Friday, January 15, 2010

My Flight to Japan with All Nippon Airlines

It all started when I arrived at the San Francisco International Airport. I had a two-and-a-half hour train journey using Amtrak from Sacramento and BART from Richmond to get to the airport, and I was now ready to fly to Japan. My flight was with All Nippon Airlines. I heard a lot of great things about the airline, including its safety record and its excellent service reputation, and I was really looking forward to the flight. I arrived at the airport at about 7:05am, which was nearly four hours before my flight to Japan was scheduled to depart (10:50am). When I got to the ANA ticketing counter, the staff told me that they were not ready yet and that I needed to wait until 7:50 when they opened. Fair enough; arriving to the airport four hours in advance is quite early, after all. I called my parents to let them know that I safely arrived at SFO with no problems at all, and then waited until more passengers started arriving and lining up at the ticketing counter.

At the line (it was 7:35 or so when I lined up), I noticed a few things already about ANA's service. In many ways, ANA's service is a perfect representation of service in Japan; it felt like my journey in Japan started at the ANA ticketing counter at SFO, not at the Narita International Airport. The workers at the ticketing counter were all women, and they were well-dressed. By well-dressed, I mean *well-dressed*. I also noticed how the workers were setting up the ticketing booth area. At most airlines, a ticket booth has a very minimal amount of decorations, minus advertisements about the airline and flight information. I saw the ANA workers place a small pot of flowers by each receptionist. Talk about attention to detail!

Once the ticketing area opened, one of the workers went to the line and gave everybody baggage tags. The baggage tags had blank spaces for us passengers to fill in our identification information on. I had a hard time trying to write the information on the tags and handling my luggage at the same time. A minute later, it was my time to walk up to the ticketing counter. The worker then asked if she can carry my bags to the ticketing counter for me. I initially refused the offer, but she insisted, and she proceeded to carry my bags to the counter. Talk about service! Check-in went smoothly, and I was pleased to learn that my bags did not exceed their free baggage weight allowance! Yes! Saved me a big headache.

The flight itself was very nice. I sat in economy class (I'm living on a shoestring at this point; I couldn't afford their luxurious business class flights), but it felt like a first-class flight based on the amenities and the quality of the service. We were all given blankets and pillows, which made the long flight more comfortable. I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment system, which contained video games, American and Japanese TV shows, movies, and music. I watched a documentary about Michael Jackson's career, saw the movie "Surrogates," and played Gomoku and the hardest version of the game Brickout that I've played in my life thus far. The in-flight entertainment system also had an option where you can see where the airplane is currently at. I watched it occasionally when I was tired of playing a game; whenever I'm on a trip of any sort, I always like knowing my current location. The food was also surprisingly good. I heard a lot of bad things about airplane meals, but ANA's meals were very good. They wouldn't edge out a four- or five-star Japanese restaurant, but they tasted great and did not look like frozen TV dinners. After the end of my first meal, they even served Haägen-Dazs ice cream for dessert! They offered free drinks, including beer and wine (I've never seen free alcohol on a plane before), but I declined the alcohol and went for fruit juices instead. Finally, the cabin attendants were the best ones that I've ever encountered on a plane thus far. They were sweet, kind, patient, and, I have to say (I'm blushing), 美しいですね! Between the food, the entertainment options, and the service, it was almost the perfect flight experience.

Almost perfect, because there was only one flaw with my entire flight. ANA 's economy class seating offers very little legroom; this was the most cramped flight that I've ever been on, although, to be fair, my experience with flying had been relegated to domestic flights in America using domestic airlines; my flight to Japan was my first international flight. The lack of legroom was not a problem during the first half of my flight, but it became uncomfortable for me during the latter half of the flight. It's not an issue for somebody of average weight and height, but for somebody like me who is 6'3" and is a little heavy but not fat, it is a problem. And for somebody who is big, flying ANA economy class may be a serious problem. (Note that this is not a problem for those flying business- and first-class; they have plenty of legroom). At one point halfway, I decided to get up from my seat and walk around to avoid the possibility of developing blood clots, which is a real risk when sitting still for prolonged periods of time and can even be fatal. I also had to carry a few things, including a cup of orange juice and some cards that I had to fill out on the airplane related to immigration and customs declaration. Unfortunately, my cup of orange juice fell on the seat and got onto my cards! Nooooo! I then called one of the cabin attendants over to bring the issue to her attention. She then grabbed an extra blanket and placed it on the orange juice spill to clean it up and to have it dry during the rest of the flight. I apologized, but she told me not to worry about it, without any attitude at all, and even asked me if I'd like a refill of the orange juice that was spilled! Wow, talk about service!

Despite the cramped conditions and the orange juice incident, my flight was excellent. I would definitely fly with ANA any chance that I get. They score a 4.999 out of 5 in my book; the service makes up for the legroom issue, since I'd rather deal with some cramped conditions than with bad food, bad entertainment, and bad service. They deserve the Michael McThrow Award of Excellence™. And I pray that one day I'll be able to afford a business-class flight (or, even better, first-class flight) on ANA to enjoy the perfect flight experience. A brother can dream....

The flight finally arrived at the Narita International Airport at about 2:45pm Tokyo Time. I gave my thanks to the cabin attendants as I left the plane, and then I proceeded to start my life in Japan.

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