Looking great, even under a stormy sky ’“ Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Everyone remembers their first time. Their first time getting upgraded on an international flight, that is. For some people, it’s a splurge with miles. For others, it’s the result of hard-won top-tier airline status. Or a cash upgrade offer at check-in that is too good to be true. But no matter how it happens, your first time flying in first or business class is the highlight of any AvGeek’s flying career.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of my first long-haul upgrade ’“ in a shiny new Dreamliner, no less. And yes, it was everything I wanted it to be and more. But the circumstances were a little unusual, because my upgrade wasn’t thanks to miles, or cash. I was upgraded because of a typhoon in the western Pacific.
This is NOT the ideal weather forecast for flying ’“ Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Wait … what? Well read on for the backstory, plus plenty of photos and thoughts about my experience in United’s BusinessFirst 787 cabin. And once you’re done reading, share your own stories about your first times getting bumped up.
A sunset landing is always a treat, but what about a night at the airport? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter
Even for the most enthusiastic air travel aficionados, the idea of an overnight layover probably sounds awful.
Airports, after all, are an awkward place to spend the night. Hotels by the terminal can be overpriced and uninspiring. Getting into the city isn’t always a realistic option. Transit lounges aren’t always open 24/7, and even if they are, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a cozy spot to hunker down.
For these reasons and more, overnight layovers are anathema for the business traveler elite. But for flyers looking for dirt-cheap tickets, they are sometimes a necessary evil.
But hey, we AvGeeks are an adventurous bunch, right? I figured there must be at least a tolerable way to make it from sunset to sunrise without leaving the airport. And with summer travel plans that would place me overnight at Tokyo Haneda for not just one night, but three, I had the chance to put that guess to the test.
Could there be such a thing as a good overnight layover? Join me for my three nights at Haneda ’“ each spent very differently ’“ to find out.
Off we go!
American Airlines hosts a launch party for its new LAX-Haneda flight.
It’s already been a busy 2016 for American Airlines, which has announced several service enhancements and, on February 11, launched its inaugural service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Toyko International Airport, more commonly known as Haneda Airport (HND). Premium passengers will enjoy additional comfort and convenience both before the flight and onboard, while those in economy will be able to enjoy some of the little things they’ve missed in the past couple of years.
As for American’s new flight into HND, a launch party for VIPs was held the previous night at the Japanese American National Museum in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, and AirlineReporter was invited to the festivities.
The George & Sakaye Aratani Central Hall at the Japanese American National Museum
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.
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.
Airline: Thai Airways International
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Departed: Tokyo Narita (NRT)
Arrived: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK)
Class: First Class
Seats: 1E & 1F
Length: About 6 hours
My wife and I recently embarked on a major bucket list trip to Thailand. Since this was a rare sans-toddler trip, we decided to go all-out and burn pretty much all the miles and points we could get our hands on to fly some premium cabins. We were fortunate enough to be able to scrape together just enough points (mostly thanks to being new homeowners) to fly to Bangkok in first class. Our final leg of the inbound journey was on a Thai Airways A380 from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK).
Thai Airways’ A380 Royal First Class cabin – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter
We arrived at Tokyo Narita on ANA’s new Houston to Tokyo service in first class which, in and of itself, was an amazing experience. Our layover at Narita was about three hours long, during which time we availed ourselves of ANA’s First Class suite lounge.
BONUS: Flight Review: ANA First Class Houston to Tokyo on a 777-300ER
Shortly after taking our seats in the lounge, a representative from Thai Airways found us, introduced herself, and asked if we needed anything. We asked if she could look into the status of our checked bags, as we’d had a little bit of difficulty getting them checked all the way through to Bangkok. She left with our passports, boarding passes, and bag claim tickets. When she returned she had new boarding passes printed on Thai stock and she informed us that they had located our bags and they were all set to be loaded on the aircraft. She also informed us that due to a late inbound aircraft, the flight would be about fifteen minutes late, and she would get us when it was time to board. No problem, I needed a shower anyway. Is there any greater feeling than showering in the lounge between long-haul flights?