Getting to Haneda Airport from Shinjuku
I haven’t been in Japan long enough to get jetlag, which is good because it means that when I leave my hotel in Shinjuku just before six in the morning, I’m actually feeling rather bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
To get from Shinjuku to Haneda airport by public transport, you can either catch an airport bus from the bus terminus at Shinjuku, or you can take a train and then the monorail – which is what I do. First, I take the Yamanote JR Line to Hamamatsucho. The nice thing about the Yamanote is that it runs in a circle. So even if you catch a train going the wrong way, you’ll still get there in the end.
From Hamamatsucho I catch the Tokyo Monorail from one floor up to take me to Haneda. The train’s first stop at the airport is Terminal 3, which is from where the international flights leave. The ticket is JPY700 for a oneway from Shinjuku to Haneda.
ANA checks in on rows C, D and E. If you’re in Business Class and not using the check-in kiosks, head for row C. But be warned… The Japanese are incredibly polite, but also incredibly complicated. It takes me 20 minues to reach the head of the queue, mainly because the check-in agents spend a lot of time doing utterly useless things. For example, they label a suitcase on the conveyor belt. Next they open the security screen, check twice that there is nothing stuck in the conveyor belt, and then push the button for the belt to start moving and the suitcase to move forward to the main belt. Once the suitcase is gone, they close the screen, again checking that nothing has managed to get stuck anywhere. Mindfullness is one thing, but this just really very inefficient and very frustrating. I mean, it’s not as though lives hang in the balance by leaving the screen for the main conveyor belt open.
The check-in agent checks me in to Heathrow and then informs me that she cannot check me in for the last leg, because ANA has no check-in interline agreement in place with BA…
After check-in comes security, which again seems way more complicated in how it’s organised than it need be. But eventually, I manage, I’m through security and passport control.
The ANA Business Class Lounge
At Haneda airport ANA has a First Class lounge and the Business and Star Gold lounge. The views from the lounge are excellent. Too bad the place is crawling with people and there’s hardly any place to sit.
The lounge has an interesting selection of hot and cold Western and Japanese food items available from a buffet. The selection is good, but you need a bit of patience…
The entrance to the lounge is opposite gate 110, which also happens to be my gate for London.
Boarding is by zones and a very orderly and quiet process. It looks as though it’s going to be a full flight.
Our departure is scheduled for 09:25. However, there’s a bit of a hold up because of something related to having to check the hold luggage. By the time we push back, we running an hour late.
ANA’s Boeing B 777-300 fleet has The Room Business Class seat installed. The main feature of the seat is a side panel that can be raised and a sliding door for more privacy. The door isn’t very high, though. The unevenly numbered seats are rear-facing and closer to the window, whereas the evenly-numbered seats are forward-facing and closer to the aisle.
The big advantage of this seat is that it is quite spacious. Other than that though, I have to say that it’s one of the more uncomfortable seats I’ve ever experienced, especially given that our flight time to London today is going to be 14 hours. First of all, the seat is very low above the ground. With my feet flat on the floor, the angle of my thighs to my torso is about 45 degrees and not very comfortable. The seatback is fully flat and offers zero back support.
I am 184 cm tall, which is pretty average for a male adult. Even so, it’s impossible for me to stretch out fully with the seat extended to a bed. The best results are achieved by lying at an angle, but even then it is not a comfortable surface to sleep on.
As far as I’m concerned, the seat’s only redeeming feature is that it gives me a comfortable and unobstructed view of the wing and the engine. The size of those things…
There are two Western cabin crew on this flight. One of them is male. The rest of the cabin crew are female. Service begins on the ground with the distribution of the welcome drinks. On offer are sparkling wine and orange juice. The cabin crew kindly oblige me with a still water instead.
After an hour of more or less incessant announcements in both Japanese and English, none of which make any sense, we’re finally ready to push. As we taxi out to our runway, we pass a whole line up of aircraft that look as though they have not been active in quite a while, including this B 787 with both its engines missing.
You can say what you like, but the B 777-300 is a total beast. Even heavily laden for a 14 hour leg across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans the acceleration is impressive. Our climb out takes us in a zig-zag route over Tokyo toward Narita, from where we start our Pacific crossing.
Our routing today takes us up north along the Kamchatka peninsula. We then cross the Bering strait and make a beeline for Greenland, then Iceland and eventually Scotland. As we fly over the Northpole, it’s fascinating to watch the compass on screen gradually adjust.
The Meal – First Service
As on the outbound flight, I decide to go with the Japanese option.
The planned amuse bouche has been swapped and replaced with a special Japanese New Year dish of dried fish and something. It’s not very good and rather bland.
To be perfectly honest, the meal is incredibly boring and very bland. Essentially, it’s soy sauce with a variety of different veggies, meat or fish that all taste of, well… soy sauce and not much else.
The only remarkable thing about this meal is the stupendous chocolate mousse, which is rich, creamy and sumptuous.
The Meal – Inflight Snacking
ANA has a wide selection of snacks available in case you get the hungries on such a long flight, of which I try the delectable fondant biscuits, the vanilla ice cream, the fruit, the cheese plate and the IPPUDO plant-based ramen. If I’d known earlier, I think I would have skipped the main meal and just had the ramen.
The ramen can be spiced up with a small red sachet of red chilli paste, which is lovely!
The Meal – Second Service
Two hours out of Heathrow, the second meal service starts, and again I go for the Japanese option. Perhaps a note for vegetarians: ANA is really not very good with non-meat dishes. If you don’t want to go hungry, I would strongly recommend ordering a special meal ahead.
As expected, the second service tastes a lot like soy sauce. I have a coffee and a fondant biscuit for dessert just to make sure I’m not suffering from a sudden loss of taste.
Arrival into Heathrow
We make landfall over Scotland and fly down the length of the UK to make an approach from the East. Our final decent brings us in right over London and the West End. It’s a spectacular view that just never gets old!
Despite our departure delay of one hour, we land in Heathrow exactly on time, at 15:25. Our flight comes to an end at the satellite terminal 2B. I now have two hours to make my connection from Terminal 5.
Conclusion – The Verdict
Meh…! That was a bit of a let down, from the mess at check-in and the crowds in the lounge to the very bland food on the plane and the uncomfortable seat, this was not a pleasant experience with ANA. I seriously think I’m going to have to see a chiropractor when I get back. The flight’s redeeming features were a) the crew, which were all just so nice and friendly, and b) the fact that the flight was operated by a Boeing B 777-300. I mean, have you seen the size of those engines…!? Other than that, I wouldn’t actively avoid ANA in future, but I definitely won’t go out of my way to fly with them either.