GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Narita Express train.
Departs from: Yokohama station.
Frequency: Roughly every 90 minutes but varies depending on the time of day.
Journey time: 1 hour and 48 minutes.
Fare: ¥4290 one way including mandatory seat reservation.
In Yokohama I am staying at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel. I leave the hotel just after 06h30 in the morning and head across the street to the Queen’s Twin Towers. It is only a five minutes walk from the hotel to the subway station at Minatomirai on the subway line that goes by the same name. It is two stops from Minatomirai to Yokohama Station, although the express trains do not stop at the station in between and go nonstop to Yokohama Station.
At Yokohama I change to the JR Lines network. The Narita Express will be leaving at 07h28 from platform 10. What always impresses me about Japanese trains is that there are markers along the platform indicating the number of each carriage and the position of the doors of that particular carriage. The impressive thing is that the system has never failed in sixteen visits I have made to Japan over the years. And I still have not figured out how they manage to stop the trains so accurately.
Location: Terminal 1, south wing, row B, departures level on the fourth floor; row B is right by the escalators as you come up from the station in the basement.
Facilities: Web check-in or dedicated check-in counters.
Counters: Dedicated Lufthansa/Austrian/SWISS Business Class counters, the staff are from ANA.
There are hardly any people when I arrive at row B and I am seen to straight away. The check-in agent issues my boarding passes to Vienna and then Basel, points me in the right direction for security and wishes me a pleasant journey. It is a very quick and efficient process.
Security is at the opposite end of row B and there is a dedicated fast track for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers. Here too there are only few passengers and I am through security without having to queue. I forget to remove my liquids from the bag, but nobody seems to notice. Or perhaps that is not a requirement here in Japan.
From Security I head one floor down to immigration.
Location: Behind immigration, one floor down from the gates level. The escalators leading down to the lounge are at the far end of the concourse, opposite gate 43.
Type of Lounge: ANA Lounge.
Facilities: Meeting rooms, work area, toilets and showers in the lounge, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold dishes, a bar with beer on tap, a noodle bar with a selection of staple Japanese fare.
Internet: Wifi is available in the lounge, no password required.
God I am starving. It was still early when I left Yokohama this morning. I did manage to grab a cappuccino and a small sandwich, but that was barely enough to tie me over until we reach Narita.
So once I find a place to sit, I head over to the noodle bar and order myself a bowl of curry Udon, which hit the spot nicely.
The ANA Business Class lounge is nice. It is more functional than elegant, but that is okay. My only complaint is that there are no windows and subsequently no views of the aircraft outside.
Priority Boarding: I arrive at the gate just after 10h30 and boarding has just started. The first call is for Business Class passengers. There are two airbridges connected to the aircraft.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 2 + 2 + 2 on even numbered rows.
Pitch: 48 inches.
Width: 19.37 inches.
Facilities: Individual 110V AC power outlet.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand.
Austrian Airlines has 48 seats installed in Business Class on the Boeing B 777-200. I am not sure if this is exactly the same seat that SWISS has installed in its Business Class cabin, but if not, the seat is certainly very similar.
The appearance of the cabin is nice enough and the combination of blue and red gives the cabin a cheerful look and feel. The seat is comfortable in the sitting position, but is somewhat tight in the extended, lying position. Furthermore, if you are sitting in the seat while you extend it into the lying position, beware. At some point your legs are likely to get in the way.
There are two Business Class cabins on this aircraft. The larger cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors, the smaller one, which only has three rows, is located right after the L2 door. Today’s flight is very full in Business Class. In fact, at some point during the flight I take a look at the rear Business Class cabin, only to find that it is completely empty. And even in the main cabin there are still quite a few empty seats.
The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.
Probably due to the relatively light load, the ratio of cabin crew to passengers is outstanding on this flight. During the service I count three cabin crew for each of the two aisles. Like most European carriers, Austrian Airlines has Japanese staff working on the flight.
The crew are very friendly and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. Their attention to details is quite outstanding. Originally, I am seated on 4C, the aisle. But then one of the flight attendants informs me that 5A, a throne seat, will remain empty and I am more than welcome to change. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin to check on passengers and make sure they are okay.
Welcome drink on the ground: A selection of orange juice, sparkling wine or water. The orange juice comes with a slice of orange in it.
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, scented hot towels – but they are rather flimsy.
Pre-meal drink: Almdudler, an Austrian non-alcoholic drink made with herbs.
Choice: There are two Western choices and two Japan-inspired choices for the main course.
Appearance: The starter is served from a trolley, so passengers can pick and choose as they please.
Type of meal: Lunch.
Menu: There is a food and beverage menu and a separate menu for coffees.
- Antipasti from the trolley: smoked salmon with cream cheese, volcano ham and mountain cheese, traditional sweet pepper and ricotta spread, deep fried cauliflower with sauce tartar.
- An excellent selection from the breadbasket.
- Soup: beef consommé with butter dumpling.
- Main course: grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.
- Dessert: warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).
- Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.
This meal is excellent! In fact it was so good I find it slightly irritating because this Business Class meal is far, far better than the grub I was served in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Haneda!
Where to begin? First of all, I really like the selection of antipasti that is available. Furthermore, it is quite apparent that Austrian Airlines has gone for the good quality stuff. The smoked salmon is not at all fishy and has a rich, smoky taste; the ham is not at all chewy and the tartar sauce is subtle and balanced.
The main course is excellent and I find myself a) seriously wondering if I have ever had such a nice piece of meat on a plane before and b) if it would be rude to ask for a second helping. First of all, the pork has managed to stay juicy, even in the middle. The meat has a nice grilled flavour to it and the gravy it is served with is simply delicious. The dumpling that comes with it is just heaven. Enough said.
By the time I am through, I have more or less decided to skip dessert. I really do not think I can face anything else. But then the trolley reaches my row and I swear I can hear the apricot strudel calling out to me. The truffle cake is so rich my tongue is more or less glued to the top of my mouth. What a taste! Thank God for the whipped cream to dilute this hefty, moist revelation…
The apricot strudel is still warm when it is placed before me, and so is the vanilla sauce. I really do not know what to say, except perhaps ‘can I have some more…?’.
What also impresses about the crew is the efficiency and timing of the service. The meal does not feel rushed at all, but at the same time there is never a long wait in between courses.
Eventually the dishes are cleared away, one of the cabin crew brings me a bottle of still water and I settle in. I am already looking forward to the next meal!
Around half way between Narita and Vienna the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering drinks and snacks. I have some fruit and an Onigiri. To drink the crew has orange juice and apple juice on offer. However, when she reaches my row, the flight attendant assures me that obviously she will be very glad to bring me anything else I would like to drink!
Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.
- Antipasti: prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuer.
- Main dish: ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.
- Dessert: chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.
- Selection from the breadbasket.
Eventually we land in Vienna just a few minutes ahead of schedule and a rather pleasant experience with Austrian Airlines draws to an end. And what did I think of Austrian Airlines? The service was attentive, quite impeccable. The crew were friendly and approachable. The catering is something else and I really do think the quality and the selection available in Austrian Airlines’ Business Class puts to shame Lufthansa’s offering in First Class.
On the downside, I have certain reservations about the seat. If you are sitting on one of the single seats, there is ample storage space and somehow you are able to squeeze in and out of the seat when it is in the fully extended position. However, if you are sitting at by the window on one of the double seats, I seriously think you might have trouble getting in and out of the seat without disturbing your neighbour. The pitch is awfully tight. I am only 6’2 and even I was having trouble fitting my legs in the space provided. Apart from that, to be honest, it does kind of feel like what I imagine lying in a coffin is like.