It’s spring break, which means its time me to come out of hiding and hit the skies in order to escape Japan. The destination this time will be Italy to meet up with a friend from college for a week in Rome followed by a weekend of relaxation inspired by Cobra down in Puglia.
LH had no award availability on my travel dates in J (cabin was already >90% full). Since LH’s toboggans aboard an ancient A343 were apparently a hot commodity, a quick peak at LH Y showed fares for $1400, which I will use as a price point for my search. [For Numero_2: CA was also considered, but would require a 1h layover in PEK, which is playing with fire ;) ] Having made the decision to dump *A after my UA status expires this summer (back to “dirt status” as Kevin eloquently put it); I’m going to take this opportunity to explore some new carriers outside of the alliance. Since this is a rare vacation for me, I’m going to shoot for J unless price becomes prohibitively high.
Nagoya (NGO) is well connected to all of the major players in the Pacific although international connections are not always friendly with long layovers. The non-*A options into FCO on one-stop routings are oneworld (AY [$4500] and CX [$2900]) and SkyTeam (CZ [$2800], KE [$3100], and MU [$2600]). Nothing SkyTeam really jumps out to me as “exciting” having had a lackluster experience on KE in December; however, CX is looking pretty attractive with product, but price is a little on the high end considering it requires 8-10 hour layovers in HKG, which are not ideal given my schedule.
Fortunately there is a wildcard at NGO, who has some interesting codeshare agreements: EY. A quick search finds that EY has low fares ex-NGO for $2200 in J on a “one-stop” routing (ASIDE: this includes a ¥20,000 (~$160) fee EY charges for departing/arriving NGO/NRT on Friday/Saturday; I think this is a stupid fee for EY to charge, but an extra day of vacation is worth the 10% price inflation). After reading the fare rules, I started playing around with the routings to try and add some extra European segments since I’ve never flown intra-European J before (I want to see what all the fuss is about…). The inbound flight from AUH-FCO was going to be direct in order to get into Rome as soon as possible. The return FCO-AUH had a couple of options: FCO-AMS-AUH on AZ/KLM, FCO-TXL-AUH on AB, and FCO-BEG-AUH on AZ/JU. This last option was interesting for several reasons. First, the fare dropped to $1650 (other routings were still $2200 so I’m suspecting that the JU segment had a fare error, this fare quickly disappeared a couple of days later and was the same price as the other routings). Second, I’ve never been to Serbia before and would like to get some Cyrillic passport stamps. Third, it’s Air Serbia! (need I say more?)
Further investigation shows that EY is running promotions this spring for double miles in J and triple miles in F. The 66,000 miles racked up on this haul are worth three round-trip domestic trips on NH; so the perfect chance to try out my first Gulf carrier while earning miles that can be quickly dumped later this summer on some weekend trips in Japan. However, what really sweetened the deal is the chance to try three new airlines and five new cabins, which for a flying enthusiast makes the trip all the more exciting. Back to the original price point of LH (Y: $1400): it’s a no brainer, so EY it is for an all J routing at $1650.
EY only operates two fifth-freedom routes (that I know of), so this NGO-PEK-AUH segment will hopefully be an interesting report. AZ will operate the AUH-FCO sector aboard their A332 with Magnifica product. We then have a trip within a trip since a promotional fare was booked separately for FCO-BRI-FCO at €80 round-trip. On the way back, we’ll take AZ’s Ottima product FCO-BEG before switching to Air Serbia to sample their new J-product enroute to AUH. Finishing up the routing is AUH-NGO (via PEK) on EY. So this leaves me with the following all Airbus routing:
Below is the seat map of the cabin at the time of booking where I was able to grab the last window seat; the return leg had even less seats filled. I do find it annoying that EY does not allow passengers to preselect seats operated by their “partner” airlines. A call to Etihad Guest confirmed that I would not be allowed to select seats on AZ operated flights until check-in at the airport (this was actually a lie as I found out later, but it’s all water under the bridge since I got a window seat).
My second concern with EY came in early March when I started to get a string of disconcerting SMS messages about flight changes, some of which change … nothing?
It’s March 21, 2015, and after properly celebrating the Spring Equinox with a lazy Saturday, it’s time to head to the airport. Knowing well that the *A Lounge offerings at NGO will be dismal, I had an early dinner at home before heading to the airport by train (EY does not offer chauffeur services in Nagoya, another criticism of the airline is lack of consistency in product offered across their destinations). After taking the subway to Kanayama, I switch to the Meitetsu line for ?Sky service to Chubu Centrair. The ?Sky train is an all first-class express train that originates at Meitetsu-Nagoya Station collecting passengers at two stations along the way before arriving at the airport completing the trip in 28 minutes (¥1170, $10). Limited express trains take a leisurely 44 minutes to complete the trip with no seat reservation (¥870, $7).
Here is your bonus TR (train report). Pictures of the cabin, the pitch, travel documents, and in-train press. There are also luggage compartments in the back of the train for suitcases. Our train was in a special livery to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Chubu Centrair, hence the need for beach scenes with bee-hive hairdos.
I arrive at NGO at 6:30pm, about three hours prior to departure in order to allow ample time to sort out some issues with an award ticket for an upcoming trip at the MU ticket office (I don’t want to talk about it…). Getting off the train, it’s a short walk into the main transportation area of the airport (access to train, bus, ferry, and airport hotels).
Today, we will make a turn to the left to head towards the International side of the airport. Zipping up the moving walkway dumps into the main part of the terminal.
Entering the terminal, we are met with a small monitor showing tonight’s flights. Yep, the Japanese love their southern Pacific destinations in winter. No sunny skies for me, we’ll be heading to the smog of Beijing (but at least it’s not Shanghai!).
As indicated, check-in will be done at Counter J (shared with Lufthansa and staffed by NH). There is already a long line of Chinese passengers in the economy line. Entering the empty business class line, I’m immediately approached by NH employee demanding my itinerary. Nope, the clueless foreigner didn’t get in the wrong line, but I still have to wait 5 minutes for a young Chinese couple to finish checking in their five suitcases.
I get the standard questions about my residence card by the gate agent while completing check-in. I’m handed my boarding passes and am asked in Japanese if I know where the *A Lounge is. As can be expected in Japan, as soon as they catch a whiff that you can understand any amount of Japanese, they will immediately dump English and only speak to you in Japanese. I confirm that I know where it is and my backpack is snatched by another agent and tagged. Why does EY tag hand luggage? Seems useless. I don’t want to walk around the airport with this free advertisement.
With boarding passes in hand and 90 minutes to spare, let me give a brief tour of NGO landside. It is a dark terminal since it relies heavily on the skylights during the day. The main level (3rd floor) is only check-in counters, but there is an escalator up to the 4th floor, which is like a big shopping mall. There are a lot of restaurants and stores to buy omiyage. It is really crowded and there are kids running around everywhere, like I said, it is a mall.
There is even shopping for Marathon and Numero_2!
NGO, like most Japanese airports, have observation decks so we’ll head outside to the Sky Deck. The Sky Deck sits above the main terminal straddling the international and domestic sides of the airport. It was about 8C that night, but that doesn’t stop the hundreds of people wandering outside on the deck. In honor of the 10th anniversary of the airport, there are all sorts of lights up on top with a Disney theme.
I don’t share the Japanese’s borderline unhealthy love for Disney and other anime, so I opted to join some other spotters and look at the offerings on the tarmac. On the international side, we have three planes. Up first is a DL A330-200 getting ready to head to HNL.
The other two occupants are a JL B777-200 also bound for HNL and my bird tonight, an EY A330-200. They just look beautiful together under the lights.
I love the observation deck; there is nothing between you and these beautiful pieces of art. No annoying glare off windows, nothing.
We then headed over to take a peak at the domestic side of the airport. NH seems to be running the show right now with a pair of B737-700s lined up.
A look over at the runway shows that something is about to land while a JL tail of a B737 is seen heading to the runway.
The arrival of this NH B737-500 is tracked as it slowly taxis over to the terminal and takes up a spot next to its big brothers.
After sitting out in the cold for 30 minutes, I decide to head back into the warmth of the terminal and head airside. As we reach security and immigration, another glance at the departure board (in both English and Japanese).
Security and immigration were done in about ten minutes, and I come airside into the middle of the duty free section of the airport that is really quite sparse. The entire EY crew was loading up on souvenirs in the duty free store when I walked by. Here is a three-photo panorama of the duty free area showing how deserted it is.
No shopping for me tonight, we’ll head straight to the lounge marked by this sign (the KAL Lounge is in the opposite direction contrary to this signage).
The *A and OW lounges are right next to each other and are run by NH and JL, respectively. Tonight, we’ll be heading into the *A Lounge, which is located on the 2nd floor and accessed by this private elevator. Again, questionable signage as the door didn’t open opposite of the sign…
Stepping off the elevator, you directly enter the lobby of the lounge where a smiling NH agent without speaking (even though I greet her in her native tongue) scans my boarding pass and hands it back to me followed by a hand wave in the direction of the lounge.
As we turn the corner, we can see this aesthetically appealing lounge. There is a business center and meeting rooms on the left side and a press offering on the right side. The lounge has large windows overlooking the tarmac on the right.
On the left are the food and drink offerings. A quick photo strafe as no one was near at the time. The food offerings as I previously mentioned are poor. We have some small sandwiches and some onigiri. There is one hot option, which is fried chicken and fried rice. Mmm, mmm. The alcohol options are poor, I’m not a wine drinker, but if I was I might shed a tear. They at least have everyone’s favorite beer dispenser with Asahi on draft.
A last look at the far end of the lounge before settling in with my selection (not because I’m hungry, but to amuse you guys). The fried rice tasted okay, the chicken wasn’t good (too greasy), the sandwich was small but edible, and the melon pan tasted stale. All washed down with a cool, crisp Asahi. Definitely not up to Asian standards. Yes, Nagoya is a minor airport, but this is the same lounge that airlines like NH, SQ, and TG send passengers to… Despite this knock, believe it or not, it actually is the best of the three lounges at NGO.
A closer inspection of the furniture reminds me of my grandma’s house with these tacky seat covers.
At least the bathroom is clean.
With the lounge tour over, it’s time for a document check and a corporate screen shot to keep the masses happy (shameless self-promotion on my part…).
With that, I bid a farewell to the silent lounge agent who just gives me a bow back and head off to my gate. The airport is dark and gloomy at this hour despite the brightly colored carpet. Arriving at Gate 15, we see we have an on-time departure with imminent boarding. I wander over to the windows at the adjacent gate and see this JL B737 getting prepped for a departure.
Boarding was announced on-time and priorities were respected. Proof that the chaos at most Chinese airports is the result of the ground crews; not the passengers since this flight was probably >80% Chinese based on a survey of the languages being spoken around the gate. I’m the first one through and snag a picture of my bird before heading down the jetbridge.
Arriving at L1, a smiling FA welcomes me aboard proudly showing the bling on her wrist.
This is my first time stepping aboard EY, and walking into this cabin was like a breath of fresh air. Not sure how I feel about the montage music they play during boarding, but whatever… The color scheme is phenomenal and very easy on the eyes with appropriately placed photographs on the galley walls. I really like the absence of overhead storage in the middle since it really opens up the cabin (although this led to problems on every flight as angry businessmen boarding at the last minute couldn’t stuff their suitcases up there). Also, look how narrow that aisle is… That is the biggest design flaw of this cabin, and why it shouldn’t be on the A330. You do not want to be stuck with an aisle seat because everyone will bump into you as they walk by.
Fortunately, it will be a window for me as I settle into my seat. Headphones were in the side pocket (not shown), menu and blanket were located on the ottoman. Water bottle was preplaced in the side compartment as well. Seat and IFE controls are located just below the console. USB and AC power connections were located just below the tray table, along with the safety card. The tray table has your typical warnings… entrapment is just the worst, just ask any politician.
After getting settled in, a FA emerged from the galley with an offer for a pre-departure beverage, which will of course be champagne. Once more of the cabin started to fill, oshibori were distributed on a platter as well as a refill of my champagne. At this time, a small amenity kit was distributed for the NGO-PEK sector. Not familiar with the Y comfort kits on EY, but this looks like one. It contains your base necessities: socks, sleeping mask, earplugs, and toothbrush. What was not provided and is an obvious omission is slippers! I hate having to put my shoes back on to use the lavatory.
Seat pitch is good for these seats and one can easily slouch and put their feet up on the footrest, with an exposed side that doesn’t constrict your feet when sleeping.
Let’s take a look at the menu for the NGO-PEK sector (a different menu is provided for the second flight). Tonight, dinner will be on offer featuring a kaiseki (Japanese option) and three western options. Having four options on a 3 hour flight is phenomenal, you rarely see that on TATL menus. Beverages options are pretty standard, I know nothing about wines so you can be the judge of the offerings (2 reds, 2 whites, and dessert wine), but there is a sake option on the flights in/out of Japan. I opted for a champagne post take-off and the kaiseki menu served with a Stella Artois. I should also mention that during this segment, the FAs took dinner orders by kneeling down as is common on most eastern carriers (this was only done on the NGO-PEK sector).
The front door closed on time, the load for the NGO-PEK sector was about 80% in J. No idea what the Y load, but probably decent given the number of people waiting in the gate area.
We pushed back as our neighbor was being refueled for the HNL haul. We can now see that the terminal is beginning to fill up. There is now a CI A330-300, DL B767-300ER, CX A330-300, and CA B737-800 to our right.
As we make our turn towards the runway, our ground crew waves us goodbye as we follow the 5J A320 heading to MNL.
A MU A321 was parked to our left, with a slightly ironic special livery. Not sure if I would put “better city” or “better life” in any sentence that involves Shanghai.
As we taxi past the domestic side of the terminal, we can see a number of JL and NH 737s milling about. There is also a NH B767-300 parked at a remote stand as well as NH Wings Dash-8 and NH IBEX CRJ-200 operating by paxbus.
The blue mood lighting comes on as we get ready for a south-bound departure and a look at our route tonight (minus all the twists and turns to avoid North Korea). During the taxi, the pilot came on and talked through the flight path that we would be taking tonight and our estimated flight time. Take-off was smooth and we quickly headed into the Sea of Japan.
As we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew sprung to life and the lighting switched back to red. My neighbor across the aisle apparently took no time in getting himself comfortable. If anyone wants to know what Japanese feet look like, well here you go! Fortunately, there was no smell emanating from that direction… Another glass of champagne was brought by along with a ramekin of warm nuts, followed by the distribution of another oshibori on a platter.
Meal service was done by tray from the galley by no surprise (since there is no physical way a cart could fit in that aisle). Presentation is very good, but the taste wasn’t spot on. I don’t really care for cold soba noodles, so no comment on that. The sakizuke (prawn with bamboo shoot and salmon roe) was very good. The zensai is where it fell flat, the only good thing on the main plate was in the little basket, which I don’t even think appeared on the menu. A beer was distributed shortly after my tray. The toothpick also adorns the new livery.
While I ate my meal, I was watching Family Guy on E-Box which ironically contained an episode where they went to Rome, quite fitting for this trip.
After I finished my first tray, it was promptly cleared and refilled with the second round of offerings along with a refill of my beer. This offering was much more successful, I enjoyed everything except for the rice. The rice was undercooked and not Japanese rice.
Dessert was then brought by, which consisted of a simple fruit plate and another beer by the very friendly and proactive crew. At this point we were now west of Seoul about to enter Chinese waters.
Meal service concluded with a cup of coffee. The coffee service is quite elaborate with 4 sugar cubes (who on earth uses that much sugar?), a little pitcher of milk, and a small chocolate.
The cabin was plunged into darkness near Dailan. That was the only night shot that came out clean on this trip so I had to include it. Seoul was a blurry mess.
As we began our descent into Beijing, the mood lighting started to cycle again into red and then blue. You can thank the mood light for these crappy shots of Beijing as we dropped to the Earth.
Soon, we can see the airport and we smoothly touched down past the famous Terminal 3 and my favorite spotting perch. We had a short taxi to our gate since there was little traffic at midnight. We could see a lot of CAs as well as this HA A330. As we approached our gate, we got some more diversity with a NH B787, NX A321, and AA B777. We pulled into our gate next to a JL B737-800 that was spending the night in enemy territory.
That concludes this segment of the flight as we begin our technical stop in PEK. Thanks for stopping by and tune in for the next installment.
Star Alliance Lounge Business Class Section
Nagoya - NGO
Beijing - PEK
This was my first experience with EY and it was overall a very good experience (minus catering).
Cabin comfort: The cabin looks really good with the tan color scheme. Direct aisle access and good privacy. The seat is really comfortable and trumps the only other option on this route (CA B737-800). I don’t like how cramped the aisles are on this plane and how small the lavatories are (I’m only 182cm and can barely fit in the lavatory). Thus the point deductions.
Crew: Great from start to finish. Addressed me by name the entire flight and were very engaging. Proactive during service with refills and hawked the aisles during service to make sure everything was properly orchestrated. It’s rare to see that good of service with a nearly full cabin.
Meal and catering: A great selection for a flight of this length. Maybe the scoring would be higher if I went for a western option, but the kaiseki was underwhelming and was not up to Japanese standards. Quantities and presentation were all good, it just came down to taste.
Entertainment: I really like E-Box, great selection of programs and a very good moving map. No major complaints here. Points deducted for no newspaper offered pre-departure (either in jet bridge or on board). Not that I want a newspaper at 9pm, but it's the principle!
On-time performance: Boarding started on-time, we left on-time, and we arrived into PEK a little early. Enough said.
PEK Airport rating left at 7.5 since I never set foot in the airport.
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