It’s time for a true confession. I haven’t flown long-haul economy class in six years. While I’m confessing I’ll add one more, I haven’t paid cash for a long- haul ticket since that last flight six years ago. I’m lucky enough to have a fair amount of time and flexibility when booking my travels, as well as a healthy stash of miles and points I can put towards business class tickets. I had to be in Japan and had to travel on a specific day and absolutely nothing was available on award tickets.
Award miles for economy class were a horrible deal. I thought if I was traveling to Japan and was opting to pay cash for an economy ticket, I might as well try an airline I hadn’t flown before, and a Japanese airline at that. I chose a flight from San Francisco to Narita in economy class. I’ll admit, I went into this experience feeling nervous about the whole decision because after all, 11 hours in economy is a long time. I didn’t set my expectations too high, which I thought was the best way to enter into this flight. I did feel excited about trying a new airline, and especially because it was a Japanese airline and I was heading to Japan.
Economy Check-In and Boarding Process
I was anticipating a huge line and long check-in process, but that wasn’t at all the situation. They say timing is everything, and in this case it surely was. The economy check-in line only had two people ahead of me. The kiosk was empty for Business and First Class so those agents were checking in economy class passengers. I don’t know if this is normal procedure, but it surprised me. The agent offered to mark my bags fragile, just in case, which was a nice offer. It was the easiest, smoothest check-in I’ve had in a while, and on the busiest travel day of the year for SFO. Excellent start to my trip.
Boarding was on time, though departure was delayed for 45 minutes. We weren’t told why and I never did ask. I can’t recall when I’ve ever had an on-time departure out of SFO, so it seemed unfortunately normal to be delayed.
Choosing the Best Seat in Economy Class
After booking my ticket, I took a look at the seat configuration of the Boeing 777-300 ANA uses on the route. Economy has a 3-4-3 configuration. I prefer window seats so originally I booked a window seat in row 31. From time to time I would look at the flight online and see what seats were still open and decide whether I wanted to swap my seat choice for another one. ANA is easy to reach by phone, so I also called them a few times. The flight ended up being fully booked, and for some reason my seat ended up being in the middle section a few rows back. I inquired about this at check-in, but as I mentioned the flight was full so that was that.
Upon boarding, I found my seat in the rear economy class cabin. There was a blanket and pillow on each seat. The friendly flight attendants working my side of the plane greeted me and rather enjoyed that I was snapping so many pictures as quickly as I could. As I took my seat, it felt roomier than I thought it would be and wasn’t terribly hard, which was a relief. This could be okay, I thought.
After takeoff the crew started ANA’s beverage service. There were the typical soft drinks, juices, and alcohol but I noticed two unusual choices. One was a hot corn beverage and the other one was a lime drink called Kabosu. I tried them both and if you feel like experimenting and drinking something different, I’d recommend you try both of these. In fact, I had another hot corn beverage later in the flight! Along with our beverages we received a packet of mixed rice crackers. I’m partial to these typical Japanese snacks so I enjoyed it.
Lunch was served a while after the beverage service. I thought the timing was just right as the flight departed just after 11 AM and I was indeed ready for lunch. I chose the tempura lunch and was surprised at how generous and complete a meal it was. The meal included the main tempura dish with an assortment of side dishes, both Japanese food and non-Japanese food.
There was no dessert on the tray. Much to my delight, after lunch the flight attendants came around with ice cream cups. That’s actually my favorite dessert choice on a flight. The meal was good and certainly better than I was expecting. Service was warm and friendly and I never felt rushed at all.
After lunch I decided to check out the IFE offerings. The seats had individual screens and the controls were easy to use. The IFE did not have the most up-to-date offerings, but more than enough, and in multiple languages, to occupy anyone during the 11 hour flight.
The seat recline for this seat, with 31 inches of pitch, was enough to relax a bit. Being that it was a daytime flight I did not have any intentions of trying to sleep. I’m of average height and thin, so for me this economy seat was fine. The leg room was enough for me to extend my legs and even from time to time cross my legs. There were women on both sides of me who matched me in height and size. I’m sure that made a huge difference in my perception of space in my seat and my comfort level.
In the rear economy cabin there are three bathrooms in the back and two bathrooms forward of the cabin. That was a nice surprise as well because they never seemed too busy and were rather roomy. That may have to do with the plane configuration. The bathrooms were kept clean during the whole flight.
About 90 minutes prior to landing a smaller hot meal was served. I took the fish option. It was fine but not as good as the tempura lunch. There were snacks available throughout the flight which included fruit, sweets, salty Japanese snacks, and Kit Kat bars. The flight attendants came around often to see if there was anything else we needed. The crew and service was excellent!
When I fly, no matter which class of service, I do take breaks and walk around quite a bit. I always make it a point to talk with crews about their lives, travel, their work or whatever topics arise. I talked for a long time with these flight attendants. All ANA crews are based in Tokyo. This basing your whole crew in one destination is something I find fascinating because the logistics of it are mind boggling.
I asked about the difference in Premium Economy class because I had wondered if buying up to that class might have been worth it. The FA’s told me that the seat has more room, the meal is a bit better, and the dessert is fancier. This information led me to conclude that NOT buying up to Premium Economy was the right choice for me. I didn’t need a larger seat in economy class, the meals and snacks were perfectly fine, and my ice cream dessert was perfect.
Towards the end of the flight one of the flight attendants presented me with such a lovely memento gift of my flight. So sweet of them!
As you can tell from my review, I didn’t just survive this first-in-six-years long haul economy flight, I actually thrived. When choosing a class of service the question remains: are the benefits of flying business class worth it? In other words, how long do those benefits last and how much do they actually influence the start or end of a trip. While I obviously enjoy easy check-in, lounge access, flat bed seats, and better food, some of the benefits of business class are physical and some I find are psychological. I do sleep on planes when I have a flat bed seat, but many people don’t sleep well on planes, flat-bed or not. I’ve long felt that the seat is what business class is about.
For me this was an interesting experiment in testing out a daytime economy class flight. Granted I chose my airline to experiment with carefully, and maybe for you ANA fans I shouldn’t be so surprised, but my whole experience from check-in to deplaning was great. I doubt I’ll be making paying cash for long haul economy flights a habit, as I’m thrilled to have miles and points for award tickets in business class, but I would totally recommend keeping ANA’s economy class in mind as a great option.