If you are wondering how it is possible to fly between New York and Tokyo on UA
these days, I just have to say one thing, this trip took place in 2004 and is written from memory. But since I haven't taken any trips recently and for some reason was eager to write a TR
, I decided to give myself such an honor. I will try my best to reconstruct the events that date back more than three years. And so, here we go:
'Tis was a time of a spring break. Back then I was still in school but unlike everyone who was going to the usual spring break places such as Mexico and the Caribbean, I was going to be working for the entire week. Believe me, that was not sounding like fun to me at that time. But then on a Thursday I get a call from my friend asking me what my upcoming plans for the week were and I sadly admitted that I will probably just be working the entire week. Then my friend asked me if I wanted to go to Japan for a week. At that time it sounded like he was asking me to spend a week in Antarctica as I've never even considered visiting Japan. To convince me, my friend told me that it only costs $545 for a round trip, as he found on Travelzoo.com. I looked the flights up on Orbitz and I couldn't believe my eyes. While UA
was charging $545 for a round trip, the nearest price from a competitor, NW
, was around $1,900. (Both carriers no longer operate on this route). So then I thought to myself, this is the perfect chance to take advantage of this offer as it will surely beat a week at work. I took off the following week and we booked the flights.
Date: April 5, 2004
Equipment: Boeing 777-222
We arrived at long-term parking at JFK
where we parked and took the Airtrain to Terminal 7. We checked in using the Kiosk with some assistance of a very friendly UA
employee and went up to the departure level where we relaxed before the long flight. Scheduled flight time was 13 hours and 45 minutes. Back then UA
was in bankruptcy and the future was uncertain. I was just hoping that it will not go out of business while we would be in Japan as that would probably suck. That was one of the few thoughts I had while we waited for boarding. A few gates down in the same terminal, NH
flight was being prepared for departure to the same destination. I was a bit envious as that flight was operated by a B747 while ours was operated by a smaller B777. With that thought in mind, the boarding was called. I was impressed that during the boarding process, each passenger was told "Thank you for your business" by a friendly UA
Once inside the airplane, I was surprised to see a 2-5-2 seat configuration in a B777. I was under the impression that all B777s had a 3-3-3 configuration, although this was my first B777 flight. I've never flown on UA
before either but I knew about Ch. 9 from what I read on this website and as soon as I got into my seat I put on the headphones and tuned to Ch. 9 hoping it would be on on this flight. I felt relieved when I heard one of the AA
flights request clearance. I immediately realized that it would be a fun flight as I had the best entertainment in the sky.
The bad thing was that whenever an announcement was made I couldn't hear Ch. 9. But I knew it would be more interesting to hear it in flight so I wasn't worried much. And since my friend is not into airplanes as I am, he couldn't care less about Ch. 9 and he was listening to the music instead.
We taxied to Runway 31L and took our place in line behind a DL
flight with a B6
flight taking its place behind us. As DL
plane was cleared for take-off, our pilot announced "Flight attendants, be seated for take-off" and we started rolling forward. My friend got tense and I told him to relax as we were not yet cleared for take-off. He looked at me funny as he didn't know that passengers were able to listed to ATC. About a minute later I've heard "United 801 heavy, wind XXX at XX, runway 31L you're cleared for take-off, following a 757, caution wake turbulence". At that time I told my friend that now we were actually going to take-off. I heard a pilot read back the instructions and the engine power started to increase. My friend again looked at me funny and we started rolling forward. We took off and started doing a series of left turns over the Rockaway peninsula (Breezy Point Climb). My friend kept on giving me these weird looks as I was predicting every turn just before it happened. Worked every time like a magic, and he thought I was listening to the music.
We were being handed off from New York Departure to Boston Center to Cleveland Center to Toronto Center and the first meal service began. My friend requested a special meal and he was the first one to be served. The flight attendant looked at me and said that since we were traveling together, she would want me to have a meal also, so that my friend is not eating by itself, which I thought was very nice of her. She asked me what I wanted to eat and I asked her what the choice was. Her reply was "The same thing I've been saying for the past 30 years, chicken or beef". Now I don't remember what I had but I definitely remember that it wasn't Lasagna (Think Leslie Nielsen's character from the Airplane).
We were being handed off from Toronto Center to Edmonton Center to Winnipeg Center. I was surprised as to why the pilot was telling Edmonton Center how much fuel we had remaining. If anyone knows why that was done, please enlighten me as there was no emergency of any kind. Another meal was served, which was some kind of a tasteless noodle soup. The flight seemed endless and we were not even half the way through. I was taking repeated naps, watched the movies on PTV and listened to the ATC on Ch. 9. We were handed off to the Anchorage Center and I was noticing that the airplanes around us were the same. There was another UA
flight, an AC
flight and two KE
flights. At one time, one of the KE
flights did not respond to ATC communications so ATC asked another KE
flight to contact him on the company radio. While flying over Alaska, another meal was served, which was the third meal on this flight. It was again a hot meal, just like the first one. Soon we were over the Pacific and ATC was quiet for hours. There was not a single sound to be heard so I just went to sleep.
When I woke up we were approaching the coast of Japan talking to the Tokyo center. I felt it was a bit funny that the controller at Tokyo Center was talking to a JL
flight in English. Both of them sounded like English was not their language of choice. That just highlighted that Great Britain was once a powerful superpower whose language became the most popular in the whole world.
We landed in NRT
and took a bus to the terminal. Once we cleared through the customs and exchanged currency, we reserved a hotel room with the very friendly woman working the counter at the airport. One word of advice to anyone traveling to Japan, make sure you have plenty of cash with you at all times (and it must be the Yen) since your western credit card is likely to be useful there and nobody is interested in your USD. We got the hotel in the vicinity of Ueno station and took the train there.
Some pictures of the neighborhood around Ueno:
Typical menu at Japanese restaurants:
I was honestly surprised to see a Mobil gas station in the town of NIkko:
Sometimes people ask me, what was the highlight of my trip to Japan. Well, that had to happen on the last day there. We were going to the airport to come back to the US and had about an hour before the train so we decided to walk around Ueno station again. My friend wasn't too fond of this idea since we've already seen everything there and it wasn't like we were going to see something new but we went for a walk anyway. As we were getting ready to cross one of the streets, all pedestrians were stopped by police and we saw a motorcade approach. A man inside one of the cars (Toyota Crown Comfort) was sitting on the back seat and was waving through an open window. My friend decided that it must be someone important and waved to him. The man in Toyota saw us and waved back to my friend. As the motorcade passed, a man standing next to us told us that the man in the car was the Emperor. (Upon returning home, I Googled Emperor Akihito and saw the same man's picture).
With that highlight of the trip, we took the train back to the airport. We were confused as to which terminal we needed in NRT
, Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 so as the luck had it, we got off on the wrong train station. We realized our mistake and took the next train to the right terminal. We went for a check in and I was randomly pulled out of the line to get my suitcase checked. They looked through it, did not find the rifle, and let me get back into the line. We got our boarding passes and decided to eat before the flight. We ate at one of the restaurants in NRT
airport and went through the immigration into departure hall. I realized that NRT
is indeed a major hub for NW
with multiple B747s and a couple of DC-10s. Then we found our plane waiting for us at the gate, which I thought was more convenient than taking a bus.
Date: April 12, 2004
Equipment: Boeing 777-222
We boarded the plane and I immediately put on the headphones tuning to Ch. 9. I overheard pilot speaking to someone over the radio about one of the passengers in the wheelchair and said that he would probably need to relay this information to JFK
operations so that they would be prepared. All of the standard announcements were made including that passengers who wish to listen to ATC communications can tune in to Ch. 9. The pilot said that for those who wish to follow our flight, the call sign will be "United 8-0-0". I thought it felt kind of weird being on the flight 800, remembering the TW
flight that went down in New York back in 1996. Nevertheless, this is the flight number UA
used on this route. We taxied to the runway and took off to the north, flying south of Russia. The ATC went silent as we were reaching our cruising altitude. I had my headphone on Ch. 9 and heard the hand-off to Anchorage Center. We took off around 3 PM
local time and a few hours later as we approached this hand-off point, the pilot came on and said "Anchorage Center, good morning, United 800 with you". I then realized that we crossed international date line and were now back in time at the beginning of this same day. I walked around the cabin, helped one Taiwanese woman fill out her customs declaration form, and took some pictures:
The service on this flight was the same as on the outbound flight, with the same 3 meals. Due to the jet stream, the scheduled flight time was only around 12 hours and 30 minutes. I watched a few movies, took a few naps, listed to ATC and before I knew it, we were nearing the Canada's southern border. The pilot contacted New York Center and I felt that this is the busiest ATC center along the entire route. As we were around Albany, I heard how stressful the only ATC controller sounded. He sounded like he was about to lose it and it sounded like he was giving out orders to the children that weren't obeying him. He was also yelling that there are two flights with the same number, AA
40 and B6
40 and we were vectored to the southeast before reaching NYC. We were vectored into a large circle approaching Sandy Hook from the south descending to 3,000 feet. We were told that we will be vectored to a landing on 13L and the pilot sounded hesitant with the choice of the runway. As we contacted Kennedy Tower, a cabin announcement was made that in the event of emergency evacuation, carry-on baggage needs to be left behind. It felt weird that they were making this announcement right before the landing. We flew the Canarsie approach and landed on Runway 13L. I could no longer hear the ATC communications as they were making cabin announcements in English and Japanese. As we taxied off the runway, we stopped and the pilot announced that because of our gate location, we cannot taxi there under our own power and we would be towed. Then an announcement was made that everyone should have their passports in hand upon exiting the airplane or risk being arrested. I felt that was a weird announcement but I complied as I didn't want to take a chance. We went through immigration, picked up our luggage and took the Airtrain to the long-term parking lot, marking the end of the journey.
If you have survived reading this so far, I sincerely would want to thank you, as it just took me about 2.5 hours to write this report. I will sincerely appreciate all of the comments and questions. Thank you for reading.
A mile of runway takes you to the world. A mile of highway takes you a mile.