Review: ANA First Class Tokyo (NRT) To Washington (IAD)

by Stephen

NH 2 NRT-IAD
February 20, 2018
Boeing 777-300ER
Dep: 10:38 AM JST
Arr: 8:52 AM EST
Duration: 12 hours, 14 minutes
Seat: 2A

Boarding was announced promptly at the posted time and began in an orderly fashion, with separate lines for first class, business class, and economy class. First class boarded through the front jetbridge, while business and coach boarded through the rear jetbridge.

ana first class reviewFirst Impressions Of The Cabin

We were greeted warmly by multiple flight attendants at the door and directed to our seats. ANA’s first class consists of two rows of seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The look of the cabin is undeniably unique, given the presence of ANA’s boxy, square Suites that are not quite like any other first class seat out there. The cabin feels just a tad cramped, especially given the presence of overhead bins. While certainly attractive in its own way, the ANA first class cabin just doesn’t exude the same feeling of luxury as, say, Cathay Pacific or even Japan Airlines first class.

ana first class reviewService was fantastic throughout the entire boarding process, and I found the first class flight attendants on this flight to be particularly accommodating of my photo-taking.

Throughout boarding, I was asked multiple times by various flight attendants if I wanted my photo taken, and upon noticing that I was photographing the cabin, several flight attendants made concerted efforts each time to hastily jump out of the shot and even at times stopped walking/doing whatever they were working on to allow for photos.

I’m not sure if this is a formal part of their training given that social media and bloggers provide so much free promotion for airlines, or if this was the prerogative taken by this particular crew, but I found this to be very thoughtful and impressive.

Unlike on EVA’s Hello Kitty planes where everything from the toilet paper to some of the catering options are Hello Kitty-branded, ANA’s Star Wars tie-up is less all-encompassing.

Rather than ANA’s standard boarding music, however, the Star Wars theme song was substituted, which I personally thought was a humorous touch. The pre-recorded “welcome aboard” announcement, as well, was Star Wars-themed and delivered by C3PO, which R2D2 chirping brightly in the background.

My only complaint as I settled into my seat was the warmth of the cabin, which of course seems to be a perennial problem on most Asian carriers. I was uncomfortably warm from the minute I boarded, but the cabin temperature actually became quite chilly later on.

A Closer Look At The Seat

The suite consists of a standard-sized first class seat that is enclosed on all sides by rectangular privacy dividers, forming the eponymous “Square”. While many have complained about the seat, I’ve also found it to be quite comfortable and spacious. Having to lean forward to look out the window or talk to one’s seatmate is, I will admit, a little annoying, but that has at least for me never been a major downside.

The suite has plenty of storage, including space underneath the ottoman, a thoughtfully-designed glasses storage box, and a closet inside the wall that can accommodate a single garment.

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ANA “Square” suites in-seat closet door

The seat is controlled by a responsive touchscreen and there is a conveniently placed power outlet nearby. A standard wired IFE remote is also available.
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Amenities 

Not long after putting away my carry-on and sitting down, a flight attendant came by with pre-departure drinks, while another came by soon after with headphones, slippers, pajamas, a cardigan, and an amenity kit. The slippers were on the small side and fairly flimsy (I’ve had better slippers on some business class flights), while the pajamas and cardigan were quite nice.

ANA first class headphones

ANA unfortunately no longer gives out Rimowa amenity kits, instead using hard-sided Samsonite kits (ours on this flight were navy-colored). The contents were standard and unremarkable, while the case itself was fine and could potentially be re-used.

As boarding finished up and the doors closed, first class ultimately went out with two other passengers, making the total in the cabin only 4/8. We received the standard Japanese bow from the ground crew as we pushed back, and after both a short taxi and what felt like an unusually quick takeoff roll, we were airborne and headed east to cross the Pacific.

After Takeoff

Our ascent was smooth and about twenty minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off. A random observation here, but unlike with some other carriers, the in-seat power wasn’t turned on until the end of our ascent and we were almost at cruising altitude. I’m not sure what or who determines when in seat-power should be turned on, but I’ve found that carriers seem to be fairly consistent in whether they have gate-to-gate in-seat power or turn it on only once in the air, and ANA seems to fall into the latter group.

After we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendants changed uniforms prior to the meal service. Rather than simply throwing on aprons, they completely switched outfits. I’m not sure if this is something new or something I’ve just missed in the past, but that level of attention to detail is certainly commendable.

My partner was sitting on the other side of the cabin in 2K, (the other two passengers in the cabin were in window seats in the first row), and the flight attendant asked if I wanted to move to 2G to eat. Throughout the flight both the first class flight attendant and the purser went out of their way to accommodate the two of us, from arranging for me to move closer for the meal service to offering to take photos of us multiple times. I was very impressed throughout the whole flight and really cannot emphasize how accommodating, pleasant, and thoughtful the service was overall.

Food Onboard

The meal service started shortly afterwards, beginning with another warm towel and the distribution of menus. The in-flight dining menu comes in an impressive bound, hard-cover book.
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The beverage menu, meanwhile, was even more extensive than the food menu.
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The first class flight attendant (there was only one on this flight) showed no hesitation at all when I ordered two entrees off of different menus, one from the International menu and one from the Japanese menu. Even more impressively, the service flow was was flawless and well-executed, despite there being four passengers and only one dedicated first class flight attendant (who did receive help here and there from the purser).

During the pre-meal drink service, a flight attendant noticed my partner taking photos of the cabin and the seat and, as they did with me, offered to help her take the best photo possible, even going so far as to rearrange the position of glassware on the tray table and adjusting the shade to get optimal lighting.

Clearly these flight attendants are savvy to the impact of social media on their airline’s brand, and they made sure to take advantage. Again, fantastic service from this perspective.

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ANA flight attendant-approved photo

The meal began with an amuse bouche, which was one of the best I’ve had in a while. It consisted of hummus, apricot, some sort of meat wrapped around mushrooms, and a smoked scallop.

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ANA first class amuse bouche

Naturally, I asked for Krug to start off the meal, but ultimately switched to some Hibiki 21.

After the amuse bouche I had the caviar starter off of the International menu, which also came with a phenomenal lobster consommé rather than the more traditional caviar accompaniments.
ana first class reviewEach time the flight attendant came by, we were addressed by name. The meal service was also timed perfectly such that my partner and I received each of our dishes at the same time.

My first entree was the “Simmered Hokkaido wagyu beef and Chinese cabbage roll in soy-based sauce” off of the Japanese menu. It came with a small bowl of rice and some soup. I’m actually not a huge fan of Japanese cuisine overall but found the dish to be pretty good and certainly well-presented.
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Around this point we came into a pretty decent air pocket that was intense enough to cause drinks to spill. The flight attendant and purser handled this very well, and despite the 15-20 minutes of chop there was only minimal disruption to the meal service.

My second entree, this off the International menu, was the Hokkaido wagyu beef fillet topped with pancetta and accompanied by a lotus root galette.

ANA first class Wagyu beef

This was, and I am not exaggerating, one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a plane, and certainly one of the better steaks I’ve had in my life, in the air or on the ground. The meat was a very satisfying medium rare, the pancetta an unapologetically decadent touch. To this day both my partner and I still look back fondly to that steak.

My partner, meanwhile, had a salad, the corn soup, the steak, and chocolate cake with petit fours for dessert. She agreed that the steak was phenomenal and found the other dishes to be fine but unremarkable.

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ANA first class salad

ana first class reviewFeeling stuffed after my two entrees (and the curry I had eaten in the lounge not long before we boarded), I opted to skip dessert and decided it was time to try to get some rest. Typically at this point in a long-haul flight I like to try to get some work done or at least get caught up on emails, but ANA uses OnAir for its in-flight wifi. OnAir has of course been universally panned by pretty much anyone who has ever used it, and I decided to not even bother.

My partner, meanwhile, decided to have a side-by-side comparison of the two sakes available on board. You’d think that a Japanese carrier would have more than just two, but so it goes.

I briefly mentioned to the flight attendant that I’d be returning to 2A to rest after my meal service, and when I returned from the lav after eating I found my seat to have already been turned down and a new bottle of water waiting for me.

In-Flight Entertainment And The Bed

I played around briefly with the IFE, which contained an average number of non-Japanese entertainment options and a plethora of Japanese movies and shows, before laying down to sleep.

The seat in bed mode is comfortable and I had no trouble at all falling asleep. I’m not too picky or hard to please when it comes to sleeping on planes, and found the seat to have plenty of space and the firmness of the mattress pad/bedding to be just fine. I would have likely slept more peacefully had it not been for the turbulence that we encountered.

We again ran into a good bit of chop not long after I first fell asleep and the majority of the rest of the flight was fairly bumpy. While I typically am able to sleep easily on planes, the turbulence left me tossing and turning and I only slept for about two hours before waking up. I decided to give up on sleeping and put on a few sitcoms on the IFE while sipping some more Hibiki.

The flight attendant passed through the cabin periodically to unobtrusively check on everyone, and each time she walked by my seat, she readjusted my slippers so they were lined up. Funnily, each time she passed by, she also told me that it would just be “twenty more minutes of turbulence”; this must have happened at least 3-4 times over the next few hours.

The cabin temperature, meanwhile, became surprisingly chilly after the initial warm streak early on in the flight. I actually found myself a little cold, which almost never happens. While not a big deal at all, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a flight where the cabin temperature fluctuated so much.

Despite the lack of usable internet and the average IFE offerings, time seemed to fly by on this flight. I managed to sleep for another two hours and before I knew it, there were only three hours of flight time remaining.

For my second meal, I ordered the ANA original curry and the “Italian-style” hamburger. The curry, though simple, was fantastic, while the burger was just fine.

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ANA “original curry”

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ANA “Italian style burger”

My partner went with the Udon noodles for her mid-flight meal and found them to be enjoyable but not as good, she has repeatedly pointed out since, as the Udon noodles available in Japan Airlines first class.
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The Service

I was again struck by the impressive service, as all four first class passengers ordered around the same time and the flight attendant was able to juggle everything perfectly with minimal help.

In fact, I found the overall tempo of both meal services to be just right and indeed found myself on this flight waiting for things less than I have on other past flights with a higher FA-to-passenger ratio. It’s truly quite commendable that with a single first class flight attendant was able to provide such expedient and thorough service with only intermittent help from the purser and two business class first attendants who only came to help clear trays right before our descent.

As the flight attendant was preparing the cabin for landing, a small gift of Japanese chocolates was dropped off at each first class seat. She also came by to make small talk, which in my experience rarely happens with crew on Asia-based carriers outside of some Cathay and Singapore crews. This, to me, demonstrates confidence in English communication skills which can be lacking on some Asian carriers, as well as an impressive dedication to the overall passenger experience.

Our descent, unlike the majority of the flight, was smooth and uneventful and the purser came by right before the pilot’s landing announcement to thank each first class passenger.

Strangely, while we were on final approach, two passengers from business class jumped up, bags and coats in hand, and moved into two of the unoccupied first class suites. I have to imagine the flight attendants were aware of this, so I’m not quite sure what the story is there.

We landed about a quarter to 9:00 AM and had only a short taxi to our gate. The two business class passengers who moved up to first pushed their way to the front of the line at the door and took off as soon as it opened (short connection, perhaps?). We were thanked again by the purser and flight attendant as we deplaned, and we (slightly sadly) bid the crew and the BB-8 plane adieu.

The Upshot

ANA’s long-haul first class product is decidedly among the top ten first class products in the world, and I would even venture to put in among the top 3-4 transpacific first class products.

Between its consistently strong and sometimes exceptional (as with this flight) service, solid amenities, great catering, and good ground handling at its two Tokyo bases, the soft product leaves almost nothing to be desired.

The only possible point of contention here, and one that others often bring up, is the carrier’s “Suite” hard product. As others have argued, the seat is almost “too private”, requiring passengers to lean forward to see out the window or talk to a neighbor. My counterpoint to that, however, is that privacy is one of the major draws of first class over business and the seat is not overwhelmingly inconvenient. Indeed, I’d imagine most first class passengers would rather have more privacy than less.

Though I seem to be in the minority, I find ANA to be much more enjoyable to fly in first class than Japan Airlines. Perhaps I’ve just had less-than-spectacular first class experiences on JAL, but I have never had any complaints with ANA, where I have in the past had (admittedly minor) issues with catering and communication on JAL. While I invariably wish flights would last longer each time I fly ANA first, I can’t say that I’ve ever had the same feeling on Japan Airlines first class. You can’t go wrong with either, but given a choice between the two I’d opt for ANA over JAL any day.

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6 comments
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6 comments

Christian July 7, 2019 - 2:46 pm

Great review. My wife and I flew ANA first class last year ORD-HND and had a much worse experience. Your review gives me hope that that was just a fluke, and we may try again.

Reply
Doug July 7, 2019 - 3:07 pm

Leaving in two days, flying LAX-HND on the way out and HND-ORD on the way back, both in ANA first class. Really looking forward to it after your review!

Reply
Ryan July 7, 2019 - 4:30 pm

That steak looks almost as good as Outback. Seriously to compare that to going to a nice steakhouse on the ground is insanity. I like ANA but no way any steak cooked in the air will hold a candle to a beautifully charged 16oz strip on the ground. Wagyu beef or not.

Reply
Fathiss July 7, 2019 - 7:36 pm

“the pancetta an unapologetically decadent touch”
For what would it need to apologize? Making you fat? It doesn’t care.

Reply
Mike July 7, 2019 - 10:20 pm

Great review, thank you. I’m flying Houston to Tokyo roundtrip in this product next month. I’ll look forward to my flights!

Reply
Ted July 8, 2019 - 5:18 am

The amenity kit comes with lotions from shiseido’s top of the line product. It retails for over 100.

Reply

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