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Denver, Dreamliner, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong & Back in 77 Hours

A view from the Singapore Flyer. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

A view from the Singapore Flyer. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

INTRODUCTION

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.

An ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner pulls up to the gate at San Jose. Image by Blaine Nickeson.

An ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner pulls up to the gate at San Jose. Image by Blaine Nickeson.

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!

BONUS: San Jose to Tokyo on the 787 Dreamliner

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.

So many choices in the 787 lav. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

So many choices in the 787 lav. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

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!

TOYKO AND BEYOND

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.

BONUS: Traveling to Tokyo, Japan. Photos, Tips and Hints

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.

Singapore Changi Airport. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

Singapore Changi Airport. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

SINGAPORE

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.

BONUS: How to Visit Singapore With No Clue

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.

A classing United Airlines Boeing 747-400. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

A classing United Airlines Boeing 747-400. Photo by Blaine Nickeson.

TRAVELING HOME

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.

@bnickeson

13 comments to Denver, Dreamliner, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong & Back in 77 Hours

  • Andy2

    The Beer Robots are coming to the U.S. – first to NYC and then…
    Frozen foam is really an amazing creation and keeps the beer so cold.

  • petten

    Too bad your budget was a constraint. Otherwise, you could have been on a dreamliner flight from Tokyo to Singapore as well.

    JAL now has two (I’d say daily) flights between the two cities, though split between the two Tokyo airports, Narita and Haneda.

    JAL also has the most international dreamliner flights among all 787-owning airlines. Yesterday at some points in time, there were nine JAL 787s in the sky simultaneously, though one of them was on a delivery flight from Paine Field, WA.

  • Dan

    How much was the ticket for that routing?

  • Blaine

    @Dan, I paid about $1300, booked about 10 days out

  • Nice story, Blaine…very informative. To be honest, though, I’m mostly shocked DEN never had a direct-to-Asia flight before now; for some reason, that’s really surprising to me. Perhaps I’m spoiled by all the offerings at DFW, my home airport. I’d think that Front Range market can keep that DEN-NRT bird full…

    Mike H.

  • Richard D

    United does have a plan for their 747-400’s… They have ordered 25 A350-1000’s to replace them. They also have 5 options.

  • Blaine Nickeson

    @Richard – I’m not sure if the A350-1000 can really be a 744 “replacement” for United. It’s the exact same length as a 777-300ER, and a little bit narrower. AA seats 310 in their 773 (a good comparison carrier), versus UA seating 376 in their 744’s, so it will be nearly a 20% decrease in seats.

  • RBlaine

    Best quote of this article:

    “To make the ticket cheaper (this logic fails me) I continued on to Singapore”

  • Tom O

    So as one of Blaine’s close friends (Who lives in Seattle; where his 787 was built), he also tried to convince me on his crazy 77 hour extravaganza; however, my wife, unlike his, is not so accommodating…

    Maybe next time Blaine, when the 777X rolls out…

  • Gregory B

    Great article sounds like you had a blast! @ Mike H: Denver didn’t have the service because they didn’t have the passenger traffic to fill the planes needed to travel that distance and make the route profitable. That’s one of the reasons that the 787 is such a game changer. Richard D : Although United has ordered 25 a350 plus five options I do believe that they are doing most of their fleet renewal with the 787 has the have 65 on order with 20 being for the 787-10 that was announced at Paris Air Show. They are the launch customer for this aircraft (787-10. There is speculation that they will be a 777x launch customer….we shall see.
    One last thing..I’m so glad to have found this website! I am a rabbid airline/plane geek and its great to see there are plenty of other people who are also!!

  • Awesome story! I am currently doing a similar trip of my own, people think I’m nuts! Sydney – Singapore-Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur – Sydney in 4 days! In a mixture of classes and airlines.. Tomorrow’s flight is Bangkok to KL on Lufthansa Business class (yep – nothing better than cheap ticket in a premium class between destinations that the airline is not from!)

  • KC Sim

    Lovely blog … glad that you took the opportunity to fly more (beyond Tokyo) to Singapore in order to pay less. Indeed it is illogical but I am glad you did. Happy to hear that Singapore has left a positive impression on you.

    JAL has three daily Dreamliner flights to Singapore from Tokyo (split between Handeda and Narita). ANA will from 1 December 2013 be flying the Dreamliner to Singapore too, initially on one flight and subsequently on all flights.

    Between 20 October and 30 November 2013, we will be having the Dreamliner of Royal Brunei Airlines on the Banda Seri Begawan – Singapore route.

    Hope your mileage run takes you back to Singapore again.

    KC Sim

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