Editorial Note: This review was written as a guest post by Willem Van Eck.
Booking ANA First Class “The Suite”
Let’s start with the details of how I booked this flight, and ended up on ANA’s reconfigured 777 aircraft. I booked my ticket when the schedule opened through Avianca LifeMiles, which are both cheap to purchase during bonus periods and also have access to ANA availability before other programs, notably United’s MileagePlus program.
A first class flight on ANA between Japan and North America costs 90,000 LifeMiles. I felt comfortable committing to a date so far in advance because I signed up for the Fujisan Marathon, which is run around the Kawaguchi and Saiko lakes near Mt Fuji, the namesake of the marathon.
I also wanted to treat myself for my return to the USA. It wasn’t until months later that ANA’s refurbished cabins were announced, and not until a month before my trip that they were announced for the New York route. Still, there’s always the risk of aircraft swaps, and it wasn’t until I stepped on board that I was certain that mine would have the reconfigured aircraft.
Once I did step aboard, my breath was literally taken away by how sharp and gorgeous the cabin looked. I had flown in ANA’s older first class cabin once before a couple years prior, so my first impressions were in comparison to that experience.
The darker and gray-based color scheme I think was a great improvement over the yellow-blue contrast of the old cabin.
Related: Review — ANA First Class NRT-IAD
The structuring of the old seats also blocked most of the windows and also the ability to see your seatmate, and the new seat has solved both of these issues with more spacious side paneling. I walked up to the seat itself, still in disbelief at just how much space I would have for the next 13 hours.
ANA First Class “The Suite” Seat
I took up maybe half the width and could have sat someone else my size next to me in it. I think it would be wide enough for just about anyone to fit, and I could only comfortably put one arm on an armrest at a time. The seat padding was fairly hard and the fabric wasn’t particularly soft, but that was fine by me since I was wearing clothes with some cushioning.
Even more than the seat, the massive inflight entertainment screen drew my attention immediately. It was by far the largest I’ve come across; Asiana is the only other carrier I’ve flown on that dedicates this much real estate to the screen.
It had a visually stunning frame of Mt. Fuji with Japan’s famous autumn foliage in the foreground, which was special for me in particular since I had just run my marathon with those surroundings. Between enjoying the meals and sleeping, I typically don’t watch movies when flying First Class, and I kept the flight map on for my waking hours of this flight. The screen’s resolution was sharp and clear for the entire journey.
Below the screen was an ottoman that was too far for me to reach with my legs even if I extended them from the seat. On it were the pajamas and cardigan we were offered; passengers are allowed to take the pajamas but not the cardigan as I understand it.
I took the pajamas with me for keepsake, even though these were a little scratchy, and the pants were extremely loose. On this flight, the plane’s temperature was too warm for me to want to use the cardigan. On my previous flight however I did wear it, and found it very comfortable.
One unexpected thing for me about the seat was the window shade function. By pressing the button below the window, a soft screen and then a darker opaque screen came down over the windows, a much more elegant presentation than normal window shades. It’s the first time I’ve seen anything like it, and I may or may not have spent a few minutes just drawing the blinds up and down!
The seat console was pretty self-explanatory and I didn’t have to ask for instructions to use it. I used the right-center button the most to move myself closer to the tray table, which was in a fixed position, for the meal service.
The handheld console was a comfortable distance from my right hand I was able to easily use it without ever taking it out of its holder. I used the call button a couple times throughout the flight and a flight attendant always came out within 5 to 10 seconds.
The storage bin on my left was narrow and I found it useful for storing my passport and phone. A magazine or newspaper could have also gone there. There were two smaller bins on the other side of my seat that didn’t fit more than a short book or the headphones and amenity kit. I didn’t use my laptop this flight but I didn’t see a place that I’d naturally put it. There’s definitely a lot less storage options than the old seat, but that was the only potential drawback that I ended up thinking of.
After I’d gotten settled, the flight attendant working my aisle, one of two in the First Class cabin, welcomed me aboard and offered me a pre-departure beverage. I always select champagne when available; I forgot to ask what brand this one was, but it wasn’t the Krug that they offer after takeoff.
It was perfectly drinkable and a nice way to relax before taxi and takeoff. The FA started checking discreetly on my champagne glass after we started taxiing, but waited until I had finished before collecting it. The taxi was maybe 15 minutes from the gate until takeoff. Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and there wasn’t anything in the way of views departing Tokyo. In the past I’ve gotten shots of Oaidaba, downtown Tokyo, Tokyo Disney, and Mt. Fuji out of the left hand windows when departing Tokyo Haneda.
After the seatbelt sign was deactivated, I hopped up to check out the bathrooms. There were two for the first class cabin, and if my memory serves the format is the same as the Cathay 777’s bathrooms. They use hand towels which is a nice touch, but the fabric for them isn’t particularly soft. The toilet had a bidet feature. I’ve always wondered who is actually brave enough to use it on a Japanese airline’s toilet… unfortunately this flight did not put me in that bucket!
Dinner: ANA First Class “The Suite”
I took only pictures of the full Japanese and Western lunch menus. Both the full food and drink menus are available online on ANA’s website up to two months prior to the flight. I was looking forward to ANA’s Japanese menu in particular and ordered everything off of it, adding just the caviar and dessert off the western menu.
The Krug made an appearance now, along with the starting amuse bouche! Since there were other drinks I wanted to sample, I only drank 2 glasses this time.
I noticed the bottle they were pouring from was smaller than the normal size. I wonder if they usually end up with most of a bottle leftover anyway, and decided to downsize as a result. Maybe some would find that objectionable. But I’d rather have the smaller bottle than the time the Thai Airways cabin crew tried to peer pressure me into finishing the last bottle of Dom Perignon!
The presentation of the caviar course was absolutely stunning, the best I’ve seen either in the air or on the ground. The vegetable chunks and lobster and scallop meat inside was exquisite, as was the caviar itself of course. ANA’s innovation on the caviar course paid off enormously, in my opinion. Without a doubt it’s the best dish I’ve ever had on any airline, and I will remember it for years to come.
Next is perhaps an unorthodox choice on my part. I chose to try the Hibiki 21 and John Walker King George V 1934 whiskies side by side with the caviar. I asked for a small pour of each, and the flight attendant took this to mean roughly a shot of each.
I’m no whisky expert, but what was striking to me was how powerful just the smell was, especially the smokiness of the 1934. The part of tasting them that sticks with me is the feeling of warmth flooding you. It’s stiffening but in a pleasant way. Nevertheless, I could not see myself dropping hundreds of dollars for bottles of these.
More small morsels from the Japanese course came out; these were mostly bitesized. I stuck with water for this course to pace myself after the two whiskies. The star of this course for me was the uni dish.
I’m lucky they’re able to source this from so close to Tokyo; it tasted nearly as fresh as the one I had in the Toyosu market earlier that morning. After that was a fish soup, a good breakpoint in the meal. It helped me sober up a bit before tackling more liquor, as there were still a couple drinks I wanted to try!
Next was a sashimi course, which was decent but not spectacular in quality. I took the sake the the flight attendant recommended to me along with this course, which was smooth and refreshing.
I’m not sure if the usual flow is to bring the rest of the food at this point, which is what happened.
It might not be because the remaining courses that came (except for dessert) was a lot of food, and I tend to eat particularly slowly which had led to some crews bringing the rest of my meal at once on previous flights. I paired this course with a Chardonnay from the wine list that had some award attached to it. At this point, I gave up on the red and riesling wines that I’d also hoped to try, having run out of food to pair them with and also being increasingly ready to sleep.
The Japanese desert was a refreshing ball of agar jelly and some assorted berries beneath it. For the western dessert, the ball of matcha ice cream was this dish’s best hit.
I really enjoyed that dessert as a whole and the presentation was very impressive. The FA brought back chocolates to finish and I somehow managed to eat these as well. The whole meal, plus the breakfast later, probably more than made up for the calories I burned running the Fujisan marathon. All in all, the caviar course and matcha ice cream based dessert were my two favorite things from this meal.
I snapped a picture of the tray table before it was rolled back up. There’s no worries about it being large enough to hold all of the food that’s brought at any time. It’s worth noting that I couldn’t move it after the table was set for food. As a fairly skinny person, I could barely squeeze out between it and the walls of the suite.
The Bed And Sleeping: ANA First Class “The Suite”
Waking up at 2 a.m. to drive to the Toyosu market, plus the food coma effect of the meal, helped me fall asleep at what was 1:30 p.m. local time in Japan and 11:30 p.m. in New York.
I ended up sleeping for about 7 hours with some tossing and turning. The bed is pretty hard, but I remedied both this and the cabin heat by sleeping on top of the comforter provided. It was hard to wake up from this setup later on.
The FA woke me up about 2 hours before landing. After getting my bearings, I realized for the first time that there are actual doors that slide closed to the suite! I rushed to set up a picture before the FA came back to clean up the bed itself in order to set up the breakfast meal service.As you can see, the walls are high enough that someone in the adjacent suite can’t see in. They’d have to go into the aisle and then look down from there.
Breakfast Meal Service
I started off the breakfast service with some of ANA’s special Fuji Apple juice, and a Miyazaki Sencha tea. I had a cup of matcha that was equally good shortly afterwards.
It was only at this point that the FA showed me that they had a breakfast and small bites menu; I hadn’t noticed that initially. I was overwhelmed at first with the number of choices. She recommended this pork sandwich as a trademark of the Tokyo restaurant Ryuza, and it certainly hit the spot.
Then there was a good-natured miscommunication where I requested the cheese and truffle omelet, only to have the cheese course arrive! I started nibbling at it while the other dishes I requested were made, and two of the cheeses were so good that I actually ended up finishing them.
Next was my favorite dish of breakfast. It had salmon flakes and eggs on top of rice and seaweed; not pictured is the broth that had to be poured on shortly afterwards. The Ikura was extremely fresh and that impressed me given how long it had spent on the plane at that point. This was by far the most delicious part of the breakfast service.
The cheese and truffle omlette afterwards was pretty good, but I think I was mostly too full to really enjoy it at this point. I think most people picky about their eggs would find this just fine.
I finished the meal with an excellent cappuccino, which in addition to the earlier teas kept me chugging through an entire day of work in New York upon landing! What a way to kick the jet lag.
For the service on this flight, I thought the flight attendants were professional and operated the cabin with knowledge and grace, despite mentioning that it was their first time in the refurbished cabin.
They didn’t socialize beyond the meal service. For example, I wasn’t asked about my travels or about the marathon medal that I had with me. Perhaps that was because of a language barrier, or because they recognized that I was extremely tired. Even when the cheese course was brought out by accident, we both recognized that it was an honest mistake and she chuckled a bit when I decided to keep it anyway. I think a passenger would have had to be very picky to find fault with the service, or anal about the cheese course miscommunication during breakfast.
The windows of the plane were crisp and clear and I got some shots I was very happy with, especially this one with downtown Manhattan in the bottom right corner. I love it when the plane passes by its destination city on approach like this.
I think especially for those traveling together, the setup of the refurbished First Class cabin is a huge improvement over the current one and a very exciting development for ANA.
My two goals on this flight were to get enough sleep ahead of landing in the morning in NYC, and to regain the calories I burned running the marathon. This flight was a fantastic way of accomplishing both of those. I’d pick ANA’s new configuration to cross the Pacific over either Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific, the other two airlines I’ve had the fortune of flying in First Class on long-haul flights.
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