In the battle of the Big ‘non-Chinese’ Far East Asian carriers, I wanted to take one Japanese airline, one Korean airline, and one Taiwanese airline, along with Cathay Pacific (CX) from Hong Kong, to make a good cross section of airlines from the region. I chose All Nippon Airways (ANA), Korean Air (KE), and EVA Air (BR) because I have good experience flying with those four airlines.
The airlines featured here are among the finest in the world, and all have a very good safety record. It is clear that Far East Asia has a few airlines that perhaps you wouldn’t choose to fly with, yet there are, in turn, some that all aviation enthusiasts will want to try if they ever get the chance! Hopefully my following analysis will assist you in making some difficult decisions!
EVA Air is the second largest airline in Taiwan, though their inception in 1989 makes them by far and away one of the youngest ‘established’ airlines in Asia. EVA is a member of Star Alliance and base themselves at the recently refurbished Taipei Taoyuan International Airport (although they also have a strong focus at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport from where they fly to almost all of their European destinations by way of fifth freedom rights). Recently ranked as the 6th safest airline in the world, EVA has never had a fatal crash nor hull loss, and are known in the industry as one of the pioneers of the premium economy cabin. Their fleet of 69 aircraft consists of a mixture of B747s and A330s, as well as 18 B777s. Strangely, EVA have not placed an order for either the A380 or the B787 Dreamliner, and instead are focusing on purchasing more narrowbody aircraft.
Korean Air (KE) is the national flag carrier and largest airline of South Korea and are a member of SkyTeam. They base their operations at the amazing Seoul Incheon International Airport, with a much smaller hub in Busan. In terms of passengers carried, Korean Air rank as one of the top 20 airlines in the world, and they serve an amazing 130 cities in 45 different countries, including routes to Kenya in Africa and Brazil in South America. This makes Korean Air one of the few airlines to fly to every continent on the planet. KE have a mixture of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, with the 10 A380s being the pride of the fleet. KE also have many A330s, B777s, and an ageing fleet of B747s, as well as 11 orders for the B787 Dreamliner, which will help them incredibly on routes to Europe and possibly open new routes in Australia. For domestic routes, Korean Air utilise the B737 narrowbody.
All Nippon Airways are a proud member of Star Alliance and has recently been awarded by SKYTRAX the prestigious title of being a “5-star airline”. They are fierce rivals with Japan Airlines in both the domestic and international markets. They have a mixture of narrowbody and widebody aircraft, including being the first to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. ANA are based at Tokyo-Narita Airport and have secondary hubs at Tokyo-Haneda and Osaka-Kansai, and serve in total 49 destinations within Japan as well as 33 international routes.
Cathay Pacific are a member of the OneWorld alliance and are the flag carrier of Hong Kong. It serves nearly 150 destinations in 42 countries and have a wide range of aircraft in their fleet, including A330s, A340s, B747s and B777s. Currently, CX operate the longest nonstop flight in the world, from Hong Kong to New York, which has a flight time of over 16 hours. In 2014, Cathay Pacific were awarded the prestigious Best Airline in the World award by SKYTRAX.
Now, let’s take a little look at some of the cabins within the airlines mentioned here, and a little discussion of the levels of service I have encountered onboard, most of which was in economy class.
Now it’s time to analyse the service with some great flight report video from each of these 4 amazing airlines. These videos were filmed by some of my favourite YouTubers:
EVA Air Flight BR191, Tokyo-Haneda to Taipei Taoyuan, by FlightReviewChannel
Korean Air Flight KE607 (FIRST CLASS), Seoul to Hong Kong, by Travelader
All Nippon Airways Flight NH204 (787 Dreamliner), Frankfurt to Tokyo-Haneda, by Tim Voerman
Cathay Pacific Flight CX826, Hong Kong to Toronto, by Zirin Aviation
As you can see from the videos embedded above, all of these airlines have some amazing service, and even in the cheapest seats you can be guaranteed of a safe and comfortable flight to your final destination!
Catering for airlines has taken a turn for the good in recent years, with inedible lumps of meats and rice being replaced with carefully constructed meals and a wide range of drinks for economy class passengers. Business Class and First Class passengers have it even better, with gourmet menus accompanied by cutlery and porcelain (rather than the plastic boxes you get in economy class), as well as free-flowing champagne available – and all built in to the price of the ticket!
Cathay Pacific are clearly some of the frontrunners in the world today when it comes to airline catering. They serve good portions, and it comes very well packaged, with a high standard of extra amenities like air-freshened wet towel and ample cutlery – not to mention ice cream! In my own experiences, Korean Air always have good meals as well, although I almost always encounter them running out of my preferred option before they arrive to my seat, which is rather annoying! On Korean Air flights, even international ones, the emphasis is on Korean food, and although there are western options on the menu, they clearly don’t expect their passengers to want much of it because it always runs out very quickly. Anyhow, beef bulgogi or Bibimbap is an acceptable alternative I guess!
The premium classes of travel, such as Business Class and First Class, are often used a barometer of each airline’s status with customers. You could have some very important people flying first class, so the effort that an airline and its cabin crew will go to in order to make these VIPs feel at home is often remarkable. But which of these four airlines does it best?
The best premium lounge has to go to All Nippon Airways. I love the dark teak colours of their furniture, and this is much different to kind of first class lounges you would encounter in South East Asia or Europe, where lighter colours are more prominent. However, I am not a fan of the first class cabin aboard the ANA B777. It looks too old-fashioned to me. When onboard the aircraft, you can expect to be pampered very well by the cabin crew of each airline, but Korean Air in particular have an incredible cabin crew working in their premium cabins; nothing is too much to ask from them. KE also have in my opinion the best first class cabin, especially aboard their A380. Cathay Pacific are well known to be among the best in the business for their business and first classes, and in fact at their hub in Hong Kong, all passengers can even check in and bag drop at the train station before they even travel to the airport, so effectively when they do arrive, they have their boarding pass already at hand, they don’t have to wait in the queues, and can proceed to security immediately (first class passengers with CX have their own security channel at HKG). I feel EVA neither excel nor fail in the lounge department, nor onboard. I have met people who do not complain at all when travelling in the premium cabins with EVA, yet the general consensus is that while they are good, they perhaps are not quite as good as the other airlines mentioned in this article.
So, after looking through some pictures and reading some comparisons, as well as checking out some video flight reports, let’s finally now have create some closing opinions and let us see what the future may hold for EVA Air, Korean Air, All Nippon Airways, and Cathay Pacific.
A much smaller airline than its rivals, EVA nevertheless punches above its weight. It has gained something of a cult following in Asia, and its Hello Kitty partnership whereby the exterior and interior of some of its planes are painted with the children’s cartoon character, it certainly makes it stand out from the rest! One thing that may harm EVA’s growth in the mid-term future is its hub airport at Taipei Taoyuan. It is a much smaller airport than other hub airports mentioned in this article, and as such growth will be limited for EVA. I feel that in addition to routes to Korea, China, and Japan, EVA need to focus on South East Asia a lot more, as well as maintaining some key European/American routes. Indonesia is a huge market in which they can expand, and I believe frequencies to Singapore and Malaysia (not just KL) should be expanded, too.
Korean Air is a very disciplined airline and shows no signs of being unable to meet the rapidly changing demands of the trade. In current influx of low cost carriers in the Far East has inevitably meant KE has to adapt and potentially lower its prices to compete in the market. KE’s low cost partner, Jin Air, is proving to be a reliable money maker for the company, and an expansion from narrowbody to widebody aircraft is expect to boost passenger revenue for Jin Air further. However, with KE’s big rival Asiana joining the budget airline market imminently with Air Busan, this may saturate the market in the mid-term and growth may be blunted somewhat. Recent passengers figures for the Far East market show that Korean Air trounce Asiana in the Korea-Japan market, but still fall behind Asiana in the Korea-China market. Seeing as China is a fast-growing market, this may cause some concern for KE officials, although at present the company is doing a very good job overall.
Traditionally a major player in the Japanese domestic market, All Nippon Airways has recently seen itself also become the top airline in the country for international passengers, eclipsing Japan Airlines for the first time this year. However, ANA cannot afford to be complacent, and as well as consolidating this strong domestic presence, they are now targeting a rapid growth overseas to gain more of a market share. Their Boeing 787 Dreamliner will help them to achieve this as the aircraft can fly routes previously not considered economical with the B777. At present, Korean Air and Cathay Pacific offer a much wider international network, and with much lower cost bases than ANA. Typically, I have found ANA’s prices in all their classes are slightly higher than their rivals and this reflects the fact that the airline costs the most to run of any airline in Asia! Lowering operating costs, and extending the international networks are vital for ANA to remain a key player in the region.
From an already elevated status within the airline community, Cathay Pacific have continued to grow, albeit at a stagnated pace, and only due to necessary fare discounting to ward off rivals, and of course the low cost carriers who offer similar routes but at a fraction of the price (less than half of Cathay’s typical fare, in fact). The future for Cathay Pacific looks very bright, with flagship routes to London and New York remaining extremely strong with brilliant load factors. One thing I would like to see from CX is to perhaps cut down on its fifth freedom flights around Asia and concentrate more on its hub at Hong Kong. These fifth freedoms include CMB-SIN, SIN-BKK, and BKK-DEL, while only YYZ-JFK has any relevance for CX in this day and age (Cathay operate the longest nonstop flight in the world from Hong Kong to New York, but one of their daily flights on that route stops in Vancouver before heading south over the border to JFK).
Please check out other entries in this series: Air India vs Srilankan vs PIA vs Biman Bangladesh, Garuda vs Thai vs Singapore Airlines vs Malaysia Airlines and Emirates vs Etihad vs Qatar vs Turkish!