REVIEW: All Nippon Airways Business Class
by Dominic Lalk.
This review is based on the flight taken by the writer from Tokyo (Narita) to Hong Kong.
I arrived at Tokyo Narita's Terminal early at 1530 for my 1835 departure. ANA and Star Alliance in July changed the layout of the check-in area, where desks are now allocated by airline rather than class of travel, as was previously the case in Narita.
The revised layout goes hand-in-hand with the installation of new self-service check-in machines, which in addition to issuing boarding passes also print baggage tags. This makes Star the first airline alliance to offer international travellers from Japan the option of self-printing and self-tagging. The alliance believes that up to 70% of passengers will use the automated process going forward. There are plenty of business class and Star Gold check-in desks, and I was processed immediately.
ANA business class and Star Gold customers are invited to use the Gold Track at Narita, Star Alliance's own fast-track service. The service ran like clockwork and I was through security in less than a minute.
Business class and Star Gold status passengers are invited to use the ANA Lounge, a 5-10 minutes' walk from immigration. The lounge is a bright and open space with terrific airport and runway views, but it tends to get pretty busy during the peak afternoon hours, the period most long-haul services to the U.S. depart.
The business class lounge has work stations, massage chairs and a smoking room. There is a relatively limited buffet selection, but passengers can opt to order a la carte from a selection of Japanese dishes, including the airline's signature curry rice and ramen.
The first class lounge, ANA Suite Lounge next door offers the same views and much of the same vibe, but is significantly quieter because of the limited number of guests.
In the Suite Lounge, there is a much wider choice of food options, ranging from Japanese to Western, with a few Chinese elements. There is also an a la carte option, with about 20 dishes to choose from. I had the curry katsu rice, which was phenomenal.
One odd thing about the lounge: There are always about a dozen or so very attentive servers around when you walk into the lounge, greeting you, escorting you to your seat, bringing you a hot or cold towel and taking your drinks order. However, once this is done, they are never to be seen again. As such, I waited for about 20 minutes for my food, only to realise that I was apparently to pick it up myself.
Boarding was from Gate 56, a mere 2-minute walk from the lounge area. Business class passengers were given priority. As seems to be customary on ANA, no pre-departure beverages were served. However, the flight crew did come by to introduce themselves, offer newspapers and magazines and take my dinner order. They were extremely polite, with huge smiles on their faces with every interaction. I find this to be true with most Japanese flight attendants; they are super refined and professional in their service.
The Narita-Hong Kong service is operated by ANA's B767-300ER aircraft, configured in an interesting 2-1-2 configuration. The seats on this aircraft are the traditional recliners, with a 50-inch pitch and 20-inch width (vs. 30 and 17 in economy), making them perfectly adequate for intra-Asian daytime travel, but placing them behind the curve on flights longer than five hours.
I was in 1A, with the seat next to me unoccupied, so I had plenty of space. ANA distributes slippers, socks and shoehorns on regional flights.
Returning from a busy event, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to catch up on some movies. The video screen was adequate in size and I was pleasantly surprised at the comprehensive movie and music selections available.
The service throughout this four-hour journey was absolutely flawless. Nothing was too much trouble for the crew, and tasks were performed very quickly and with utmost courtesy and grace.
Dinner orders were taken soon after we reached cruising altitude and I chose the Japanese option. Everything was beautifully presented (it looked like artwork) and tasty, but a tad on the skimpy side portion-wise.
Throughout the meal service, two attendants circulated the cabin, looking left and right, seeing if anyone needed anything. When they saw I had finished my meal rather quickly, they cleverly suggested I should try the Western option too because I looked "so thin".
ANA offers an extensive bar, featuring two reds, two whites, a champagne, a choice of sake, plum wine, shochu, and spirits. As always, I stuck to the excellent umeshu and their delicious green tea.
We arrived in Hong Kong approximately 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The bags were out quickly and I was in a taxi within 30 minutes of landing (a rarity nowadays).
Very good. This being a regional business class product, you can hardly fault the airline for not offering lie-flat seating. ANA's catering is good, the drinks selection too, and so are the amenities. Having said that, however, the real game changer about flying ANA (or any Japanese airline for that matter) is the service. The flight attendants are very eager to please, and do so in a non-intrusive, utmost professional and gracious way.