The first leg of my recent Japan on points trip brought me there on Korean Air First Class. It’s a flight I enjoyed, but can’t decide if it rated great, or just merely good. For the return, I switched to Star Alliance, booking a seat in ANA First Class. Here’s a few quick first impressions of my first flight ever on a Japanese carrier, from Tokyo Narita to LA.
Better Ground Service That Still Trails European Carriers
The ANA ground experience easily topped Korean Air (though that sets a low bar). The experience at Narita starts with a dedicated First Class (“Suite”) check-in area. No, it’s not the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, but does provide a relaxed check-in and dedicated security screening.
After security, though, you’re on your own. No personal escort to the lounge or private passport control, for example.
ANA also offers a special “ANA Suite Lounge” for First Class passengers. This is a fine lounge, if somewhat less exclusive than what Air France and Lufthansa offer in their hubs. The modern Japanese style provides a comfortable atmosphere. Since I arrived early, I enjoyed about a very quiet first hour here; it became a little more crowded as we hit the evening rush.
I put off lunch until I arrived at the lounge, and enjoyed some goodies from the noodle bar. With the rainy weather outside, I started off with some pork broth ramen.
And of course, nothing beats a glass of sochu while planespotting out the window.
Unfortunately, I found service in the lounge mediocre. It just wasn’t proactive, and nobody cleared away dishes or glasses until 10 minutes before I left. That was after nearly 2 hours in the lounge.
So overall, ANA offers a decent ground service, but it falls a bit short of the big European products.
A Very, Very Comfortable Seat and Bed
ANA’s First Class cabin on the 77W is slightly larger than Korean Air’s on the 747-8. It features 8 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, compared to 6 on KE’s 748. However, the cabin felt much larger for some reason. Maybe it’s because the “cubes” take up more real estate.
The suites don’t have doors, but given the wrap-around shell, the seats feel quite private. Undoubtedly, it also helped that the cabin went out just 2/8 full. The seat itself is quite spacious and comfortable, allowing you to travel across the Pacific #likeaboss.
For window seat geeks, though, these seats come with one major limitation. The shape of the seat blocks the closest window; thus, you have to lean quite far forward to see out. It takes some real contortion with the seat belt on.
When it’s sleep time, the flat bed and excellent bedding proved extremely comfortable for sleeping. I fell asleep after dinner – and enjoyed a deep slumber for 7 full hours, until an hour until landing. Prepare for a warm cabin, though. Personally I prefer that, but if that bothers you, expect that going in.
So I find myself conflicted about “First Square”. On the one hand, if First Class is all about the seat, you can’t really argue with this product. Both the seat and bed are excellent, even without a door. (That’s also why I find doors overrated, a subject for another post.) But the window situation seriously bothers me. Granted, it’s personal preference as someone obsessed with looking out the window. I’ll have to decide how much of a demerit that warrants.
A Delectable 10-Course Japanese Feast
This was where I came away most impressed. Partly to throw some shade at my friend Matthew from Live and Let’s Fly, I ordered the Japanese option for dinner. And boy, I didn’t regret it for one instant. I won’t ruin it completely pending the full review. But I’ll share a photo of the menu, and a little bit of the meal (the Zensai course).
The meal was heavy on fish, something I almost never eat. And I had no clue what some of the items were. But every single thing on the menu was simply fantastic. So consider the gauntlet thrown down, Matthew. Don’t wuss out and order the Western meal the next time you fly ANA. If I can do it, so can you. (Of course, I wrote this before Matthew took the plunge on China Southern. Guess that’s what I get for trash talking.)
Then, I finished off dinner with a real treat. ANA offers Japanese Hibiki whisky in First Class; I couldn’t resist ordering one (the 17 Year) for a nightcap. If you’re a whisky snob, you’ll really enjoy this.
Good Service For the Most Part, But…
With the exception of the lounge, I found service very good. At check-in, the agent through-checked my bags to DFW, even with my last leg on American on a separate ticket. And the flight attendant offered small touches like making my bed in a separate seat with all the empty seats. And despite waking up just an hour before landing, I received a full breakfast service without feeling rushed.
But I must say, everything felt a little – artificial? It’s almost like they were trying too hard. That’s another thing I’m going to reflect on before making a final judgment.
Overall, I enjoyed this flight a bit more than my Korean Air leg. I just can’t love the seat design, but ANA provides a decent (if non-industry leading) ground service, a comfortable bed, and impressive food & beverage. My initial verdict is this is a great way to use your miles, and one of the most accessible.