Greetings Flight Report community and welcome aboard. OK, OK it's another ANA report. I'm aware they have been plentiful. This time is different though, I'm going out and back rather than around the world. See, keeping it interesting for the dear readers.
The genesis for this trip was actually a trip in July. My pal Mark and I had a spectacular Lufthansa First Class extravaganza that left us in Tokyo with a need for a ride home. Enter Virgin Atlantic and their unbelievable redemption of 110k Flying Club points for a round trip in ANA First Class. In the miles and points world that's the preferred was to get between the US West Coast and Tokyo. The gods of mileage redemption smiled on us and we found two F seats from Tokyo to LAX on the July day we needed. His was HND-LAX and mine NRT-LAX but it was good enough. Flying Club require a round trip redemption so we had to park the return segment somewhere. I scoured Expertflyer and found two First Class seats on LAX-NRT for January 17th, 2019. Darn it all we'd have to plan a second trip around that segment. If we must. So then, you're up to speed on how we and why we presented ourselves at LAX on this date and time.
As for building out a trip around this flight to Tokyo it was easy. Mark loved eating around Singapore on a previous trip so I told him if we ever get a chance to go back to that part of the world I think he would really enjoy Kuala Lumpur, for many of the same reasons he enjoyed Singapore. Amazing cuisines as a result cultural diversity chief among them. I added the KL is a lot like a less polished version of SIN. Also, it's a much less expensive hotel town so we could stay in luxury for a fraction of the price. So it was settled, we'd make our way down to KUL and, since we were in the neighborhood, we'd swing by Hong Kong on the way home. Mark hasn't had the pleasure of visiting HK either.
In the 6 months between trips I planed and schemed and fleshed out all of the segments on points (some his but mostly mine) so that we would travel in relative comfort. We would rely on Delta to non-rev home on the last T-Pac segment, which likely meant economy class for Mark. Can't win them all.
Spoiler alert: Things didn't go to plan for either of us.
Carrier, route, equipment, class, lounge, and procurement method:
The winter of constant rain continued here in Southern California and during our white knuckle Uber ride, no, hydroplane, up the 405 freeway to LAX. I thought our trip would end before it even really started. Our Peruvian driver in a not-so-late-model Honda Civic was doing his best but the conditions were poor. He wasn't speeding but his little car was having a heck of a time with traction. My plan was to lean in to the middle of vehicle when the spinning started. Not a great plan, but it was all I could come up with. We both felt very relieved when we stepped out of the vehicle in front of United's terminal 7 at LAX.
The United Polaris lounge roll out is well documented. Initially all planned US lounges were to be opened by the end of 2017. Then came the delays and the second lounge, SFO, didn't open until April 2018. Oops. After it was apparent the LAX lounge wouldn't open in Q4 2017 the schedule slipped to Q2 2018. Then it moved to Q4 2018. The lounge opened Q1 2019. It was somewhat humorous during these rolling delays as I was scheduling travel that would have been Polaris Lounge eligible. I would get my hopes up that I would get a visit on that next trip, only to be disappointed. This botched delivery didn't diminish my excitement for visiting on this day. You see the lounge only opened January 12th so this would be only the 5th day of serving passengers. New lounge smell! Or something like that.
The lounge entrance is located in the rotunda portion of terminal 7 just past the Wolfgang Puck restaurant. It is up one level from the departure gates.
We presented our online check in, print at home boarding passes for ANA and much to the lounge agent's surprise they worked when scanned. He suggested that isn't the normal response. We exchanged some pleasantries about the new lounge and the excitement of visiting on the first week.
The lounge opens at 6;45 am and we entered around 7:15 to find only a few guests. The light attendance made it easier for photos with discretion and deference to others' privacy. I found the lounge to be the smallest of the Polaris Lounges I have visited. It shares many of the design elements with the other facilities. The lounge is split in half with about 50% various lounge seating and a bar and the other half is the restaurant, restrooms, showers, and nap rooms. There is a buffet in the "hallway" between the two halves.
Lounge seating and bar.
The center of the lounge is the rotunda portion of the terminal hence the round shape. To your left is a passage to the restrooms and features a wine wall. To your right is the buffet. Both passages around the rotunda will direct you to the restaurant/restrooms/showers/nap rooms.
We had a look at the buffet offerings before visiting the dining room. I prefer to be an informed eater.
The 3-bowl dish is a clever way to assemble ingredients to be enjoyed together. The offerings were labeled as "Protien Plates", so very LA.
Hot options on the buffet.
There was no wait for a seat in the compact dining room.
We were greeted by a very friendly and engaging female server and presented menus. There are separate food and beverage menus.
Our breakfast started off with a round of Bloody Mary. Beautifully spiced and garnished.
We ordered a few items from the menu to share "family style". First up was the Fitness omelet, again with the LA branding. It was both beautiful and delicious.
A half order of the Boardwalk Benedict topped with pork. The zucchini cake was fantastic.
The Salmon rillettes bruschetta was a winner as well.
We rounded out or meal with the Healthy Hash. The interesting hash with kale, potato, and bacon was very satisfying.
Throughout the meal service was excellent and we were offered additional drinks and encouraged to order more from the menu. At no time were there more than two other tables occupied so perhaps that's why we received such attentive service. With a long day of culinary delights ahead of us we had to exercise restraint. I would not hesitate to recommend any of the dishes we sampled.
After breakfast I ventured further into the facility to have a look at the shower suites and rest area.
There are 6 shower rooms and one can be arranged by visiting the attendant. I asked to have a look at one for the purposes of this report. I found them to be spacious and well appointed. At less than a week into their use they were of course clean and fresh looking.
There are two nap areas available. They are right up against the windows overlooking the ramp so light and noise will be an issue. An eye mask and earplugs are provided.
There was time left for a stop at the bar to enjoy a cocktail. We had a great chat with the affable bar tender and sampled two of his favorite concoctions on the cocktail list, The Paper Plane and the Cloud Cover. Both were fun and interesting. I mean Oolong-steeped bourbon, something called quintessentia, and Aperol. He was very nice and showed us the bottles for each component and talked about the flavor profile it brings to the drink. A boozy education.
We had another lounge to visit and a formidable walk from T7 to T6 then underground to T5 and T4, finally connecting to TBIT. We bid the Polaris Lounge adieu and made the trek to TBIT. It's great that this can be done behind security now, which wasn't the case until the last couple of years. The walk, while not glamorous, felt good before more sitting and eating. We caught a glimpse of our ride to Narita from the T4 to TBIT connector.
Star Alliance First Class Lounge - LAX
I've covered this lounge ad nausea in previous reports so I'll spare you the minutia. We were welcomed in by the agent and offered a menu and choice of seats. There was only a handful of other passengers in when we arrived.
We ordered a couple of bites from the menu, forgetting that the portions here are far larger than the Polaris Lounge. Liquid refreshment was also procured.
I can't speak to the quality of the food as I don't think I even tasted any of it. It was at this point where our journey took a turn in the wrong direction. I decided that I would go over to the Star Alliance J lounge and touch bases with the NH rep and procure proper boarding passes. We've been successfully checked in for both LAX-NRT and NRT-KUL and we're in possession of digital boarding passes that have served us well to this point. In my experience there's always a hitch with needing a doc check or something so I like to check in before boarding to iron those issues out. Also, i wanted to verify that our PNRs were linked as our connection was short and we're on separate NH tickets. Maybe I should have left well enough alone.
Mark and I turned over our documents and discussed our connection with the agent. She then asks the question that sinks my heart, "Mr. Mark, do you have any other passports?" He replies in the negative. I already have a sense of what's happening so I ask Mark when his passport expires and he says August. OK, should be good. Nope, it expires in early June and Malaysia requires 6 months of validity. Wow, emotions are racing now. I should have checked for him and of course he absolutely should have known the entry requirements for the countries he is visiting…but neither of these things happened. Also, why couldn't ANA flag these issues when they have been in possession of all of his document information (passport number, expiration date, issue date, etc.) for months. We endure a few phone calls to supervisors and such and finally are left with the following: ANA will transport you to KUL but you must sign a document that releases ANA from liability if the Malaysian authorities do not grant you entry. Lot's of thoughts to unpack here so we go back to the lounge to discuss options. Time is not on our side with about 20 minutes until boarding is to commence.
Mark is not as frequent a traveler as me and is a bit nervous by nature. The thought of showing up in Malaysia without knowing if he can enter, and then potentially having no way back for several days, was a bit much for him to process and accept. Also, I was dubious that ANA would even let him board in the NRT-KUL flight because my understanding is that ANA would be responsible for taking him back to Tokyo should he be denied entry as they brought him there knowing his credentials were not sufficient to enter. i was frantically Googling visa requirements for neighboring countries in hopes I could change our NRT-KUL to something else, or even abandon it and book something else. I found Japan and Honk Kong have no such 6 month validity requirement (hence the fact that they were willing to take him to Narita without issue) . I simply didn't have the time to find award availability and get on the phone with UA (the issuing carrier for our NRT-KUL tickets) and make any changes, boarding was about to start.
We both became sullen and resigned to the fact that this wasn't going to work out as planned, or even close. Mark initially decided to just go back air side and get an Uber home. Luckily i talked him down off that ledge and pointed out that he has a First Class ticket to Tokyo available to him and he should at least fly to Narita and enjoy the experience. I was confident I could get him home from Tokyo on a Delta NRSA ticket in the next few days, depending on how long he would like to stay, and that would salvage something. He agreed to that, thankfully, as traveling alone in a foreign country was also going to be a new experience for him.
The question turned to whether I should continue to KUL or just stay in Tokyo with Mark and make a new adventure. I had paid for our hotel in KUL to get a great sale rate on suites for both of us and by the time we land in Narita we were past the 3 day semi-flex cancellation date for the Conrad Hong Kong that we booked. Then there was the issue of the 45,000 UA miles I would have to walk away from to not fly to KUL that night. The remainder of our Asian regional flights were booked with CX by way of BA Avios. We could get out of these minus cancellation fees. In the end it was too much money and planning to walk away from. Mark was very accommodating offering to pay at least his half of everything we couldn't get a refund for and even all of it should I decide to stay with him. I didn't want him to pay for a trip that neither of us takes so I opted to go ahead myself. There is a air of failure and disappointment around us but it is packaged and put away because we're walking through the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX to board a 12 hour flight to Tokyo in ANA First Class. Anything we're missing out on can wait for contemplation at some other time.
The welcome at the door is warm and the escort to seats 1A and 2A are swift.We're among the last to baord as we spent as much time in the lounge as we could working on our suddenly altered trip. I'll take up a position in 2A and Mark 1A. Amenities are already positioned and include Sony noise cancelling headphones, amenity kit, lounge wear, cardigan sweater, and slippers.
The flight attendants, Sakakibara and Tomo, formally introduce themselves and it's apparent we are in good hands. Their smiles are warm and genuine and they both posses a fantastic air of confidence and sophistication. Tomo quickly offered to prepare the lavatory should I wish to change into the lounge wear before departure. Yes please, this is a fantastic ritual of traveling in this manner.
As I exit the lavatory my street clothes are hung and stored in the closet in the suite. Tomo offers something to drink however I decline preferring to wait for the good stuff after takeoff.
Sakakibara passes the "basket of many things" and I make my selection. A free wifi card is also distributed.
The cabin is prepared for take off and the new (to me) ANA safety video plays. It has a Kabuki theme with faces in kumadori. It's very Japanese and I find it quite striking.
We push back into the alley between T4 and TBIT where the push extends the full length of the C10 alley and on to taxi way Charlie. The rain hampers picture efforts.
We taxi to the North Complex and do our best to dry out a down a soggy 24L. We're through the low ceiling rather quickly with some improved visibility between cloud layers.
After the crew was released to start service they delivered a glass of Champagne to the "gentleman" in 2D as he made a fuss about not having more Champagne during boarding. Unfortunately that prompt service was not extended to the remainder of the cabin. Squeaky wheel I suppose.
Tomo stopped by with the menu and oshibori. There was never an introduction form the purser, which is commonly done for the menu delivery.
The menu is awash in delightful options.
The wine and drinks list is identical to NH8 from last month. The selection is staggering. I would be interested to know the weight added to the aircraft to offer this library of beverages.
I too eventually received a pour of the elegant 2004 Krug without resorting to whining. ANA use a standard wine glass at the urging of the House of Krug so that the drinker may enjoy the full aroma of the wine. It makes perfect sense to me and I never did understand the tall narrow flute as anything other than an expression of style over substance.
The canapes are offered with the aperitif. The smoked salmon and herb crepe roll, quail egg, and tomato tart are all lovely bites to accompany the wine. The cheese pepper bar seems to be a mainstay in this offering and is likewise enjoyable.
Tomo asks how I find the 2004 Krug and I express my appreciation for the vintage. I inquire as to whether they have any of the Grand Cuvee on board for comparison, knowing Mark would be as tickled as I was when tasting them side by side on an ANA flight last year. After checking she confirms that they have not catered any but she has opened the 2006 Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesime for comparison. Oh yes please, and I request a pour for Mark too. This would touch off a battle of us sending drinks to each other that we thought the other would appreciate, to the massive annoyance of the crew, I'm sure. It was only a couple of times so hopefully not that distracting. The Heidsieck was served in a Champagne flute.
For entertainment I started with Richie Merritt and Matthew McConaughey in White Boy Rick. What a sad, sickening, and great story. At one point Rick Jr. (Merritt) says to Rick Sr. (McConaughey) "Things worked out? Your daughter is a junkie and I'm shitting into a bag." Yeah, that kind of crack epidemic in 1980s Detroit sad.
The meal service was leisurely at best but could be considered slow if you didn't appreciate lingering on the wine as much as i do. We were heading out over teh Pacific by the time the table was set for lunch. I selected a hearty looking roll from the bread offering.
You will be comforted to know my inability to think outside of the box in these special dining situations is intact. To start the meal I opted for the cauliflower panna cotta with caviar. The panna cotta had a silky texture that was sublime and stole the show from the rest of the dish. While not a traditional caviar presentation it was still very satisfying and special.
The salad greens with Japanese style dressing had a nice variety of greens, peppers, tomato and a dollop of Gorgonzola. The Krug is still flowing, somewhat to my surprise considering myself, Mark and 2D were all eager imbibers.
I take the corn soup, because it's good.
As Tomo was taking my meal order I couldn't really get excited about any of the main dishes so I asked if I may enjoy the duck and foie-gras quenelle with Iberico ham, from the appetizer selections, as my main dish. After conferring with her colleges this request was accommodated. Bless her heart she was worried that it was too small and offered to prepare one of the main dishes too. I've already consumed enough calories for a small family so i don't think that will be necessary. I failed to finish even this portion. It was a powerhouse of a dish. So rich and the texture on the foie was superb. I've never encountered the Amigne grape variety (to my knowledge) so I was interested to try this Swiss wine. I'm happy I did it was rich with minerality and texture. The citrus and stone fruit worked very well with the rich foie-gras and Iberico.
I was ready to ask Tomo for the cheese selection when she arrived with a bottle of wine that the passenger in 1A sent over for me to try. I was already a fan of this Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon from a prior ANA flight so it was a welcome pour.
While requesting the cheese I asked for a pour of the 30 years old tawney. I also suggested that the gentleman in 1A would really enjoy it as well.
Mark is laughing at me for getting the last move in drink wars. Also enjoying the port.
The lunch service has ended but it's maybe 3pm at home so it's not exactly bed time. But it is Suntory time.
A selection of petit fours are served with the whiskey because, well, I don't know.
There's still roughly 8 hours to go to Tokyo and I pass some time with the IFE and whiskey sipping but soon a snack is in order. Not out of hunger but because it's possible. A round of sake and ramen seems fitting. The Ippudo rich-tasting miso "Daichi" ramen and the Shichiken Junmai Daiginjo Onakaya make an exceptional experience. The table is laid with great care and the noodles don't disappoint.
I request the bed setup eventually to nap. There is still a long travel day ahead with the connection to KUL. I manage about 4 hours of off and on sleep, again, it's only early evening at home.
My reentry to the land of the conscious occurs with approximately 2 hours to Narita. Tomo is quick to pounce and delivers and oshibori and offer of a beverage. Water with ice please, for now.
After the water arrives I remember the ANA "Juice of the season" feature and request the Mapple Juice Chardonnay. It's a beautiful glass of grape juice.
At an hour out of Narita Tomo queries me on my arrival meal interest. In terms of the set menus my interest is low. But the crab cake sandwich catches my eye so I inquire as to the availability. Coming right up. it's a substantial portion and a satisfactory presentation with crisp lettuce and soft bun. The blanket of cheese on the crab cake overpowers the subtle meat so if I were to order this again i would ask if his can be omitted.
The table is cleared and I request a cappuccino to finish. It is served promptly and I'm offered another. I ask for a simple espresso to follow which is delivered with some fondant cookies that I stash in my carry on for future use.
Properly caffeinated for my tight connection I tidy up my suite for arrival. Both Tomo and Sakakibara stop by to thank me for flying ANA and I return the gratitude for the exquisite service provided. It's a truly personal and grandiose experience.
We glide to a golden hour arrival on Narita's 34L.
We arrive a bit behind schedule and my connection is already short so I'm not left with much time to say farewell to Mark as I'm met at the door by an ANA agent collecting folks who are going to KUL. I know he'll have a great time in Tokyo but it's not the experience I planned for this voyage. Maybe we'll try again some time.
United Polaris Lounge
Los Angeles - LAX
Tokyo - NRT
The Ground Service: Our only encounter with the ANA ground staff was rather unfortunate in that she delivered the news that our poor planning was biting us in the behind.
The Lounge: I have to echo the sentiments I shared after visits tot he ORD and SFO Polaris Lounges: I'm impressed. The LAX lounge might even be a step up in that it's so quiet and compact. The UA flight schedule at LAX isn't a Polaris heavy as the other hubs. It'll be interesting if the Star Alliance flyers make the substantial trek over there as we did. It really is superior experience to the Star Alliance First Class Lounge in the TBIT. With multiple OZ, BR, NH, LH, and SQ flights this could be an issue.
The Cabin: The walled off suites are better for traveling alone as even the center seats don't offer a good conversation configuration. This is why we opted for 1A and 2A. Other than that I find all seating positions comfortable and the bed spacious. A mattress pad and duvet round out the quality but not luxurious bedding.
The Crew: Tomo is a real gem. The picture of grace and beauty, she was a delightful presence. Sakakibara was also very pleasant but I think she mostly worked the other aisle.
The Food and Beverage: The breadth and quality of the food and drink options are as good as any First Class I've experienced.
Overall: I'm a broken record of spewing compliments for the consistency and quality of travel with ANA.
Thank you for reading and happy flying.
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