Business Class Battle: Singapore Airlines vs. EVA Air
It’s time for an airline showdown. A battle of the business classes. A trans-Pacific tussle.
Singapore Airlines is a titan in the airline world, regularly cleaning up awards for best business and first class and earning the top spot in the 2018 SkyTrax rankings. Taiwan-based EVA doesn’t have the same big reputation, but it’s loved among the frequent flyer set and also gets high marks – SkyTrax ranked it fifth in the world this year.
I flew business class on both airlines this summer: EVA on the way to Bali, and Singapore to get home. But how do two of the top airlines flying across the Pacific Ocean stack up? I’ll break it down by seven different categories. Let’s take a look.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful plane than the business class on Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 777 or Airbus A350. It is, in a word, stunning.
The curvature of the seats, the gold finishes, the alternating purple and tan leather seats: It all oozes class. Some business class cabins are interchangeable, but this one is distinctly Singapore Airlines.
One great feature of Singapore’s business class cabins is that they don’t have luggage bins above the center seating section. It helps make the cabin feel more airy and bright, and also makes the seats more spacious. But it’s also quite intimate, especially if you manage to snag a seat in the “mini-cabin” of a Boeing 777, home to just three rows of seating.
EVA, meanwhile, is more spartan. Its seat and cabin get the job done, but it’s more function than fashion. Others may love it, but I find the green and tan finishes to be a bit … plain. And this for an airline best-known for going all out with Hello Kitty!
Some of EVA’s newest long-haul planes have upped the decor game a bit, with a nice light green palette combined with some wood grains. And many of their planes are equipped with a “starry night-sky” feature when they turn the cabin lights down. But in my case, the cabin was basic – at least compared to Singapore.
Winner: Singapore Airlines
EVA Air uses a standard reverse herringbone seat on its long-haul flights. Arranged in a 1-2-1 format to give every passenger aisle access, these are similar to the seats you’ll find on Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, some Qatar Airways planes, and many more. But much like the cabin, they’re a bit on the drab side.
But they’re popular for a reason. The way the seats are angled away from the aisle helps create a cocoon of privacy. At 26 inches wide and 81 inches of legroom, there’s no shortage of space. When it’s time to sleep, it’s as simple as using the intuitive seat controls to recline into a bed. Your feet stretch out into a cubby carved out underneath the seat in front of you, but there’s plenty of space.
Singapore takes the space you get on EVA and cranks it up an extra notch. The seats are absolutely massive, at 28 inches wide. It feels like you could squeeze two people in to watch a movie or eat. That’s how large they are.
The leather is soft and comfortable. From the alternating colors to the pop-up trays to the gold detailing, the finishes are stunning at each seat.
Seats on both EVA and Singapore give you plenty of storage options for any gear or goodies you’ve got with you. Singapore goes a step farther and has a spot underneath each footrest for a large backpack – a perfect spot to keep a personal item throughout the flight.
The center section of seating is the best spot for couples or companions on both EVA and Singapore. But I’d give the edge to Singapore – center seats are slightly closer together than in EVA’s business class, and there’s a movable divider.
Because of how seats are arranged with EVA, carrying a conversation between the two center seats requires a fair bit of leaning. Plus the divider – though small – is immobile.
There are some quirks with Singapore’s seats. The way they’re laid out means that you have to angle your legs into the cubby in front of you. I never found this to be a problem, but those taller than me (5 feet 10 inches) might feel otherwise. There are four seats on every Singapore plane where this issue is muted – bulkhead seats, where passengers get a bench-style footrest instead of a foot cubby. But these seats are generally reserved for Singapore elite flyers, so they can be hard to snag.
And when it’s time for bed, it’s not as simple as reclining the seat. Instead, you have to fold the seat down from the back to reveal a fully made bed – or better yet, enlist a flight attendant to do it. I found Singapore’s business class bed spacious and comfortable, but there’s no denying it’s a hard sleeping surface. If you need a soft bed to sleep, it might be a deal-breaker.
Others will argue with me, but those oddities weren’t enough to convince me that Singapore doesn’t have one of the best business class seats out there.
Winner: Singapore Airlines, by a hair.
One thing’s for sure: You’re going to be well-fed flying business class with either EVA or Singapore.
Both airlines offer multi-course meal services, with some incredible preparation, presentation, and taste. And they both allow passengers to pre-select meals.
Flying EVA Business class? You can log-in to your reservation and pick your meal 21 days before you leave, with a broader set of selections than what you’ll see onboard.
On our flight from Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Taipei (TPE), dinner started with an amuse bouche with some small – yet delicious – bites. Before long, an appetizer course with a full lobster tail and quinoa salad was presented.
For the main course, I selected the Stir Fried Lobster meat and egg fried rice. The lobster itself was succulent and well done – not to mention pretty huge – but a tad bland. But the fried rice and vegetable medley on the side were out of this world, packed with so much flavor.
And then there was dessert: An incredible piece of blueberry cheesecake.
A pre-landing breakfast was nearly as good, as I ordered a bowl of classic Taiwanese rice porridge called congee with lots of tasty accompaniments. So good, in fact, I forgot to take a photo.
On Singapore, every single meal starts with a delicious plate of satay. I could eat their peanut sauce by the spoonful.
An antipasto platter with tomatoes, mozzarella, smoked duck breast, parma ham, and a zesty balsamic dressing helped get the meal service rolling. A delicious slice of garlic bread didn’t hurt either.
When it comes time for the main entree, Singapore offers what it calls “Book the Cook” service, allowing passengers to choose meals in advance. And your choices are seemingly endless if you’re flying out of their Singapore (SIN) hub. Nearly six months before our flight, I could log in and choose from almost 50 meals.
I wouldn’t call it fine dining, but I chose a bowl of prawn and chicken Laksa, a Singaporean classic. And I stand by that choice. It was delicious.
My wife, meanwhile, pre-ordered Singapore’s legendary lobster thermidor. She said it tasted even better than it looked.
There are special options if you’re on one of Singapore’s flights heading in or out of Tokyo-Narita (NRT). Singapore serves some incredible Japanese set meals called hanakoireki on these flights. They’re elaborate, beautiful, and delicious. First up was an assortment of cold dishes, including some lightly seared salmon, buckwheat noodles, tofu, and some marinated vegetables.
Next up was the hot bento box, with a small filet of grilled salmon, some more marinated tofu and vegetables, a few pickles, and other sides. It came with some tea and a side of miso soup. Every bite was great.
Desserts on Singapore Airlines are simple but, in my experience, tasty. On one flight I had an incredible bowl of Hagen Dazs salted caramel ice cream. But my favorite was the light and fluffy matcha chestnut cake that accompanied my hanakoireki meal.
The last meal of our Singapore flights was definitely the worst of the bunch. A plate of braised ee fu noodles with seafood was mediocre at best. But at this point in the flight, I wasn’t that hungry anyways.
So which airline does dining better? It’s tough to pick one. Overall, I’d say the quality of food was just a shade better on EVA. But the variety is so great on Singapore, it’s a wash.
Thirsty passengers flying EVA Air business class get the best of the best. On this Hello Kitty-themed flight, flight attendants were pouring one of the most expensive champagnes in the sky: Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Rose from 2006.
At $300 a bottle, it’s more expensive than what all but the best airlines in the world are pouring even in first class. And most importantly, it’s delicious. I had a glass or six.
And while the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Singapore serves its business class passengers is also great, it can’t hold a candle to EVA’s offering. And that makes sense. Singapore has to save its very best for passengers flying first class. EVA Air doesn’t have a first class cabin, so its business class has some expensive flourishes you’d normally expect in first class.
On EVA’s beverage menu, that goes beyond champagne. I also had a delicious glass of Hong Kong milk tea onboard EVA, and was tempted but ultimately passed on an iced coffee.
EVA serves an incredible single malt whiskey called Kavalan, a Taiwanese brand that lived up to its accolades. Singapore had Chivas Regal Scotch and Johnnie Walker Black Label on board – both fine drinks, but definitely a step down from EVA is serving liquor-wise.
Another first class taste with EVA: Flight attendants hand out bottles of FIJI water throughout the flight. I’m no bottled water snob, but there’s no denying it’s a nice touch.
Both airlines also serve some special cocktails on board, but I didn’t go there. Nor did I need to in order to pick the clear winner of this category.
I’ll just say it: EVA blows Singapore out of the water when it comes to amenities.
Singapore doesn’t give its business class passengers amenity kits. Instead, it stocks the lavatories full of razors, ear plugs, lotion, combs, and more. Other than that, all you can expect is an eye mask, set of slippers, and socks waiting at your seat.
EVA, meanwhile, knocks it out of the park when it comes to amenities. It’s an area where the airline’s business-first class hybrid model shines through. EVA is famous for its Rimowa-branded amenity kits – it’s one of few airlines that still hand these out, and the only one to do so in business class. But some recent changes have switched that up. Only passengers departing TPE get a Rimowa kit.
Instead, I got a set of two leather pouches from Danish luxury brand Georg Jensen. Inside was an eye mask, pair of socks, toothbrush with toothpaste, ear plugs, a microfiber cloth for device screens, and a comb.
But that wasn’t all. There was also a set of amenities from the high-end skincare brand 3Lab, including small bottles of hand cream, lip balm, and a face lotion called “M Cream Ultimate Lift.” I’m no skincare expert, but a quick price check will tell you these are high-quality goods – a 2 oz. jar of M Cream retails for $300.
And then there are pajamas. Oh, the pajamas. Few airlines hand out pajamas in business class, and these pajamas from Apujan are on par with many first class offerings. They’re comfortable but light, and stylish. I still wear them at home.
Singapore doesn’t give out pajamas to business class passengers. That said, this one’s not even a contest.
Singapore is legendary for its flight attendants. The flight attendants on my flight were almost all outstanding on both segments of the trip.
They were speedy without being sloppy, attentive without being overbearing. That’s a difficult balance to strike, but Singapore does it with ease. A male purser working my aisle on the leg from NRT to LAX really stood out. He was constantly smiling and cracking jokes throughout the 11-hour journey.
There were some times, however, where the service from other flight attendants felt a bit forced. While some flight attendants were engaged, others were far more prescripted. At times, it felt like they were reading off a to-do list and checking off each task. At a few points throughout the journey, the garbage in the lavatory was overflowing – just slightly – with hand towels.
Are these major complaints? Not at all. The service on Singapore was outstanding overall. But every little detail is critical for airlines competing for top-paying customers.
The service on EVA absolutely blew me away. Our flight was a redeye, which makes it even more difficult for flight attendants to keep tabs on passengers while not being overbearing. EVA struck that balance perfectly.
Iris, the flight attendant working my aisle, was spectacular. She was attentive and eager to help, of course, but also light, funny, and earnest. She appeared at my side within minutes of standing up after the first meal service to offer a bed turndown service. Just a few minutes after rousing from my slumber, she swung by to offer a snack and another glass of champagne (not like I’m going to turn that down).
But it went beyond Iris’s exemplary service. Flight attendants kneeled while taking meal orders from passengers. They all seemed to memorize every passengers’ name – I was addressed by my first name throughout the flight, and not just by Iris.
From start to finish, meal service after takeoff took just over an hour. That’s an incredible pace that helps passengers get as much sleep as possible, and it’s a testament to EVA’s service.
While EVA crushes Singapore with amenities, Singapore reigns supreme for in-flight entertainment.
The 18-inch screens feel absolutely massive, with a crystal clear display to boot. A button on top releases the screen so it can be tilted downward if you want to lounge and watch a movie. It’s a smart feature that many airlines overlook.
But it’s the entertainment selection that really matters, and Singapore’s selection is massive. There were at least 300 movies on board, with a great mix of new releases, older classics, and some standbys. Beyond that, there were at least 600 episodes of TV shows, including some full seasons of major sitcoms like Modern Family.
With all those options onboard, it’s a breeze to stay entertained in the air for 15-plus hours.
EVA’s entertainment, meanwhile, is a bit lackluster.
The screen itself is 15 inches, which is certainly big enough. Along with a wired remote, the display is quite clear. But next to Singapore Airlines, it feels a tad outdated.
And while I can honestly say I was never bored during the 15-hour flight with EVA, its entertainment selection is far more limited. I counted about 25 Hollywood releases, a mix of new films and a few older, popular titles. Naturally, there were dozens of Taiwanese and Chinese films that cater to the airline’s home population. And sadly, there was just an episode or two of a half-dozen or so American TV shows.
It comes down to this: Flying Singapore Air, you’ll have to choose what you want to watch most during your journey. With EVA, you might struggle to find enough to watch.
On the plus side, both carriers offer WiFi on these long-haul flights. I didn’t connect on either flight, so I can’t rate the performance or the cost.
Let’s be clear: These are two absolutely outstanding airlines. Flying business class in either Singapore Airlines or EVA Air is a treat.
But who’s the winner between these two excellent airlines? It really depends. If you value entertainment and looks above all else, Singapore is the clear winner. If drinks, food, and service are your top priorities, EVA could be the safest bet. You really can’t go wrong.
But I’ve mulled this over for a long time. While there’s no denying Singapore Airlines is an outstanding airline, I think I’d choose EVA Air. The sincerity in the service and the touches of first class – from the drinks to the amenities – made it a truly outstanding flight. It had a certain X-factor that Singapore couldn’t quite match.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.