I hope this report is useful to anyone considering a flight with EVA Airways (BR) from London LHR to either Bangkok BKK or on to Taipei TPE. EVA is Taiwan's second airline and is part of the Evergreen Group. It flies daily (except Mondays) between London and Taiwan.
I am a Gold member of EVA's Evergreen Club. Where this has affected the service I may have, I have marked it.
I booked a return ticket LHR-TPE on 24th October via a London agent as follows:
LHR 21:20 06NOV BR68 Arrive TPE 21:50 07NOV
TPE 09:10 15NOV BR67 Arrive LHR 19:10 15NOV
At this time of year, LHR is 8 hours behind TPE and 7 hours behind BKK where the plane makes a brief stopover.
Flights were booked in Elite (Q) class - EVA's premium economy. EVA currently run a 777-300ER on this route. This has three cabin classes - Premium Laurel (business class) - 61" pitch, non-180 degree lie flat seats, Elite (premium economy) - 38" pitch, and Economy - 33". Sometimes they run a 747 which also has Elite class. If you get this, your experience will be very similar.
It is unusual for me to book a ticket in London. On getting the PNR, I immediately went to EVA's website to choose my seat. With a 2-4-2 configuration, half the seats are aisle seats and that's what I prefer. Outbound was showing only one centre seat remaining, inbound ditto. I've seen this nonsense before - EVA seem to withhold more and more seats from the online booking system these days. I got a Chinese speaker to ring EVA in TPE. I immediately got 22H for outbound which is kept for golds/diamonds. Inbound they coudn't improve on the centre seat (though I later got 26C allocated). If you cannot get the seat you want, it's well worth calling an EVA office, though I find London less helpful than Taipei.
I generally arrive at LHR about an hour before take off. Check-in closes 45mins before take off though I've cut it finer than that. You never see the terrible check-in queues at LHR for EVA flights that you do for CX, SQ, VS so even for the non-FF Economy flyer, EVA scores well.
Just outside the terminal building, at 2020 (exactly an hour before take off) I got a call on my mobile from EVA wanting to know if I was on my way because they were about to close check-in. This was somewhat of a shock - I've never been called before and wasn't really cutting it particularly fine. I explained I was only 2 mins away from the desk so it wasn't a problem. I knew the flight was pretty full, so was wondering if seats were tight and an OP-UP was a possibility which sometimes happens for golds on EVA.
EVA flights depart from T3 at LHR and you check-in in area D. Within the "bay" there are desks for Economy and Elite. At the front there are two desks for Premium Laurel (C class)/Diamond/Gold pax. There is also a ticketing/enquiries desk.
I arrived at the front desks. One was unoccupied, another had a girl typing stuff into her mobile phone. She completely ignored me standing there but then a friendly chap came over calling "Mr Jimbo" and guided me to one of the Elite desks. I've seen this before - they seem to close the front desks early, just leaving one of the bay "Elite class" desks open. I assume the woman with the phone was just a miscellaneous LHR ground staff, but really it does make for a shabby impression with the EVA sign above her still illuminated.
The EVA chap was a British guy in EVA uniform and probably the boss for the night. He asked "Mr Jimbo, it's entirely up to you of course, so don't hesitate to refuse. We still have your aisle seat kept for you but the lady in the adjacent window seat would very much like to swap." I politely declined - I really appreciate being able to walk around during the long flight. An Air Canada agent at the desk then checked me in, but said to the EVA guy "oh what about the comment on here" (OP-UP again?), "just delete it" he says...
At LHR they automatically tag your bags "priority" if you are Gold/Diamond/Premium Laurel which is most helpful and seems fairly standard amongst airlines. However EVA's policy is that to get "priority" you must be Diamond or in Premium Laurel (C) class. If you are Gold and not in PL you are supposed to get a green "Evergreen Club" sticker. They claim this still offers a form of priority, but my results are mixed. I only had one suitcase to check-in. The usual allowance for Elite is 25Kg in total, but 45Kg if you have gold. LHR requires that no individual piece weighs more than 32Kg. On leaving check-in they then closed up. I was the last PAX.
I got a boarding card and two lounge invites - one for LHR where EVA use the SAS London lounge and one for their own lounge at BKK where the flight makes a short stop. At BKK they don't really need to see the invite - your BP and/or FF card is enough, but it does include a map for newbies.
Note that Elite class does not usually get lounge access. For non-EVA lounges, you must be gold or dimaond. For EVA lounges you must be silver. I believe EVA will sell lounge access at LHR check-in to those who don't normally qualify, but I'm not sure of this.
Some airlines at LHR sticker your boarding card if you are gold so that you may use fast track security. Else really it's only available if you are in C or F. On seeing my Elite class BP, the guy at the entrance to security said I should use "Fast Track" because I'm flying business class. I didn't argue, but did check with the woman at the entrance to Fast Track pointing out that I was merely in premium economy, not "proper business class". She said "oh no you can use Fast Track". Was it "Elite class" (which shows a Y on the BP), or the flash of my gold card, or not wanting to turn me back? I don't know.
Fast Track security was same as usual - not particularly fast. Laptops out of bags. No shoe scanning at the X-ray or afterwards this time. I grabbed a bottle of duty free. As usual they look at your BP and ask "is Taiwan your final destination". Saying "yes" means they think you don't need a security sealed bag, because they don't realise you de-plane and go through security at BKK. I asked for a security-sealed bag and got one. IF YOU ARE ON BR68 going LHR to TPE, you MUST get your duty free liquids security sealed.
I reached the lounge at 20:40. If you don't have lounge access, there are plenty of other distractions at T3.
The London Lounge is a perfectly decent, functional lounge. I never have much time there and don't think it's ideal if you want peace and quiet. The usual choice of cold snacks, booze (free of course), good reading matter etc was available. The display was already saying "boarding" but from previous experience it's even gone to "final call" whilst boarding hasn't yet started. Still it can be a lengthy walk to the gate so after a 10 minute stay I made my way to the gate.
Unusually boarding was from gate 31. At the entrance to the gate Group4 security were politley checking passports against BPs. The guy thanked me by my first name which seemed a bit odd. Then just inside I presented my BP at the EVA desk, no funny beep so no OP-UP. Premium Laurel (C)/Gold/Diamond boarding had just started so I walked straight on through the depressing waiting area and onto the plane. It was 21:00.
ACT ONE - LHR-BKK
Two EVA FAs were greeting pax as I board at the front door. I stored my carry-on in the locker. A nice consequence of the wider spacing in Elite compared with Economy is that it's rare to have trouble stowing your hand luggage, even if you don't have the benefit of priority boarding.
A lady was already sitting in the window seat. She had an attitude about her and was obviously the lady what wanted to swap. I said "hello" but this just seemed to antagonise her. I suppose she'd checked in nice and early hoping for an aisle seat and was told that subject to my not turning up, or turning up and agreeing, she'd get what she wanted. Then right at the last minute she got the bad news.
After a few minutes, an FA came over to the lady and said "they could help". She got up moaning that she couldn't stand window seats. She headed in the direction of economy. Then an FA came over to me, checked my name (got excited about an OP-UP again) and then asked if I knew where the lady was. I said she'd been moved and then the FA scribbled something out on her clipboard. Exactly the same thing happened again a few minutes later. Normally when crew speak to me at this stage, it's because of an OP-UP. Put together with my check-in experience, never in my flying history have I thought so many times in a single flight that I was about to be OP-UPed, only to be disappointed.
Eventually a new chap appeared and asked me to let him through to the window seat. He was a gold who'd been upgraded from an Economy aisle. Seems they did a straight swap and the lady downgraded (if she had an Elite class ticket in the first place).
We pushed back at about 21:30 but with traffic didn't get airborne until about 10:10. Pretty typical at LHR.
The flight was indeed full in Economy (I checked) and Elite. PL looked almost full.
In the seat-back pocket was Verve, EVA's inflight mag with articles in Chinese, Japanese and English. Content is different, so the more languages you speak the more you have to read. "Sky Shop" - the duty free mag. FFs get a small discount on most items. They don't show tobacco products anymore, but you can still buy them. There is also a guide to the VOD system and headphones.
You get an amenity kit and slippers. The amenity kit has been "cost down" over the years. It currently consists of a plastic bag but with a traditional zip, about the same size as a small pencil case. Inside is a tooth brush, tooth paste, and moisturising cream. That's it. I find the bag more useful than its contents - handy for keeping receipts or coins/keys.
The meal service started soon after cruising. I noticed:
1) No hot towel service - usually they come round with thin towels delivered via tongs in Elite
2) No welcome drink/nuts on cruising - this has been more sporadic in recent times
3) No individual welcome from an FA. They started this for Golds/Diamonds a while back and personally I find it embarressing.
So straight into the meal service. Generally Elite class meals are better than Economy, but nowhere near business class standard. It's served from a trolley with 2 choices. Paper menus disappeared years ago - but if you're quick you can spot the meal choices displayed on the screens.
The meal was described as "Chicken or Fish". I went for Fish which was with potato and vegetables. Not bad. There was a and butter, cheesecake, salad and a couple of crackers with a generous piece of President Camembert cheese. Wine was "red or white". The white comes out of plastic tetra-pak style "bottle". The red comes in a plastic bottle designed to look like a traditional glass one. I went for red, and it was OK. My upgraded neighbour demanded a G&T and was politely asked if he could wait a moment. He then went into a patronising mini-lecture on how "you mustn't forget" before telling me all about Asian women. He was only going as far as BKK, thank goodness. The FA soon returned with the G&T and she got a bit more of the treatment.
The FAs then disappeared into Economy and the top up run was a long time coming. It was combined with collecting the trays and the first of a coffee run. So I got a second glass of wine and a first cup of coffee at the same time. (Suits me, but not the delay.) A second coffee run followed about 10 minutes later.
At 23:00 the lights were dimmed.
Well looking back on Act One, Scene One, service was efficient but minimal. The FAs worked hard and were as friendly and as obliging as always. But it did all seem a bit hurried. Elite (or Deluxe) used to be better than this.
The Elite cabin is small - seat maps can be found on EVA's website. Just 2 toilets at the bottom of each aisle. You cannot access the other aisle without walking through a curtain into Economy or Premium Laurel. There are enough toilets provided people from Economy don't use them. The system breaks down a bit once the people in the front of Economy realise that their nearest toilet is just the otherside of a curtain. EVA do try and stop this - new signs have started appearing on the toilets "Elite pax only". The FAs do a good job keeping them clean and that applies equally to the economy toilets too.
Seats in Elite are wider than Economy and have a 38" pitch. You should be untroubled by your neighbour encroaching on your space. If you're in an aisle, it is still possible to have an elbow or shoulder knocked. There is a generous recline but the seat moves forward as it reclines so if the guy in front of you goes to max recline it's not too troubling. A table folds out from the armrest so eating is a more civilised affair than in Economy. There is 8.4" VOD, but better still - laptop power supplied at 110v via a dual Euro/US style socket. I considered watching "The Taking of Pelham 123" on the VOD, but instead did some work, then began to watch a film I'd loaded onto my laptop then fell asleep. The VOD system is no KrisFlyer, but does have a range of recent western films, asian stuff, music and games. The screen is on the back of the seat or divider in front of you. The system is a bit ropey and I have seen it crash.
Throughout the night, the FAs made regular trips around with a tray of apple juice/orange juice/water. I didn't see them offer any snacks this time or notice any left out in the galley, but I might have missed this whilst asleep. Previously they've offered ham rolls, chicken ceasar wraps etc. Of course if I'd asked I'm sure they would have rustled something up, if only nuts.
14:00 (BKK time) the lights came on for Scene Two. Again no towel service. 30 minutes later straight into the second meal service.
This time it was "omlette/sausage/potato" or "chicken noodle". I went for the chicken noodle. It also came with a salad, roll and butter and a pot of Yeo Valley apricot organic yoghurt. They don't offer alcohol during this meal service, but will always give it if asked. I just went for coffee.
We started descent at around 15:00 and were at the gate early at 15:30 (scheduled 15:45). On arrival all pax must deplane and there is a crew change.
INTERMISSION - BKK
As you get off you are given a rather large laminated transit card, but you do need to keep what's left of your BP. I suppose the transit card is a backup plus gives the ground staff a chance of shepherding disorientated pax. You now go through BKK security before going upstairs to the EVA lounge. At the X-ray, the security lady asked to "borrow" my bottle. She showed it to an elderly British couple. They were rather irate - they'd bought some whiskey at LHR and not had it properly sealed. Security wanted to confiscate it. The guy was having none of it and said he would return to the plane with it. The security guy said he couldn't do that, but seemed unwilling to stop him trying. BKK security thanked me for helping out, not that I had done much.
I arrived in the EVA lounge at 15:45. As I mentioned, in Elite class you must hold a silver card or above to access an EVA lounge. They don't seem to mind golds bringing in a guest, though I think technically this is only permitted at TPE. (No problem for Diamonds). I sometimes do this if I meet a nice person who is TPE bound. I like this lounge - nice views, good grub, friendly staff. I stuffed myself in the limited time available - some dumplings, tuna sandwiches, pizza, orange juice, coffee, noodles, some things on sticks, fruit. Sadly they didn't have any pad thai or chicken green curry that I've previously seen. Nice clean toilets too - plus a shower if you want it. Checked my email using the wireless LAN. Previously I've found this lounge a little warm, but this time it was pleasantly cool.
As I left the lounge, the receptionist helpfully pointed out that I didn't need to leave quite yet. The early arrival at BKK was unusual and I realised I didn't need to pig down the food so quickly. But I fancied walking off some of my over-indulgence. I arrived at the gate just as priority boarding started at 16:50. They have two doors from the gate to the walkway. One is for priority boarding only, which means that if you arrive after mainstream boarding has started you can still "queue jump". Priority boarding is for Premium Laurel, Golds and Diamonds only, though sometimes they say "Business class only".
ACT TWO - BKK-TPE
I returned to 22H. We pushed back at 17:20, bang on time.
Not only do the crew change, but so do most of the passengers. Gone are most of the Brits - they go only as far as BKK. They are replaced by Americans going home connecting via TPE and Taiwanese and Thais travelling between BKK and TPE.
This sector is about 3hrs 30mins gate to gate. Elite was full, Economy and Premium Laurel probably about 75% full. Again no towel run or drink on cruising.
But a deputy purser did come over to "welcome Mr Jimbo" aboard, and knowing that I was a gold card passenger would be happy to hear my request if there was anything I wanted. I just find it very peculiar. I wonder exactly what I could ask for without annoying them. Free tickets next time around? A meal from the PL menu? A discrete espresso instead of the filter coffee? I think the point is that onboard I'm generally happy with the service and don't believe it's fair to demand extras because of status. Where I do need "help" is pre-flight - ie getting availability or getting my favourite seats allocated.
An hour into the flight, the meal service started. Again fish/potato or chicken/rice. I was surprised that in 3 meal services on this flight there was no pork (except for the sausage with the omlette), beef or seafood dish.
I opted for fish again. It was different in style to before, but essentially still fish, potato and carrots. Also served: fruit, roll and butter, salad (I think with a fish sauce) and blackcurrent cheesecake. Perfectly decent stuff in quality and quantity. Although the main dish comes in a plastic dish and the tray is plastic, other dishes are chinaware. You also get proper glassware and a chinaware cup. Knives and forks are plastic though - on all sectors.
Red or white wine (same as before) or the usual range of soft drinks/beers. The FAs returned to clear trays and offer top ups and/or tea/coffee. Then a later run for more coffee/tea.
We started descent at 21:10 and were at the gate at 21:50, bang on time.
I was in immigration at 22:00 and the baggage hall at 22:10 just as my priority-tagged suitcase came out. I spotted the couple I had seen at BKK earlier. They still had their bottle - apparently whilst trying to get back to the plane the guy met an EVA FA who remembered him with it and passed it to an incoming FA who stowed it on board before returning it to him on arrival.
I was into arrivals by 22:15, just 25 minutes after we arrived at the gate.
I suppose Act Two was slightly better - the FAs were a bit more attentive and cheerful. I know that the LHR-BKK/BKK-LHR sectors are unpopular amongst FAs. They are often busy and the pax quite demanding ("git us annuvva beer - it's free innit?"). BKK-TPE is a more pleasant experience for crews and pax alike.
All-in-all another efficient service from EVA but some of the little extras often seen in Elite were missing from this flight - and of course some of them (eg wet towel) are common in Economy services with other airlines.
Having said that, the FAs remain friendly, ground handling efficient and in over 10 years flying BR67/68 I've never had a cancellation and only once a significant delay (that was 4 hours). 2-4-2 + 38" means I'm comfortable, and laptop power means I can work/amuse myself. 3-4-3 + 33" in economy means I'm not and I can't.