Greetings Flight Report community and thanks for stopping by. I was about 13 years old when I flew in International Business Class for the first time. It was 1987 and it was an L-1011-250 flying from ATL-LGW. My memory of the cabin is somewhat faded but I think it was a 2x4x2 and only slightly more pitch and recline than Y. I remember the amenity kit rather well, a brown leatherette pouch, since I had never seen such a thing before. I remember collecting a few that were left behind by other passengers. The reason I mention this 30+ year old memory is that travel in Business Class has come a LONG way since then. That brings me to the nexus for this adventure. Qatar Airways is a renowned carrier for excellence in Business Class. The latest generation of their J product, known as the Q-Suite, is a evolution in terms of space, privacy, comfort, and entertainment. The goal of this trip was to take a Q-Suite on a test drive. American Advantage is a great program for redeeming miles for QR Business Class so that's where I went. Long story short I booked the round-the-world adventure on 3 tickets, 70k AA miles for LAX-IAH-DOH in QR J, 50k miles for DOH-SIN-KUL-NRT in QR J, MH J, and MH F, and finally 87, 520 Lifemiles for NRT-SFO-SNA in NH F and UA Y.
Carrier, route, equipment, class, lounge, and procurement method:
Narita International Airport Observation Deck and Check In
I'm getting soft(er) in my advanced age so instead of going into town and power walking the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and adjacent, beautiful, park I took a shuttle to the Hilton, ate a buffet breakfast, and slept. All this sitting around and imbibing and eating takes a toll. This was day 4 of living off of short naps and it was catching up with me, but the short nap at the Hilton was enough to rejuvenate my spirit and wake up giddy to be heading back to Narita and spending the next 12 hours with ANA. Sure there are pangs of longing knowing that this is the last leg of a fantastic journey but those emotions have no place in the present. There is only room to bask in the beauty and depth of Japanese hospitality and infrastructure.
The Hilton shuttle drops me at the departure level of Terminal 1, after a brief stop at Terminal 2 and I make a beeline to the observation deck. Well, that's not entirely true as there was a stop at the Lawsons on 5th floor for a traditional liquid refreshment. Back in my early non-rev days I spent a lot of time in this airport without any kind of lounge access so the tradition was to hit the Lawsons, grab a spotting beer, and make the observation deck my lounge. Between gazing at arriving and departing heavies I would refresh the airport standby list(s), pick a flight, and go forth. I think back very fondly on those experiences but having discovered miles and points I'm not in a hurry to go back to the uncertainty. I do miss flying from BKK to SIN via NRT, LOL.
The afternoon winter sun made pictures difficult but I'll post a few for flavor.
Bathed in nostalgia and jet type A I came in from the cold and began the procession of the very fortunate at the ANA Suite Check In facility. Swiss F and United GS are also welcome here.
There is no waiting and as I present my travel document an agent provides an oshibori. I am given the map of the lounges and information about which is most proximate to my departure gate. It is thorough service that I appreciate even though I am very familiar with the facility, this being my 80th departure from my favorite airport. Only LAX is ahead on the list.
I make my way to the private security checkpoint and then on to immigration.
There's great comfort in knowing I will see you on January 18th…although, sadly, air side only.
ANA Suite Lounge - Narita Terminal 1, South Wing, Satellite 4
I ignore the advise of the check in agent and proceed to the Suite Lounge that is no where near my gate. I have time and prefer this slightly smaller, and in my experience, quieter lounge. Both Suite Lounges have the same amenities. This lounge in Satellite 4 has a view of the Satellite 5 Suite Lounge and the ramp action betwixt the two.
When I enter the lounge I am escorted to a seat by one of the attendants. A seat by the window is a must for me so I have to direct the course. Once seated I am offered something to drink and place my usual order.
Let's take a look at some of the features of this lounge.
A variety of seating is offered.
There is "Personal Room" with work cubicles and private suites.
A smoking room, because Japan.
There's a buffet with mostly cold options at this hour. Some hot dishes are offered later in the afternoon.
Self serve beverage options.
I selected a couple of items to enjoy with Champagne while airplane gazing and general idle phone surfing.
I could do this all day. The precise dance that aviation professionals orchestrate every day at major airports like Narita is noting short of amazing. All of these massive, complex machines operating with such accuracy and safety is astonishing when you start to think of how many failure points there are in the system. The number of people (very failure prone!) required to do their part of the production correctly, every time, is staggering. Compliments to all of them.
A shower was the next item on the agenda today and I was given a key to room 2 in exchange for my boarding pass. I was also provisioned with travel size Shiseido shampoo, body wash, and conditioner to take home as ample single use amenities are available in the shower suite.
After refreshing I returned to a comfy window perch and observed ANA and JV partner UA operations in full hub mode.
After a couple glasses of the Jacquart ( a decidedly business class Champagne offering) I ventured up to the noodle bar and associated dining area.
I requested the Tonkotsu ramen and was presented a paging device that would alert me to when the porky goodness was available. I picked a seat with a view, of course.
I bolt like a dog to the postman when the buzzer goes off. The ramen is rich, salty, and satisfying. Definitely above a standard packaged instant soup but well below even an Ichiran standard.
The gate occupant changes during my stay.
One of the 777s over there will be departing to SFO this evening.
Boarding time was approaching and the walk to gate 54 would be about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. The airport temperature is quite warm so a brisk walk would cancel out the shower I enjoyed earlier. Of course I'm likely to become distracted by a shiny airplane or two so I leave the lounge with ample time.
Shiny airplane/sunset distraction: check.
I assumed a position in the appropriate line and waited a few minutes for boarding to commence.
"Honey, I'm home!" is the sensation when I'm welcomed at the door by Chief Purser Kamiso. I'm shown to seat 2K by Takahashi. I stow my belongings and take stock of my surroundings.
Some literature pertinent to the flight.
The cabin would be 7/8 for the trip to Frisco. (Few things irritate a San Franciscan more than referring to The City as Frisco - :P)
A welcome beverage is offered and I request a glass of Champagne. A rose is served, for the holidays apparently, and I'm not too fond of it so it goes mostly unused.
The "basket of many things" is passed and I feel compelled to select something. I'm also offered a wifi card.
Part of my pre-flight check is stowing the headphones in their proper compartment.
At approximately 17:01 an announcement is made that the "delay is due to final check of passengers. Apologies for any inconvenience caused."
Time to slip into the lounge wear and I am escorted to the larger lavatory and offered a hanger for my street clothes.
At 17:21 we push from the gate and the safety video is screened.
It's rush hour at Narita so we're in a good queue. We're rolling down 16R at 17:47. Unfortunately ANA leave all of the cabin lights, especially frustrating are the side panel lights, on so pictures from the window are impossible on account of the glare.
As is often the case when flying on the Pacific Rim there was a fair amount of rough air on climb out. It is the ring of fire after all…not sure if that's weather related..but it sounds intimidating. Anyhow service is delayed and I'm not in possession of a menu until 18:14 and I don't have any Krug in my blood stream until 18:35. As the great Big Daddy Kane once lamented, "Pimpin' ain't easy." Funny thing to note is that the seat belt sign was turned off around cruise altitude and despite the bumps it was never turned back on until landing.
An oshibori is presented along with the menu portfolio.
A look at the impressive menu.
An equally enticing beverage selection.
At last my long walk across the desert has ended. Note the sloshing of the glass. I hope it doesn't spill, a Champagne snob's worst nightmare!
The picture perfect amuse is offered shortly after the pour. The nut sticks are great and the duck prosciutto is lovely.
Lingering on the aperitif is one of my specialties but it's time to move on. The table is set.
I'm not one to deviate from the International First Class = Caviar paradigm I opt for the Gateau and caviar. I'm continually intrigued by all of the appetizer options and lament the absence of a tasting portion of each. Here the lobster is rich and sweet and the presentation is appealing. The little jar of perfectly salty, firm eggs is a bit of gilding the Lilly.
Salad greens for the appearance of a healthy meal. The yuzu citron pepper dressing is really nice.
The corn soup is not to be missed. It's such a simple and pure expression of corn. It's not exactly in season in the northern hemisphere but it tastes fresh form the field.
Switching up the beverage to a sturdy wine for the wagyu. I'm pretty limited in my experience with Washington State wine and Pinot Noir and the Willamette Valley are what come to mind. This Bordeaux style wine is excellent and Rewardflying worthy.
It's predictable for me in ANA F but I'm not ashamed. This quality of red meat doesn't appear anywhere else in my life so I take advantage when it''s on offer. The pancetta tarragon sauce is a little bit of all right. I have to ask Atco, our resident beef cognoscenti, if he would you clear this one for a direct approach?
I'm Keanu Reeves driving a bus at this point and there's no stopping this meal. The cheese presentation is always a bit of an event on ANA. The Canvasback Cab was drinking so well I forgot to request a wee dram of the 30 years old port. I have to live with that shame.
I opted for the simple and clean sounding peach sorbet. It was elaborate of course.
The words always and never are specious. Speaking in absolutes is treacherous. But what the heck, "Dinner with ANA is always excellent and never disappoints.*" * - IMHO
Having transferred a (not an insignificant) portion of the catering to my belly there was but one thing left to do. In honour (ignoring the red squiggly line of the spell check feature) of the great Hometoyyz I will say it with you, "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." The Hibiki 17 is excellent even served in the incorrect stemware.
This eastbound SFO flight is really short in the T-Pac scheme of things. The 9 hours go by fast, especially after a leisurely gluttony. With that in mind I requested the turn down and was ready to settle in for a nap.
I was successful to the point of regaining consciousness with about 1:18 remaining in flight. Service was prompt once it was observed that I was awake. I was still quite sated and delighted from dinner so my initial request was for the "Juice of the season" Chardonnay juice. and water. The Mapple Juice company makes 100% Chardonnay grape juice from Takayama Village at the north of Shinshu, Nagano Prefecture. It's really delightful and I enjoyed a second glass.
I also requested a Capuccino as we approached the Golden Gate.
The weather in the San Francisco Bay Area was unsettled and there was a series of storms moving through. This weather pattern changed the SFO traffic flow and allowed for a unique approach and landing 19L with some good views and sporty vectoring.
Passing over the Bay Bridge.
Over Oakland now and the "new" section of the Bay Bridge. Also visible are the Golden Gate Bridge and Richmond San Rafael Bridges.
Passed over Alameda, NAS Alameda on the right and OAK on the left.
Down on 19L.
A look at the approach from the moving map.
All Nippon Airways First Class Lounge
Tokyo - NRT
San Francisco - SFO
The Ground Service: The First Class check in facility and private security screening is a nice touch.
The Lounge: The absence of sit down a la carte dining with table service puts the ANA Suite Lounge a step behind many of their Pacific peers. Crowding is also an issue at peak afternoon times. That said, I find their offerings to be of generally high quality and there is a good selection of food and beverage.
The Cabin: The blocked window aside it's a decent space. Certainly better for traveling alone as even the center seats don't offer a good conversation configuration. The cloth seat can be infinitely adjusted to any taste. The bed is spacious and the memory foam pad is quite comfortable.
The Crew: Kamiso and Takahashi were both very competent and pro active in their service. The crew as a whole was a bit more reserved and aloof than I am accustomed from ANA but where otherwise flawless.
The Food and Beverage: Dining with ANA is a truly First Class engagement and where I think they really shine.. The prestigious Champagne, proper canapes, lobster, caviar, and wagyu beef are all luxurious components to a truly decadent experience.
Overall: Consistency is one of the hallmarks of greatness and even thought he crew may of been off a beat, or at least out of sync with me, the rest of the experience was as delightful as ever. ANA just seems incapable of average.
Thank you for reading and happy flying.
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