- Spacious private doored suite
- Fast free WiFi
- Sophisticated design
- Tray table can be unsteady for dining
- More IFE video content would be welcome
- A suitably stellar business class offering
Taiwan’s Starlux Airlines is gearing up to launch long-range international flights on its all-new Airbus A350 jetliners, beginning with direct flights between Taipei and Los Angeles from April 26.
Other destinations on the US west coast will follow, with the airline also considering popular cities in Europe as its fleet grows over the coming years.
So what can travellers expect from the Starlux A350 business class experience? With the A350 currently darting to selected Asian cities as part of a crew familiarisation program before taking LAX under its wing, Executive Traveller joined a Starlux A350 flight to Bangkok for a taste of what trans-Pacific flyers can expect.
(Note that we chose to focus on the Starlux A350 business class seat and other core elements of the business class experience rather than more route-specific aspects such as meals, as those will obviously change once the A350 finishes these short regional hops in April and moves onto dedicated long-range services.)
The Starlux Airbus A350
The advanced A350 twin-jet will spearhead Starlux’s long-range expansion and potentially catapult Starlux from a boutique regional player into the big league, while also helping Starlux level up against local rivals China Airlines and EVA Air – as could Starlux’s possible entry into the Oneworld alliance (its competitors respectively belong to SkyTeam and Star Alliance).
And this is very much a Starlux A350, with a swathe of cabin enhancements including some genuine global firsts.
The windows can be dimmed at the touch of a button, similar to the Boeing 787 – but unlike the Dreamliner, the Starlux A350’s windows go fully black (not just the 787’s curious shade of deep Boeing blue), which was particularly welcome during our sunny afternoon flight.
And they’re fast, going all the way to black or back in just a few seconds.
Seldom one to shy away from a big-name collaboration, Starlux has once again partnered with BMW Designworks to help set a sophisticated tone for its A350 cabin with effortlessly clean lines and rich colour palettes of dark grey, warm brown and Champagne gold accents hitting a very premium residential note.
The cabin itself includes another world-first: the debut of embedded micro-LEDs in the bulkhead panels to create customisable and even gently animated lighting patterns.
Think of it as illuminated ‘smart wallpaper’ which complements the carefully-styled cabin and LED colour schemes and banishes those drab watercolours which typically adorn bulkhead walls.
Less obvious is that the Starlux A350’s cabin itself is slightly wider than the norm, with Airbus refining the latest A350s to add an extra four inches due to slightly straighter sculptured walls and higher-density insulation material behind them.
Starlux A350 business class
Rather than transferring its well-rated A330neo business class seat across to the A350, Starlux serves as launch customer for the new Elements product from Collins Aerospace (the firm also pioneered and supplied those micro-LED bulkhead walls).
A next-gen evolution of the popular Super Diamond seat, Elements – which will also be seen on Etihad’s forthcoming Boeing 787-9s – proves to be a very spacious and well-appointed business class suite.
There’s noticeably more room than its Super Diamond predecessor, including legroom under the 24-inch 4K monitor, with ample privacy even before you shut the now-ubiquitous sliding door.
The seat is framed by elegant curved 48.5cm (19”) walls topped by what Collins describes as a ‘halo’ lip angled inward to add to the suite’s cocoon-like cosiness.
For inflight relaxation without putting the seat into flatbed mode, we recommend the ‘Zero G’ function: this one-touch option on the control panel sets the seat into an elongated W-shape which we found perfect for reading or watching a movie.
Headlining the three storage areas is a cupboard with everything from USB-A, USB-C and AC power outlets to a wireless charging pad and a mirror.
If the Starlux A350 business class Elements suite has one shortcoming, it’s the bifold table.
Supported by a single joist, the table is prone to excessive shaking during even light turbulence, when during the meal service our soup made a valiant if ultimately unsuccessful attempt to escape the bowl.
Things were less challenging when using the table as a workspace, with a laptop providing sufficient counterweight to keep the table steady.
We also feel Starlux could beef up its IFE selection for long-range flights, especially when it comes to TV series: the video library is short on boxed sets (there was just a single episode from Stanley Tucci’s excellent Searching for Italy series) while entire content genres appeared to be missing.
As is becoming the new norm, you can leave the supplied noise-cancelling headphones in their cupboard and connect your own headphones or earbuds via Bluetooth.
The satellite WiFi connection – which is free in Starlux A350 business and first class – served up streaming video with minimal buffering, and was more than up to the task for everyday Web browsing, email and social media.
(In premium economy and economy there’s unlimited free texting using apps such as Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, WhatsApp and Line.)
Starlux A350 first class
If you’re wondering about the Starlux A350’s first class, this is an evolution of the already-impressive business class product.
The four first class suites take pride of place as Row 1 ahead of business class, although not in their own cabin.
The Starlux A350 first class suites occupy a larger footprint, raise the walls to 60” (1.5m) and upsize the personal video screen to 32”.
First class creature comforts range from a personal mini-bar to a coat closet and luggage stowage.
While more of a ‘business plus’ approach, Starlux’s decision to include first class on its A350s is another differentiation against China Airlines and Eva Air, both of which phased out first class in recent years.
There’s attention to detail everywhere you look onboard the Starlux A350, and we mean everywhere – right down to airline-branded toilet paper.
Starlux is working hard and smart to make its mark in these ultra-competitive skies, and the carrier’s A350 business class raises the bar for its rivals while setting new industry benchmarks.
The author travelled as a guest of Starlux Airlines