This series will cover a quick weekend trip on NH using UA miles. The goal of this series was to try several new products in the NH family while also going someplace new to me. This trip cost 10,000 UA miles (no tax/fees on NH award tickets) and I built a very non-direct routing to zig-zag my way to my final destination. I’ll reveal the segments as we go to add some suspense. So far we have…
This report will cover the trip from CTS to SDJ aboard Air Do, which used to be called Hokkaido International Airlines before it was rebranded in 2012. Brief background: the name is really confusing to pronounce unless you have seen the name in katakana. In katakana, Air Do is written “エア・ドゥ” so the “Do” is pronounced like the English words “due” or “dew” and not like the “do” in Hokkaido. The carrier had financial problems in 2002 and that’s when NH became major shareholders and HD joined the NH Group operating flights for NH. Likewise, their fleet is primarily ex-NH planes and as their former name suggests they are a major operator of flights ex-Hokkaido since CTS is their hub. Although HD is part of the NH Group, it still retains its identity since it has its own crews, its own in-flight entertainment, and its own marketing image. This will be my first time on HD and my first time to SDJ.
After exiting the baggage claim, I head back upstairs to where the check-in areas are.
It’s not too crowded at the security lines and I’m through within a couple of minutes.
I head straight to the ANA Lounge.
Entering the lounge, the agent was talking on the phone and furiously writing something on a piece of paper. I had my boarding pass and EY card in hand. She looks up and just waves me in without even looking at either of the items in my hand. As context, in the domestic lounges, you normally just walk in and scan your own boarding pass or credit card as you walk past the counter. It’s very informal and casual at the domestic lounges (the real ANA Lounges at NRT and HND are much more traditional).
Even though this is the second stop in the lounge on this trip, I took different photos to show more of the lounge. The bar seating area near the entrance.
As before, 4 beers on draft: Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo, Suntory Premium Malts, and Kirin Ichiban.
The other adult beverages on offer.
This kelp machine was in all the ANA Lounges. I never tried it, kind of creeps me out visually even though it is probably very healthy.
Tea and sakana packets.
My first offering of Sapporo Classic and coffee.
FIDS in the lounge. As you can see, quite a bit of HD activity at CTS.
Second offering was nihonshu and a capuchino.
Boarding pass for this segment. As a rule of thumb, subtract “4700” from the NH flight number to get the HD flight number.
I pack up and leave for the gate 5 minutes before the scheduled departure time. On my way there, some spotting.
And my ride this morning, a HD B737.
Hokkaido International Airlines (Air Do), HD 104 Equipment: Boeing B737-700 [JA12AN (ex-NH), delivered June 2007] Departure: 11:10 (ATD: 11:22) Arrival: 12:20 (ATA: 12:16) Flight time: 0:54
Boarding had started early, so they were already well into the boarding process when I got to the gate.
Heading down the greenhouse jetbridge, before heading into the submarine jetbridge.
NH B738 departing from the jetbridge windows.
Fuselage shot. Can you spot the 3rd plane in this photo?
Entering the plane. かわいいよ！
A FA welcomes me on board in Japanese.
My seat for this flight. If it looks like a NH seat with a different antimacassar, it’s because it is.
The seat pitch is better than the NH B735s and comparable to the older NH B738s.
Advertisements on the antimacassars make it feel LCC even though HD is a full-service carrier.
FAs distribute blankets. それもかわいいね！
And the winglet as a LJ B772 taxis by. Everything is distinctly HD on this plane and 全然かわいい。
As we prepare to push back, a JW A320 pulls in from NRT.
As we push back, the safety video plays on the overhead monitors. They have their own safety video instead of playing the NH one. The safety video was themed with polar bears to match the HD marketing image.
View of the cabin from my seat. Load was around 85% and the middle seat was empty so I got lucky.
The ground crew wave us goodbye.
NH Dash8 as we head out on our taxi.
Our twin, another HD B737.
A pair of NH B772s.
JL B772 and some JL B738s behind it.
Our cute winglet and the control tower at CTS.
This is the second time I have spotted this plane. I saw it at NGO last month and now it’s here in CTS. This Dash8-300 belongs to the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau.
Aligning onto the runway.
We take off a little bit behind schedule. Can you spot the other plane in this photo?
We lift up to the north before making an immediate U-turn to head south.
This gives us fantastic aerial shots of CTS as we do a flyover.
Mt. Taumae (樽前山), it’s too cloudy to see the bigger Mt. Eniwa (恵庭岳) behind it.
They came through offering items from the BOB menu. The FA uniform on HD is pretty plain. They wear black suits with white shirts and the blue/yellow neck scarf.
Quite clever, they put the drink menu up on the overhead monitors.
As I wait for the drink cart to arrive, let’s take a look at the seatback contents.
HD has its own inflight magazine called Rapora.
The HD route map in complex and simple forms. As you can see a lot of routes from CTS down to major cities in southern Honshu and a lot of routes from HND up to various cities in Hokkaido (including KUH^^).
The HD fleet.
The safety card for this B737.
The service card with BOB menu and drinks menu.
I request a water and coffee. Everything on HD is polar bear themed and in typical Japanese “かわいい” fashion.
Drink service ended when we were near Hanamaki (花巻).
They use the NH moving map, but convert our plane into the classy all white B737.
A trip up to the lavatory. It is clean and features Air Do hand soap. There also have a little bag with coffee ground hanging on the door to absorb smells.
It was really cloudy the entire way so not much to see out the window.
We eventually crossed into the Pacific Ocean for our final descent into SDJ.
Sendai (仙台) in the distance as we coast into SDJ landing a little bit ahead of schedule.
As we turn into the terminal, we can see an unexpected guest: OZ B763. This flight from ICN is operated 4x weekly. It must have just beaten us in because the train to the city was jam packed with Koreans heading on vacation.
A sea of Ibex Airlines (FW) CRJs parked out on the tarmac and a big hint at the last flight in this series.
We pull in next to a NH B735.
View of the cabin deplaning.
The FAs thank me for flying in Japanese. One last look at our plane from the jetbridge.
Heading to the baggage claim.
No bags to claim, so I head straight to the train station since I have a 4-hour layover. My plane landed at 12:16 and I comfortably caught the 12:32 train so you can get an idea of how efficient SDJ is.
Up the escalator to the departures level where there is a walkway connecting the airport to the train station.
The train to Sendai Station.
I’ll leave off this series here as I begin my stay in Sendai. Tune into the final segment for a first look at SDJ, the ANA Lounge, and another new carrier for me.
Chitose - CTS
Sendai - SDJ
My first time aboard HD. I really like their marketing image and flying them feels different than NH. Crews and service standards were essentially the same as what you would get on NH metal. If you are flying to Hokkaido and want to try something different, it’s worth getting onto one of the HD operated flights.
Cabin comfort: An older B737, but still very clean with a comfortable enough seat pitch for a 1-hour flight. Middle seat remained empty.
Crew: They were pretty average for Japanese standards. I usually find the regional carriers to have very passionate crews, but these FAs were normal. Service with smiles, but not much else.
Meal and catering: One pass of the drink cart. Pretty standard for a <1-hour domestic flight in Japan.
Entertainment: No newspapers offered. Standard seatback literature. Nothing was playing on the overhead monitors, only the menu and then the moving map. No headphones were distributed so I wasn’t expecting any entertainment.
On-time performance: We left a little late, but arrived ahead of schedule.
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