Maybe it’s not to the extent of the regular contributors to this site, but I’m an #AvGeek. I love planes, airlines, and miles. But given my busy career, two toddlers, and a wife who thinks I’m crazy, I don’t get to participate in nearly as many adventures as I would like. My wife’s come a long way in supporting my habit; I think it may have had something to do with flying her to Europe this spring in Lufthansa First Class on miles. Maybe that helped lead to the amazing adventure I had recently.
I live in Denver, and I fly United Airlines (UA). There has been lots of local media coverage about the introduction of UA’s DEN-NRT flight, operated by the 787 Dreamliner, which started on June 10th (unfortunately that flight had an issue after having to divert back to Seattle).
This is a big deal for DEN, not so much because of the Dreamliner, but rather it’s our first nonstop to Asia. A few weeks ago my wife casually opened a can of worms, stating, “I looked at booking you on that Dreamliner flight for Father’s Day, but it was just too expensive. I know you really want to fly on a 787, and also need to re-qualify for your status-thingy.” I, of course, sprung in to action trying to take advantage of this moment that was sure to be fleeting.
Long story short, I scored a ride on the (re)inaugural ANA 787 Dreamliner flight from San Jose (SJC) to Narita (NRT). To make the ticket cheaper (this logic fails me) I continued on to Singapore. Final routing was 19,000 miles; DEN-SJC-NRT-SIN-HKG-SFO-DEN, or about 39 hours in the air during a 77 hour period. Yes, I’m crazy, but it was worth it.
THE ANA 787 DREAMLINER RE-INAUGURAL AT SJC
Through some matchmaking by David Parker Brown (@ARdpb), I was paired up with Mal Muir (@bigmalx) and Jason Rabinowitz (@airlineflyer) as soon as I landed in SJC; they were there as guests of ANA to cover the flight. They promptly threw me to the wolves of local media, where I was asked to rationalize my decision to fly just for the purpose of flying; no such luck!
Mal and Jason took part in the media festivities while I hung back and took it all in. Within moments, our bird was arriving to great fanfare at the gate. With the media events over for a few hours, I was guested in SJC’s new lounge by Mal, where I got to meet some other participants. In no time, we were ready to board.
The Dreamliner, particularly the ANA flavor, blew away my high expectations. I was in an aisle seat on the side 2-seat pair. The flight was comfortable, quiet, and I arrived to NRT feeling fresh (the last time I would feel that way for about a week).
There are two fun features worth mentioning on ANA’s Dreamliner. The first is the seat-to-seat text messaging, which Mal took advantage of it to taunt me share the details of his business class experience. The second were those fancy robot toilets; I felt like Mater in Japan (again, I have toddlers…). After a few glasses of wine, give it a try!
Once arriving at Narita, I was able to accompany the press group in to the ANA Lounge. The highlight of the lounge had to be the beer robot! After some tasty sushi, I bid farewell to Mal and Jason for my onward journey to Singapore. After a long walk to the gate, I boarded a pmCO 777.
I found my window seat in the exit row (great plane spotting at each airport!) and then attempted to sleep for a bit of the 7 hour flight, with little success. I just can’t sleep on planes…well, at least not in economy.
I arrived at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) at about midnight local time and caught a 30 minute cab ride to the Hilton on Orchard Road; the high-end shopping district with lots of western hotels. You could easily take the MRT (subway) from the airport, but it doesn’t run between midnight and 5am. After a quick FaceTime date with the family (it was 11am at home), I took an 8-hour snooze and then headed out to see the city for the day.
This was my first time in Singapore (and Asia), so let me share some basic observations. It’s a great first destination for Asia, especially since English is the primary language. The variety of food and drink is fantastic – I had both croissants and spring rolls. It’s hot and humid…really humid. Bring about 20 extra pairs of socks and underwear. It’s also impeccably clean; I would have eaten off the subway floor. Keep in mind this is due to the extremely strict laws – the customs forms even say “Importation of Drugs to Singapore is a Capital Offense.” Spitting, smoking, and jaywalking are also all punished.
I made my way to the Singapore Flyer, the largest ferris wheel in the world and the views were amazing! However, the best view had to be the 3 F-15’s that did a fly-by while I was at the top! (sorry, no picture). I spent the rest of the day wandering the city and eating and drinking locally before heading to an early bedtime.
At 3am, I was up again, headed back to Changi airport. If you haven’t heard, the airport is just amazing! Changi has everything from a movie theater to a butterfly pavilion. Soon it was time to board my (half-empty) pmUA 777 for the 4-hour flight to HKG. In Hong Kong, I boarded a United 747-400 that was built when I was in the 5th grade.
It had the old UA livery (or what was left of it, given the peeling paint). United really needs to come up with a fleet replacement plan for these old birds; I’d love it to be the 748, but maybe launch customer on 777X? The capacity is obviously needed, as the load factor on this flight was 100%.
After the 12 hour flight and my arrival in SFO, I really began to hit the wall. I zombie-walked my way through immigration (the CBP Agent asked me if I had been in Japan, Singapore, and China for pleasure, to which I replied, “sort of” – he didn’t even blink). A quick UA 757 flight home to Denver, and I arrived back at DEN 77 hours after I had left.
In future years when I tell this story, I don’t think I’ll remember how tired I was, but only the amazing experience that I had. My only regret was that all 6 legs hadn’t been operated by a Dreamliner. (Well, that and the fact that I wasn’t on the media trip, after reading all the tweets about spas, helicopter rides, and 5-course meals!). This won’t be the last time I do something like this.
|This story written by…Blaine Nickeson, Correspondent.
Blaine is a Denver-based enthusiast of all things airplanes, airlines, and miles. When he’s not busy planning his next travel adventure, he spends his time working as a college administrator. If he can’t be on an airplane, he’d prefer to be on a bicycle.