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EVA Air’s EVP of Corporate Planning Albert Liao talks North American growth plans and the airline’s new SKYTRAX rating

BT: Earlier this year, EVA Air received the highest five-star rating from SKYTRAX. What steps were taken to achieve that?

LIAO: Of the list of five-star airlines, almost all of them are in Asia putting us in good company. We had to look at every part of the travel experience. For example, business class service without trays; instead we serve meals restaurant-style. We also offer three meal choices for economy class. We focus on the details like providing cotton fabric bags for small items that need to be stowed at takeoff and addressing passengers by name. Typically, Taiwanese people are rather shy, and we had to educate our staff on how to interact more with international passengers. We installed WiFi on our long-haul Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. Passengers tell us it works quite well on long flights.

BT: EVA Air is known for pioneering the premium economy product. How did that idea come about?

LIAO: We launched “Economy Deluxe” in 1992 on the Los Angeles route. Today, we call it Elite Class and is one of the best in the industry with large seats, extra legroom and luggage allowance, and upgraded meals and amenity kits. We offer it on all of our long-haul Boeing 777 and 747 aircraft although we will be phasing out the jumbo jets soon. Our Elite Class product is ideal for price-sensitive customers who want added comfort.

BT: EVA recently launched additional frequencies from JFK and LAX departing midday to complement the midnight departures from most gateways. What made you decide to launch new daytime frequencies from the US to Taipei?

LIAO: The midday departures are timed to connect well with our late afternoon, southeast Asian bank including cities like Bangkok, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. We will soon add Jakarta and Singapore. This is a big market for North American travelers, and this midday departure gives people added flexibility. Taipei is perfectly positioned to carry passengers from North America to all of Asia in the most time-efficient schedule. While our midday flights will take some time to become popular since they are so new, we are confident they will succeed. Our midnight departures are already favored by many business fliers because they can rest inflight and land in Taipei around 6 in the morning for the start of the work day.

BT: Tell us about your focus on North America and potential route expansion.

LIAO: North America is a huge market for EVA. We added Houston last year using one of our Hello Kitty jets. This year, we added Chicago. Both cities are hubs for our Star Alliance partner, United, making them key gateways for connecting passengers. San Francisco is also one of our most important gateways because of the strong connections between the tech industries in Silicon Valley and Taiwan. We are also looking at several more cities including Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Honolulu and Washington, DC.

BT: Hello Kitty planes are a hallmark of EVA livery. Have you found that Americans get as excited when it comes to the Hello Kitty flights?

LIAO: Yes, we have great demand for our Hello Kitty flights. We operate our Hello Kitty jets on dedicated routes including Houston in North America, Paris in Europe, and Bangkok and Tokyo in Asia. Some passengers go out of their way to book these flights specifically because they love how the Hello Kitty branding is part of the experience from check-in kiosks to the meal service – and even the bathroom toilet paper! We offered Hello Kitty flights from LAX for just over a year, but we only have a limited number of aircraft. We decided to invest that unique product in Houston because it was a new market for us.