Date: December 24, 2004 Christmas Eve Day
Flight No: 27
From: SFO – San Francisco, CA Gate: A7
To: NRT – Tokyo, Japan Gate: 23
Departure time: 11.35a
Arrival time: 4.30p (+1day December 25 Christmas Day)
Flight time: 10.57
Seat: 5H, 5J (Bulkhead of Second World Business Class Cabin after Door 2R)
This trip was our Christmas gift to ourselves since my partner and I didn’t feel like spending the holidays with family. So we decided to skip Christmas and spend it on Northwest airplanes by passing the International Date Line. So, we arrived at SFO about 2 hours and 15 minutes early. There was no one on the road on Christmas Eve day at 9.00am. We checked in with the WBC line and Janice Sisco (spelling?) checked us in. I only remember her name because she was so incredibly nice and helpful. We gave her some of our Christmas candy stash too. This was the trip of many firsts for us too. This was the first time we flew out of the international terminal at SFO. This was the first time we were flying on an Airbus widebody, and the first time flying to Asia. It’s hard to believe that the terminal is here at our airport. It is so nice. It looks like the pictures I’ve seen of the newer Asian airports. We went to the little aviation-related store, but bought nothing. Then we proceeded through security, which was a breeze and went to the Worldclub. The facility is very nice at the Worldclub. It looks like the new ones in Memphis and Detroit with wood and metal everywhere, but just much smaller. It wasn’t very crowded either. After some food and drink we left and went to walk around the terminal to see what kind of shops there were. At about 10.45a we proceeded to the gate, which is one level below the shopping and departure level.
They boarded World Business Class at 10:50a. I think we were the first two people on the plane. Our seats were in the second WBC section just behind the second doors. There are only 2 rows of WBC in this section so it feels very private. But the economy section was right behind us, and the economy passengers tended to use the WBC lavatory just in front of door 2R, which they weren’t supposed to do. I didn’t really care, but it made for more traffic than there should’ve been. There were only 21 out of 32 WBC seats occupied, and in our section of 16 seats, there were only 7 seats occupied. And one of them was a man who was no joke 7 feet tall. I felt so badly for him because he looked squeezed into the seat and he couldn’t even stand up completely unless he was standing right in front of the exit doors, and even then I doubt he was standing up completely. He was by far the tallest person I have ever seen. We were offered a pre-take-off beverage of our choice. I think I took water. They also handed out amenities, slippers, headphones, and menus. The amenity kit looks like a pencil case that is dark blue with red trim. I think it is made of microfiber. It had socks, lipbalm, a comb, toothbrush/paste, pen, eyeshade, and earplugs. It’s quite a small bag, but it’s very sharp looking. The lavatories were really nice in WBC too. They have Aveda lotion, toning mist, and hand soap. The FAs went around with newspapers before the doors were closed at 11.30a, which was about 5 minutes before our departure time. Our dinner orders were taken. This was the menu:
To begin: cocktail or beverage of choice served with canapés and mixed nuts.
Western style dinner
Appetizer salad: mixed greens, choice of creamy dressing or Japanese chuka goma dressing.
Main Course: Beef Tenderloin or Roasted Chicken Breast or Seared Seabass
Japanese Style Dinner: Sakizuke-tamago, crab and ikura, fuki; Takiawase-steamed vegetables; Kobachi-tako salad; Soba-chasoba; Osuimono-soup; Main Meal-New York strip loin; Japanese Dessert.
Dessert A La Carte: fresh fruit, cheese, ice cream in a chocolate cup, biscotti
We actually sat at the gate with the door closed for about 30 minutes because we were on a 45-minute ATC hold. So we pushed back at 11.57a. Then we made our way to 27 R. On the taxiway to the runway I noticed people taking photos at the usual spotting place by the Hyatt and Westin hotels and this picture was us. I’m looking out of the window that is right before the “n” in the “nwa” but you can’t see me in that picture.
Photo © Ben Wang
Wheels were up at 12.20p and we headed out west. It was really neat to see the wings flex/dip when we lifted off the ground. Shortly after all the announcements were made in English and Japanese, the meal service started. I had the chicken since the seabass was gone by the time they got to us. I wanted the Japanese, but I didn’t want the main meal that came with it. The meal was really good and the desserts were even better. I was full at the end of the meal, but not overly stuffed. At about 2.5 hours into the flight, the meal service was over. The entire time during the meal and for about another hour afterwards, the AVOD system had problems. Lots of people were complaining that their systems weren’t working or some aspects of it weren’t working. Mine was fine until after dinner, then it froze when I was playing with the maps. The said they were going to reset the system at least 3 different times. After about 4 hours, it finally started working. Then a few hours later, mine froze again on the maps. I told the flight attendant and she reset my seat only. Then it was fine all the way to Tokyo. Overall, the AVOD system is really cool. There were like 9 or 10 movies, and lots of songs. You can make your own playlist, which was nice. The games are fun too. I was so addicted to the “bejeweled” game which is a twist on the old tetris game. But mainly I watched movies the whole time. I watched “Hero”, “Mean Creek”, and “Shark Tale” and part of “Elf.” I couldn’t sleep at all because it wasn’t nighttime for us so I just kept myself busy by talking to the FAs and using the AVOD. We had a great staff, namely Judy Fritz and Arthur, I didn’t catch his last name. He gave us a bottle of champagne to have a Christmas toast once we got to Hong Kong. That was really nice of him. About an hour before landing in NRT we were served breakfast. I’m still confused as to why they serve breakfast, since it was really only about 3.00p local time. Anyway, the on arrival menu was a choice of:
Continental breakfast or egg strata or peppered beef tenderloin or cold cereal. I had the egg strata. It was like a quiche but without a crust. It was quite good.
Arriving into NRT was on runway 34L from the coast. The landing wasn’t as smooth as I have had on 777s but it was ok. There were tons of United and Northwest planes at Terminal 1. The Varig MD-11 was there as well as a Korean 777. I think there were an Alitalia plane and a Cathay there too. We arrived at gate 23 right on time at 4.30p and proceeded through the secured area until they split off the connecting international and connecting domestic passengers. Since we were connecting through to HKG, we followed the signs to international connections. We did not have to go through any kind of passport control, but we did go through a security area, that I dubbed the “girl scout” security. Just about all the employees were women all wearing red outfits with red berets. It reminded me of girl scouts. They all giggled when the super tall man went through security. I find it hard to believe that this security checkpoint serves any purpose at all, since you go directly from the plane to them. It was weird, but then we went to the Worldclub and freshened up a little from the flight and got ready for the flight to HKG. The Worldclub is next to gate 26 I think, and it looks a little older than the ones in the US, but it was stocked with lots of Japanese snacks and beers. The bathrooms are also really nice.
Overall the A332 was awesome. It was incredibly quiet and very comfortable. The service was great and the entertainment system was really good when it was working. Apparently this is a huge problem that NW is trying to fix with the new A330 systems.
Date: December 25, 2004 Christmas Day
Flight No: 17
From: NRT – Tokyo, Japan Gate 27
To: HKG – Hong Kong Gate: 29
Departure time: 6.10p
Arrival time: 10.20p
Flight time: 4.20
Registration: N673US (City of Tokyo)
Seat: 78K,J (Upper Deck, second row after the exit door)
One thing I noticed about the times that were posted in NRT was that they were all about 20 or so earlier than the actual times. Our flight was listed as departing at 6.10p but it was posted on the monitors and at the gate as 5.40p. Another first for us was riding in the upper deck of a 744. We actually boarded around 5.30p and proceeded to the upper deck. There were 11 open seats out of 24 in the upper WBC cabin. This flight was very empty upstairs and downstairs. We could’ve all fit into a 757. Anyway, I was glad to be on a 744 again. We pushed back at 6.20p and went to runway 16R the opposite way that we landed. They changed the direction soon after we landed. Wheels were up at 6.32p. It was a very short ride to the runway and we were airborne in no time at all. We barely used any runway…a testament to how light the plane was. This plane has retrofitted WBC seats so we had the same system as before. The sole flight attendant passed out the headphones, slippers, and menus, and took our dinner orders while addressing us by name. This was also the first time I was addressed with “san” after my last name instead of “mister” because she recognized my last name as being Japanese. It was quite cool. I could get used to that. The dinner menu was:
Appetizer: grilled scallops and marinated baby lobster.
Salad: mixed greens with choice of dressing
Main Course: baked salmon in mustard sauce or spicy chicken curry or cold Champagne supper
Dessert: fresh fruit and sweet.
I decided on the curry, even though the cold champagne supper sounded good too with lots of fish and meats. I watched part of “Elf” again and then watched a documentary on big wave surfing called “Riding Giants.” It was really well done. I have to say that riding in the upper deck at nighttime was a buzz kill. The windows are very low so it’s difficult to see out, and you are mainly looking down. Also, you can’t tell how high off the ground you are. But it’s really quiet up there and very secluded especially when there are less than half the seats full. The meal was promptly served and the flight was quite enjoyable and short compared to the first flight that was 3 times as long. We arrived about 30 minutes early at 9.50p and landed on runway 25L. It was very foggy or hazy so we couldn’t see much of Hong Kong before landing. The landing was not very smooth again, but it wasn’t bad. We arrived at gate 29, which is the one that NW primarily uses, I think. There were tons of A330s there in Cathay and Dragonair liveries, several Cathay A340-300s, -600s and 747-400s. We parked next to a Vietnam A320, which had the old paint scheme. By 10.20p, our actual arrival time, we had our bags in hand and were ready to get our limo to the hotel and go to bed. By the way, Hong Kong International Airport is quite impressive and humungous. When we arrived and made our way to the main terminal to get our bags, we could not see the end of the terminal in either direction. The building just goes on forever.
Again, overall this was a great flight. I only wish the WBC movie system had the same movie that they show in the main cabin. I was looking forward to watching “spiderman 2”. Oh well. I was shocked that all 3 airports, SFO, NRT, HKG were all relatively empty and both flights were not even close to being full. Even NRT which had several heavies switching passengers all over the place was very empty feeling. It was a nice change from the overly crowded American airports at the holiday times. I found the new WBC seats to relatively comfortable. I prefer the non-flat setting, I think. The flat setting feels like you’re going to slide off. The weird headrest thing was fine, although it could be a little shallower. I think it sticks out too far and makes your neck and back hurt if you don’t have everything adjusted the right way. It takes a lot of messing with to get it just right.
Date: January 1, 2005 New Year’s Day
Flight No: 18
From: HKG – Hong Kong Gate: 29
To: NRT – Tokyo, Japan Gate 23
Departure time: 8.50a
Arrival time: 1.40p
Flight time: 3.17
Seat: 1 A,B
After a wonderful time in Hong Kong and Macau it was time to come back home. It was so horrible to wake up on New Year’s Day at 5.00a to catch a plane, especially after going to bed just a few hours earlier. We stayed that night at the Sheraton that is right next to the Peninsula hotel where there is a huge countdown and seemingly millions of people flood the streets. It reminded me of Times Square in NYC. It was fun and crazy. Anyway, we arrived at the airport around 7.00a and proceeded to NWA check-in area which is area H. I guess Menzies has been contracted to handle the NW flight among many other airlines. The check-in went fine and representative put little red NWA stickers on our clothing. I don’t really know what that was for, but it was cute. Then another person gave us what looked like bookmarks that had English on one side and Chinese on the other. It said something about being at the gate 30 minutes prior to departure. Again, the flights were posted as earlier than the listed time. I guess it’s so that people don’t miss the flight. We were told that boarding would be at 8.00a. We did a little shopping before going through security and the NWA lounge is directly after security. It’s actually called the Hong Kong Lounge and it is shared with Qantas and BA. There’s a separate section for First Class on QF and BA too. It was an open-air lounge that was behind and above gate 15 on level 7. From the lounge we could see several Dragonair A330s, A320s, Qantas A330-300 (I think), Continental Peter Max 777, China Eastern A320, among others. We stayed there until they announced our fight was boarding. It seemed that the announcement cam very early, but considering that it takes a good 15 minutes to walk down to gate 29 it was right on time. We walked down toward gate 29 and passed several heavies that I rarely see including, all the Cathay Airbuses, and Boeings, a Malaysia A330-200, Singapore 777-200, Vietnam A320, and lots of JAL Boeings.
We boarded at 8.00a and we had the very first seats in WBC on the 744. It was very cool sitting in row 1 because you can see forward a little bit. That’s a very different experience from the usual side views. Today’s flight was full in the lower WBC cabin. I didn’t make it upstairs to check up there. We were offered water, orange juice, or champagne…it was New Year’s Day after all. We pushed back on time and we were heading toward runway 7R in no time. We followed a China Eastern A320, and the Vietnam A320 to the runway and departed one after the other. This segment the flight time was so short just over 3 hours. We used barely any of the runway. We were airborne before we reached the terminal so that I could see all of the planes that were at the entire airport. That terminal is so impressive, it’s just amazing how huge it is. It makes the little jets look like toys compared to the jumbos. Our crew was nice. They were from Los Angeles and were on an 8 day trip throughout Japan and Guam. My seat, 1A had a broken leg rest. It would extend and everything, but in 10 minutes I would realize that it was on the floor. It was like a slow leak. I told the FA just so they could do something about it. I would hate to be on the next segment all the way to JFK in that seat. Thankfully we were changing planes. Our breakfast menu was the following:
Assorted Juices, Seasonal Fruit, Yogurt, Selection of Breads
Main Course: French Toast stuffed with blueberry cream cheese pan fried bacon, or braised roast duck skewer rice vermicelli noodles, or cold cereal.
The choice was obvious for us…French toast. The portions were tiny and we weren’t satisfied at all with that meal. Good thing it was such a short flight and we could eat at the Worldclub in NRT. We were also disappointed that the new movies for January weren’t loaded yet, even though the new World Traveler magazines were in the plane. I was hoping for a whole new round of movies back to SFO. Alas, no. The WBC lavatories were stocked with the usual Aveda products, but they were also stocked with the toothbrush/paste things that are in the amenity kits. I took one to use in NRT once we ate a little more. By the way all announcements were in English, Japanese, and Chinese. Other than that, the flight was routine and we landed at 1.31p on runway 34L in NRT and taxied to gate 23. We were parked next to an Alitalia 772, and there were 3 Korean Airlines planes there too, a 744, A300, and 772. I believe that 772 is the one that flies directly to LAX. We then proceeded through the “girl scout” security and to the Worldclub again.
Date: January 1, 2005 New Year’s Day
Flight No: 28
From: NRT – Tokyo, Japan Gate 28A
To: SFO – San Francisco, CA A7
Departure time: 3.35p
Arrival time: 7.40a
Flight time: 8.25
Seat: 1 A,B
After about an hour in the terminal we went downstairs to the bus gates for NW gate 28. I always find it fun to board jumbos by the stairs, there’s something nostalgic about it. Anyway, we boarded the bus at 3.00p and our A332 was parked in between a United 772 and 2 NW 752s at the remote stands. We boarded the plane using the stairs at door 1L. They took those stairs away shortly after and closed that door too, while the rest of the boarding was done for economy through door 2L. We had seats 1A,B and were first for everything on this flight. I asked one of the FAs if I could take pictures of the cockpit and she went and asked the pilots and they said yet. I was so excited. I talked tot eh 3 pilots for a few minutes and they lowered the orange shades to make it easier to take a nice picture. They were quite gracious and I was very appreciative. The cockpit is quite large. They said for flights over 8 hours they need a third pilot. After that, we received our amenity kits, slippers, headphones, and menus. We were offered champagne or water again and we opted for champagne. The meal selection was the following:
To begin: cocktail or beverage of choice, canapés and mixed nuts.
Western Style Dinner:
Appetizer Salad: mixed greens with choice of dressing
Main course: beef tenderloin in mushroom sauce or roasted chicken breast in red wine sauce or baked salmon in lemon sauce
Japanese style dinner: Sakizuke-tuna, salmon, squid, octopus and salmon roei; Takiawase-simmered Japanese vegetables; Soba-chasoba; Osuimono-clear soup; Main Meal-simmered duck, grilled beef skewer, shrimp, eggplant; Japanese Dessert.
Dessert A La Carte: fresh fruit, cheese, ice cream in a chocolate cup, biscotti
I opted for the Japanese selection this time. This flight seemed a little more full than the one from SFO but WBC had 10 empty seats in all out of 32. We pushed back at 3.31p about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Our flight time was a short 8.25 because of strong tailwinds. We departed on runway 34 L after passing several United planes, and NW cargo, NCA cargo, AN-124, and a Qantas A330, and 744 (the blue special scheme), all parked in the cargo area. Soon after takeoff we were served dinner and the Japanese selection was very good. The dessert was a very pretty pink mochi rice candy thing that I love. There was also tea galore and lots of others desserts. Since I ordered the Japanese meal, I received a feedback survey to fill out.
Little did we know that we would pay for the strong tailwinds. About 30 minutes after dinner and right near the International Dateline we hit really strong and violent turbulence. It wasn’t just the shaking kind, but the dropping and lifting. It felt like we were a baby rattle and a giant baby was shaking us up and down. The snack cart was situated in front of the two empty middle seats and stuff was falling off and we could hear crashes from all the galleys. It was probably the worst I’ve ever been in. The pilots talked to us about 3 times throughout it and told the FAs to remain seated. It last for about 15 minutes or so. Also, the new January entertainment selections weren’t uploaded yet, so we had the same movies as before. I watched “Collateral” which was really good, and I watched “Hero” and “Elf” again, and both short subject titles. I tried sleeping but I really wasn’t tired enough to sleep, plus all that tea had me going.
At about 1 hour before landing while the sun was starting to rise, we were served the on arrival breakfast, which was very tiny. It consisted of, “a light breakfast with seasonal fresh fruit and warmed bread will be served prior to arrival.”
Overall, the staff was great. Our purser, John H., was really on the ball for all the passengers, and the in-flight service coordinators, I think is what they are called, are class act. Those are the people that translate the announcements and tend to the non-English speaking passengers. They are just great. On this last flight we had a Korean lady who was a third generation living in Japan. I think her name was Umi Oh. On all 4 flights to and from Asia, the service was great, and everyone was so professional. On this trip, I fell in love with Hong Kong and Macau. I can’t wait to go back, perhaps when it’s a little warmer so we can enjoy the swimming pools and beaches.
Hopefully you survived reading this horribly long report.