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Miami, no vice: Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Orlando: Disneyworld and other distractions
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
EVA Air Business Class JFK-TPE
EVA Air Business Class TPE-SIN


As I stepped off the aircraft I felt a sudden return to normality, as if the ghosts of Hello Kitty had been exorcised. I could now return to regularly scheduled programming.

The lounge situation in Taipei for Star Alliance Gold passengers is a bit confusing due to the sheer number of options there are. The Star Alliance lounge finder page would have you believe it’s very simple-

But when you get to the lounge area, you’ll see signs for the SQ lounge plus four lounge offerings for EVA

  • The Infinity
  • The Club
  • The Star
  • The Garden

Side note: I want to point out that the lighting in the Taipei airport is awful for photo taking. The interior of the terminal has little to no natural light, relying instead on the strong beams of overhead and spot lighting to illuminate things. Here’s an example of what I mean

You can see all those lens flares coming out from every light source. Any pro photographers can advise me on how I can reduce this effect (switching away from a Blackberry camera is not an acceptable answer)?

The EVA website isn’t very helpful in explaining the difference among the lounges or their access requirements

So, which of the 4 EVA lounges should you visit?

The Infinity & Star (Star Alliance Gold/Business Class Passengers + EVA Business Class)

I’ll start with these two lounges because they’re colocated. This is where Star Alliance Gold and EVA Air Business Class passengers will be directed to by default.

When you enter the lounge you’ll have the option of turning left and going to the Star, or right and going to the Infinity. The names of the lounges are indicative- the Star is meant for Star Alliance Gold card members who are travelling in economy. The Infinity is meant for EVA Air Elites (remember their FFP name is the quite awesome “Infinity Mileagelands”) and EVA Air/Star Alliance Business Class passengers.

The lobby also has a robot butler. I’m marking them down a few grades because the robobutler did not iron my shirts and give me advice about my career as a vigilante, as I understand all butlers should do.

If you’re like me (A Star Gold member flying EVA Air business) you’ll be able to access both lounges. I visited the Infinity first.

The food area has several different stations.

You can get yourself a slice of very weird pizza

There was as selection of hot dishes and salads.

There was a whole urn of sweet potatoes. I’m guessing this is a Taiwanese thing.

You can even make your own hot dog.

The highlight of the lounge for me was the serve your own Movenpick ice cream.

Apart from ice cream, there was a limited selection of cakes and such.

The soft drinks

And the hard drinks.

There is no champagne or sparkling wine available in the lounge. Instead there was a chilled white wine on offer. Could I make my own sparkling wine if I mix white wine and soda water? The enquiring mind wants to know.

I assembled my favourite vacation meal- mixed rice with soup noodles and a carton of milk. Yum.

And I plonked myself in front of the Tron Tree.

There was also a business centre in a corner with 3 computers and a printer.

The Star lounge is equally big, if not larger (which makes sense, given the sheer number of Star Gold members who might be flying in economy)

What I like is that unlike SQ and their Krisflyer Gold lounge, EVA has not created some subpar lounge for Star Gold passengers. The catering here is very much the same as that in the Infinity.

I’m going to point out only the items that were available here but not in the Infinity.

The main difference in the hot catering was the addition of one dish not found in the Infinity- fried rice and meatballs. Always a winner.

The biggest difference for me? The ice cream- the Star had Haagen-Dazs. I can’t decide if Haagen-Dazs is better than Movenpick. Don’t make me choose.

Oh but there was no vanilla ice cream here. So I guess Movenpick wins.

The business centre here had the same computers and printing facilities as the Infinity.

I asked for a shower suite and after a short wait got one. This was probably the coolest experience of all- there are 4 shower suites in the Infinity, each with a unique name.

I was assigned “Fantasy Flow”, and was very mature by not making any jokes about menstruation and/or diarrhea.

What was unique is that you are given a keycard to tap and open the shower room.

And once inside, you need to insert the key card to power on the whole shebang.

FYI the loo has a bidet. Fantasy Flow, amirite.

There are L’occitane branded toiletries in pump bottles in the shower.

Other amenities like toothbrush, razor etc were all readily available.

Overall I think the Star and Infinity are nice enough lounges to kill an hour or so, but not something you’d arrive early at the airport for. Both lounges felt really crowded to me, and unfortunately EVA has not really created quiet areas in the lounge for resting.

The Garden (EVA Infinity Mileagelands Diamond)

The Garden is a special lounge set aside for top tier members of EVA’s own loyalty program. It is not open to Star Alliance partner carriers so unfortunately I couldn’t explore it.

I can’t find too many reports on this lounge, but I understand that in addition to the regular buffet it also has an order by menu selection.

The Club (EVA Infinity Mileagelands Silver)

EVA, amazingly, even has a lounge specially built for its silver tier members. This is the second lowest rung, just above base. It would be like SIA building a lounge for Krisflyer Elite Silver members (qualification for EVA Silver requires 30,000 miles in a 12 month period)

This lounge is definitely much smaller than the others, but it ends up being a lot less crowded because of the relatively fewer numbers of EVA Silver members (as opposed to the massive number of Star Golds and Business Class passengers).

There is a small enclave of F&B options. From what I could see, the catering is very similar to that offered in the Infinity/Star lounges. The biggest difference was there was no ice cream, and a smaller selection of hot food items.

The selection of alcohol was still the same as in the other lounges.

The lounge has shower suites too and its own bathroom.

Regardless of what you think about the quality of the food and drink, it’s still quite something that EVA has gone and created a lounge just for its Silver tier members.

So that’s the lounge situation in Taipei for Star Alliance travelers. Now there was just the short matter of the 13 hour flight to Houston…

On the Road again to Rio: Star Alliance Rio Lounge

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Star Alliance Lounge Rio
Lufthansa Business Class GIG-FRA
Sheraton Frankurt Airport Hotel
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


After two long weeks in Brazil it was time to head back to Singapore through Frankfurt. I was pleased that this time my upgrade came through so I’d have a chance to do a proper review of Lufthana’s Business Class product. Yes, it’s far from market leading, but the worst business class product will beat the best economy class product any day of the week (Air India probably being the exception)

GIG airport is nowhere near as nice as GRU, although my sense is they’re trying to do some major overhauls judging by the amount of construction boarding I saw up around the place. I’d have thought they would have finished that by the time of the Olympics, but hey, Brazil.

Check in was fast and painless. I was pleased that I had managed to get a seat on the upper deck of the 747-8, which would be my first time sitting on the upper deck of a 747 in a long time. The last occasion I did so was on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Narita, in a terrible angled flat seat, perhaps 2 years ago. The time before that? That’d have to be when I was 10 or 11, going to the US on one of SQ’s Megatops. The check in lady confirmed that the seat next to me would remain empty, so that was a plus too.

The Star Alliance lounge at GIG is the newest in the network, having opened in mid-December. It’s so new I wasn’t even able to find any trip reports on it. It’s a bit puzzling why Star Alliance would build a lounge in GIG because GIG isn’t a big alliance hub- the only Star Alliance carriers flying to Rio are Lufthansa, United, TAP and Avianca.

These carriers collectively operate 42 weekly flights out of GIG (you should ignore the 140 figure in the screenshot above as that refers to Avianca Brazil, which operates out of the domestic terminal and does not have lounge access). For comparison, in the other airports where Star Alliance lounges exist

  • Sao Paulo GRU (149 weekly *A flights)
  • Los Angeles LAX  (312 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the UA domestic ones)
  • Paris CDG (375 weekly *A flights- quite a few of these will be Schengen flights and will not have access to the *A lounge in the international area )
  • Buenos Aires EZE (78 weekly *A flights)
  • Nagoya NGO (64 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the NH domestic ones)

So maybe Star Alliance has big plans for Rio. Either way, it’s confusing to me, especially when you consider that GRU is the main international gateway to Brazil and there’s already a *A lounge there.

I digress.

The lounge is located on the third floor and is managed by the Plaza Premium Group.

There was no one manning the counter when I got there, so I proceeded to let myself in. Halfway through the lounge dragon showed up and we had to double back to counter to scan my pass. It’s more an accounting exercise than anything else- I imagine that all the Star Alliance carriers who use the lounge need to pay Star Alliance a fee depending on how many of their passengers use the lounge.

The lounge opens 24/7 and is accessible to any business or first class passenger on a Star Alliance flight, or to Star Gold members flying in Economy. Members of paid lounge programs like United Club can also access. the lounge.

As per the press release, the lounge is 600 square metres and can seat 150 guests. You can allegedly see Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer from the lounge, although it was late night by the time I got there and all I saw was darkness #gothkid

In line with the design concept of Star Alliance lounges, local touches and flavours have been combined with global branding elements. Brazilian natural woods, stone and concrete elements have been used to reflect the architectural heritage of the city while introducing greenery and moments of colour that accentuate the city’s close relationship with nature. Handmade Brazilian furniture pieces from renowned designers add a special touch to the overall design and feel, which can best be described as exclusive and at the same time welcoming. The lounge was designed by Hong Kong based architecture firm MSA, which was appointed by Plaza Premium, the company which will operate the lounge for Star Alliance.

Aesthetically, the lounge is pretty attractive.  The lounge is smaller than I thought it’d be, but they at least bought more than one type of chair…

My first stop was the shower. There are a grand total of 2 shower rooms in the lounge. It works out ok in the end given how few *A carriers fly to Rio, but again it’s a puzzlement to me. Building the lounge implies *A thinks GIG passenger numbers will take off in a real way. If that’s so, how can they only provision the lounge with two showers?

The shower cubicles have very nice marble finishings but are otherwise tiny

The bath amenities come in pump bottles mounted on the wall

And some basic amenities are provided for shaving, teeth brushing and feminine product-ing.

It needs to be said that this shower had one of the worst water pressures I’ve ever seen in a lounge shower. Even at full power, the water came out in a trickle. I’m not sure if that was a general problem with the plumbing that day, but it was certainly an annoyance. There also wasn’t anything in the way of a sitting area for you to wear your shoes, which is probably another design oversight. Even a chair would have been helpful. I mean, not everyone wants to sit on the loo to put on their socks…

After bathing I went to check out the buffet.

There is a limited hot food selection in the dining area

The catering was pretty forgettable. One BBQ drumlet dish, one potato dish

One beef dish and I forget what the item on the left was. None of the food was what you would call amazing. And I was surprised at the lack of hot food options given the lounge was supposed to be for both First and Business class passengers.

Cold food options included sandwiches, wraps, cheese and fruits

There’s also an option for hot bread

I vaguely recall the publicity materials for the GIG Star Alliance lounge talking about cooked to order meals. No evidence of that here.

Drinks wise, a few reds and whites compliment the usual soft drinks and juices.

No champagne was available, but there was sparkling wine.

There’s also a fully stocked bar where the bartender can make any manner of drinks. Right after I took this photo someone who looked like the manager (dude in the tie) barked at me that photos weren’t allowed in the lounge. I didn’t acknowledge him and walked off to take photos of other areas. Thankfully, he didn’t follow me. Seriously, what is up with no photo policies? Does he think that nefarious agents from SkyTeam and OneWorld are trying to infiltrate the lounge and steal important trade secrets like the brainwave of only putting 2 showers in the lounge? I mean I can understand if other passengers are uncomfortable with appearing in strangers’ photos, but the area was deserted at the time.

From a productivity point of view, one thing the lounge gets right is that there are plenty of outlets and USB plugs. The internet was also fast enough for me to download a few additional Netflix episodes to my device before boarding.

My overall impression of the GIG Star Alliance lounge was that it was nowhere as good as the Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo (which I reviewed here). That lounge simply has a lot more going for it- higher ceilings which make it seem more spacious, clearly demarcated dozing areas, a wider variety of F&B and generally friendlier staff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a long walk to the gate, so I left the lounge early and headed for the gate, eager to board the plane and head up that stairwell…

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul


After arriving in IST from KUL I was pretty excited and rearing to check out the (allegedly) best business class lounge in the world.

As it turned out, though, it took quite some time to clear security – even the dedicated priority line for business class passengers took some time to clear. Eventually, I’d finally made it to the promised land.

Lounge Istanbul entrance

The reports were true. The lounge is sprawling, and it offers a really unique stopover experience.

Architecture

I particularly liked the architecture, which manages to give the lounge a distinctively Turkish taste.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Lounge Istanbul

Lounge Istanbul carts

Lounge Istanbul centrepiece

The facilities ranged from a baggage deposit area near the entrance (which was totally full so we ended up not being able to use it)…

Lounge Istanbul baggage area

Entertainment

…to a myriad of entertainment options…

Lounge Istanbul billiards table
Billiards table

Lounge Istanbul TV wall
TV wall with wireless headsets

Lounge Istanbul cinema
Cinema with popcorn machine

Lounge Istanbul console gaming
Console gaming stations (I believe this was the PS4)

Lounge Istanbul RC cars
Remote control racing

Lounge Istanbul golf simulator
Golf simulator

Lounge Istanbul play area
Children’s play area

Food

…to about a bazillion options for filling your stomach.

Lounge Istanbul salad bar
Salad bar

Lounge Istanbul sesame bagels
Turkish sesame bagels

Lounge Istanbul butter
Fancy butter

Lounge Istanbul fruits
The healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul desserts
The less healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul Turkish desserts
Turkish desserts

Lounge Istanbul bakery
From the bakery

Lounge Istanbul hot food
Hot food, freshly prepared

Beverages

Plenty of options for quenching your thirst, too.

Lounge Istanbul drinks station
The non-alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul alcoholic drinks
The alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul tea station
One of many tea stations

Lounge Istanbul tea selection
Offering a wide range of selections of tea

Conclusion

All in all, I would say that Turkish Airlines’s Lounge Istanbul really does live up to its reputation. If there’s anything I’d complain about, it’s that WiFi speeds were nearly unusable while I was there – I guess there were just too many people logged into their network. I only really had about an hour there each time I passed through Istanbul, so I didn’t actually get to try most of the things on offer, but even sampling what I did and visually taking everything in was an experience in itself.

I probably wouldn’t deliberately go out of the way to visit it again anytime soon, but if I happened to be flying in that direction? I might just try to make it happen…


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.