You always remember your first… This was our debut international first class flight, and second flight on a trip around the world that included stops in San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Singapore, Munich and Denver. I originally hadn’t planned to write a review for any of this trip (we took it in summer, 2016) as a lot of the photos are low quality and we weren’t as comprehensive in our photography efforts since we had no plans to start a blog at the time and were just taking the photos for personal use. However, after some consideration, I thought it would be important to review some of the products as we did get to sample some truly amazing airlines and hotels!
Our flight on ANA was scheduled to depart San Francisco at 12:40pm on Tuesday, July 26th, so we decided to fly down the night before and enjoy a bit of the city before our big trip. San Francisco hotel prices are highly variable, and unfortunately were overpriced for our one night stay, so we ended up staying at The Red Roof Inn SFO, which was a pretty lousy experience! For a look at what airport hotel’s should be, check out my reviews of The JW Marriott Aerocity New Delhi, The Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong, or my personal favourite, The Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel.
We arrived for check-in a couple of hours before our scheduled departure time as we wanted to visit the American Express Centurion Lounge, a beautiful airport lounge exclusive to American Express Platinum Cardmembers. We also had access to the United Global First lounge since we were departing in international first class, but that lounge is a bit lacking compared to the brand new space by Amex. To say I was excited to be flying international first for the very first time is a bit of an understatement, and I couldn’t help but take a picture at the check-in counter…
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Check-in was very quick, and the agent couldn’t have been friendlier. She also informed us we would have access to the ANA First Class lounge in Tokyo since we were arriving in first class and departing in business class to Kuala Lumpur (no first class on ANA in the Boeing 787) the same day. She kindly asked us to hold onto our boarding pass to gain access!
After a nice visit at the American Express lounge we headed over to the United Global first lounge. I was fairly unimpressed by the dated Asian decor, but did enjoy that the space was significantly less crowded than the Amex lounge and featured amazing gate views of some United 747’s.
After a few mimosas we were quite bored and ready to get going!
We decided to head to the gate early, despite being told an ANA staff would come and get us from the lounge. The gate area was very busy (looked like a full flight) but boarding began right on time, starting with first class passengers.
ANA All Nippon Airways 7
San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (NRT)
Tuesday, July, 26
Arrive: 2:59pm (+1)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Seat: 2k (First Class)
We boarded through the second door where the friendly cabin crew greeted us and brought us to the seats. The first class cabin is setup in a 1-2-1 configuration over two rows for a total of 8 seats.
My first impression of the cabin was that it was very private, with semi-enclosed suites (no door) with a bit of an office feeling. Some people love the clean, efficient space, while others comment it feels a bit like cubicles. I tend to agree with the later, but don’t necessarily consider it a bad thing. One big downside is the design of the suite itself, as it cuts off most of the windows leaving just one available furthest away from the seat, meaning you really have to lean forward to get any sort of view outside.
The seat was incredibly comfortable with 33 inches of width and 76 inches of pitch. Waiting at the seat was a pillow and light blanket (one of the best I’ve had in first class), a cardigan, pyjamas, and a Samsonite amenity kit.
The Samsonite amenity kit was very similar to the Rimowa kits offered by other airlines, including Thai Airways First Class and EVA Air Business Class, but admittedly don’t have the same ‘wow’ factor – which is probably just a result of Rimowa’s amazing brand marketing. The kit contained all of the standard items, including a dental kit, socks, comb, earplugs and some great face products by Japanese cosmetics company ‘Ginza’.
There was also noise cancelling headphones by Sony, which were very effective and easily as good as Bose.
The crew came around within minutes to introduce themselves and offer a pre-departure beverage. ANA serves Krug in first class, so it was a fairly easy decision.
While the cabin crew were extremely friendly and efficient, I did notice a bit of a language barrier, especially now when compared to my flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong in first class on Cathay Pacific or my experience in first class on Japan Airlines between Tokyo and Jakarta. That being said, the service levels were still phenomenal and the crew did their very best to understand any requests.
With the exception of blocked windows, I absolutely loved the little cubicle suite. I praise the Japanese for their attention to detail, as this seat really anticipated where you might want to store belongings.
The seat was controlled through a small touchscreen panel and featured a variety of adjustments including a massage function. While the controls were easy enough to use, I always find the touchscreen panels a bit slow to respond and actually prefer physical buttons, like the ones found on many reverse herringbone business configurations, such as Cathay Pacific business class.
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The inflight entertainment selection was good, with many international and western movies and television shows, but lacked in variety compared to North American carriers. My recent flight on United Airlines in Polaris First Class featured the largest selection of movies I’ve ever seen. The inflight entertainment remote was fairly basic and was stored just next to the seat controls. I decided to have the moving map on during meal service, which has become the usual for me.
We left San Francisco just slightly delayed due to traffic, and had a bumpy climb, with the seatbelt sign staying on for about 20 minutes. As soon as we reached our cruising altitude the crew came around and started the meal service. While not normally an adventurous eater, I had read several positive reviews of ANA catering and decided to try the authentic Japanese menu. While I didn’t get pictures of the full menu, I did manage to get a few, including some of the impressive wine list.
ANA also offers a comprehensive snack menu available at any time during the flight. Brad and I both took advantage of that later on! I love how the menu reads:
‘You’ll find these dishes are a delicious follow-up to alcoholic beverages’
Meal service started with some more Krug and a delicious amuse-bouche.
The first course was the Zensai dish, a selection of morsels, which was delicious for the most part, though I’m not exactly sure what everything was…
Next Came Owan, a clear soup with produce.
The Sashimi selection with prawn caviar was my favourite dish, and by far the best seafood I’ve ever had on a plane.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat anything more, the crew brought around the main dish consisting of everything I had eaten thus far (or so it seemed) along with some salmon and rice. Despite being full, I ate most of it and can say it was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.
A light dessert and petit fours completed the meal service, which took about 2.5 hours total.
Because the cabin was only half full (all of the centre seats were vacant), the crew offered to turn down the seat opposite the aisle for all passengers to have a separate sleeping suite. ANA uses high-quality bedding, including a cooling mattress pad. Asian carriers have a tendency to keep warm cabins (with no personal air vents) and quality bedding can make all the difference.
Every time I got up to use the bathroom I would return to find my bed made up perfectly with my personal items arranged neatly. I should also note that every time I used the bathroom it was spotlessly clean! All airlines take a different approach to service, and I found ANA to be close to Cathay Pacific First Class, where the cabin crew remain largely unseen unless you use the call button, at which point they appear within 30 seconds. This is in contrast to Singapore Airlines, where cabin crew routinely go up and down the aisles looking for ways to provide service, which was the case on my short first class flight from Jakarta to Singapore and my slightly longer business class flight from Singapore to Bangkok.
The bed length is quite generous, and unless very tall, you should easily be able to find a position for some quality rest.
A couple hours before landing both Brad and I started to get hungry and decided to try a few of the anytime snack options, which were all delicious!
The flight time was relatively short at under 10 hours, and we started our descent into Tokyo roughly 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We touched down just before 3:00 pm and were at the gate just a few minutes later. I accidentally left my sunglasses in one of the many storage compartments and realized about halfway down the jet bridge (one of the hazards of too much storage). Thankfully the crew were responsive and located them within minutes when I returned to the door. After a quick pass through transit security, we were at the ANA first class lounge to wait for our next flight to Kuala Lumpur!
This was a flight I’ll likely remember fondly for a very long time since it was my first time in international first class. Nostalgia aside, the seat was fantastic (despite the blocked windows), the crew couldn’t have been friendlier, and the food was some of the best I’ve had to date. While I would argue that Cathay Pacific has a slightly better product overall, there is little to fault with this airline, and in my opinion, is one of the best ways to Asia from North America.