All Nippon Airways, the Japanese Star Alliance carrier, left the aviation community somewhat blindsided last summer when they announced their new First Class and business class seats on the Boeing 777 out of the blue.
Many observers have described the new business class product, known as “The Room”, as one of the best in the world. So when the opportunity came up to book a last-minute award seat between London and Tokyo using 65,000 Aegean Airlines miles on my recent spontaneous round-the-world trip, I did not hesitate.
The new products are currently available on ANA’s flagship routes from Tokyo to London Heathrow and New York JFK, and will also be available to Frankfurt starting on February 1, 2020. It’s my understanding that ANA will be gradually refurbishing their older 777s on other major North American and European routes with these new seats as well.
My ticket would first bring me from Zurich to London on Swiss business class, with a connection time of one hour and 10 minutes at Heathrow Airport. After deplaning, shuffling through the security checkpoint, and making the 15-minute walk over to Terminal 2’s satellite terminal, I didn’t have time to visit any of Terminal 2’s lounges, and instead went straight to the gate to queue up for boarding.
All Nippon Airways | NH212
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cabin: Business class
Route: London (LHR) to Tokyo (HND)
Date: Monday, January 6, 2020
Time: Departing 7pm and arriving 3:50pm the next day
Duration: 11 hours 50 minutes
Boarding began with passengers needing special assistance, followed by First Class and then business class passengers. I noticed a familiar face among those who had queued up early for business class boarding: YouTuber and fellow aviation enthusiast Nonstop Dan!
We chatted for a bit about how excited we were for this flight, before boarding was called and we raced onboard.
ANA’s new 777s are very premium-heavy. In addition to eight First Class suites, there are a grand total of 64 business class seats, spread across 16 rows in three separate cabins in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The forward mini-cabin consists of Rows 5 and 6. Then, Rows 7–16 occupy the largest business class cabin, just behind the second door of the aircraft.
Finally, after another galley, you’ll find Rows 17–20, which make up the final mini-cabin for business class.
With beige wood panelling and muted dark grey finishes on the seat shells, the new ANA business class has a very sophisticated look about it, representing a huge improvement in terms of visual appeal compared to the bright-blue seat finishes they have on their 787s and older 777s.
Of course, what truly sets this product apart is the seat itself, and it’s fair to say that I was truly stunned and amazed as I made my way to Seat 15K near the back of the main cabin.
The seat can be described as a hybrid between a traditional business class seat and a full-fledged First Class suite. The shoulder-height walls afford you a good amount of privacy as it is, although there are even a set of doors to give you total seclusion from the rest of the business class cabin (although these doors were locked in place for taxi and takeoff).
Furthermore, it’s the sheer width of the seat that truly left me speechless. Whereas some business class seats out there can feel like a tight squeeze even for one person, ANA’s “The Room” could quite effortlessly fit a family of three along its width!
Note that the seats alternate between forward-facing and backward-facing, which allows for optimal use of space; within each pair of forward and backward seats, the footwell goes underneath the seat console of its opposite number.
My seat was a rear-facing one, and incidentally, this would be my first-ever flight in which I faced the opposite way.
While the window seats are ideal for solo travellers, the seats in the middle are a great choice for those travelling as a couple. In particular, the rear-facing seats in the middle are closer together once the central divider is lowered, while the forward-facing middle seats would still leave a gap between you. There is therefore a slight trade-off to be considered if you’d like to sit closer to your partner but would also prefer the traditional forward-facing seats.
After taking pictures of this stunning seat from every angle imaginable, I sat down and began examining the rest of the seat features. It’s always exciting to fiddle around with all the bells and whistles around you when stepping onboard a new premium cabin, and that’s especially so when it’s a brand-new product that’s only just entered the market!
The first thing that grabs your attention is the incredibly crisp 24’’ 4K entertainment monitor, which is by far the most impressive entertainment screen I’ve ever seen in business class. A coat hanger is found to the side of the screen, along with one of three reading lights in the business class suite.
Underneath the entertainment screen, you’ll find the rather hefty tray table, which pulls out towards you and then folds over…
…as well as a storage unit for any small loose items you may have during the flight.
Between the entertainment screen and the aisle, you’ll find the seat console, which acts as your dedicated surface space, storage space, and control panel. The surface space was a very respectable size, and I found it very useful for temporarily placing my dinner tray while I was using my laptop on the tray table (or vice versa).
Meanwhile, the storage compartment is another design type that’s unique to ANA 777 new business class. Even when the compartment is closed, the bottom of the compartment door acts as a “flap” that can be raised to reveal the HDMI, USB, and power ports.
When you open the compartment, though, that flap opens with the door itself, revealing a literature pocket, a few small storage pouches, and a vanity mirror within.
I’d note that the compartment isn’t very “deep” at all, so you can’t really store your headphones or amenity kit in here comfortably.
And since this is the only storage compartment within the seat, it could be argued that, as impressive as the ANA new business class seat is in terms of size, the storage options aren’t quite as plentiful as what you’d find on some other products (like EVA Air or Air Canada’s reverse herringbone seats, for example).
That’s ultimately a minor point in the grand scheme of things, though, because the rest of the ANA new business class seat is dazzling all around. We’ll continue our tour by looking beneath the surface space, where you’ll find the entertainment controller and seat controls.
The seat controls are, again, uniquely innovative. While the second row of controls consists of the “classic” buttons that put the seat into different modes for lie-flat, upright, and dining, the first row consists of a “scroller” that allows you to scroll between these three modes. How cool is that?!
Then, the third row allows you to move the position of the seat itself backwards and forwards, as though you were in the front seat of a car. Indeed, even in upright mode, the seat can be inched forward by quite some distance, in case you wanted a closer reach to the touch-screen entertainment monitor.
Finally, the last row of controls are connected to the dining light (i.e., the light at the front corner of the seat), the reading lights near both your shoulders, and the mood lighting along the sides of the forward panel and within the footwell.
Built into the armrest by the windows is an additional USB port for your convenience (ideal for charging your phone while using it), as well as the headphone jack.
ANA uses a three-point shoulder belt as part of their seat belt on this business class product, and you can pull on the strap resting against the seat-back itself and bring it across your shoulder to fasten up.
Finally, the moment of crowning glory for ANA’s new business class seat is the set of doors that give you an unparalleled degree of privacy. Both are controlled by the push of a button – there’s a half-door that slides upwards from near your armrest to reach the same level as the seat’s walls…
…as well as a full door that emerges out from the walls at the front.
When both doors are in place, you’re treated to absolute privacy within your business class cocoon (well, except for a tiny little sliver between them). Both the main door and the half-door are then slid back into place manually, by using a bit of elbow grease to push them back into their holders.
A final seat feature worth mentioning is the windows: ANA’s newly-configured 777s have electronic window blinds, similar to those on the A380s (and I hadn’t realized that 777s were being delivered/refurbished with electronic blinds these days). There are two layers of blinds, one that somewhat obscures the light from outside, and another, thicker shade behind it that blocks out all the light.
After comprehensively playing around with the seat features, I proceeded to examine the various items that had been left at my seat.
To help the starstruck business class passengers navigate their way through the new seat, ANA has created a comprehensive seat guide pamphlet for each passenger. I flicked through the pamphlet, ensuring that I didn’t miss anything about the new product.
I then inspected the amenity kit. As far as I can tell, ANA did not make any special effort to differentiate the amenity kit on these new 777s, since it was pretty much the same as what I had received on my ANA 787 business class flight a few months ago.
The kit consisted of a toothbrush, eye mask, earplugs, and some Sekkisei MYV premium skincare products. As far as amenity kits go, this one was on the lighter side.
I had also been given a pair of headphones, which didn’t seem specialty-branded in any way…
…as well as a pair of slippers, which I promptly donned.
I couldn’t quite believe just how spacious my surroundings were, considering that I was sitting in business class rather than First Class. I had ample room to spread my legs, either fully extended into the seatwell, or unabashedly “man-spreading” across both sides of the seat console (hey, the doors were closed, after all).
ANA has well and truly brought their A-game to table in introducing these new 777 seats, that’s for sure.
The captain soon came on the PA to announce our impending taxi and takeoff. I was surprised that there were no pre-departure drinks being offered; as it turned out, the usual selection of water, orange juice, and sparkling wine would only be circulated after we had reached cruising altitude.
I must say, taking off in a rear-facing seat was definitely a novel, and slightly jarring, experience. As the plane’s engines kicked into high gear, I had a brief moment of “hold on… this doesn’t feel right!” before realizing that I was racing backwards instead of forwards.
The effect was even more pronounced as the plane began to climb, since I had the feeling of tumbling forwards in my seat (if it weren’t for the seat belt) rather than actually cruising upwards higher and higher. I definitely prefer facing forwards as usual!
I helped Nonstop Dan with a bit of a photo shoot shortly after takeoff (and he graciously returned the favour). After that, the crew came by to distribute the in-flight menus, while warning us of some impending turbulence and advising us to keep our seat belts fastened.
The menu, including both the drinks and food, read as follows:
Without even looking at the menu, I knew I was going to order the Japanese dinner over the Western one, as is always my preference when flying with a Japanese carrier.
I decided to take the time before the meal being served to play around with the touch-screen entertainment system.
Not only is the 4K screen a gigantic size and unbelievably high-resolution, but it’s also one of the most responsive in-flight entertainment systems I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. Other airlines’ entertainment offerings can often be clunky and slow to react, but this one was felt like using a giant iPad, such was the responsiveness to my touch.
While I personally don’t spend too much time on flights watching movies and TV shows, you’re certain to have a great time using ANA’s new entertainment system if you do like to sit back with a movie or two.
Upon first launching the system, unique to these new 777s, a short video plays outlining all the seat features, just to make sure you don’t miss out on any part of the luxurious hard product.
I was highly impressed by ANA’s in-flight entertainment selection, which featured at least 100 film and TV titles. While I wasn’t planning to watch something during this flight, I was confident I’d find something to keep me entertained if I were.
There was even some Live TV available, although the selection was only limited to three channels.
I eventually put on the airshow, which documented our journey from London to Tokyo through a variety of viewpoints.
One of the crew members came around to set my table. However, it would be another 20 minutes or so until my dinner service actually began.
Indeed, with most of the 60 business class seats occupied on this flight (not to mention eight First Class passengers), the ANA crew had their work cut out for them.
I was curious to see how effective the crew would be, and my 20-minute wait for an amuse bouche, it must be said, didn’t get us off to a great start.
The amuse itself was a very creative mix of flavours all around. Salty clashed with sweet in the goat cheese macaron and butternut squash tart, while the asparagus and chive soup brought together two sharp flavours in a single delicious bite.
I also ordered some Yamahai sake, one of the creations of Japan’s “master brewer” Naohiko Noguchi, to get the beverage procession started.
After my amuse was cleared, I was again left to wait around for a good 25 minutes before the appetizer tray would arrive – and it’s not like my drink was topped-up during that time either. As blown away as I was by ANA’s new hard product, I can’t deny that I was getting a little frustrated at the slow pace of service.
My spirits were instantly lifted, however, once I took my first few bites of the appetizer. The assorted Japanese delicacies consisted of sesame tofu, a selection of tasty cold morsels, and a mixed plate of ham-wrapped scallops, okra, and bonito jelly.
Among the mixed morsels, the herring roe was one particular highlight – in a single bite, as the individual roe popped in my mouth, I tasted all the flavours of the ocean and then some more.
The sesame tofu also deserves a mention, as I never realized you could make tofu out of sesame, and it was almost creamy in texture. Certainly a novel experience!
After the appetizer, I again had to wait a long period before my tray was cleared, and then there was yet another gap in service before my main course was served.
I decided to change to the Hakkaisan sake, produced using spring water from Mt. Hakkai in Niigata Prefecture. The Yamahai had challenged my palate with a few spice notes, while I found the Hakkaisan to be much smoother.
For the main course, I was treated to a downright delectable dish of sake-steamed yellowtail, which had an absolutely incredible taste that instantly filtered through to all corners of my mouth. Like the appetizer, while I wasn’t too happy about the pace of the meal, the main course ended up being very much worth the wait.
I polished it all off – miso soup, rice, and all – very quickly, and this time my plate was cleared in a very timely fashion.
About 15 minutes later, the dessert service began, with individual plates being served from a dessert cart that was rolled down the aisle. This is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, but I was surprised that ANA used a cart for the dessert course, rather than serving each plate directly to the table, since it felt a bit substandard for an airline of ANA’s world-class calibre.
(Incidentally, the crew member working the dessert cart was a British lady who spoke fluent Japanese – that’s the first time I’ve seen a foreign crew member working onboard a Japanese airline!)
I selected the salted caramel cake and the fruit plate for dessert, and also ordered a cup of matcha to wash it all down. To round off the meal, another crew member came through the business class cabin to offer guests a piece of chocolate or two.
I visited the restroom to freshen up and get ready to sleep for a little bit. And while airlines don’t usually do too much to differentiate their restrooms, I have to say that I absolutely love the dark-grey marble pattern that ANA chose.
On the other hand, I found it odd that there wasn’t much in terms of restroom amenities for business class passengers, and the box that seemed designed to hold a few dental kits was empty.
Returning to my seat, I got to work preparing my bed for the evening. As you can imagine, it was such a satisfying sight to watch ANA’s incredibly wide business class seat transform into a lie-flat bed.
ANA’s bedding also comes tailor-made for their new product. The mattress sheet has a “cutout” that fits the shape of the bed – larger at the top and smaller at the bottom. As I got ready to take my place in the sheets, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer extent to which this business class seat outshines every other seat I’ve flown in so far.
So, how did the lie-flat bed stack up?
Well, similar to many other products out there, the footwell doesn’t give you all the space in the world to move your legs, since it’s housed underneath the seat console of your opposite number. However, the amount of upper-body wiggle room that you have is simply unparalleled, so you could flop around from side to side, alternating between sleeping upright and diagonally in the seat, quite easily.
And so, with my doors shut and the cabin lighting dimmed, that’s exactly what I did, falling asleep as we were flying over the Finland–Russia border…
…and waking up as we were over Khabarovsk in Eastern Russia, with about two and a half hours of the flight left.
(I had set an alarm clock to wake myself up with three hours left, but I ended up sleeping soundly through the alarm, and was only awoken when a crew member tapped my shoulder to tell me to turn off my alarm!)
I briefly opened my window shades to see that it was broad daylight outside as we neared our 3:50pm arrival in Tokyo. As it turns out, these reverse-facing seats would also give me some killer views of the wing from an unconventional angle!
When I’m flying with Japanese airlines, I usually make every effort to sample as many dishes off the à la carte snack menu as possible, since they’re almost always delicious to the same level as the stuff you’d find on the ground in Japan.
This flight would be no exception, so upon waking up I asked for a portion of both the Ippudo ramen and the udon noodles. I also asked for some Hibiki whiskey to drink as well.
It was at this stage that there was another service gaffe: after placing my order with one crew member, another crew member stopped by to check up on me, and I told her that I had already ordered some ramen and udon.
However, shortly after the first crew member delivered the rather indulgent duo of noodles to my table…
…the second crew member also showed up with another bowl each of ramen and udon!
Oops! The first crew member quickly showed up on the scene and explained the situation to her colleague, and while I was apologetic about the misunderstanding, I also thought the lack of coordination between the crew highlighted the many service issues I observed throughout the flight. Between the three-hour-long meal service and this little series of missteps, it certainly wasn’t this crew’s strongest day at the office.
I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of my enjoyment of the ramen and udon, though, both of which easily upheld the high standard I’ve come to expect from Japanese carriers in terms of their onboard noodle offerings.
The final pre-arrival meal was served about one and a half hours before landing.
The grilled salmon wasn’t quite as outstanding as the first meal, although I still finished every last bite, and I loved the fact that ANA always serves their rice in these cute paper packages for the lighter pre-arrival meals.
As we began our descent into Tokyo Haneda, I shuffled from side to side in my seat and opened and closed my doors a few more times, giving this incredibly spacious business class seat the full appreciation it’s due.
And I was in for one more surprise as we landed – once again, I had momentarily forgotten that I was sitting in a rear-facing seat, so it was another sudden jolt when we hit the ground and I felt the force of the plane’s brakes pushing me right up against my seat!
ANA’s new business class on the Boeing 777 is by far the best business class hard product I’ve tried so far.
Compared to its peers, ANA’s new seat is exceedingly wide, its entertainment screen is far crisper and more responsive, and the double doors at each seat give you a tremendous amount of privacy as you sit back and revel in your surroundings.
In terms of the soft product, while the food on this flight left me very impressed (as Japanese airlines always do), the service sadly failed to live up to ANA’s good name – there were quite a few delays in the timing of the meal, and a few miscommunications on top of that. I’m happy to chalk this flight up as a one-off, and certainly hope to see a better showing from ANA the next time I fly with them, hopefully in this new 777 cabin as well.
I’m overjoyed to have checked ANA’s new business class off my bucket list, and I can confidently say that they’ve set a new global standard for business class with this new product. As for whether it qualifies as the outright best in the world, well, I’ll have to wait until I fly Qatar Airways Qsuites next month in order to truly compare!