New airlines come and go, but this one is different and has already created a big splash of glitz and glam to become the best airline of our decade. While most new airlines lean towards no-frills with low fares and limited comforts or amenities, like Japan-based Zip Air, Taiwan-based Starlux Airlines is on a mission to reimagine the world of luxury flying.
The Starlux origin story was already becoming the stuff of legends. Its founder, Chang Kuo-Wei, is a pilot, former chairman, and son of EVA Air founder Chang Yung-Far. After Yung-Far passed, a Succession-like split pushed Kuo-Wei out of EVA Air and inspired him to start Starlux Airlines.
This new Taiwanese airline took to the air in January 2020, and its ambitious plans to be the 'Emirates of Asia' was put on hold while we all faced the pandemic. But once the world reopened, so did Starlux expansion. They launched their now-flagship Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei (TPE) route in April 2023, and between the juicy backstory and promised luxury, I was eager to experience it for myself!
The Los Angeles route inaugurated a new partnership with Alaska Airlines, allowing me to use 60,000 Mileage Plan Miles for a Business Class seat.
The award rate has since jumped and now starts at75,000 and up to 165,000 miles one-way, which is absurdly expensive at the top end.
Airline: Starlux Airlines (JX)
Route: Los Angeles (LAX) - Taipei (TPE)
Aircraft: Airbus A350
Duration: 13h 20m
Service: Business Class
The Airport + Check-In
Flying out of LAX was a bit of a circus. It’s chaotic, no matter the hour. Some Terminals have been updated, and others are practically groaning with age and overuse.
The Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) was a bit of both. The check-in lobby remains a disaster although construction was underway to improve it. I arrived for check-in at 9PM, almost 4 hours before departure to enjoy some extra Lounge time. The Starlux counter was set-up in the back of the middle aisle and I had my boarding pass in no time, along with LA Dodgers branded swag. The counter was starting to get busy but hadn’t reached its peak yet.
Once past security, the departure hall was much newer, full of light, and a real pleasure to walk through. Be prepared for a long walk if your flight departs from Terminal West, which is the latest expansion from TBIT. There’s a long pedestrian funnel equipped with moving walkways, but it still feels interminable.
My flight departed at 1:00AM, so most shops were closed. Even without the full experience, I really like this side of LAX.
If I were leaving on an earlier flight, I would have had a couple Lounge options available to me, starting with the American Express Centurion Lounge.
After clearing security in TBIT, you will see the American Express Centurion Lounge blue branding to the immediate first left, prior to crossing the bridge into the Great Hall. Take the American Express branded elevator from Level 4 to Level 2 for direct entry to the Lounge. Unfortunately, it’s only open from 6AM - 10PM and closed before midnight departures for those transpacific flights to Asia and Australia.
At the moment, the only Starlux-operated and branded Galactic Lounge is located at its homebase in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, while out stations are currently outsourced.
While they aren’t an official member of the Oneworld Alliance, I was very pleased to find out that Starlux passengers have access to the Oneworld Lounge operated by Qantas, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific in TBIT. I love this Lounge and you can find it on Level 5 after Security. This decision also hints at Starlux’s potential intent into joining Oneworld, which would be a fantastic addition into the alliance.
The Lounge opens three hours prior to the first British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, and Qantas Airways until the last Oneworld departure. I spent a few hours in the Lounge and was even able to shower. The Lounge was quite full given all the midnight activity to Asia, so I was pleasantly surprised I could snag a shower suite.
I’ve spent a bit of time in this Lounge, and even got surprise access earlier this year from my Air France flight. I love the aesthetic and pockets of private space scattered throughout. The food options are delicious and there’s a full bar. Most seats have access to outlets and there’s a computer lounge for on-the-clock flyers.
The Boarding Boarding began just after midnight. They were still preparing the plane while premium passengers were invited to queue on the jet bridge. The delay was minimal, which the crew more than made up for once we boarded the plane. If anything, the wait only heightened my anticipation.
The Aircraft The Airbus A350-900 is truly state of the art, and has grown very quickly on me. This widebody plane can accommodate up to 350 passengers, depending on the configuration. It’s the most eco-efficient aircraft in its category with less fuel burn and CO2 emissions per seat. The cabin is spacious, but quiet. Combined with Starlux’s luxurious design, it’s easy to feel at home and comfortable.
Starlux designed their Airbus with four cabin classes, starting with 4 First Class seats, then 26 Business Class seats arranged in a herringbone pattern. Premium Economy fits eight in a 2-4-2 layout, and Economy fits nine per row with three seats in each section, in a 3-3-3 configuration.
A word about First Class, pictured left below. While not a true First Class seat and cabin, it’s notable that Starlux has decided to invest in a First Class product after China Airlines discontinued the service with the retirement of their 747 fleet many years ago. This product remains a signal to the industry that First Class cabins will have a role in the future of aviation.
The Welcome Once onboard, I knew this flight would be phenomenal. The super eager cabin crew sprung into action and were so attentive from the moment I stepped onboard. They also looked incredible in their metallic sheen and almost Star Trek-like uniforms. The cabin crew escorted me to my seat and immediately served me a glass of Champagne Bollinger.
I was also given a tour of the Suite features, an extra touch I appreciated so I didn’t miss any nooks. Afterwards, my meal order was taken, which was extra difficult given all the amazing dishes. On my seat, they had sleepwear, slippers, and the coolest BRIC’s amenity kit.
The Cabin + Seat
I place a lot of emphasis on the cabin aesthetics, and the futuristic Starlux cabin exceeded my every expectation. In partnership with BMW Design Works, Starlux focused on a luxurious yet homey experience – and I can proudly say they have delivered on this vision. Each cabin class has a distinct color scheme. First and Business Class starts with a dark and moody motif, then transitions into lighter notes of warm grays for Premium Economy, followed by caramel colors in Economy. The Business Class suite and seat itself is wrapped in dark grays, warm browns, and champagne metallic tones.
Business Class wall panels are dotted with metallic stars, adding to the spaceship-like feel. The back wall panel even has a welcoming digital flower illustration, similar to Emirates new 777 Gamechanger. The bouquet blooms throughout the flight, adding to the inflight elegance.
I chose Seat 6A towards the back of the cabin. I would avoid anything in Rows 7 and 8 given proximity to the galley and lavatories.
Starlux has chosen the all-new Collins Aerospace Elements series of seats for its A350 First and Business Class. The fully-enclosed seat itself combines textiles (wool, leather, and suede) and colors that are really calming with almost instant relaxation. It’s also equipped with residential style lighting, which means task and recessed lighting that I can freely adjust.
There’s a panel for the IFE accessories, including noise-canceling headphones, remote control, and charging outlets. Plus a little extra storage you can use for your phone, glasses or passport.
I loved the mirror on the inside of the panel door. No need to run to the bathroom when you need to check for food or a quick pre-arrival freshen-up.
High paneling around each seat enhances that overall feeling of privacy and comfort. This seat was a fantastic choice for their long-haul A350 fleet.
The Departure After our pushback at 1AM, about 10 minutes after our scheduled departure, LAX experienced a power outage on the tarmac causing us to be further delayed another 10 minutes. Parts of the airport went dark for a moment but we were off as soon as the power was restored.
We took off from Runway 25R into a dark and calm sky. It was smooth sailing from here and the cabin crew sprung into action starting with a glass of Bollinger and a fantastic set of pajama. I went with a large size, which fit perfectly.
The Meals + Service The meal service is the part I look forward to most. Starlux, in particular, has boasted a special experience with over-the-top offerings like handcrafted cocktails and Michelin-inspired flavors.
First course was served all on a tray: Grilled Shrimp and Mango Salsa, with a hearty bread basket. The salad was fine, and the basket had a nice selection of breads, too. My champagne glass was topped off with another serving of Bollinger, which may be one of the best champagnes served in Business Class.
Next came the Cappuccino Mushroom soup. It was unbelievably good and one of the best soups I’ve had in the air. It was creamy, hearty, pulpy, and savory. The umami flavor was so rich and flavorful. I loved it!
For the main course, I chose the USDA Prime Tenderloin with a whiskey peppercorn sauce, roasted vegetables, and cauliflower puree. The steak was fantastic, and was served with pink salt which truly elevated the dish.
Dessert was served and I ordered it all—seasonal fruit plate, an Apple Pecan Tart, and Coconut Purple Sweet Potato Sago, or tapioca pudding. The fruit was on the sour side, otherwise everything was really delish. The Tapioca was a great local delight.
Dinner finished with 10.5 hours left in the flight, which was fantastic timing. I appreciate when airlines are diligent about meal service timing and maintain a steady pace.
Throughout the flight, the cabin crew was incredibly helpful and attentive, offering snacks from their snack menu. One dish in particular that I order on nearly every Asian airline are their instant noodles, which truly hit the spot. The cabin crew offered me a selection of 2 packaged noodles, but recommended the “drunk chicken” flavored one. She returned with a hearty bowl plus fresh vegetables to pair. Other items included an Angus Beef Burger, Char Siew and Prawn Wanton Noodle Soup.
The second service before arrival was another homerun. To start, I ordered plain greek yogurt specifically to sample the Taiwan Lychee-Honey, which tasted nice but wasn’t as Lychee-forward as I had hoped. I then went with the Japanese Beef Curry with Omurice and loved it. Such a tasty way to welcome me to Asia. I also had the Balik Smoked Salmon with a blood orange, honey yuzu dressing. The salmon tasted more like a standard smoked salmon, while SWISS actually serves a fantastic balik salmon. I couldn’t help comparing it to this one, and wouldn’t recommend ordering it again on Starlux.
The Entertainment + WiFi
The IFE system has a massive screen—24 inches—with a great moving map to follow flight progress. All aviation nerds will appreciate the interactive global views.
The content selection however was weak. I spent most of my time eating or sleeping as it was an overnight flight, so I didn't mind the slim offering but it's disappointing to see how little options were available. WiFi was free for Business Class passengers. The connectivity has been steady, but certainly had its spotty moments.
Turndown service happened right after dinner. While I changed, the cabin crew laid down one of the best mattress pads I’ve ever slept on. It was so fluffy and soft, however, it didn't cover the entire bed, ending somewhere around my ankles.
Inside the lavatory, the cabin astral theme branding continued with sparkling countertops and their exclusive “Home in the Air” fragrance from Taiwanese perfumer P. Steven. I love to see celebratory cultural highlights, and hope more airlines take note of the chance to infuse their home country’s cuisine, textiles, and culture into the experience.
Going to bed on a full stomach after a huge meal at midnight was strange, but I suppose it’s one way to adjust to your destination timezone. There’s a 15-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Taipei. Luckily, I had enough time to rest and acclimate. I slept for about 5 hours and woke up with 4.5 hours left in the flight.
Touched down at 5:22 AM local time, about 15 minutes late. The delay was most likely due to an approaching typhoon that caused some turbulence during the descent. Total flying time clocked in at 12h35m and it was dark the entire time. It was a really well-timed flight so I could sleep and adjust to the new timezone. We only saw the sun upon arrival.
We pulled into our Gate D4 10 minutes later at 5:32 AM to a drizzly morning in Taipei.
The Takeaway With such an infamous origin story, Starlux had a lot to live up to. Introducing a new luxury airline when no-frills airlines have been all the rage created an even bigger spotlight. Easily the best airline of our decade.
I’m happy to report that they lived up to all the buzz. I boarded with high expectations and wasn’t disappointed. The crew was attentive, the ambience of the cabin was homey, and the inflight meal service was so tasty and memorable.
Starlux has one of the best premium experiences. As a newcomer, I look forward to seeing how they mature and expand across Asia, and around the world.