Entering the ANA 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class cabin - Photo: David Delagarza | Airline Reporter

Entering the ANA 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class cabin – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Airline: All Nippon Airways (NH)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Departed: Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
Arrived: Tokyo Narita (NRT)
Class: First Class
Seats: 1D & 1G
Length: About 14 hours

It seemed to happen every day for two weeks –  I’d glance out my office window in Denver at about noon, just in time to see the contrail of a high-altitude wide-body fly by.  Being the diligent AvGeek I am, I would check out my flight tracker phone app to find out what I just saw.  The answer was the same every time: ANA Flight 173 – from Houston to Tokyo.  It felt like I was being teased — I had first class tickets booked on that very flight for our upcoming trip.  Seeing that plane in the sky, day after day, was just rubbing it in — today’s not the day.  But that day would soon come.

An ANA Inspiration of Japan Boeing 777-300ER - Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

An ANA Inspiration of Japan Boeing 777-300ER – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC

Flying this route was actually somewhat of a last-minute change to our itinerary, in which Bangkok was our final destination.  We had initially been booked trans-Pacific on United’s Global First service from Chicago to Beijing; however, a very short layover in Beijing combined with United’s poor on-time performance on the 747-400 was making me nervous. I had been keeping an eye on alternate routing when I found first class award availability on ANA and Thai Airways via Houston and Tokyo about three weeks prior to the trip.  Yes, please!  The Houston-to-Tokyo route is a new addition to ANA’s North American offerings, having just kicked off service in June.

United Boeing 737 - Photo: Andrew W. Sieber | FlickrCC

United Boeing 737 – Photo: Andrew W. Sieber | FlickrCC

Although we live in Denver, my wife and I had stopped in Fort Worth to drop off our two-year-old son with his grandparents.  This afforded us the rare luxury of a child-free vacation.  The morning our ANA flight was to leave, we had a short connecting flight on United from Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Airport to Houston Intercontinental (IAH).  Easy, right?  Famous last words.

Shortly after arriving at DFW airport, our United flight (a 737-800) was delayed an hour for maintenance.  No problem, I thought, we’ve got a four-hour layover at Houston.  Fortunately, we were paged by a gate agent who moved us to another flight which was now scheduled to depart earlier than our now-delayed original flight.  We would lose our first class seats to Houston, but I didn’t really care about that for a 45-minute flight as long as it would get us to Houston in time to make the big flight.

We boarded the new flight, a 737-900, and quickly pushed back from the gate.  After a long delay, the pilot informed us that we were still waiting on weight and balance information from operations, where there were some computer problems.  Eventually we taxied to the end of the runway and continued to wait.  Finally, the pilot informed us that the weight and balance had been manually computed and we were cleared for takeoff, about half-an-hour late.  At least we were finally on our way to Houston.  Now nothing was in our way.  Again, famous last words.

Departing DFW - next stop Houston - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Departing DFW, next stop Houston – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

The flight was quick, and we soon landed at Houston.  We taxied for a bit, then stopped on a taxiway near the terminal, where seat the belt sign turned off. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “that can’t be a good sign”.

“Well,” said the pilot over the PA, “it turns out the computer problems we were having earlier are system-wide. All United flights are now grounded worldwide.  Since there are no gates available, we’re going to be here awhile, so feel free to get up and stretch your legs.”  Yes, today was indeed that day – July 8th – when all of United’s computer systems came to a screeching halt.  I could see our generous layover quickly withering away.

While we were waiting on the taxiway, the ANA 777 – freshly arrived from Tokyo – taxied right in front of me as if to taunt me one last time.  So close and yet so far.  All I had to do was get off this plane.

ANA 777-300ER at Houston IAH - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

ANA 777-300ER at Houston Intercontinental Airport – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

After about an hour, United worked out their computer problems and we were soon off the plane, much to our relief.  After a brief stop in the United Club (I really wish Houston had a proper first class lounge), we made our way to the new ANA gate in Terminal D.

As the only first class passengers at the gate, we were the first to board  the aircraft.  The moment we stepped on board we were greeted by name by the flight’s head purser and shown to our seats – 1D and 1G in the center section of the first class cabin.  The flight attendants helped us stow our luggage and get situated.

ANA's 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class seat - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

ANA’s 777-300ER Inspiration of Japan first class seat – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

We were soon offered a pre-departure drink of Orange Juice or Krug champagne.

Orange juice or Krug Champagne? That's an easy answer for me. Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Orange juice or Krug champagne? That’s an easy answer for me. – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Looking around the seat, the first thing I noticed was that there were so many little compartments. Even the headphones had their own place.

Even the headphones have their own little compartment - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Even the headphones have their own little compartment – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

My only complaint about the seat layout was that it was clearly designed with solo travelers in mind.  Although my wife and I had seats next to each other in the center section of the cabin, in order to talk we both had to lean forward several feet to see each other through a small ‘window’ between the seats.  During the flight, this led to the somewhat-ridiculous practice of one of us waving a magazine through the window to get the other’s attention whenever we wanted to chat. I will admit, however, the seat was very private, almost like an enclosed suite.

IMG_5675

The window between center section first class seats on ANA’s 777-300ER – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

The amenity kit offered with the flight was a very nice Samsonite kit (very similar in style and quality to the popular Rimowa kits) stocked with a nice assortment of high-end lotions, hand creams, and toiletries, as well as pajamas.

ANA first class Samsonite amenity kit and pajamas - Photo: David Delagarza: AirlineReporter

ANA first class Samsonite amenity kit and pajamas – Photo: David Delagarza: AirlineReporter

Throughout the pre-boarding process, the cabin crew was extremely attentive, offering drinks, magazines, and newspapers, knitwear (separate from the pajamas) and many other amenities. At one point the head purser came to my seat and informed me in person that the flight would be leaving late due to some late connecting passengers (thanks United).  I consoled myself with another glass of Krug.

Krug Champagne in ANA first class - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Krug champagne in ANA first class – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Just before the cabin door was shut, another passenger arrived in the first class cabin.  Up until that point, my wife and I had been alone in the cabin, and we had been hoping to have the entire cabin to ourselves.  Still, we left the gate with only three of us in the eight-seat cabin, so it was still quite private.  After pushing back, it was a short taxi to the runway. I guess I’ve never sat that far forward in a 777 before, because it was the smoothest takeoff I’ve ever experienced.

Shortly after arriving at cruising altitude, we were served another round of drinks as well as being presented with the main menu options.  The menu is generally split between a Japanese menu and an international (western style) menu with several different main course options.   I went for the international menu, while my wife chose the Japanese menu.

ANAs first class menu options from Houston to Tokyo - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

ANAs first class menu from Houston to Tokyo (click to enlarge) – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

The first course was a delicious Amuse course featuring Pâté, Eryngii mushrooms with Parmesan cheese and zucchini agrodolce, and smoked salmon with goat cheese, which was all beautifully presented.

First course on ANA first class Houston to Tokyo - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

First course on ANA first class Houston to Tokyo – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

The next course was an appetizer course of roasted duck and foie-gras terrine with mango dressing (there were also caviar, seafood, and salad options).

Second course on ANA first class Houston to Tokyo - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Second course on ANA first class Houston to Tokyo – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

For the main course, I had chosen the fillet of beef steak. It came out a perfect medium-rare.

My beef fillet main course on ANA's Houston to Tokyo first class - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

My beef fillet main course on ANA’s Houston to Tokyo first class – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

My wife’s seafood-centered Japanese main course was beautifully presented and, based on the few bites I stole, delicious.

My wife's Japanese menu main course on ANA's first class - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

My wife’s Japanese menu main course on ANA’s first class – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

After a desert of ice cream and petits fours, I was stuffed.  I have to say, this meal was as good as any I have ever had at any fine dining restaurant, and it was impeccably presented. The meal definitely exceeded my (already high) expectations.  I had also sampled several different wines during the meal and was blown away by the quality of each of them.  After dinner, I decided to settle down over a warm sake and watch a few films. Adjusting the seat into its reclined position was easy with the touch-screen control.

ANA first class touch screen seat control - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

ANA first class touch screen seat control – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

The AVOD system included a good selection of newly released English-language movies, as well as some classic favorites (when was the last time you watched The Usual Suspects?).

23-inch RV in ANA's Inspiration of Japan first class seat - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

23-inch screen in ANA’s Inspiration of Japan first class seat – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

After watching a few of them on the massive 23-inch screen, I was feeling tired and ready for sleep.  I paged a flight attendant, and she was there in less than five seconds.  I asked if she could make the bed while I changed into pajamas. When I returned, the bed had been made with a comfortable pad atop the spacious flat-bed seat.  I managed to get a few hours of sleep, although the cabin temperature was very warm for my preference, which made it somewhat difficult to get to sleep.

Sleeping on ANA's Inspiration of Japan first class - Photo: Bonnie Sarkar | AirlineReporter

6’1″ me sleeping comfortably on ANA’s Inspiration of Japan first class – Photo: Bonnie Sarkar | AirlineReporter

After I awoke from my nap, a flight attendant offered me a snack from the “light dishes” menu. Although I was still somewhat full, I couldn’t refuse the offer, as each of the seven dishes on the menu sounded amazing. I chose a prawn and vegetable dish which was, unsurprisingly, delicious.

ANA's first class 'anytime' menu options on the Houston to Tokyo flight - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

ANA’s first class ‘anytime’ menu options on the Houston to Tokyo flight (click to enlarge) – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

It seemed like no time at all before we were landing in Tokyo. I never imagined that a 14-hour flight could go by so quickly. I’m so used to sitting in economy, where the hours seem to slowly crawl by.

Last look at the first class cabin in Tokyo - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Last look at the first class cabin in Tokyo – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

After landing in Tokyo, we made our way to the beautiful first suites lounge to await our Thai Airways A380 flight to Bangkok.

Tokyo Narita Airport seen from the ANA First Suites lounge - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Tokyo Narita Airport seen from the ANA First Suites lounge – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

As this was my first time in an international first class, I really was not too sure what to expect. Given ANA’s reputation, I’d had very high expectations going into the flight. I was not disappointed; I found the food to be better than expected, the in-flight service to be wanting nothing, and the seat itself extraordinarily comfortable. My one complaint is that the cabin temperature was a bit too hot for me to sleep well. This was true for both this flight and our return flight (which we flew in business class).

My one regret is that I did not order the Suntory Hibiki 21-year old whisky that ANA pours in first class.  Although I consider myself a scotch lover, I had never had the opportunity to experience Japanese whiskey.  Indeed, I had been somewhat blind to the whisky revolution happening in Japan and did not even consider ordering it given all the other beverage selections.  After accidentally ordering the 18-year old Hibiki in ANA’s business class on the flight home, I really wish that I had taken the opportunity to sample its older sibling when I’d had the chance.

Ever since returning home, I still occasionally glance up and see that 777 fly over.  Now that I actually know what I’m missing, I’m not sure it’s better than when I didn’t know. It’s okay though; I’ll find my way back onboard eventually.

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ASSOCIATE EDITOR - DENVER, CO. David is a civil engineer by training and trade, but his head is in the clouds. A licensed private pilot and skydiver, he grew up around airplanes and airports. He calls Colorado home, but travel is in his blood. You can find him sitting in coach with his wife and toddler on the way to their next great adventure. Email me at davedlg@airlinereporter.com

http://www.airlinereporter.com/author/davedlg/
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16 Comments

Sounds like it was an incredible ride! I’ve never flown ANA but my mom usually flies it to NRT en route to TPE, and her experiences are uniformly good. Hope to ride it one day.

I had a great experience on ANA, both in first and in business. I haven’t flown ANA in economy yet, but will soon. We’ll see how that goes!

I Dunno’, doesn’t look very 1st Classy to me.
Looks more like some back room Boiler Room, where Phony Sales calls are solicited from trying to get ya to buy into some bogus Schemes.

Colors to me look awful.

too much white too, like a doctors office.

This more appealing to me anyway : https://www.google.com/search?q=70's+airline+interiors&safe=off&biw=1324&bih=679&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMIjPrgo_bexwIVDQuSCh3oSQCQ#imgrc=pyNCPWKZyFpO3M%3A

The cabin definitely has a bit of an office cubicle feel to it. But it sure was comfortable!

JL Johnson

Looks good to me, and that menu! So, what did UA do to compensate you for sending you on a different flight outside of first class which you paid for? I’ve always wondered how that worked with multiple classes… Isn’t an issue on my airline. Hahaha. – JL | AirlineReporter

Compensation – haha! Wait you were serious? Yeah, nothing was offered, but it was pretty chaotic at the gate.

Technically our itinerary would have priced out the same as what we paid regardless of what cabin we flew in for that particular flight since it was on the same ticket as the ANA flight. I do wonder if I raised enough of a stink if I could get some miles credited, but I’m not worried about it for such a short flight. Really, the passenger experience in First vs Economy+ on a 45 minute flight amounts to being slightly less uncomfortable.

blair kooistra

Jetranger cracked me up! That’s exactly what I thought: that first class cabin is furnished I a manner that resembled an insurance office in the Midwest. I see the point of individual “pods” for those travelling in business class, most of which are going solo, but if you’re travelling in first with your significant other, sometimes a trip of a lifetime you’d like to experience together–well, that ain’t happening.

Thanks, Kooistra ~ !
I guess I’m just used to the “Pizzaz”, they used to put in Aircraft interiors back in the day.
unlike all this stale boring cold Dull lack of creativity and lack of design & Style they do now days.
Looks to Generic and cold to me !
Especially for supposed 1st class and for the kind of money too $$$$

I still like the look of the 1960’s & 1970’s Aircraft interiors, tho some may Not, or some may not have got to experience the Style and creative effort that were put into the aircraft interiors back then,,,,,

BUT – NO fear if you didn’t get to experience any of that , because if your from the Newer Generation, born after 1980 , you can get a slight glimpse of what it was like back then, by visiting this and see it for yourself – best part is – its – FREE !!!

LINK : http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/03/13/lets-reminisce-airplanes-piano-bars-cocktail-lounges-pubs-restaurants/

LINK # 2 : http://sploid.gizmodo.com/traveling-in-a-boeing-747-in-the-1970s-was-pretty-damn-1504637666

You could easily sell the ANA Rimowa amenity kit on Ebay for $100, but their new Samsonite kits are yielding $0 for sellers. 🙁

Hey Todd,

I am not that into the amenity kits, but why do the Rimowa go for so much? I have two unused ones from EVA… one still in plastic :).

David | AirlineReporter

What’s funny, is when I compare the ANA Samsonite kit to the Thai Rimowa one side-by-side, I think the Samsonite actually has the better build quality.

Rimowa hard suitcases -especially their aluminum rolling cases were the German classic standard of a wealthy world traveler. Thus, Rimowa amenity kits are highly collectable as several airlines gave them to first class passengers. The most valuable were Lufthansa’s and ANA’s created in several colors. These are just really elite accessories to keep items like condoms, drugs, etc. that you want to protect in your luggage. I think most collectors just liked to have Rimowa amenity kits from several arilines in multiple colors.

The Samsonite amenity kit is just from a second/third-rate luggage manufacturer for the masses! It comes in ugly colors and the ribbing design is really hokey. True measure of value is what you can sell them for on Ebay. Not all Rimowas are equal – depends on airline brand too.

Good article by the way !!

Now ya got me all fired up to walk down to my Hanger and get out my Vintage Boeing 1972 747-200, fire it up and take a flight somewhere ~ !

Ahh the glory days of flying in Style !!

My Vintage 747 200 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_sB2PZ0gC0

@Jetranger – I remember those days, and US airline Economy class was often something to look forward to. However, I also remember all the cigarette smoke! ANA has always had a pretty sterile looking First. Part of their problem is they mostly use 777s which are not as spacious as 747s and especially now the A380. I will say that today’s First and Business classes on select airlines like ANA or Singapore provide a flat bed for great sleep which the deep recline of the wide First seats of the 60’s and 70’s did not provide. (along with the slob smoking near you). Getting an empty row of Economy seats that you could lift up the armrests and lay down flat was often better than First!

Flying ANA on this flight next year for my 20th anniversary, what a great write-up. Krug champagne? My favorite, this is going to be epic. One question, I am 6 foot 3, do you think I’ll have to do much bending to sleep properly on this bed? I have had no issues in United’s 777 Global Services First Class. Thanks!

Hi John, I’m 6’1″, and it was long enough for me, but if I completely stretched out I could touch both ends of the bed. I think that unless you sleep completely straight like a board, you’ll find it plenty comfortable.

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