ANA, First Class – Tokyo to London – Trip Report
I’m way beyond my comfort zone being up and awake despite the early hour. There’s a bit of a breeze in the Tokyo Saturday morning air, a few birds are doing their thing while the Park Hyatt people get a cab to come pick me up. Shinjuku Station, Narita Express, and boom, end station, Terminal 1. I get my bags and head up to departures.
ANA runs a separate first class check-in area in the south wing, discreetly tucked away in the east end corner. The glass door slides open and I get a hot towel while the ultra-efficient agent sends me and my bags off to Heathrow. It’s by no means a Lufthansa First Class Terminal equivalent but it’s certainly friendly, efficient, and very Japanese. In a good way. Security, immigration, a quick walk, escalators, a brief visit to the Suite Lounge and I get myself a tiny, tiny breakfast before heading down to the gate. Don’t want to disrupt the upcoming and slightly insane in-flight meal. Boarding is swift and I make yet another lovely left turn when the jet bridge splits in two, I'm greeted by a few flight attendants and settle down in 2K. I opt for a pre-departure serving of chilled green tea, the purser introduces herself and I kick back to relax.
I quite like the ANA Square first class product on the 777. It’s a classic 1-2-1 setup over two rows, with large seats in a mix of light wood and dark blue fabrics. Lights and vanity mirrors are everywhere as, naturally, you do want to make sure you look stunning after having downed a healthy amount of champagne and caviar. And multiple storage spaces allow for easy handling of all your devices, magazines, shoes and what other stuff you may have. There are only two drawbacks, none of which are big – you might miss having a sliding door to create your own little upscale travel cocoon, and most of the nearby windows are blocked by the seat wall, effectively disrupting the panoramic mega view you might be used to when traveling in first class on long haul.
Two flight attendants are working the first class cabin, one is young and a tiny bit nervous at times, yet sharp and professional and we end up having a nice conversation about onsen bathing. She seems rather amused when I explain my ventures into remote corners of Kyushu, hunting for onsen awesomeness. The second and more senior one of the two runs the overall show and has an impressively relaxed command of every detail. Great timing, just the right bit of attention and perfect second-guessing of what's needed. When asked I opt for the Krug variety of bubbles and request to have caviar service and the full kaiseki meal, not a problem at all, and the food service springs into action soon after.
Ahh, yes, the food.
I have absolutely no clue what magic ANA is up to but pretty much everything tastes as if it was made right before serving. It’s all prepared and served with perfect pacing, and yes, having an incredibly tasty Japanese dinner, a glass of equally tasty Krug and a stunning view of a few fluffy, scattered clouds at 30,000 feet is… really something. Love it.
The kaiseki serving wraps up and the young flight attendant asks if, perhaps, I might be interested in any of the desserts from the western menu and why yes indeed, of course I might. A brief look at the options, the »Tarte Yu chaude au chocolat, sorbet au chocolat« one looks good, a cup of green tea would be perfect too, thank you, and a few minutes later it's all delivered along with a small plate of petit fours – one of which turns out to be a lemon macaron. Fantastic.
As it happens, the chocolate sherbet part of the dessert is the only thing across the entire meal service not being absolutely top notch – the scoop is a bit too frozen with ice particles scattered across the surface. But by now I'm insanely happy with just about every detail of the flight and a few ice crystallization issues won't derail any of the overall satisfaction.
Being four passengers in an eight-seat cabin is a perfect setup. We're all in window seats and the four empty mid section seats are turned into beds towards the end of the meal service, allowing each of us to transition between a bed and a seat whenever we may wish to do so. I change into a blue pair of ANA PJ pants, move my plate of petit fours over to the bed seat to have them on midnight snack standby and settle down for a movie and some subsequent sleep. I notice the flight attendants discreetly checking on each of us every 10 minutes or so throughout the night, should we be in need of service. As always, it takes a few hours of trying until I'm finally drifting into dreamland.
I do manage to get a few hours worth of sleep before they wake me up in time for the second serving. The range of food options available at any time during the flight is pretty impressive:
- Hot Japanese udon noodles garnished with deep-fried various ingredients
- Bowl of rice topped with soy sauce-cured sea bream
- Tea-and-rice with simmered Murakami beef
- Chinese ramen noodles with Welsh onion in miso-based soup
- Beef and vegetable soup Hungarian style with cheese crouton
- Chicken and mushroom curry
In addition to these alternatives, two separate full courses, one Japanese and one European, are available during the second serving and they invite you to select whatever combination you may want. I go with the udon noodles and a plate of fresh fruit. Delicious.
Even though I would have wanted the second serving to continue for a few hours more, it wraps up eventually, London peeks through a layer of scattered clouds, Heathrow in sight, touchdown, a bit of taxiing all over the tarmac, jet bridge connects, and the lovely ANA experience comes to an end. In a haze of sleep deprived confusion I then try to enter UK through immigration, totally forgetting about my connecting flight, but I'm intercepted and sent off towards Terminal 4 instead.
Thank you, random official airport person.
Lufthansa is up next.
The flight with ANA in first class was a pretty amazing thing. Ground services did lack the sophistication offered by some other airlines, but the in-flight experience – and especially the food part – was pretty insane. Can't wait to get back on board. If you're looking for trip reports with a ton of pics, head over to Flyertalk, Airways and Travels or Flight-Report (this one has great photos).