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Trip report and photo tour: Inside EVA's Hello Kitty plane

USA Today  2015-02-05 13:21:51

AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideAn Eva Air Boeing 777 in Los Angeles is seen painted in the carrier's distinctive Hello Kitty livery in this photo from 2013.(Photo: Eva Air)Tags3 CONNECT LINKEDINEMAILMORE40,000 FEET OVER THE EAST CHINA SEA: This isn't a normal flight, exactly. For one, the outside of our EVA Airways jet is plastered with some unusual paint. Instead of the airline's usual white, green and orange color scheme, this plane shows a giant yellow squirrel, a bear, and Hello Kitty. All are professing their love of apples.And the outside is only where it begins.The inside of the airplane is awash in Hello Kitty, too. Dozens of items bearing Kitty's likeness are be found from the comfort of one's seat. One of the world's most beloved characters, Hello Kitty graces headrest covers, pillow cases, safety cards, the entertainment system, flight attendant uniforms, utensils, sugar packets and more.TODAY IN THE SKY: EVA Air to fly Hello Kitty Boeing 777s from HoustonNot even the bathrooms provide a refuge from the Kitty-fication, featuring Hello Kitty soap. Hello Kitty tissues, and yes, even Hello Kitty toilet paper.The experience -- and that is the word that best describes this -- begins even earlier, from the moment passengers set foot in the airport. The check-in desk? Clad in pink Hello Kitty. Bag tags and boarding passes? Stamped with Hello Kitty. The gate itself is part boarding area and part Kitty store, where passengers can drop dollars on Kitty-themed gifts to bring home to loved ones (or to keep for themselves).AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideThe overwhelming cuteness of the flight finds young children (and some not so young folks) clutching Hello Kitty backpacks and paraphernalia. Businessmen in suits appear mortified, mystified, and maybe just a little curious at the sight before them.Thus is the scene aboard what may be the world's cutest flight: EVA Airways Flight 105, featuring the airline's distinctive Hello Kitty service. As the jet cruises toward Taipei, it's only 19 such flights EVA will fly today. Each just as purrfectly cute and overwhelmingly adorable as the others.Hello Kitty finds EVAHello Kitty began her life in 1974, the invention of Japanese design, product, and licensing company Sanrio. Aimed squarely at Japan's long-standing intrigue with all things cute, known as the "kawaii" aesthetic, Kitty first appeared on a vinyl coin purse.The character was an instant hit. Kitty's appeal exploded in Japan, and then beyond as the creature grew to become a global phenomenon.Having ballooned well beyond past that first coin purse, the Hello Kitty Empire has since extended into ? or, perhaps more accurately, onto ? anything and everything imaginable. Cribs to clothes, medicine kits to music videos, toilet paper to TV shows; if you can dream it, Hello Kitty has probably graced it.Which leads back to airplanes.Taipei, Taiwan-based EVA Airways first teamed up with Sanrio back in 2005."Sanrio approached us; wanted to sell the in-flight product to us in the very beginning," says Glenn Chai, Executive Vice President, EVA Planning Division.Chai says EVA suggested taking it a step further. The airline envisioned an immersive Hello Kitty theme jet experience with characters pained on the outside and branded items filling the inside. The first Hello Kitty airplane, an Airbus A330-200, debuted in October 2005. A second was introduced one year later.Kitty disappeared from the skies in 2009 after the initial product license ran out. But she returned in 2011 to celebrate EVA's 20th anniversary and Sanrio's 50th. The airline doubled down on the experience for Kitty's second life, expanding the in-flight experience from 40ish on-board items to over 100, and starting with three brand-new Airbus A330 jets.The flights, says Chai, are hugely popular. Passengers regularly fly "with EVA on a route just because [it is a] Kitty flight," he says. He adds that they sell 3% better than regular flights, despite having a premium tacked onto the ticket price."If we operate a Hello Kitty flight, our fare is always higher than even our competitor," says Chai, "But [passengers are] willing to buy it."Paying a premium for the experience isn't the only thing passengers are willing to do, however. Myriad Kitty- themed items have a tendency to walk away after the flight, Chai says. "All of those items, they take away. They are really crazy for that," he says of passengers on EVA's Hello Kitty flights.To keep the experience fresh for the thousands of Kitty fans that come aboard each year, EVA rotates on-board items seasonally and switches them out entirely every other year. Several limited-edition items can only be purchased via the on board duty-free store, making them especially popular with a subset of die-hard Kitty collectors.Chai says the rationale behind the flights is simple: "To make your journey more fun; provide a fun element to your flight."That, and Kitty "is very profitable," Chai concedes.Hello Kitty returning to North AmericaEVA currently operates six uniquely themed Hello Kitty jets: five Airbus A330s and one Boeing 777-300ER. All five of those Airbus jets serve regional destinations in northern Asia, with flights to Seoul, Shanghai, and three cities in Japan. The longer-range Boeing 777 flies -- for now -- exclusively to Paris, three times per week.Passengers searching for Kitty-themed service from North America out of luck, but not for much longer.USA TODAYEVA Air to fly Hello Kitty Boeing 777s from HoustonTODAY IN THE SKY: EVA Air's Hello Kitty jet heads to Paris (September 2014)TODAY IN THE SKY: EVA's 'Hello Kitty jets' take to the runways at LAX (September 2013)The airline announced in December that it would be add Houston to its network. EVA will introduce a brand-new Hello Kitty jet just for the occasion. EVA previously flew Kitty flights to Los Angeles before moving those flights to Paris last September.Details on what the newest Kitty jet will look like have not yet been revealed, but the airline promised the brand-new jet "will be specially painted nose-to-tail with Texas?sized Hello Kitty and Sanrio characters."The new Houston service begins on June 19, three times weekly, before increasing to four times weekly on July 1.Meanwhile, back on what very well may be the happiest flight on earth, lunch has just been served. A box kiddie meal, that this author willfully chose, is placed on to the tray table 20 rows deep into economy. As the box-top pops open several balls of fruit, pasta pieces?even the , stare back. Every last one is shaped in the likeness of ? you guessed it ? Hello Kitty.Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren is a Seattle-based photojournalist and aviation writer and a contributor to Ben Mutzabaugh'sToday in the Skyblog. You also can follow Jeremy on Twitter at @photoJDL.3 CONNECT LINKEDINEMAILMORERead or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1D1CSFe

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