After visiting my parents, it was time to make my usual trip to Asia to visit my grandparents.
The ANA flights were booked with the Virgin Flying Club. At 120,000 for a round-trip or open jaw in F, there's no better deal in points in my opinion. I booked this one far out - the NRT-IAH segment was booked right when the schedule opened. I chose to fly from IAD because that was the easiest airport to position to from my parents' home, where I was visiting for Christmas.
The sticker price for these flights are rather ridiculous to look at, but it is fun to think about the cpp value (even if I would never pay anything close to this for a flight).
I arrived at Dulles right before 8am and the ANA check-in counters were not ready yet. Agents were busy putting New Years-related decorations around. The rest of the terminal still had Christmas decorations up. You can find ANA right next to Alaska's counters.
At precisely 3 hours before departure, the ground agents filed out in a row. The station manager welcomed the passengers and everyone bowed simultaneously. Sorry for the quality of the picture, it is a screenshot from a video I took.
I was helped immediately by a friendly agent. Initially, she gave me directions to the Turkish Airlines Lounge. I inquired about using the Lufthansa Senator Lounge instead (I knew I had access, but was curious why she was directing people to the Turkish lounge). She told me that it is because you can board directly from the Turkish lounge. She gave me flyers for both lounges.
After check-in, security was a breeze this early (especially with both TSA Pre and CLEAR). I then took the air train to the B gates. As much as I find Dulles to be a lackluster airport, I've always appreciated all the flags.
The Lufthansa Lounge is very close to where the air train drops you off. It opens at 8:20am.
The Lounge was actually staffed mostly by contract workers and ANA agents at the time. It seemed like the Business Lounge was closed - probably because there is not much traffic at this time of the day.
At check-in I was asked if I wanted the New Year rice cake soup ANA was providing its passengers. I don't think this was for all lounge visitors, only for those flying ANA. Of course I said yes. I was given a table number holder and welcomed to the lounge.
Later, in the lounge, an ANA agent came by and asked another passenger if he would like to try the soup. It seems that they were very proactive about this service.
Here's what I was given: nothing special, but a fairly healthy breakfast compared to what I likely would have ended up eating.
Like most lounges at IAD, the Lufthansa Senator Lounge is fairly small. It is a single room split into two sections. Immediately upon entering is a counter-top dining area, with buffet and bar. Behind you to your right is the LH First Class/HON Circle section. Next to it is a display of various literature. The bar had a decent selection as far as IAD goes. Behind the bar is the main sitting area, with lounge seating and more counter-top seats. Additional counter-top seats can be found along the windows.
The buffet spread was small, all cold items. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I grabbed a croissant and a muffin - unfortunately there were no chocolate croissants.
The bathrooms were clean. There were no amenities though. I believe shower rooms can be found only in the Business Lounge.
During my time here there were many ANA staff walking around and it seemed like every passenger in the lounge was flying ANA. The staff made a boarding announcement for an Ethiopian Airlines flight, but no one left the lounge for that.
I spent roughly one hour in the Senator Lounge trying vainly to check in for my MU flights later. Eventually I gave up and decided a change of scenery was in order and moved to the Turkish Airlines Lounge. This is also a Priority Pass Lounge and some considered one of the best in the network. It can be found a few gates down.
Christmas decorations were still in place. The lounge comprised of two connected sections. Right after the entrance is a large sitting and dining area with a buffet. There is a small business desk in the back.
The buffet was about the same as the Senator Lounge.
However, there were also two hot options.
Upon entering the lounge, an ANA staff, the only one I saw, immediately approached me and asked if I was flying ANA and whether I would like to try the rice cake soup. I politely declined, explaining I just came from the Senator Lounge and had tried it there.
Along the windows is a narrow passage to the other half of the lounge. This is where the bar is, as well as an entrance to Gate B41.
In between the two sections were the bathrooms as well as the sole shower.
I ordered some Turkish coffee to try - wasn't a big fan.
Here is my ride: JA732A, a 14 years-old 777-300ER. This picture was taken from the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.
A different look from when I moved to the Turkish Airlines Lounge:
I boarded from the Turkish Lounge, but I also stopped by the gate when I was changing lounges to snap a quick picture of the gates. It seems like both B41 and B43 are used for this flight.
Boarding began at 10:30am ET, 5 minutes early. The lounge entrance used biometric boarding, which was a first for me.
Before turning onto the jet bridge, there was an ANA associate with a tray of goodies. She explained these were gifts for New Year's Day. According to Japan Guide, New Year (shogatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. That explains why there are so many additions to the usual experience - I'm very happy to have blindly stumbled onto flying ANA on Jan. 1.
I chose to grab a pair of gloves (which I have not tried on yet).
Nothing builds anticipation like walking down the jet bridge to a new first class experience!
I was warmly welcomed at the door with bows and addressed by name. Inoue, who introduced herself as purser, walked me to my seat.
ANA has 8 seats in its first class cabin, arranged in two rows of 1-2-1. The cabin does not have any additional decor. You can see that it is a very private cabin. There was only one other F passenger this flight, in 2A. You can barely see him even when standing.
I chose 1K for this flight. As the transit agent at NRT later would say to me: I had a lucky boarding pass. Seat 1K on NH1 on Jan. 1!
The seat itself was very comfortable: well-padded, wide, with plenty of space. A small pillow and a blanket were already at the seat.
There are many little storage areas in ANA's "Square," mostly arranged alongside the window. Many of these storages are rather small and not great for putting much in them. They also all had little mirrors. A literature pocket can be found below on the right side. Seat controls and the IFE remote are separate. I quite liked how much freedom you had to customize your seat position (press adjuster instead of the pre-determined positions). Two reading lights are also found beside the storages. To your left is another small storage with a holder that is perfect for storing your glasses or other small objects. There is also a small closet on the outside wall of the suite.
A large tray table slides out from underneath the IFE. There is also a small drinks counter in the window opening. Underneath the footwell is yet another storage. This is where I put most of my stuff because it had the most room.
There was a whole range of items waiting for me at the seat. In front of the IFE were fast lane and immigration cards, a small paper crane, a Globe-Trotter amenity kit, Sony headphones, and a handwritten welcome note. Right below were the pajamas and cardigan. Slippers were firm and comfortable. As she was welcoming me to the seat, Inoue opened the package on the slippers and laid them to the side for me to slip into. The blanket was by Tenerita, which I am not familiar with.
After settling down, here is another angle to emphasize the privacy these suites provide despite the lack of a door. Unfortunately, it also means it is very difficult to talk to anyone else (if you were sitting in the middle) or look out the window comfortably.
The Chief Purser Uryu introduced herself to me shortly after I sat down. One thing I am not sure about is what purser means if there is also a chief purser. Both she and Inoue offered to take pictures of me when they saw I was furiously taking pictures of the seat and amenities. I declined for now.
Inoue brought out a tray with the PDBs. I opted for the champagne of course. I'm not sure what they were serving on the ground - somehow it escaped me to ask.
Then she brought over a tray filled with more goodies. You can see on the left there were New Year cards in addition to the usual items.
I grabbed one of everything, which you can see below. I opted for the Mt. Fuji card.
I was offered as many WiFi cards as I wanted; I figured two to start would be good (turns out that's all I used the entire flight).
A few minutes later, Inoue came back with lip balm, explaining that it was left out from the tray for some reason.
The Globe-Trotter amenity kit itself did not contain as much as you would normally find in a kit because everything is offered from the tray. The highlight was a beautiful set of Ginza amenities, as well as toothbrush/toothpaste, eye mask, and ear plugs. Even though Globe-Trotter famously had an elephant stand on top of their luggage once to prove its durability, I wouldn't try that with this kit. I absolutely loved this kit - maybe even more than my Rimowa kit from EVA.
The Sony headphones were great. They fit well over my ears and provided good noise cancelling and sound. I love it when I don't need to take out my own headphones.
In case you are curious, there is a guide to all the functions of the seat.
Boarding was complete at 11am ET. Gotta love how a Japanese airline boards a 777 faster than U.S. legacies board a 737.
ANA has a kabuki-themed safety video.
We pushed back at 11:04am and took off at 11:19. The Squares rattled a lot during takeoff.
ANA's IFE left a lot to be desired - even EVA's limited selection was better. There are very few movies and shows. The ANA Innovative Channel was also not working. Oh well, I can enjoy the service better this way.
There is an outside camera view. At first, you couldn't see anything because of the sunlight, but it got better later. I included pictures of both below so you can contrast the two.
Right after the seat belt sign was turned off, I went to the lavatory to change. ANA has two lavatories for F passengers, both located on the port side. Like most 777 lavatories, it wasn't very big. The primary lavatory also contains a small fold-down platform you can stand on to change.
Of course, I have to note the bidet function. Compared to most bidets in Japan, its functions are simple, but what do you expect on an airplane? I thought it was very nice they offered this at all.
There are plenty of amenities: Ginza lotions, small towels, facial wipes, more toothbrush/toothpaste, and mouth wash. The bathroom was also cleaned after every visit, with the toilet paper re-folded into a neat triangle.
I am not sure what brand these pajamas were, but they were decently comfortable and fairly stylish. They aren't the best pajamas I've worn on an airplane, but were comfortable enough to lounge around and sleep in. I was given a Large, which fit me perfectly (5'8). I took these pictures later. I'm sorry that I neglected to take a picture of the cardigan - I'll do so on my next NH F flight.
Returning to my seat, the service began at 11:34 with an oshibori and a menu.
The food and beverage menu were presented in a nice binder.
Here is the menu:
The drink menu was quite large and included many Japanese-specific option.
To no one's surprise, I had Krug to go along with the amuse. I really appreciated how Inoue and Uryu always presented the bottles for each new drink throughout the meal and were patient with me as I took pictures. In fact, often they would bring the bottle unprompted just for me to take pictures.
The amuse consisted of:
- apricot compote sandwiched with blue cheese macaron style
- potato and celery wrapped in prosciutto
- smoked salmon canape
- cheese pepper bars
I thoroughly enjoyed all four items. The presentation was also very pleasant. ANA used 375ml bottles of Krug on this flight. Was this always the case? I can't imagine that it is cost-efficient when purchasing in bulk compared to normal 750ml bottles, but maybe there was too much waste using those bottles?
I was also presented with a separate tray for a specially presented sake for New Year's Day. It was the Tengumai Junmai Daiginjo 50 from the menu - a very drinkable and fine sake.
After I finished the amuse, the table was carefully set.
I opted for the Japanese (washkou) menu, but asked if I could caviar from the Western menu. This was happily accommodated. ANA's caviar presentation is often unique, though this is one of the less-creative ones, described as parsnip mousse with caviar. It was delicious.
Apparently the chopsticks were also a special New Year edition? I imagine just the paper holder and not the chopsticks itself.
Next was the sakizuke and the zensai course (I think), which consisted of:
- kombu kelp with herring roe
- simmered abalone in soy-based sauce
- jellied monkfish liver
- yuba bean curd and steamed sea urchin with crab meat sauce
- egg yolk rolled with smoked salmon and squid
- simmered beans with daikon radish
- marinated field mustard in soy-based sauce
I cannot say that I loved every dish, but I enjoyed most of them and they were all carefully presented and flavorful.
Next was the owan, which was a scallop fishcake soup. It doesn't look like much, but the scallop fishcake was delicious.
Yellowtail sashimi followed the soup. It was surprisingly excellent. I wasn't sure what to expect for sashimi on an airplane. Catering fresh fish from an outstation cannot be an easy task.
The remaining courses were presented together with the main. I was asked beforehand if I would like steamed rice and miso soup along with it. Of course! I was starting to become stuffed at this point though. The braised beef sukiyaki, which was the main, was not the strongest dish, but still tasted good.
I had consumed, by my estimates, just about two half-bottles of Krug at this point and it was time to switch to something else. I went for the Noguchi Naohiko Sake Institute Junmai Daiginjo Murokagenshu. It was a good sake.
It took me a while to finish the main course. I was stuffed, but how can I say no to dessert? I wanted to remain true to the Japanese meal and went with the Japanese dessert along with some chamomile tea. I tried to enjoy it, but gelatine jelly, cut fruits, and bean paste with brown sugary syrup was not to my liking at all. I tried a few bites before giving up.
Inoue was concerned that I did not enjoy the dessert and asked if I wanted to try the Western desserts instead. I politely declined, so she brought out some chocolate and a macaron instead.
To polish it all off, well, you know the words: "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." It's a shame there is a worldwide shortage of this fine whiskey.
To wrap things up, Inoue gave me a bottle of water for sleeping. The meal service wrapped up approximately two hours after departure. It was quite efficient despite how many courses and different drinks there were. I never felt rushed at any point. Each course was cleared promptly after I finished without any prompting. Throughout the service, Inoue and Uryu switched on and off in terms of providing service.
Inoue asked if she could make my bed in 1G. ANA provides an additional pillow, comforter, and a mattress pad for the turndown service. It was a comfortable bed, though hardly the plushest bedding in the sky.
To my surprise, I fell asleep promptly. However, I only managed to sleep for a little more than two hours before waking up. The lights were turned off by this point, though ANA does not seem to have any mood lighting. That does make a difference for someone who is as light of a sleeper as I am.
Waking up did mean it was a perfect time to test the snack menu. Inoue responded immediately when I pressed the call button. I asked for the Ippudo Ramen.
An oshibori preceded the food, as would be the case for every item, snack or meal, and the tablecloth was laid onto the tray table with careful precision. ANA does not slack off with the details no matter the circumstance. The ramen was delicious. Not as good as you would find in Tokyo, but still pretty darn good.
When I looked back over at 2G, the bed was already remade neatly. Either Inoue or Uryu would remake the bed every time I got up. I never even noticed them doing it. I didn't hurry back to bed, but instead watched Gemini Man. It was a so-so movie, not one that I would recommend.
After going back to bed and sleeping for another 3-4 hours, I woke up with approximately 3:20 left to go in flight. Rather than trying to squeeze in a little more sleep before breakfast, I decided to get up for good.
I checked out the other F lavatory at this point. It is a smaller lavatory, but has the same amenities without the changing platform. I actually preferred this one because the faucet did not dispense the water so close to the edge and it was easier to wash your hands.
I decided to sample some of the teas at this point as I wanted to save breakfast for closer to lunchtime. I asked for the Miyazaki Sencha first. It was pretty good, though not quite what I would normally drink.
I tried the hojicha next. It was decent, but not to my liking as much.
At this point, Inoue came by and presented me with the other New Year greeting card with a bright smile. I took the opportunity to ask about the transit experience at Narita - I've never actually transited on separate tickets across different terminals before. At first she was very concerned I would not be able to make it even though it technically was within the minimum connection time.
After a few exchanges where she would leave to find out more information, Inoue eventually came back with this cute little boarding certificate with hand-written directions on the back. The gate numbers for the transit buses were very helpful in orienting me when I was at NRT.
The lights were turned back on with 1:50 left in the flight. I asked for breakfast about 20 or so minutes afterwards. I had a cup of orange juice to start.
Next, I opted for the Japanese washoku option out of the anytime menu. I chose rice porridge instead of the steamed rice for breakfast. It was presented all at once on a single tray. I enjoyed every item here except for the natto, which I already knew I disliked from a previous trip to Japan.
With roughly 1:15 left, the captain made an announcement for our approach into Tokyo with a warning there may be some turbulence starting in 30 minutes. I decided to change back 15 minutes later so I wouldn't be rushed at the end. Upon exiting the lavatory, Inoue took my pajamas so she could fold them and present them neatly in a pouch. The captain announced shortly afterwards that he expected us to land at 2:45pm Tokyo time.
Shortly after the captain's announcement, Inoue came by to ask if I was sure I didn't want any more snacks or drinks before the flight was over. Well, why not? I opted to try the Masuizumi Oak aged Kijoshu. It was delicious! I regret not trying it earlier so I would have time to have more. I might even buy a bottle on my way back home. I also had the crab cake sandwich, which was fine, but nothing special.
I think Inoue sensed that I was someone who loved to try different things. So before landing, she brought a glass of mapple juice chardonnay for me to try without any prompting. It was very delicious and I had two glasses before everything had to be put away. She also brought out the bottle afterwards without prompting just so I can take a picture. I felt this exemplified the great service on this flight.
With 28 minutes left, Inoue came by to thank me for flying with ANA and chatted with me about the flight. Needless to say, I only had wonderful things to say. Uryu came by right afterwards with my coat and also chatted for a little bit.
As we approached the Japanese coastline, I tried my best to take these pictures - with the length of my arms and how the Square is set up, these were the best I could do.
True to the captain's announcement, we landed at exactly 2:45pm Tokyo time and parked at Gate 58A 13 minutes later, nearly half an hour early. I rushed off to make my connection. The early arrival meant that I was able to make it just fine, though if we had arrived at 3:25pm as scheduled, the terminal transfer would have made for a very tight connection. I probably won't try to schedule this immediate connection to PVG again.
Lounge: Neither the Turkish Lounge nor the Senator Lounge at IAD are anything to write home about, as is the case with most lounges at IAD. The breakfast spreads at both were a little on the sparse side. Both lounges do have a decent bar though. ANA's rice cake soup was also a pleasant surprise in the morning. Luckily, given the time of departure, both lounges were fairly empty (a rarity later in the day). For boarding convenience, I would definitely recommend the Turkish Airlines Lounge when flying ANA. Otherwise, I'll be glad when the Polaris Lounge is finally finished at Dulles.
Cabin & Seat: ANA's older "Square" seats are comfortable seats for solo travelers. However, the design means limited access to windows or a companion and despite the number of storage areas, it is not very useful for actually storing items in flight. In any case, ANA is transitioning to their new first class suites which look amazing. I'm not sure when the whole 777 fleet will be retrofitted, but that will be a major improvement.
Service: Inoue and Uryu were absolutely wonderful flight attendants. Service was proactive, genuine, and warm. I cannot say enough nice things about them.
Meal & Catering: This was easily one of the best meals I've had on a plane. I may have not enjoyed every single item off the Japanese menu, but I certainly liked most of them. I plan on trying on the Western menu on the return trip for comparison.
Bottom Line: I like to say that the Virgin Flying Club round-trip redemption for ANA is the best deal in points. I still stand by that. ANA offers an immaculate first class service with phenomenal catering. The ANA "Square" may not be the most well-designed seat, but it is nonetheless a comfortable seat to relax in for a long-haul flight, especially if you are a solo traveler. I can't wait for my next flight with ANA.