Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo on Japan Airlines

This is the second and final installment on my trip to Tokyo last weekend for the "Keirō no Hi" holiday.  For my return flight, I flew from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Sapporo (CTS), which is the busiest air route in the world with 9 million passengers carried last year.  This is due to the fact that Sapporo is the only major city in Japan that is inaccessible via Shinkansen, Japan's renowned Bullet Train.  So what could be done in as little as 3 1/2 hours on the Sinkansen is extended to 10+ hours on conventional trains.

HND airport check-in
HND is the busiest airport in Japan and the second busiest in Asia.  It serves as the main domestic hub for ANA and JAL, Japan's two legacy carriers.  Both carriers operate an astounding 34 daily flights between HND and CTS mostly on jumbojet Boeing 777 and 747s, combining for 68 planes flown.  Although my flight was full, I was able to secure a bulkhead aisle seat with expanded legspace, so I didn't bother to pay the extra 1,000 yen to upgrade to J class.
I arrived at HND 45 minutes before my departure time and headed for JAL's First Class check-in counter.  Normally, this would spell danger, especially for a primary hub like HND.  But as usual, I was the only passenger in line.
JAL's exclusive first class check-in "room"
JAL not only has a First Class check-in counter, but an actual First Class check-in "room" dedicated to domestic first class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members.  The room exits right into a security checkpoint, which had no line and took all but a minute to pass.  Upon passing the security checkpoint, you are greeted with escalators taking you up to JAL's Sakura Lounge and the Diamond Premier Lounge.

Diamond Premier Lounge
The Diamond Premier Lounge is JAL's exclusive flagship domestic lounge dedicated to first class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members.  Although it doesn't come even close to comparing with JAL's international lounges, it still offers a unique environment with exclusive amenities such as sofa suites, massage chairs, and French pastries.

Although the Diamond Premier Lounge was significantly better than the Sakura Lounge @CTS, it still serves as more of a place to relax and catch up on email since the food and drink offerings don't excel.  In other words, go to one of the ramen restaurants in the terminal if you're hungry.

Flight experience
Since it was a Monday night at the end of a long weekend, the terminal was an absolute madhouse.  There were over a hundred people in line at the gate before boarding even began.  This is where elite status comes into play as I got to cut in front of everyone as one of the first to board.
The bulkhead aisle seat was better than what I expected.  Instead of facing a wall, it's the first row behind J class, and you're afforded with double the seat pitch as a normal economy class seat.
The seat even featured underseat storage, which is usually a sacrifice that emergency exit and bulkhead passengers make.  Looking behind me, this was by far the best economy seat in the house.

I was glad I didn't upgrade to J class as this was one of the best economy seats I've ever sat in.  Along with expanded seat space, you're also the first to be served in your cabin.  As usual, JAL makes their check-in and boarding process seamless for their elite passengers, which is amazing considering how it's the airline's biggest hub in the second busiest airport in Asia.  Facing a saturated terminal was actually the last thing I expected upon exiting the lounge as the check-in room and lounge were nowhere near full.  For a domestic airport, HND is joy to fly out of as it maintains the elegance and efficiency of the Japanese service industry.
Back in Sapporo, where the flower fields roam . . . in July

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