If launching a brand-new international route amid a global pandemic rife with travel restrictions seems an unusual move, that’s only because it is.
Fortune favours the bold, perhaps? That’s one explanation for new resorts, hotels, and now airline routes being kicked off during the ongoing worldwide Covid-19 pandemic that, even now, is forcing a whole new round of restrictions and lockdowns in numerous countries.
Another explanation might just be that companies are simply adhering to long-planned launch schedules. After all, building a resort and then keeping it closed likely makes even less sense than at least partially opening it.
But a fresh new international route from a young, upstart airline? Now that’s going a step or two beyond bold.
Enter Starlux Airlines, the upmarket boutique carrier from Taiwan that counted a Malaysian destination (though, curiously, not KL) among its small handful of maiden routes when it launched the inaugural flight to Penang on January 23 of last year. Now, just under one year later, it’s adding the Malaysian capital to its slowly-but-surely growing list of regional destinations. The inaugural flight from Taipei (TPE) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) took place on January 5, 2021.
As of now, Starlux operates a small fleet comprising solely Airbus A321neo aircraft, but has commitments with Airbus to grow its fleet to 35 planes, with plans to not only expand the A321neo fleet, but also add the A330-900neo, A350-900, and A350-1000 in the next three years as it looks to expand its network to North America.
Starlux Airlines’ A321neo is configured with two classes, and a total of 188 seats: eight in business class and 180 in economy class.
Each seat in business class boasts a 15.6-inch 1080p entertainment system with touchscreen, and passengers are offered noise-cancelling headphones. The seat can also transform into an 82-inch fully flat bed, fairly uncommon on single-aisle aircraft. Comfortable pillows and large blankets are also provided.
Passengers in economy class cannot lie flat, but they do enjoy a relatively generous 31-inch seat pitch (the distance from one point on the seat to the same point on the seat behind/before it), and 18.4 inches of seat width. (For comparison, AirAsia’s A320 offers 29 inches of pitch and 18 inches of width.) Economy seats also feature a personal entertainment system with a 10.1-inch 720p screen, a first on narrow-body aircraft in Taiwan.
In-flight Wi-Fi is part of the Starlux experience, as well, with service sufficient for messaging offered at no charge, and more robust connections for web surfing or streaming available for a fee. (Business class passengers have no caps or limits, and there is no additional charge.) All seats offer a power outlet, as well.
As Starlux has positioned itself as a premium airline, its business class meals are specially prepared by Longtail, a Michelin-starred Taipei restaurant. The beverage menu is pretty good, too, with selections like Remy Martin XO Cognac and Taiwan’s excellent Kavalan Solist Cask Strength Oloroso Sherry Cask-aged single malt whisky really standing out on the spirits list, and Whittard English teas, Illy coffees, and fresh cold-pressed juices drawing attention for the teetotalers.
The Champagne poured at the front of the plane is a very nice cuvée from Bollinger and the overall wine list is equally impressive for a regional carrier. It’s pretty clear Starlux is taking the ‘premium airline’ label seriously and making a real effort to deliver on passengers’ expectations.
Economy class passengers eat reasonably well, too (if not as lavishly), with meal service including the Taiwan-based meat brand Hutong, a popular roasted meat.
A Uniquely Challenging Environment
Of course, the pandemic has not only created immense challenges, but also necessitated a number of significant changes and health and safety requirements for airlines worldwide, and fledgling Starlux is no exception.
As the airline is based in Taiwan, comfortably among the world’s best at responding to the coronavirus crisis, it makes sense that safety is at the fore for Starlux, as well as for Taiwan’s other two airlines (China Airlines and EVA Air).
The Covid-specific safety precautions and measures taken include full cabin and amenities cleaning and disinfecting after every flight, strict SOPs for passengers, and disposable waterproof gowns, surgical masks, waterproof gloves, and eye protection equipment for cabin crew.
Malaysia Airports Holding Bhd welcomed Starlux as the newest airline flying into KLIA, adding in a statement that the young airline would boost KLIA’s “extensive connectivity of over 60 airlines serving more than 120 destinations directly.”
Starlux will fly the TPE-KUL route twice weekly, on Tuesdays and Fridays.
In addition to its hub at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, Starlux Airlines’ destinations now include Tokyo-Narita, Osaka, Macau, Bangkok, Da Nang, and of course Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Starlux currently has no airline partners nor is it part of any airline alliance, but that will hopefully change over time.