This is not really a fresh one, but I thought it could be worth reading since it's a witness of a fantastic airline which is on the edge of bankruptcy.
Milano%u2013Malpensa (MXP) T1 %u2013 Tokyo%u2013Narita (NRT) T2
2nd-3rd October 2009
JL 418 (Japan Airlines)
Departure: 9:45 PM Fri Oct 2nd, 2009 (scheduled); 9:55 PM (actual)
Arrival: 4:35 PM Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 (scheduled); 4:16 PM (actual)
Boeing 747-446 JA8921
Seat: 73B (upper deck)
So, my first intercontinental flight and... what a good start! Flying with such an iconic airplane, on the world-famous upper deck, on my very first trip outside Europe: not a bad start, isn't it?
My room mate and I drove to MXP on a bright and fresh early October evening, literally %u201Ctasting%u201D the fact of being on holiday when anyone else we knew was struggling with the opening lessons at university. As we parked the car at the P3, the cheapest lot (but yet a legalized robbery), we heard a massive, distant thunder: a Smurfs-blue Jumbo was climbing up through the evening skies: must have been Korean's flight bound for FCO and ICN.
The departure lounge at MXP was crowded but not packed, so it was easy to walk its entire length to reach JL's check-in counters. There was no queue at all (we were, as we knew later on, almost the last ones despite being 1h30 early), just some Japanese kids running close-by, noisy as just Italians' progeny could possibly be. Security checks were fast either, despite the long queues of passengers bound for GRU, DXB and DOH above all. Luckily though, over almost every %u201Cgate%u201D was shining a welcoming green light.
All intercontinental flights leaving Malpensa start from %u201CB%u201D area, that is Sat. 2, and ours made no difference, so we went left to get our passport another round of checks. The police officers who were in charge of our security seemed pretty sleepy or bored: the one I handed my document to was even looking annoyed since I was distracting him from his PC screen (after the controls I had a quick glance at what he was looking and, believe it or not, I'm damn sure he was on Facebook!)
Satellite 1 was quite messy, after a long day of departures; bars and shops (not many, to be brutally honest) were closing one after the other, but we managed to grab a couple of pint of beer to keep us hydrated while waiting for the first service on board. As we sat down at a table which was still showing the remnants left by the previous customers (I hate this lack of education, why don't they clean it up? It's a self-service after all!) people started to queue up for the TAM flight to Sao Paolo, or at least they've been trying to, forming a sort of wild bunch in front of the gate.
Luckily we couldn't book a place on AZ's 772
As a bright contrast, Japanese were already forming two perfect rows, with Italians getting in their same mood, all about an hour before the esteemed opening time.
Time ran fast, and soon we heard the announcement of our gate being opened. We drank our last sips of beer and, then, we marched in the 747. Flight Assistants greeted us with an Italian %u201CBuongiorno%u201D, loads of smiles and great kindness, showing us our way upstairs. While climbing the steep steps I managed to get a glance of the famous panel showing the names of captain, flight officer and chief cabin assistant. Many wouldn't notice it at all, but I appreciated it: it's nice to know something about the people you're committing your life to, I think.
JAL used, at least during last Summer season, to send to MXP a two-classes 747, with Y on the upper deck in a pretty dense 3-3 configuration. We were slightly concerned about the pitch, since we're both over 180 cm high and we feared twelve hours of agony: we were wrong, thankfully; mind you, Kobe Bryant would disagree, but I fitted in perfectly, space was just enough. Seats themselves were quite old-fashioned, and the PTV screen was scarcely bigger than an Iphone's one, but I didn't really care. It was fine, period.
I was sitting in the middle, with my friend at the window, and a Japanese lady on the aisle of row 73 (and, by chance, I met a vising professor of my University seating in front row with his partner!); load factor was 100% in coach, on both decks. I have no clue on the C performance, since curtains were closed during all flight, but it must have been quite a good one, with the few empty seats being taken by passengers of the Alitalia flight to NRT which, instead of leaving MXP at noon, was scheduled for departure at 2:00 AM!
We left the terminal ten minutes late on schedule, taxing towards 35L if I remember well. A few moments after we aligned at its beginning, the pilot gave full power to the 4 CF6, and we started running and...off we go! Noise was only a distant buzz, and the thrust was robust, but not brutal. A gentle giant indeed.
The planned route would have taken take us over Austria, Slovakia, bits of Poland and Ukraine, Belarus, Russia (north of Moscow if I remember well), over the Urals and then all across Siberia, with a few hop over the Sea of Japan and, as soon as we reached cruising altitude, three F.A.s - a Japanese woman, a German girl and a young male whose accent seemed British %u2013 started serving towels so hot I felt they have been heated by exposing them to the engines' exhausts, as well as cooler drinks. I wanted to fall asleep fast, and then I asked for some white wine, and I got a Chilean pinot. Many Italians still are quite doubtful about wines produced outside Europe, and in most cases I'd share they view but, Chile is trustworthy and that Pinot made no difference.
We were storming over the old Warsaw treaty bloc as dinner was served. Nothing exceptional, I went for the Japanese udon with stew, and we both used chopsticks, with delight from our flight mate, a gentle Japanese teacher living in Milan. She was really a nice person, and she gave us some useful tips about what to see in Kyoto and Nara.
Soon after the assistants collected the mostly empty trays, and many prepared for a brief sleep. I reclined a little bit my seat (not too much since I hate those who recline theirs at full angle regardless of who's sitting behind) and gave the IFE a try, while sipping another white wine.
The 744 was provided with the Magic I IFE, quite an outdated one since JAL, on its most modern 77Ws, mounts the mark IV version. Anyway, it was a good way of killing time, with music channels, basic games and films; the latter were appalling: Pelham 123, the second movie from Dan Brown's bestsellers, and one of the most senseless films since Waterworld, Transformers II. I kept Pelham for the return leg, and sticked on Tom Hanks and his rush from a Roman church to another, until I finally fell asleep.
Japan at last!
I woke up several hours later, still with headphones on my ears, resounding the echoes of shots and killed priests, as the IFE was showing Hanks for the fourth time running, probably. A quick look at the airshow informed me we were somewhere over Siberia, somewhere far north of Novosibirsk. My mate was still enjoying Morpheus' embrace, while the Japanese lady wasn't there, and then I decided to go downstairs to see what's what.
The whole cabin, fitted in a dense 3-4-3 configuration, was full of sleepy Japanese, quite a scary sight I must admit, so I went upstairs again and slept until we were over Khabarovsk, just a couple of hours from Tokyo. Breakfast was served, and F.A.s gave us the immigration modules to fill; done this, they kept on passing on and on to ensure everyone had his own cup full of tea, coffee or Japanese tea. I must repeat myself, really a 4-star service. I'll be badly missing them, if they'll really go bust.
ANA tails everywhere
Anyway, to make story short, we touched down 10 minutes early, and taxied around for what it seemed an eternity, among rows of ANA tails. Eventually we reached a parking place close to an Air New Zealand 772ER, and disembark could finally start.
Wavin' goodbye to the Gentle giant...
We were at T2's dependence, that meaning we had to hop on the automatic train to reach the main building: given it was us and the Kiwis, 500 people, it took ages to get on that bloody train and to cover the 400 meters which separated us from the main building. Honestly, I don't get all this %u201Ctechnological showing-off%u201D: a cheaper treadmills would do the job faster, I think.
Immigration was a breeze, and soon we were at the carousel to pick up our bags (carefully warned by some sings, put on bags, walls and on two staff members' hand, not to take another's one belongings by mistake). Moments after, we had our first meeting with Tokyo's transit system.
Two weeks after, it was time to leave Kyoto for Narita and then, Malpensa. Some days before we stormed southwards on a Shinkansen Nozomi N700 like the one below, but the return leg would have been made by air, from Osaka Kansai Airport.
N700 Shinkansen at Tokyo Central Station.
to be continued in another post..