Review: STARLUX Airlines A330neo Economy Class (SIN-TPE)

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STARLUX's stellar Economy Class experience dazzles, with elements that wouldn't be out of place in a premium cabin.

My whirlwind trip to Taiwan began by flying STARLUX Airlines Economy Class from Singapore to Taipei. 

As mentioned in the trip planning post, this flight doesn’t have the best of schedules for tourists from Singapore. You arrive in Taipei in the evening and depart in the early morning, basically wasting two nights of accommodation. 

FlightDepartArriveDays
JX732SIN 1445TPE 1920Daily
JX731TPE 0850SIN 1330Daily

That said, I suppose an evening arrival in Taipei might make sense if long-term goal is to bank this flight with connections to North America, which will start in April 2023 with the new A350-900 aircraft. 

Flight schedules aside, I was eager to see how STARLUX would perform at the back of the bus. After all, many airlines trumpet how “market-leading” their Economy Class is, but really, there’s only so much comfort you can provide when the business model necessitates cramming as many seats in there as possible.

But having flown STARLUX, I can tell you their Economy Class is very much market-leading. 

✈️ tl;dr: STARLUX A330neo Economy Class
STARLUX’s stellar Economy Class experience dazzles, with elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a premium cabin.
👍 The Good👎 The Bad
  • Factory-fresh cabin and seats still in impeccable condition
  • High quality meals and a wide drinks selection including craft cocktails
  • 4K inflight entertainment screens with Bluetooth connectivity
  • Fancy touches like THANN amenities in the lavatories 
  • Very small selection of English movies and TV shows
  • Wi-Fi network virtually unusable
🇹🇼 When You Wish Upon a STARLUX

Check-in & Boarding

STARLUX check-in

STARLUX departs from Changi Terminal 1 and uses the check-in desks at Row 1. Check-in opens three hours before departure, and unfortunately, the airline does not participate in the Jewel early check-in programme.

Business Class passengers and COSMILE Explorer/Insighter members get access to a priority queue, which was good news for me since a hefty line had built up for Economy even before the counters opened.

STARLUX boarding passes

Boarding passes were issued quickly, and I appreciate that STARLUX still uses proper coloured cardstock. Singapore Airlines scrapped its green Economy boarding passes for plain black and white ones some years ago, making them not very collectible. 

As an Explorer member, I received complimentary access to the SATS Premier Lounge. This isn’t a great facility, and I’d recommend visiting the Plaza Premium Lounge instead (not accessible via Priority Pass or LoungeKey, but available through AMEX Platinum Charge, OCBC VOYAGE and DragonPass, among others; try the chicken rice- it’s the kind of quality I’d be happy paying money for outside).

I hardly think the SATS Premier Lounge is worth a review, so I’ll just leave you with a few photos.

SATS Premier Lounge Changi T1
SATS Premier Lounge Changi T1
SATS Premier Lounge Changi T1

Today’s flight was operated by an A330-900 (also known as an A330neo), registration number B-58301. Delivered in February 2022, this was the first A330neo (and the first widebody) STARLUX received, making it just over eight months old.

STARLUX A330neo

Boarding began about 10 minutes late, with separate lines for Economy Class and Business Class/Insighter/Explorer members. 

Boarding

STARLUX a330neo Economy Class

Before we talk about the seats themselves, a brief word on seat selection fees. STARLUX divides its Economy Class seats into three different types:

💺 STARLUX A330neo
CategorySeats
Extra Legroom Seat30 & 51 A, C, H, K
31 & 50 D, E, F, G
Forward Seat31 A, C, H, K
32-37 A, C, H, K
Standard SeatAll others

Advance seat selection may be chargeable depending on your fare type. Expect to pay US$50 for an Extra Legroom Seat, US$20 for a Forward Seat and US$10 for a Standard Seat. 

 Extra LegroomForwardStandard
LimitedUS$50US$20US$10
SavingUS$50US$20US$10
BasicUS$50FreeFree
FullUS$50FreeFree

Seat selection fees are not waived for COSMILE elite members. However, all seats (except Extra Legroom) become available for free selection during online check-in, 48 hours prior to departure. 

STARLUX has a total of 269 Economy Class seats on its A330neo, laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration. The RECARO CL3710 seats are of the slimline variety, which divides opinion because of their reduced back padding. I found them comfortable enough for the ~4 hour daytime flight to Taipei, though it would be interesting to see how they hold up on a redeye flight. 

STARLUX a330neo Economy Class
STARLUX a330neo Economy Class
STARLUX a330neo Economy Class
STARLUX a330neo Economy Class

STARLUX has gone with an elegant dark grey and neutral beige colour palette for its Economy Class seats, which the airline says creates an “elegant and modern furniture-like appeal through the use of clean shapes and a play on pattern orientations that break up the backrest”. 

Each seat has a six-way adjustable leather headrest for additional neck support, as well as 31-32″ of pitch. There’s no leg rest, although that’s typically a feature we see reserved for Premium Economy (and indeed, STARLUX’s Premium Economy seats will have it). 

The A/C and H/K seats by the windows will obviously be the seats of choice for couples travelling together (avoid 35A/K if you want a view though, because these seats are windowless).

A/C seats
A/C seats

Families will prefer the four-seat D/E/F/G cluster in the middle, although it could also be quite the prize for a solo traveller who manages to get the whole row to themselves, since armrests can be lifted to create a flat bed about 1.8 metres long. It’s one of the reasons why I prefer a 2-4-2 Economy Class configuration to a 3-3-3, because three seats doesn’t make much of a bed (no matter what Air New Zealand wants you to believe about their SkyCouch). 

D/E/F/G seats
D/E/F/G seats

I selected 32H, an aisle seat near the front of the cabin. I don’t know if it’s official policy, but as a COSMILE Explorer I was told during check-in that the seat next to me had been blocked, which was a very nice touch. In any case, this particular flight went out only 40% full, so almost everyone was able to stretch out. 

Seat 32H

Economy Class passengers have a 13.3-inch 4K personal inflight entertainment screen. I’ll talk about this a bit more in the section on inflight entertainment, but for now just note that beneath the screen is a USB 3.0 Type-A port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

IFE screen

If you’re seated in 31 D/E/F/G or 50 D/E/F/G, your inflight entertainment screen will be mounted on the bulkhead in front of you. This makes it significantly harder to navigate via touch, since it’s too far forward. Fortunately, a remote is built into the armrests of these seats. If you’re seated in the emergency exit seats 30 A/C, H/K or 51 A/C, H/K, your inflight entertainment screen will flip up from below the armrest. 

Bulkhead IFE screens

In-seat power is available at a ratio of 2 passengers to 1 plug. Above the power outlet is a single 60W USB Type-C connector, and it’s good to see this sort of futureproofing provided for. 

In-seat power

The tray table unfolds in two steps, with a half-size option for those who just wish to store a drink. Once fully deployed, it can just about accommodate the footprint of a 14″ laptop.

Tray table
Tray table

If you want to nurse a drink without cutting into your lap space at all, a fold down drinks holder beneath the screen allows you to do just that. It also provides a place to put loose items like sunglasses.

Drinks holder

Inside the seat pocket is the STARLUX inflight magazine and duty free catalogue. Most airlines have digitised these in the interest of weight reduction and hygiene, but STARLUX hasn’t gone down that route just yet. 

Inflight magazines
A330neo safety card

Amenities

Pillow and blanket

Economy Class passengers receive a pillow and blanket by default. The blanket, interestingly enough, is made from upcycled PET bottles and seashells.

Additional amenities such as dental kits, eye shades, ear plugs and slippers can also be requested from the crew. 

Inflight Entertainment

Inflight entertainment screen

Every Economy Class passenger enjoys a 13.3-inch touchscreen with 4K resolution. Yes, a 4K screen, in Economy. 

I’ll admit I was sceptical at first, because consumer guides constantly warn against over-obsessing about resolution. With a screen this small, can you really notice the difference? 

As it turns out, yes. We need to remember that the optimal resolution is a function of two things: screen size, and viewing distance. A 13.3-inch 4K screen wouldn’t make much sense in your living room at home, but when you’re in Economy Class, there’s only about 30 inches between your eyes and the display. 4K allows picture quality to be maintained even with very short viewing distances, and come to think of it, is perfectly-suited for Economy. 

Colours looked amazing on this display, whether it was the oh so cute inflight safety video

STARLUX safety video
STARLUX safety video
STARLUX safety video

…or the chiselled jaw of Tom Cruise.

He can ride my highway to the danger zone any time

More than that, the screen was very responsive. I’ve been on aircraft where you need to press the life out of the screen before it registers a touch, but there were no such issues here. 

STARLUX movies

As good as the hardware is, one weakness of the inflight entertainment system is the relative paucity of choices. I counted only a mere 17 English language movies (and two TV programmes), so few I can actually list them all out.

  • 1917
  • A Quiet Place Part 2
  • Baby Driver
  • Before I Fall
  • Frozen
  • Gods of Egypt
  • Godzilla vs Kong
  • Greta
  • Inside Out
  • Minari
  • One Day
  • The Good Dinosaur
  • The Shallows
  • Top Gun
  • Top Gun 2: Maverick
  • WALL-E
  • Whiplash

If STARLUX wants to be the Emirates of Asia, it should be aware that ICE offers 1,500 movie titles. The current selection may be OK for a short hop between Singapore and Taipei (and even then, frequent passengers would quickly exhaust the selection), but not if these aircraft are to ply longer routes.

Economy Class passengers are provided with headphones, but the quality is junky, no two ways about it. 

STARLUX headphones

Fortunately, you can either plug in your own headphones (no adapter required; the jack below the screen accepts 3.5mm cables), or connect via Bluetooth. That’s a really cool feature if you ask me, since I was even able to pause the screen by pressing the button on my Beats!

Bluetooth connectivity

Meals

Shortly after take-off, the cabin crew came around with mixed rice crackers and the drinks cart, before starting meal service proper. 

STARLUX mixed crackers
Post take-off drinks

STARLUX is unique among airlines in allowing Economy Class passengers to select their meals in advance, even if they have no dietary restrictions. 

It’s not quite Book The Cook, since you’re basically choosing from the same menu that will be served on board, but it does ensure they won’t run out of your choice- important if you’re sitting at the rear of the cabin. Moreover, it also means you’ll get served before the rest of the cabin, so there’s no reason not to opt for it! 

On this flight, there were two options to choose from:

I went with the beef patty with penne, and was very impressed with what I got. 

STARLUX Economy Class meal

The meat was seasoned well, the pasta wasn’t overcooked, and I also received a starter, dessert (the panna cotta was surprisingly good) and fruits. Special mention must be made of the basil bread, which was served warm- a perk normally reserved for Business Class passengers. Anyone remembers how Singapore Airlines used to pass out cold rolls from a clear plastic bag, before they eliminated it altogether on the grounds that no one was eating them? Well, if you serve bread stone cold, no one’s going to eat it. 

The drinks selection was no less impressive, featuring wines, liquors, juices, soft drinks, mocktails and cocktails. 

STARLUX drinks selection

And of course, STARLUX has a cocktails programme, even in Economy. This partnership with mixologist Huang Yixiang (behind Taiwanese watering hole Bar TCRC and restaurant Bar Home) offers passengers two special drinks: 

  • Sci-fi Cosmos 2.0 (gin, lactic acid drink, blue curacao syrup, tonic water)
  • Twilight Mojito (rum, green tea, orange)

STARLUX cocktails programme
STARLUX cocktails programme

I tired both on this flight, and despite its radioactive-looking blue hue, the Sci-fi Cosmos 2.0 is quite a cocktail indeed. It features locally-made gin and a twist of lemon, giving it a good mix of sweet and tart, while being oh-so-Instagrammable.

Sci-fi Cosmos 2.0
Twilight Mojito

I mean, yes, Singapore Airlines has cocktails in Economy too, but they’re paint-by-numbers stuff like Rum and Coke and Singapore Slings. How often do you get a chance to try an exciting new tipple at the back of the plane?

I’d give STARLUX top marks for its F&B programme. This meal wouldn’t have been out of place in Premium Economy.

Inflight Wi-Fi

If the STARLUX experience stumbled in one aspect, it was this.

The entire fleet is equipped with Galactic Wi-Fi service, which offers the following connectivity options:

 Purchase in advancePurchase onboard
30MBUS$4US$5
100MBUS$8US$10

Business Class passengers receive unlimited data, while Economy Class passengers receive an unlimited texting plan that covers platforms like WhatsApp and LINE. From 1 November to 31 December 2022, all STARLUX passengers enjoy unlimited Wi-Fi, regardless of cabin. So far so good.

But on my flight, the Wi-Fi was completely unusable. It wasn’t because too many people were using the network. Even when just a handful were connected (you can see how many from the login page), the internet speed was a mere trickle, so slow I couldn’t even connect to Speedtest.net for a reading. 

Some passengers highlighted the issue, and the crew came on the PA to announce they were resetting the system and would update us when it was OK to connect again. They never did. 

Every now and then, a few messages would leak through to my phone or I’d be able to load a webpage, but this was punctuated by prolonged periods of complete non-functionality. 

I was hoping this was a one-off, but my return flight from Taipei wasn’t much better. The Wi-Fi network was available throughout, but the speeds were dismally slow. It’s an area for improvement, that’s for sure. 

Toilets

At first I was under the impression that the 269 Economy Class passengers on STARLUX’s A330neos had to share a total of four lavatories, which would be a concern because 67 passengers to one lavatory is much higher than the usual 40-50 you find on widebody planes. 

The two lavatories in the dotted box are reassigned between Business and Economy Class as required

However, I later realised that the crew use the curtains to assign the lavatories behind Row 8 to either Business and Economy Class, depending on the load.

LHS: Curtain fastened to give lavatory access to Business Class | RHS: curtain fastened to give lavatory access to Economy Class

Since my flight from Singapore was relatively empty, the crew gave the Economy Class cabin four lavatories, which was more than sufficient. On the flight from Taipei, they fastened the curtain in such a way to give the Economy Class cabin an extra lavatory, making it two for Business and five for Economy. That’s fair enough. 

The lavatories themselves are very nice, especially the handicapped one on the port side of the aircraft that affords slightly more space. I like that STARLUX went for dark-coloured countertops instead of the standard white ones, since it hides stains better and adds a touch of sophistication.

STARLUX Economy Class lavatory

Taps are touchless and there’s an air nozzle for drying your hands, but I was surprised that the toilet lacked a bidet function, given how ubtiquous this feature is in Taiwan.

One thing I was not expecting to see in an Economy Class lavatory were branded amenities. STARLUX stocks THANN eau de toilette, facial mist and hand lotion. These are the same ones that Business Class receives- how’s that for egalitarian?

THANN amenities

Bathrooms were kept clean and tidy throughout the flight. 

Service

The STARLUX cabin crew were polished and friendly, switching seamlessly between Mandarin and English as needed. 

I was particularly impressed to be greeted by the inflight supervisor and subsequently addressed by name throughout, which I saw they also did for the rest of the COSMILE elite members onboard.

Service was smooth and organised, and crew were very good with remembering requests even if they couldn’t fulfil them immediately (on some other airlines it’s in one ear and out the other!). 

Of course the real test will be how they handle a fully-loaded aircraft, but their performance here was excellent. 

Conclusion

STARLUX Economy Class

STARLUX talks a big game about wanting to be Taiwan’s (and indeed Asia’s) premier luxury carrier, but based on my experience on this flight, their record is matching their rhetoric. 

Factory-fresh planes, well-trained staff, branded collaborations, high quality meals and drinks, fancy lavatory toiletries, and an oversized IFE screen make this an experience that blurs the line with Premium Economy. 

There are certainly some areas to work on, like the English movie selection and Wi-Fi reliability, but this was all in all a stellar Economy Class experience. It made me all the more excited to try Business Class, which I’ll cover in the next review.

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Christian See

Annoyingly their website doesn’t allow for transit flights, as I wanted to take them up to Chitose this December.

Bryan

Same issue for me

David Fu

In economy there are actually 5 toilets. The one drawn in between the economy sections (in front of row 50) are actually two toilets, accessible from each aisle. Interestingly there is no corridor to move between the aisles in front of row 50, so row 50 legroom become the default corridor when they are empty or occupied by one paxes (passengers would step in front of you to move between the aisles to access the toilet which is empty on the other side).

Kel

Hahaha…danger zone.

JW19

This looks like the SQ of yore, innovative and market leading, especially in Economy. Now you dont even get a starter and bread, and the A350s are poorly maintained, all so often i need to have seats changed, if they are available, due to non functioning IFEs. Kudos to Starlux for actually walking the talk.

Will M

It does, but I suspect SQ are probably chasing a different market now for Economy, which may be more profitable for them.

Jack

Yes, but it took decades for SQ to build its reputation and with all the cost cutting measures that it has put in place of late, they are at risk of losing it in a matter of years. The problem is that SQ is also charging a premium over other airlines for both economy and business. Hard to justify that premium based on my recent experiences with SQ. For travel to the US, I would much prefer to choose an airline like ANA or EVA even with the additional stopover, especially if I am flying to a city which SQ… Read more »

Will M

Those are fair points. I don’t however think that SQ are necessarily more expensive than their competitors these days in a lot of markets, with the exception being ex-SIN but that’s just the home carrier premium which applies to other airlines as well (e.g. QF ex-SYD/MEL/BNE). In fact, in certain markets, they seem to be much more aggressive with their pricing than before, which suggests a different market is being sought after now.

Last edited 2 months ago by Will M
Freddy

The catering is so much better than SQ…

Jack

Agreed. I have resorted to stuffing myself at the lounge before boarding a SQ flight because the food is dismal. Even some of the book the cook options in Business taste worse as compared to before COVID. I had the misfortune of taking a long-haul economy SQ flight recently and when they served the meal, I thought I was on Lufthansa…says a lot when the cup noodles was the saving grace.

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