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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LOUNGE

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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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.

IFE

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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SERVICE

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.

MILEAGE

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…

Japan Airlines, First Class – B 777-200: Sapporo Chitose to Tokyo Haneda

INTRODUCTION

I spend four blissful days in the Niseko-Hirafu region of Hokkaido. The area is well known for its excellent winter sports facilities. And indeed, the place really is lovely and I even manage to get some skiing done in truly excellent conditions. But alas, all good things must come to an end and so it’s time for me to start the long journey home. Today I will travel by train from Niseko to Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport and then from there with Japan Airlines to Haneda. The day after I will be flying on from Narita to Frankfurt with ANA and then eventually to Basel with Lufthansa on 1 January 2013 – my first flight in the new year!

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From: Sapporo New Chitose Airport
To: Tokyo Haneda
Airlines: Japan Airlines
Aircraft: B777-200
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2H, aisle

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I leave the Kimamaya Hotel in Niseko at 10:15. The journey by taxi to the railway station at Kutchan takes roughly 10 minutes to complete. From Kutchan I catch the 11:00 local train to Otaru. The journey takes one hour and 19 minutes to complete and unfortunately it’s standing room only all the way to Otaru.

Vending machine at Kutchan station. The interesting thing is that you can get hot and cold drinks from the same machine!
Vending machine at Kutchan station. The interesting thing is that you can get hot and cold drinks from the same machine!
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From Otaru I catch the rapid train that runs via the city of Sapporo to the airport. I have a reserved seat, but only until Sapporo. Between there and the airport there were already no more reserved seats to be had by the time I purchased my ticket in Kutchan. Fortunately, a lot of passengers leave the train at Sapporo and I quickly find a seat in one of the non-reserved carriages. The journey from the city to the airport is 36 minutes by rapid train.

My train at the Otaru terminus.
My train at the Otaru terminus.
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The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
The local train I arrived on from Kutchan.
My seat in the reserved coach.
My seat in the reserved coach.
Snow right down to the seashore.
Snow right down to the seashore.
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CHECK-IN

I arrive at the airport at 13:46, just over three hours before my departure to Haneda. I have a booking in Business Class today. Check-in at the self-service machine won’t work because I didn’t book the ticket through Japan Airlines directly. So I head for one of the many counters marked ‘ticketing & check-in’.

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I don’t read Japanese at all, but from one of the roll-up posters near the row of counters it looks as though I may upgrade to domestic First Class for as little as 8000 Yen. I ask at the counter and indeed the young lady confirms that seats are available for an upgrade to First for the afore mentioned amount. Excellent!

After all that I’m feeling peckish, it’s been a while since breakfast, so I head upstairs to the third floor again and treat myself to another Onigiri and a bowl of excellent Udon noodles with radish and ginger.

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Here are a few shots I took from the observation deck by the food court.

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THE LOUNGE

With that taken care of, it’s time to go downstairs again to the departures level and head through security. Passengers in First Class have their own dedicated security lane, which they share with JAL’s top tier frequent flyers. From security there is a direct access to the Sakura Lounge. Essentially it’s a Business Class lounge. However there is a separate room that is dedicated to First Class and Premier members. But it’s rather small and so I decide to stay in the general Business Class section of the lounge.

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Access to the First Class box room...I mean lounge.
Access to the First Class box room…I mean lounge.

The lounge is moderately stocked, like most Japanese lounges, and includes another one of those soft drink dispenser machines.

BOARDING

Boarding for my flight starts at 16:50, 10 minutes before departure and I’m thinking this will never work. But I underestimate Japanese efficiency and team spirit and indeed, within 10 minutes Japan Airlines manages to board an entire B777-200 and make sure everybody is seated with their belongings stowed away properly.

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A first glance of my bird tonight.
A first glance of my bird tonight.
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THE CABIN

Perhaps just to explain: if I’m not mistaken, in a normal domestic configuration Japan Airlines has a 3 – 3 – 3 seating arrangement in Economy and a 2 – 4 – 2 arrangement in Business Class. Apart from the slightly wider seat and marginally better pitch, service in Business Class is not really much different to Economy. In domestic First Class however, seating is in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration with wide leather seats in cream coloured leather. The cabin looks well maintained. The interior design is perhaps more a question of personal gusto. Japan Airlines went with a style that I’m not too partial of personally. For some reason it reminds me a lot of the style you find in the States in many of the larger hotel chains.

Nonetheless, the seat is comfortable enough and certainly beats the Business Class alternative. On a side note, the controls of the seat work mechanically, rather than electrically.

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SERVICE

The cabin crew up front consists of three females. One of them notices that I speak German and strikes up a conversation. Apparently she’s studying German at University to become a teacher. She says she’s spent two months in Tübingen in Germany and I am amazed by just how good her German is! After all, it’s not the easiest language to learn, with its complex system of declensions etc.

When I arrive at the seat, I find a menu has already been placed at my seat. As it turns out though, the menu is only available in Japanese. But the crew go out of their way to translate and explain to me what the individual items are. And even once the tray arrives, they repeatedly stop to ask if I’m okay with the Japanese food and if I’m enjoying my meal. I do actually!

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There is also a little gift bag at my seat. Inside it is something wrapped in foil that goes by the name of ‘Bonbon Fromage’. There is also some sort of drink that turns into jelly when you shake it. Both sound absolutely revolting actually and I manage to resist the temptation of trying them out of curiosity.

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Other than that, there are also earphones and a pair of slippers and even a blanket in every seat – all this for a flight of eighty minutes!

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As we start to push back, one of the crew comes by distributing warm towels.

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THE MEAL

When the meal arrives I am really quite impressed by the variety and quality of the food. More importantly, it strikes me that the chopsticks Japan Airlines use up front are of much better quality than the ones I was given in First Class on Lufthansa, which looked as though they’d come straight from a cheap Chinese take away.

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These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It's made with wheat.
These two dishes are warm. The left one is duck, to other is a Japanese specialty. It’s made with wheat.
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Miso.
Miso.
Steamed rice.
Steamed rice.
Dessert. No idea what this was.
Dessert. No idea what this was.

After the meal my tray is removed immediately and I am asked if I would like a tea or coffee. I ask for a coffee, which is brought to me straight away, just as the aircraft starts shaking violently with the turbulence. I end up spilling half the coffee before even having had the chance to have a sip. One of the flight attendant sees this and immediately whisks away my cup – only to bring me a fresh one with a paper doily on the saucer in case of further turbulence.

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To end the meal there is another towel.

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A short while later we start our descent into Haneda. By now it’s started raining heavily and the violent shaking increases. It’s so bad you can actually hear the wind outside over the sound of the engines. Fortunately as we start our final approach the wind dies down and we land in the middle of a severe downpour. Such weather is really quite unusual for this time of the year in the Tokyo area, and in the many years I’ve been coming here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

Once we’re at the gate I bid the crew good bye. The German student flight attendant thanks me for having been able to have a chat in German and wishes me a safe onward journey.

From Haneda I catch the monorail to Hamamatsucho, the terminus station. From here I connect onto the Yamanote Line which takes me to Shinjuku where my hotel is. I like Shinjuku because it’s lively and the hotel is rather central. Shinjuku is also one of the stops at which the Narita Express stops, so I won’t have to wake up too early the next morning for my 12h00 departure to Frankfurt.

Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
Carriage view of the monorail to Hamamatsucho.
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CONCLUSION

The Japanese transport system is excellent and truly integrates all sorts of transport vehicle! I think JAL has a very good product with its domestic First Class that certainly sets them apart from the competition. I’m just not quite sure how sound it is as a business proposition – but time will tell.

EPILOGUE

Niseko was, as I mentioned already, a lot of fun and the skiing there is really excellent. It’s also interesting to note that the place has a very international feel to it but still manages to retain its obviously very Japanese roots. I think I’ll end here with a few images from Niseko.

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KLM, Economy Class – B 737-700: Zürich to Amsterdam

INTRODUCTION

I’ve decided to make the best of the long weekend ahead of the 1. May, which is a public holiday in Switzerland. But where to go? For quite a while I’ve been entertaining the thought of taking the Korean Air flight from Madrid to Amsterdam. While still deliberating where to go for the long weekend it emerges that Korean Air will be ending its Madrid to Amsterdam service in favour of serving both destinations with separate direct flights from Seoul. Perhaps this is something they usually do for the summer season. In any case, the decision is taken from me it seems and I book myself to fly on 1 May 2012 with Korean Air, the last day of operation of the service.

And how do I get to Madrid? Feeling an urgent compulsion to try out a further new airline, I do a bit of exploring and experimenting on the net and eventually settle for a flight with KLM from Zürich to Amsterdam – nothing new there – and from there with Air Europa to Madrid. This trip review is about the first part of the trip and covers the journey from Zürich to Amsterdam.

Date: Friday, 27. April 2012
From: Zürich
To: Amsterdam
Airline: KLM
Aircraft: Boeing B 737-700
Class: Economy Class
Seat: 10B, middle seat, later move to 11A, window

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Things are quiet today in the office. It looks like others have the same idea and have already left for the long week-end. At 15:30 I call it a day, pack my things and leave the office for the airport. I catch the train at 15:55 and by 16:10 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Airport. My flight is not until 19:30 so I head for the observation deck, which I still have not visited since the new dock opened in December 2011. The entrance fee is ChF5.- and there are lockers to but your bags in.

It has turned warm and sunny again here, after three weeks solid of the most god awful weather. As soon as I step outside on to the terrace, I feel like I’ve just gone through a time warp and I realise just how much I have missed being out here. I think of the many hours I spent here as a kid, watching planes from around the world coming and going!

The new dock is very nice, I must say. There are these screens in front of every airbridge, providing information on the aircraft parked at that particular gate. There is also a huge playground, which is well frequented and evidently very popular with the kids. And there are the aircraft themselves of course, which you can get quite close to on the deck.

THE LOUNGE

I spend quite some time outside. Then at around 18:00 I head inside to collect my things and pass through security. From there I head to the Skyteam lounge for a drink before my flight.

BOARDING

There really is not very much to say about the KLM flight. It’s another solid performance. Yes, I know I’m biased. I just really like KLM. Boarding starts right on time but the Swissport agent handling the flight makes a complete dog’s breakfast of the whole process.
but eventually we manage and I am on board.

THE CABIN

I have the middle seat on the emergency exit. Once boarding is completed though, I notice that the row behind me only has a female subject sitting on the aisle reading a book, and evidently, and it is quite unimaginable for me, she is completely uninterested in looking out the window. So I collect my things and move one row back to claim the window seat. The middle seat stays empty, so I have just as much space as on the exit row.

DEPARTURE

For sure the Embraer I normally travel on with KLM is a nifty little plane, and the 2 + 2 configuration is quite convenient for the passenger in terms of comfort. But somehow, sitting here and glancing out at the wing of the B737 I must confess that I find the larger size of the Boeing far more appealing. The whole thing just seems more solid and, well…big.

As usual take-off is from runway 28.

THE MEAL

The meal is the standard drink run you get on KLM with a choice of a sweet or savory snack. Coffee and tea are served at the same time due to the short duration of the flight.

ARRIVAL

All in all it really is a pleasantly uneventful flight and before long we’re already flying through the clouds again on our descent into Amsterdam.

We arrive in Amsterdam a few minutes ahead of schedule. I pass through customs and make a beeline for the CitizenM at the airport, where I will spend the night before my onward journey to Madrid on Air Europa the next day.

Darwin Airlines, Econonmy Class – Saab 2000: Zürich to Genova to Zürich

INTRODUCTION

It’s the Wednesday before Ascension, and I’ve decided to travel to Genoa in Northern Italy on the new Darwin Airlines service from Zürich. I leave the office at 14h40 and head for the airport by train.

Date: 16. May 2012
From: Zürich
To: Genova
Aircraft: Saab 2000
Airlines: Darwin
Class: Economy Class
Seat: originally 6A, then moved to 7F

CHECK-IN

The airport is quite busy when I arrive.

Let’s just see if I can trick the DCS check-in system. I select ‘Swiss’ on the self-service machine, knowing very well that my ticket has the F7 flight number and was issued by Darwin Airlines. But there is a code-share in place. And perhaps if I check-in as a Swiss passenger, that may give me access to the lounge. It works like a charm with Air Malta every time.

I manage to have a boarding pass printed with the Swiss logo on it, but no matter how hard I try, the Senator number cannot be inserted in the booking. They seem to be learning…I might as well make my way to security.

Later on I inquire at the lounge and it transpires that indeed, only passengers booked on a Swiss 724 ticket for the Genoa flight have access to the lounge. Not that the system Swissport uses is very sophisticated. Quite the contrary in fact. The staff manning the reception desk at the lounge have a print out of all passengers for the flight, with the names of those passengers entitled to use the lounge.

It’s not important, so I take a seat by the window, close to gate A63. The weather is indeed awful, I think it’s actually hailing. The positive effect of this, of course, is that it means aircraft are coming in on runway 28, which runs parallel to the terminal. I take a seat, unpack my Mac and in short sequence I have the pleasure of watching three Swiss Airbus A 340-300s battling the elements as they touch down right before my eyes. Welcome home!

BOARDING

At the announced boarding time of 16h25, I head down to gate A56, a bus gate, which is in a provisional building that was erected about ten years ago and then decided to become a permanent fixture.

We pull up by the side of our aircraft. I haven’t been on one of these for ages. Despite its age, the Saab still looks very modern and streamlined.

THE CABIN

The flight is not entirely full, with only a few empty seats here and there. Talk about a trip down memory lane. From the inside you might easily think you’re sitting in a Crossair plane, you can see it in the seats and the fonts used to indicate the seat numbers. And even the service is reminiscent of the old Crossair.

DEPARTURE

Once the door closes, I observe the very young flight attendant as she walks through the cabin slowly. From the way she is moving I guess she is passing through the cabin holding something in her hands, which is concealed from my view by the passenger seats. I assume it’s a tray or basket of sweets, but I find it somewhat strange that so many people decline. It’s only when she reaches my row that I realise she is holding a basket in her hands but that it contains application forms for a Corner Card Visa or Mastercard. So no sweeties then.

We take off from runway 32. On our way there we stop before crossing runway 28 to allow an A 321 to land.

Take-off is powerful but not very steep.

THE MEAL

As soon at the fasten seat belt sign is turned off, the sole flight attendant working the flight springs into action. Quite surprisingly, service consists of some rather tasty sandwiches. There are Silserli buns with Salami and salad, or otherwise a bun with cheese and tomato. I opt for the Salami and I have to say it really is very tasty. What’s more, even in Economy drinks are served in proper glass, not plastic. Now how quaint is that? Shortly after the flight attendant moves on to serve the row behind me, the pilot comes on the blower to inform us that we will already be landing in approximately 20 minutes. That was quick!

ARRIVAL

The approach into Genoa is truly magnificent and fortunately the weather here has decided to play along. Genoa is located on a thin strip of land between the mountains and the sea. Space is so limited that in fact the airport had to be built on reclaimed land. The approach takes you along the coast and offers excellent views of the city, the shore and the mountains behind.

I disembark and emerge into the beautiful sunshine. It’s quite amazing really that one hour ago I was watching the aircraft at Zurich being pelted with hail stones!

I exit the airport building and catch the bus into town. The return ticket costs EUR12. The journey takes about 30 minutes to the railway station.

CONCLUSION

Darwin Airlines really was an eye opener. To be honest, I was not expecting anything at all. In hindsight though, I have to say that they were great. With their little airplanes they really celebrate an art of customer service and hospitality in air travel that has long gone in many other parts of the world. The Saab 2000 are kept in mint condition. But alas, it is of no avail and sadly, the route has since been discontinued.

As for Genoa, simply enchanting!