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April 1, 2013 / oneworld82

ANA First Class: the dream way across the Pacific (NRT-JFK)

Ok. I am disappointed. I wasn’t able to secure a window seat for my flight. Darn it… Oh well, I won’t complain too much, since flying the new ANA First Class is exciting enough. I do not even know how I found availability just one week out, but I did, and now I here I am inside ANA Suite Lounge at Narita Airport Terminal 1, writing the third part of my report after having had a wonderful Japanese breakfast.

I arrived quite early at the airport since the hotel shuttle left at 7am. Unfortunately, I got off at Terminal 2 (I really thought ANA used Terminal 2, sigh) and it took around 20 minutes to get to Terminal 1. You gotta love Narita: the bus docks are so well sign-posted that it’s impossible not taking the right bus.

Anyways, I was delightfully surprised to see a MUJI at the airport, so I stocked up in Umeboshi (salted dried plums) since MUJI’s are by far my favorite. They come seedless now, which is a bummer since I love cracking the seeds open to eat the bitter inside. Oh well, I’ll survive.

ANA has a dedicated section for First Class check-in. It’s a stylish lounge where 4 attendants wait to check-in customers flying First on ANA, Lufthansa, or Swiss Air. It was a bit intimidating to go in and have four young, beautiful attendants take care of me, from handing out hot towels to taking pictures. I wish I took more photos, but I felt quite… awkward. The lounge is very nice, soothing almost, with armchairs set against the longer wall for waiting customers (I doubt there is ever a line though for first class check-in…). The first impression of ANA’s staff was great indeed.

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First Class check-in Lounge

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Stunning

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Happy camper

The First Class boarding pass gave me access to the priority security line – security check took 3 minutes overall. Again, you gotta love Japanese efficiency and politeness.

After clearing immigration I made my way into the ANA Suite Lounge. The entrance was definitely promising. I was promptly let in… et voila’, I was inside this beautiful lounge.  It was big enough to comfortably fit all the passengers that need be fit and the details (as the pictures show) are modern and elegant, yet not overbearing. After seating I was offered a hot towel (#2 of the day) and the attendant hung my jacket for me. I was asked whether I wanted something to drink but I said I would help myself. I like that she had nothing to object to it.

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Understated, moder palettes

Understated, modern palettes… and another Flyertalker incognito

The view from the  lounge is spectacular: right over the tarmac, overlooking ANA and other Star Alliance planes. The B773 that would take me home was right below my seat. Here it is in all its splendor!

The pane that would bring me back home

The plane that would bring me back home

I had in mind to have a small breakfast to save my appetite for the plane… but that didn’t happen (not that I ate less on board, of course).  When you can choose among delicious amuse bouche, steamed salmon, three varieties of onigiri (including the amazing cured bonito eggs one), miso, Japanese omelettes, soba/udon bar, how can you resist?

The food selection wasn’t huge, but the quality – oh man – was great! I had a Japanese breakfast of onigiri, omelette, rice, miso, salmon, bean curd roll, and kitsame udon. I really believe that was the most delicious food I have ever tasted in any airline lounge worldwide (besides Qantas Business Class lounge’s in Melbourne, of course). As simple as that. Seriously, I could have been at a Ritz-Carlton or at a Park Hyatt and I wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Really impressive. I liked the bean curd amuse bouche as well – it caused a delicate explosion (hope you noted the oxymoron here) of flavors inside my mouth. The steamed salmon was as fresh and tasty as it could possibly come, and the udon broth was simply divine. Oh man, why do I even bother eating Japanese food outside of Japan? I should know better by now…

Here’s the proof:

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The steamed salmon was otherwordly!

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Kitsame Udon

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The noodle bar

Like I mentioned earlier, the quality of the food was outstanding. I mean that not to say “outstanding” by lounge standards, I mean it in absolute terms. I was impressed by the salmon, which was tasteful and delicate at the same time. But even the machine-made coffee tasted good. Perhaps the glamour of the lounge got me!

I appreciated the style of the lounge and its elegant, understated wooden panels. The clothes hangers – scattered around the lounge – are a welcomed addition. The restrooms were nice (I love Toto’s toilets!) even though (and I am being picky here) only paper towels were offered next to the basins. I didn’t check out the showers since I had already had two morning showers and it was only 10am…

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It’s funny (but incredibly nice) how the staff bows every time a guest leaves. Once I approached the monitors to check my flight status, the entire staff bowed at me and remained puzzled at the discovery that I wasn’t actually leaving the room. When I indeed left a few minutes later, I got another bow (of course).

After some quick shopping for mocha and tea, I proceeded to my gate (52).

Flight NH10, NRT-JFK
Boeing 777-300
First Class, Seat 1D

Today, I go left

Today, I go left!

I was among the last passengers to board. Once I stepped inside the plane, I was showed my suite (1D) by a smiling flight attendant. Now, my bad for not remembering the name of the purser and of the wonderful flight attendant who took such a great care of me. She was genuinely nice and she really went out of her way to make my trip memorable. She told me her name (of course), but I tend to forget names very quickly – I know, that is something I have to work on…

Once I settled in, I started exploring my awesome suite. The new First Square is really a little wonder. I believe ANA utilized the available space in a great way. There is enough storage space for a carry-on in front of you, under the ottoman. A small closet to hang clothes on is situated on the external part of the suite (and, of course, flight attendants are always happy to hang everything you need elsewhere near the galley). My awesome flight attendant explained to me all the functionalities of the seat, from the extra storage space to the location of lights and headphones. The screen is a huge 23” panel (touch screen that comes with the usual remote control as well), whose visual quality is excellent. The most clever feature of the suite is the main tray though: this is stored right under the TV, and a light pull makes it come out with an extendable arm. No awkward side storage any more. Simply brilliant, especially because when the tray is stowed you can’t really notice it.

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The seat is very comfortable and wide. I would rate it on par with CX’s

One of the best features of ANA Suite is the presence of little storage compartments for one’s little things, so that they are always within reach. I counted three of them, and this is a good example:

Handy

Handy

You will also never run of power given the various recharging options offered onboard.

Power outlets

Power outlets

Seat controls are easy to use and very intuitive – no need to speak English to understand them:

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Very intuitive seat controls. Each “section” of the eat could be further adjusted to one’s liking

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While the TV is touchscreen, a more traditional remote control is offered

Details are very well taken care of, as the stylish lights attest.

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Modern-looking lights, easy to activate

ANA uses SONY noise canceling headphones. No matter what the fuss is about BOSE, I couldn’t really notice any significant difference between these and the ones handed out on AA just a couple of days earlier.

SONY noise canceling headphones

SONY noise canceling headphones

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Yes, there is a clever stortage compartment for headphones as well!

The suite is indeed very private. Standing up, I couldn’t really see inside other suites; you definitely cannot see the person sitting next to you neither while you are seating. Great stuff.

View from my suite

View from my suite

The suite next to me

The suite next to me, pictured from my seat

Last but not least, the TV: it’s not only huge (23″) but also very good definition. The best TV I have yet encountered on a plane.

Huge, 23" high-definition TV

Huge, 23″ high-definition TV

The purser handed me a hot towel (#3 of the day) and offered me a glass of champagne. The menu was offered shortly after.

Some Krug, please!

Some Krug, please!

Now, the menu was actually various pages long, hence I will not bother typing it here. You can find it on ANA’s website though, and I strongly encourage you to check it out. It is different for each route, tailoring to local tastes.

Fancy menu - the biggest selection I have seen yet on a plane.

Fancy menu – the biggest selection I have seen yet on a plane.

We started taxiing right on time, and the captain announced a flight time of about 11 hours that would make us land in New York at around 9.40am. After a powerful take off, the service began promptly. I opted for a glass of Krug Champagne to kick the celebrations off. After drinking more than 2 bottles of it on my JFK-HKG on Cathay Pacific First last year, I grew fond of this wine; gentle and smooth as only the classiest champagnes can be. Yet, this is ANA, and the quality and variety of sake/shochu on board was simply too good to be passed on.

The first drink came with a small snack platter. So much for US carriers’ warm nuts! This was an elegant mixture of Prosciutto, plums stuffed with liver mousse and chicken jelly, cheese sticks… I mean, Michelin star-worthy stuff! Here’s a picture.

Delightful

Delightful

I started watching a Japanese movie, “G’mor Evian”, a romantic comedy that was as entertaining as instructive on the struggles facing single mothers in Japan. Man, I love Japanese cinema.  Not only are the actors really good (generally speaking), but the scripts are more deep and well written.  Even comedies have a meaning and are able to teach something.  This is often overlooked by Hollywood and under-appreciated by Western watchers.  Sad.

After a little while, the purser came by to take my lunch order. I went for the caviar, and she seemed a bit disappointed that I was going for Western options… But when I told her that – caviar aside – I would have gone for the Kaiseki lunch, she brightened up, stated that “this food is really good” with a certain solemnity and then left. Boy, was she right!

My caviar appeared shortly after. I was offered more Krug by my wonderful FA, but I asked instead to switch to sake. Another winner (she looked very pleased). She offered some sparkling sake, a new variety of light-bodied rice wine that is new to the Japanese scene (sparkling and sake traditionally don’t go well together).

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After the caviar, the Kaiseki lunch started. For the ones of you who don’t know, kaiseki is the haut cuisine of Japan: a unique, refined blend of seasonal ingredients, delicate flavors, and elaborate presentation that stimulates one’s palate. Dishes are usually small in size and big in quantity, and (usually) revolve around seafood.

The first dish of this incredible meal was a “Zensai” composed by:

– Sea urchin, simmered burdock root rolled with duck

– Simmered abalone, simmered small sweetfish with sansho pepper flavor

– Sweet egg cake and apricot jelly sandwich

– Trout and lily bulb ball, simmered broad bean, simmered prawn

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The food was delightful, aesthetically pleasing and tastefully satisfying. That was followed by a seafood stock with various seasonal ingredients. Delicate, aromatic, exquisite.

Seafood stock

Seafood stock

It’s worth noting that my FA took care of pairing my dishes with the various sakes offered onboard: I started with Rokkasen Junmai Hitotoki, a new brew of sparkling sake only recently developed in the Land of the Rising Sun. That was followed by Iwakikotobuki Junmai and Ishizuchi Junmaiginjo Green Label (my favorite), which perfectly complemented this delicious, high-class meal. My FA was superlative in suggesting different pairings with different dishes. What a catch she was!

Sashimi was next, and the offering of the month was flounder. Take a look at this:

Flounder sashimi

Flounder sashimi

Needless to say that the fish was of the freshest, tastiest quality. I still do not understand how do they do it, but I enjoy it so much each and every time!

The main course consisted of steamed Spanish mackerel which – I promise you – was one of the most delicious pieces of fish I have ever tasted. I come from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and I believe that my people know one thing or two about seafood. But the Japanese… well, they are just masters in this! This mackerel was tender, delicate, yet delightful. It came with full accompaniments of steamed rice, pickles, and miso soup, plus a small dish of squid (the most tender and tasty squid I have ever tried). It was an apotheosis of taste in my mouth! All this came with simmered conger eel rolled with soft seaweed and daikon radish, simmered tender bean curd crepe, onboard-steamed rice (Ryu no hitomi), miso soup (oh my, so tasty!) and assorted Japanese pickles. Here are some photos. Please note the presentation.

Entree composition

Entree composition

Spanish mackerel: simply spectacular

Spanish mackerel: simply spectacular

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Squid and – I believe – eel

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Tasty miso soup. How can they make it so good yet so delicate?

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Refined Japanese pickles

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I couldn’t bring myself to finish the whole thing – I was starting to feel very full. My FA insisted that I try some dessert prepared in collaboration with Pierre Herme’ specifically for ANA. I asked for her recommendation and – not surprisingly – she wasn’t really a fan of any of them (I think that Western desserts tend to be too sweet for Japanese palates). I opted for the fruit compote with cream cheese, which was indeed flavorful and not too heavy. I accompanied it with an espresso (very decent as well for being on a plane) and a glass of Port wine.

Dessert and espresso

Dessert tand espresso

Graham's 30 Year old Tawny

Graham’s 30 Year old Tawny

Right after dessert, some pralines were offered.

Pralines

Pralines

After lunch I asked the FA whether she could make my bed while I was changing in the lavatory. She, of course, complied. The pajamas are comfortable, although I have to say that Cathay Pacific’s are better in terms of quality and style. The bed was great. She added a sort of mat to the seat to make it more comfortable, and the duvet was soft and warm: high quality stuff indeed. Also, two (!) pillows were provided, which added extra comfort to the lie-down position. I have also to mention that I am a fan of the deep blue color of the amenities (in line with ANA’s colors).

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Turndown service

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Before falling asleep I asked for a Suntory 21-year-old whiskey (premium Japanese stuff), which was served with some salty snacks. This whiskey lives up to its name: it was smooth, round, strong (I had it straight of course). No wonder that – after drinking it – I peacefully fell asleep for the next 4 hours…

When I woke up I felt like I had to try something more.

High definition indeed!

High definition indeed!

First, though, I asked for some shochu. Oh man, ANA serves premium stuff! I got the Murao, a smooth, silky, super-premium shochu from Kagoshima that went down like only excellent Russian vodka does! Have it on the rocks, trust me.

Shochu and fish cakes

Shochu and fish cakes

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With it, I had some fish cakes (so delicious), and my sweet/awesome FA also brought me another variety of fish cake wrapped in kelp and salt -cured mullet roes. So, this was my very first time eating kelp. Definitely different from seaweed, but as tasty. The smell and the taste is totally reminiscent of sea water. It’s quite amazing, really. It made my fishcake all the more worth it! To follow (and with my second glass of shochu) I asked for the cheese platter.

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Now, you should know that I love, LOVE cheese. I grew up on cheese and hardly any day passes by without me having any Italian, French or Spanish (this is my order of preference) cheese. I loved how the cheese was presented: gorgonzola, Coulommiers and Petit Agour were served with different varieties of bread (most notably a cherry blossom-infused pink bread – I am not kidding. It was delicious) and honey plus some crudités. What I loved was that my FA had some honey on her tray, but didn’t immediately offered it to me. Instead, she stated that some people like eating these sharp cheeses with honey and she asked whether I wanted any. Terrific. Lesson for any flight attendant out there: don’t ever assume what a customer wants but be prepared to anticipate any possible need/want. Needless to say, I enjoyed my cheese very much. I started watching another Japanese movie (Tug of War, another light-hearted movie that I thoroughly enjoyed) before falling asleep once more.

I woke up about one hour prior to arrival, at which I went to the restroom to change my clothes. The purser came by and collected my pajamas, which was a bit disappointing (although I didn’t really have space in my carry-on). I, then, asked for some fruit and a cappuccino, just to fight jetlag and to feel a bit healthier. These were promptly served.

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Unfortunately, my flight was over all too early. What I want to mention – and this is the highlight of my flight – is what my awesome, amazing, wonderful FA did for me. She did three things that made this the best flight I have ever taken:

  1. She wrote me a note wishing me good luck mid-flight and she stuck some apples stickers on there because we were going to NYC. This note had a Shinto spirit of Spring carved in it, and it doubled up as a bookmark. She did it for me as she noticed I was reading a book. Stunning;
  2. She taught me tirelessly about every dish I was trying and about every sake/shochu I was tasting. To top it off, she prepared another hand-made note where she stiched the labels of all the sakes/shochus I tried on it, wrote the names in English, wrote another note of good luck, and stiched to it a hand-made origami. I was speechless
  3. She summoned me with only mildly-disguised excitement when she noticed that on one side of the plane you could see sunrise. She mentioned that she thought I might like it and she didn’t want me to miss it. Amazing.
My FA made this for me as well as a cute bookmark with the hand-carved image of a Shinto spirit of Spring! Speechless

My FA made this for me as well as a cute bookmark with the hand-carved image of a Shinto spirit of Spring! Speechless

Now perhaps you understand why I feel so bad for not having got her name. I mean, she deserves to be remembered by name, but I am so shy I couldn’t force myself to ask her name again. Go figure human nature. I hope that – if she will ever come across this trip report – she will have the good heart to forgive me.

In any case, I was finally in New York, where I would meet a couple of friends for Easter brunch before heading back home on United.

I want to leave you guys with some thoughts on ANA First Class. First of all, the hard product. I found it amazing. In a way, more private than Cathay Pacific’s. The movie selection was great, the storage space ample, the tray handy, the bed comfortable. The restrooms were well-stocked but not otherwordly (although Thann is a good brand, from today, April 1st, Shiseido products will be offered. Another upgrade!) and I appreciated a changing pad that could be lowered on the floor to allow passengers to switch clothes without having to step on the lavatory’s floor: brilliant. The TV was very good.

Samsonite amenity kit content

Samsonite amenity kit content

The food was unbelievable. It matched – and probably overcame – Cathay Pacific’s. And this comes from a staunch loyal oneworld customer. I will now have to fly JAL First Class and compare 😉

The service was the best service I have ever received, not only on a plane but overall. I am still now speechless. It was simply mind-blowing, personal, caring and genuinely vested in making me have a great experience.  I am grateful and I feel extremely lucky to have been able to experience such an amazing service. I would call the style unobtrusive. FAs would not ply the aisles every minute refilling your glass, but my glass was hardly empty at any time during the flight. If anything was needed, a simple touch on my remote control would alert the FAs, which would immediately come by. I felt like they were genuinely trying to make my experience unforgettable.

A good product starts from the ground though: the First Class check-in was incredible, and ANA’s Suite Lounge was absolutely nice (and the food excellent). Was I expecting all of this from ANA? To be honest with you, no. I had high expectations and I had Cathay Pacific First as reference. ANA was able to go above and beyond Cathay Pacific. Now I can understand why Skytrax awarded ANA the accolade of best trans-Pacific carrier and Five stars; totally deserved.

I haven’t mentioned the amenity kit: as many of you would probably know, ANA will start having Shiseido products starting April 1st. Well, my flight was on March 31st and I got the Samsonite bag with Thann products. Still, these were more than appropriate. Shiseido will only bring even more glamour to what must be one of the top 5 first classes out there (Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, and Etihad Airways being the others IMHO).

So, was it worth it to spend a long weekend in Tokyo and to try ANA First Square? Heck yes!

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