Friday, August 31, 2012

Part 1: San Francisco to Tokyo in business class

Introduction
Last October, I had the privilege of flying in business class for a roundtrip transpacific itinerary from San Francisco to Taipei with a layover in Tokyo.  What normally would have cost $7,400 was doable for 120,000 United award miles, which came as a result of my credit card churns.  I will be covering this trip in full with 3 separate posts:
San Francisco to Tokyo
Tokyo to Taipei
Taipei to San Francisco

SFO to LAX on United first class
First class domestic travel on United and most U.S. carriers as a whole is always a joke.  With their limited recline and crampy legroom, these seats would barely pass for premium economy seats on Asian and European carriers.  Add that to rude flight attendant service and disgusting food, and you get United "first class".  Nothing to brag about here:
LAX Star Alliance Lounge
My lengthy 4-hour layover in LAX was mitigated with access to the Star Alliance Lounge, which is a benefit afforded to all travelers flying in international business or first class.  The LAX Star Alliance Lounge ranks as amongst one of the best business class lounges in the U.S.  The food, beverages, and service completely blew all domestic United Clubs out of the water.
The lounge had a good selection of premium alcohol and snacks.  With ample seating capacity, the lounge didn't appear to be full despite having 6 long-haul Star Alliance flights depart within hours of each other.  The service was phenomenal as flight attendants would walk around with signs notifying passengers of pre-boarding and final boarding for their respective flights.  An ANA customer service agent approached me and asked me if I was flying with ANA.  When I answered affirmatively, she took my boarding pass and checked to ensure that my checked bag was properly transferred from SFO to LAX and onto HND.  Four hours go by quickly when you're subjected to superb amenities and service.

LAX to HND in ANA business class
This 12-hour segment would prove to be the definitive hallmark of my trip.  I was amongst the first to board onto the Boeing 777 and was quickly personally greeted by my primary flight attendant, who handed me a menu and took my order.  The seat had a generous seat pitch of 62", though the width was subpar for longhaul business class seats.  The seat next to me was empty, so I had plenty of room for my belongings without the need of continually accessing the overhead storage bins.
Electronic seat controls.  Seat can be adjusted to upright, relax, and bed.
First on the menu was the appetizer and beverage.  The appetizer consisted of premium warmed nuts, a shrimp cocktail, and fruit.  I opted for champagne.
Because this was a redeye flight departing LAX at 1 am, a full breakfast meal wasn't served until 2 hours before landing.  However, the menu had snack items that can be ordered at any time in any quantity, resembling basically a buffet menu.  I ordered udon, salad, and a cheese plate for my midnight snack.
Midnight snack consisting of udon, premium salad, cottage cheese, and plums
After a movie and a nice 4-hour nap with my seat in lie-flat mode, it was time for breakfast.  Between the choice of a Western omelet meal set and a Japanese fish set, I opted for the fish meal set.
Of course, since everything in Japan is small, the meal wasn't enough to fulfill my appetite.  So I topped it off with snack menus: udon, ice cream, fruit, and more champagne.
Not enough for breakfast?  Then top it off with an udon, ice cream, and, of course, champagne.
You can never get enough fruit and drinks
Ever been on a flight and wish that you could stay on the plane for longer?  Unlikely, but this was an obvious exception.  With unlimited food and beverages, a sleeper seat, a vast movie on demand selection, and superior service, I wish this flight were twice as long.

ANA Arrival Lounge @ HND
After landing at 5 am, there's nothing like a nice warm shower at the Arrival Lounge.  Though less than spectacular, the Arrival Lounge was still a suitable place to rest, catchup on email, and enjoy a cup of coffee.  Perfect way to top off a formidable trip in business class.
Shower stalls
Not much in terms of snacks besides onigiri, but who needs food after a 12-hour buffet in business class?
Conclusion
This was a grand entrance into Tokyo and Japan, where I would soon be living.  There's nothing like the service, food, and amenities afforded in a premium cabin with an Asian legacy carrier.  Though the hard product could have been better with wider and fully flatbed seats, ANA actually takes pride in their service and offerings, which put U.S. carriers to absolute shame.

Next up: Tokyo to Taipei in business class

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