Saturday, July 25, 2009

Japan Trip 2009: The flight

I've talked before about my fear of flying, and also specifically about flying to Japan. I've taken extreme measures to control my phobia, up to and including the use of controlled substances (by prescription!). I will say that living near a major airport, I'm getting a little better - it does kind of sink in after a while that all these planes are taking off and landing all around you, and why should my flight be so special and crash?

The flight to Japan this time was actually pretty pleasant, at least as flying goes these days. We always try to fly either ANA or JAL and preferably ANA, mostly because of the service and food.

This was my first time flying a 777 to Japan, and we got the Star Alliance plane. ANA actually switched to 777's a couple years ago now, but we flew JAL last time and they were still running 747's on the route. I have to say that despite having two fewer engines, I might actually like the 777 a little better for long flights. They're a little quieter, and maybe this was just my perception but it seemed that they're pressurized to a lower "cabin altitude". (Airline cabins aren't pressurized to sea level pressure - more like 8,000 feet, so you can still suffer from altitude effects, especially on long flights. But the exact pressure can vary from airplane to airplane.) I felt less fatigue by the end of the flight, and less of that light-headedness that I've come to associate with flying in general.

ANA feeds you two big meals and a snack, same as JAL, but I think the quality of ANA's food is a little better. Or at least I did, until the breakfast just before landing on the way to Japan, which had the whole plane talking. It was some sort of Korean thing, for reasons nobody could figure out, and it was basically ground beef and cabbage. I heard some Americans talking about how "interesting" it was, but even the Japanese passengers just thought it was strange. My wife and the woman sitting next to her actually spent about 20 minutes talking and laughing about it before landing. No, Japanese people do not regularly eat Korean breakfasts. (The breakfast in the other direction was western - pancakes and sausage.)

The offending breakfast.

The lunch was a little more reasonable in both directions, and included choices that were clearly western and Japanese (JAL offers a similar choice, but their options are not very distinct). I don't actually remember what I had on the way out, but I do remember the choice on the way back was beef gyudon or chicken with a cream tomato sauce. They also give you a pretty ludicrous number of side dishes, both hot and cold - potato salad, fruit salad, cold cuts, a roll, cold soba noodles (so glad they brought these back!), Japanese pickles, and they finish it all off by walking around with a cooler full of Haagen Dazs ice cream that's obviously been sitting in liquid nitrogen, because you'd mistake it for concrete.

Oh, and how about this for service: several times throughout the flight, the flight attendants walk around with a basket of wine. In economy class! It is, of course, free. (Or at least, included in your ticket price.)

ANA's in-flight entertainment has always been pretty good, but it's a lot better now than it was even 3 years ago when I last flew them. I believe the system we had this time was called "Magic-2" and it's an all on-demand system with games, movies, audio, TV shows and more. There were more than 40 movies available, some of them good, others not, and both Hollywood and Japanese in origin. (Including big Japanese films like "Departures".) I watched "The International", which was terrible, and the first two Matrix movies (the trilogy is available), which I've seen before but just felt like watching again. My wife watched "Revolutionary Road" and "Hula Girls", which we've watched together before. Funnily enough, they also have the entire first season of "24", which comes with a warning that it may contain disturbing images of planes crashing. This was actually my first experience with on-demand IFE - when we flew JAL last time, they had 13 channels of movies but they were continuously running. That's similar to what ANA had 3 years ago.

ANA is one of the few airlines that generally has nosewheel and external cameras on their aircraft. Some people like this - I usually hate it, because they show the takeoffs and landings on the big screens in the front of the cabin and it always looks like we're headed for the trees. Still, I found myself kind of missing it on the return trip - a newer 777 (built last year) that didn't have either camera. I wonder if they're phasing them out.

We did have them on the flight to Japan, and the landing was crazy. In typically understated fashion, they told us the weather in Narita was "cloudy" before we landed. Of course what they really meant was it was "fogged in solid". (Always add an extra level to whatever they tell you the weather is... "cloudy" either means "foggy" or "heavy thunderstorms". For it to really just be "cloudy", they will say it's "partly sunny".) They turned on the nosewheel cam and all I could see was white. I heard and felt the landing gear drop and the flaps go to full, so I knew we were close to the ground. The runway appeared out of the mist literally a moment before we touched down. I actually said "whoa" out loud when I saw it. Probably an auto-land. The funny thing was I always look to the flight attendants to see if they're scared - well, we were sitting right next to one this time, and after landing, she was actually patting her chest!

Anyway, we lived to fly another day.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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