The surreal sight is enough to make you rub your eyes in disbelief: airplanes painted with Hello Kitty, the world’s most famous fictional feline. And that’s not all. Step inside the jets on EVA Air, the airline of Taiwan, and a world of cuteness awaits.
Everything (and we mean everything) is adorned with the adorable visage of the big-button-eyed cat with the asymmetrically placed red hair bow: the pillows, headrests, napkins, silverware, paper cups and safety tips.
Flight attendants wear Hello Kitty-themed pale green aprons. Even the slippers for your flight (pale green or brown, depending on if you’re in economy or business class) bear the face of the pop icon. Enter a bathroom to find – yes – Hello Kitty toilet paper and hand cream.
Flying high with Hello Kitty
You can fly Hello Kitty on EVA Air’s nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Taipei, Taiwan (three times a week since March 2018) and Chicago to Taipei on Boeing 777-300ER jets, and on smaller jets between cities in Asia and mainland China. (The airline actually launched Hello Kitty LA flights in 2013 but later switched the route to Taipei-Paris, so the City of Angels’ loss became the City of Light’s gain.) LA to Taipei Hello Kitty flights are now back as of March 2018.
Some EVA jets are painted with other characters from Sanrio, the Japanese company that invented her decades ago, like Little Twin Stars Kiki and Lala with a teddy bear, Gudetama and Pompompurin. The jets have names like Shining Star, Friendship Bows and Joyful Dream.
You can’t fault the sentiment: EVA Air says its goal is to “make flying fun.” Noting that the red hair bow symbolizes friendship, the airline adds that the themed airplanes “invite global exchanges among passengers and people they meet during their travels.”
Hello Kitty’s influence
Hello Kitty, who looks remarkably perky for a 40-year-old, is very popular with tweens in Asia. Taiwan has a Hello Kitty restaurant, beer and a pet grooming salon where her image has been cut into a Standard Poodle’s fur.
But the global juggernaut has sold billions of dollars in themed merchandise, from T-shirts and Puma sneakers to coloring books, food containers and baby shoes in more than 100 countries. In San Diego, a Hello Kitty pop-up café opened in a shipping container in Fashion Valley Shopping Center in May.
To be or not to be
A bit of a kerfuffle erupted back in 2014 when the author of a book on Hello Kitty’s march to world marketing domination, Christine Yano, told the Los Angeles Times that Sanrio said Hello Kitty was not a cat, but a little English girl. (This failed to explain the whiskers protruding from both sides of her face, but no matter.)
Shock and horror ensued from feline-loving fans of all ages. The company website still notes that she lives with her parent and twin sister Mimmy outside London, loves to bake cookies and play the piano, and aspires to be a pianist or poet — activities and ambitions rare among cats. Luckily, a Sanrio spokesman clarified she is the “personification of a cat.” Whew!
If you’re in Taipei International Airport …
Look for the Hello Kitty-themed check-in area and gate in Terminal 2. Before you get there, you may glimpse the EVA Air Hello Kitty bus where she’s atop some apples (she’s the height of five apples, her bio online states).
The EVA Air check-in kiosks are hot pink (pink hairbows are affixed to one corner) while the wall behind them is a similar hue awash in red and pink bows.
The EVA gate has Hello Kitty hot-pink payphones, a pink waiting area where her visage is painted on seats, a pink Hello Kitty house (a breastfeeding center) and a Hello Kitty world clock where she helpfully points out the time in various cities.
Tiny models of a Hello Kitty plane, shuttle bus and toilet paper are displayed. If you haven’t overdosed on super cuteness, a Sanrio shop selling you-know-what awaits.
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy of EVA Air.
Sharon McDonnell is a San Francisco-based travel, food and beverage writer. Check out more of her work at sharonmcdonnell.contently.com.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting area of your vet’s office? Click here to subscribe to Catster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.