Winter in Taiwan! CX F/J, JL Y, AA J/dom. F + Taipei and Kenting
OCTOBER 14, 2013: Entire trip report has been posted. Thanks for following and being patient!
Welcome to my first full length multi-segment international premium class trip report! It’s been some time since I’ve joined FT; I thought I share one of my experiences with the community. This trip will cover my travels at the end of 2012 including scenes of Taipei and Kenting, Taiwan, Cathay Pacific First and Business Class, American Airlines Business and Domestic First Class, and also Japan Airlines Economy Class.
I’ve made countless trips to Taiwan in the past 12 years. The majority of those trips were on AA/JL with a few on UA/CI/BR. I’ve always preferred connecting at NRT over LAX/SFO. But despite the ~20 hour travel time every single trip, nothing gets old, and nostalgic memories of my early childhood come back every time. The sights and sounds of the local farmers markets, the bustling MRT transit stations, and the ubiquity of seven elevens hit me as home every single time I visit. In 2012, thanks to FT's wealth of knowledge, I took advantage of the AA promotions to 1) reach EXP status and 2) do some big time award redemptions. I've flown many airlines throughout the years, with Cathay Pacific being one of them when AA used to offer ORD-NGO service with CX connecting NGO to TPE.
Most travelers to Taiwan prefer to stay in downtown Taipei, and explore the city, visit the Taipei 101, visit night markets, or simply just eat! There are countless reports of such, and many tend to overlook the smaller areas within Taiwan that really are more meaningful places to visit. Kenting is definitely one of those places. Often called by people as the Hawaii of Taiwan, Kenting is located in the southernmost tip of the island itself. Those who venture that far will find a tropical-esque location that is both peacefully located next to miles of beach, and crazily exciting at nights. Kenting is not easily accessible via any type of transportation. The closest high speed rail station is Zuoying, which still requires a ~1.5 hour bus ride to Kenting. For all of you who absolutely have to sit in a plane, Hengchun airport is about 30 minutes from Kenting, but the airport only offers 3 flights a week, all to Taipei Sungshan on Uni Air. So maybe it is possible to do JFK-HND-TSA-HCN on AA/JL/B7 Upon arriving in Kenting, one will certainly be surprised by the blend of nightlife (not just bars and alcohol, but much more, such as night markets on the streets) with the serenity of a beachside resort.
I began thinking of this trip more than 6 months before the actual trip I normally am in Taiwan during the hot and humid summer, due to the time constraints winter breaks. But, 2012 definitely presented a change to my schedules. At first, Cathay Pacific first class awards were not immediately available, so I opted for the usual AA 153/JL 809 ORD-NRT-TPE, which is the typical route I take to Taiwan almost every year. I had this on hold after a simple phone call. However, before the end of the 5 day hold, Cathay Pacific miraculously released one first class seat for the nonstop CX 807 ORD-HKG. I immediately called to change to that, and also picked an available CX HKG-TPE flight, of which business was the highest class. So there it was, CX ORD-HKG-TPE on F and J (which I later discovered to be the new Cirrus) for a simple 67.5k miles and a mere $2.50. Definitely seems like an amazing deal. Months later, when I made EXP, I booked a one way TPE-NRT-ORD-LGA on AA and waitlisted a SWU for AA 154, the NRT-ORD segment, which, actually did not clear until within 24 hours before departure.
I was first assigned 1A for the CX flight, which I later changed to 2A, what people believe to be the best seat in the cabin. All the other seat assignments were handled by the AA agents with no problem. With that set, my winter vacation was finalized. After a summer of some mileage running with those DEQM promos (missed out on the TEQM in January), I now had the opportunity to visit a country where I spend the majority of my summers at, but haven’t set foot on during the winter for more than 12 years, and supposedly with one of the best carriers and products of all time!
***This report details one of my first F trips on an amazing Asian carrier, so there will be little criticism, if any.***
***Disclosure: this report was written, but never published until now due to time commitments with other tasks.***
The winter of 2012 in Chicago and surrounding suburbs did not see much snow. That was, until my taxi ride to ORD. After all, weather was created to impact travel plans! Luckily I was unaffected by the flurries at first, however, as I was told from my friends, ORD was impacted by a snowstorm just a day after I flew out, resulting in some rather inconveniences for people looking to travel right before Christmas.
I accompanied my mother to T3. She was headed to NYC, where I would eventually be after a couple weeks. Scenes of ORD T3
And then I headed to a quiet terminal 5 on a Tuesday morning. Most of the counters were closed, so it was not hard to find the CX desks that already had people checking in. (some of these pictures were taken afterwards, as I forgot to do them the first time around..)
I walked up to the stand that said “First Class.” Moments afterwards, a check in staff member rushed over to me and questioned whether I was flying first class (probably due to my age). I said yes, and he then demanded my confirmation and documents. I showed not only my eticket receipt, but also flashed my new EXP card received days ago (thanks AA DEQM). A couple moments later another check in staff member walked over to me and asked the same question in a similar attitude. “Are you flying First—“ She was cut off by the first person who asked me this question, who quietly answered “yes he is.” She proceeded to tag my backpack and roll-a-board with a slip that said “cabin baggage.” The actual check in process was quick, and I was handed boarding passes for the 2 segments, and a lounge invitation at HKG. The staff weighed my roll-a-board, which I thought was a bit odd. At that moment, I suddenly remembered reading a week earlier something about CX’s FA union threatening to withhold food/smiles or strictly enforce baggage policy if their management didn’t agree to pay raises or the likes. Regardless, I had no trouble with only my 2 carry on pieces. The boarding pass for ORD-HKG was stamped with “Swiss Lounge.”
Security was normal- there was a shared queue for premium cabins of all airlines that departed from ORD T5. I headed to the Swiss lounge afterwards, which was right after security and near my departing gate, M9.
CX has a staff member stationed within the lounge, and I was warmly directed toward the first class section, which had 8 sofa seats and 3 tables for dining. The lounge was small, and I only spent a small time there, as I wanted to see what the rest of T5 was like.
I rarely venture to this side of the airport, as I almost always depart from T3. Random artwork found in T5:
I returned to the Swiss lounge after some exploring and sent some last minute emails/messages to friends/family to wish them happy holidays.
Last edited by incognitoMD; Jul 19, 13 at 3:25 pm.
I noticed that boarding was set to begin 25 minutes prior to departure. I thought to myself that this must be silly, as AA seems to have trouble boarding a full 772 during the summer, let alone an Asian carrier boarding a 77W in less time during the holidays. Well, it turns out that the CX attendant at the Swiss lounge told the first and business class passengers that we would be boarding in a couple of minutes, which was about 10 minutes before boarding for the general passengers. She led the 4 people in first class (and a few in business class that were also at the lounge) to the gate. And about 10 minutes before the actual boarding time, first class passengers were invited to board.
At the end of the jetbridge, I entered through door 2L, and I was greeted by a FA who led me to my seat, 2A. Moments afterward, the in flight service director greeted me, followed by the purser, and first class flight attendant. The FA then offered me a predeparture drink.
She then returned with a pair of medium Shanghai Tang pajamas and an amenity kit. Menus, and newspapers were distributed afterwards.
4 out of 6 seats were occupied, and the purser thought I was traveling with the two first class passengers seated on the right side of the plane, as we all looked like college students (there was a middle-aged gentleman seated in 1D traveling alone). 1A was empty, and I basically had the left side all to myself. The cabin really felt more spacious without the overhead bins.
We departed a couple minutes early, which meant boarding 200 people into Y really can happen within 25 minutes. Maybe this is due to not having any boarding groups and doing the “everyone all at once” procedure.
We taxied out to the runway. Powerful takeoff followed and my trip was underway!
Single chime at 10,000 feet along with a blinking light meant FAs were released for duties. C, the FA, came by with warm nuts and the green tea that I ordered. Dinner orders followed.
You all have seen this probably 1341412341832947 times. Here it is again!
My selections were the starter, king prawn salad, mushroom soup, lobster entrée, and a red bean soup for desert, followed by chocolates. Dinner service ended afterwards, and I quietly toured the plane without asking anyone for permission..
Coach was close to 100% full, and there were only a handful of empty seats in business. I did not take any pictures, as the flash would have been disruptive, but it was for sure crowded on this flight a week before the holidays.
C stopped by with a bottle of water, and I settled in for some much needed sleep. The Shanghai Tang pajamas were very comfortable and very thick as well. I’d say they were certainly tailored for the Asian flyer as I felt as if they were a little too cozy, along with the cabin temperature. None the less, I had no problem catching some sleep.
I awoke a good 5-6 hours later. C, noticing that I was awake, stopped by to offer some mid-flight snacks. I opted for the crab cakes and some OJ.
Very nice selection of A/V and a decent flight map. I ended up watching the series of documentaries on the increasingly obese America, and another documentary on Lang Lang.
I really was amazed at how much space was around. Maybe this was due to my first time in first class, however, it definitely felt bigger than what was captured in a lot of the photos from past trip reports.
We soon approached HKIA, on a slightly cloudy night. One of the best plane experiences was coming to an end.
Final pics of the seat. The actual width of the seat cannot be appreciated by photos. One really has to try out the product to see how much space there really is!
As soon as we pulled up to the gate with double jetbridges attached, and as soon as the captain turned off the seat belt sign, the purser and CSD immediately closed the curtain between first and forward business class cabin. The special assistance staff waited at this jetbrige as F passengers exited.
Last edited by incognitoMD; Jul 19, 13 at 5:42 pm.
I went to Kenting in 2008. It was awesome riding the banana boat and other water activities for very cheap! The water was nice and warm and the beach was pretty and not crowded in October. I was visited Green Island, which is fun riding a scooter around.
Great trip report! I had my first experience of F on CX last year and it was clearly the most impressive plane trip I ever took. I'm looking forward to it again in November when I go to BKK for one of my lifelong dreams, to see Angkor Wat. And I am thinking about Taipei next year, mainly to visit the National Palace Museum, so I'll be very interested in what comes next on your trip report.
Some of you might be wondering. Why the hell did I not plan a layover in HK and visit the city? Well, I did want to, however timing of my winter break was not the best, and I wanted to make sure I had enough time in Taiwan. HK Layover next time! (hint: Winter 13 trip report..)
As I expected, HKIA was very much like the other Asian airports- spacious, modern, and very clean. I dream that my home terminal, ORD T3, can be like this one day Signs were everywhere, and as I already had a boarding pass for the onward segment, I skipped the counters and headed directly for security.
The Wing First Class lounge was under renovation, but part of it was still open. I hung out there for a bit, then went to the Pier, which was near my departure gate.
View of CX 872, a 744 about to depart for SFO around midnight.
My departure gate was near the Wing.
One interesting thing that I came across this time, was that the departure gate of my TPE bound flight had not been announced until 35 minutes before departure. Once at the gate, a delay was announced, as the incoming aircraft, an A333 from Taipei, had a mechanical delay at its origin. Added onto this was some rain/poor visibility. All in all, the 10:45pm flight left around 12, and I arrived after 1am.
Boarding lines going on for miles..
Next- The CX new Cirrus Business Class