Last month, on my annual trip back to England, I got to fly with EVA Air for the very first time. I had been meaning to try Taiwan's national airline for quite a while and I'm finally glad I got the opportunity. I thought they were superb!
The only reason I've shied away from using EVA Air in the past is because they don't fly a route from Bangkok to my hometown of Birmingham, England. You basically have a choice of flying to London Heathrow or Amsterdam Schiphol and then making onward travel plans from there.
However, with EVA Air's ‘premium economy' class seat (which gets excellent reviews on the internet) available for a good price, I decided to book the journey home in two stages and allow for a one-night layover in The Netherlands.
55,000 baht all in
For the number crunchers out there, the flight to Amsterdam was 42,000 baht return, one night at an airport hotel was 7,000 baht and the following morning, relaxed and refreshed, I caught the KLM city hopper, which takes 50 minutes to fly from Amsterdam to Birmingham. The KLM return ticket added another 6,000 baht to the bill.
So I did the whole journey (including a very nice hotel room and a premium economy seat on the long haul leg) for 55,000 baht. I think that was a pretty good deal.
Middle East nightmares
For many years I used The Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates Airlines or Qatar Airways but as I've got older, my tolerance for those Middle Eastern airports has all but vanished. I just find Dubai Airport to be Hell on earth. From the 30-minute magical mystery tour from plane to terminal by shuttle bus - to the chaotic security check manned by grumpy, surly staff - to the non-existent free wi-fi signal. There isn't a single aspect of a Dubai layover that I enjoy.
And as my loathing for Dubai Airport increased over the years, the entire journey home began to feel like taking two ‘long haul flights', especially when you are squeezed into cattle class for the duration (neither Emirates or Qatar has a premium economy option by the way)
The six hours from Bangkok to Dubai I could just about deal with, but after three hours on the ground at the world's biggest duty-free shop (and that's all Dubai Airport is) and with fatigue and jet lag starting to kick in - that seven MORE hours on to Birmingham begins to feel like an awful long time to be in the air.
So what about EVA Air itself? Why was I so impressed?
Well for starters I would choose the timing. Midday departures from Bangkok Airport mean far less stress on body and soul compared to the ungodly, early-hour-of-the-morning take-off slots that the Middle Eastern airlines seem to favor. In addition, you're flying directly to Amsterdam. Yes, I know eleven hours is a long time to be sat on a plane but give me that over the thirteen-hour Bangkok-Dubai-Birmingham endurance test any day of the week.
EVA Air has a designated check-in row for premium economy passengers and not all premium class airlines offer this. It's a gesture that's always much appreciated and of course you board and disembark the aircraft ahead of those flying economy class. These are all ‘little things' that make the ordeal of a long haul flight less stressful and worth the extra cost of the ticket I feel. Also baggage allowance is a very generous 30 kilograms for those flying premium economy.
I guess it's nearly always the staff that determines whether a business is successful or not and I can't say enough kind words about the EVA Air flight crew. The stewardesses were the friendliest I'd ever encountered (not to mention the most attractive) and nothing was too much trouble when it came to making sure passengers were comfortable.
One of my biggest gripes on long haul flights has always been the lack of refreshments coming round. Not so with EVA Air. Towards the end of the flight I actually found myself saying "no! no more water and apple juice please!" as the stewardesses did another circuit with trays full of drinks. It's not often that happens in these days of commercial aviation cost-cutting.
But at the end of the day, it's all about two things - the comfort of the seat and the legroom in front of you. Nothing else matters on a long haul flight! Those are the reasons why I've paid 30-50% more than the price of an economy class seat.
What, no amenity kit!
I chuckle when I read many of the online flight reviews that go into detail about the amenities kit, the in-flight food and the on-board entertainment system. I couldn't give a toss about any of that stuff quite frankly and I'm amazed that other fliers do.
If the eye mask doesn't quite block out all the light or there isn't any toothpaste, I will survive. And surely no one on a long-haul flight is expecting a five-star dining experience. It's food. It's edible. Get it down you. Meals on flights are merely a convenient distraction and a way to pass half an hour. And as for the entertainment system, I'll pass. I've got a selection of my favorite movies and TV series on my laptop and game apps and music albums all loaded onto my smartphone. That's all my entertainment right there. The screen in the seat-back in front of me is purely for displaying the flight path and to let me know when we've finally entered European air space.
I'm not going to bore you with details about the inches of seat pitch because I never had a tape measure handy but let's just say that even as a six-footer, I had plenty of room. I didn't lose the feeling in my legs once on the whole flight! Of course it does help immeasurably if the seat next to you is empty, as it was on both my outgoing and incoming flights.
So two thumbs up for EVA Air. If you're looking to fly back to Europe and EVA premium economy is a viable option, give it a try because I don't think you'll be disappointed. The secret with flying any premium economy class airline is not to set your expectations too high. Premium economy is rarely ‘business class lite' (although EVA Air's does come very, very close). Think of it as a halfway house between those passengers rammed into cattle class and those snoozing peacefully (and horizontally) at the front of the aircraft.
I made the mistake of setting my expectations too high last year when I tried out Lufthansa's premium economy offering. Thanks to a computer error in the Lufthansa system (it's a long story) I ended up paying 70% more than the cost of an economy class seat and Lufthansa's premium economy was nowhere near 70% better.
Update - September 2019
I first wrote this blog in 2016 and since then, I've flown EVA Air Premium Economy at least four times (including this month). In fact it's become my go-to airline option whenever I travel back to England to see the family.
I've changed tact a little in that time though. I no longer fly via Amsterdam (incurring hotel bills and the cost of an extra short haul flight to Birmingham in the process) but prefer to fly directly to Heathrow, London. The flight lands at about 7.30 pm, giving me ample time to get to Heathrow's Central Bus Station and take the coach up to Birmingham the very same evening. It works well.
Depending on the luck of the draw and how far in advance I book, I've generally paid between 36,000 and 46,000 baht return (that's direct from Bangkok to London Heathrow) The outgoing journey is just over 12 hours and the return comes in at about 11 and a half.
The only downside or decline in service that I've witnessed is that the smiles seem to have disappeared from the on-board staff.
Above, I described the EVA Air flight crew as 'the friendliest I'd ever encountered' but on both flights this month, the air hostesses (are they still called that?) looked noticeably unhappy. If you follow the news, you might recall that a couple of months ago, over 2,000 EVA Air flight attendants went on strike for 17 days. 1,440 flights were cancelled and 280,000 passengers were affected in what become one of the longest industrial strikes in the history of Taiwan. Eventually, everyone went back to work but according to reports, a level of friction and 'bad blood' was created between staff and management. I wonder if the gloomy faces are a knock-on effect but it's only a personal observation.
That aside, I'm happy to report that the Premium Economy seat is still very comfortable. There is still a designated check-in (both at Bangkok and Heathrow), you are first off the plane (after the business class passengers of course) and you also get an extremely generous baggage allowance of 35 kilos.