When two AirlineReporter writers decide to go on a weekend guys trip, the possibilities are endless. The thing is – we don’t mind long flights, crazy routing, or extended layovers – after all, that’s all part of the adventure.
It’s amazing how much ground you can cover in a few days, if you really want to. Once we made the decision to go somewhere, Associate Editor, Blaine Nickeson, and I spent a few weeks scouring the internet for decent airfares. We considered various destinations across five continents. Finally, something really interesting (and cheap!) popped up: Denver to Tokyo on United’s 787-8 connecting on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on ANA’s 787-8.
One stop from Denver to a city nearly on the other side of the world? Oh yeah, this is the kind of stuff the Dreamliner was built for.
The Kuala Lumpur route is a new route for ANA, having just inaugurated service on September 1, 2015. One of ANA’s stated goals for this route is to provide convenient one-stop service from North America.
Indeed, considering ANA’s own North American service, combined with that of Star Alliance partners United and Air Canada, this route connects thirteen North American destinations to Kuala Lumpur via Tokyo Narita (NRT). ANA’s new Houston-Tokyo route is an especially noteworthy connection, as the combination of these two routes provides one-stop ANA service between the two major petroleum centers.
Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) in Business Class
Once we arrived at Narita (see Blaine’s review of United’s Denver-Tokyo service), we quickly made our way through security and over to ANA’s business class lounge. At only two hours, our layover was relatively short, but I’ve found that the ANA lounge is always worth a stop. On this particular visit, the lounge was quite busy; however we were able to find a few seats in the sprawling seating area.
After visiting the noodle bar, sushi buffet, and beer robot (a required stop every time I travel through Narita), we made our way down to our gate, 28D, which is actually a bus gate.
I’ve heard people complain about having to take a bus to a remote stand, then boarding via airstairs, as though it is some kind of indignity. Personally, I love it – how often do you get to drive around with a bunch of 747s, 777s, 787s, and A380s, then get a ground-level look at your plane before boarding?
For this flight, ANA operates a 787-8 outfitted with their regional “Business Cradle” seats, which feature 59 inches of pitch and a 21-inch seat width.
Although these seats are not true flatbed seats, they do have a significant recline and lots of legroom.
We took our seats, 6D & 6G, in the center section of the rear business cabin.
Once we got seated, we were offered either orange juice or Henriot champagne for pre-departure drinks. Champagne please!
After takeoff, the menus were distributed and the meal service began. The first course was an amuse of persimmon and butter mille, glazed walnuts, ham and tomato aspic, duck tarte, and olives and cheeses. Delicious – and it left me hungry for more.
The second course was an appetizer of pork and foie gras rillettes rolled with salami and saury with a delicious citrus sauce. We were also offered an assortment of breads to go with the meal.
Throughout the meal, I sampled a couple of the wines from the wine menu. Each was presented for inspection with bottle and cork, the same as they would be at a fine dining restaurant. Both of the wines I tried were excellent, as expected.
Finally the main course arrived. Given the choice of the various menu options – a truly difficult decision – I chose the braised beef with baked risotto. Although the beef was just a bit on the tough side, the flavor of both the beef and the risotto were right on.
It’s obvious that ANA really pays attention to presentation – every dish looked amazing and tasted delicious. My one complaint would be that the meal service really seemed drawn out. More than two hours of flight time had transpired before dinner was complete. Perhaps if this trip had originated in Tokyo and my body thought it was early evening, I would not have minded this. However, as I had been traveling for nearly 20 hours by this point, I was ready to try and get some sleep.
I extended the footrest and reclined the seat as far back as it would go. The reclined seat was decent enough, but it was definitely not as comfortable as a flatbed seat. I found it to be a bit short for 6’1″ me; nonetheless it was sufficient to get a few hours rest.
After napping for a few hours, I awoke in a sweat – it felt like someone had turned up the cabin heat to maximum. It wasn’t just this flight either – on every ANA flight I have been on, the cabin temperature was too hot for me. Personally, I would prefer that planes run a bit on the cold side, as I can always grab another blanket, but there is not a lot I can do about being too hot.
About two hours before landing, several passengers in our cabin ordered some food from the ‘light meals anytime’ portion of the menu. Although I was still somewhat full from dinner, and had not planned on ordering more food, the aroma proved too tempting. I ended up ordering the Ippudo miso ramen noodles. Man, this isn’t the cheap dorm room ramen I remember from my college days – this stuff was delicious.
Shortly after finishing the meal, the captain announced our descent into KUL and the cabin lights came up. In short order, we were stepping off the plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA – what they called the airport).
After the shortest immigration and customs experience I have ever had anywhere – there was zero paperwork to fill out – we took the KLIA express train into downtown Kuala Lumpur and caught a taxi to our hotel. As we arrived at the hotel well after 1:00 am, I was very happy that I’d ordered that ramen before landing.
Checking out Kuala Lumpur
The next morning, jet lag woke us up early and we decided to check out the city. We took the subway to the colonial district to see the old part of the city first. I always enjoy walking through outdoor markets to get a feel for a city – for this trip, the Petaling Street Market was that place.
This market consists of a series of covered streets and narrow alleyways lined with stalls selling just about anything you could hope to find. Street food vendors are ubiquitous, hawking deep-fried delicacies to anyone adventurous enough to have a taste.
One can find knock-off designer handbags in one stall, cheap electronics (“Beats by Dre”, anyone?) in the next, and kids shoes in yet another. We even found a stall selling aircraft models – $4 later, I had a miniature (metal!) Thai Airways A380 in hand.
In many ways, this market reminded me of those I’ve visited in other major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, and Mumbai. However, one thing that stood out to me was Kuala Lumpur’s diversity. Rather than a single obvious majority, the populous is made up of a mix of ethnic Chinese, Malay, and Indians, as well as many other ethnicities from all over the world – a true multicultural city. This is reflected in the city’s architecture as well – the city is home to buildings with British Colonial, Victorian, Moorish, and Islamic influences, set among soaring modern skyscrapers.
The next stop was the Batu Caves, a 25-minute cab ride from the city center. These caves house a major Hindu shrine, and the 272-step climb up to the caves was a much-needed workout the day after spending 18 hours in a plane seat.
Finally, we headed to the most well-known tourist destination – the Petronas Towers. Once the highest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers dominate the skyline of Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, it was very hazy due to fires in neighboring Indonesia, and the view from the top of the towers was not all that clear.
Despite the haze, our visit to the towers was well worth it. We got a decent view of the city from the observation deck, and it was fun to walk across the skybridge connecting the two towers.
After coming down from the observation deck, we walked around the massive, upscale mall at the base of the towers, then headed over to the nearby Bukit Bintang entertainment district for a few British beers at an ex-pat bar. After that, it was off to bed for the early morning flight back to Tokyo.
Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Tokyo Narita (NRT) in Economy Class
The alarm went off way too early on Sunday morning. It’s remarkable how fast your body adapts to a new timezone – 3:30am actually felt like 3:30am. The drive from our downtown hotel to the airport took nearly an hour, even without traffic. Kuala Lumpur’s airport is a long haul from downtown, and that’s saying something for two guys who live in Denver.
KLIA is a beautiful airport to visit. Unfortunately, as our 7:00am flight was the first of the day, many of the shops, lounges, and the jungle boardwalk (?) were closed during our visit. Still, it was fun to walk around and check things out.
It was soon time to board, and we were surprised to see that the flight crew on this flight was the very same crew that we had flown out with 36 hours before. The minute we stepped onto the plane, they remembered us and greeted us warmly. During the flight, they even recalled our specific drink orders from the earlier flight – impressive.
We took our seats, this time in economy row 17. ANA’s economy class features a 31-inch seat pitch, which is a bit more legroom than I am accustomed to in the US, at least for a non-premium product. On the other hand, the 18-inch seat width – a result of the nine-abreast layout – did feel a bit cramped. Fortunately we had an empty seat between us so the narrow seats were not an issue.
Breakfast was served very quickly after takeoff. We were offered a selection of either a tomato omelette with sausage or rice porridge with salmon flakes and soba noodles. I chose the rice porridge, and it was among the best economy meals I’ve ever had. Blaine did too. We felt sorry for the Americans nearby who picked the omelette, as they definitely picked wrong.
After breakfast, I checked out the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. In economy, the IFE system is delivered on 9-inch seatback screens – not too bad, but noticeably smaller than those in the front of the plane. While ANA has a decent catalog of english language movies available on-demand, there are significantly fewer movies available then on United. After two flights, I had pretty much run through every movie that interested me, and even a few that didn’t.
All in all, my flight experience on ANA was top-notch. I’ve been lucky enough to have flown ANA in first, business, and economy in the last few months, and I have been impressed every time. I have found the soft product (food and service) to be especially noteworthy. Now, if only I could get them to turn down that cabin heat.
For lots more photos of our trip, check out our Flickr album!
Note: ANA provided an upgrade to business class one-way to do this review. Opinions are my own.