Trip Report: Dream Came True for San Jose!

Flying on ANA’s inaugural flight from San Jose to Tokyo on board the Dreamliner


Photo:  Manas Barooah


Go straight to the photos
and video.

Flight:  NH1075, San Jose, California (SJC) – Tokyo-Narita (NRT)

Aircraft:  Boeing 787-8
Registration (msn/ln):  JA813A (34521/67, ZA118)
Delivered:  August 30, 2012 (13th 787 for ANA, 19th 787 delivered by Boeing)

Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  11:45 am – 4:10 pm (next day)
Actual Departure – Arrival:  11:45 am – 3:52 pm (next day)

Departure: SJC Runway 30R, 11:57 am
Arrival:  NRT Runway 34L, 3:48 pm

Cruising Altitude:  38,000 – 41,000 feet

Flightaware flight track


After many years of negotiations and lobbying by the City of San Jose and Silicon Valley companies, in December 2011, All Nippon Airways (ANA) announced that they would be starting service between San Jose (SJC) and Tokyo-Narita (NRT) using the Boeing 787 Dreamliner starting sometime in fiscal year 2012. 

As a resident of the San Jose area, an aviation enthusiast, and a big fan of the Dreamliner, naturally I had to fly on the inaugural flight.  In addition, I decided that I was going to treat myself to Business Class.

With continual delivery delays of the 787 by Boeing, plans for a 2012 SJC service launch did not materialize.  In August of 2012, ANA announced SJC service was to start on January 11, 2013, more than one year after the initial announcement.

On the first day tickets went on sale, I bought a Business Class ticket on the inaugural flight from SJC to NRT.  My itinerary will take me to Taipei via Tokyo for a few days first before making a stopover in Tokyo on the return trip back to SJC.  In case you are curious, the roundtrip ticket cost $4300, including taxes and fees.

While it was to be a long wait for the flight, I got my Dreamliner itch taken care of by flying on United’s inaugural 787 flights in November (see that trip report).

Opening Ceremony

Departure morning was quite a rush – figuratively and literally.  The inbound flight from NRT was arriving almost one hour early due to favorable tailwinds.  With morning traffic and possible long queue at security, there was a good chance that I might miss the traditional water cannon salute of the inaugural arrival.

There was no line at the Business Class check-in counter, thankfully.  I walked straight up to an agent.  Most of the ticket agents were new, so they were still feeling their way out and getting some on-the-job training.  After check-in, I was given a note about the ribbon cutting ceremony that was to happen at our gate.


Fortunately, the process of getting through security was not long and I made it through in less than 10 minutes.  I rushed to the Gate 15 (which was all decked out for the ceremony)...


...and met up with a friend covering the event on a media pass.  We proceeded to Gate 18 for an optimal view of the taxiway intersection where fire engines were already lined up and waiting.

After about 10 minutes, ANA Boeing 787 with registration number JA813A touched down on Runway 30L, marking the first time that a Dreamliner landed at SJC.  It carried a special “TOMODACHI” logo, which was new and unexpected (though it was previously announced).

TOMODACHI is an initiative to help recovery of the great earthquake region in Japan and to strengthen cultural and economy ties between the U.S. and Japan. 

With a crowd gathered in the gate area and on the ramp, JA813A got a very wet salute from the airport fire department.


We proceed back to Gate 15 to get a better view of the 787 and waited for the ceremony to start.  Coffee, juice, along with special commemorative sake cups were available for pickup.  Waiters carried trays of hors d'oeuvres for the guests, though those of us with media badges were generally snubbed.


San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed.


ANA Chairman of the Board Yoji Ohashi.


Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino, who was instrumental in getting commitments from local companies to support this flight, emceed the inaugural ceremony.


Mayor Reed.


Former San Jose mayor, congressman, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Transportation, and SJC airport namesake, Norm Mineta.


U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos.


Consul General of Japan in San Francisco, Hiroshi Inomata.


Chairman Ohashi.


Ribbon cutting was led by SJC Aviation Director Bill Sherry.


To signify a new beginning, dignitaries performed a traditional Japanese ritual - kagami-wari - breaking of a sake barrel cover, followed by a toast.


Norm Mineta, Carl Guardino and others would board the flight with us to Japan for a trade mission to promote the San Jose area. Chairman Ohashi also flew with us. 

Overview of the Gate 15 area.


ANA’s international 787 is configured to be low density.  This configuration only carries 158 passengers, with 46 seats in Business Class and 112 seats in Economy.  Note on the seat diagram that half of the aircraft is Business Class.

The Flight

Agents first called for pre-boarding.  They gathered (and waited for) those requiring special assistance to queue up before starting boarding.  Nice touch.  Diamond status members were next to board, followed by my group – Business Class and Star Alliance Gold members.  I was given a goodie bag after passport check and boarding pass scan. 

Volaris and ANA – the two foreign airlines serving SJC were at the international arrival gates at the same time. 


Upon boarding, I was greeted by a friendly flight attendant and sight of Narita-San Jose service start posters.  It was interesting to see a couple guys working on a laptop in a restaurant representing “San Jose”.  Makes sense if I think about it, but still…


Taken later in flight – passengers left messages wishing SJC service well.


I quickly dropped off my stuff at my seat 5K, last row in the first cabin, before proceeding through the cabin to get interior photos.  Request to visit the cockpit was duly denied.  :(

Business Class seat.


Rainbow lighting in the Business Class cabin.


Economy Class bulkhead seats. 


Seating configuration in economy is 2-4-2.  Note the center 4-seats is actually a 2-2 pair, with ample elbow room between the center seats.  Pitch is 34 inches.


The seat back is a fixed shell.  To recline, the seat slides forward.  It reduces knee room when “reclined”, however, this arrangement eliminates the ever-annoying seat in front reclining into your face.


Note foot rests, 10.6-inch monitor, and iPod/USB ports.


Aft galley.


Media was gathering on the ramp to capture the departure.


Back to my seat.  Business Class is laid out in a staggered fashion.  Each row is offset, creating an alternating rows of 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 configurations.  Each 180° degree lie-flat seat has direct access to the aisle.  The table next to each seat is actually the foot-well and monitor display for the seat behind.  Each seat was stocked with a pillow, blanket, slippers with shoehorn, and noise cancelling headphones.


View from my seat. 


All motorized controls for the seat adjustments:


The 17-inch video on demand system is touch screen or can be controlled using a controller at the seat. Tray table slides out from below the monitor. Space below the foot well provides room for a small bag.   



Below the monitor, there is an USB connector (to charge your iDevice or play your own media from an USB drive ), iPod connector, and a power outlet.   



Space beneath the seat is shoe storage.  As you can tell from the photo, the space is not large enough to fit my size 7 shoes.  Then again, I think this is by design so that the slider locks down your shoes without having them moving around.  



These items were in the goodie bag:  a NRT-SJC toiletry bag and a TOMODACHI sack with fragrant wood blocks, both made from wood in the devastated earthquake area.  



Shortly before takeoff, a first flight certificate along with a ANA 787 sticker was handed out.



Promptly at 11:45 am, we pushed back.  Announcement welcomed everyone aboard the first San Jose to Tokyo flight.  There were three pilots and nine flight attendants on board.  We were offered champagne or green tea.  Passengers on the left side of the aircraft got a nice view of the crowd watching us from the ramp.  Alas I was sitting on the right side, but I can tell from the picture taking and waving that it must have been quite a sight.

I was disappointed that there was no water cannon salute on the departure, though there was supposed to be one.  Speak of which, there were water spots on all of the windows from the water cannon on the arrival making taking clear photos out the window impossible.  


As we approached the end of the runway, outside the fence, I could see a large crowd had gathered off Aviation Blvd to watch us takeoff.  It is one of our usual spotting locations…I have never seen a crowd that big there before!

We rolled to takeoff power and was airborne a short 12 minutes after pushback.  Typical with all transpacific departures from SJC, we headed northwest, with Moffett Field below, over Woodside and out over the Pacific. 

Shortly thereafter, the captain got on the P.A. and announced the seat belt sign would be left on longer due to turbulence.  Cruising altitude is expected to be at 38000 feet.  He wished San Jose
prosperity on their nonstop flight”. 

After menus were distributed, beverage and meal choices were taken.  I went with the Japanese meal (this is a Japanese airline, after all), and decided to try “Aromatic Kabosu” for my drink. Described as an ANA original soft drink, it tasted like a cross between a grapefruit and lemon juice.  As I later found out, kabosu is a Japanese citrus lemon, found only in the Ōita Prefecture.
 

I was then asked if I could switch my meal selection from the Japanese meal to the western meal.  Disappointed, I chose monkfish with prosciutto (the other choice was beef steak).  Minutes later, the flight attendant returned and said I could have my Japanese meal afterall.  Not sure what happened there.

While waiting for the meal service to start, I explored the video-on-demand system.  I didn’t go through the movies but instead browsed through video selections.  Disappointingly, choices were not extensive.  Worse – majority of the videos/documentaries/special interests were in Japanese without subtitles (even though the video booklet described all of them both in English and Japanese). 

“Hmmm” moment of the flight.  It was a bit unsettling watching the news showing an ANA 787 making an emergency landing due to cracks in the windshield.  Between the battery fire, fuel leak, overheating brakes, and now cracked windshield…it was not a good-news week for the 787. 




Appetizers with kabosu.


Second course.  “Takiawase” (top left and bottom plates) is vegetable served with meat or fish.  “Sunomono” (top right) is seafood seasoned with vinegar.  In this case, the seafood is seabream and octopus.  



“Shusai”, or main course, was grilled sablefish.  It was served with pickled vegetables, freshly steamed rice, and miso soup.  Sablefish (also known as black cod) is similar to Chilean Sea Bass.  Just like sea bass, it had a buttery taste and melt-in-your-mouth consistency, which I love.  It was soooo good…probably the best in-flight dish I have ever had!



Dessert was served from a cart – choice was vanilla and dulce de leche ice cream with raspberry sauce or fruit plate.  I went with the ice cream.



Little bottles of after dinner drinks were offered…which I skipped.

The meal service culminated with a choice of green tea, earl gray tea, or coffee – and a piece of chocolate from a box.  I asked for herbal tea instead.



Another flight attendant came around with a basket of eye shades, ear plugs, and toothbrush.

The entire meal service took two hours from beginning to end, which I thought was very long.  Then again, I don’t normally fly long distance business class – so I don’t have anything to compare against. 

Loo with a view. Lavatories in Business Class boast a window, is relatively spacious, and (as with all 787 lavs) very high-tech with automatic seat cover, flush, and faucet. 



In lieu of individual amenity kits, items such as lotion, toothbrush, mouthwash, etc were available for in the lav.  



No, I did not try this!



Cabin was now darkened for those wanting to nap.  As a feature of the automatic electrochormic windows on the 787, flight attendants centrally dimmed all the windows.  I was able to manually override my window, but only up to the half bright setting.


Next came duty free sales; a flight attendant came by with an order sheet.  I got ANA 60th Anniversary postage stamps, costing 3800 Yen.  I later asked for the stamps signed by all the pilots, which a flight attendant did for me without hesitation.  It was returned to me with bonus stickers compliments of the Captain.  



I also had a nice short chat with Norm Mineta (who always jokes that his mother named him after the airport) and had him sign my inaugural flight certificate. Mr. Mineta’s family members are all in aviation – his wife is a retired flight attendant and his two sons are airline pilots. 

A real mini bar in Business Class.  



Entry archway.


Economy class was really dark.



Views out the window during cruise. 



Here was my seat in the flat configuration ready for sleep.  I was able to grab about an one hour nap.


Almost there...


About two hours before landing, the second meal service began.  Again, I went with Japanese meal:  grilled salmon, Japanese omelet, pickled vegetables, fresh steamed rice, miso soup, and fruit.  



After the meal tray was picked up, I was asked whether I would like anything else…ice cream perhaps.  Of course I can’t pass that up!



Shortly before landing, comment cards were passed out along with candy in a basket.  The personalized comment card was marked with a special inaugural flight marking, probably meant more as a souvenir.



After some sweeping vectors on approach to Narita (probably due to air traffic flow control – common at SFO), we touched down on Runway 34L before making a short taxi to Gate 51. 

Final count:  5148 miles traveled, 10 hours 48 minutes flying time.




Sistership JA814A was parked at the next gate, waiting for passengers to board the return flight to SJC.  



Passengers in economy class were held behind the curtain until everyone in Business Class had deplaned.  That allowing me to take this clear cabin shot.  :)



Final Thoughts


With JA813A basking in the setting sun at Narita, my inaugural experience came to an end.  Overall, I was very impressed how all the flight attendants were eager to please.  The meals were excellent though the time it took to go through all the courses felt long.  There was not an amenity kit, which screamed cheap.  Yes, you get everything normally in the kit between what was given out and what was available in the lavatory.  However, it felt like a cost cutting move in action.  

Flat-seat was nice for sleeping, as expected.  Seat was not particularly wide, but I had enough room around my shoulders and feet.  The leg/foot well was not tapered like United, so I was able to move my feet around while lying down.  It was a bit claustrophobic seated in a pod, especially without a window right next to the seat.  Being a total window seat guy, I was disappointed that I picked a no-window window seat for this flight.  Won’t make that same mistake on the return!

By the time I arrived at Tokyo, it was 11 pm back home and I was ready for bed. Because I was already tired, I cannot say I felt more refreshed due to 787’s much touted higher humidity levels and lower pressurization altitude.  I did notice, however, that my feet were not swollen when I put my shoes back on (which was a good thing).  Although the 787 was quiet (also noted on my previous flight on United, plus I was in the front most cabin), taking off my noise cancelling headphones still resulted in roaring of the engines.  I wore those headphones when I took my nap.



My connecting ANA flight from NRT to Taipei was on a 777-200.  Business Class was decidedly Y2K-retro.  Granted it was only an Asian regional product, nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine this was the standard for Business Class ten years ago.  I did notice though, how spacious the cabin felt while I was seated.  It wasn’t because the 777 was significantly wider than the 787, it was because I was not secluded in a pod surrounded by walls.  I guess each kind of cabin configuration has its own merits and drawbacks.






Comments

  1. Great Trip Report, thanks for sharing!

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