Friday, October 2, 2015

A Trip Report: All Nippon Airways (ANA), Houston to Singapore via Tokyo (August 2015)

Trip Report: All Nippon Airways (ANA) 
Houston to Singapore via Tokyo
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According to the Hudson Group, international travel has increased from 2014 to 2015 with now 67% of travelers taking an international leisure trip.  49% of travelers will spend more to travel to a dream destination (see graphic below).  This increase in travel is being reflected at Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH), which has seen an upswing in terms of the number of international carriers that have started service from the airport.  In the last 5 years, two of the three Gulf Airlines – Emirates and Qatar – have started service from IAH while Air New Zealand recently announced direct service from Houston to Auckland.  Asian carriers have also been adding or increasing their service from Houston, including both EVA Airways from Taiwan and ANA from Japan.  On June 12, 2015 ANA launched their service from Houston Intercontinental to Tokyo Narita and became the first connection between Japan and Texas (later on, Japan Airlines announced service between Dallas and Tokyo Narita).  

As a Star Alliance partner, ANA’s connection to Houston seems obvious with IAH being the hub for Star Alliance partner United.  Through this connection, ANA can connect to South America and beyond through their partnership and alliance with United (see attached graphic from ANA).  The inbound flight departs Tokyo at 11:15am and arrives Houston at 9:30am, while the outbound flight departs Houston at 11:20am and arrives Tokyo at 3:20pm (the next day).  The flight time is very convenient to make connections on both sides.  The flight time on the inbound is about 11.5 hours while the outbound is 13 hours (favorable tailwinds on the inbound decrease the flight time). 

To promote the launch of the route, ANA held a sale of their flights out of Houston to select destinations.  Online, I was able to book a flight from Houston to Singapore via Tokyo.  While Tokyo layovers are not included, you can schedule you flights for a Tokyo layover for an added cost.  Booking the flight online was very easy and efficient as you can book your flight, select seat assignments, select your meal, and even see what movies will be playing while on board.  While the website was efficient, what was not efficient and took a long time was trying to speak to someone on the phone.  I had a question regarding m ticket so I called the 1800 number and I was on hold for over 1.5 hours just to speak to someone; it was an extremely long and inefficient process.  I also tried to contact ANA using social media, specifically Twitter, as I have had success using this method in the past with other airlines and hotels.  Unfortunately, this process did not work with ANA as I did not receive a response from them.  I had heard great things about ANA’s customer service but my experience in trying to contact ANA made me worry a bit about what to expect on board. 

24-hours prior to our departure, I was able to check-in online and confirm my seat assignment.  I received my second boarding pass but needed to go to the counter to receive my first boarding pass.  I arrived at IAH airport at 9:30am for the 11:15am flight and there was no one in line at the counter so getting my boarding pass and checking in bags was very quick.  ANA allows 2 checked-in bags of 23 kg each as well as a hand carry.  We received our boarding pass, went through security and proceeded to our gate.  Our gate was in the D terminal and there is not a lot to do in terms of eating, drinking, or shopping.  Luckily D terminal is connected to C and E terminals and they have more options available.   Boarding time and departure time were pushed back due to late arrival of aircraft – another thing that surprised me given the reputation of the airline for punctuality.  Boarding commenced and we boarded the plane. 

ANA uses a Boeing 777-300ER for their flight and features a four class configuration with 8 First Class open suites, 52 flat bed Business Class seats, 24 Premium Economy Class seats, and 180 standard Economy seats.   The premium economy and economy class are laid out in a 2-4-2 layout and the seats have a shell design – this means that the seats do not recline but rather move forward to provide more room.  Given this design, the seat pitch between the seats is very generous and comfortable – I am 6’1 and I had plenty of legroom to sit and stretch out.  While there is a lot of legroom, seats are not wide but are decent airplane standard.  For the 4 seats, the airline has put together two two-seaters so the 4 seats are not tightly packed and have room in between the seats. 

Each seat contained a complimentary pillow, blanket, and headsets.  No amenity kits are provided (some aspects, including toothbrushes can be requested but these are only distributed on a limited-basis).  The seats themselves were comfortable enough with a decent amount of cushion – I have been on airlines with more cushion and airlines with less cushion, this was a decent amount.  The seat had an adjustable headrest as well as a footstool.  In front, there was a personal TV screen which could be controlled through either touch screen or remote.  Underneath the TV was a USB plug and port and below that was the cup holder and tray.  Given the narrowness of the seat, the tray table was also narrower than what I have seen on other airlines but sufficient enough to hold what needed to be held.  The PTV was an older model and was not the ipad or tablet looking screen and thus was a bit smaller in size and technical capability.  In terms of selection, there was a good amount of movies available, especially new releases.  There were not a lot of TV shows, and the shows that were present only had an episode or two.  While better than some and not as good as others, there was enough selection to keep you entertained for entire flight time.  The good thing about the PTV is that it was available as soon as the door closed, while on the ground, so you can start accessing the entertainment as soon as possible.

After about an hour into flight, the in-flight service started with drinks and snacks.  The snack was rice crackers, and these were available throughout the flight.  After drinks, the meal service started.  If you had ordered a special meal, those were delivered first.  In terms of the regular meal, ANA provides two options: a Japanese option or a Western option.  The meal descriptions are available on the PTV from the beginning of the flight and the flight attendants pass around picture menu of the options to provide you with more information.  I had ordered a special meal, and this meal was confirmed at check-in, once boarded, and again when the meal was presented.  Overall, the food was average.  It wasn’t the best tasting or plentiful airline food I have tasted, but I have tasted worse so overall the food had decent flavors and a decent portion size.  After the lunch service concluded, the window shades were lowered so people could relax and rest.  If passengers got hungry or thirsty, there were light snacks and drinks available in the galleys.  The light snacks included mini chocolates, bananas, and rice crackers.  In the middle of the flight, a light snack was given (a sandwich) and then prior to landing breakfast was served.  

We landed in Tokyo, and after a 3-hour layover, boarded our next flight.  Our next flight was a 7-hour flight from Tokyo-Narita to Singapore on board ANA's 787 Dreamliner.  Experiencing both the 777 and the 787, I noticed some major differences between the two.  One differene was the seat pitch, which was narrower on the 787.  On the 777, I had plenty of legroom to stretch out and my knees never hit the seat in front of me.  On the 787, there was limited room to stretch out and my knees hit the seat in front of me.  While this was definitely a negative, there were some positives flying aboard the 787.  The 787 was definitely a more modern plane and thus it had more modern amenities, including a tablet-like PTV.  The PTV also included newer movies that were not available on the 777 - all the new movies that were available on the 787 later migrated on the 777,  As both planes had mood lighting and decent service, these were the only differences I saw in flying on both planes.    

For our return trip, we had a similar experience with flying the 787 from Singapore to Tokyo (this time Haneda) and then the 777 from Tokyo to Houston.  Since we had to switch planes in Tokyo, I decided to take the opportunity to explore the city.  ANA does not have a “See Tokyo” or “free layover” package so I just booked a multi-city ticket with a stopover in Tokyo.  It costs a bit more but it was worth it to get to experience Tokyo.

Overall, flying aboard ANA was a nice and pleasant experience.  The airline provided a good service and good plane, with plenty of legroom, nice service, and decent food.  Would I fly ANA again?  I think the mark of a great airline is when you have options; you go out of your way to fly them again whereas a good airline is one that is not your first choice but a good choice.  In my opinion, ANA is a good airline; it is an airline that provides a good service in a nice plane but I would not go out of my way to fly the airline.  In comparing ANA to some of its regional and global competitors, I believe it holds its own but still has room for growth.  

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ANA Business Class Amenity Kit