Review: China Airlines A350 Business Class

Filed Under: Airline Reviews, China Airlines

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To continue my journey to Taipei, I flew China Airlines’ A350-900 business class nonstop from London Gatwick to Taipei.

I was keen to experience China Airlines’ A350 business class:

Redeeming Miles For China Airlines Business Class

China Airlines is in SkyTeam, so there are a variety of programs through which I could book this award. The flight had plenty of award availability, and for once one of the best values was booking through Delta SkyMiles.

I had a good number of SkyMiles in my account, and even just booking a few days out, the award cost 90,000 miles one-way. I booked the following:

01/25 CI70 London to Taipei departing 9:15PM arriving 6:30PM (+1 day) [Business]

While Delta usually has surcharges on award redemptions originating in Europe, that doesn’t apply on China Airlines. The total taxes and fees came out to $253, most of which was made up of the hefty UK Air Passenger Duty, which applies for flights departing the UK.

All things considered I thought that was a great use of SkyMiles, given that the currency is increasingly revenue based, where each mile is worth about a penny.

See this post for the best credit cards for earning Delta SkyMiles.

China Airlines A350 Business Class Review

After a relaxing afternoon at the Yotel Gatwick, I headed to China Airlines check-in. I was given an invitation to the No1 Lounge South Terminal, though didn’t end up going to the lounge. It’s consistently overcrowded, and I’ve reviewed the lounge in the past.

Instead I headed to The Grain Store, which is the Priority Pass restaurant in the terminal, and had a salad with chicken (I hadn’t eaten since I was in the Virgin Atlantic Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow earlier in the day).

Boarding was scheduled to start at 8:35PM from gate 25 (at the very end of the terminal). Sure enough, that’s exactly when boarding started, with business class being invited to board first.

Since this flight was on Chinese New Year, each passenger was offered a small envelope as they boarded, with a chocolate coin.

Chinese New Year gift

China Airlines 70
London (LGW) – Taipei (TPE)
Saturday, January 25
Depart: 9:15PM
Arrive: 6:30PM (+1 day)
Duration: 13hr15min
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Seat: 11K (Business Class)

I boarded through the second set of doors, where I was greeted by the cabin manager and pointed left into the business class cabin.

I couldn’t help but notice all crew members wearing masks — obviously that’s now totally common, but this flight was right around the point that the coronavirus was getting more attention, and airline crews started getting permission to wear masks.

China Airlines has 32 business class seats on the A350-900, and the cabin is gorgeous. For one, the lack of overhead bins in the center of the aircraft really makes the cabin feel significantly more spacious.

China Airlines A350 business class cabin

Beyond that, while China Airlines has “generic” seats, they have some of the nicest finishes out there of any airline, in my opinion. China Airlines has Collins Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats in business class, which you’ll find on many airlines.

China Airlines business class cabin A350

These are in a 1-2-1 configuration, and are the most common types of reverse herringbone seats out there.


China Airlines business class seats A350

I had assigned myself seat 11K, the window seat on the right side in the second row of the cabin. While I usually prefer to sit further back, when I booked this was the last window seat still available.


China Airlines business class seat A350


China Airlines business class seat A350

There are pros and cons to the Super Diamond reverse herringbone seats. Arguably one of the cons is that the tray table is underneath the personal television, so you may find that the footwell is a bit more restrictive than on other types of reverse herringbone seats.


China Airlines business class seat A350

Nonetheless I found the footwell to be a good size, especially in comparison to most staggered seats, for example.


China Airlines business class seat footwell

One of the big pros is that the seat has a good amount of storage space.

To the side of the seat were two compartments — one was a shallow compartment, perfect for a phone or glasses. Another was a slightly deeper compartment, which also had the entertainment controller, headphone jack, and power outlets (both 110v and USB). There was also a mirror in this compartment.


China Airlines business class seat storage


China Airlines business class seat storage

Then a panel with the seat controls was on the outside of this compartment.


China Airlines business class seat controls

The tray table could be extended from the front of the seat, and folded over in half.


China Airlines business class seat tray table

Underneath the seat and to the right was a small exposed storage compartment.


China Airlines business class seat storage

Then to the left of the seat was an armrest that could be raised or lowered, which could be opened to reveal a storage compartment.


China Airlines business class seat storage

Like I said, there’s such nice attention to detail when it comes to the seat finishes. Just use the lamp as one of the many examples of that (though even the wall patterns, bulkhead, seat finishes, etc., are unique).

China Airlines business class seat lamp

My one major complaint about the seats is that China Airlines doesn’t have individual air nozzles in the otherwise snazzy overhead consoles. On the plus side, the cabin wasn’t too warm at any point.


China Airlines A350 overhead console

As far as amenities go, waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket, which were comfy and decent enough, but not particularly memorable, especially as there wasn’t any additional bedding.

China Airlines business class pillow & blanket

Also waiting at my seat were a pair of slippers.

China Airlines business class slippers

Then there were some noise canceling headphones. While not Bose-quality, they were comfortable and had fairly good sound quality.

China Airlines business class headphones

The amenity kit was waiting in the seat’s armrest, along with a bottle of water. The amenity kit was from The North Face, which is an interesting amenity kit collaboration. The kit had a dental kit, eyeshades, earplugs, and a few types of lotion.

China Airlines The North Face amenity kit

Within a few minutes of settling in I was offered a pre-departure drink, with the choice of orange juice, apple juice, or water, along with some packaged snack mix (there was no alcohol on offer).

China Airlines business class pre-departure drink

A few minutes later I was offered a warm towel.

China Airlines business class warm towel

Then the menu and wine list were distributed.

China Airlines business class menu & wine list

Boarding was efficient, and by 8:55PM the main cabin door was closed, with roughly 20 of the 32 business class seats taken (most of the center seats remained empty).

At 9PM meal orders were taken, with the crew asking for dinner orders, breakfast orders, and drink orders for dinner, along with whether I wanted any coffee or tea after dinner.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of being asked everything upfront. For example, I’d much rather decide whether I want coffee or tea at the conclusion of the meal, rather than before even taking off. The whole service approach just seemed a bit rushed.

At 9:05PM we started our pushback, at 9:10PM we started our taxi, and by 9:15PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 26L, for our 12hr30min flight to Taipei.

The A350 is such a quiet plane in general, though I especially appreciated just how quiet the plane was when seated in the very front. Usually I choose to sit in the back of business class, closer to the engine, and the difference in noise is definitely noticeable. The greater noise doesn’t really bother me since I’m someone who likes to sleep with white noise anyway, but I was still surprised by how obvious the difference was.

As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. The selection was reasonably good, though not amazing. There were dozens of movies and TV shows, rather than the hundreds or thousands you’ll find on some top airlines.

China Airlines entertainment selection


China Airlines entertainment selection


China Airlines entertainment selection


China Airlines entertainment selection

While the entertainment selection had a moving map, oddly it didn’t seem to have a tail camera, best I could tell, which most airlines have on the A350. That’s a feature I sure enjoy, so I was sad to see that missing.

Map enroute to Taipei


Map enroute to Taipei

As far as I’m concerned, the best aspect of China Airlines’ inflight entertainment is their excellent wifi.

China Airlines A350 wifi

The airline has four wifi data packages available:

  • $3.25 for a 15MB messaging plan
  • $11.95 for a one hour plan with no data caps
  • $16.95 for a three hour plan with no data caps
  • $21.95 for a 24 hour pass with no data caps

China Airlines wifi pricing

$21.95 for wifi throughout the flight without data caps is excellent, if you ask me, so I was happy to be able to stay productive for those hours where I was awake. The speeds were good as well.

The seatbelt sign wasn’t really turned off after takeoff. China Airlines seems to just keep the seatbelt sign on for most of the flight for no reason, and then when it gets bumpy they just flick it off and then back on. It seems like an odd approach to take, but whatever…

Anyway, the dinner service started about 40 minutes after takeoff. The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

40 minutes after takeoff tablecloths were distributed and the first round of drinks was served. Let me note upfront that my criticisms of the service are intended to be entirely constructive — EVA Air has one of the best business class soft products in the world, so it’s interesting to contrast that to China Airlines.

To drink I ordered a glass of champagne — the only option was a 2009 Pol Roger Rose, which retails for $100+ per bottle. This is a limited time offering for the airline, and that’s an incredible champagne for business class, though personally I’m generally not a huge rose champagne fan. It was still good, though.

The first drink was served with the same packaged snack mix they served before takeoff — you’d think that they would mix things up.

One other thing to note — the champagne was brought out pre-poured. Many top airlines in business class (like EVA Air, Qatar Airways, and many more) bring out the bottle and pour it at your seat, which is a nice touch.

China Airlines business class dinner — rose & snack mix

50 minutes after takeoff the first course was served. Everyone was served the same starter and salad, consisting of roasted scampi and blanched prawn with quinoa, and a garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette. Both were quite good.


China Airlines business class dinner — appetizer & salad

There was already some bread on the tray when it was served, and then a breadbasket was brought around with different types of bread. I selected some garlic bread from there.


China Airlines business class dinner — bread selection

Service wasn’t particularly proactive during the meal. For example, there was only one fork and knife with the meal, so when I finished the starter I put the fork and knife on the plate. The flight attendant simply took it off my plate and placed it back on my tray to be reused — fair enough, as I didn’t realize they didn’t have extras.

Furthermore, they never cleared the salad plate, even though it was empty. Clearly they were just clearing off things as needed to make room for additional food.

About 15 minutes later I was brought the curried parsnip soup with crostinis, which was tasty.


China Airlines business class dinner — soup

For the main course there were three choices. Since I don’t eat pork and I try to avoid beef, I had the chicken. Specifically, I had the salt baked chicken in ginger scallion oil with egg fried rice, which was okay.


China Airlines business class dinner — main course

Lastly dessert and cheese were served. The dessert consisted of a praline cake and fruit tart, then there was an excellent cheese plate, and I had a coffee to go along with it.


China Airlines business class dinner — dessert & cheese

The meal was finished about 90 minutes after takeoff. The crew was friendly and the service was efficient, though there’s definitely a significant difference between the EVA Air and China Airlines experience.

The service on EVA Air is way more polished and has a lot more attention to detail, and generally EVA Air’s food quality also seems a bit better to me.

Anyway, after the meal I checked out the lavatories. There are two right behind the cabin, which is standard for the A350.

China Airlines A350 business class cabin

They had Acca Kappa toiletries, and the one thing that stood out to me about the lavatories was that they had music that played when you locked the door — cute!

China Airlines A350 lavatory


China Airlines business class lavatory amenities

The mid galley also had a self serve snack bar, with drinks and packaged snacks. The way the crew used this was a strange — this was clearly intended for customers to help themselves, though the manifest was openly laying there, along with some dirty glasses.

China Airlines business class snack bar


China Airlines business class snack bar


China Airlines business class snack bar

Once back at my seat I reclined into bed mode and made myself comfortable. I took a pillow from the seat across from me that was empty, which allowed me to get a bit more comfortable, since the bedding otherwise isn’t that great.

China Airlines A350 business class bed

By the time I was ready to sleep there were about 10hr30min remaining to Taipei.


Map enroute to Taipei

I managed to sleep for about five hours, and woke up with about 5hr30min remaining to Taipei. I decided to get some work done on my laptop, which was easy thanks to the wifi. Then about 2hr40min before landing the cabin lights were turned on, in anticipation of the pre-landing meal.

Map enroute to Taipei

The pre-landing menu read as follows:

I ordered a coffee with milk to drink, which surprisingly was served with frothed milk. I wasn’t expecting that, as I didn’t see any cappuccinos or lattes on the menu (but rather just Nespresso coffee).

China Airlines business class coffee

For the pre-landing meal I ordered the stir-fried egg noodles with wontons. This was served with steamed cabbage and a seafood roll, stir-fried chicken and bean curd strips, black fungus salad with green beans, pickled cucumbers, and salty egg. Then there was also a side of fruit.

The dish was fine. Frankly the noodles were just kind of hard and the dish was lukewarm, so it seems like it could have been prepared better.

China Airlines business class pre-landing meal

I split the rest of my time between looking at my laptop screen and looking out the window.

View approaching Taipei

At 5:10PM Taipei time the first officer announced that we would be landing at 5:45PM, and that we’d be descending soon. That was the first announcement from the cockpit. For what it’s worth, it seemed the first officer was local, while I think the captain was Italian, at least based on his name (which they announced), as I know China Airlines has some ex-pat pilots.

The seatbelt sign was turned on about 15 minutes after that. We had a rather rough approach, as it was raining heavily.


View approaching Taipei

We had a rough landing at 5:45PM, and from there a short five minute taxi to our arrival gate. From there I headed to immigration and then to the nearby Novotel for a night of rest, before continuing on Starlux Airlines the next morning.

China Airlines Business Class Bottom Line

I’m torn on China Airlines’ A350 business class.

On the plus side, the airline has chosen stunning finishes for their cabins, among the nicest out there. They really make an otherwise standard reverse herringbone seat look special. The A350 is also a joy to fly. Beyond that, the reasonably priced wifi with on data caps is a treat.

But everything else about the China Airlines business class experience is just kind of average, in my opinion, in contrast to EVA Air’s business class.

The amenities, entertainment, and food and drinks are all average. Meanwhile the service is efficient and well intentioned, but also nothing special, with a lack of attention to detail.

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly China Airlines business class again, but also wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them, if that makes sense. My biggest takeaway is that there’s a bigger difference between China Airlines and EVA Air than I remember.

If you’ve flown China Airlines business class, what was your experience like?

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Comments
  1. I freaquently fly both up front. And find when you average out what each does well they are about equal.
    CI has better lounges in Taipei than BR. And better entertainment selection, and IMHO marginally better food.
    BR has better soft product, service and beverages.
    But glad you still liked it overall man! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Starlux.

  2. EVA business is better than a number if long haul first class in terms of soft product and is industry leading for business class in my opinion. If they adopted qsuites it new ANA style seats it would arguably be the best overall J experience.

  3. I know it doesn’t scream luxury but I really like that North Face bag. Excellent job as usual with the trip report.

  4. Shouldn’t “(…) China Airlines and EVA Air are Taipei’s two global airlines (…)” be “(…) China Airlines and EVA Air are Taiwan’s two global airlines (…)”?

    Thank you for the good review!

  5. That’s my impression of China Airlines vs EVA as well. Sadly EVA is unlikely to upgrade the J seats serving NA east coast anytime soon, but I would still take them over China Airlines.

  6. I remember that article you wrote from 2016, and placed a lot of emphasis on your praise of the airline and how you noted that both China Airlines and EVA Air are pretty comparable. I had a fantastic time aboard EVA, but China Airlines business class left me scratching my head. The service seemed more rushed, the ambiance rushed, the food quality wasn’t that great, the language barrier seemed worse, the lounge wasn’t that nice (granted it was under refurbishment at the time so that could be why). Flight attendants seemed more like they were going through the motions. I didn’t understand why there was so much praise for China Airlines as the experience itself seemed a lot more budget business class, especially when compared to EVA Air.

    But I’m glad this review shows that my experience wasn’t necessarily a one-off. Thanks. 🙂

  7. Agreed, very good hard product, but the service and food cant beat EVA.

    Isn’t the wonton you had in pre-landing meal made of pork? They usually are, unless specified.

  8. Thanks for the review. China Airlines consistently has great fares from Sydney to London, with a slightly long layover in Taipei. About AU$2,000 less than say Qatar Business. It seems you get what you pay for though. Good to know.

  9. The “wall pattern” is persimmon wood.
    Also, keep in mind that China Airlines is government owned and operated, whereas EVA is a private company. Expectations should be set accordingly.

  10. I much prefer having overhead bins in the centre.
    Having to fight for luggage space and no air vents is not worth the 5 sec feeling of spaciousness before you sit down for 12 hours.

  11. Business class is all about the seat right? I think EVA wins this one with their 777ER just because of the foot space on the EVA seat. I flew the A350 from TPE to ONT last year and my foot well on China is just too claustrophobic for me.

  12. Plastic packaged snack mix seems like a real missed opportunity when served with $150 a bottle vintage champagne.
    Nice review, as always. Reading the menus as your reviews progress, I can always guess what you’re going to order. 😉
    Congrats on your blogging anniversary.

  13. Looked like they forgot to add broth(hot water) in your noodles.Noodles with wontons should with soup in the bowl.That why the noodles were hard.Funny this happened to you again.The last time was on your PPT-LAX UA flight.

  14. Taking the Chinese food option for both meals on a flight originating from London probably wasn’t the best idea. But I don’t know if their Taiwanese kitchen will be any better.

  15. The drink menu shows a 2009 Pol Roger Rosé champagne label yet the tasting notes description beneath it read “2006”? ?

  16. I recently flew CI’s J product from MEL-TPE-KUL and back (it was a few hundred bucks cheaper than direct flight via MH, and I didn’t mind the much longer routing since I like staying in the air and enjoyed CI’s lounge in TPE – they’ve quite a few there, I liked their largest one in T1 of Taoyuan best).

    Gotta agree with Ben on the bedding – no mattress pad whatsoever. Personally I found it uncomfortable because when flat, the gap between the seat back and the cushion base was quite noticeable, so I could only sleep sideways.

    On both legs (A359 leg between MEL-TPE and B77W leg between TPE-KUL), the champagne served was Victoire Brut rather than Pol Roger. No Blue Label throughout the flight.

    Personally I found the service quite good (but then I speak Mandarin as well so there’s no language barrier issues as well). I was always addressed by name and in endearing terms. You’re right about the service though – the FAs weren’t proactive in refilling my water or clearing used dishes away.

    With regards to breakfast, I chose the congee option (which CI offers for kangaroo routes) and although the congee was good, the side condiments were all fairly inedible aside from the pickled cabbage (the menu said preserved vegetables, but it’s really just pickled cabbage).

    Meanwhile for the TPE-KUL leg, it was very weird that the appetizer was served about half an hour after takeoff (basically just a Boursin cheese), and then there was nothing all the way until an hour and a half later (2 hours before landing). I wish they could’ve given us the option to have the main course after takeoff or before landing. The napkin on this leg was also thin and could be best described as a giant piece of tissue paper. The garlic bread served with the main meal was practically tasteless and was just mostly bread (which tasted like cardboard).

    On my return trip, the KUL-TPE leg service was cold. I boarded the aircraft, sat down and nobody noticed me until 15 mins later, when I was offered a drink and snack plus towel. The older chief purser seemed to be having a bad hair day and didn’t address me by name when taking orders. However, another (much younger) FA attended to me throughout the second half of the flight and was extremely friendly, constantly addressing me by name and happily brought me extra portions when I requested. She was also very proactive in asking me whether I wanted any more tea.

    I guess if there’s one word to sum up CI’s service, it’s inconsistent.

    Footnote: Ben, I’ve been reading your blog for several years now and this is the first time I’m commenting on a post. You also inspired me to write up my flight experiences in the exact same way as you did, and I actually did it for this journey (previously I’ve only been taking extensive pictures, but this is the first time I wrote one up, even if it’s for myself).

  17. So all things being equal Lucky, if you had the choice between EVA and China Airlines on the same route, you would recommend EVA over China Airlines?

  18. Anyone else surprised about the flightpath over India instead of Russia. Looks at least 1000 miles off shortest great circle route.

  19. Without a doubt, the ugliest amenity kit I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised that a matching trucker cap didn’t come with it.

  20. They offer Sydney to Europe for $3,700 aud (2,500 usd) for lie flat business class for half way round the world. Can’t beat that

  21. I often fly EVA/CI between London and Taipei/Bangkok as well as some regional routes originated from Taipei.

    I have to echo your observation. EVA provides a much more polished service and soft product. Everything on board is well thought off and the service is second to none. China Airlines’ service is very inconsistent especially if you don’t speak Mandarin. It’s not easy to beat EVA in J class service but I found CI service acceptable (better than the service I get on CX long haul sometimes)

    I also agree with one of the comment above that the font on the menu is very off. As someone mentioned EVA is a 100% private company and CI has strong government influence hence CI might be much more “dated” in terms of soft products.

    However I would still choose CI over BR sometimes simply because A350 is a much better plane for passenger than BR’s 777. I found A350 extremely quiet and the air circulation is also much better.

    I am looking forward to my future flights with Starlux. In my opinion it will beat EVA in both hard products and service once it matures.

  22. I flew this plane TPE-YVR as part of a SIN-TPE-YVR routing for 85k Delta SkyMiles over Thanksgiving 2019. I thought the crew was very good although this was my first time flying J internationally so I was excited.

    As some sort of fluke accident, my phone got stuck in the seat and there was no way to see it or get it out right away. Luckily I was staying in Vancouver for 2 nights so it was a wait and hope they were able to retrieve my phone before the plane left for Taipei again. The CI station crew at YVR were very nice and luckily maintenance was able to retrieve my phone the next day before the plane left.

  23. Just a question Ben as its something I always wondered, how come you don’t eat pork? I presume its not for a religious reasons?

  24. I flew CI J from JFK-TPE-KIX a few years ago (my first premium cabin actually). I thought it was great! However, they definitely had bedding on that flight – you just had to proactively ask for it. Which I knew to do ahead of time because of a review I read – I thought it was yours, but guess not! Unless they’ve just eliminated the bedding altogether.

  25. Two commenters questioned whether the island’s airlines shouldn’t be “Taiwan’s airline” instead of “Taipei’s airline.” The term Taipei referring to the country is correct as far as the Olympics are concerned. Athletes from Taiwan compete under the name Chinese Taipei, because mainland China doesn’t recognize Taiwan as its own country. It is a very long story that I have neither the time or space to explain.

  26. Ben,
    I have enjoyed reading your travel posts in the past. However, i feel this review feels like you rushed it? Are you just going threw the motions?

  27. the music in that plays in the bathroom is to drown out the sound when you take a dump… its nice not to hear your fellow traveler letting loose at FL 350

  28. Eva Air and China Airlines are Taiwan’s two global airlines, not “Taipei’s.” As a long-time reader of this blog, it is regrettable that you would choose to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party’s line.

  29. Dry egg noodles with wontons is pretty common. If you go to Cantonese restaurants the dry version is usually called Hong Kong style, while the standard version is will say wonton noodle soup.

  30. I flew with them to London last year for $4400 round trip business from Melbourne.
    I was really impressed. I too was concerned about not having the individual air vents (because I hate feeling hot and stuffy) but the cabin was really airy and never got too warm at all.
    While you don’t get a mattress, I just asked for another duvee and slept on that and I normally don’t lie completely flat so I had a great sleep of over 7 hours.
    I’d happily fly them again, really good value below $5k

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