Thursday, May 02, 2013

HND-OKA and flying Japan domestic - Japan 2013 trip report part 8

For our final few days in Japan this year, my wife and I decided to head to Okinawa - mainly to use up some JAL miles that were about to expire. Free trip! Okinawa's been called the Hawaii of Japan, so I've been wanting to check it out for a while. I'll have other posts about all the stuff we did on this short side trip (and the unlucky weather).

I was actually a little nervous about flying domestically in Japan. How do you check in? Would security be different than flying in/from the US? Would any of the signs or announcements be in English? Do they serve food on the plane? Google was actually no help - this is one of those subjects that just brings up a ton of spam but no real info. So maybe this post can actually be of use to someone.

We booked an early morning flight to Okinawa so we'd have most of the day left once we got there. To major destinations in Japan, both ANA and JAL fly more than a dozen times per day from Tokyo. To Okinawa, Japan Airlines has flights about every 30 minutes - and these are widebodies, not dinky little regional jets!

This is not a widebody - this is the Airport Limousine Bus bus to Haneda Airport. Tokyo's airports are well connected by rail but still, if you're staying near the Tokyo City Air Terminal and you have a bunch of bags, bus is the way to go. This was pretty much rush hour and you see how empty this bus is.

This is the "Giant Sky Wheel" - at one time the world's largest ferris wheel, from the bus.

I've previously written about Haneda so I won't spend too much time talking about it here. It is an impressive airport. JAL domestic flights are from Terminal 1, the older and slightly less architecturally interesting of the two domestic terminals. One tip if you're flying out of there: don't feel pressured to just get food at the Starbucks before going through security. There are tons of stores and restaurants past security at Haneda. Though I'll say this - the clerk who helped me at the T1 Starbucks spoke English better than I do!

The boarding process is different from the US. I didn't realize that I already had my boarding pass. When you first book a domestic ticket online, you're asked to print out something that looks like this:

This is the boarding pass. I was confused by this at first - I kept reading the instructions at the bottom and thinking "so when do I get my boarding pass?" I'm used to printing out itineraries for my flights like this, but when I go to the airport, they look at this, look at my ID and then print me a boarding pass.  Flying Japan domestic, this paper is literally all you need to get on the plane.  The guy at the check-in counter even looked confused when I tried to hand him my passport for identification - he just gave it back without even opening it.

If you don't have this, they'll print you another one. Then it's kind of like the process we're used to.

Security is a little different too. For one thing, no shoe removal! And no nude-o-scopes. Japan has not gone batshit crazy with fear like we have. There's only one line and it's short and moves fast. You do still need to take your laptop out of the bag... and I dropped mine on the floor when putting it back in, which physically bent it. Blah.

Security prints you a receipt that has the boarding information that would otherwise be on a boarding pass. You don't need this to board the plane, though, it's just informational.

Our plane again, one of JAL's 777-300's (not ER).  They use these for domestic flights - no first class but lots of "Class J" (economy plus). We flew in Class J - as a 6'4" guy, I really cannot handle modern economy class on any airline anymore.

Our seats. It's quite nice having a 2-4-2 layout! My wife and I got to sit together, by ourselves, with both a window and an aisle.

Obligatory legroom shot. Again, I am 6'4", so this isn't bad. I'm getting old and spoiled, so this is actually kind of the minimum I try to get these days.

Still not enough room for me to cross my legs in this seat, but I was comfortable enough and this was the best we could do on this flight. JAL does have signs at the check-in counters where you can upgrade to first class for only 8,000 yen (about $80), but obviously only if the plane has it. The seats in Class J are the "slide forward" type of recline despite all that extra seat pitch, so my knees still ended up pretty close to the seat in front as I tried to sleep during the flight.

Really crappy shot of the Class J cabin - this was actually on our way back, when we could only get middle seats.

If you're wondering about English announcements, oddly enough on our flight out all announcements were in Japanese only, but on the way back they were in both Japanese and English. On the outbound flight, a cabin attendant even came over to explain to my wife (who is Japanese) that the announcements would only be in Japanese and she would have to translate for me. I'm not sure if they were just down an English-speaking cabin attendant that day or if there's some actual policy, like making dual announcements only if there are X number of westerners on board.

JAL has a very limited drink and snack service on this route, and it's probably the same to other domestic destinations. You actually get better options on the shinkansen - unfortunately there's no shinkansen tunnel to Okinawa! There's also no personal IFE, although JAL does show pre-recorded TV on the main cabin monitors. I spent the two and a half hour flight watching that and trying to sleep.

The descent into Okinawa was rough. And very strange. We seemed to pop under the clouds at about 5,000 feet and then just hung there for a long time. Lots of turbulence and rain, which was a bad omen.

I snapped this shot on the way out - not gonna see sights like that for very much longer. (The 744D's are all being retired - this is one of the last ones.)

I didn't get many (or really any) pics of Okinawa's airport - it's pretty unremarkable. (Wikipedia has a couple good photos if you really want to see it.) Though here's a shot of my Naha Airport ramen on the trip back to Tokyo:

That's one thing I love about Japanese airports and train stations - they actually attract good food, because duh, that's where all the people are at meal times! (Notice the bitter melon in that ramen - that's an Okinawa specialty.)  It's not just a bunch of McDonalds' and Burger Kings. This is one of those things about Japan that makes you smack your forehead and say "of course! Why didn't we think of that?" Why do real restaurants actually avoid airports in the west?

Anyway, more from Okinawa shortly!

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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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