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Miami, no vice: EVA Hello Kitty Business Class SIN-TPE

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
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


The first thing you need to understand about The Milelion is that he is a prime specimen of male masculinity. Where he walks, women swoon and men shake their fists in envious grief. He causes mass hysteria in the countries he visits. His bodily fluids have been incorporated into TCM as a remedy for many ailments. Indeed, centuries from now, historians will be unable to reference any epoch without doing so in standard units of Milelions.

Image result for asian bodybuilding
File Photo of The Milelion, before breakfast

It is because of this rampant surplus of masculinity that The Milelion saw no issue with booking a trip to Miami via Houston and Taipei on one of EVA Air’s Hello Kitty services.

I was gushing (in a manly way, of course) to my colleague about the upcoming Miami trip and the many manly exploits I would do while I was there. I would boldly stare down brightly-colored fish while snorkeling, hurl obscenities at Florida gators from a covered walkway, shop for torso-hugging v-neck shirts at the premium outlets and take limited public transportation where necessary.

“Don’t real men fly long haul economy?” he asked.

I ignored his question. It really wasn’t my job to answer the questions of men less manly than me.


Image result for eva air launch hello kitty jet

EVA launched its first Hello Kitty jet back in October 2005 in a marketing tie-up with Sanrio. The first aircraft, an A330-200, was described as follows-

On the right side of the aircraft, identified with “Hello Kitty EVA Air,” Kitty and her friends greet passengers with welcoming smiles. Daniel Star, his aviator glasses perched on his forehead, stands nearest the cockpit with Kitty by his side. Tim and Tammy, the mischievous monkeys, sit over the wing. Joy, the blue mouse, is poised on the engine. And Mimmy White, Kitty’s sister, joins parents Mary and George White, near the back of the aircraft. On the left of the aircraft under “EVA Air Hello Kitty,” Kitty stands nearest the cockpit beside her friend Kathy, the white rabbit. Rory, the yellow squirrel, frolics on the engine. Tim and Tammy and Kitty’s family are featured in the same positions as on the other side of the aircraft.

EVA currently services Cebu, Narita, Houston, Singapore, Paris, Haeda, Fukuoka, Seoul and Shanghai with Hello Kitty jets. The jets have names such as

  • Gudetama Comfort Flight
  • Sanrio Characters Shining Star
  • Sanrio Family Hand in Hand
  • Hello Kitty Loves Apples
  • Bad Badtz-Maru Travel Fun

The Hello Kitty planes get moved around ever so often, and the Singapore route will no longer be operated with a Hello Kitty jet come 31 May. No time like the present.


I had booked a complimentary airport transfer through the UOB PRVI card, thanks to my overseas spending in well-known masculine business destination Rio de Janeiro the month before.

In theory the limo booking covers a 4 seater vehicle like a Mercedes E Class. However, the agency had sent over a 7 seater van instead. This usually entails a $10 upcharge if specifically requested for, but it was pretty obvious they sent the larger vehicle due to the masculine way in which I entered my credit card details.

“This is logical”, I thought. “My selected mode of transportation needs plenty of room for my outsized biceps”

I arrived at Terminal 3 around 2pm for a 3.45pm departure. Eva Air’s desks are located at Row 6, next to SQ’s premium economy check in. There were no queues when I arrived, and even if there were I’m sure they would have parted like the Red Sea. Such are the perks of well-toned delts, I thought as I pulled my abductor muscle lifting my bag onto the belt.

“Where are you headed today sir?” the agent inquired with a slight tremble in her voice as she beheld the Adonis before her. This is a normal response for women when they see The Milelion.

“Houston.” I grunted (manly men always grunt. It’s a mixture of muscle mass and constipation). Houston seemed a suitably masculine destination, what with its association with the oil and gas industry and all. Renewable energy is so for whimps.

She weighed and tagged my bag to IAH, probably entertaining daydreams about my life on the oil rigs (bodybuilding oil comes from oil rigs right?) where my bulging muscles would be used to turn giant valves, lift massive pipes, and fix the occasional IT problem because Renaissance man. I was disappointed to learn that my bag weighed a puny 13kg because this represented a wasted opportunity for tricep and forearm development.

“This is the Hello Kitty flight, yes?” I clarified as I dropped to the floor to do some one-handed pushups. I managed to do about three or four before my arms started hurting so I stopped. Circuit training is all about knowing your limits.

She confirmed that it was. I was relieved. Although BR215/216 should be operated by the Hello Kitty jet, there’s no accounting for last minute equipment swaps.

I’ve never understood the ritualistic defacing of boarding passes that happens at check-in. It’s almost as if the ground staff believe that your ability to locate your boarding jet or remember your legal name will be enhanced through a liberal application of blue pen to the boarding pass. Fortunately, there was nothing of that sort this time and I received unadulterated boarding passes. Formalities complete, she bade me a good trip.

I had about an hour to kill before boarding so I headed off to the SilverKris lounge, which I’ve reviewed several times before so will only give you the highlights.

I was looking for raw eggs, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and other protein-rich foods for my physique. Instead, I only found a selection of fruits, salad, simple carbohydrates and sugary drinks. SQ’s lounge food is so unconducive to bodybuilding it makes my hamstrings hurt.

Real men also down copious amounts of alcohol, of course, and I was hoping that SQ might have added a tavern or some sort of alehouse to the lounge since my last visit. It would be an appropriate place to mount a table and tell stories about my many epic (cyber) battles while fair wenches pour libations freely.

Unfortunately, I only found a selection of nancy wines.

Wines aside, I’d like to call out SQ for this latest cost cutting measure of hide the bubbly.

When I first saw this sign it was during a morning departure slot. I assumed that the timing had something to do with it. It now appears, however, that SOP is to keep the champagne under lock and key, only attainable through social interaction. How nefarious. They know my one weakness.

Because I could not find anyone in the lounge willing to engage in arm-wrestling combat and/or hot oil wrestling, I decided to leave early for the plane.

BR216 was departing from Gate B5 today. Security clearance took longer than usual. The uninitiated may think that this was because there was a large student group reaching before me, but everyone knows it was because my abs of steel kept on setting off the metal detector. Even from the end of the queue.

From the gate I could make out the rear end of the Hello Kitty jet. Alas, this was one of those gates that didn’t give great tarmac views.

I positioned myself at the entrance so I could be the first on board. I knew the rest of the passengers would respect the Alpha male’s right to first boarding, but I didn’t want to make them wait too long.

Boarding started and I gracefully bounded down the jetway, reaching the aircraft slightly winded. These jetways were longer than I remember. Catching my breath, I took in the 77W cabin.

There is no question in my mind that EVA totally kicks SQ’s ass on SIN-TPE routes. SQ’s flights are operated by A330s which have its regional angled-flat business product.

Image result for sq a330 business class

EVA, on the other hand, operates 77Ws with its latest reverse-herringbone flatbed seat installed in a 1-2-1 configuration.

With the recent Krisflyer devaluation, it costs the same number of miles (27,500 one way) to fly in Business Class to Taipei on SQ as it does on Star Alliance partners. Therefore I’d encourage anyone who is considering redeeming tickets on this route to opt for the EVA option, given the superior hard product. EVA is quite generous in releasing partner award space on this route too.

Do you really need a flatbed seat on a 4.5 hour flight? No. But do I really need all these Arnold Schwarzenegger workout videos and free weights? Sometimes, we just feel like treating ourselves.

I was bracing myself for a full-fledged assault of Hello Kitty from the moment I boarded the plane, but was surprised that the cabin looked identical to that of every other EVA flight I’d flown so far.

On first glance, there were only two immediately noticeable features that identified this as a Kitty flight.

First, there was a framed painting at the front of the cabin. The painting in each aircraft is unique.

Second there was a Hello Kitty pillow at each seat. Of course, there were many more cobranded items, as I’d soon discover.

I settled into my seat and, with much effort, finally managed to hoist my handcarry bag in the overhead compartment. This was totally not due to any weakness in my upper body but more because of the poor UX design of airplane overhead compartments. Why must they involve lifting weights above shoulder level? Preposterous.

Besides, I had a more pressing task- getting my hair tonic to cold storage asap. I would like to remind everyone it is well documented that male pattern hair loss is caused by an excess of testosterone. It’s true. Testosterone is converted to dihydrotestosterone which in turn causes hair loss. It speaks volumes to my masculinity and excess testosterone production that I have attained such illustrious male pattern balding at the young age of 29, and I challenge anyone else to do better. Bruce Willis, Andre Agassi and Gandhi would be proud.

“Would you be able to store this in your cooler?” I asked of a passing flight attendant.

“Of course sir. Is this medicine?” she asked.

It most certainly was not. I bristled at the suggestion that a man such as I would require anything of the sort.  “It’s a supplement,” I said, in a prickly tone. Manly men do not use medicine. They merely require an abundance of supplements. Properly chastised, she took my supplement and disappeared into the galley.

Pre-departure drink orders were taken. I enquired if they had any protein powder milkshakes, failing which I would gladly have a glass of Rose. Unfortunately, EVA has joined the ranks of airlines which do not serve champagne on the ground, for duty reasons. They do serve sparkling wine thoughs (and I was very glad that the crew drew a distinction between sparkling wine and champagne)

As I sipped my cava I took stock of the Hello Kitty situation so far.  The flight wasn’t even 10 minutes old and I had a Hello Kitty pillow, slippers, menu and air sickness bag. They even had Hello Kitty safety cards.

I unwrapped the slippers and put them on. Was this too girly? I asked myself.

No, I decided. It was not. I had big feet. And you know what they say about men with big feet.

Besides, I was wearing said slippers while reading hypermasculine broadsheet The New York Times. And the guy on the front page was bald. This surely more than compensated for things.

The aircraft taxied and took off in unspectacular fashion. I was half expecting Hello Kitty’s voice to appear on the PA as he/she/it willed the dual engines to full throttle through the power of audible kawaii. This did not happen.

Soon after takeoff I got my glass of Rose. I realise there are some people out there who would dismiss Rose as girly. But rose is fine and totally not girly to drink because the red reminds me of the blood of my enemies that I shed so freely.

I had a look at the menu while waiting for my lunch order to be taken.

It was very disappointing to note that there wasn’t any game meat on the menu. After all, I was by now used to dining on freshly slaughtered elk, caribou and the occasional Bambi’s mom.

 

While waiting for the food, I scanned the IFE system, looking for programs on weightlifting, polar bear wrestling or steel manufacturing/other metallurgy (all of which are hobbies of mine). I ended up watching Gilmore Girls because my fingers accidentally bumped  the icon and my hands accidentally put the headphones on.

The crew came around to dress the table. As you might expect, the tablecloths on the flight are Hello Kitty branded too.

The first course was a sweet and savory salad with smoked salmon, mini-apple cubes and capsicum.

I would like to point out that the capsicum had been cut into tiny stars, because Hello Kitty is all about stars. You gotta admire the folks at SATS catering who do this. Perhaps it’s automated, but I think it is safe to say no other airline has star-shaped capsicum.

I went with the prawn noodle soup for the main. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t Wah Kee standard. The prawns were tiny and the deshelled frozen type, the veggies were soggy and there was an overabundance of fishcake.

Desert was an excellent double chocolate mousse.

A byproduct of manliness is a super efficient digestive system. Hence I required the bathroom soon after my meal.

But even the loo isn’t safe from cobranding. There is Hello Kitty toilet paper. Yes, you heard me right. Anyone who needs to go number two can relish in the fact that they are. shall we say, browning the kitty.

The hand soaps and lotions have special branding too.

However, the toilet seat is stock. Would it really be so hard/disturbing to have a Hello Kitty bidet? It could play happy star music while cleansing your unspeakable regions.

I normally don’t pay much attention to the inflight duty free catalogue, but this one was a thing of beauty. It was chock full of Hello Kitty merchandise.

I was partial to the apron, which would let me live out my iron chef man fantasies.

But the other items weren’t bad too.

In the end, I settled for two decks of free playing cards and a complimentary bag.

Before long, our flight started its descent into Taipei.

Did the Hello Kitty service live up to expectations? Although the flight crew did not break out into a song and dance number midway through service, I still think this has to go down as one of the most kitsch things to do in the world. And some people just like that. I can imagine a whole planeload of hipsters doing the flight ironically, for example .

I disembarked the aircraft, manliness still intact. Now it was time to figure out which of EVA’s 4 lounges I should use…

On the road again to Rio: SQ A380 Business Class review

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


I woke up (or rather, jetlag woke me up) bright and early at 7 in the morning at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport hotel. After dawdling around with breakfast and what not, I finally left the hotel at around 930am for an 1140am departure.

Frankurt Airport was quiet this Monday morning, with very short queues and not a lot of foot traffic. There were similarly no queues at any of the SQ check in desks. My bags were tagged to Singapore but curiously, the first boarding pass that printed out was to Rio de Janeiro. I only realised it after I left the counter and had to double back. I can’t really explain why that happened, because the two bookings were on separate PNRs. It was one of those weird moments.

It’s no secret that SQ’s premium economy product has sold very poorly, and the airline has been taking steps to try and monetize the empty seats. They recently started a bidding program that lets you place a bid for an empty PY seat, and they’re selling upgrades at the counter too. I didn’t ask what the prices were.

I think the fundamental problem is how expensive SQ prices its PY product. They’re doing the typical SQ “our product is better than everyone else’s and you should be thankful we let you fly it”, and that strategy hasn’t really been working for them. SQ has an amazing product, but it’s appalling how rigid and inflexible the mindsets of their senior management can be.

I had a choice of lounges to visit post immigration. I decided on the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, having visited the very underwhelming Lufthansa Senator lounge numerous times before.

Many SQ passengers will go through FRA and never find this lounge, because of the abundance of LH lounge signs near the gate where they disembark during the JFK-SIN layover.

Size wise, it’s definitely smaller than the LH Senator lounge but I find it a lot more quiet and tranquil.

There is plenty of seating in the lounge

. Great views of the tarmac too. I didn’t know Air Canada operates enough flights out of FRA to justify having its own lounge (26 flights a week), but I imagine they earn back the operating costs by charging other Star partners for access.

Hello, what’s that in the background….

It was indeed SQ25, just landed from JFK and ready to do its turn. While the aircraft refueled, so did I.

The Air Canada lounge has a much better selection of food than the Lufthansa Senator lounge in my opinion. It was breakfast time so the breakfast spread was out.

I assembled myself a plate and resumed plane watching.

Boarding began on time and, as you can imagine for an A380 flight, there was a scrum at the gate. It did seem like a lot of people for a Monday morning flight.

SQ has its business class seats on the upper deck of the A380. The version they fly on SQ25 has an all business class upper deck configuration with 86 flatbed seats.

In terms of product design, it’s hard to believe that SQ’s A380s are already closing in on 10 years old. I mean, these seats are much superior to a lot of the current-gen business class products you’ll find on other airlines. And they’re 10 years old! As much as I dislike the policies of SQ management, I have to say that their product design team is light years ahead of the game. Which makes me even more excited to see what the new A380s will have…

In terms of condition, however, the seats are showing their age. Look closely and you’ll start seeing various battle scars, of repeated pressurization and depressurization cycles, of spilled wine and juice, of nicks and scratches from bags, zips and other pointy things.

The poet in me might suggest that every blemish tells a story, but the critic asked whether it was too much to ask for a mid cabin refresh (the type SQ did with their Suites seats where they went from this

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

to this)

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

It’s probably a very different financial proposition to refurbish 12 seats (Suites) per A380 versus 86, however.

The seat is thoughtfully designed with a lot of ports and storage space. You get 2 USB ports, in seat power and something that looks like an Ethernet cable.

You have two small reading lights on your left and right shoulder with various brightness settings

The excellent noise cancelling PhiTek headphones make an appearance.

And each passenger gets eyeshades, slippers and socks. Earplugs are available upon request.

The crew came over to serve welcome drinks. Unlike the fantastic crew we had out of SIN, this crew was very mechanical and stoic. Passengers weren’t addressed by name, no introductions were made and although the crew did everything perfectly fine, it’s quite easy to tell when a crew is “into it”.

No alcohol is served on ground due to customs regulations so I had some OJ.

Take off views were nothing special this frigid Monday morning.

I read through the menu after take off. The menu cover had the same CNY-inspired design as that on SQ326 over to Frankfurt.

The options, however, were non-festive. I think they only do the special CNY treats ex-SIN. Lunch would be served after takeoff with the following options

There was the usual extensive drinks list that formed the bulk of the menu

The crew came around to serve more drinks after takeoff. Was it too early for champagne? I thought, before deciding that no, it was never too early for champagne. Or for poorly taken photos where you can totally see the guy taking it in the reflection.

As is usually the case with SQ lunch services (except the one I took ex-SIN during CNY), the meal started with satay. I’ve been quite surprised at the consistency of the satay regardless of which station I’m flying out of. Of course it doesn’t compare to what you can find back home, but it’s perfectly passable.

I’ve come to realise that SQ’s appetizers tend to be some variation of prawns. I personally like prawns so I don’t have an issue with this. I would imagine those allergic to them would have some issue. Garlic bread was served as well.

Craving Asian food, I opted for the duck curry for the main. It didn’t look too appetizing but was actually pretty good. Biggest downside was the veggies were mush.

The desert cart came around and I had some raspberry ice cream. How I long for simpler flavors. You could just give me vanilla every single time and I’d never complain.

A fruit basket was also brought around.

The loos on the A380 have these glamor style mirror lights. I would have thought that when you’re a mixture of dehydrated and bedhead, bright lighting would be the last thing you want.

The taps on the A380 are automatic though, which should appeal to the germophobes out there (guilty). You know what I really want? Toilets with auto opening doors. Like you wave your hand or something and the door opens. I always cringe when I have to touch the latch after I’m done.

I then flipped the seat into bed mode and passed out. If you want to see photos of the seat in bed mode  (and photos of me with more hair) you can check out this older trip report to San Francisco

I awoke somewhere over Afghanistan with 6 hours left on the flight.

I will keep repeating this until it changes, but SQ does not have a great snack selection. Its hot items are limited to nicely plated and garnished instant noodles. Contrast that with what Etihad has (I know this is comparing F to J, but SQ’s F snack menu isn’t much better)  and tell me that doesn’t look much better than these options.

Anyway, I had what I think was chicken noodles. I couldn’t tell because it appears they forgot to put the chicken garnish on it.

And then did some work, and went back to sleep.

I awoke for breakfast. SQ was doing that “wake everyone up 2.5 hours before landing” thing that I still can’t figure out.

Fruit was the standard starter for everyone. Random: does anyone actually like grapefruit? I suppose there must be such people out there, but I have yet to meet one of them.

I had the pad thai for the main, still in my “i need Asian food so badly I’ll settle for a bad version of it” stage. The dish was awful- it tasted like someone had dumped a whole load of lime juice on it. You couldn’t take more than a few bites without making a sourpuss face.

I think this would overall be one of my more average SQ flights. That said, SQ’s average is still miles ahead of many other airlines’ best.

SQ’s A380 seats have had their time in the sun and I’m glad we’ll be seeing something new this year. I am holding out hope for mini-suites with doors in Business class, which I think is the natural evolution of the product.

Until the next long trip!

 

A different kind of trip report

This report is a special request from Aaron to add variety to the usual commercial airlines trip reports. Its been almost 2 months since this trip. However I am not as eloquent in writing as Aaron, plus my camera skills is no better than him, thus the delay of this trip report.

We all have been on commercial airliners before, but what better than to impress friends and family if you can actually gain control of an airplane? The opportunity came during my recent holiday to New Zealand where a particular flight school has a trial flight programme to cater to tourists and aviation enthusiasts who dream of being in control of an airplane, and no flying experience is required. Not only that, you are allowed to bring a friend onboard. In my case, my wife and son took the leap of faith.

Wanaka flight training, located in Wanaka airport, about 1 hour drive from Queenstown in South Island, offers trial 20 min for NZD$149, 30 min for NZD$199 and 1 hr for NZD$349. It is advisable to book a timeslot in advance to secure your place especially during summer months and I booked a 30 min flight for NZD$199.

The flight starts with a safety video and before long, an instructor will lead you to the aircraft. Wanaka flight school uses the Piper Cherokee, a 4 seater aircraft as shown here:

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All pre flight inspections are done by your instructor and before long, we are in the aircraft doing preflight preparations.

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My son seems apprehensive on his dad’s ability to fly a plane.

Pre Flight preparations took about 10 minutes and soon after we are on the way. You will be taxiing the aircraft to the runway hold area on your own with radio communications all handled by the instructor.

In no time, control tower cleared us for take off:

I have been through flight training years ago, and the instructor being aware of his student being able to handle an aircraft, gave instructions on take off speed (80 knots) and leave the entire flight to my control. His role thus is reduced to providing me with flight directions and acting as a safety pilot, leaving flight controls such as yoke and trim to me.

The flight flies along Lake Wanaka with spectacular million dollar views:

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Time passes quickly when you are having fun and in no time, the instructor asks me to reduce power on the throttle to begin our descend and started giving me directions to get back to Wanaka airport.

Landing Approach towards the grass runway

And touchdown!

A certificate at the end of the flight. For pilots, you can clocked this flight into your pilot’s logbook.

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Verdict:

It’s flying at its most basic, a good introduction to the dynamics of flying in 30 mins and you get to taxi the aircraft, take off, experience flight controls such as trim and bank and of course landing, all under the guidance of an instructor. For those who has some form of flying experience, a chance to be in the controls of an aeroplane again and at the same time marvel the beautiful sights of New Zealand South Island landscape.