Reaching Taipei from London is a supreme pain in the arse. For various tiresome political reasons, no European airlines fly non-stop. British Airways will sell you a ticket which includes a Cathay Pacific connection from Hong Kong, but it's on the expensive side, while KLM have a service that stops somewhere en-route. China Airlines did start a thrice-weekly non-stop service from Heathrow recently, but anytime I checked, the prices were laughable, twice what anyone else was charging; I had assumed this was an indication of high demand, but the service has just been cut back to twice weekly. That leaves EVA, who serve London daily (although I believe only five times a week in some seasons) with a stop in Bangkok.
The whole experience was odd. Not altogether unpleasant, but odd. The seat is the pretty standard sloping "flat" bed, although EVA's version is much wider than the similar products offered on Lufthansa or Air France, being only six-abrest on the 777 rather than seven. In addition to the standard pillow, the crew offer a large memory-foam pad to everyone - then make rather a show of ensuring that they're all returned before landing.
There is on-demand entertaintment, although the screen isn't the largest and the selection isn't great. The navigation is also awkward - I seemed to find myself going back to square one on many occasions.
The aircraft itself was spotless, including the toilets which were consistently sparkling. I'm sure the cabin crew must clean them every time the seey somebody exit - I've never known facilities that were so clean ten hours into a flight (British Airways, please take note).
The cabin crew were very polite, although the sight of off duty pilots (they were wearing branded sweatshirts) sporting surgical masks throughout the journey doesn't fill a fellow with confidence. That brings us to the oddness...
The American Airlines Flagship Lounge
At Heathrow, EVA uses American's "Flagship" lounge for business class passengers. One has to imagine that this is one of the cheaper options available to airlines who don't have the traffic to justify their own facility. Everything about the place is depressing, from the harsh indsutrial finsishes on every surface to the dreadful food and nasty wine. Most odd though is the selection of discount brand spirits on offer (see above). I have to assume that AA is being ripped off by somebody at their catering contractor; can they really have specified these particular products?
Most of EVA's European services make a stop in Bangkok. In itself, this isn't much of a problem - you're only on the ground for about an hour and EVA have a large business class lounge. It's also not hard to see why the stop is there - very few of the passengers, on either leg, are doing the whole journey and I have no doubt that the London service is only financially viable because of the revenue from passengers terminating in Bangkok.
The oddness here derives from the people using EVA between London and Bangkok - I've seldom seen such a selection of humanity. Now, in an ideal world, none of us would judge each other on appearances or dress choice, however... Looking around the boarding gate at Heathrow I came to the conclusion that I was about to board some sort of sex tourist special. Terrifying.
Re-boarding in Bangkok for the return journey felt like a scene from some sub-Little Britain BBC3 youth comedy. All of economy seemed filled with angry welsh people, wearing name tags and screaming at each other in Welsh while stunned EVA staff tried to calm them down (in English, which only seemed to inflame the situation). As they boarded the aircraft, they'd let out regular shreiks of "never again EVA air". I'm not really sure what they were complaining about, possibly that EVA were, sensibly, enforcing boarding by row rather than allowing a scrum of two hunded angry welsmen to form around the gate.
The business class lounge in Taipei is large and not particularly crowded, if unremarkable. What was extraordinary were the two American gentelmen using thier laptops as mobile phones. Each of them, and they didn't seem to be travelling together, were logged into Skype, without a headset, so were basically screaming at the machines and broadcasting the responses across the airport.
Is this a new "thing"? I mean, I know EVA are blameless in this situation, but it did contribute to the overall oddness of the journey.
There's no getting away from it, cuisine is not one of EVA's strengths. The offering in the lounges, in Taipei and Bangkok, was horrifying.
On both journeys I used the facility to pre-order a specific meal on the EVA air website, I'd encourage anyone flying with them to do this - amazingly, it includes more appetising options than the standard menu.
The outbound flight included both the best and worst of the food. Departing London, dinner started with some prawns in a sweet chilli sauce, followed by a surf 'n' turf effort with mashed potatoes (both pictured above). Not great, but perfectly edible.
After the stop in Bangkok we were served a "Thai-style Salmon". I can't begin to guess at what cooking process this poor fish had been subjected to, but it was a bad one. The main course was a prawn dish smothered in a sauce so repulsive as to render the entire plate inedible. Both are pictured above for your delectation.
The return journey was worse; I gave up taking pictures. Although I did capture some sort of fried dough (below) which may have been appetising when it was first fried, but had lost rather a lot of its appeal in the hours since. There was also some mystery fish dish and a salad accompanied by a "rasperry yoghurt dressing".
Shortly before we landed in London, at 7pm, 1900 hours to avoid any confusion, a breakfast was served. Actual breakfast. Upon rejecting the tray of food I was asked what I'd like to drink:
"Scotch and ice please"
"Er, yes, a large Scotch please".
Well, you have to take your carbohydrates where you can find them in these situations.
I know this comes under the rather embarassing category of bourgeois tragedy, but I am going to comment on the Champagne. I'm not so bothered about the quality, although it was piss poor, but the behaviour surrounding it.
EVA's promotional videos clearly show business passengers being served Dom Perignon. By the time I boarded and read the wine list, this had been downgraded to Moet & Chandon; dissappointing, but not life threatening. Indeed, on the sectors between Bangkok and Taipei the Moet & Chandon was precisely what was served.
However, between London and Bangkok, in both directions, some mystery sparkling wine was served. Its identity remains a mystery because the cabin crew went to such lengths to completely cover the bottle in linen napkins. The garish bright gold foil peeking out from the mumified bottle gave the first clue that it wasn't quite the product advertised in the wine list and, to be honest, I wouldn't really care, except that it tasted just awful. I'm not sure what Lambrini actually tastes like, but I'm pretty sure this was similar.
As I said, it's not so much the product itself, but the bizzarre, and clearly deliberate, attempts at deception. What are they thinking?
Carping about the poor standard of Champagne over, I can't say that this was a bad flight, but do ensure that you take some snack bars along with you - I was ravenous by the time we reached Heathrow.