June 10, 2013

ANA Ambassador Trip Report: San Jose to Hong Kong, via Tokyo


On June 1st, ANA restarted their Boeing 787 service between San Jose, California, and Tokyo, Japan. I previously reviewed the ANA 787 as a part of the ANA Ambassador program, but now it’s time to tell more of the story. This journey began in San Jose, makes it’s way through Tokyo to Hong Kong, back to Tokyo, and finally to New York’s JFK. In my previous review, I talked about how small features make the 787 truly the next step in aviation, but that was written before the rest of the journey. How did the 787 compare to the other ANA aircraft I would fly in that week? How was the connection at Tokyo? And why did I end up in Hong Kong after a flight to Tokyo? Read on for answers to all your questions.

ANA markets the 787 flight from San Jose to Tokyo as a connecting flight of sorts, boasting easy connections to most of Asia (specifically Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai) with just one hop in Tokyo. To test this claim, ANA scheduled us on a connecting flight to Hong Kong on regional subsidiary Air Japan, who operates a fleet of Boeing 767-300’s. Upon landing at Tokyo, our group took a short walk over to the “International Connecting Flights” transfer area. The security rescreening only took about 10 minutes, and just like that I was back in the terminal at Narita. The connection really was that simple.

During our few hours at Narita, I hit one of the ANA lounges, and what a lounge it is! Sweeping views of the ramp, copious amounts of food, fast wifi, massage chairs, oh, and a beer robot! Ok, not really a robot, but a machine that always pours the perfect glass of beer, every time. The lounge at Tokyo is fantastic, and no visit to Narita is complete without it.

Some lounge plane spotting at NRT. An ANA Airbus A320.


After the refreshing stay at the lounge, it was time to board our connecting flight to Hong Kong, which was about a 10 minute walk away. The connecting flight was operated on an Air Japan 767-300ER, which was fully fitted with the “Inspiration of Japan” interior. While the product may not have been as posh and high tech as the 787, it was still quite nice for a 767. The 767 is configured in a 2-1-2 layout, and of course I selected the window seat. To my utter dismay, however, my particular “window seat” didn’t have a window! Thankfully, I was able to move up a row and reclaim my view.

The connecting flight was a little longer than I had initially thought, at just about four hours. Normally, a flight of this length is no problem, but I had just gotten off the high tech 787 Dreamliner. Everything I had read about the 787 keeping passengers refreshed suddenly started hitting me physically…hard. The 767 was kicking the crap out of me, and I felt every moment of it. You really don’t notice the higher humidity and lower cabin pressure on the 787, until you step onto an aircraft without those features. I felt tired, dried out, and seriously fatigued during this four hour 767 flight. Although the aircraft had a nice interior, nearly the same in-flight entertainment system as the 787, and a delicious meal, this was no Dreamliner flight.

The concourse at Hong Kong just keeps going, and going, and going.

The concourse at Hong Kong just keeps going, and going, and going.

While in Hong Kong, which is an absolutely amazing city, I stayed at the Peninsula Hotel, but that is a story for another post. The trip home started once again on an Air Japan 767 at Hong Kong International Airport. Hong Kong is a massive airport, there’s no two ways about it. It’s sprawling, busy, and long, but roomy enough where it never seemed crowded. Upon entering the terminal, I was pleased to see check-in kiosks, which I always prefer over the old school counter check-in. I was quite happy to see that I could check in for both the flight to Tokyo, and my connecting flight to JFK in one short transaction. The kiosk even printed out a lounge pass! The process took all of about two minutes, which is faster than some kiosks for domestic carriers in the U.S.

PHOTOS: ANA Ambassador Trip, Start To Finish

Back on the 767 to Tokyo, I didn’t feel as beat up by the flight as when I had just stepped off a 787. It was an easy flight, except for the fact that I had really exhausted the selection of the in-flight entertainment system on the previous flights. This is one area where ANA really needs to improve upon, as the video selection is really sub-par compared to other international airlines. I found myself watching the awesome nose camera, but was annoyed that it kept cutting out during the best parts of the flight, takeoff and landing. I’m not sure if this was a glitch, or by design, but I was not pleased.

Not your typical gate neighbor, but super cool!

Not your typical gate neighbor, but super cool!

Arriving at Tokyo, we taxied right on past the terminal, and found ourselves at a hard stand parked between two cargo jets. While the aviation geek inside me was screaming “THIS IS AWESOME!” the passenger inside me was screaming “ONE HOUR CONNECTION!” Passengers piled into a bus which was thankfully already waiting for us, and took a five minute journey to the terminal, which lead us directly to the connecting flights security area. This time, the process was a bit slower, as the security personnel seemed a bit confused, and generally just sluggish. Once through security, I still had plenty of time to do a bit of shopping, plane spotting, and inhale some food at the ANA lounge directly across from my gate, all with a connection time of just over an hour and a half.

My last flight on ANA was a direct flight from Narita to New York JFK on a 777-300ER, which also had the “Inspiration of Japan” interior. The business class seats on the 777 look and feel remarkably like the seats on the 787, but just a tad wider. The only visual difference was a small storage box attached to the side of the privacy divider. Just about everything else was nearly identical. The 777 was a very smooth ride, but not quite as quiet as the Dreamliner, but I never felt fatigued or worn out like I did on the 767. Amazingly, I even got a few hours of sleep, which is rare for me.

ANA bills their San Jose 787 service as one that provides easy connections to the rest of Asia, and that concept held up to real world testing. At no point did I ever feel rushed, or that I wouldn’t make my connection. Sadly, not every flight can be on a 787, because it really is an evolution in the passenger experience when compared to older airliners such as the 767. On all four of my flights, however, the ANA crew and staff made each flight amazing. The in-flight service was amazing, and that goes a long way to making any flight a pleasure.

Coming up in the next installment of the ANA Ambassador trip, I detail my stay in Hong Kong, and some aviation awesomeness along the way!

About the Author

Jason Rabinowitz



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