in serving the trays and switch out appetizers/ soup/ main and are quick to clear the tray for dessert and fruit service. This is also partly because they do consistently come through the cabin during service. But they do all this with a smile, and do ensure you are 100% finished and will ask if you want anything else before clearing things away. However, I have talked to flight attendants and they say this is due to the fact that many passengers on longhaul flights simply want to sleep and so they go through the service slightly faster to maximize sleep time, which is considerate but I often feel I’m racing time while I eat.  Wine is not poured in front of you, except for when they walk through to top off glasses (which is like once a service), and they certainly dont let you taste the wine before. While Eva has cart service for dessert and beverages, China Airlines has no cart service at all, which I appreciate. When the 777s first flew, turn down service was offered, nowadays you have to ask for it, though I have noticed they offer it to elderly or top tier frequent fliers.

Winner: Eva Air

 

Amenities 

Eva Air Eva Air offers Rimowa amenity kits (apparently now only Taiwan outbound, inbound are George Jensen) stocked with Clarins products, hairbrush, toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, socks, eye mask and lens cleaner. Slippers await you at your seat and upon boarding the flight attendants will hand out soft pajamas to you. Eva also offers Fiji water and thunder noise-cancelling headphones. There isnt a full walk-up bar, but there is a mini walk-up snack area stocked with cookies, nuts, chips, fruits, water and if you like you can ask for wine sitting in the cooler behind. The blanket on Eva is very thick but super cozy and comfortable. The pillows are the perfect balance between hard and soft and are also very comfortable. Eva offers turn down service, a thin but still comfy mattress pad is put over the seat, much like Qatar Airways. One thing I always loved about Eva is that they go through with a toy basket for the kids, offering them toys and coloring books for the flight, further the Hello Kitty flights make traveling with kids a bit more fun as well. Eva Air also has a better duty-free catalog in my opinion, and offers a better range of Eva branded products and airplane models (from an aviation nerd perspective).

China Airlines China Airlines offers a pretty solid hard case amenity kit as well, though it is not branded. Inside there is ear plugs, toothpaste and toothbrush, dental floss, comb, lens cloth, eye mask, ball point pen and products by Intitut Karite Paris, and on the A350 kits you get a A350 sticker as well. Water and slippers also await you in your seat, and in my opinion they are more plush and comfortable than Eva’s. China Airlines does not offer pajamas. The A350s and 777s offer a Sky Lounge walk-up bar fully stocked with alcohol, water, fruits, branded instant noodles, snacks, coffees and teas as well as bookshelves with books and magazines and small countertops (only 777) to enjoy a light bite. China Airlines’ blanket is comfortable but not as great as Eva’s, and the pillow that comes with the reverse herringbone seats are very good. China Airlines has a limited number of turn-down service duvet/pads and extra pillows that you have to ask for on a longhaul flight, they used to offer it to all passengers when the new seats first rolled out but have scaled back on this since. China Airlines does offer some things for kids but not exactly passed out like Eva. And China Airlines’ duty free catalog is good but not as great as Eva’s.

Winner: Eva Air

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BR Pajamas and amenity kit
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CI amenity kit

 

Bottom Line

As you can see, its very subjective as to who actually is better. It all depends on what you value and what you look for on a flight, especially long-haul. Each does certain things better than the other. At one point, before China Airlines introduced their new cabins, Eva was a winner by a long shot. China Airlines has since closed the gap in many ways. For short-haul regional flights, both are basically the same experience when it comes to food and service, so the difference would be entertainment and ground-experience. Furthermore, it would depend on where you are based and where your travels take you most. China Airlines is Skyteam and only flies to 4 U.S. destinations but has a far more extensive network in Australia/New Zealand, Asia and Europe than Eva. Eva is Star Alliance and flies to 6 U.S. destinations with far more frequencies than China but they do not have as extensive of a network in Asia or Europe. Finally, as I mentioned above, China Airlines tends to have better fares than Eva.

 

Bon Voyage,

TheGastronomicTraveler

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