Review: Starlux Airlines Business Class JX 731 TPE-SIN; Taiwan’s Best Airline?

Background

Ever since Starlux Airlines commenced operations in January 2020, I had wanted to try them out. Many have raved about their service and offerings despite a limited network and small footprint compared to the 2 Taiwanese giants of China Airlines and EVA Air. With the onset of the Pandemic, unfortunate timing to start an airline, as well as their small network to mainly Southeast Asia/Japan, I did not get any chances to fly them until now. Unfortunately, Starlux is currently not a member of any major alliance nor does it have any actual airline/hotel partners so you cannot really redeem anything on them, you’re only way is to purchase a cash ticket. They did do a status match with their CosMiles program at their launch, but that still doesnt do much for you.

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A bit of family drama is the backstory of Starlux. Starlux was born as a concept and ambition of Chang-Kuo-Wei, former chairman of EVA Air, and “step” or “bastard” child of the late Chairman and founder of Evergreen Group that owns EVA Air and Evergreen Marine/Shipping (Ever Given ship that got stuck in the Suez). When Chang Yung-Fa died, his first wife and the step siblings of Kuo-Wei ousted Kuo-Wei from EVA Air despite dad having clearly given it to him (Chang is credited for bringing EVA Air to its current level of global recognition and service), he was also ousted from the Evergreen Group entirely. Chang, a certified commercial pilot by the way who commanded the inaugural Starlux flight, decided to take his own inheritance/money and start his own Taiwanese airline, he always claimed it was due to his passion for aviation, but let us be honest, it was also partly a revenge plot. Nonetheless kudos for him to seeing his dream and revenge plot come to fruition. Funnily enough as of a few months ago, elder Chang brother has invited Kuo-Wei back into EVA Air group as he now has differences with his other siblings and mother, the soap opera continues. This all being said, I do admire Chang-Kuo-Wei, he is ambitious, has dreams, and not only has the money but the ability to execute them, and from what I have heard is actually a very good and caring boss, hence a loyal and near-cult-like employee base/ following.

I admittedly had my doubts. I didnt think Taiwan needed a 3rd international full-service carrier, and I was not sure the carrier would ever earn a dollar as it continues to bleed through money and fly empty flights through COVID. But having flown them now, I truly hope they succeed and are able to realize their soaring dreams.

Over All

One word: WOW. I was impressed. Truly impressed. The only 2 things that absolutely need to improve are their lounge offering and their terrible entertainment system, and hopefully gain some partners and redemption options. But everything else very well near beats out China Airlines and EVA Air. Delicious food, wonderful beverage program, fantastic and passionate crew who truly believe in their airline, and nice new planes with solid seats. My lofty expectations were exceeded in many regards. Starlux has raised the bar for Taiwanese carriers and despite my early doubts, they may actually help elevate the entire Taiwanese aviation industry to better and greater heights.

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Flight Details

Date: Tuesday May 24, 2022

Flight: JX731

Aircraft: B-58201 A321NEO

Route: TPE-SIN, 2,004 miles

Duration: 4 Hours 20 Min.; Dep 9:05AM, Arr 13:25PM,

Seat: 3A, Business Class

Ground / Lounge

Starlux uses Terminal 1 in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. Check-in was smooth and easy as there was no one traveling to/from Taiwan these days as it is sadly still closed off. They did weigh my carry-on, which even with busienss is a 10KG limit, but I think given the light load they let me go and just said your bag is 14KG, please kindly adjust before boarding. Never did and never was asked/nor my bags weighed. Generally I find carry-on weight limits dumb, most overhead bins are designed to withstand large loads and if my bag is heavier I can place it in the bin myself, I get the weight limit is often for the safety and health of flight crew who have to help people with bags. Both my personal item and carry on bag were tagged with a bag tag. The agent was courteous and no detail was left unturned. He checked my docs, confirmed if I had checked bags or not, explained to me that the Starlux lounge is closed and they are using plaza premium while showing me on the print out map and further advised today’s gate is further away than most so to be mindful of my time. Unclear if this is because so few passengers are traveling on Starlux or in/out of Taiwan or if genuinely this is Starlux level of service, I think both to be honest.

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Starlux does operate its own “Galaxy” Lounge in TPE. Sadly, due to COVID, it is temporarily closed and pax use the Plaza Premium lounge next door. From what I have seen and gathered the Starlux lounge is nothing to rave about and leaves much to be desired. The plaza premium lounge in Terminal 1 of Taipei is fine. It does have nice seating options. Sadly due to COVID no self-serve buffet this time, you could self-serve water, tea or coffee but somehow sodas and wine/alcohol must be requested from an attendant.

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After a hydrating and getting caffeinated at the lounge, I headed to gate A3. To a largely empty gatehouse. Boarding was pushed back by about 10 minutes. We then boarded, they did call for special assistance/ kids before business class/elites, which is great to see.

I was warmly greeted and shown to my seat. Sadly Taiwanese crew are still being required to wear full PPT and face shields, and latex gloves in additions to masks.

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The random and slightly hilarious/cute animated safety video

Cabin / Amenities

The cabin is beautiful. Business class on the A321NEOs are in a 2-2 layout in 2 rows, for a total of 8 seats, exact same seats as found on many narrow-body aircraft these days. There are many small design details to create a well thought out cabin that is warm and inviting and comfortable. The business class cabin is in a color palate of greys, beige/light browns.

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At the seat is a wrapped blanket, a plush pillow, slippers (yes, even on this regional flight), very nicely designed and functional noise cancelling headsets, inflight magazine, duty-free catalogue, and safety card. No water bottle though. I particularly like the branding of the inflight magazine, its title is “Kiann” which is a English phoneticized spelling of the Taiwanese term that means “Let’s Go”

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The lavatory is a bit tight but nicely appointed with Thanni soap, perfume, lotion and facial mist. What I really liked was a the fresh orchid flower in a carved wood vase by the sink, very elegant and Taiwanese touch.

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Service

Service is I think where Starlux shines.

Business class was served by Molly and cabin manager Joyce. Both were fantastic. And it was basically a 1:1 ratio given only 2 passengers in business on this flight. Oddly during the flight, the pilots rotated through row 1 for naps/ rest. I know its due to the light load they were able to do that, but this is a 4 hour flight that turns, there is no real need for crew rest time is there? I found this just a tad bit strange.

Back to the service. After I took my seat, Molly came by to introduce herself and brought me a cold towel with pre departure beverage of Mango Pineapple Cold Press juice. She then offered to open up my blanket if I needed it at this time. Shortly after, Joyce came by to introduce herself as well. Throughout the flight they addressed passengers by name, always smiling (yes, one could tell even with their masks) and very willing to meet your needs/ requests. Sure, during most of the flight they were in the galley, but they did periodically come through and if you rang they immediately showed up and no request too big and more than happily obliged.

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After takeoff, meal and beverage orders were taken. In true Asian carrier fashion, they got to their knees to be at my eye-level. They confirmed my pre-ordered meal. Then explained that since it was a lunch service on this flight, the meal would not be served until 11:20AM, about 2 hours into the flight. However, given the lighter load, they were more than happy to serve it now, earlier or after 11:20 as well depending on my needs. I said 11:20 was perfect. They do not let you starve though, after confirming main meal service they took my post-departure beverage order and confirmed that a small canape would be served with it. No menus were given out due to COVID, but I asked if I could see the menus nonetheless as I was curious, they knew I also wanted to take pictures. Molly said she would confirm with Joyce and if allowable would bring the menus to me. Sure enough, I was brought the menus shortly thereafter.

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Service was polished, attentive and refined without being robotic and cold. They were both very genuine and kind as well. Further, during meal service they would periodically come through to check and offer refill of beverages or see if things needed to be cleared. When pouring the wines, they even asked for my opinion as to which of the wines/beverages I liked most on the flight and were truly asking because they were curious and cared, a way to help inform them of opinions to offer future pax. Upon clearing trays, glasses or seeing you had finished a beverage, they always asked if you needed anything else or if you wanted to try something else.

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Mints

At the end of the flight before descent, Joyce came through to offer pre-arrival mints and to ask how the flight was from the food to the service and seats. They truly are trying and through our short chat I could tell they believe and have faith in their airline and its future. So great to see such faith and perseverance and care put into the carrier. I just hope this maintains as they grow and expand.

Food and Beverage

Fantastic. The flight started with a canape and post-departure beverage service. Followed by main meal service at 11:20AM, though due to some rough turbulence this was pushed back by 5 minutes.

The menus are nicely designed, and apparently even won a Red Dot design award. Menu pictures at the end of the post.

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The beverage program is very impressive. The list of non-alcoholic offerings is extensive with a wide selection of local and international teas and coffees, cold press juices, sodas and more. There is also a pretty solid selection of liquors and cocktails, including the house cocktail “Galaxy Sci-Fi.” The wine list is quite fantastic as well, Bollinger Champagne, 2 reds, 2 whites, and a port; what I really loved was that the wine menu not only included a picture of the bottles and descriptions of the wines, but also a map of each of the wine’s region, very well thought out. Wine bottles are brought out and poured at your seat.

The menu had types of selection. You could choose to order the 1 Michelin starred Taipei restaurant Longtail menu curated by Chef Lam Ming Kin or choose a starter and main from the main “International” menu. I pre-ordered the Longtail x Starlux menu, and for the most part it was incredible for inflight meal, even in business. The only part that was not as great was the beef, which despite being tender and nicely flavored was somehow dry.

Longtail x Starlux menu:

Pineapple Pura Mocktail

Milkfish toast, avocado, daikon, dill (this was amazing)

USDA Angus Beef Tenderloin

Pineapple rice with peanut pickled Kohirabi and coconut (flagrant and delicious)

Chocolate-magao cake (incredible flavors but a tad dry)

Cheddar and Cottage cheese with fruits, fig, and a very fresh apple chutney

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The Longtail x Starlux meal, served all on one tray
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The delicious Milkfish + avocado toast with the refreshing mocktail
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Tender but dry tenderloin
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Nice coaster

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There is a lot of great details and branding throughout the plates, glasses, silverware and plating touches as well.

I had the Sci-Fi Galaxy cocktail with my canape of cheese/pineapple, and beef toast. The cocktail is essentially gin with sprite, lemon and blue simple syrup. It looked slightly atomic, but tasted good.

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I then had some Bollinger Champagne (which comparatively was not poured in front of me).

The longtail meal comes with a mocktail of spices, pineapple and soda, but I also had some Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a fantastic Bordeaux.

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Following dessert I had some Carrot and fruits cold press juice, which was delicious.

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Just before arrival I asked for another glass of the fantastic Bordeaux and confirmed that due to lighter loads these days they do re-cork the alcohol, which made me feel a lot less guilty about have only a few glasses of the wine selection onboard.

Inflight Entertainment

Sad. Just sad. Barely any selections of either films or TV Shows, and clearly has not been updated since January 2020. No free WiFi on SIN route, but oddly there is for BKK or Vietnam flights? Unclear, given its the same planes. At least the headsets are great!

The TVs are large and touchscreen or you can control the system via the small handset, which has a touch mouse surface as well.

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Conclusion

As I said, fantastic. May honestly be the best Taiwanese airline there is today. For me its the service and Food and Beverage selection that truly differentiate Starlux. For a 4 hour regional flight to Singapore, I felt they achieved longhaul levels of service and offerings. Minus the lounge and lets not talk about the entertainment system. I just hope this level of service and offerings can be maintained and consistent once they grow and expand to more destinations, including North America and Europe, which are planned with the arrival of A330-900NEOs and A350-900/1000s (which are rumored to have first class).

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BonVoyage!

TheGastronomicTraveler

The Menus

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