October 2008, the Hong Kong trade fair takes place in the Wan Chai Exhibition Center, hundreds of vendors from all over Asia come to peddle their wares to prospective buyers, thousands of useless and not so useless trinkets and items showing all the possible incarnations of plastic, fabric and wood. Marco Polo surely would have had a ball.
Wanting to attend this mercantile marvel and visit some friends in HK
, me and a friend decided to cross the Pacific. As scavengers (aka, non-revs), our options were not easy. After days of careful load monitoring, our choices were narrowed down to UA
, and from there with NH
As crossing the Pacific is much more pleasant in the front cabins, our original intention was to fly on the UA LAX
After a lengthy queue at the UA
lobby for a document check and dealing with a grumpy check in agent who insisted I needed a visa to transit through Japan (fate has bestowed upon me a Mexican passport), we were ready to head to the gate. Unfortunately, a friend who was kind enough to monitor the flight, informed us that there were several people on the upgrade list and more nrsa's ahead of us in line for first class, which made a middle seat in Y a terrifyingly real possibility.
Given the choice of flying NH
economy or UA
economy, the choice was clear, schlepp your bags to TBIT and fly ANA !!
12:55 - 16:20+1
Seats: 37F, G (Y Class)
We arrived at the NH
counter at 11:55 and found it to be almost deserted given that departure time was only an hour away, we were checked in by a very nice young lady who after a few minutes of tinkering and discussing with a co-worker if I needed a visa or not, issued our standby passes. As the flight seemed to be a bit full we were not given seat assignments as tends to be usual with NH
, but I was happy enough that we were on our way.
My cheeryness was promptly replaced by horror as I witnessed the massive security line which slithered all the way to the check in lobby, how would we ever get to the gate in time?? The scene was reminiscent of soup kitchen during the great depression. But then a miracle happened, a tiny filipino lady in a dark suit and an ANA sign spotted our boarding passes and came towards us, when she inspected our passes she paused for a second "Oh.. standby passengers" , for sure I thought we would be left to fend for ourselves in the ghastly queue, but to my amazement, she just shrugged and motioned us to follow her. She shamelessly fought her way through the masses of humanity and delivered us to the TSA
priority lane, after thanking her profusely, we promptly stripped and readied ourselves for the compulsory inspection which fortuntely was painless enough.
Soon we were on our way to the boarding gate, wandering through the maze like cavern that is TBIT where much renovation is taking place. I am curious to see the end result, but for now, the decor consists of charming hallways of polished cement, exposed air conditioning ducts and loose wires, you can tell they were aiming for a Centre Georges Pompidou sort of vibe and they are certainly succeeding in their own industrial chic sort of way.
Once in the boarding areas though, TBIT isn't quite as monstrous, large windows give a very bright and airy feel as well as great views of the tarmac, seating areas also seem spacious enough. While TBIT(hip people pronounce it like Tibit!) is no Incheon, it was certainly better than the C/D concourse at Dulles which looks like the love child between the purgatory and a 1970s government office, sprinkled with a dash of mental asylum. TBIT was abuzz with the midday departures to Asia, CX
all had their big jets parked at the time, and I was lucky enough to catch a spiffy looking Asiana crew heading over to their gate, Asiana girls are clad in impeccably tailored suits and they all wear a charming hat that is reminiscent of a goldfish cracker or an upside down skillet with a short handle.
Once at our gate things seemed to be orderly enough, with an army of ANA employees readying up everything for departure, immediately after arriving, we bit the bullet and ventured to ask the gate agent if she had called any standby's yet. Used to much grumpier agents, we were aprehensive about approaching, but thankfully our fears proved to be unfounded, as the agent promptly took our standby passes and kindly replaced them with 37F and G, thanking us for our patience. What a charmer !
With a few minutes before boarding I snapped some shots of our sexy 777, NH
's colors may be old but I think they look great. I still find it surprising though that ANA manages to fit most of their economy class cabin in the rearmost cabin.
Soon enough, boarding started precisely at 12:25, being scheduled at only 30 minutes, I wondered if it would be possible to board an almost full 777-300 in such a short time? Surely it's not enough time for people to stash away their stuff and find their seats ! Especially without any fancy boarding zones or the likes. Despite my doubts though, boarding proceeded in an orderly fashion.
Each and every passenger was properly greeted by the ground staff when handing over their boarding pass, no rushing was to be seen, ANA staff were even careful to respectfully return each boarding stub with both hands and a smile. Uncanny !
The parade of smiles and greetings continued on board the airplane, all of the crew members on the flight were impeccably dressed and no frown was to be seen. This made the long trek to the back of the bus pleasant enough, as I nostalgically passed by and gazed at the Club ANA seats, past the Premium Economy section, past most of the Economy Class section until reaching our seats, the last row of the centre section.
Seat pitch seemed to be around 31-32 inches, tight but not unbearably so, seats were comfy enough and the cabin seemed quite clean and new. Each seat had a blanket and a schnazzy looking orange pillow.
Much to my surprise, boarding seemed to be complete with time to spare before departure, I wonder how they manage? Previously I have witnessed ANA board fully loaded A320s in 20 minutes, also with time to spare, quite impressive.
For anyone used to flying on North American carriers, it is quite surprising to witness that during boarding, All Nippon FA
's are quite active not only greeting passengers and distributing newspapers, but also actively partaking in luggage storage, I would expect such a thing from hulky Lufthansa FA
's, but tiny ANA girls?? All of this helps make boarding a much more pleasant experience as the watchful crew is always making sure that things go smoothly.
Soon enough we were on our way, flight time for today was a rather long 11 hours and 30 minutes due to nasty headwinds. I was rather dreading such a long flight being stuck in the back of the bus, however, attentive service would make this a memorable flight.
Barely a few minutes after takeoff, the seatbelt sign was turned off and people were free of their seatly confines. Cabin crew sprung into action and distributed hot towels, followed by a beverage and snack service.
The beverage cart is full of wonderful goodies, the usual juices and iced green tea, along with baskets full with wine (sparkling, red and white), sake and other spirits. I settled with some scotch which as usual with ANA, was generously served as a double by the charming FA
, whoopeee !!
Warm beverages were also distributed, coffee, as well as english and hot green tea. I love the green tea served by ANA, fresh and leafy in a healthy shade of bright radioactive green, one can just feel the antioxidant goodness...
The snackpack is tasty enough, consisting of spicy and puffy snacks plus peas and shrimp crispies, not being a fan of seafood I could do without the shrimpy puffs..
Soon the meal service began, the choices were Chicken Katsu or German Style Eel, being in the last row made me quite fearful that I would be stuck with the seafood option, I watched as the chicken meals were flying off the cart, one after the other, perhaps the eel wouldn't be that bad? Thankfully I did not have to find out, as I was served one of the last Chicken Cutlets, my friend however, was not as lucky and was offered only the Eel, after stating that he was allergic to eel, the FA
serving his side was visibly concerned, she promised to return, and return she did ! She managed to snatch a chicken meal from god knows where. It was very nice to see the crew members genuinely concerned and going the extra mile to make passengers happy.
The meal was pretty decent for a Y class meal, I dare say it was better than some premium class meals I've had on other airlines, quantities were small but appropriate, the one tray service consisted of salmon and salad, the main course, udon noodles with sauce, dessert and a bottle of water. I was quite satisfied after finishing my meal.
During the meal service FA
's were constantly walking down the aisle offering tea and coffee refills.
After the trays were cleared we were offered small cups of Haagen Dazs Vanilla ice cream, I was full but who can say no to some iced goodness offered with a smile??
Drinking so many liquids soon required a trip to the lavatory, and my, what a lavatory !! The lavatory in the back galley is absolutely huge, one can probably fit 6-7 people in there (as long as they are stacked like pringles), I was tempted to throw a cartwheel or two but decided against it given I was heavy from hoovering so much food.
By this time an hour and a half had passed and we were cruising up the coast of the US headed to Alaska, due to the headwinds we were taking a northern course across the pacific. The next few hours were spent tinkering with the IFE, dozing off and listening to music. ANA's Skymaster II
has a decent amount of on demand movies, japanese tourism documentaries and games. The true stars however were a couple of specials on ANA, including a behind the scenes look at their catering department.
During this time the FAs were constantly roaming the cabin with water, coffee and tea. Any special requests were promptly attended to in a friendly manner. I asked for a couple of Kirin's and they were always brought with a big smile and packs of snacks. I know that alcohol on airplanes makes you dehydrated, but there's nothing quite like a mile high buzz to make time fly by faster, especially when you're stuck in steerage.
It is interesting to note that each time that the 777 ascended a few thousand feet during cruise it was quite obvious sitting in the back of the bus, the noise of the engines spooling up caused quite a loud roar for the couple of minutes until the plane reached it's new altitude. I gotta admit I loved feeling the power of those engines
During mid flight we saw an FA
casually prancing down the aisle with a mysterious basket. Sensing our curious eyes upon her, she stopped and offered us a snack. Her basket was full of fruit, potato chips and exotic japanese snacks. We helped ourselves to a bit of everything as by then we could do with a few nibbles, although there was no formal midflight snack, the basket items were more than enough to quench most midflight munchies.
After overflying Alaska and the international date line, headwinds started getting even stronger, at one point we were slugging along at barely 360 miles an hour, damned headwinds !!
Thankfully there were enough games and documentaries to keep ones self entertained during the long hours. It was odd to see just how many of these travel documentaries focused on food, food everywhere !! I couldn't help getting hungry again. By now we were 90 minutes from arrival and the cabin crew were back in the aisles with hot towels and carts full of food and baskets of wine bottles.
Our pre-arrival snack was cheese stuffed tortellini with spinach, always weary of airplane pasta, I was surprised that the pasta was actually pretty darn good, it certainly hit the spot as it wasn't too heavy yet it was filling enough.
During the meal service the crewmembers were constantly walking by with green tea, black tea and coffee.
Soon enough the trays were being cleared and we were beggining our descent into Tokyo-Narita. already some 30 minutes delayed because of the headwinds. As pampered as one may be, after 11 hours, one starts to get pretty darn restless. I was hoping for a quick straight in approach to Narita, however that was not the case as we ended up in a long holding pattern for a while before coming in for a landing on runway 34L with daylight coming to an end.
Landing was smooth enough and after a few minutes we were parked at the gate at Narita. Eleven and a Half hours had passed since takeoff at Los Angeles, I was quite tired yet there was still a further 4 hour flight ahead to Hong Kong.
That shall be the object of part II
though as I have rambled on enough with this flight.
The verdict on ANA 005? I'm not much for fancy schmancy grading schemes, they are good but just not my style. So I shall simply say that ANA was a pleasure to fly. A seat, is a seat, is a seat, at the end of the day what makes you feel comfortable and welcome is the service provided by the crewmembers and supporting staff. The service provided by ANA was impeccable and wonderfully consistent, starting from check-in, to the lady that helped us go through security, boarding staff and cabin crew, everybody was proper, polite and eager to serve, one never felt as a nuisance or a burden upon anybody, it was particularly impressive to see crewmembers so attentive to any requests and their proactive attitude, this is something that one simply does not reliably see on US carriers on any class of service. Seating may be a bit tight, but otherwise, there is little to complain about the Y class service on ANA.
Thanks for reading up to this point and stay tuned for part two from NRT
and transit at Narita.
[Edited 2008-11-27 22:33:45]