Alone in First Class on ANA, Chicago – Tokyo

(This is a Continuation of “Trip Report – A Private Jet Experience: Alone in First Class on ANA and Thai, Plus Singapore First, a Suite, a Villa, and Some Incredible Food Porn”)

The Intercontinental’s shuttle dropped us off at check-in for ANA and Lufthansa.

We quickly walked up to the red carpet, first class and Star Gold checkin. Bags were tagged all the way to Singapore, even though we were on separate tickets for the Tokyo – Singapore segment. It took the agents a little while to figure out how to do it, the biggest challenge being my explaining to them that the Chicago – Tokyo flight arrived the next day and so they needed to enter the Singapore – Tokyo flight for that day. They kept entering a same day departure and getting a response that the flight was already closed.

Once that was handled we walked through premium security, there was virtually no line, and the nude-o-scopes were even turned off. We went quickly down through the ORD tunnel to the C concourse, the first class lounge is behind the customer service counter near gate C18.

The lounge is peaceful enough, we had no problem finding seating, but it isn’t special in any way. It’s just a bit quieter than the Red Carpet Club next door.

There’s better food and drink, of course, though I wouldn’t call the food selection especially good or impressive.

Still, this is Unitedand even though this is the international first class lounge for their main hub, a lounge shared by international premium carriers like ANA (which we’d be flying, though admittedy ANA isn’t really known for its ground experience) and Lufthansa, the lounge was fine for our short time there. We didn’t get ourselves to the airport with the intention of spending time there, and that worked out perfectly.

Though I suppose it was five o’clock somewhere, I didn’t partake in the bar selection, which was self-service and well stocked.

Cloudy Bay is a decent enough Sauvignon Blanc though since it struck me as the best bottle available that hardly impressed.

Soon enough it was time to board and we walked over to the ANA gate, boarding already mostly complete, and found our way to the first class cabin. A couple of days earlier I had checked the inventory buckets and seat map and it appeared we were the only ones in the cabin. That was re-confirmed at check-in, though I did wonder whether there was some chance of an upgrade of someone in business. When we boarded the plane I asked and was told that indeed we would be the only ones in first class that day!

Seating on the ANA 777 is 1-2-1 in first class, and we had pre-reserved the two seats together in the middle in row 1. We were invited to take any seats we liked, or to start at a window seat and move later if we wanted the view as we took off. We just took our originally assigned seats which suited us just fine. It was going to be a good flight.

The seat itself was really remarkable when it was first introduced in 2002. It was 2006 before it finally rolled out completely across all routes, I still remember taking an old “SuperStyle” first class flight in April 2006 from Washington Dulles to Tokyo, and then seeing on the return that the NewStyle seats were operating every other day for the route — and I just missed it.

Now the seats are a bit dated, though in perfect condition. They’re just not as wide as I’d like, and there’s really no storage, but otherwise I still find them excellent.

There are many things I find a bit odd about ANA, that’s important to understand it’s how they do things and not a reflection on service. There are no pre-departure beverages per Japanese regulation. But there was still plenty of activity with us before we took off, in addition to the flight attendant duties of lightly tapping each overhead bin in a rather comical routine, I don’t think they’d be able to tell if each one is actually closed and latched with as lightly as they make contact. But it’s a well-rehearsed routine.

Service began with our amenity bag. I don’t like the blue drawstring bags as much as I used to like the zipper pouch bags, I still use those for a variety of purposes like carrying toiletries and medicines and power adapters. ANA gives you a bag and has a basket of amenities, you take what you wish from the basket. On my previous ANA first class flight and on this one, shortly after takeoff the amenity basket was left in front of the television of a vacant seat so that you could take more items if you wished. I stocked up on the lip balm mostly, and a couple of water mist spray bottles. The lotion has been downgraded to a single use tube and I didn’t take any of them. I did grab a couple of scents, though, I especially like the lavender card.

Menus were distributed and ANA really does still have the most extensive menu in the sky, and I’d argue the best food.

There have been some noticeable cutbacks compared to two and certainly four years ago, but they’re still legions ahead of anyone else that I’ve flown. It’s a true mix-and-match dining on demand whenever you’d like, whatever you’d like, and they have tons of options. I always go with the Japanese meal on ANA, even departing the US it is very good though it’s usually considered better departing Tokyo. The Western dishes look excellent but I figure that I don’t often get such an extensive Japanese meal as with ANA so I might as well take advantage of the opportunity. There are full Japanese and Western multi-course affairs, and several different snack menus as well as a final pre-arrival meal. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten the pre-arrival meal as-described, I’ve always just mixed-and-matched whatever snacks and dishes suited my fancy instead.

Hot towels, naturally, before and after each service.

And my pre-meal snack…

.. was greeted by a glass of Krug.

I began with the caviar from the Western menu

And I do have to say that ANA does a nice job with their caviar presentation. They’re the only airline that I can think of (though I may be wrong) that provides a separate utensil for the caviar. Now, it doesn’t make as much difference as is usually imagined, but it’s still a nice tough that they provide a (plastic, not mother-of-pearl) caviar spoon. The portions aren’t huge, a la Lufthansa, but they’re artfully presented.

I also tried the foie gras mousse with roast duck from the Western menu before switching to the Japanese.

The Japanese menu, copied from the website, was as follows: (Note that one of the things I do like about ANA is that they publish the menu for each first class flight on their website for the current and following month, makes trip reports easier!)

o Langoustine with tartare sauce Marinated octopus with Japanese green horseradish sauce Trio of Japanese delicacies
o Crabmeat fishcake
o Assorted of salmon, squid and hen clam
o Simmered chicken meat ball and vegetables in light soy sauce
o Smoked duck breast with sesame flavored sauce
o Cod and Chinese cabbage roulade

After this feast I was too full to have dessert, much to the disappointment of our flight attendants. I went into the restroom to change into my pajamas.

The pajamas have changed to a blue rather than prison grey, they’re quite substantial and I like them though one of the oddities about ANA is that they aren’t yours to keep. Flight attendants will collect them when you change back into your clothes, they’ll be washed and packaged for re-use. I have no problem with wearing them, they were completely clean, but it could be a bit of a surprise if you’ve flown first class on other carriers and become accustomed to taking home the PJs (and even wearing them on long haul flights on other carriers that don’t provide pajamas, cough, United, cough).

And as I left the restroom one of the flight attendants was standing there waiting to hang my clothes. I returned to my seat to find my bed already made. That’s one of the true joys of first class flying, not even having to ask.

Though I declined dessert, there were petit fours waiting for me to nibble on as I relaxed.

My wife did have some dessert and a cappuccino to accompany it, and since we were flying on Valentine’s Day they adorned it ever-so-appropriately.

I adjusted the seat slightly into relaxation mode and started watching some DVDs I had burned to my laptop. This flight I’d be watching some of the sixth season of The Shield. After a few episodes I decided to have a nap, I really hadn’t slept all that much the night before, and a couple of hours of sleep were more than comfortable.

Midflight I had the bar snacks, or sake accompaniments:

o Caramelized freshwater willow minnow in sweet soy sauce
o Deep-fried fishcakes
o Lotus root dumpling with rich soy based sauce

Followed by the ice cream (I finally had my dessert!)

While my wife had the opera cake.

Later in the flight my wife decided to really take advantage of the fact that we were completely alone in the cabin. No, not like that! Get your mind out of the gutter! She placed a blanket of the ground in the cabin and spent 45 minutes or an hour on her Yoga practice. Now that’s relaxation, in private jet style, even on a commercial flight! She got a couple of smiles from the flight attendants, one who talked to her afterwards about her own Yoga practice.

I talked with one of our other flight attendants about our planned time in Singapore, she was so disappointed we weren’t staying in Japan on this trip (especially because ANA flight attendants always seem genuinely impressed when Westerners take the full Japanese meal and seem to enjoy it). But she said her best friend lives in Singapore, and that they visit often. She proceeded to write out three pages of restaurant recommendations along with the usual tourist advice like the zoo and night safari. It was a genuinely appreciated touch, going out of her way to share her thoughts with us.

Watched some more of The Shield, napped a bit, and got myself up about an hour before arrival for one last shot at something to eat. I mixed and matched from the light dishes snack menu and the post-nap meal for my pre-arrival snack,

Traditional onion soup with cheese toast

Braised beef and eggs noodles with red wine sauce

I had these along with another cappuccino and an orange juice. This time there was no heart in the foam, perhaps because we had crossed the international date line and it was no longer Valentine’s Day. And the orange juice was a bit disappointing, wasn’t fresh squeezed like on Cathay (and like on Lufthansa for breakfast, though Lufthansa serves the cheaper stuff for a pre-departure beverage).

With about 30 minutes to go before landing I changed out of my pajamas. My bedding was removed and seat about 2/3rds of the way back to upright when I returned.

We had some pretty significant headwinds throughout the flight but arrived just 30 minutes late. After 14 hours onboard I was no worse for wear, time zone difference notwithstanding. I was well fed, well cared for, had a comfortable bed. I never used the inflight entertainment system, the content of which much improved a couple of years ago but didn’t have much of interest to me and doesn’t compare to Cathay Pacific to name one example.

On the whole the ANA seat is good, I haven’t flown their new First Square so can only compare this older product. But I’d take it over most airlines still, even if it’s not in league with Cathay’s seat which is much wider. ANA’s food is outstanding, the best really. ANA’s service is also outstanding. Usually the flight attendants are a bit more formal than on other carriers, but they were friendly and engaging on this flight. English can be a challenge but again wasn’t at all this go. I do think they ought to move to pajamas that you take with you, but that’s just a function of what I’m used to on other carriers. I like the ‘take what you like’ approach to amenities but higher-end branded amenities would be nice. Do I have any complaints at all about the flight, though? Certainly not! And having the cabin to ourselves was a real bonus, have you ever spent an hour doing yoga inflight and not felt weird about it?

But then this wouldn’t be the only flight where we were alone in the first class cabin on the trip…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Thanks for the photos of the food service. Looking forward to NH02 in April. Wondering when the new seating will appear on NH01/02, not even the csr seem to know. Not worth the additional connection in JFK to try them out. I enjoy your informative blog very much. Thanks again.

  2. I’m so surprised about being alone in First Class. Does that happen very often? I fly almost exclusively domestic and rarely see an empty seat in 1st class.

    I assume they don’t actively look to fill the seats? ie Upgrade someone with elite status or offer the upgrade for a price at check in…

  3. Regarding the Caviar serving in First Class, they are not the only airline with seperate utensil. I flew Turkish Airlines in first from Istanbul to Hong Kong and also they serve the caviar ith a seperate (fake, although it did have the structure of real) pearl spoon.

    The presentation is in fact perhaps nicer as Turkish stack the different garnishings on a small plate tower a la Lufthansa (on top a jar of caviar on ice, middle the egg, onion, cream, lime and underneath the blini’s and toast)

  4. I actually enjoy the ANA ground services at Narita, especially the donuts in the First Class Lounge; and their soups are incredible. For me, its the little things. Not the total luxury of the LH or TG ground services, but I always feel welcomed and at home there.

    By the way, United also does an outstanding Japanese meal, and like your experience, their Japanese cabin attendants always seem flattered that I enjoy it so much. And I don’t even care that much for Asian food. Highly recommended for those that have not tried it.

  5. To me, this completely describes the difference between business and first class… Only in FIRST can you do yoga! I love it! ROFLOL

  6. My g/f and a Japanese senator were the only ones in F from IAD-NRT over the holidays, so an empty F cabin is a possibility… and they made the bed for her Teddy Bear to sleep in…

    Interestingly… they gave her the Pajamas and sweater to keep. I was surprised, a little small for me, but nice color, fit, etc.

    Off to BKK and SIN this weekend in LH/TG F thanks to Gary! Yes, his service is THAT good!

  7. Looks like a great FCL. Tell me is like the United FCL? With united employees grazing the food?

  8. Great review on the ANA first class seats. Loved the inflight yoga….I’ve always wanted to do that. 🙂 From the photos it looks like your shoulders would’ve been a little cramped while sleeping…was that the case?

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