Greetings Flight Report community and thanks for stopping by. This is a trip of odds and ends. In July I needed a way home from Tokyo so I booked the best value in miles and points: ANA First Class with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points. The catch is that they require a round trip booking so I had to "park" the USA -> Tokyo leg somewhere until I could flesh out a trip to use it on. I happened to find availability on November 9th so that's where it sat. The onward journey came as a result of the "90,000 Iberia Avios Promotion" that offered an insane number of Avios for buying 10 airplane tickets. I played along and ended up with 90,000 Avios for buying +/- $300 in travel. The catch, if you can call it that, was that the Avios had to be redeemed by 12/1/18. I used these Avios to book JAL NRT-SIN-HND with the NRT-SIN portion coupled with my ANA NRT-LAX. I "parked" the SIN return for a future trip. I began to look at ways to get back and my AA mileage balance was sufficient to consider Cathay Pacific First. I know they run sporadic F on regional flights so I began looking for one of those. I checked the usual suspects of SIN, BKK, and MNL and could not find any F being offered at all on the day I needed. Somehow I considered Jakarta and it all lined up perfectly. I booked CGK-HKG (overnight in HKG)-LAX-LAS in CX and AA First. The final piece was positioning from SIN to CGK. I quickly and, probably foolishly, booked First with Singapore Airlines for this portion of the trip just to have a taste of their tremendous First Class experience.
Carrier, route, equipment, class, lounge, and procurement method:
It was a sunny and breezy day in the South Land. The skies were clear and visibility was good. This bucolic scene didn't tell the whole story as devastating wild fires had begun ravaging California in the hours before my departure. The true scope of tragedy would not be know for several days after my departure. Thankfully my family and I were not in harms way, this time. The smoke is quite visible in the photos from LAX and on departure. I toil with writing about frivolous luxury travel with this backdrop but have decided to share my trip anyway.
I arrived at the Tom Bradley International Terminal about 3.5 hours prior to departure. The check in counter was set to open in a few minutes and I wanted to speak with the agents on several topics.
The first issue was a text message I received from ANA regarding a 45 minute delay. This concerned me as I had, through my own fault, setup a rather tight connection at NRT involving a terminal change. The 90 minute connection would be tight under the best circumstances but losing 45 minutes before we even leave did not feel good. I was originally on flight NH175 that departed one hour earlier and that flight left me a more comfortable connection. When it was seasonally cancelled I was moved to NH5 creating the tighter, but still legal MCT. The agent confirmed that the inbound aircraft was late and there will be a departure delay. She noted that the flight was still projected to arrive on time due to favorable conditions in route. I shared with her my plight and the short connection. I thought ANA might offer some assistance in the connection like an escort through security or something, considering I was traveling in First. Not to be, and I understand I'm connecting to another airline on another ticket but I have come to expect above and beyond service from ANA so I thought it was worth a try. If we do arrive on time there will be no problem making the connection.
My other issue was my Known Traveler ID was not on my reservation and she corrected this and printed a boarding pass making me eligible for TSA Precheck. I was through the screening process in five minutes and air side.
I reviewed the Star Alliance First Lounge last month when departing on LH. That later departure allowed for more lounge time. On this visit I enjoyed a bite to eat but spent most of my time walking around the terminal and enjoying the outdoor terrace so this will be a more abridged review. Janet was in the lounge again today, she's a positive addition to any visit.
It's sparsely populated in my experience and I set my bags at a dining table.
I procured a refreshing beverage. A Rose is on offer this month in addition to a Brut.
There is a modest buffet for those who refuse to venture over to the Business lounge and their more substantial offering.
I took a seat and requested a couple of items from the menu. A croissant breakfast sandwich and shrimp cocktail. Both were passable at best.
For balance I opted for a glass of the Beau Joie Special Cuvee Brut. For balance, you know.
While I was seated I took the opportunity to call JAL and request that my record be noted with the incoming flight info and the delay. The JAL agent was excruciatingly unhelpful and refused to do anything as simple as a note. He also argued with me about the existence of air side bus between terminals. He was insisting that I had to go through immigration and take the land side bus. I thought this level of misinformation was very troubling and I tried to direct him to the airport website where the air side procedure is clearly laid out but he was not interested. I offered to email him the link so he could better help customers in the future but he was quite content in his ignorance.
The weather was inviting a visit to the outdoor terrace. I spotted my late inbound aircraft completing NH6 from Narita.
I'm not sure when this space ever fills up. Maybe the later departures.
The BBQ has never been used to cook food but the beer fridge is stocked.
I decided to walk around the terminal and see if I could time the ANA aircraft arriving at the gate. The plumes of smoke from the Malibu area are clearly present as the fire was picking up momentum in the Santa Ana wind conditions.
Some other sights around TBIT. Still getting used to AS Airbus.
An ANA agent came to the lounge to inform us that the flight was boarding. I was chatting with another F passenger and it appeared it might be just us but then a family of four emerged from one of the meeting rooms and headed to the gate as well.
Boarding was quick with a First Class/Diamond lane. On board I was welcomed by Natsumi, the Purser and Yuko the flight attendant that happened to be working the K side of the cabin.
I was in seat 1K but when I originally booked the flight as NH175 I had selected 2k.
It turns out the family in the VIP room was Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Kenta Maeda and his family. I'm a baseball nerd so this was very exciting to me. It took me a while to figure out who he was. He's definitely athletic looking so that was a clue. The family of four (wife and two children) all traveling in First suggested a person of means. The final piece of the puzzle was this:
I was excited to sit next to an MLB pitcher and he was a seemingly lovely guy with lovely (and quiet) children. I encountered him in the aisle before takeoff and offered him congratulations on a fantastic season but I'm not sure he speaks English. He smiled and seemed to acknowledge. I didn't share the fact that I am a San Francisco Giants fan and was a Boston Red Sox fan for the World Series. ;)
OK , back to the flight. 1K is a fine seat and I got settled in. There were Sony headphones, slippers and an amenity kit at the seat.
Yuko also presented a basket of additional amenities and for some reason I selected a few and placed them in the drawer that is part of the ottoman.
Champagne was offered and accepted. I also requested some water and it was delivered in bottle form.
The seats are very private for not having a closing door. This is of course frustrating when trying to look out the window. Our load today would be 7/8.
We departed and taxied to 24L having experienced a roughly one hour delay. The Woolsey fire is quite evident on climb out.
A trip to the lavatory to slip into something more comfortable.
Past the active fire zone, more correctly in between the active fire zones, the visibility is better.
Yuko presented an oshibori and I reviewed the extensive, almost overwhelming, meal and beverage options.
Dining (taken from .pdf menu downloads).
Wine and other beverages (taken from .pdf menu downloads).
The Krug 2004 is my choice to begin. The canapes are also presented and the smoked duck with foie-gras and orange wins the plate. It is and extremely satisfying part of the meal service to enjoy special wine and small bites.
Yuko asks how I enjoy the Krug and mentions she also has the Grand Cuvee, as apparently, some passengers don't care for the 2004 vintage. She asks if I would like to have some for comparison. Oh yes, I would. Yuko pours the GC and tops up the 2004 and I do some science. I won't attempt tasting notes but my observation was the vintage wine was a bit more assertive than the prestige cuvée. Perhaps I was just silly excited to taste them side by side. The Grand Cuvee is such an interesting product made up of so many (reserve) wines and well aged that perhaps I too prefer that craftsmanship. It's a special treat to enjoy either and a bit epic to taste them together. Some day (most likely never) I'll get to a vertical Krug Grand Cuvee tasting.
After a thorough contemplation of the virtues of vintage vs. cuvee the table is laid for lunch. I'm offered bread and i select the Focaccia.
The Shrimp and scallop gateau is my kind of cake and the uni and caviar frosting is a nice touch :) I would suspect that the uni is our local Santa Barbara sea urchin roe that is quite well known for high quality. The flavors and textures are all perfect and the presentation is stunning. I usually prefer caviar in the traditional presentation but this was exceptional.
The salad is colorful and crisp. The wasabi dressing has good acidity and horseradish essence.
The corn soup is seemingly always on the menu and I am thankful. It's an excellent expression of sweet corn essence.
The main dish was not a success to me. Not only is it unappealing to the eye but the textures didn't make the trip well wither. The puff pastry was chewy and I only managed a bite or two. In a way it's refreshing to see that ANA catering is fallible after all. This is most definately the first time I have encountered a course that was anything but good or above in ANA first class. More room for chees, a blessing in disguise.
To this point I have continued to enjoy the Krugs but the cheese was a good excuse to enjoy a red. The South African Shiraz caught my eye so I requested a glass. It lived up to the description in the menu of dense, rich and spicy.
The cheese is beautifully selected and presented. The cured meats in the form of duck prosciutto and pepperoni are a nice addition. Yuko also presented a card with the cheese notes. I don't know if this was her "cheat sheet" or if she drafted it for my benefit. It was a thoughtful and helpful gesture either way and yet another example of how seemingly small service touches are so memorable for a customer.
Hazelnut and orange flavored mascarpone cake was and excellent finale.
I requested a cappuccino after the meal and it was served with even more sweets.
Out into the pacific after lunch.
After coffee I decided to enjoy one of the more special offerings on the ANA first class beverage list, The Hibiki 21. Such a rare dram to be served anywhere let alone on an airplane. So rare in fact that it was gone from the menu a scant one month later! The Hibiki 17 is now the top pour in ANA first class.
I try to take a nap and I succeed to a point. It's daytime at home so I'm not expecting a full night of sleep in this direction.
At one point as I slept my slippers are rearranged. I must have left them in a sub-optimal spot because when I got up to use th lav they were positioned just so.
I abandon the sleep concept about 2.5 hours out from Narita. Upon being observed as awake i am offered an oshibori and drink. A Perrier with ice and lemon is delivered.
I haven't experimented with Sake much on ANA, which I have not doubt is a premium selection. I decided to remedy this and requested a pour of the Kamimary Junmai Daiginjo. I paired this skae with the cheese and pickled cucumber rolled with pickled Hiroshima greens from he "Sake accompaniments" section of the "Light Dishes Anytime" portion of the menu. The sake was very nice and the little pickled items contrasting with the soft and rich cheese made for a nice combination.
I asked Yuko what sake she preferred and she suggested I should try the Aramasa No. 6 ANA-type. I'm not sure how I missed his in the menu as there is a large story on the sake. The No.6 referes to yeast, which is the oldest sake yeast currently used in modern sake brewing. This is a junmai sake and is also very enjoyable. I enjoyed this sake with the lovely Ippudo "Daichi" ramen and was quite pleased with the whole experience.
Soon, too soon really, we were gliding in to a safe landing on runway 34L as daylight faded.
Taxi time was above average as we docked at the extreme end of the South Wing of terminal 1. We had made up the time in flight and erased the departure delay. My connection would be leisurly rather than fraught with peril.
Star Alliance Lounge First Class Section
Los Angeles - LAX
Tokyo - NRT
The Ground Service: No escorts or special security screening / immigration is offered. ANA participating in TSA Precheck is a welcome feature.
The Lounge: I like the intimate size of the Star Alliance First lounge at LAX as well as the kind staff. The Business lounge and outdoor terrace are great features as well. The beverage selection is passable and there is a la carte dining with table service. The menu has good variety but the quality is suspect.
The Cabin: This is where I complain about the window being blocked but also appreciate the privacy afforded by the suite design. The bed is excellent and spacious with a substantial pad and appropriate duvet. There is a traditional pillow and a buckwheat pillow as well.
The Crew: Natsumi and Yuko were exceptional. The thoughtful and graceful nature of the ANA service is second to none.
The Food and Beverage: The quality, selection, and presentation in ANA First Class is really impressive. I find them ahead of their Asian TPAC peers in CX and SQ with only JAL in the conversation as a peer.
Overall: It's another LAX-NRT report, I know. It happened and it was lovely so that's all I need to generate my enthusiasm for documenting it.
Thank you for reading and happy flying.
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