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EVA Air Royal Laurel Class (Business Class) ORD-TPE

EVA Air boards Business Class passengers directly from the Air France / KLM Lounge for our flight to Taipei. I was the third person on board and quickly took my seat of 9A. As I was getting situated (you know, tablet, headphones and chargers out), Daisy, the flight attendant working my portion of the cabin approached, delivering menus and a warm moist towel to help you get refreshed before the 15 hour flight.

On the Ground

EVA doesn’t serve champagne on the ground, at least in Chicago. Cook County taxes are very high and they don’t want to pay them, so they serve an inferior sparkling wine, they wouldn’t even tell me what kind it was.

Champagne and chocolate with a view

Pre-departure champagne and chocolate

Daisy asks if I want the seat cover – not a mattress pad mind you, just a quilted cover over the seat. I took it. I’ll take any additional padding I can get on airline seats. Pajamas were delivered and I immediately hopped up and changed. The lavatory between the two business class cabins is much more roomy, making it much easier to change. The front lavatory is a standard sized room…small, very small.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

Loves these very private seats.

1-2-1 Business Class Configuration

These private business class seats are some of my favorite in the sky.

Leg room and pop-out IFE

Lots of leg room on EVA Air’s Business Class Seat

New Pajamas for Me

New Pajamas!

Boarding continued and I sat back and enjoyed my drink, in my new pajamas, and thought about my trip. Was I crazy for flying so far for just a couple of days? Maybe, but I am going to enjoy the journey. The door closed at 00h20 and we were pulling away from the jet bridge at 00h23. It was fast. Then we sat on the tarmac for about 20 minutes.

Amenity Kit + Champagne + Airport = Happy Tim

Business Class Amenity kit. Not the fabulous Rimowa kit, but Georg Jensen was still nice

Amenity Kit Contents

The amenity kit was a little lean

Copa Airlines

Departure – Copa Airlines off to Panama City

In the Air

Once airborne, the crew sprung into action. It was late, people wanted to sleep and the sooner they can put us to bed, the easier their flight will be.

I had preordered the duck for my entree, which was easy to do on the EVA website. EVA offers some additional entrees that aren’t normally stocked on board, but they are catered upon request.

Another glass of champagne arrived as did the amuse bouche. It was quite lovely, Turkey Ham (huh? What’s turkey ham?) with Asparagus with champagne was a great way to kick off this Business Class Meal.

Appetizer of Turkey and Onion Tart

Prelude
Turkey Ham with Green Asparagus – Brie and Gouda Cheese with Onion Chutney Tartlet

The lobster appetizer arrived fifteen minutes later. It was served with drawn butter and a quinoa salad that was just packed with flavor. I skipped the quail egg though

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Lobster Appetizer

Hors D’oeuvre
Maine Lobster – Quail Egg – Quinoa Salad

Right at 01h30 my duck arrived. I asked for a glass of Bordeaux to accompany the duck, but it never arrived. The duck looked…well…strange. I’m not sure what happened to it, but about three-quarters of it looked and felt like it had been eaten by someone else then spit back onto my plate. I was disgusted. I couldn’t eat it. Daisy came by and saw that I wasn’t eating and she asked a couple of questions, then took it away. The purser came back to talk to me and she was mortified. She suggested I choose a different entree, which I did. The kung pao chicken sounded good to me and it was delivered moments later.

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

Special Ordered Duck Breast Entree

Duck breast with rice and broccolini

The chicken looked strange too. It was stuffed with a truffle brioche that just seemed off when paired with a kung pao truffle jus. I scraped out the stuffing and ate the chicken. Quite a disappointing entree selection.

Second Entree - Chicken

Main Course
Truffle Brioche Stuffed in Pan Friend Chicken Brease with Black Truffle Jus – Mixed Vegetables

The fruit and cake plate and was delivered. There was no cheese course. When I asked about it, the matter of fact answer was that “There was no cheese course tonight.” Hmmmrph.

The disappointing dessert

Sweets
Fruit – Blueberry Cheese Cake

At 02h00 the dinner service was over, plates and linens cleared. I was a bit disappointed.

It was time to turn in, so I laid my seat out to a bed and put on the EVA provided headphones and listened to the Big Bang Theory as I slept. It is a great plane show – as it always makes me want to sleep.

I woke up after about 5 hours of sleep and decided to watch a movie I brought (Indiana Jones) and get some work done. The internet was slow and cost $16.95 for three hours of service. It did what I needed it to do, but it was soooo slow.

At 08h00 I ordered the vermicelli with pork, which was a great choice. I should have had three of those for dinner.

Amazing Mid Flight Snack

Snack
Stir Fried Vermicelli with Pork in Taiwanese Style Sauce

I napped intermittently until breakfast, which was served promptly at 12h30. The lights popped on with a never before seen intensity! I’m not a big breakfast guy, so I skipped the cereals and I chose to have the fruit, pastry and the bread pudding. It was all pretty great. The fruit was a little under ripe, but it was still flavorful.

Croissant with Butter

Breakfast Pastry – Croissant

Simple Breakfast of Bread Pudding.

Breakfast
Butter Bread Pudding with Cherry Ragout

At this point, breakfast is done and we are still two hours from Taipei. US and European carriers don’t start serving arrival meal until 90 minutes before landing. We had lots of time left, but now I wasn’t really in the mood for sleeping.

Landing

As we come into Taipei, the flight crew sprung into action. Unlike the rest of the trip, they seemed like chickens with their heads cut off. Seemingly executing their landing procedures in a near panic mode. For example, I had five sheets of paper stored in a cubby behind my shoulder. I was told that I couldn’t stow anything there and as I was grabbing it another stew comes over, repeats the request, then the first grabs the paper, ripping it, then shoves it in another cubby (that also said No Stowage During Taxi, Take Off or Landing). Theses were just notes I had taken to prep for my trip – not a big deal, but the service sure went south fast. The crew all took their seats and we still had 30 minutes until we touched down.

We rolled into TPE at 04h05, 11 minutes early. Despite this flight being more than 15 hours, I wasn’t ready for it to end. I really do love EVA. The flight timing is great – I can work a full day, leave at 00h30 and be anywhere in Asia by noon the next day. That’s no small feat from Chicago. The seats are among my favorite in Business Class. If you are traveling with someone it is a bit difficult to chat, but for a solo traveler, you can’t beat these seats. The food is usually pretty good – the entrees on this flight were pretty abysmal, but the other courses were enjoyable.  Loved the noodles.

The Cost

I used 90,000 United Miles (Saver Award) on this Business Class flight (including the next one), the value can’t be beat. I haven’t ever checked the actual cost of the flight, because I’m not expensing these flights back to a third party. I’m not paying thousands of dollars this flight (likely) costs in Business Class.

Have you flown EVA Business Class before? Do you dig their service? What do you think was wrong with that duck entree I had? Have you ever not wanted to get off a flight after more than 15 hours of flying?

Singapore: By the Numbers

Regular readers know that I had a quick trip to Singapore – returning home last Monday.  This was indeed a whirlwind trip.  My better half was in Singapore for work and since I had never been and always wanted to go, I found a way to make it work.  I’ll have much more details notes coming soon, but here are the high level numbers and stats.

  • Airlines Flown: 3
  • Flights Taken: 5
  • United Miles Redeemed: 180,000
  • Miles Flown: 20,288
  • Hours in the Air: 44
  • Time in Singapore: 68 hours
  • Time in Vienna: 15 hours
  • Airport Lounges: 6
  • Hotels Nights: 4
  • Hotels Stayed: 3
  • Cities Explored: 2
  • Meals Eaten: 6
  • Restaurants Dined: 1 (everything else was Street Food / Hawker Stalls)
  • Cocktails / Wine / Champagne Consumed: Countless
My Route to the Singapore for the weekend

My route to Singapore

It was a quick trip, but with more hours on the ground than in the air, which is always a key metric for a trip like this.  That being said, spending 44 hours flying (excluding layovers) in some great business class products isn’t too bad of a way to spend a the dog days of summer.

Give me your honest opinion – would you go to Singapore for just 68 hours?  Does the fact that it cost nothing (other than points and time) change your opinion?  What’s the longest you’ve traveled for the shortest stay?

Austrian Airlines ORD-VIE (OS 66)

After being disappointed by both the United Polaris Lounge and the Swiss Lounge at O’hare, I was really looking forward to my time aboard Austrian Airlines flight from Chicago to Vienna. I find Austrian has a truly wonderful Business Class product, with fully flat seats, top notch food and a nicely curated selection of Austrian wines – along with options from other regions as well.

A few weeks before, I had called Austrian Airlines to reserve the exact seats I wanted. Austrian’s Business Class is in a 1-2-1 seating configuration. These seats are staggered and when your seat is reclined into a bed, your feet actual have slid under the side table of the seat in front of you. This means the seats alternate where the side table is – either right next to the aisle or next to the window. If you select properly, you can have a much more private seat and if not, you’ll be sitting directly on the aisle, likely getting bumped by passengers and crew as they pass your seat. I’ve been fortunate enough to have selected the single seats closest to the window and farthest from the aisle each time I’ve flow with Austrian.

Boarding began about 20 minutes late at 16h55 through door 1L. Once onboard, I immediately turned right down the first aisle, as I was seated in 5A.

Flight: Austrian Airlines OS66 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 5A
Departure: 17h20 (17h30)
Arrival: 08h35 (09h01)

I quickly found my seat, unpacked my tablet and power cables and stowed my briefcase. I ended up checking my roller bag – Austrian (well, their contract employees at O’hare) are real sticklers for the rules and often will not let you (or at least try) bring your bigger carryon bags on board – even though there is ample space in the overhead bins – especially in business class. I decided to skip the drama and just check the bag initially.

My Thrown – 5A from ORD to VIE

As I was getting settled, the flight attendant came by with a tray with cups of water, orange juice and apple juice. Alcoholic beverages were not available – a fellow passenger was quite upset about this, so the flight service manager came over and explained it was because Cook County has high taxes on booze opened on the ground, so she’d have to wait until we were airborne. That’s another thing I like about Austrian Airlines – they are polite, but very direct. They are not going to bend the rules, but they will explain why the rules are there and give you an alternate.

I opted for a water. I had also decided that I would endeavor to speak German this entire flight. I took about 2 years of German in college, but haven’t had much of an opportunity to practice – this was the perfect time.

About 10 minutes after I sat down, the menus were delivered by the chef, who introduced herself and said she’d be back to answer any questions about the menu and to take our final orders.

At this time, the Business Class Amenity kit was delivered – and unlike previous versions of this kit, which is billed as a carrying case for a tablet (a tiny tablet, I guess), this kit was reusable as a shoe bag. I don’t think you can ever have too many shoe bags when you travel, they are critical for keeping dirt from your shoes from getting on your clothes.

The kit contained the standard items including socks, an eye shade, toothbrush and paste, lip balm, hand cream and ear plugs.

Austrian Airlines Business Class Amenity Kit with Contents – Dig the Shoe Bag

The chef came back by to finalize dinner selections and to collect our breakfast choices as well – I opted not to be woken up – I’d rather just get a few extra minutes of sleep and grab a bite in the City.

As we wait for boarding to finish, I polished off my still water (Wasser ohne Gas) and scrolled through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE). I was surprised at the number of films I actually wanted to watch. I bookmarked (which is a fabulous feature on this system) six films, including The Shape of Water, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Suburbicon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Murder on the Orient Express (which frustrated me, because I rented Murder through Amazon Prime – I could have just saved a few bucks, if I had checked the film options before renting). Despite having several films in the queue, I only watched Murder on the Orient Express, then put the Kingsmen on while I slept. There were a total of 61 films and 87 episodes of TV shows. The diversity of the TV programs was a bit disappointing, but for a nine hour overnight flight, it worked well for me.

The door closed at 17h25 and we pushed back from the gate at 17h30. After a relatively short taxi, we were in the air at 17h50. It was a smooth roll and right on queue the flight attendants jumped into action. The Flight Services Coordinator made her way through the Business Class Cabin, introducing herself, confirming our beverage choices and making it clear that if we needed anything, find her and she’d handle it.

Sunset over Canada as we make our way ever closer to the Atlantic.

I switched on the movie and enjoyed the nicely timed dinner service. I didn’t feel rushed in the slightest, but it moved along at a nice clip, so I wasn’t frustrated with losing quality sleep time onboard.

The table is set with DO&CO branded items – Love this Catering Company.

Prawns Andaluz with a great Truffled Celeriac Cream Soup / Crevetten Andaluz mit Gretruffelte Sellerieschaumsuppe

Buffalo Mozzarella Ravioli / Buffelmozzarella Ravioli

Selection of Desserts: Chocolate Raspberry Trifle, Chocolate Ice Cream, plus a nice glass of Port

The final dinner service was collected at 19h55 and I was sufficiently tired that I actually fell into a pretty solid sleep at 21h15. I woke up several times throughout the flight, but was able to drift back asleep quickly. I didn’t wake up at all for the breakfast service – usually the clanging of plates and dishes wakes me up, but not today. I did get up about 50 minutes before we were landing and everyone else had already made a big dent in their breakfasts. Once the crew noticed I was awake the hurried over asking if I wanted juice – but said that I had slept too long and breakfast wasn’t available – fair enough. The omelet looked pretty good, to my surprise. Looks like I would indeed be grabbing breakfast in the City.

We landed about 25 minutes late. I made my way through immigrations and customs with nary a question. My checked bag was the second off the belt and I was off very quickly into the City Center.

I really do enjoy flying Austrian Airlines. For 70,000 United MileagePlus miles for a one way ticket to Vienna, you really can’t beat it. The service was quite nice – efficient, friendly, but not too friendly. The ultimate goal is for a pleasant flight, but with ample time to sleep as we land at a reasonable hour in Vienna – you’ve got things to do. I look forward to flying Austrian again – and I’m quite confident that I will again soon.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines before? What do you think about them – is my love irrational or are you in the same boat? What other products should I try when I’m off to Vienna again?

Swiss International Lounge

After leaving the Polaris Lounge in Terminal 1, I made my way to the International Terminal at O’hare, T5. No one was in the Business Class queue for check in, and the only hiccup I had was that I couldn’t remember if my last trip to Europe was within the past 6 months. Since I couldn’t answer, they just let me go.

The Security line was immense – full of dozens of college students heading off to Europe for Spring Break. It reminded me of my first international trip – to Europe for Spring Break. I skipped the line, thanks to the Business Class Boarding Pass. This time, I didn’t have to go through the nude-o-scope, just a standard metal detector. It was basically like Pre-Check, except I had to take off my shoes.

I was through Security and on my way to the Swiss International Lounge – Austrian uses this as their lounge for Business Class and Star Gold Passengers. I’ve visited this lounge before and I’m disappointed in it for sure.

Multilingual Travel Guidance

This lounge is pretty small, always crowded and surprisingly hot. For some reason the sun just bakes in on this lounge and makes it so steamy. This time, the lounge was basically standing room only. As I walked through, the stars aligned and a lady stood up to leave, so I grabbed her seat (well, the seat she was sitting in, I didn’t grab her butt).

The lounge was full of people on the Austrian flight as well as people waiting for the SAS Lounge to open. I saw a couple of people waiting for the Turkish flight (leaves around 22h00) and even a family on EVA (00h20 departure). It was packed. I couldn’t snap any photos of the food spread because people were leaning against the serving areas. I wasn’t in the mood for any mediocre lounge food but I did want a drink.

The wine options are pretty rough. They serve Mirassou Pinot Noir a d Chardonnay. I don’t loathe this wine, but it sells at the grocery store for $8 a bottle. We will serve it at a dinner party….at the end of the night when everyone is drunk with destroyed taste buds. It’s not something I wanted to drink at 16h00 in the afternoon. I did grab a glass of Pinot though. There were not bottles of bubbles to be found.

My rough red wine, with soft gummies.

I grabbed a small ramekin of gummy bears, that because of the heat in the lounge were quite soft, nearly melty. They were pretty damn tasty, I must say.

I bolted from the lounge after I finished my snack – I was too hot and just generally uncomfortable. I visit the lounge to relax and escape the mayhem of the general airport chaos. This lounge provider none of the benefits I was seeking.

Each time I return to this lounge I am expecting a big improvement and I am consistently disappointed. O’hare really needs to up the lounge options in T5. That being said, I have never visited the British Lounge, but the Swiss and Air France lounges are utterly abysmal. Where do you hang out when you have time to kill at T5?

United Polaris Lounge (ORD)

On my way to Vienna I stopped off at United’s Premium Lounge, Polaris. Chicago O’hare currently has the only Polaris Lounge in the world. This is my second visit. I was a bit disappointed during my first visit (en route to Rio) and was so excited to see it after the expansion. One of my biggest complaints the first visit was the overcrowding and how loud the space was.

I arrived 3.5 hours before my Austrian flight to Vienna. I arrived so early because Austrian flies out if the International Terminal (Terminal 5) and Polaris is in Terminal 1. I would have to leave the secured area and go back through security in a different terminal, so I needed lots of time to enjoy this space and make my flight.

Polaris Lounge – The only one worldwide.

I arrived and check in was smooth and painless. Everyone I encountered reminded me about the terminal change and the need to deal with security again – which I appreciated. It is not a quick and easy transfer from this lounge to T5.

I walked into the lounge and I was shocked at how crowded it was. I managed to find a single seat at a small dining table. I dropped anchor, grabbed a glass of champagne (they serve Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label, which is a perfectly acceptable wine that we drink and serve at home).

Veuve Clicquot is always a lovely way to kick off a trip, don’t you agree?

My first plan was to take a look at the expanded space (they took space from the old United Club in C Concourse to expand Polaris). This new area is the designated a la carte dining area. Before the seats near the bar (where I was sitting) were the designated dining area. Every table was full in the recently expanded area. People were either actively eating or they had dirty plates on their tables next to their laptops. I had no place to eat, nor could I order anything. I asked a United employee if I could be put on a reservation list and he looked confused and said it was just first come seating only. OK.

Every 10 minutes or so I would walk back to see if space had opened up. Nothing. After waiting for about 45 minutes, I see a table of four leave the dining area, so I grab my glass of bubbles and walk back to get a seat. The recently vacated table now had a “Reserved” sign and when I asked the server, he said that it was reserved for another guest – this was the same server who told me that I couldn’t reserve a space. He did confirm that it was just a single guest and I asked if I could share the four-top table – I just wanted to try out the menu. I was shot down. The server was pretty snippy too – I was obviously distracting him from his duties.

I slink back to my cafe table near the bar – and request a refill on my Veuve before heading over to the buffet. Both times I’ve been in Polaris there has been a louder, highly energetic woman staffing the buffet area. She loves the food and she loves her job. She greets the guests, offers (unsolicited) recommendations on the food items and will even come find you if something new comes out onto the buffet that she wants you to try. She’s not that polished, but she’s a hoot.

Back at my bar table, I sampled a couple of buffet items and was flipping through a magazine when a man came up to bus the table next to me. Talk about unpolished. This guy kept mumbling something to the man at the table next to me, who had no idea what he was saying. Eventually the United employee just started taking the plates and glasses away from the table – evidently he was asking if the table should be cleared. To properly clear this table, he set the tray of dirty dishes on my table – and about 10 seconds after I snapped this picture (and he told me not to take pictures in the lounge), the plates and glasses fell off his tray, spilling other people’s half eaten food on my table. Not to worry, this guy did a great job of cleaning up the mess – by using the soiled napkins he’d just collected from my neighbor’s table. It was gross. The people at both tables next to me (the one being bused and the one watching) were frustrated and angry. I was disappointed.

You won’t get many award by stacking dirty dishes on a customer’s table.

At this point, I just decided to leave. It wasn’t going to get any better. I still had more than two hours until my flight to Vienna left, but I just couldn’t sit here any longer. I say you can build a beautiful airline lounge, but if you train and supervise the employees poorly, what’s the point?

That being said, I did need assistance with another flight issue (I had some travel plans change and I needed help rebooking) and the customer service reps (who were doing actual airline business, not wait staff) were phenomenal. The woman I was working with pulled up at least half a dozen alternates for my travel issues and she was just so lovely to work with.

Will I go back to Polaris? Yes. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. The space is very nice and with the remodel, it is much less loud than it was before. The alcohol selection is quite nice and some of the staff are competent, some are even great, alas, most in my encounters were not. It sure isn’t a world class airline lounge. I find the American Express Centurion Lounges to be far superior – and extremely consistent – relative to Polaris. I guess us United flyers just can’t have nice things. I do hear American’s Flagship Lounges are pretty nice.

What do you think about Polaris? Am I just finding bad times to visit? Do I just have too high of standards? How do you get to enjoy the a la carte dining if the tables are full and your can’t reserve a seat?