Note: I will split this report in 2 parts for your reading comfort This part contains the first 2 of 5 flights taken on that trip.
About half a year ago, the Italian airline that goes by the name of Alitalia shot itself in her own foot by allowing some of us a.netters - and the public in general - to book a fuel dump fare to one of the carrier’s longhaul destinations, namely Tokyo NRT. The deal spread quickly over the internet and before Alitalia and I even knew, I was the proud owner of a MXP-NRT-FCO-BRI ticket, price € 68 all incl. A real steal.
Of course I wasn’t the only one Fellow a.netters FlyingFinn76, gabrielchew, airbuseric, tobbry, LXM83 and I ‘accidentally’ booked this flight combo for the same weekend somewhere in Jan. Timings were as follows:
MXP-NRT 14:35-10:40(+1) on Fri,
NRT-FCO 14:10-19:00 on Sat (next day!),
FCO-BRI 21:30-22:35 on the same Sat
So theoretically we would have a layover in NRT for 3h30, enough for some (airport) sightseeing, a bite to eat and possibly a lounge visit.
Of course there was still the challenge to find suitable connection flights. As I didn’t fancy any long winded itineraries in and out of Italy and added to the fact that I wanted to be home on Sun before noon, I decided to drop the FCO-BRI segment and fill in the rest of the flights with an SN BRU-MXP on Fri and a LX FCO-ZRH-BRU on Sun, total cost about € 130. Added to that I booked the horribly overpriced FCO Hilton to allow myself to crash after the 24h longhaul endeavour. It seems convenience comes at a price...
So, to sum it up
BRU-MXP on Brussels Airlines RJ100
MXP-NRT on Alitalia B777-200ER
NRT-FCO on Alitalia B777-200ER
FCO-ZRH on Swiss A319
ZRH-BRU on Swiss RJ100
And on a map (thanks to the excellent www.gcmap.com, copyright Karl L Schwartz):
On a sidenote, I afterwards applied for an upgrade to b.flex via the ‘Plusgrade’ system that SN uses. It is somekind of an auction where you basically choose an amount you are willing to pay for an upgrade to another travel class. The likelihood that your offer might be accepted is shown through the use of colours, ranging from red to green and all in between. This was a chance for me to be able to sample the b.flex cabin service without paying the original high price.
As luck may have it, my offer got accepted and I was looking forward to start this trip ‘in style’ on my home carrier.
Brussels Airport - BRU
I catch the 7:21 direct train from where I live to the airport. As the ride takes only 25 mins nowadays, I arrive at BRU with plenty of time on my hands. One of the perks of b.flex is that you are allowed to use the ‘fast lane’ through security. The lines for the ‘normal security’ are equally short but I since I paid for this benefit, I of course use it:
A general feeling of morning tranquility reigns in the terminal:
My gate is not yet displayed so I have my stroll, a chocolate bread and a cup of tea. The WAW flight this morning shows some nice equipment. It’s no B787 but nevertheless an interesting machine:
My plane arrives inbound from BMA and is serviced well. OO-DWB is a new addition to the log as well so definitely a good start here:
Gate A46 this morning:
As boarding is called, the ground agent first invites status holders, b.business and b.flex passengers to board first. A general scrum follows and the agent has a hard time explaining the non-English speaking Italians that they are not allowed to go there yet. They are sent back quite firmly. To be honest, she was borderline rude here but I do appreciate the effort that is made to enforce priority boarding (especially since I’m in that group today, yay!).
BRU to MXP
BAE Systems Avro RJ100 (RJ1H) OO-DWB
Photo © Jens Breuer
I settle down in 3F, the b.flex cabin is pretty empty - as expected. b.light is more full - as expected but not as full as expected (am I repeating myself here?). Not good business on this Friday morning for SN but I don’t care. As long as the views and the food are good, thou shall not complain!
This view is rather new to me (I’m usually in the back of the bus):
The legroom is noticeable better up front. Complimentary newspapers are handed out, another perk of this upgrade thing so of course I take one. The Belgian prime minister Di Rupo is on the front page featuring an article on the dotations to the Belgian Royals:
We push back and make a beeline for 25R, which is quite a taxi to the other end of the airport.
2 of SN’s leased Dash8’s. I need to get on one of those asap.
Leaving the parking spot:
SN’s and Jet’s:
And the usual other interesting stuff at apron positions by the B terminal:
This is the old satellite terminal. I remember myself leaving here on Austrian Airlines to VIE and onwards to KUL in 2000. Ahhh, good times! Nowadays this is an office building and once it was destined to be a low cost terminal but these intentions are put to rest.
An SN 330 being serviced in front of the maintenance hangar:
We are 2nd in line for takeoff so it’s not long before we lift off into the murky Brussels skies:
As luck may have it, the upper side of the clouds is always a better place to be!
The cabin crew is 2 people, one of each sex. The male one distributes the snacks and drinks for the front part of the cabin. We get a hot Monty’s wrap filled with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (at 10h30 in the morning and for drinks I go for tea with lemon and a glass of mineral water. As said many times before: it hits the spot nicely
A new month brings a new edition of the magazine:
But the cabin views stay more or less the same:
And I wouldn’t dare to put my bag in there:
The skies are overcast with an occasional hole in them:
Some research learns that ‘Pacific Scientific’ actually is a brand of fire extinguishers:
With cloudy skies nearly all of the way, I fear I might not be able to feast my eyes on the Alps but luckily the clouds make way for some decent enough views of those Alps. We must be nearing Milan Malpensa now:
After the Alps comes the ‘Lago Maggiore’:
Unfortunately the views into the valley don’t predict anything good. Low clouds hang around and the announcement of ‘landing in 15 minutes in a foggy MXP’ doesn’t predict anything good. And I deliberately chose a seat on the right hand side in anticipation for a view on MXP
At this point, the gear is already out and we’re still above the cloud base. Gives you an idea of how low we are at this moment:
And indeed, pea soup al around:
My guess is we land on 35L but I’m not too sure with this fog. We taxi around some...
... and make a halt at a remote parking spot:
Disembarkation is swift with this light load and a bus takes us to the terminal.
Meanwhile I get a text message of fellow user FlyingFinn76 informing me of their whereabouts in the terminal. I’m the last of the pack to arrive at MXP prior to the grand transcontinental voyage to NRT.
Milan Malpensa Airport - MXP
A short walk later I meet up with my fellow travel partners in the checkin hall. Everyone has performed OLCI and has handluggage only so there’s no need to stand in line. We decide for a visit to the ‘Clementi Lounge’ to get ourselves fed and hydrated for the long flight.
The views from the lounge are rather limited:
As I have no lounge access I’m kindly guested in by one of my companions (thanks again!). It takes forever to get connected to the free wifi - why do they always have to overcomplicate these things? - and when I do the boarding time has come so it is time to go. We do manage to get ourselves in the mood by emptying their stock of Prosecco
Off we go towards the gate for boarding, through the dingy corridors of Malpensa airport:
Our plane is barely visible behind all the gate structures but later on it turns out to be EI-DBM:
Once on board I’m greeted by a welcoming bunch of FA’s, the first impression of the cabin and crew is definitely above my expectations! 2 female Japanese crew members are present to assist the almost all Japanse passenger load.
I’m one of the last ones to board and make my way through the very back of the aircraft.
MXP to NRT
Photo © K.Dennis
My window seat is located at the penultimate row. Upon arriving there, the middle seat and the aisle seat are already occupied by a Japanese couple. As there are still quite some empty seats and rows I decide to wait until the ‘boarding complete’ is announced. Some minutes later this is indeed the case and people start to redistribute themselves among the empty rows. As the last row is free as well, I dump my stuff there to give a sign to my fellow passengers that this one is mine As a matter of fact, most of us a.netters have a row of 3 for ourselves in the back section of this 777. Good stuff!
Some cabin impressions:
The IFE box is huge but actually not that bothersome when you have no seatmate(s) and the PTV screens are teeny weeny. The seat itself is comfortable enough: the width is fine and the recline and legroom are good enough as well.
The IFE is AVOD:
Still a long long way to fly:
I give the window a good clean and luckily it is not scratched either:
We push back bang on time:
As we taxi out, a safety demo is played but the audio through the cabin is barely audible. You would guess that the crew would turn up the volume but no, it’s not done.
We start a long trek all around the airfield, direction 35R:
Skyteam CSA landing on 35L:
Ah, here we are finally. The engines rev up and we blast away into the foggy Milanese skies:
The views on the climbout are quite good, the clouds above the Alps have cleared some. We are all glued to our windows and snapping away
After some time, it is game over with the views. Time for something else: drinks! The crew comes round for the first drinks service. No carts are rolled out but instead they go by row and ask you your drink of preference after which they bring it to your seat, together with a pack of ‘rosemary flavoured grissini’. In the meantime, user LXM83 joins me in the aisle seat and we have a nice talk over a beer:
Not long after the drinks comes the food. There’s a Japanese and an Italian option available. The Japanese has something to do with chicken and rice and the Itialian option looks like this:
Lasagna, you guessed it. It’s good while not outstanding, the bun is hardly edible (why didn’t they heat it up just a little?), but the dessert (some kind of tiramisu cake) is really good. Drinks of choice are offered as well with the meal service together with coffee and tea. The service is quite efficient and the trash is collected not long thereafter. All in all, well done here.
A quiet cabin as everyone is happily munching away:
After the meal, the crew asks us to lower the blinds and dims the cabin lighting. An announcement is made that drinks and snacks are available in the galley. However I do see the crew coming round with drinks every now and then as well.
The ‘night’ has begun. Although I wouldn’t exactly call it a night as I’m wide awake, heck, it’s only 5pm where I came from!
Night or not, we a.netters don’t sleep yet, we talk and laugh and have an occasional drink. We even manage to sweettalk the crew into some limoncello (which is normally only for upper class passengers). Cheers to that!
Time sure goes fast if you’re having a good time on board and before I even know, we are already halfway through the journey:
At some point, I do decide to take advantage of the available space in my row and have little rest. I doze off for about an hour or 3 and when I open the window blinds, the next day is already dawning:
We are somewhere over far eastern Russia here:
The cabin however is still all peace and quiet:
Being wide awake again, I listen to some music, watch a movie and read some in the inflight magazine ‘Ulisse’:
The large back galley:
This sign is hung right opposite the toilet in the back, showing the aircraft’s layout and whereabout’s of the emergency equipment on board:
The FlyingFinn76, who sits in front of me in my orginally assigned seat, has opened his window blinds as well:
The morning views are already pretty nice:
About 1,5h prior to arrival, the cabin lights are switched on and breakfast service starts:
Once again 2 of those nasty buns and that other bread thing doesn’t have much taste either. The yoghurt is nice and the meat and cheese as well. Coffee and tea accompanies this disappointing breakfast.
One good thing about this breakfast is the view:
The crew works hard and efficient again:
As the cabin is gradually waking up with the taste or the smell of coffee, we slowly turn south and enter the Sea of Japan in an almost final stage of this flight:
A crew member comes around to ask to fill out a survey. The only sensible question in there was (more or less): ‘Would you recommend Alitalia to X or Y’, on a scale from 1 to 10. This was a quick and informative survey for sure. On a positive note: I gained an Alitalia branded pen, woohoo
We make landfall on the Japanese west coast and the broad daylight ensures for some excellent first views of the country.
I believe this might be Lake Chuzenji:
As we reach the east coast of Japan, the seat belt sign is turned on - in fact it has been turned on almost the whole flight for no apparent reason - and the cabin is prepared for landing:
This is also Japan for you:
We follow the coast for a short while and eventually turn in land for a landing on NRT’s 34L:
Chōshi, the easternmost city in the greater Tokyo area:
An ‘OTIS elevators’ test facility:
Landing is 10 minutes ahead of schedule into an overcast Tokyo Narita:
A well known sign to most NRT visitors:
We do a short taxi to the gate. A nice visitor from Mexico here with a B762:
And some more visitors from other parts of the world:
Nearly there, satellite terminal 1:
Disembarkation is swift and orderly, the Japanese way. It gives me a fast opportunity for some more cabin shots.
Economy or ‘Classica’, mid section:
Premium economy or ‘Classica Plus’:
The crew is there to say their goodbyes, all friendly. I thank them for the nice flight and exit the aircraft. As such this is the end of my first longhaul flight in 5 years.
EI-DBM at the gate:
This should’ve been the FCO flight but it seemed to be departing so I’m not quite sure about that:
My fellow travellers have also made it out of the aircraft and all of us but 1 continue our way through immigration - which is a fast and efficient process - and bagage claim:
And just like that, I’m in Japan... for an hour of 3
The first part ends here. The 2nd installment will follow in due time, reporting about my trip back to FCO and onwards to ZRH and BRU, together with some conclusions.
Feel free to leave your comments - if you have some - down below, they are very much appreciated.