After flying to Asia in Korean Air First Class, I tried a different way home. This time, my flight came courtesy of another new airline, ANA, also in First Class. I’ve long heard great things about First Class on Japanese carriers, so I really looked forward to this experience. As a reminder, I used 90,000 Avianca LifeMiles to book this flight. To do so, I transferred 45,000 Citi Thank You points, and purchased the rest at 1.5 cents/point.
See also: Brad’s review of ANA First Class from Tokyo to Chicago.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my long weekend to Japan in July. Click here for the introduction and trip report index.
ANA (NH) Flight 176
- Tuesday, July 16, 2019
- Depart: Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT), Terminal 1, Gate 57A, 16:15, 10m late
- Arrive: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminal TBIT, 11:04, 39m late
- Duration: 10 hours 49 minutes
- Seat: 1K
- Equipment: Boeing 777-300ER
Check-In and Boarding
I walked over to the check-in area from the Narita Express station, after doing a little shopping first. If you’re walking over from the mall, you might have trouble finding the First Class check-in area. ANA places its Suite Check-In in Zone Z, but it’s actually out of ABC order. First look for Zone A, then look straight back for Zone Z. I thought it was at the opposite end of the concourse and kept looking in vain.
Here, you’ll find the dedicated ANA Suite Check-In.
It’s not the full song and dance you get at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, but ANA still offers a pretty good service. Friendly agents provide prompt service, and seem to go above and beyond to assist passengers. For example, my connecting flight to Dallas was on American, on a separate ticket. ANA has no obligation to interline checked bags in that instance. But the agent insisted on doing so, and printed my tag all the way to DFW. I appreciated the small gesture, since it saved me a $30 bag fee. And a stop at the check-in counter in Los Angeles.
ANA also provides a dedicated security check for Suite Check-In, which took only a minute to clear. They do not provide expedited passport control, though; you just enter the general queue after exiting security. Fortunately I encountered short lines that day, and made it through in only a few minutes.
Boarding began 30 minutes prior to departure. ANA doesn’t offer escorted boarding like Air France and Lufthansa. But they do at least offer a separate boarding lane which gets you on the plane first. A flight attendant warmly welcomed me on board, and then personally introduced me to the First Class FA and brought me to my seat.
ANA First Class 777-300ER – Seating and Interior
ANA uses the “First Square” in the front cabin, which receives mixed reviews. Personally I liked the seat, with a couple of exceptions I’ll get to. The First Class cabin contains just 8 seats in a 1x2x1 configuration. Thanks to the lack of overheads in the middle, the cabin feels quite open and spacious. Though the suites lack doors, the high-walled, wrap-around shells provide good privacy. When seated, you really can’t see your neighbor. The interior finishes are understated yet elegant, though I’m not sure what to make of the boxy look. The geometric precision looks at once smart yet – a little creepy?
It’s hard to see, but each suite also has a second “door” which reveals a personal storage closet. It’s just large enough to hold a garment bag or coat.
Each first class seat measures a whopping 33 inches wide, with 76 inches of pitch. It is, to say the least, an enormous seat, comfy for passengers of all sizes.
As you can see, passengers have PLENTY of room to stretch out.
I like how the navy blue seats complement the wood trim of the seat shells.
The First Class FA was kind enough to take my photo before we took off. (As an aside, the crew on both Korean Air and ANA seemed amused by my picture taking. Both offered to take my picture, and asked if I got the shots I wanted when I left.)
I found the seat comfortable in both upright and reclined mode.
The seats include several useful small storage areas. Up front, there’s plenty of room for a laptop or small bag under the foot of the seat. A (minor) suggestion – I think a storage box like the one on the Air France 777 or Lufthansa 747 works a little better.
The side wall also includes a storage cubby with a “bucket” plenty large enough to hold a passport, phone, and wallet.
The armrest on the window side also provides ample storage space. However, this also illustrates my major complaint with the seat – the issue of blocked windows. The “square” design blocks all but one window, and even then, you have to lean forward to look out. As someone who loves looking out the window, this really bugs me.
On the wall closest to the window is another compartment on the top left that reveals a mirror and a small storage space.
Electronic seat controls are on the lower right of the panel, with two options available. Default controls include three pre-set positions: upright, relaxed, and bed mode. A standard 110v outlet is just to the right of the seat controls.
Touch the “Adjuster” option to display the full range of adjustment options. While this does allow a high degree of customization, the controller takes a bit of getting used to. It took me a little fiddling to figure out how to move the various seat parts forwards vs backwards, for example.
If you end up sitting in one of the center seats, there is an adjustable divider between the two seats. With the divider up, the suite feels quite private. If traveling with someone, though, even keeping the divider down doesn’t really help. Again, because of the boxy design, you can’t really talk to your companion unless both of you lean awkwardly far forward.
So in short, the suites definitely favor privacy above all else. Whether that’s a plus or minus depends on your perspective and your trip’s purpose.
Anyway, the seat goes fully flat in bed mode, of course, and ANA provides comfortable bedding.
Many commentators complain about warm cabins on ANA. I didn’t find that to be the case on this flight, and thanks to the excellent mattress pad, slept solidly for 7 hours. Like literally, 7 hours without interruption. I only awoke upon hearing an automated announcement that we were one hour out of Los Angeles.
Waiting at my seat was a “Globe-Trotter” amenity kit. The case resembles the Globe-Trotter “Safari” suitcase – some seriously expensive luggage. A small 18″ case retails for $1,485 at Bloomingdale’s. Way out of my budget, but it does look quite nice. I really liked Delta’s TUMI 19 Degree kits, but I think I like this one even better.
The case has some useful dividers inside, and includes a basic set of The Ginza products. Shiseido’s luxury line of beauty products isn’t cheap. The tube of creamy cleansing foam, for example, retails for $78. The kit also includes an eye mask, ear plugs, and dental kit.
ANA First Class suites come equipped with large screen TVs with excellent resolution.
The entertainment system is controlled by a remote in one of the side wall panels (the one that says “PUSH” in the earlier photo).
ANA provides Sony noise-cancelling headphones in First Class, which I found quite good. In particular, I found them very comfortable around the ears.
The entertainment system itself isn’t industry leading, and definitely seems to have more Asian content than Western. (Then again, that’s perfectly appropriate for a Japanese carrier.) Nevertheless, I found a fair selection of shows and movies. I watched a couple of episodes of NCIS before falling asleep after dinner.
I did find it interesting that there were a couple of Bollywood movies on offer. I didn’t think Bollywood had much of a following in Japan.
Meanwhile, I had to chuckle at some of the travel/lifestyle selections. Tokyo traffic safety for tourists, anyone?
The safety video also struck me as…uniquely Japanese.
In theory, ANA offers First Class passengers free WiFi, via a voucher card distributed on boarding. While the voucher only offers 100 MB of data, someone told me you can request as many cards as you want.
I say “in theory”, because unfortunately, I never actually succeeded in connecting, despite multiple attempts. My friend Matthew encountered the same problem last year, making me think this is a frequent issue. When flying other classes, ANA offers the following packages for purchase:
- $4.95 for 30 minutes (15MB max data)
- $8.95 for 1 hour (30MB max)
- $19.95 for “full flight” (100MB max)
Honestly, I find the “full flight plan” a joke; 100MB of data doesn’t last very long at all given data usage of most apps these days.
ANA First Class 777-300ER – Food & Beverage
Word of warning – I’m going to spend a good deal of time talking about the food & beverage experience. One, because it’s something I value highly in a premium class experience. Second, I found it absolutely magnificent.
The fun began with an offer of a pre-departure beverage. I’ve said before, I’m not much of a champagne fan, but I take a glass as a PDB for tradition’s sake. But I must admit, the Krug selfie did feel just a little more special than usual.
Unlike many carriers, ANA waits until after takeoff to distribute menus. They do not offer a “book the cook” service, but it’s not really necessary for an 8-passenger cabin. While not technically “dine on demand”, the F cabin had just two passengers on our flight, so the flight attendant said I could order dinner whenever I wanted to. The menu offers either a Japanese (9 course) or Western menu. (You can, I believe, select items off both menus if you want.)
After dinner, you can order off of the “Light Dishes” menu at any time. The first photo is the snack menu; the second, more of a brunch menu with either a Japanese or Western prix fixe setup.
I found the beverage menu especially impressive. Besides the Krug and Taittinger, the wine list is represented by nice vintages from around the world. (Click each photo for the full size version.)
ANA also offers two varieties of sake, three types of shochu, plum wine, and a selection of liquors and beers. Especially intriguing – a rare 17 year Hibiki whisky.
Meanwhile, if you prefer something nonalcoholic, enjoy a selection of sodas, tea, coffee, and espresso drinks.
Meal service formally began about 25 minutes after take-off with a beverage service. I selected a brown sugar shochu, which I quite enjoyed.
Here’s where I have to give Matthew a roasting. He says he can’t resist ordering steak on Japanese carriers. While his steak certainly looks nice, I can’t pass up trying a carrier’s local cuisine. So, I asked for the Japanese set menu. The 9-course feast began with an amuse bouche, common to both menus. Though I don’t quite get the “nut chili pie stick”, I found all four items quite tasty. The miso flavored egg yolk was probably my favorite.
Next up came courses 2 and 3, “Sakizuke” and “Zensai”, served together. Once again, I enjoyed everything, but liked the bourdock root with cream cheese the best. Surprisingly, I found the Wagyu beef a bit overdone, given that most reviews of ANA’s beef rave about how it’s cooked.
Next came the “Owan” course, a clear soup with winter melon and shrimp fishcake. The “fishcake” scared me a bit, as I normally avoid fish, and especially not something made with fish paste. But I found good flavors here. It wasn’t overpowering at all, the melon helping to tame the flavor.
At this point, I also switched beverages to the sauvignon blanc. Though only $20 a bottle, this was an excellent wine. The dry/citrus/fruity flavors accompanied this fish-heavy meal quite nicely.
Next up was the “Otsukuri” course, a sashimi plate. Again, I didn’t know what to expect here, since I never eat sushi or sashimi at home. But I found both the tuna and striped jack delicious, especially with the sauce. The tuna in particular had a hearty, “meaty” flavor, with a nice melty texture.
The 6th, 7th, and 8th courses came together at one sitting. Honestly, I couldn’t exactly tell what was what, but continuing the theme, I enjoyed this much more than expected. The grilled fish was quite mild, and blended into the rest of the meal quite easily. The only item I sort of didn’t enjoy were the jelly noodles, which had a slimy texture that was unpleasant.
Lastly, the FA brought the “Kanmi” (dessert) course, a simple dish of fruit and macha ice cream in syrup. Personally, I don’t buy into the macha craze, but this light dessert complemented the large feast well. And, of course, I asked for what I eagerly looked forward to for months before this flight. That’s the 17 year Hibiki.
This stuff retails for nearly $500 a bottle, assuming you can even find it. And if you like whisky, you’ll really like this one. It’s not smoky like a single malt Scotch, but these blended whiskys feature incredibly complex flavors. You’ll find sweet, floral, malty, and even slightly fruity flavors as you sip. Whisky snobs say the Hibiki 21 beats the 17 handily. Which means I need to book myself on a flight to New York or Frankfurt stat to find out.
I thought that ended the meal, but the FA insisted I take a plate of after-dinner chocolates.
Meal service took about an hour and 40 minutes total. That’s perhaps a little slow for an overnight flight. But on a 10 1/2 hour flight, that still leaves plenty of time for sleep. And sleep I did, zoning out for nearly a full 7 hours. Upon awakening, the FA came to my seat nearly instantly to offer a drink and more food. This time, I started with a cappuccino, which was good and strong, though it looked a bit rough.
This time, I requested the Western brunch option, a small frittata with bread. Though a small meal, I still felt pretty full from my dinner feast, so it hit the spot perfectly.
Overall, I found this one of, if not THE, best in-flight meal I’ve had. Not only was everything beautifully presented, but I found every single item tasty. I didn’t know what probably half of this stuff was, but I’m glad I took the chance. C’mon, Matthew, get your adventure on!
ANA First Class Service
Service really hit the Goldilocks zone on this flight – just right in every way. I found the First Class FA friendly, but not in a robotic or artificial way. She provided polished Japanese hospitality from start to finish. I had this preconceived notion of overbearing service going on, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, she provided just the right balance between being proactive yet “hands off” so I could savor my meal.
She also did several “little things” that I appreciated, such as offering to make my bed in an adjacent seat since the cabin was mostly empty. And most importantly, letting me sleep and still providing a full meal service, even though I woke up just an hour before landing.
An ugly, rainy day continued right up to our departure, limiting sightseeing as we left Tokyo. In fact, we ended up sitting on the taxiway for a good 30 minutes without moving. That had me worried for a bit, but we eventually started creeping forward again. I caught a couple of interesting planes on the way out, including this Air Macau A320.
I also managed a butt shot of ANA’s “Honu” A380 as we headed down the runway.
Finally, I woke up as we crossed the Central California coast south of Big Sur. The marine layer had retreated, leaving an unobstructed view of the coast.
Further south, a thicker marine layer left a stunning contrast with the Central Coast mountains.
Later, approaching Santa Barbara, the clouds retreated again. leaving a view of the beautiful Channel Islands.
And finally, a somewhat smoggy view of Downtown LA as we turned inland than sharply west for final approach.
You can see from a couple of these photos how the window situation makes things really difficult…
ANA First Class 777-300ER Final Thoughts
I had high expectations going in, but ANA provided a mostly first-rate experience from start to finish. The ANA Suite Lounge is perhaps a little lacking compared to offerings from competitors like Air France or Lufthansa. But otherwise, ANA First Class provides excellent onboard service, terrific meals, and a comfortable seat and bed. The quirky “First Square” design does have its deficiencies, but ANA’s new cabin hopefully takes care of those. And unlike some products, ANA makes its First Class cabin at least somewhat available using points. I had no trouble finding availability for my July trip, and programs such as LifeMiles, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and Aeroplan all provide reasonably priced options.
Air France still takes top honors among F products for me, but I’ll have to think about whether ANA edges out Lufthansa for second.