My quest to try all of the world’s best First Class products continued with All Nippon Airways, with whom I had the pleasure of spending twelve hours on an overnight flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo Haneda.
In case you missed it, I’ve also done a video review of this flight, which you can check out below.
Now without further ado, let’s find out what First Class is like aboard ANA – the "Inspiration of Japan".
With little time to spare after getting off my connecting flight from Toronto, I made my way straight to LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal to board the ANA flight. I would've liked to enjoy the Star Alliance Lounge here at LAX and specifically the First Class portion of the lounge, but that'll have to wait for next time.
I boarded the aircraft through Door L2, which on ANA’s Boeing 777 sits between the main business class cabin and a smaller mini-cabin consisting of just two rows of business class seats. First Class is located beyond the mini-cabin, so I had to shuffle through the mini-cabin in order to get to Seat 2K, which was going to be my home for the next 12 hours.
Every airline dresses up their First Class cabin differently, and ANA has gone with a futuristic look consisting of light pine tones with sleek metal accents. I thought the design looked good, although it does seem to divide opinion among other flyers.
That extends to the design of the First Class seat as well: ANA’s highly geometric “box suites” are quite a sight to behold, and even more impressive when you actually sit down.
Interestingly, ANA officially calls these seats the "ANA First Square", even though, you know, it's a rectangle...
While there’s no fully sliding door, the wall of the First Class suite here on ANA is a lot taller and extends a lot further than some other First Class products. This makes the seat feel a lot more intimate, but on the downside it does restrict your ability to communicate easily with your travelling companions, even if you do pick the two seats in the centre aisle.
The seat features a 23’’ touch-screen in-flight entertainment screen positioned above a spacious legrest that acts as part of the lie-flat bed. Unfortunately, the legrest doesn’t extend out into the suite itself, so there’s no room for another passenger to sit face-to-face. I also found the in-flight amenities, headphones, blanket, slippers, and pajamas waiting for me in this area as I took my seat.
Let's talk about the surface space in this First Class seat, since it's something on which I place a lot of importance. Typically, I like to leave all my belongings out and about during a flight, so that I can have easy access to my phone, camera, laptop, headphones, chargers, and the in-flight menu, among many other items.
Here on ANA First Class, the only surface space that's technically part of the seat itself is a moderately sized cocktail table along the side.
However, the positive news is that if you're sitting in a window seat, you get to make use of a spacious surface running along the entire length of the fuselage as well. That gives you a lot more room to spread out your personal items!
But do make sure to check this surface thoroughly before you deplane – during the flight, my passport had slid all the way to the back, behind the walls of my seat, and I almost forgot about it entirely.
Given the added utility that the window seats offer, and the fact that the only real positive of selecting the middle seats – namely, the ability to see and interact with a companion – is negated by the relatively restrictive seat design, I think it's safe to say that the window seats are a notch more desirable than the middle seats here on ANA First Class.
Several storage compartments are built into the walls of your seat. Given the rectangular shape of the overall structure, it's no surprise that these compartments are a bit on the small side, and are barely good for fitting small electronics or loose items.
The power outlets and LCD seat controls can be found on the face of the wall itself, while the entertainment controller and the headphone jack are hidden within various compartments. Meanwhile, there's also two reading lights located within inches of each other for all your in-seat illumination needs.
Down by your feet you'll find the literature pocket, where the in-flight magazines and safety card are kept. If you're in need of more reading material, there's also a collection of international magazines located up on the cabin wall.
On the opposite wall, you've got another small compartment that's designed to hold a pair of glasses. I made use of this while I slept for a few hours as we were somewhere over the Pacific.
The tray table swings outwards from underneath the entertainment screen, mounted on an arm that cushions the table's movement as it slides back and forth. You do have to get up from your seat a little to bring forth the tray table though, which is a bit of an inconvenience.
One last cool feature about the seat that I didn't realize existed until midway through the flight is the mini-closet located on the outside of the First Class suite, where you can hang your clothes once you change into your pajamas. The flight attendants have coat hangers on hand for this specific purpose.
The crew came by to offer me my choice of pre-departure drink, between champagne and orange juice. ANA serves Krug Grande Cuvée in First Class, so I went ahead with a glass of bubbly. The service was extremely friendly and attentive throughout the flight, with the crew members taking great interest in my photography and videography. As I sipped on my champagne, I chatted with Asai, the chief purser of the flight, about whether this was my first time on ANA First Class and the blog post and YouTube video I was making.
I also took this time to have a look at the contents of the amenity kit. The Samsonite kit has a snazzy design and a hugely impressive set of contents.
There were earplugs, an eye mask, a dental kit, and a set of The Ginza toiletries, consisting of energizing lotion, moisturizing emulsion, face wash, and cotton. The Ginza is the luxury subsidiary brand of Shiseido – itself a luxury cosmetics brand – and the little bottle of face wash alone retails for US$98!
Not only was the amenity kit dazzling in its own right, but a flight attendant then came by to offer me even more amenities, including socks, lip balm, a little aroma sticker, and a "leg refreshing sheet" that you can use to freshen up your limbs when they inevitably get dry during the flight. Lovely!
The cabin lights dimmed as we began our taxi and made for the runway, and I flicked through the entertainment system. The movie selection was plentiful, with well over 50 titles to choose from.
The airshow was quite impressive as well, allowing you to pick among several different viewpoints.
Prior to takeoff, the crew's final action was to distribute the in-flight menus, which I browsed as we climbed to cruising altitude. I loved how ANA presented their menus in a classy notebook-style folder, with separate menus for the food and drinks, as well as a leaflet with general information on the in-flight dining experience on the inside cover.
The food menu read as follows. I'd like to deliberate on one point here: most ANA flights from North America to Asia depart sometime during the day, allowing you to enjoy a full multi-course lunch or dinner. This flight, NH105, is the one exception, taking off from Los Angeles around midnight, and as a result features a reduced meal service. I needed to be on this flight because I required as early an arrival as possible in Beijing after getting off work on Friday evening, but otherwise I’d definitely recommend trying to get one of the many daytime ANA departures if possible.
The drinks menu is delightfully extensive, seemingly going on and on forever with detailed descriptions of the onboard beverages. It's presented below.
You can also preview all the ANA First Class menus on their website, which is an excellent feature that I think more airlines should adopt.
I put my seat into "relax" mode using the extremely intuitive LCD seat controls. These must be one of the most technologically advanced seat controls I've seen, showing you a live-action model of your seat and allowing you to fine-tune the pitch, recline, and the position of the headrest and back cushions.
Around this time, Asai came by to see if she could get me anything to drink. ANA First Class is known in particular for offering Hibiki 21, an award-winning aged variety of the Japanese premium blended whisky. On the ground, Hibiki 21 retails for $500 a bottle; in these quarters, it's bottomless. In fact, it's probably the most expensive premium whisky that's available on any First Class cabin at the moment.
I ordered my whisky with a bit of ice, although it was served with a lot more ice than I was expecting. And as a relative newbie to whisky, I was roundly castigated on my Instagram story for drinking Hibiki 21 with any ice at all – an oversight I'd strive to rectify later on in the flight.
The first course to arrive was the amuse bouche. Cheese & pepper bars, seared tuna tartare with marinated fennel and dill, and a mini quiche. Exquisite.
Since this was a reduced meal service as I had mentioned, there was no multi-course kaiseki meal like the one I experienced on Japan Airlines First Class and which ANA usually offers as well. Instead, the reduced meal service featured a soup course, a choice between ramen and udon noodles, and a variety of light dishes from which you could pick as many as you liked.
The sweet corn soup kicked off the meal service proper. Rich and flavourful, it was enjoyable with every bite. I also swapped out my Hibiki 21 for some Kakurei sake, a product of Niigata Prefecture, which was aromatic and smooth.
Next up was my udon noodles, which was served in a light, tasty broth. A slice of deep-fried tofu provided the garnish.
For my light dish, I chose the ANA original chicken curry with steamed rice. Many people don't realize this, but curry rice is actually some of the most delicious and popular foods you'll find in Japan. It tends to be significantly sweeter than its South Asian counterparts, but I've never had a Japanese curry that I didn't enjoy, and this one, served at 36,000 feet in the air, was no exception.
At this point I was about to fall asleep at the table, since it had been a solid hour or so since we took off around midnight from LAX, meaning it was well past 4am Toronto time. I finished off the meal with a glass of kabosu, ANA's original citrus juice (which tasted a lot like grapefruit juice), and then headed to the restroom to change into my pajamas.
The restroom was a little tight, although on the plus side there was a changing platform to help ensure cleanliness while you got changed. The sink was also decorated in a snazzy blue colour in keeping with the ANA livery, which was a nice touch.
Earlier I had asked the flight attendant if she could help me make my bed in Seat 2G, the aisle seat opposite me, given that it was empty (in fact, there were only two passengers in First Class on this particular flight, and the other guy was in the opposite corner of the cabin from me in Seat 1A). I was delighted to return to my seat and find the bed freshly prepared.
Flying First Class is all about maximizing the experience, and for some people that means staying awake for as much of the flight as possible. But I don't necessarily agree with that approach, since getting some quality sleep is a key part of that experience that you're looking to maximize. Hence, I got comfortable under the blankets, asked the flight attendant to wake me up in five hours, and proceeded to doze off mercifully.
ANA provides First Class passengers with a very thick mattress pad and a light blanket, which lets you sleep comfortably without getting too hot. I was awoken five hours into my sleep as promised, although I accidentally fell back asleep. About thirty minutes later, the flight attendant came by again to gently nudge me a bit and let me know that I had overslept, which was a gesture I really appreciated.
I trudged back into my regular seat and promptly decided that it was snack time. A glass of orange juice and some sencha (Japanese green tea) to wake me up...
...was followed by another bowl of udon noodles. After all, it's a dish that I've enjoyed for as long as I can remember, and to my delight, this wasn't going to be the end of the udon adventures, as I'd later arrive at the ANA lounge in Tokyo Haneda and discover a fantastic noodle bar.
But more on that in the next installment. For now, with about six hours of the flight remaining, I decided to work on a blog post and do some light reading. I had to work offline, since the in-flight wifi was prohibitively expensive. This was a major downside of this flight, as I'm not sure in what universe it would make sense for somebody to pony up US$19.95 for 100 MB of data. (A universe in which only the fabulously wealthy can afford to fly First Class, you say? Right, so not this one then...)
Come on, ANA – Japan Airlines offers free wifi to its First Class customers, so get on it!
I ordered some more Hibiki 21 as well, this time having it neat rather than on the rocks. Later on, I enjoyed some houji-cha, another kind of Japanese tea that's roasted rather than steamed.
The pre-arrival meal was served about an hour and a half prior to our descent. I was presented with a tray consisting of miso soup, miso-grilled Spanish mackerel, deep-fried scallop, steamed rice, and a very special little dish called natto, a traditional Japanese breakfast food of fermented soybeans, served with soy sauce and sticky mustard.
As we began to make our descent, I headed to the restroom and got changed back into my regular clothes. On my way back, the flight attendant was more than happy to help me fold my pajamas and place them in a bag, which she then handed to me at my seat.
Asai also came back to thank me for flying with ANA and ask me more questions about Prince of Travel, and I gave her my card and let her know to expect the YouTube video and blog post on ANA First Class to be up in about a month's time. Asai, if you're reading this, thank you for an amazing flight!
ANA First Class delivered upon its promise of a luxurious flight across the Pacific. Its distinctively designed "box suites" provided me with a cocoon of comfort, featuring a plush and spacious throne that, when transformed into a bed, gave me some of the best quality sleep I've had in the air.
It's unfortunate that I only got to enjoy a reduced meal service aboard this flight, as I have no doubt that ANA would whip up a kaiseki procession that would rival the epic meal I enjoyed aboard Japan Airlines recently. However, several other aspects about the flight, such as the amenities, service, and of course the bottomless Hibiki 21, really stood out to me and left a lasting impression. Next time I need to make a trip to or from Asia, a seat on ANA First Class will definitely be near the top of my wish list.