Before my recent flight on All Nippon Airways, I’d only flown two Asian airlines before: Asiana Airlines and Jeju Air.
Jeju Air was a perfectly nice hour-long flight. Asiana, though, was the first Skytrax 5-Star airline I’d ever flown. It completely reset my expectations about how pleasant an economy-class trans-Pacific flight can be.
Recently, I added two more Asian airlines to my list -- All Nippon Airways and Vietnam Airlines. For today, I’ll focus on ANA.
On paper, ANA has much in common with Asiana. It’s also a Skytrax 5-Star airline. It also has a modern long-haul fleet and a reputation for dialed-in, highly polished service.
I had a ton of options to get from Phoenix to Vietnam. I chose All Nippon Airways Flight 1075 from San Jose Mineta International Airport to Tokyo Narita as our first leg for a few reasons. Let’s break it down:
- It leaves mid-day.
- San Jose Mineta is nowhere near as crazy as Los Angeles or San Francisco, my other main options.
- It’s a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which I’d been eager to try on a long-haul flight.
- I’d earn OnePass miles through my United Airlines account.
Another flight on Asiana tempted me sorely, especially since its Boeing 777 is a wonderful aircraft and the meals are way better than any airline meal should be. On the other hand, Asiana flies an Airbus A330 (or even an A320!) to destinations in Vietnam. That didn’t thrill me – the A330 I flew previously didn’t have air vents at every seat. That can make for a sweaty flight. All Nippon AirwaysÂ would connect our 787 flight with a second leg on a 767, which I always find to be a nice aircraft with very few middle seats (generally, just one). The A330 was a deal-breaker, so I took a chance on the Dreamliner and the ANA 5-Star ranking.
Arriving at San Jose Mineta
Flight 1075 was just a few gates from the flight I took from Phoenix. Checking in was a breeze. We had plenty of time to wander and make our final few phone calls and emails.
Now, here’s where ANA shows what being a 5-Star airline is all about. As I strolled through the terminal, I heard someone behind me.
"Excuse me! Excuse me!"
It was a member of the ANA ground staff
"Do you know where I can find Sarah?" she asked (for first-time visitors, Sarah is my wife -- our departure date was the day before her birthday.).
"Sure, follow me. She’s right over here," I said.
She followed me to where Sarah is seated. And she handed Sarah a little bag and wished her a happy birthday. Inside the bag, there’s a bunch of chocolate truffles and a handwritten note.
Wow. Way to start someone’s vacation, ANA!
In the Air
You don’t have to be an aviation nerd to appreciate the shiny new All Nippon AirwaysÂ Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Big windows, high ceiling, quiet engines, USB ports at every seat -- they add up to a nice passenger experience.
I also like the ANA eight-abreast seating broken into a 2-4-2 configuration. There’s a bit of space between the two middle seats, which translates into extra armrest space. As for the seats, I have mixed feelings on the retractable footrest. They were kind of comfy until I decided to stretch out for some sleep. Then, it always rubbed against my shin when it was retracted. And I could never get the right angle with it in the down position. The seats don’t recline â€“ the seat cushions slide forward. That means when the person in front of you wants to stretch out, their seat won’t come flopping back into your space. I’m also a little split on this; I felt like my knees got cramped when I slid forward.
As for meals, All Nippon AirwaysÂ is above-average -- better than domestic airlines, but completely forgettable. (On the other hand, I can tell you that I had bi bim bap for dinner on my outbound Asiana flight, with spicy octopus over rice for breakfast. On the way back, bulgogi and an omelette.) I’ll give both meals credit for not being greasy or unhealthy feeling. The Haagan-Dazs vanilla ice cream for dessert was also nice.
ANA is also a bit weak on amenities. I stuffed my toothbrush into my checked luggage for some reason I can’t remember. ANA didn’t have toothbrushes, and only had mouthwash for the business-class passengers. The flight attendant was very apologetic about the situation.
After the flight, I read on another blog that ANA has snacks in the aft galley, but I never ventured that way. Wish I would’ve known about that! I never shut up about this, I know, but I really wished other airlines would steal an idea from the Asiana 777 and its drinking fountains. I had a collapsible water bottle that I wanted to fill.
Connecting to the Next Flight
OK, I really rolled the dice here. ANA Flight 1075 was scheduled to land at 4:10. Our second leg, Air Japan Flight 931, was scheduled to push back at 5:25 p.m. We were off on-schedule from San Jose Mineta. And we landed on the money. We made the connecting flight with time to spare – unfortunately, that meant enough time to get stuck in the boarding line with a middle-aged lecher drooling over "cute Asian women."
Obviously, an older-vintage 767 won’t hold up much to a 787 even with just one middle seat per row. But the service was still nice enough. I did some reading and got a bit of sleep before we touched down at Ho Chi Minh City Tan Son Naht International Airport.
Sorry, I know I gave that trip short shrift. But I am not at avgeek’s avgeek, so I sometimes get worn down on what’s a pretty Average Joe flight on an older airplane. You’ll get a hot Asian meal that tastes better than what’s on most US-based airlines.
Wrapping It Up
The seating on the All Nippon AirwaysÂ Dreamliner wasn’t perfect. The in-flight meals weren’t as good as Asiana’s. Still, ANA is an excellent airline. You’ll definitely love the service, the on-demand entertainment and the shiny new plane. You’ll appreciate the decent food.
I’d probably pick an Asiana 777 over an ANA Dreamliner, but I’ll avoid an A330 painted any color -- even if it means a few extra bucks. But departure airport also plays a role – San Jose Mineta International Airport is a clear winner, and I’d be very likely to fly from it again.
Stay tuned for a review of United Airlines and its Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from Pudong Shanghai International Airport to Los Angeles -- and how it compares to the ANA flight.