As part of our first ever around the world trip, my husband and I decided to visit the island of Okinawa, Japan to get a break from the big cities. After a four day stay in Tokyo, we took the train to Kyoto and spent six nights there. I loved both cities, but I was definitely ready to be in a place with no tall buildings.
Luckily, ANA operates regular flights between Kyoto and Okinawa. It’s a short flight, only two hours, but the two places seemed a world apart.
How I Booked Kyoto to Okinawa Flights
When I booked my around the world itinerary, I could have included a Kyoto to Okinawa flight. But at that time, I wasn’t ready yet to plan out every single day in Japan. The tickets cost about $100 one way, so I left it until later. Once we finally figured out our itinerary, I found award space on United for flights operated by ANA for just 5,000 United MileagePlus miles, including checked bags and seat selection! Surprisingly, there were no taxes to pay, so I’d consider that a fantastic redemption.
United miles are easy to come by because United is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. I transferred 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points from my Chase Ink Cash Card to Chase Sapphire Reserve and booked our flights.
How to Get to Itami International Airport
Kyoto doesn’t have its own airport, so domestic ANA flights depart from Osaka’s Itami Airport. It’s very easy to get from central Kyoto to Itami Airport by a shuttle bus that departs from Kyoto Station every 20 minutes. The tickets cost just $8-9 and can be purchased at a machine nearby. If you are flying from/into Kansai region’s other airport, Kansai International Airport, there’s an airport bus as well.
The bus doesn’t make any stops and the ride takes about 45-55 minutes depending on traffic.
In Tokyo, we’ve also taken an airport bus from Haneda airport. I think it’s much easier than taking trains because the attendants load and unload the bags onto the bus for you. There’s no going up and down the escalators and elevators to get to the platforms. Both Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station are super efficient, clean and everything is well marked, but they are easier to deal with when you don’t have bags.
Check In and Boarding
The airport bus dropped us off by ANA’s check in area. We had to check in first, then take our bags to security screening, after which they were taken from us. The line was just a few people deep and the whole process took just a few minutes. We already had assigned seats, but at check in I decided to ask about moving to an exit row or bulkhead and the agent was happy to oblige.
Security didn’t take long. The airport was really quiet on a Saturday morning, and we arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. It’s clear that the terminal was recently renovated and the waiting area, with brightly colored tables and chairs and big computer tables, resembled a public library.
The boarding is done by groups. When each group was called, the passengers lined up quickly in a straight line and waited patiently. We were in group 4, and I was sure we aren’t going to have any room for our wheeled carry on bag. However, I noticed that almost no one had a large carry on. Most passengers just had a small purse or a backpack.
We boarded the aircraft through two doors, and since nobody had huge carry ons they had to fit in the overhead bins, the boarding went remarkably fast. It was shocking to see the overhead bins so empty.
I was surprised to see that the seating was in 3-4-3 configuration (Boeing 777-200). It’s a short two-hour flight and I did not think a lot of people flew the Kyoto to Okinawa route, so I wasn’t expecting to see such a huge plane.
The flight was about half full, and we had the middle section of the bulkhead row all to ourselves. The three-seat bulkhead section on the left and on the right also only had one passenger each. Again, what a huge difference with U.S. domestic flights!
There were a lot of flight attendants on board, but not a lot of passengers, so we got very attentive service. They offered free water, tea and coffee. It’s my first time flying domestic ANA but not the first time flying with them, and the flight attendants are always polite, cheerful and pay just the right amount of attention to passengers.
The flight attendants even offered blankets and free headphones! When was the last time you’ve seen these amenities on board of U.S. or intra-Europe domestic flights?
When we landed in Okinawa, we deplaned through two doors as well. It was surprising, given how small Naha airport is. What’s even more surprising is seeing passengers from my flight at the baggage claim collecting their checked carry on size bags. The language barrier is very real in Japan, so I’ll never find out why they don’t bring them on board. (Probably since they didn’t need to pay for check bags and the Japanese are efficient with getting bags out of the plane.)
I like ANA a lot, and after being moved to bulkhead for free and with the empty overhead bin space, I like the airline even more. The quick boarding and the service with a genuine smile all confirmed why ANA is such a great airline, even for a short domestic flight.
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