Flying China Airlines: What is it like?
Recently I did my first long-haul flight in over five years, from Europe to Japan. And from what I heard and read, flying long-haul hasn’t exactly become better, unless you have the funds to pay for extra space and direct connections. I was flying China Airlines for the first time and for a decent enough flight to Asia at a fair price, flying China Airlines was a good choice.
I was looking for a reasonably priced flight with a decent luggage allowance on a reputable airline.
It gets even worse if your date are not totally flexible. Anyway, enter a bit of internet searching, and I managed to buy a return flight on China Airlines with a generous luggage allowance and only one transfer for just over 900 Euros. But, was it any good? What follows is my personal experience on flying Economy Class with China Airlines, having paid for my own flights.
Who are China Airlines?
China Airlines is the state-owned airline of the Republic of China (ROC) otherwise known as Taiwan.
Table of Contents
I had been looking for flights for some time, using Skyscanner. My ideal routing was to fly from Berlin, which isn’t well connected, to Nagasaki in Economy Class, with as few transfers as possible. Layovers would be fine as long as they were in the day and allow me to leave the airport and walk around a bit.
What I got was: Some Finnair flights with hand luggage only. Yeah right, if you plan to stay six weeks, not ideal. Also, a very long somewhat useless layover in Helsinki – requiring an overnight. Two transfers, Helsinki and Tokyo. All Japan Airlines flights I looked at were basically code shares with the long flight flown by Finnair. The price was about 1200-1400 Euro return to fly out in May and return in June
Similarly, I got flights on All Nippon Airways, routed via Frankfurt or Munich, then Tokyo-Haneda. The long leg flown by Lufthansa in an Airbus A350. My husband actually took one of these flights, he paid 1500 Euro, the first flight didn’t happen due to technical failure of the aircraft, and he had to book a hotel in Haneda on the way home but had no chance to visit Tokio as the flight came in late and left early the next morning.
I also got some flights through the Gulf with somewhat ridiculous layover times in Dubai or Doha.
I was getting hardly anything under 1400 Euro. Then I extended my search radius, and found a “Valentines Day Sale” on China Airlines that was online for quite some time, I would fly from Frankfurt , have a 10-11 hour stopover in Taipei each way, and arrive in Fukuoka. Not convenient, but only one transfer, 46kg luggage allowance, and a smidgen over 900 Euro. This was for the standard Economy fare, which would let me change the flight for a 50Euro surcharge and cancel for 1 100 Euro fee.
I booked using the China Airlines web site – which was easy to navigate. Between booking and flying, there was one minor schedule change of approximately 20 minutes.
Flying China Airlines – Departure and Arrival
I took a train to Frankfurt. As China Airlines is in Terminal 2, I had to take a rubbish shuttle bus from the train station to Terminal 2. Also, the train station is a never ending corridor, there are no luggage carts and it’s best to allow for plenty of time. I would say one hour if you are flying to and from Terminal 2, maybe a bit less if Terminal 1.
The Check-In was painless, as I was running pretty late by that time. Also, the security check is by the gate – three flights were leaving at similar times, causing a bit of anxiety among some travellers. The flight left on time.
Returning from Fukuoka, the flight also left on time. Fukuoka Airport is relatively small. The highway bis stops at the International Terminal whereas the underground railway departs from the Domestic Terminal which is a 20-minute ride by shuttle bus away.
Taoyuan is a city in Taiwan, and close to Taipei. It is Taiwan’s principal international airport and where China Airlines is headquartered. A Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) connects the airport with Taipei City (35-55 minutes), High Speed Rail (10 minutes) and the surrounding towns and suburbs.
The airport itself is clean and efficient but nothing special. I highly recommend if you have at least five hours, that you leave the airport. I went into Taipei on the way in and out. Immigration was super easy on a EU passport – it was the first time after the pandemic that entering a new country “just to have lunch” was so super easy and convenient. A quick glance, fingerprint, 90-Day visa stamped in. The MRT is a short walk from the airport.
Just be sure that you know your Terminal, as going back and forth between terminals takes about 30 minutes as you will have to go back to the MRT, pay for a ticket, or use a small shuttle trains that isn’t the most conveniently located.
There is a food court, apparently in one of the terminals, which I never found. Security Control is fast and efficient, and passport control is automated and super fast. There isn’t much airside except tons of souvenir shops and what looks like generic international brand boutiques . Not much on the way of food and drink, what I saw looked unappealing.
Not much in the way to sit until you get to the gate, with semi comfortable seating but a few reclining chairs – best to get there early.
If you have a long enough layover, it’s much better to leave the airport. The Taiwan Tourist board offers free half-day tours which you can pre-book; more information here.
On the flight
Currently China Airlines flies a Boeing 777 with a rather new and pleasant-looking cabin. I flew Economy Class and had a window seat on the way in but a middle seat returning (wedged in between two guys) as both flights were completely full. There is no way in hell I would pay the extra for Business since I am a nervous flyer anyway and don’t enjoy flying much so I have no idea whether Business or Premium Economy are any good.
The cabin was certainly clean. Seat pitch was 31-32inches with a seat width of 17 inches. I found them quite uncomfortable, although I felt I had plenty of leg room even though I am tall. It was only just bearable, as I watched a few films on the rather good entertainment system with decent enough screens. Also, all flights were turbulent, so both long legs were pretty much bumpy all night long, with special bumpiness (drinks splashing over but no luggage flaps opening, seatbelt signs on 70-80% of the entire flight time) over the Bay of Bengal and over Turkey.
Most of the time, flight attendants continued to serve food and drinks completely unfazed, but did little to reassure terrified passengers. I had nice calm seat neighbours, which helped.
So, altogether, the flight was uncomfortable, only softened by the decent entertainment system.
The Taoyuan to Fukuoka leg was flown in a hard working- more clapped-out Airbus A330. It was only a 2- hour flight and surviveable except for bad weather in the way in. Fukuoka is pretty much a city centre airport, and I found the approach rather hair raising. A frequent traveller next to me assured me this is normal. Also the airport closes at night, and flights can get diverted to Kita-Kyushu, about 100km away, quite quickly.
Food and Drink
I pre-ordered vegetarian food (standard Asian Vegetarian meal) on the website which was easy enough. And good thing I did, as the standard Economy Class choice was “Chicken or Beef” .
Food going out of Frankfurt was lacklustre but edible curry. Same on the leg from Taipei to Fukuoka. On the return flight, there appeared a sudden culinary change: On the short flight from Fukuoka to Taiyuan, a messy looking but tasty tofu sausage-curry noodle dish was served, and the long flight back from Taiyuan there was a vegetarian “fake meat” meal with rice and veggies that was almost restaurant quality.
The drinks selection was relatively small, and the only option where you got a somewhat larger portion was to order beer. So I did but on the way back they misunderstood and with much faff, procured a glass of milk!
During meal times, there was Chinese tea aplenty, but once we had settled for the night, little in the way of drinks service. I had brought a bottle of water, so survived.
Definitely recommend it for ease of booking, luggage allowance, and a fairly decent safety rating. I say fairly decent as they’ve had quite a serious incident record, with the last severe crash in 2002 but nothing major in the last two decades. Their fleet is relatively modern, currently Boeing 777, Airbus A350, A330 and A321 appear to operate.
Be prepared though for a relatively spartan flight experience in Economy Class.
If you haven’t been to Taipei, this is the time to have a nice stopover – Taipei is busy and semi-modern ,but vibrant and has great food – and superb massages at literally every street corner.