Like most of my trips back home, it invariably began with staying up all night. I should have concentrated more on packing and tidying up the night before, but instead I chose to spend almost the entire evening watching TV
and talking to my housemate, which meant that it was 1am by the time I actually lifted a finger.
So, I spent the night tidying up and packing for the trip. But then I had a major scare regarding my plans – my rather insane plan, of LHR
and then LHR
all in the same day, basically relied on both European segments being more or less on time. Being used to the intercontinental flights that are almost invariably on time, it never occurred to me that European flights might be any different… that is, until I checked the Flightstats website. There, I found some very disconcerting information such as the average delay for that flight (45mins – which sounds not too bad, until you realise my connection in ARN
was only 1h15m) and also the flight back, which wasn’t any better. Then it dawned upon me that if the worst case scenario should happen, I could potentially end up missing my LHR
flight, which would be just too disastrous for words.
After all this, my previously relaxed and anticipating outlook for the day changed to one of anxiety with regards to the connection problems. I headed on time to Heathrow on the bus, which took only slightly longer than usual considering that I was travelling on a Monday during peak hours. Having not slept a single hour during the night, I zonked out for the first hour of the 1h40m journey then spent the next 40 minutes still worrying about the connections – it started feeling less and less like a good idea every time I thought about the worst case scenario. And I had no travel insurance. Bummer.
SK526 LHR ARN STD 1035 STA 1405
MD-80, Seat 21A
It was roughly 8:30am when I reached the SAS check-in desks, after depositing my bag at the left luggage for the day to collect when I came back to LHR
to check-in for my NRT
flight. Then I headed to the SAS check-in desks where, as I only had hand luggage, I just keyed in my PNR into the self check-in machine spat out a boarding pass for my pre-assigned seat, 21A. The boarding pass was strange as it had no perforation for the gate agent to rip the larger part – instead, it was just one large piece of cardboard and had a barcode, which I presumed will be scanned to register the passenger at the gate.
Once I cleared the security, I tried to go to the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge based on my later LHR
flight in First Class, but the agent was quite adamant that I needed a boarding pass, not just a PNR printout with the e-ticket numbers. Off I went to the ANA transfer desks, where apparently they will only open around 4:30pm – useless. So obviously the Silver Kris lounge was going to be out of bounds, but what about the SAS London Lounge? After spending 10 minutes trying to explain just what I’m doing today (she really looked confused… as would I, if anyone else was trying to explain such a crazy routing) she eventually gave up trying to make sense of it, and just let me in anyway. Thank goodness, because I was beginning to get really sweaty and was quite frankly desperate for a shower. The shower was decent enough, and the hot water was reliable, and I emerged 30 minutes later in a considerably better state than before. The rest of the time in the lounge was spent just using the internet and having a glass of orange juice – standard stuff really.
Fairly soon, it was time to board the SAS flight to Stockholm. I went to the gate, which was quite close to the London Lounge, where they hadn’t started boarding the flight, and the holding pen was pretty full up. Within 10 minutes they started boarding the flight, with no reference to priority boarding so everyone just stood up at once to board and I was one of the first to find my way down the corridor towards the MD
-80 aircraft. I’ve flown it before (also on SAS) but overall I was quite surprised at the age of the aircraft, which was visibly quite old. Not quite “held together by duct-tape” old, but you just feel that it has been around for a while.
I chose 21A based on the description on the SAS internet check-in website as being “emergency exit – extra legroom” and I was not disappointed. It must have been a good 36-37” of legroom and I was glad to be able to stretch out and essentially fall asleep for the entire flight until 20 minute before landing, when I was awake enough to realise that – being in Economy Class – I was expected to buy orange juice or coffee, and instead quietly observed the landing into Stockholm.
The legroom in Row 21 - not bad!
“Nobody understands me!”
We landed uneventfully into Stockholm and I made my way into the terminal – the terminal had a very old and depressing feel to it (not at all helped by the fact that it was close to being a ghost-town), and just felt much less “Scandinavian” than, say, CPH
I walked towards the transfer counters where there was no-one available, so I naturally think to myself, “I have a ticket that leaves here, I need a boarding pass, so I should just go to the landside check-in counters and come back in”. What a bad choice this turned out to be.
The passport control officer was completely baffled by my itinerary (LHR
, a 1-hour stop, then ARN
, then LHR
the same day) and seemed worryingly close to refusing me entry to Sweden. I did my best to explain, but he just couldn’t seem to understand even after 15 minutes, during which time I was yet again lamenting my own ambitious plan of taking three flights in a day. He finally called his supervisor, who came around and pulled me to one side. The supervisor was far more switched on, and after I explained to him the craziness of ARN
being cheaper than LHR
, he finally said “Well, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why we shouldn’t let you in!” and told the original officer to stamp my passport. This was by far the most grief I have ever gotten at a passport control before (what exactly did they expect me to be doing anyway? Illegally enter a country that I don’t need a visa for??). I was actually pretty scared during the delay as to what could happen. Anyway, phew.
After that particular drama, I went to the landside check-in desks which was quite hectic, used a self check-in machine which spat out my boarding pass back to LHR
, and I made my way through the Fast Track security into the airside section. I then made another mistake of going through passport control back into the International pier too soon, since there was no lounge in that pier and I had over an hour to kill. The ARN
experience was fast beginning to be pretty lousy (and I wasn’t going through the passport controls yet again just to use a lounge!) so I did a bit of typing in a cafe and waited for my flight to board. 20 minutes before STD, the boarding was called (there was priority boarding this time) and I boarded the same aircraft that I arrived into ARN
(I’ve never done this before!) although the crew were different.
SK527 ARN LHR STD 1520 STA 1700
MD-80, Seat 1F
Once onboard, it was a fairly uneventful flight again. I was in Business Class this time, and I chose seat 1F on the online check-in earlier that morning as it said “extra legroom” although it wasn’t quite true for 1F - 1D did indeed have good legroom since the galley partition finished before the seat. At least I had the window to keep me entertained.
The flight left on time again (I must have been really lucky, two European flights both on time!) and it was very strange to feel the take-off acceleration without the accompanying noise as the engines are at the back of the aircraft. Although I was still a little tired from lack of sleep on the previous night, I was awake this time so I decided to partake in the meal service.
The meal was a beef steak (no menu, and no choices) which was edible, but not much more. The whole experience, in fact, was very similar to the food – acceptable, but not much more. I suppose the nature of intra-European travel really is a flying bus these days, so even Business Class passengers should lower their expectations I guess. Thank god I had a more exciting flight experience to look forward to!
Service on SAS seemed pretty lacklustre – they were by no means bad, but it was apparent that it really was nothing more than a job for them, with not much of a service mindedness to speak of either. They seemed to do what the procedure manual told them to do, and nothing more. Perhaps I’m being more critical in hindsight after experiencing NH
After doing one round of the holding pattern, the aircraft landed into Heathrow on time yet again. Now I could almost relax, knowing that I would be able to make it to the next flight on time. It felt as though I had been worrying about nothing, but I’m sure the more experienced European travellers will tell me that I had a very lucky escape – I do realise it could have gone all so, so horribly wrong…
A little pink slip saves my life
After getting off the SK527 at one of the farthest gates possible (30-something, I think), I briskly walked to the arrivals hall. Yes, the SK
flight back to LHR
arrived miraculously on time, but I also had to go through immigration, retrieve my luggage from the Left Luggage, then go to the NH
check-in to check in my bag and get my boarding pass. A lot to do in just over 2 hours.
So imagine my dismay and relief (it was a very odd feeling) when I reach the passport control hall, and discover the place absolutely packed to the brim full of people – it was as though 4 widebodies, containing only non-EU citizens, had arrived all at the same time. It was obvious that I would miss my NH
flight if I actually stayed in the queue for that entire period. However, I was lucky yet again because I had kept a spare SQ
Fast Track pink slip in my passport holder, which was duly accepted by the entrance dragon and I was on my way to Fast Track, not mass-asylum-extravaganza of the main queues. There was literally 1 other person in Fast Track so I was done with the passport control in 3 minutes, not 2 hours. I don’t know what I would have done if I was forced to wait in that main queue and ended up missing the flight – but jumping off a bridge would an accurate description of my sentiment! On BMI
, no-show reward tickets are forfeited and cannot be changed once the journey begins. I shuddered just thinking about what could have happened.
I proceeded to the ANA check-in counters, where I was checked in efficiently but somewhat lacking in warmth. No matter – at least she didn’t give me any unnecessary hassle. Once I had my very plain looking boarding pass in hand (I think Star Alliance must be striving towards an entirely blank white BP
stock with a very small logo of each airline in a corner. I much prefer the individual branding because it looks so much better! Boarding pass in hand, it was then a matter of security (which was pretty easy) and lounge.
NH202 LHR NRT STD 1935 STA 1440+1
B777-300ER, Seat 1A
Originally, I had booked a C-class seat on this flight – firstly, because there was no availability in F, but secondly, it seemed that food and service levels etc should really be equivalent to many other airlines in F. Although I had the miles and was willing to pay the cash portion for a F ticket, I had settled on using a C-class seat on this flight.
Then, 4 days before the flight, I suddenly found 1 seat available in F! I felt like I had struck jackpot. I very narrowly missed out on an equipment change to an A380 in SQ
Suites for my return trip, but in fact I was more excited about getting NH
in F than I would really have been if I managed to get the Suites. Both products are of course amazing products, but from previous experience and other reports I knew that ANA was really at the top of their game.
After what I termed “best £65 I have ever spent” on upgrading the flights to First Class through BMI
, I found that 3 out of the 4 available window seats on this flight were already occupied, and I knew that the only remaining window seat – 1A – was blocked for VIP/CIP and only released at departure. As much as I was elated to get a seat on NH
F, I also really wanted a window seat. So, I had already pestered the ANA reservations centre several times to ask them to send messages to the airport to give me 1A on the day of departure, then called up in the morning of the departure for good measure. I think they must have had a long comments trail on my PNR, since the agent that I spoke to last commented “I will tell our staff at Heathrow that you really, really want a window seat”
It turned out in the end that I got what I wanted – the very plain looking BP
showed 1A. As for ANA’s particularly bad choice of lounges at LHR
’s lounges before, and now they’re sending even F-class passengers to the AA
Admiral’s Club!), it was easily rectified by ignoring the lounge invitation and instead, off I went to the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge.
Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge - boring...
I was unceremoniously guided to use the First Class section. I had only used the Business Class section quite a long time ago, so I had forgotten what it was like – well, it turns out there was a good reason why I couldn’t remember. Even in the First Class section it was just a very ordinary collection of chairs, some food in the fridge and on the self-serve counters and a menu where you could order for hot food, but nothing really appealed. Perhaps I knew I should save space for the immense amounts of food that will no doubt be consumed on this flight. I checked emails and so on until roughly 7:10pm, when I made my way to Gate 17.
Boarding, first impressions, and some thoughts about the seat and cabin
The aircraft seemed to have more or less finished boarding by the time I had boarded, save for the usual dribble of latecomers (I wasn’t late, mind you!) and the holding pen was clear when I made my way down the bridge to the 1L door. When I entered the cabin – oh, that wonderful feeling of knowing you’re going to have a fantastic flight – I was pleasantly surprised by the relatively airy and spacious feeling of the colour scheme and design of the suites, especially compared to Singapore Airlines B777-300ER. The grey plastic and blue seats do look much more modern and light compared to the leather and wood-clad SQ
version, although neither can exactly called shabby. The ANA First Class suite design was much curvier and “organic”-feeling compared to SQ
Three more notable advantages of the ANA F suite over the SQ
77W seat: Firstly, they sensibly installed overhead lockers so you were able to preserve your legroom by putting the carry-on up in the lockers. Secondly, although the seat eventually turned into a very wide bed, the armrests were big and raised during non-bed positions so that it felt less like a vast expanse of space and more comfortable for general relaxing. Finally, the seat didn’t flip forward to be turned into a bed – rather, it was the more conventional recliner that reclined into bed. So you could have a much more reclined position than the SQ
seat which stopped reclining quite early. On both seats, however, the footrest did not extend far enough so I couldn’t use it at all – you really need to be less than 5’9” to actually use the footrest, it seems.
The screen was 15 inches and of course not as strikingly large as the SQ
’s 23-inch monster. However, the size was in proportion to the viewing distance and it didn’t feel too small. As many have commented, the AVOD selection was passable at best, especially after one has seen the way forward that is SQ
’s Panasonic eX2 on their A380 and the B777-300ER. I didn’t actually watch any movies or TV
programming (save for the beginning of The Bucket List which I will continue watching at home) and instead entertained myself mostly with eating. Therefore, the Sky Map was the programming of choice for most of the flight.
Once I had settled into my seat, I had a look around the cabin to see which seats were going to be filled. As predicted, all 4 window seats were filled, and also two more passengers boarded after me to sit in 1D and 1F. Having taken advice from FTers, I would have chosen row 2 if I had to sit in the middle (well, row 2 in general but 1A was the only window available) so it was interesting to see that 2D
and 2F remained empty. So this was not quite a full flight but pretty busy. Everyone else had changed into the hotly-debated-on-FT pyjamas, but I decided to wait until later – it resembled Korean prison-wear a little too much so I wasn’t quite so sure on the looks, although obviously the key point is comfort and no doubt it was very comfortable.
Some seat and cabin photos
Seat in Relax preset - very comfy!
Seat in bed-mode. Couldn't take a better picture since the cabin was completely dark...
Power connector and headphone socket. The little leather pocket on the right is for the laptop AC
adapter... How thoughtful!
IFE control panel (full controller under the flap) and seat controls. Pretty extensive, including particularly comprehensive lumbar adjustments.
The spacious and sturdy table (which apparently takes into account the angle of normal flight)
The IFE screen and the foot well
View of Seat 2D
There was lots of space between the seat and the window, which made it tricky to take outside photographs from my seat...
Something wrong with the "5-minute Chinese Lesson"!
Me, in my hard-fought window seat!
Flying over Sweden for the third time today...