Edited by: Juan Ruiz
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: China Airlines (CI)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 (B-18907)
Flight #: CI16
Route: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Date: December 10, 2023
Duration: 10 hours, 49 minutes
Cabin and Layout: Business class, 32 seats, 1-2-1 configuration
Cost: 91,500 Air France-KLM Flying Blue miles or from $3,200 cash
At the end of my monthlong trip to the UAE, India, Indonesia, and Thailand, it was finally time to return home to the U.S.
I had a stash of American Express Membership Rewards points I wanted to use for the long-haul flights. Because the last stop on my trip was Bangkok, Thailand, I knew I could be fairly flexible in terms of “following the availability” and positioning myself to another (relatively) nearby city to catch a flight home.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what I did, as I couldn’t find any award availability in business class originating in Bangkok. I analyzed Google Maps to identify major hubs in the region that I could leverage for a flight home. I struck out on several, including Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
However, I recalled that Taipei, Taiwan, is the base for several top-notch airlines with extensive global networks, including EVA Air, China Airlines, and Starlux Airlines.
Fortunately, I was able to secure business class award space on a China Airlines flight aboard its new Airbus A350 from Taipei to San Francisco, bookable with Amex points (more on how I booked later).
I jumped at the opportunity to book this flight — and as an added bonus, the flight time was optimal, so I’d get to spend a “bonus day” in Taipei before heading home!
Read on to find out what it was like to fly in business class on board China Airlines’ Airbus A350.
As I mentioned above, I was agnostic as to which airline I would fly to return home, as long as I could use points for a premium cabin seat to get me back to North America. Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for with this China Airlines flight from Taipei to San Francisco.
I checked to see if I could add a segment from Bangkok with a connection in Taipei. Still, it added a lot of miles to the final cost, so I decided to simply book the TPE-SFO flight and buy a separate flight from BKK to TPE, which turned out to be a great decision because I got almost an entire day to explore Taipei!
China Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Alliance, which means there are several ways to book award tickets with the airline. The best ways, however, are to leverage Air France-KLM Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. This makes China Airlines tickets relatively easy to book since both programs are transfer partners with several transferrable currencies, including American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
I couldn’t find availability through Virgin Atlantic, so I turned to Flying Blue. Sure enough, I found business class availability between Taipei and San Francisco for 91,500 Flying Blue miles and $126 in taxes and fees.
As soon as I confirmed the award space, I transferred the necessary points from my American Express account to my Flying Blue account. The miles showed up instantly, and I proceeded to book the flight and pay for the taxes and fees with my Chase Sapphire Reserve® to take advantage of the card’s powerful suite of trip protections in case I ran into any issues with the flight.
It seems like China Airlines releases a decent amount of award space on its long-haul flights, which makes it a great option to get between Asia and North America. If you hope to book a similar flight, Air France-KLM Flying Blue and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are probably your best bets.
Here’s a list of the transfer partners of each program, as there are several for each:
Learn about all the best ways to redeem Air France-KLM Flying Blue miles for maximum value!
On the morning of my flight (it wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10:35 p.m.) I flew from Bangkok (BKK) to Taipei (TPE) with Thai Airways. After a day of exploring the city (and enjoying a memorable meal at Din Tai Fung), it was time to head back to TPE to catch my flight back to the U.S.
Taoyuan International Airport is located about 28 miles from the center of the city, and generally takes about 30 to 40 minutes by car, depending on where in the city you’re coming from. An express train, known as the Taoyuan Airport MRT, also takes passengers between Taipei Main Station and the airport in under 40 minutes.
I took an Uber from the center of the city, which took about 45 minutes due to some traffic and cost about $50.
China Airlines operates from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2, but this flight operated from T2, so that’s where I was dropped off.
I entered the terminal from the doors marked with China Airlines signage and practically walked right into the check-in desks.
I arrived at the airport at 8:30 p.m., giving me plenty of time before my flight was scheduled to begin boarding at 9:40 p.m.
As I was traveling in business class, I had access to the SkyPriority lanes, which had just a few people in line. I had a bag to check, and I wasn’t able to check in online for whatever reason, so I needed to wait to speak with an agent.
Just a few minutes later, I was handing my passport over to get checked in. After reviewing a few details of my flight, I was handed my boarding pass along with an access card to the China Airlines lounge that I could visit before my flight.
I passed through a shopping area in the airport as I made my way to the lounge — there was a wide array of high-end merchant options, just as you’d expect from any major airport around the world.
Then, I headed toward the D gates and found the escalator that would lead me to the China Airlines lounge, where I spent some time before my flight.
I had read reviews of various China Airlines lounges in Taipei before taking this flight, but what I didn’t realize is that the airline operates from both terminals at TPE, so I was a little taken aback when the lounge I entered looked nothing like the reviews I had read online.
The airline has multiple lounges in Taipei, and this location was located in the D gates area on the fourth floor.
The entrance was really unique, with a circular doorway leading into a very nicely appointed lobby. I entered the lounge, and agents scanned my access card and then handed me a paper with the Wi-Fi information.
A few of the China Airlines reviews I’d read were of lounges with intricate, high-end designs. This lounge was different — by no means was it shabby, but rather it sported a pretty safe and plain design.
It wasn’t crowded at all and featured primarily neutral tones and light wood accents, creating a feeling of calm, which was great.
The space itself was essentially a large rectangle separated into 2 distinct sides. I entered the main seating area, which featured rows of armchairs separated by small tables. I noticed power outlets at almost every seat, which was a huge plus.
The other half of the space was dedicated to the lounge’s food offering. There was a large buffet table in the center of the space with the majority of the food offerings.
There were several hot meat dishes with chicken and beef on offer and a few soup options.
There were also vegetarian options, including cabbage, noodles, and braised bran with teriyaki sauce.
On the back wall were more options, including a nice salad bar.
This was in addition to several juices and other dry snacks.
To the left was the bar area. There was a cooler filled with a wide range of soft drinks, juices, beer, tea, and more.
And next to that was a self-serve alcohol area featuring wine and a selection of liquors. I always enjoy a self-serve bar in an airport lounge — there’s just something about crafting a preflight beverage exactly how you want it!
Next to the bar was a small cheese board, along with some crackers and a few sweet treats.
There was also a freezer filled to the top with individual-size ice creams!
And, finally, I loved the 2 varieties of popcorn that were available — this was a snack I had been craving for a few weeks by this point.
I fixed myself a pretty hearty spread even though I knew I’d be eating just a short time later on the flight. I found the food to be of top-notch quality across the board.
Elsewhere on this side of the lounge were long communal tables with chairs and power outlets in the center, perfect for working (or watching Netflix) and charging your devices while enjoying a preflight meal or drink.
On my way out, I checked out the restrooms, of which several types were available: a men’s room, an all-gender restroom, a shower suite, 2 women’s rooms, an accessible restroom, and finally, a baby changing room.
An attendant told me that the shower suite was booked solid, which sort of surprised me because the lounge seemed so empty. But then again, there was only 1 shower suite, so I guess it makes sense.
The restroom I did visit was small, but I liked the private feel. It was also impeccably clean!
After a little less than an hour in the lounge, I decided to head to my gate ahead of the boarding time in hopes of being among the first to board.
I arrived at gate D7 at about 9:30 p.m., 10 minutes before we were scheduled to board. A unique thing about Taoyuan International Airport is that each gate (or at least the ones I’ve seen) is like a mini museum!
Gate D7 had a number of displays, though I didn’t stop to learn about them because I was focused on getting a good spot in the boarding line.
To get to the boarding area, you descend 1 level, where I was met with a rather plain-looking room with rows of seats and a desk for gate agents. There were several charging areas as well, which was nice to have.
Unfortunately, it was dark outside, and with the bright lights in the boarding area, I couldn’t get a good glimpse of the A350 that would take me to San Francisco, never mind getting a photo of it!
Not much was going on when I arrived, so I decided to take a seat close to where boarding was set to take place. Then, I noticed on the screen behind the desk that boarding was delayed by about 15 minutes to 9:55 p.m., which probably explained why no one had begun lining up.
At 9:50 p.m., gate agents announced that preboarding would begin immediately. At this point, I took my spot in line behind the SkyPriority boarding marker. A couple of minutes later, gate agents announced that business class passengers and those with eligible status levels could board.
I was excited that I was only second in line as I was eager to take photos with not many people in the cabin. Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t in the cards.
As soon as my boarding pass was scanned, I was told that I needed to undergo a random secondary screening, which meant I needed to step into an area before the jet bridge to be asked some questions and have my belongings searched.
I was required to take off my shoes and jacket, and my carry-on was searched. It didn’t take all that long, but I was peeved that I would no longer be one of the first passengers to board the plane.
I had done research before taking this flight, so I knew what to expect from the business class cabin. But I was still impressed when I stepped on board. The cabin was sleek-looking, with a cool wood-look trim applied at the front and back of the cabin and at every seat.
Additionally, there were no overhead bins in the middle, adding to the feeling of openness and airiness.
Business class on China Airlines’ Airbus A350 consisted of 32 reverse-herringbone seats arranged in a 1-2-1 arrangement, meaning every passenger had direct aisle access. All the seats were in a single large cabin, unlike some other aircraft with a rear “mini-cabin.”
It was already too crowded on board to get a look at the premium economy and economy cabins. Still, China Airlines offers 31 premium economy seats that are 20 inches wide and have 39 inches of pitch. They’re arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration.
The economy cabin has a total of 243 seats that are 18 inches wide and offer 32 inches of pitch. They’re arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration — standard for the A350.
I started to get settled into my seat and noticed a pretty substantial pillow and some bedding wrapped in plastic waiting for me.
As I sat down and began exploring my seat, a flight attendant passed by and offered me a predeparture beverage. No bubbly offered, but I was given a truly sensational blueberry smoothie of sorts. It was cold, refreshing, and utterly delicious. I asked for another because I consumed the first so quickly!
What a breath of fresh air this aircraft was when compared to the flight I took to begin my journey on one of Air France’s ancient Boeing 777-300ERs.
These aircraft have been flying for a few years for China Airlines at this point, but my seat felt entirely modern and differentiated from competitors, even though the seat type is used by many airlines.
My seat, 15K, was a window seat that provided ample privacy and was entirely in line with my expectations of business class in 2023.
Each seat was 22 inches wide, so I had more than enough space. Of course, it reclined to a fully flat bed measuring 6 feet 5 inches long.
China Airlines provided a substantial amount of bedding, too — a mattress pad, a mattress topper, a duvet, and a great pillow. I feel like many airlines overlook the pillow, but this pillow was substantial enough to feel like an at-home version.
I had no trouble sleeping for several hours — in fact, I snoozed for almost the entire flight between meal times.
I loved the look of this seat — it was covered primarily in a gray fabric that looked like it would be appropriate on a comfy living room couch. It was accented by dark blues, light brown leather, and that wood trim I mentioned earlier.
Overall, it was very stylish and unique, which I loved.
Next to the rear window of my seat area was an intricately designed lamp with a bronze-looking pedestal and a shade with a marble look. This is yet another detail that sets this seat apart from the competition. Next to the lamp was a dedicated pocket for the provided literature.
There was a reading light built into the seat’s shell, which was easy to operate.
On the countertop next to the lamp were 2 storage compartments.
One compartment contained my over-ear headphones and a pair of slippers, while the other was empty.
The deeper compartment also contained a power port (both USB-A and AC), a headphone jack, another solo USB-A port, and the touchscreen remote control for the seat’s IFE system. Together, these compartments were perfect for storing all my belongings, including my passport, wallet, AirPods, and more.
Seat controls were found on a touch panel on the side of the countertop. They were intuitive and responsive, and there was an option to turn off the screen entirely so it wasn’t accidentally activated while I was sleeping.
The tray table slid out from below the IFE screen and was a perfect size. Because it slid back and forth, getting out of my seat from behind the tray was a little easier.
Overall, this was a very solid business class seat. I loved how China Airlines worked to make it unique and feel luxurious, from the wood trim accents to the interesting color palette and finally to the cool design touches such as the at-seat lamp.
Despite not having suites with sliding doors for extra privacy, this product met my expectations and is one of my favorite business class hard products that I’ve tried recently.
While I found China Airlines’ hard product to be amazing, the food left just a little to be desired. The slight letdown started before my flight when I couldn’t preorder my meal online despite being invited to do so via an email from the airline (more on this in a bit).
Inflight meal service started about 30 minutes after takeoff when flight attendants came around to serve a small snack and a drink. I ordered a glass of Bordeaux. I was a little surprised to see the snack mix served in its plastic pouch rather than something like a ramekin, but it tasted amazing, so I forgot about that quickly.
I could never access my reservation on the China Airlines website, only through Air France, where I booked. I received an email inviting me to preselect the dinner, but every time I attempted, it failed.
Therefore, the flight attendant returned to take my meal order since I couldn’t do so before the flight.
China Airlines was promoting its partnership with Le Palais restaurant in Taipei, a renowned 3-star Michelin establishment known for its elevated Cantonese cuisine. However, since I could not prebook my meal selection, I simply assumed that I would have the opportunity to choose my meal during the flight.
To my dismay, I was informed that they had run out of the Michelin-starred collab meal. I shouldn’t have been too surprised since they offered a preorder option, but I figured more people would have had the same issue preordering.
I took another look at the menu and was left with the following options for the main course:
All entrees were served with an appetizer that consisted of sliced lobster, seasoned abalone, and pan-fried Taiwanese red yeast pork; a salad with balsamic vinaigrette; a chicken soup with black garlic and barley; and a choice of onion and cheese bread, garlic bread, or a sesame roll.
I ordered the steak and eagerly anticipated my meal. But to my disappointment, the flight attendant returned shortly after to let me know that they had also run out of steak. What a letdown!
As a result, the Iberico pork chop became my default option. In any case, I was having trouble picking between the 2 dishes anyhow, so I wasn’t too upset about the outcome.
Once my order was settled, the flight attendant returned with the appetizer course, and I got a refill on my wine. It was all plated very nicely, and everything tasted fresh!
Next, the soup arrived in a cute mug. This was probably my favorite part of the meal. It was a perfect temperature and so wonderfully savory and garlicky — I could have had a few more mugs of it!
Next came the main course. The pork was definitely overcooked, but it tasted pretty good. The pasta was dry, unfortunately. I wish it had had more sauce, for sure. Nothing was bad, and it all tasted fine, but it was far from the best meal I’ve had in business class.
I requested garlic bread to accompany the main course (not pictured, unfortunately), and it was a standout. Definitely order a piece or 2 on your next China Airlines business class flight.
Next up was dessert, which consisted of a fruit and cheese plate and some Belgian chocolate Häagen-Dazs ice cream. It was a pretty standard dessert and did the trick to satisfy my sweet tooth before heading to sleep.
After dinner was cleaned up, the flight attendant returned to take my breakfast order before it was time to get some shut-eye.
For breakfast, there were 2 options to choose from:
I wanted to try the congee (savory rice porridge), as I’d never had it before, and I’d seen other reviewers order it and enjoy it on China Airlines. Funny enough, the flight attendant responded with: “Are you sure?” when I placed my order. I responded affirmatively, and then she smiled and told me she’d serve it about 2 hours before landing.
I noticed on the menu that the airline offers a few “anytime” snacks, including spicy fried chicken with sweet potato fries, a wagyu beef burger, and assorted snacks in the “Sky Lounge.” I told myself I’d try at least 1 of those snacks, but my body had other plans, as I fell asleep shortly after dinner was finished and didn’t wake up until the next meal time!
After finishing dinner, I used the restroom and took a moment to check out the Sky Lounge, which was trimmed in that cool wood trim found elsewhere in the cabin.
Several varieties of Taiwanese snacks were set out, in addition to a range of liquors, including Johnnie Walker Blue Label. I’m definitely bummed I didn’t have the chance to grab a mid-flight drink and snack in this space — that will have to wait until next time.
Several hours after falling asleep, I was awoken by the smells of breakfast (even though now it was late afternoon on the West Coast of the U.S.), and just a few minutes after waking up, my beautiful spread was laid in front of me.
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t entirely sure of the proper protocol for eating congee, so I basically mixed in all the sides and dug in. It was delicious, hearty, and savory — just what I like from breakfast. However, it was a pretty large portion, so I didn’t quite finish all of it.
The flight attendant was impressed that I’d eaten almost all of it and was pleased when I told her I very much enjoyed it.
I was disappointed that I couldn’t order my first meal option, that my second pick wasn’t even available, and that the food I had for dinner wasn’t something to write home about.
But, the congee I had for breakfast was very good, which went a long way toward redeeming the food experience on board.
I found this flight to be pretty packed with amenities — here’s a look at what I experienced.
I’ll start with the inflight entertainment system. The screen was fixed in its position, so it was a little difficult to see when I was fully reclined. But, it was large, sharp, and responsive — the polar opposite of what I experienced with Air France a few weeks before.
The IFE could be controlled by touch directly or with the remote from 1 of the storage compartments. I preferred using the remote because the screen was quite far away from me in a seated position. Thankfully, the remote was just as responsive as the larger screen, and you could multi-task with the combination of the 2 screens. I liked keeping the moving map on the remote while watching a movie on the main screen.
The system was loaded with plenty of movies, TV shows, and music to keep me entertained. There was also a selection of music, games, and music for kids.
I spent a few minutes watching the map before diving into the movie selection.
Amenity kits were handed out before we pushed back from the gate. They came in a black pouch.
Opening the pouch revealed a bright amenity kit from The North Face. I loved this kit — it was super unique and made a great travel accessory. In fact, shortly after this flight, I transferred many of my charging cords and other accessories into this bag.
The contents were fairly basic — it had lip balm, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, a toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs, a comb, and an eye mask — but I liked the pouch so much that I frankly didn’t care what was inside it!
Each passenger was also given a pair of slippers and over-ear noise-canceling headphones. I always love getting slippers in business class because I like to take my shoes off during the flight and don’t enjoy putting them back on several times throughout.
The headphones were definitely a step above what I’ve experienced on many other carriers.
Wi-Fi was offered, with 4 plans starting at $3.25.
However, I couldn’t connect at any point during the flight, so I didn’t get to try it out.
The service I received was excellent from start to finish. It was professional and courteous but in no way overbearing. I liked surprising the flight attendant when I ordered the congee for breakfast, and we both had a laugh over it. I slept for the majority of this flight, so I didn’t have too much interaction with the crew, but all the contact I did have with them was very positive.
Despite departing a few minutes late, we arrived at San Francisco International Airport earlier than the scheduled arrival time, just after sunset.
There were no delays getting to the gate, and thanks to my Global Entry membership, I was through immigration in fewer than 5 minutes. My bag came out shortly after, and I was back in the good ole’ U.S. of A.!
China Airlines business class had been on my bucket list for a long time. Several years ago, I flew the airline in premium economy, and it pained me to walk through the business class cabin. Finally, I got the chance to try it for myself!
It falls just short of being considered a top airline experience available — the food could definitely benefit from some improvements, for instance. But it is a great all-around product. It offers a modern and unique-feeling hard product, great service, adequate food (the congee was great!), and a good amount of award availability on routes between Asia and North America.
I wouldn’t hesitate to fly China Airlines again, and l hope the airline expands its route network in the U.S. to make it an even more attractive option for flying to Asia and back.
Typically, China Airlines offers 2 daily flights between Taipei and San Francisco. One is operated by the Airbus A350, while the other is operated by the Boeing 777-300ER. Note that aircraft swaps are common, however.
China Airlines operates from Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and operates several lounges in both terminals.
While China Airlines doesn’t offer suites with closing doors in business class, the seat it uses is still very private, and each seat has direct access to the aisle.
No, China Airlines is actually the flag carrier of Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China.
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