There are nine carriers operating between Tokyo and Taipei, most of them operating between Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport. Of the four largest carriers operating the route (Japan’s ANA and Japan Airlines, and Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Air), I found myself unable to book flights on ANA or Japan Airlines, and EVA Air charged nearly twice as much as China Airlines did. One choice was left: $230 on China Airlines.
Tokyo Narita International Airport is about 60km (37mi) from Tokyo proper and is easy to get to. In terms of affordable options, a $200 taxi or Uber ride does not suit many, and not a large number of people drive to the airport. The best option to get to Narita is therefore by Japan’s very efficient train system, riding either JR East’s Narita Express or Keisei’s Narita Sky Access, and the Narita Express takes passengers straight from Narita into the heart of Tokyo, dropping passengers off at Tokyo Station, or in Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ikebukuro, all for the same price (for foreign passport holders only). However, the first train leaves Tokyo Station at 6:18am, which means those having to catch flights before about 8am (it takes one hour to get to Narita) have to find alternate transportation.
As I was taking China Airlines’ 9:25am departure, it was easy enough to take the 6:18am train from Tokyo Station and get to Narita. The seats are very comfortable on the train and offer a lot of legroom (as evident by those able to place their suitcase in front of them and still have some room to stretch out). Overhead TVs had route information for the train, as well as news headlines, airport information, and departure boards. I got to the Terminal 2 & 3 station right at 7:15am as scheduled, and walked up to Departures.
There was a line of about 70 passengers at the China Airlines desks, however, the bag drop line had around two people waiting. Wanting to avoid the line, I checked in on the kiosk across from the desks, before lining up in the bag drop line and dropping off my luggage. Finished in around ten minutes, it was a short walk to security and immigration, with both processes being completed quickly in around fifteen minutes.
Terminal & Boarding
The main section of Terminal 2 features a number of shops, cafes and duty-free stores, however, our plane was parked at gate 88, which was in the “remote terminal” across from the main concourse. The remote terminal did not have many offerings, with only a souvenir shop and a cafe open to passengers. However, as we were one of only two flights departing at the time from the remote terminal, none of these places were crowded.
There were a number of seating areas around the terminal, however, during rush hour, it was easy to see seats filled and people spilling into the main hallways.
Boarding began promptly at 8:40am, starting with Business Class, before Group 1 (the rear Economy cabin) and Group 2 (the front Economy cabin). Interestingly, announcements were made only in Japanese, not in Chinese or English. However, gate attendants were holding large signs by the gate stating which group was boarding at each time, in addition to monitors around the gate area.
In addition, on the jetbridge, two newspaper carts were set up allowing passengers to get their own newspapers before boarding.
Cabin & Seat
China Airlines’ Airbus A330-300s have Business and Economy class cabins, with between 30 and 36 seats in Business, and 277 seats in Economy. Seats in economy are in a 2-4-2 configuration, common aboard Airbus A330/A340 type aircraft, and great because no economy seat is more than one seat away from the aisle. According to SeatGuru, the seats have between 31 and 32 inches of pitch.
I chose seat 24K, on the right side of the plane, overlooking the wing. The paired seats are most likely more comfortable for any passengers traveling solo or in a pair, while the four seats in the middle are better for larger groups traveling together.
I was greeted at my seat with a pillow and “blanket” (more like a piece of cloth), and headphones were passed out by flight attendants soon after boarding, along with Taiwanese immigration cards. The seatback has a video screen, that Seatguru measures at 6.5 inches (however it seemed closer to 5″-5.5″ upon closer examination). There is also a mesh net that you can use to hold a pair of glasses or a small water bottle, and interestingly enough, a small mirror (not pictured, to the left of the video screen).
The seat is an older one, with a lot of padding and coarse fabric used — something not seen a lot in the age of slimline seats. The thick padding also made the 31-32 inches of pitch seem tighter than normal, and my 73-inch figure fit in the seat, however, it was a tighter squeeze than I thought sitting in such a seat would be.
Takeoff & In-Flight Entertainment
After boarding, the door closed promptly at our scheduled departure time of 9:25am, and we pushed back. Something that I noticed was the Japanese ground crew bowing after completing push back and waving to passengers as the plane taxied away — a nice touch not seen often anywhere else (although, something that I did see in Thailand!)
It was a long taxi across the airfield to runway 16R, before we began our 46-second takeoff roll, took off and turned south towards Taipei.
China Airlines’ seatback IFE system is called “Fantasy Sky”, and is available in Chinese, English, and Japanese. Fantasy Sky offers a mix of movies, TV shows, and games for viewing. The system had around 75 movies available to passengers in a variety of categories and was controlled by a remote attached to the seat. Given the old look of the system, it was impressive to see new movies such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and The Fate of the Furious, as well as older classics. The international category was quite large, including the Chinese film “Railroad Tigers”, which I enjoyed watching.
Fantasy Sky also offered an in-flight map, offering an automatic and advanced (manual) version. The home screen also offered a camera option, however when the front or down view camera modes were activated, the screen went black and loud noises played from the headphones — a disappointment.
One thing that did irritate me was the screens’ lack of brightness; even with the cabin lights on and the window closed, it was still easy to see reflections from my surroundings on the screen which made it hard to view the content on the screen.
China Airlines does not offer wifi on its Airbus A330-300 flights; wifi is only available on flights operated by the Airbus A350-900 and the Boeing 777-300ER.
Food & Service
About 30 minutes after takeoff, the crew went through the cabin with hot towels for all passengers. Afterwards, carts were rolled out and flight attendants started the meal service, offering each passenger a seafood noodle dish or a pork and rice dish, as well as a drink. I chose the pork and rice dish, which was served with bread, tuna salad, some fruit, and a red bean pastry.
The pork and rice dish tasted good, however without the small amount of sauce in the dish, was bland. The fruit was surprisingly fresh, and the tuna salad was good as well. The one disappointment was the red bean pastry, which tasted like edible Styrofoam.
After meals were handed out, the flight attendants came around with pitchers of hot tea and coffee, along with extra cups.
The flight attendants on the flight were very professional, checking in on passengers for drinks after the meal service or any other needs. Most of the flight attendants were trilingual, allowing for them to easily communicate with all passengers.
The pilots came on the PA system around 30 minutes before arrival, announcing our arrival and thanking us for flying with China Airlines. We approached Taoyuan Airport from the northwest, flying over the coast of Taiwan before landing on runway 23R, touching down 20 minutes early. From there, it was a five-minute taxi past planes lined up at Terminal 1 to our gate at Terminal 2.
Deplaning was easy, however, the design of Terminal 2 made it frustrating to travel to immigration and customs. From Pier D, there was a single car people mover that could carry somewhere around 60 people from the area to immigration that ran every two minutes. For an Airbus A330-300 worth of people, it’d take around 5 trips to take everyone, and the line quickly grew. Airport employees did little to direct or help people around the area, and China Airlines ground agents yelling about connections did not make it an enjoyable wait. During rush hour, or even with more than one plane arriving at the same time, its easy to imagine unwieldy, long queues for the people mover.
Immigration took around 30 minutes to pass through, and customs was a breeze after that.
While not a standout, China Airlines’ aging economy class product is one that is reliable and gets you to your destination in relative comfort. The food was decent, and the IFE system showing its age but working, and updated with new movies. The flight attendants were also courteous, however, I wish that the ground staff in Taipei acted as their counterparts in the aircraft did, instead of yelling in the terminal with little to show for it. Overall, I would fly China Airlines again, especially at a price point much cheaper than the alternatives.
All photos by the author, unless noted. Featured photo by Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.