Sunday, November 01, 2015

ANA International First Class 10/15/2015 report

I've previously flown and reported on ANA's business class, but for this trip there were no award seats available so I got stuck in First. The horror! I don't know how anyone can endure such hardship.

I've actually flown my last five trips to Japan for "free", all on ANA. One was a sweepstakes win. The rest have been mileage awards, paid for with my AMEX points. (I put "free" in quotes because ANA gets paid by AMEX and AMEX gets paid by me and the retailers I've made purchases from. Also, you do still need to pay tax on award tickets, so a first class ticket still costs about $400 out of pocket.)

If you want to know how to do this, check out The Points Guy or similar blogs - though be aware that it's getting a lot harder. ANA's actually one of the few airlines left with reasonably attainable mileage requirements for award tickets, but they now severely restrict the available seats. When I flew business class a couple years ago, I basically had run of the cabin on any days I wanted. This time, I had no choice but first class one way, economy on the way back, and only on very specific days. This despite a near-empty plane on the flight home.

ANA now has their own First Class Lounge at JFK's Terminal 7, though I wouldn't call it an obvious upgrade over the British Airways lounge that's right next door. It's smaller and was generally less crowded (though it did fill up as the flight drew nearer), but it's got a somewhat less impressive spread of food.

Certainly there's no noodle bar like in the airline's Japanese lounges, but there is a selection of sushi as well as "continental breakfast" style items and of course a full bar.

It's also a bit dark and stifling, which does match the ANA lounge I used at Narita, but I'm just not sure why ANA seems to favor this finished basement look. The BA lounge is more homey, though it still lacks windows.

We made our way to our 777-300ER for an on-time departure. I have never known ANA to leave late from either JFK or Narita. This is one of their premiere flights and they seem to do their best to be punctual.

This is one of the first class "suites". I had planned to take this one - hence the picture - but my wife insisted I have the window seat so I could take some video and pictures. This is seat 2D; our other was 2A. I ended up wishing that we'd selected the two middle seats instead (we did have a choice; the whole row was open) because there's at least some way of speaking to each other through that open partition, though you do have to lean very far forward. But it's even harder to do it across the aisle.

I have to say I was a little bit surprised at how cramped the suites feel. The seat itself seems to have a lot of space wasted on the arm rests, and the walls of the suite are also thick enough to cut in to the available seat width. I fit into the seat, but not with much room to spare. It's hard to really get comfortable as you often could on older style first class seats.

There's also quite a bit of space wasted between the suite and the cabin wall, which is obviously intended to make every suite equally desirable. But I think it would have made more sense to just get rid of that side wall and push the suite further against the cabin wall, which would probably add a couple inches of width to all the suites in the cabin. It would also allow the window suites a real view out the window, which they don't have now unless you strain to look through that gap. (Tough to do with your seat belt on for takeoff or landing.)

The business class layout is actually quite a bit more efficient, and it doesn't feel like you have significantly less overall space.

The first class cabin only has two rows, with eight total suites. All were taken by the time of our flight.

This is the view from the seat itself. It's impossible to see anyone else in the cabin. It feels very private, although there's no "door" that you can close. But other than my wife, I never saw or heard any of the other passengers on the airplane for the entirety of the flight. It was almost strange, though not unwelcome.

You can see in the photo above that ANA still provides Samsonite amenity kits. The black case next to it holds the headphones I describe below.

Obligatory legroom shot. I'm 6'4" and I was lounging as much as was possible with the seat belt on in this photo, so my legs were even more forward than normal. Compare this to the legroom shot from business class.

I will say that in actual practice, ANA's business class seats are not really any less comfortable than the first class suites. You still have basically unlimited legroom in business as long as you put your feet up, which you can't really do in first unless you activate the convoluted chair controls and manage to get the leg/foot rest in a position that works (not easy if you have long legs; I never quite managed it). I actually like that better about the business seats.

You'll notice that ANA puts all of your amenities out, and it's really up to you to secure them before takeoff. Most people did not (including me), and you can hear the results in the takeoff video below:

ANA loans you a pair of Sony MDR-10RNC noise canceling headphones, which are coincidentally the same model as the pair I just bought for this flight! (I did get to use my own in economy on the way back.)

These are a step up from the MDR-NC500D model that they hand out in biz class. They really cut a heck of a lot of engine and wind noise.

After the pre-flight champagne, it was time for ANA's excellent meal service:


Melon and prosciutto salad

Basic green salad

Main course - steak with truffle sauce

To be honest, I actually preferred both steaks I had in business class. I'm also disappointed that they no longer have the pesto bread that I liked so much on that trip.

Cheese plate. An optional dish, but what was I gonna do, say no?

And dessert - if I remember right, an apple almond tart

Throughout dinner, I was offered bread whenever mine ran out, and my champagne and wine were constantly refilled without me asking. That's the way I like it!

After dinner I settled in to watch a couple movies on the AVOD system. ANA's entertainment system is the same as it's been since the "Inspiration of Japan" refresh several years ago. The first class cabin has bigger and higher resolution screens than either economy or biz (the business class screens are bigger than economy but no sharper). It's still an excellent system, although it can be a little difficult to scroll through all the movies they have, most of which feature multiple entries for different languages. I watched both Marvel's Ant-Man and Mad Max: Fury Road before falling asleep for the night.

In between, a flight attendant prepared my bed for me while I was up using the bathroom. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of the suite in bed configuration, but of course it's a lie flat bed and unlike in business class, ANA does provide a sheet, extra blanket and a foam pad to make the bed more comfortable.

There was a surprising amount of overnight noise that kept me from really getting a deep sleep. I'm not sure whether it was other passengers or action in the galley or both, but for several hours I heard plates and silverware clanking away against each other. I tried sleeping with my headphones on but it only helped so much.

I did doze on and off and when I finally decided I would wake up for good, we were very close to Japan. I rang for my second meal, which is provided on demand.

The second meal can either be any of their light dishes, or a full two course meal (and it was still dark, so this was shot with my reading light). The first course is a fresh fruit and bread (or cereal) course.

The second course is a gnocchi and meat stew. As usual, ANA doesn't really understand breakfast. This has been a running joke between me and my wife about this airline for more than a decade now. This was good, and I knew what it was before I ordered it, but I almost just ordered some ramen instead.

Nice shot of Japan as we overflew the north

Our landing was a bit adventurous, as landings in Narita often are. Here's the somewhat violent landing video:

I was almost sad for this flight to be over - it was a smooth flight prior to landing and of course the service was amazing. Flying like this is just a completely different experience than flying economy. I would look forward to flying if I could do it like this every time, instead of dreading it as I do flying in the back.

I took a quick parting shot of our plane sitting at the gate at a rainy Narita. Thanks, plane!

By the way, here's proof that ANA's got a sense of humor - their fleet:

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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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