Austrian Airlines, Business Class – Boeing B 777-200: Tokyo Narita to Basel via Vienna

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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.

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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.

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Check-in

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.

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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.

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From Security I head one floor down to immigration.

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The Lounge

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.

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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.

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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.

Boarding

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.

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The Cabin

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.

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The slippers are only offered in Business Class on flights to and from Japan. SWISS and Lufthansa do this as well.

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The Crew

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.

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The Meal

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.

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First Course

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.

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The Soup

Beef consommé with butter dumpling.

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The Main Course

Grilled saddle of pork with creamy mushroom ragout, bacon dumpling, baby carrots, green asparagus.

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Dessert

Warm apricot strudel with vanilla sauce and chocolate truffle cake with dessert wine (Burgenland Kracher Cuvée Beerenlese, 2011).

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If you’re still not done…

Kaffee verkehrt: coffee with milk foam.

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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!

The Snack

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The Second Service

Hot towel before the meal: Yes, another flimsy scented affair.
Delivery: Trolley service.
Choice: There are two options for the main course.

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First Course

Prosciutto, aubergine, zucchini, mozzarella, gryuere.

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The Main Course

Ricotta and spinach Malfatti with a slow roasted tomato sauce and fresh parmesan.

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Dessert

Chocolate, cherry and hazelnut tartlet.

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Arrival

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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.

All Nippon Airways, Premium Class – B 767-300: Ishigaki to Tokyo Haneda

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I’ve decided to try a new format for my trip reports. Rather than waffling on about my own personal experience, I figured it might make more sense to provide some hands-on information instead. Let me know what you think!

And a happy new year, by the way.

Getting to the Airport

In Ishigaki I stayed at the ANA Intercontinental Resort. There are two options to get from the resort to the airport. A taxi will take approximately 20 minutes to make the journey and costs roughly 2’500 Japanese Yen.

Alternatively, there is also the bus line 10, which in fact stops right in front of the hotel on its way to the airport. The journey by bus will take roughly 20 to 30 minutes and costs 430 Japanese Yen.

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Check-in

Online check-in does not appear to be available on the ANA domestic website. There is, however, an iPhone app which would, theoretically, allow you to check-in. But it seems that bookings for domestic flights that were purchased abroad or not purchased directly with ANA are not eligible for any type of remote check-in. This also means there’s no advanced seat selection, unless of course you call ANA directly.

Ishigaki is a nice little airport.

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There are six ANA check-in counters at the airport, three of which are for passengers with checked bags. The other three are for passengers with cabin luggage only and also serve as ticketing counters. There is no dedicated Premium Class counter.

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What Ishigaki airport also has, is a very nice open air observation deck on the second floor.

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Airside

There are no lounges at Ishigaki airport. At least though there is a mini food court adjacent to the ANA check-in area where you can get some tasty Japanese food or a Starbucks coffee.

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Departures are also on the second floor.

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Boarding

Boarding for domestic flights is always very efficient, orderly and quick. A fully loaded Boeing B 767-300 is boarded in just under 15 minutes.

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The Cabin

ANA operates a variety of different cabin configurations and seats in its Premium Class cabins. It helps if you know what aircraft type you’re travelling on, although even then there appear to be differences within the same fleet type.

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Further information about the seats and configuration can be found here. Please note however, that there are no detailed seat maps on the ANA domestic website and seatguru provides no information about ANA’s domestic configuration.

The Boeing B 767-300 are kept in good shape, for sure. But their IFE is somewhat antiquated and consists of a limited number of audio channels and one video channel. Films are showed on a big screen mounted on the cabin bulkhead. On this particular flight they’re showing a documentary about the Boeing B 747-400SD in ANA service. The aircraft will be leaving the fleet with the start of the summer schedule on 29 March 2014.

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Amenities

ANA provides every passenger with a blanket and slippers (available on international flights too). Additionally, pillows, eye shades and ear plugs are available upon request.

The Meal

The ANA domestic website gives a lot of useful information about the kind of service and food on offer on flights that have a Premium Class service. Flights with departures between 13:01 and 16:59 are served a light meal, which has an afternoon tea theme and is branded as Premium SABO. The meal consists basically of a variety of sweets and savouries.

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Further information can be obtained here. There is also a menu in every seat pocket of the Premium Class cabin.

Arrival

ANA operates from Terminal 2 in Haneda.

Getting into Town

Haneda is the first, original Tokyo airport. Narita was built much later. To get into central Tokyo the most reliable option is to take the monorail from the basement of the airport to Hamamatsucho, which is the terminus station of the train.

At Hamamatsucho you can transfer to the JR Yamanote line, which draws a circle around Tokyo and connects most of the important locations. Shinjuku and Tokyo Station are both served by the JR Yamanote line and the Narita Express and are only a few stops away from Hamamatsucho. So having a hotel in close proximity to one of these two stations is very convenient. I normally stay in the Shinjuku area because it’s quite lively by day and by night. Tokyo proper is mostly a business district and once the offices close, it gets rather quiet and, well – a bit boring.

You can buy combined tickets for the monorail and JR lines at the ticket machines for the monorail in Haneda. If you’re not sure about the ticket price, simply get the cheapest ticket there is, which is 600 Yen. There are fare adjustment machines at every station for you to top up your ticket.

Epilogue

In the meantime the miles for the outbound leg to Ishigaki have been credited to my Senator account. Premium Class is treated as First Class and subsequently yields 3684 miles, which is quite substantial for Miles & More these days, especially given the cuts they’ve made in an attempt to cause maximum irritation at minimum advantage – even to themselves…

All Nippon Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 767 – 300: Haneda to Ishigaki

Getting to the Airport

My last post left off with me arriving in Narita from Heathrow yesterday. I then had to make my way to Haneda, from where my flight to Ishigaki leaves todays, where I would also spend the night.

There are three ways to reach Haneda airport from Narita using public transport. First, there is the limousine bus service – not sure where the limousine bit comes in – which runs regularly between the two airports. This can however, be a bit of a wild card. Theoretically the journey time should be around 90 minutes. But traffic in the Tokyo area can be quite bad, significantly increasing the time to make the journey.

The second option is of course the famous Narita Express, which runs to Shinjuku and Tokyo station and takes a little less than an hour to make the journey to Tokyo station. From there you have to change to a JR Yamanote line train to Hamamatsucho, where you connect to the Haneda monorail service. The Narita Express is certainly the most comfortable way to get into Tokyo, with reserved seating on every train – but obviously with luggage having to change trains twice may be a bit cumbersome.

And then, finally, there is also the Kaisei line, which runs a direct train from Narita to Haneda in 92 minutes. The direct trains run every 30 minutes or so but are not near as comfortable as the Narita Express.

In Haneda I’m staying at the Excel Haneda Airport Hotel for the night, which has some really brilliant views of the apron and the runway (see below). Access to the hotel is via Terminal D2.

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The Boeing 747-400 will leave the ANA fleet on 29. March 2014.

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Airline: All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: Boeing B 767-300
Cabin: Premier Class (Business Class)
Seat: 1H
From: Haneda
To: Ishigaki
Date: 29. December 2013
Departure: 11:30
Arrival: 15:00

I’m assuming that most of you will not know where Ishigaki is, which is why I’m adding a map pf the journey so far – courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper.

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Check-in

I exit the hotel at the far end of the departure concourse. The terminal is crawling with people. This is after all, the main holiday season in Japan. There are people everywhere, with long queues. But in typically Japanese fashion, the queues are orderly and move along efficiently and swiftly.

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There is a segregated check-in area for status card holders and passengers travelling on one of ANA’s Premier Class services, with direct access to security. The queues here are much shorter and the staff take their time to actually help you repack your stuff once you’re through security. If only it were always like this! Once you exit security, there is an escalator on your right leading up one floor to the ANA lounge.

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The Lounge

The ANA lounge is large and spacious, with plenty of seating options. Of course I follow my impulse, which is so much nicer than to call it a compulsion, to take a seat by the window where I can watch the action on the ramp, but I quickly change my mind. First of all, once you’re seated you can’t see the action outside anyway. Secondly, the seating area by the windows is markedly hotter than the rest of the lounge. It’s like a sauna.

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Boarding

The flight today is completely full. Boarding a flight in Japan is usually quite interesting to watch, and today’s flight does not appear to be any different in that respect. The first boarding announcement is for passengers with reduced mobility, and passengers travelling with children. Next it’s the Star Alliance members and passengers in Premier Class.

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Boarding starts at 11:20, only 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled departure time, and I’m seriously wondering how much longer we’ll be on the ground here in Haneda. But when push comes to shove the Japanese will make that extra effort to achieve a group objective and much to my surprise, at 11:30 everyone is seated and the doors close for an on time departure to Ishigaki.

Take-off is from runway 23. As soon as we’re airborne, we do a sharp right turn to point us in a southerly direction. It’s a lovely day here in the Tokyo area and our route takes us nearly exactly above Fuji. Unfortunately though, I’m unable to take any decent photos. I’m on the aisle seat and the guy by the window keeps leaning forward to get a better view.

The Cabin

There’s something very retro about this bird. The overhead bins are still of the original
B 767 variety and have not been replace with the new B 777 style ones. The seat is comfortable enough, but there is no individual IFE and the seat controls are mechanic rather than electric.

The seating configuration is 2 – 1 – 2, with the designation AB for the row of two on the left, D for the single seat and HJ for the row of two on the right side of the aircraft.

Every passenger has a blanket and a pair of slippers at his seat. Pillows are also available on request.

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The Crew

There are two cabin crew working in Business Class this morning. One is the middle-aged maître de. Very stern and competent. And then there is a charming young lady, who is very personable and witty.

The Meal

The meal is very tasty and very Japanese. It’s a two layered bento box with a variety of dishes, mostly fish, vegetables and rice. There is a menu in the box, but that is only in Japanese. So I can’t really tell you exactly what it is you can see in the pictures. Miso soup is served with the meal. To drink I have a cup of Perrier.

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And then to conclude the meal I have a cup of Starbuck’s branded coffee and a chocolate fondant biscuit that is so divine I have to ask for a second one.

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ANA’s premium meal concept on domestic flights is quite simple, but it serves its purpose well – the bento box and miso are rather nice.

For the rest of the flight I listen to my own music. Throughout the flight the crew pass through the cabin regularly to ensure that passengers are comfortable and to check if any one needs anything.

One hour out of Ishigaki there is another drinks service, which is accompanied by a basket with savoury and sweet snacks.

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Arrival

As I already mentioned, it was a lovely day when we departed from Haneda this morning. Unfortunately though I can’t really say the same about Ishigaki. It’s definitely warmer, but that’s about it. It’s quite windy and it’s raining – perfect weather to lounge around inside and read a good book or two. Which is, I think, what I shall do until the weather clears.

Singapore Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Zürich to Singapore

Introduction

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been doing quite a bit of flying, mostly on airlines that have already been covered extensively in some of my other trip reports.

But this one ought to be interesting. Today I’m on my way to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Brunei is actually not that easy to get to, particularly from Switzerland. Of course my first choice would have been to fly Royal Air Brunei. They have a direct service from Heathrow. But alas, that flight stops in Dubai in the middle of the night on both the outbound and the inbound flight, which is inconvenient for two reasons: first of all, the interruption of the flight in Dubai means that you don’t really get a full night’s sleep. Secondly, the sector length for both the LHR to DXB and the subsequent DXB to BWN is about six hours each, which isn’t really enough for sleep either. I’m travelling on business, so I decide against this option. I don’t want to arrive feeling like a vegetable. So instead I shall be travelling with Singapore Airlines from Zürich via Singapore. This report covers the outbound leg from Zürich to Singapore.

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On the outbound I have a connecting time in Singapore of eight hours. The return is worse still, with a whopping twelve hours layover in Singapore. But still, there are certainly worse airports to have to do a stopover in than Singapore.

On a positive note, the flights between Zürich and Singapore are operated by the A380. She may be ugly as sin, but she’s still quite an amazing bird.

The last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 2008. Back then I flew in First Class on the B777-300 from Zürich to Singapore and then onwards in regional First Class, I think it was on a B777-200, to Taipei. I was on a round the world itinerary which eventually also saw me take the Singapore Airlines B747-400 from JFK to Frankfurt, also in First. So I’m rather curious to see how time has treated one of the world’s most prestigious airlines in the intervening years.

Getting to the Airport

My first stop after I leave my flat is the Confiserie Bachmann on the square outside the station. They make the best pain au chocolat ever, with nice big chunky pieces of chocolate oozing out of everywhere. I think I may have already mentioned the fact in a previous post and so, simply for the sake of completeness, I am including in this post a picture of the delectable item.

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And then from there I head across the square, into the station and down to platform seven, from where my train will be leaving. Being a Sunday morning, the train that normally runs on this route has been substituted by what is in fact a short regional train. And to be fair, the load is pretty light.

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My only grippe is that the seat is rather hard. By the time we pull into Zürich Airport station 80 minutes later, my backside is feeling seriously worse for ware.

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To look outside you’d hardly think we’re already approaching the end of May. We’ve had a few scattered days of sunshine here and there but other than that it’s been quite miserable. At least the low-hanging clouds do look kind of poetic, I guess.

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Date: 19. May 2013
From: Zürich
To: Singapore
Aircraft: A 380
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 18K, later on moved forward to 17K
Departure: 11:45
Arrival: 05:45, the next day

Check-in

The airport is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning when I arrive, with a mix of travellers and Sunday shoppers wandering, seemingly aimlessly, through the terminal.

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The Singapore Airlines check-in counters are currently located on the mezzanine level between arrivals and departures of what used to be Terminal B and is now, if I’m not mistaken, Check-in 2. This is only a temporary location for Singapore Airlines while the check-in area one floor up is redesigned and renovated.

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I am greeted at the check-in counter by one of my former students, who happens to be working for Swissport until he starts a new job in engineering in a few weeks. While he checks me in we have a little natter and I inquire about how he’s been and what he’s been up to. I figure I must have done a few things right in my job, because the next thing I notice is that he’s actually tagged my check-in luggage with a Suite First Class tag. Thanks for that!

We bid each other farewell and I make my way to security. After that it’s the passport control and then the underground shuttle that runs underneath the apron and runway 28 to the E dock.

Airside.
Airside.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Going down into the bowels of the terminal for immigration.
Waiting for the next shuttle.
Waiting for the next shuttle.
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Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle I.
Inside the shuttle II.
Inside the shuttle II.
Arriving at the E dock.
Arriving at the E dock.

The Lounge

I decide to give the Swiss Senator lounge a miss and try out the Panorama lounge at the E dock instead. This is a common purpose lounge which appears to be used by all airlines operating out of the E dock, with the exception of Emirates, who have their own lounge. Subsequently, the place is rather full when I arrive. Figuring it might be a while until I finally get some food on the plane, I help myself to a small plate of pasta and shortly after that it’s already time to head downstairs to the gate where boarding is about to begin.

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By now you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any pictures of my ride to Singapore. So here we go (taken from different locations, including the lounge).

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Boarding

The boarding process is a very well organised affair, which is a good thing, seeing as Singapore Airlines recently stopped using the only gate at Zürich equipped with three airbridges.

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This means that all Business Class passengers on the upper deck will have to board through the front door on ‘ground level’ and then from there take the stairs one floor up.

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One of the male attendants sees me trying to take a picture of the stairs and offers to strike a pose. But before I can actually take the picture, he thinks better of it. Pity.

The Cabin

To be honest, my first impression of the cabin is somewhat underwhelming. It looks slightly worn around the edges. Other than that though, the seat certainly offers a lot of personal space, it’s very wide.

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In Business Class there are only overhead bin over the central aisle. The window seats however, have some additional storage space as there are storage bins located by the side of the seat facing the window.

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Every seat back is equipped with a set of USB ports as well as a universal electric plug socket that can take the British style plugs as well as the standard Swiss and European ones. Located immediately above that is a small compartment where you can place your glasses.

The general impression of the seat is that obviously a lot of thought was put into the design, it’s more functional than it is elegant. For example: the compartment where you place your glasses is lined with some velvety material to prevent the lenses from scratching.

Other than that, there are two cushions at every seat. I think I’d feel quite lost without them!

Our neighbour.
Our neighbour.

The Crew

The Singapore Airlines crews hardly need an introduction and this flight is no exception. The crew is made up of a racial mix of young men and women, all of them eager to please. It has often been said of the Singapore Airlines crews that they lack warmth or personality. Some have even called them robotic in their mannerisms. On this flight however, this could hardly be farther from the truth. The entire crew are very attentive, service-oriented and very approachable, without however being intrusive. And that kebaya simply complements the female form beautifully…!

Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. I have something that is apparently a mix of bitter lemon and seven up, and very refreshing it is too. And then after that I receive the first in a whole series of nicely scented, warm refreshing towels.

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The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
The menu has already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
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Push back is on time. With all the rain everything is looking lush and green outside.

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On our way to the active runway.
On our way to the active runway.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.
With all the rain everything is really looking lush.

Departure is to the south from runway 16, the usual. As we do a final left turn to line up with the runway, I spot this here. It’s used for fire training nowadays.

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Seriously, they really don’t build them like they used to in the good old days. I know, perhaps I’m a bit weird that way. Probably if I weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But: for me an airplane has to have the sound and feel of an airplane. And that’s where the A 380 is a bit of a let down. First of all, it is really quite amazing just how quiet the cabin is. Even when we power up and go hurtling down the runway for take off, the noise in the cabin is at a pleasant level. And there’s not much of a sensation of acceleration either.

Airborne.
Airborne.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Veeeery gently climbing.
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that...
Blue sky. I have a vague recollection of the last time I saw that…

Quite surprisingly, Singapore Airlines no longer provide vanity kits on board. Instead, after take-off the crew distribute a pair of eye-shades and slippers. Everything else is available in the toilets, ear plugs need to be requested separately.

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The Meal

Amuse Bouche

The meal service starts with the traditional chicken and beef satay, which really are tasty, even though I think I end up overdosing on the raw onion.

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To drink with that I have one of Singapore Airlines’ signature non-alcoholic cocktails, ‘Awaiting the dawn’ I think it’s called. It’s a somewhat unusual combination of tomato juice and pineapple that works surprisingly well.

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For the rest of the meal I stick with sparkling water.

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The satay are quite tasty, but without a fork or a spoon it’s quite impossible to lop up all of the lovely peanut sauce. After the satay there is a short break while the crew prepare the main service. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.

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The First Course

First the table is set. Every seat is done individually. The starter today is dried beef with pasta salad, lettuce and antipasti, more specifically a spicy pepper filled with cream cheese and an olive filled with an almond.

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With that I have a few slices of garlic bread and a Silserli, a typical Swiss type of bread that gets its name from the town of Sils.

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The Main Course

The service is well-timed and efficient, without however being hurried or rushed. For the main dish I’m having the Indian spicy chicken with vegetable curry and pilaf rice. It’s quite a spicy dish, with plenty of flavour.

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Dessert

After the meal there is a choice of either vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce or a passion fruit cheesecake, which I have. The dessert is nothing special really, its only saving grace being that it is made with Agar Agar and not gelatine.

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The Cheese

The meal concludes with a selection of cheese, served with crackers, walnuts, dried apricots and grapes. With that I have a glass of port.

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Once the meal is over, the crew come to take orders for tea or coffee. I have a peppermint tea, which the flight attendant brings me with a praline. In the meantime I look out the window some more. I never seem to tire of this view!

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After the meal I try out the wifi connection. For USD10 you can download up to 10MB of data. You can select for the connection to stop once you have reached you allowance or to just continue billing you in 10 cent steps per 100KB. So I do a bit of surfing, answer some e-mails and What’s App my mum before eventually I decide to take a nap.

A few hours later I awake. It’s still about four hours to go to Singapore, so I switch on the inflight entertainment system. Singapore Airlines has quite an extensive selection of films. I start to watch Skyfall – again. Not so much because I thought the film was that good – twice is enough – but because I just love the opening titles with that song by Adele. I then switch to watching ‘Hotel Transylvania’, which is okay but seriously lacks a decent story line.

The Second Service

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By the time that’s over, it’s already time for the second meal service, which begins of course, with the distribution of yet another hot towel, followed by a glass of fresh orange juice.

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The meal consists of:

  1. a plate of fresh fruit
  2. Birchermüsli
  3. a selection from the breadbasket
  4. a selection of hot dishes: I go for the omelette with veal sausages and potatoes
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Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines will automatically give you a glass of still water to drink with the main dish. In addition, there is more orange juice and a cup of the most god awful coffee I have ever had the misfortune to taste.

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Again the service is unhurried and pleasant. Throughout the meal service the mood lighting is set to what I presume to be dawn.

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Once the meal service is over and yet another hot towel has been distributed and collected, the lights go out again. It’s now just 68 minutes to arrival in Changi at 05h45 am.

Arrival

Our arrival into Changi is very atmospheric, really nice. With the engines in idle to slow us down, it’s gone quiet in the cabin. The passengers aren’t saying much either. The dark cabin adds to the mood. Eventually we touch down and within seconds the outer window pane starts to fog up with the humidity.

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We arrive at one of the B gates at T3 which is equipped with three airbridges. I thank the crew, bid them farewell and disembark. From here I make my way to T2, from where my connection to Brunei will be leaving.

Conclusion

So what’s the verdict? It’s hard to put into words. Singapore Airlines is certainly up there in the top league of international airlines. Their Business Class cabin is very innovative and comfortable. Combined with the outstanding level of service provided by the cabin crew, the entire experience really is more like what many other airlines offer in First Class nowadays. However, from my recent experiences the same could also be said for Cathay Pacific and ANA – All Nippon Airways. Perhaps it’s just me and all the flying I do has made me blazé. Either that or Singapore Airlines have created an image that in actual fact even they themselves are unable to live up to.

All Nippon Airways, Business Class – B 777-300: Tokyo Narita to Frankfurt

Introduction

Welcome to my last flight of 2012, the 112th flight of the whole year. This review covers my journey from Tokyo’s Narita airport to Frankfurt on 31 December 2012.

I arrived in Tokyo the previous night on a Japan Airlines flight from Sapporo. I spend the night at the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku, in close proximity to Shinjuku station and with rooms overlooking the tracks.

analogo

From: Tokyo Narita
To: Frankfurt
Airline: ANA – All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: B 777-300
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 15A, window, left side
Date: 31. 12. 2012

Getting to the Airport

I leave the hotel at around 08h00 in the morning. The next direct Narita Express train from Shinjuku will not be leaving until 09h39, so instead I hop on a Chuo Line train bound for Tokyo station and grab the Narita Express from there at 09h00. The journey from Tokyo proper to Narita’s Terminal 1, ANA’s home, takes 58 minutes to complete.

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This here marks the location of the doors of each carriage. It's amazing how accurate the signs are!
This here marks the location of the doors of each carriage. It’s amazing how accurate the signs are!
My train rushes into the station on time.
My train rushes into the station on time.
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Check-in

ANA has a dedicated row of counters reserved exclusively for Star Gold members. As I arrive the place is deserted and there are about five check-in agents waiting to assist me with the check-in process.

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This picture was taken before I went through security.
This picture was taken before I went through security.

The Lounge

The ANA lounges are located near gate 52, from where my flight will be leaving later on. The Star Gold lounge is enormous and offers a variety of different seating options. Needless to say I choose a seat by the window overlooking the action on the ramp.

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There is a good selection of hot and cold dishes and drinks. The soft drinks are dispensed from a machine – what else?

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And here are some of the views outside. The Singapore Airlines pushed back on time and even started all engines. But after it had been standing on the taxiway for about 20 minutes, the aircraft rolled onto the stand again instead of departing. It was still there when my flight left.

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Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time and is a well organised and orderly affair. First passengers with children or in need of assistance are boarded and then it’s the First and Business Class passengers.

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The load in Business Class on the flight is very light today, with none of the seats between the two aisles occupied.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird reminds me a lot of the Cathay Pacific Business Class set up in that the seating configuration offers a considerable degree of privacy in a 1 – 2 – 1 configuration.

The aisle seat behind me.
The aisle seat behind me.
My window seat.
My window seat.
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Seat controls.
Seat controls.
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I think this picture shows well how private the seat is.
I think this picture shows well how private the seat is.
Power outlet.
Power outlet.
The video screen is quite large actually.
The video screen is quite large actually.
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Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is already a pair of Sony earphones there, together with slippers, a large blue pillow and a large and very soft blanket. Before we depart I am also handed a thick blue cardigan in case I start to feel cold.

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The view.
The view.
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The Crew

The cabin crew are polite and efficient. With the light load in Business Class today they take their time with the passengers, making sure everybody feels welcome. They are personable and give you the impression of really enjoying their job!

For a welcome drink there is a choice of sparkling wine or cold green tea. I take the latter. For safety reasons the drinks must be served in plastic cups while we’re still on the ground.

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And then we’re off!

Over the piano keys.
Over the piano keys.
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It looks so gracious.
It looks so gracious.

Once we are airborne, service begins with the distribution of cypress scented hot towels.

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There are no vanity kits on this flight. But after the meal the crew set up a basket with a variety of items in the rear Business Class galley: moisturising facial masks, ear plugs, toothbrushes, eye masks and a few other items of which I’m not quite sure what they’re supposed to do.

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The Meal

First the table is set and the menus are distributed. And then the experience begins.

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Amuse Bouche

For an amuse bouche there is a small plate with a combination of Japanese and Western dishes: a small item made of pancetta and cream cheese stacked in layers. It comes with a olive filled with sardine paste and a Japanese style salted plum; cheese pastry sticks and a small dish of Tofu with Wasabi; soy beans and jelly.

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To drink I have a glass of plum wine and a Perrier with lemon.

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What I particularly like about the ANA meal service is that they do not use trays at all. Your table is set when they bring you the first course. The cabin attendant places a small side plate with two different types of bread on my table. With that she also places two small dish on the table: one with butter and olive oil in it and the other with ground pepper and sea salt.

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First Course

Chicken, scallop and mushroom terrine with a bean salad and grilled bell pepper; pickled onions, cucumber and radish with truffle scented salt and olive oil.

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The taste is excellent. The scallop and the chicken go well together, the pickles perfectly adding flavour, together with an ever so subtle hint of the truffle.

Main Course

Sautéed tilefish with a yuzu-citron chilli paste flavoured vinaigrette,  pancetta, Japanese mustard spinach and new potatoes.

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It is a very unusual combination of flavours that works surprisingly well. The salty pancetta gives the chunky tilefish a lot of extra flavour and the citrus sauce is simply divine.

Dessert

Camembert and Roquefort cheese with dried apricots and prunes, with fig bread.

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And then it comes, the grand finale. This must be, without a doubt, the best dessert I have ever had on a plane. It is simply divine, with an amazing combination of textures and flavours that harmonise so elegantly that you forget you’re actually eating on a plane and not in a restaurant: a velvety smooth milk chocolate cream infused with pieces of praliné puff pastry, slices of thin milk chocolate with caramelised hazelnut pieces and hazelnut flavoured shortbread.

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To finish off the meal I have a cup of coffee. The meal is over and yet the cabin crew continue their relentless onslaught on my taste buds: with the coffee I am served a chocolate praliné that seems harmless enough to look at. But then I bite into it and the sublime taste of rich chocolate, Early Grey tea and bergamot explodes on my palate.

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The attendant brings me a bottle of water and then slowly the lights go out – and so do I. The seat is perhaps a tad too narrow, but only just and I still manage to have a very decent and comfortable sleep of about five hours.

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When I awake I’m feeling peckish and we’ve still got another four hours to go to Frankfurt. A flight attendant notices me looking at the menu. But instead of approaching my seat directly, she walks past me towards the rear of the cabin and stops a short distance away where she can keep an eye on me unnoticed. As soon as I look up from the menu she appears, seemingly out of nowhere to take my order. Simply outstanding service!

So I order myself a bowl of Ramen in a spicy broth with spring onion. There is also a little sachet of something – it’s all in Japanese – which I decide to open and add to my soup, despite not quite knowing what it is. At a glance I assume it’s shredded radish or something. By the time I realise it’s garlic it’s already too late. The soup really is very tasty.

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Funky Perrier.
Funky Perrier.

About two hours out of Frankfurt the cabin slowly comes to life again, window shades go up as the bleary-eyed passengers cast a surreptitious glance out the window to check the view outside: clouds as far as the eye can see. At least there are some pretty crystals forming on the outer layer of the window.

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The flight attendant arrives and asks me if I’ll be having the Western or Japanese second meal. I opt for the Western meal – apparently a creation by the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo – and it is yet another delectable and delightful meal, an array of unusual combinations of tastes.

The Second Service

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More water.
More water.
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First course

Juniper berry flavoured beef consommé with red wine and Kyoto carrot cream and a basil and garlic pesto.

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Main Course

Parmesan scented cereal cake with smoked salmon and braised endive.

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Dessert

Mandarin and pomegranate mousse.

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The meal is served with a selection from the breadbasket and a small dish of butter and black pepper savoured blood orange jam.

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To finish the meal I have another cup of coffee.

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Arrival

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After a flying time of 11 hours and 15 minutes our flight draws to a close as we land on the southernmost of the three parallel runways in Frankfurt. A part of the Lufthansa wide-body fleet has been parked up for the holidays. The sight reminds me a bit of when the Swissair fleet was grounded ahead of bankruptcy.

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The next aircraft to come in behind us is the Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo – we beat them by about 5 minutes!

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Immigration is a breeze and before long I’m already checking in to the Hilton at Frankfurt airport. I’ll probably sleep through the New Year, but that’s okay really. It’s what I usually end up doing anyway.

Conclusion

Well that was fun! My experience with ANA is a truly enjoyable and remarkable one. I found the cabin crew to be very courteous and attentive and very charming in their handling of the passengers. They had a good sense of humour and no request ever seemed to be too much for them. There was a young couple travelling with a little girl of maybe three years of age and it was truly heartwarming to watch the cabin crew do their utmost to keep the child entertained so her parents could get a rest.

The food on this flight was outstanding and certainly surpassed the meal I had in Lufthansa First Class on my way to Japan in terms of quality, taste and presentation.

I like very much what ANA has done with the Business Class cabin. The seat is comfortable and offers a high degree of privacy. My only complaint is that perhaps the seat is just a bit too narrow, but not to a degree where it prevents you from sleeping.

This has been a memorable experience and a fun trip. Tomorrow I will have my first trip in the new year, a short hop from Frankfurt back to Basel. Then three weeks later I’ll be off to Montreal again, this time however, on a Speedbird.

ANA – All Nippon Airways, Economy Class – B 737-800: Tokyo Narita to Sapporo Chitose

Introduction

I’ve just arrived in Japan on the Lufthansa A 380 service from Frankfurt. I’m the first passenger to reach immigration and find the place completely deserted. As a result, I’m through passport control in no time. I head one floor down, go through customs and quickly find myself landside again. I am connecting to a domestic ANA flight in Narita and the process could hardly be easier!

From: Tokyo Narita
To: Sapporo Chitose
Airline: ANA All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: B737-800
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 24A, window, left side
Date: 27. 12. 2012

Check-in

Check-in for ANA domestic flights at Narita is on the same level as international arrivals, just a short distance from where passengers exit customs. There is a dedicated counter for ANA’s top tier and Star Alliance Gold members and the young lady working the counter is, as usual, polite and efficient.

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The Lounge

A bit further on from the check-in counters is the ANA International Arrivals Lounge, which doubles as the domestic departure lounge. The lounge is functional more than anything else. It has wifi, shower facilities and a quiet zone with day rooms. Foodwise however, it’s a bit of a wasteland. There are close to no food options and all drinks, cold and warm, are only available from one of those instant machines.

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Boarding

The gates in the domestic part of the terminal have letters, rather than numbers. My flight is boarding from gate A, which appears to be one of the few domestic gates that gives you direct access to the aircraft.

Not my ride.
Not my ride.
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The boarding process is a neat and orderly manner. Our flight is delayed by only 15 minutes and the ground crew cannot stop apologizing for the inconvenience.

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The flight is nearly completely full, with only single empty seats here and there.

The Cabin

The cabin on this bird is Economy Class only. The aircraft looks very well kept and neat. More over, I am amazed by how clean the windows are. Do they actually clean these every day? Leg space is surprisingly good and the seat is comfortable enough for the 85 minutes hop to Hokkaido.

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The Crew

The cabin crew is made up of four female attendants. It’s fascinating to see how much more seriously this crew take their jobs compared to the flight attendants I’m used to in Europe. First of all, when they pass through the cabin doing the safety check, these ladies even make sure that every overhead locker is properly closed, checking each one individually. Later on during the flight it is interesting to see that the crew remain in the cabin even once the drinks service is over, chatting to passengers or playing with the many children on board today’s flight.

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Departure is from the same runway on which I landed a few hours previously with the A 380. On our way to the runway I even spot my first ever ‘live’ B 787 and I am quite surprised by how small the bird is in real life.

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Take-off is the complete opposite of what the A 380 treated me to the day before. Our little B 737 demonstrates some impressive acceleration as we go thundering down the runway.

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Once we’re airborne we continue on more or less the same heading for about 15 minutes. Our routing and the clear sky provide some excellent views of mount Fuji, visible right behind our left aileron.

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The Meal

Strictly speaking, there is none. Catering on this flight consists of just a drink, with a small selection of tea, coffee and a few soft drinks. I have a cup of apple juice and then, for the rest of the flight I just sit back and watch the beautiful winter scenery down below.

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Arrival

Our arrival route into Chitose airport is a circuitous one, with many left and right turns before we are finally lined up with the runway.

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As we taxi off the active runway I am surprised to find that the taxiways have only been partially cleared of snow and in fact we are rolling over large patches of ice. There is snow everywhere, and heaps of the stuff!

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My flight arrives at 12h15. I still have about two hours to wait before my transfer picks me up to take me to the Niseko Ski Resort. Jetlag always makes me hungry, so I head up to the third floor where there is a large food court and treat myself to a large bowl of nice, warm and chewy Udon noodles and an Onigiri.

By the time I’m in the car on my way to Niseko I’m exhausted. The journey from the airport to Niseko is slightly more than two hours. I nod off to sleep as we leave the terminal and only wake up as we come to a halt outside my hotel, the Kimamaya.

Conclusion

ANA gave a solid performance on this flight today. Given the short duration of the flight, there was hardly any opportunity for the airline to excel really. Even so, the professionalism displayed by the crew leaves you with the feeling of a great experience and having been well taken care of. I like!