Starlux Airlines made their Debut on January 23, 2020 1, just days before WHO announced a Global Health Emergency. A Few days later, on February 2, travel restrictions began2. By all accounts, the impeccably bad timing of Starlux’s start had plane enthusiasts watching in anticipation, just waiting for the company’s collapse. By all accounts, this new airline startup seemed doomed to fail. So, why is it that in 2023 we are seeing them beginning flights to Los Angeles, their longest haul flight just three short years after flights commenced?
I have been watching Starlux for some time now. They have been relatively unknown to the United States up until this point, but with their name beginning to pop up since they began their Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I feel it is high time people on this side of the planet learned their story.
A Story Worth Telling
When we think of an Airline, we don’t typically think of intense family drama. Most of the story revolves around their innovations to the industry, their dedication to their customers, and their accomplishments that earned them their reputation. While Starlux certainly has all of these things going for it in its short history, their origin story is certainly worth telling as well.
In 2016, Starlux founder Chang Kuo-Wei’s father and founder of EVA Airways, Chan Yung-Fa, passed away 3. And so, our story begins.
Chang had been chairman of EVA since 2013 and was in line to succeed his father as head of parent company Evergreen. But Chang was the youngest son of the family and, despite his knowledge and passion for the airlines–both as a technician and pilot–Chang’s new role would inevitably ignite a fire within his family3.
The will marking Chang and the rightful heir of the airline business was handwritten, bringing its legality into question. Furthermore, Chang’s youth when compared to his older siblings went against tradition. Amid a legal battle between the family, Chang was ousted from the company4.
But Chang, unlike the rest of his family, was not a businessman looking to run a company for the sake of the associated fortune and prestige. He has a sincere passion for aviation, and wanted to work in the airlines as a man who loved the industry inside and out. So when he lost his title with Evergreen and EVA Airlines, He started his own airline: Starlux3.
A Founder Who Knows the Industry
Starlux’s origin story has been compared to Hamlet, but Chang’s story was never about revenge. He is the only member of his family with hands-on experience in the industry. Chang has worked on planes and is a licensed pilot. When they received their first planes in 2020, Chang Kuo-Wei flew them back to Taiwan and made the second round-trip to Macau 4.
Chang is not like other airline leaders, who are office-bound and know little about what their employees do day-to-day. He has worked directly with the planes, worked on them, and even flown his own routes. To this day, Chang continues to bring his own planes home, his most recent milestone being his new long-haul flight from TPE to LAX. Chang went to Toulouse, France to personally deliver his first wide-body Airbus A350-900 home in October 5.
A Rough Start
In 2019, Starlux was lining up for a huge launch. They were a rare instance of a new aviation company which did not begin as a low cost/budget airline . Instead, Starlux advertised themselves as a luxury airline from the beginning, which naturally means a lot went into launching this company. With intentions to become the “Emirates of Asia”14, plenty of time and money went into the design aspect of the company, seating arrangements, and aircraft purchases.
In 2019, the initial purchase of 10 Airbus A321Neos was confirmed and in production. In addition to this, the company also ordered 12 A350-1000s and five A350-900s6. The first plane was personally delivered to Taipei by founder K.W. Chang on October 26, 20197. This exciting event marked the early stages of the company’s inaugural flights to come at the end of January 2023.
The dates were set. Plans were made. Flights were booked. The first flights began. Then, suddenly, the entire industry collapsed on itself on an international scale. COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic at the end of January 2019, with travel restrictions beginning only days after.
The effects of COVID were devastating for all airlines. Money was lost, and many were only just able to skirt by after cutting into emergency funds. Starlux certainly wasn’t the only airline impacted by the pandemic, but with the company’s launch so close to the beginning of a nearly three-year-long travel ban, the company seemed doomed from the start.
The company was still in its infancy when its entire purpose for existing seemed to vanish with no light on the horizon. People couldn’t travel, so how was Starlux going to make it through this ominous and ambiguous time as they were just staring out? Well, they had to get creative.
They began by working with mobile phone mogul Samsung Taiwan as they launched their new folding smartphone. As a part of the campaign, Samsung worked with Starlux to charter a “Flight to Nowhere”, a new concept to simulate travel without touching the ground outside the country8.
The flight took passengers aboard a Starlux flight out of Taoyuan Airport and flew two circles around the island of Miyakojima before returning to Taiwanese airspace for an aerial tour of Taiwan. This first flight was flown by chairman K.W. Chang, but as additional flights were added by popular demand, Chang did not fly the subsequent flights. Still, the service offered an option for those who missed traveling but were not ready to take the risk involved in international travel during a pandemic.
Samsung was not the only company that they paired with, however. Merchandise, pop-up shops, and collaborations were constantly posted to their social media outlets, from in-flight meal inspired foods at 7-Eleven to models, keychains, clothing, bags, and even cards. The company seemed to be taking collaborative efforts with popular chain businesses as a way to earn a bit of money while keeping their name fresh in the minds of the Taiwanese.
With Taiwan now opening routes to the United States, they’ve even partnered wit the LA Clippers to solidify their relationship with their newest route.
Sleek and Sci-Fi
I’m sure you wouldn’t think of a luxury airliner taking on a theme, especially not one filled with futuristic uniforms, galactic branding, and cartoon-based advertising. It seems strange to a Western audience, but Starlux made these concepts work together without cheapening their product.
Starlux put a great deal of care into their logo design, and they lay out the entire concept on their website. When you first see their logo, you’ll note the two quadrilateral shapes with a star shape to their right. While it may seem like a sleek design with little meaning, everything about this is for a purpose. The two angled shapes are winglet-like, strategically placed to resemble an “s” shape so as to represent the name of the brand. They are also placed to create a continuous shape resembling the infinity symbol representing “boundless dreams and aspirations9.” The star is a Polaris, representative of a guiding star leading travelers to their destination. The Polaris is as much a symbol of Chang’s love for aviation as it is a tribute to his late father.
Their color choices were also purposeful, with natural tones to represent a view of the earth from above. The website lays them out as follows:
“Obsidian grey–representing the color of evenings as well as ‘circumspection’ and ‘safety first.’
Rose gold–representing the color of the sunset as well as ‘expertise’ and ‘luxury’.
Earthy gold–representing the color of morning as well as ‘innovative thinking’ and ‘hospitality9.’”
The uniforms, designed by renowned local designer Sean Yin, have a style that harkens back to the 1940’s and 50’s while simultaneously giving a futuristic flair to the crew. The collection, dubbed “JX Style10”, corresponds to the color schemes of the brand with neutral colors and simplistic designs. The uniforms are meant to be fashionable as well as highly functional, with breathable fabrics, casual caps, and tieless cabin crew shirts for men, these uniforms offer comfortable elegance for their crew. As for the ground crew, their uniforms make the team look ready to fly a starfighter, rather than fuel a passenger jet.
Starlux’s safety videos, as well as some of their branding, also feature cartoon characters of aliens, humans, and even a sentient backpack, each with their own brief story on the Starlux website11. they are known as the StarWonderers, and they also make their presence known on some of their merchandise as well.
Starlux worked with BMW to create luxurious seating for their passengers. Even their economy seating has an air of luxury, with leather headrests, personal entertainment, and extra leg room12. Starlux is also the only aircraft in Taiwan to offer personal sites with sliding doors, and this is not only for first class, but business class as well.
Starlux piqued my interest as soon as I heard about them back in 2019. My husband and I have been meticulously watching their ups, their downs, and everything in between. While a majority of their initial years have been a struggle, they managed to survive a three-year pandemic and, with restrictions now lifted, are working towards a quick recovery and finally able to fully launch their business on an international level. As of publishing this, the first Starlux TPE to LAX flight will have commenced, launching the company into the long-haul international industry. The company has more American routes in the works as well, so there is plenty more to look forward to with this ambitious startup. They are also the only airline with dynamic lighting to create a more “homey” feel, and even have three holiday lighting themes13.
The airline is pricier than its Taiwanese competition. Despite this, Starlux does offer luxury air travel at reasonable prices, and you will certainly get your money’s worth by choosing them. I am excited to see Starlux’s future as they continue to expand into the Western market. If you want to see more from Starlux, make sure you visit their website where you can read more about their story and accomplishments.