Friday, August 17, 2012

The Inspiration for the Trip (787 in business class)

The last day we got up, got breakfast in the club, and took some last pictures in our room.  We finished packing up and headed downstairs.  After finishing up stuff with the bill (the only things on there were the limo bus and baseball game tickets) we quickly went downstairs (we were cutting it close for the bus).  We arrived in the downstairs lobby where the hotel staff quickly tagged our bags and ushered us out the door to the waiting bus (we were just barely on time).  The ride to Narita was fairly uneventful, but much longer than Haneda.  If you have a choice in where you are flying into, I would tend to choose Haneda, but that is difficult since almost all of the flights from the US go to NRT.

Anyways, we finally reached the airport and were dropped off at our terminal.  Once again it was a little confusing to find the correct security line, but eventually the staff got us there.  NRT seems to be laid out a lot like Milan's airport, Malpensa.  There are many columns of check in desks instead of just 1 long row like at O-Hare and many other airports I have been to.  I think this design saves on building space, but it is a little confusing to the passenger since it isn't possible to look down the terminal and see your carrier's or class's logo/name.  There was about a 10 minute wait before a JAL representative got us out of line and brought us to a different stack of check in desks where we were helped right away.  Again, there seemed to be some discussion over my CPAP machine and they told me that it was okay to use on the flight.  I'm not sure why JAL makes such a big deal out of having a CPAP machine, but I guess it's better that they are safe than sorry.

Security was a little weird to find.  The check in agent made it sound like we needed to go up a level and security would be there, when really the upper level is just an airport shopping mall and observation deck.  Eventually we got it figured out and we were able to quickly go through security.  At Narita there were signs for the liquid rule, but I didn't have to take them out, but I did have to remove my laptop.  Shoes and belt stayed on, so that was a plus.  One thing that surprised me about the security procedures was that there was no ICTS check.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, in recent years when you are taking a flight into the US from abroad (apparently this only means Europe as far as my experience goes) there are a series of questions you are asked that are meant to screen out for terrorists.  They can be kind of intrusive and needlessly long questions to answer, such as what electronics do you have on you and how long have you owned them?  On a business trip that is usually 2 laptops, my cell phone, at least 1 camera, and a couple other devices.  The whole interview takes around 10-15 minutes and is done for every passenger.  In the UK, this procedure is then repeated at the gate to a lesser degree.  After passing the inspection you are given a signed and dated sticker on your passport (I have around 5 or 6 now) and can continue on.  Since there was no such check at NRT I can only assume that terrorists don't fly JAL or don't ever fly from Japan *rolls eyes*.

After security we made our way to the lounge, which was crowded!  There were hardly any seats together and those that were didn't have power.  We finally found a seat and relaxed a little.  I went to check out the food and drink offerings and found a small selection of food choices on the upper level and some snack mix and cheese on the lower.  The drink offerings were fine as well and included juice, soda, wine, some spirits and those fancy beer machines (I took a video).  About half an hour before boarding the internet went down, so I wasn't able to finish up a post until we got to Boston.  If we had more time to go until our flight it would have been more annoying, but in our case it wasn't a big deal.  We left for the gate around 15 minutes earlier than normal so we could take pictures with our slick new ride!

We both posed for pictures in front of the window with the plane since I figured we wouldn't really have a chance when we got in to Boston.  We went down to the gate and spent our last yen on some sweets and souvenirs before getting in line to board.  Boarding was quick and before long we were taking pictures in the business class seats!  I'll break down the experience of the new plane below.

The Windows

I think the first thing you notice when boarding the 787 is how big the windows are.  They were all dimmed when we came on board, but we had to play with the electronic dimming feature.  From what I have read some people really don't like the new windows, but after a whole flight with them I like them.  They make the cabin plenty dark (but not quite blacked out) and if you need to sleep an eye mask should be plenty to keep out the rest of the light.

The Seats

The seats themselves were similar to JAL's first class seats - comfortable and they had 3 settings - upright, relax, and bed.  I would say that something about these seats was actually more comfortable than the first class ones.  The main difference in the seat itself (besides one being leather and the other was fabric) is that the footrest that flips out on the business class seats.  Sometimes it is good to stretch out all the way, but eventually it is nice to rest your feet on something and give your knees and legs a different position to rest in.  I didn't try to sleep, but M was able to get a good amount of sleep even though the seat was an angled lie flat.  The only complaint I really have with the seats is that they don't have enough storage.  We constantly had to shuffle stuff around in order to place drinks and computers.  There seemed to be plenty of space for magazines, but not enough for gadgets, computers, and clothing.

The Entertainment

The entertainment system on the 787 was JAL's newer MAGIC-V system.  The selection of movies was the same as we had on the way out, so there wasn't much more to watch (I didn't put this in my report about first class, but if you can find a subbed copy of Thermae Romae, it was actually pretty funny for a movie about baths).  There aren't many differences between the 2, the only one I really noticed was that the flight map was a little fancier and the language selection for the movies seemed to be better.  Overall I was pretty happy with it, but more choices would have been better.

The Service

Obviously there will be a different level of service between 8 and 72 people in a class and there was.  Our seatbelts weren't folded when we got up for the bathroom, nor were our blankets, and it took a little longer to get attention from the flight attendants.  Overall however, we were very happy with the service in business class.  I think a lot of the touches in first class are very nice, but ultimately unnecessary.  It is really really fun to be pampered like that, but if all you can get is business class over coach, the extra space and more personal attention is well worth it.  Overall we were very happy with our JAL experience and would be delighted to fly with them again.

The Food

The Japanese course didn't look as appetizing to me this time around, so we both went with the Western main meal.  The food we ate all tasted very good, but there was some stuff (like foie gras) that we don't really eat and left on the plate.  The steak was very good and well cooked.  The dessert (ice cream) was a little disappointing - it tasted good enough, but it was really hard and mine seemed to have some ice crystals on it.

From the ala carte menu we ordered the ramen and udon noodles, and I got chicken curry in addition to that.  The ramen was better than the udon, but both were delicious.  The curry was good, but not nearly as tasty as the vegetarian one in first class or any of the curry we had in Japan.  Before landing we were both really stuffed, but wanted to try the breakfast, so we skipped the omelette and just got the yogurt and fruit, which were good and fresh.

In addition to the ala carte menu there is also a snack bar which customers are free to take from.  There was snack mix, sweets, chocolates, drinks, and other assorted Japanese snacks.  We raided this often (probably too often!) and the flight attendants did a very good job of keeping it well stocked.

The Wing

This is probably a weird topic, but the 787 has a very unique wing.  Maybe it was just my eyes playing tricks on me, but the wing appeared to bend more in flight (in other words, they appeared higher through the window) and the wing tips were shaped unlike any other plane I have been on.

Finally, the 787 also has the personal air vents which I find very useful in flight.  I was pretty warm in first class and missed them on the 777.  The ones on the 787 were pretty unique in their shape though:

Boston Airport

Immigration took us all of 5 minutes thanks to our Global Entry cards and our luggage took another 5 minutes because it was priority tagged.  We dropped off the checked luggage at the connections counter and were told to catch a shuttle bus to Terminal B.  We followed the signs to Terminal B, but never saw anything about a shuttle bus - it was a really long walk.  We got to the security checkpoint and there was a line, but it wasn't too bad, but didn't really move either.  Eventually a lady got upset that the airline and airport employees cutting in line to go to work - I'm not sure why she was getting upset at this, it's standard procedure for every airport I've been to and people need to get to work!  Eventually the line started moving and we made it through without incident, but I was really surprised at some people.  Besides the upset lady, there was another person with what looked like about 8 liquids bags and another girl that was waiting to go through the metal detector when we got in line and was just collecting her belongings after we finished going through security.

Admiral Club BOS

The lounge in Boston was much less crowded than the one in NRT and it was nice and relaxing.  The drink and snack selection was standard Admiral Club stuff, but the staff was impressive.  The check in lady and bartender were both very friendly and chatty.  It seemed like everyone wanted to know about the 787 and it was fun to talk about it.  After an hour or so we headed to our gate.

First Class BOS-ORD

I have been on AA's 737's plenty of times, but never in first class.  We boarded in the first group and got settled in.  After everyone else had boarded the flight attendant came around and offered a pre-departure beverage.  While we were waiting, we observed some "less than professional" behavior from the ground crew.  I don't think this is the way that the baggage handlers are supposed to get into the hold of the plane:
Anyways, before long we were in the air.  First the flight attendants brought us a ramekin of hot nuts and more drinks.  The flight attendant came around and took meal orders, we both got the chicken cobb salad.  After a few minutes it was served and it was actually pretty good.  During meal service another flight attendant came around and offered us wine.  I got the white wine, but it was too dry for my tastes and hard to drink.  For dessert we were given hot gooey chocolate chip cookies, which were delicious.  Throughout the rest of the flight we were offered more to drink, but I mainly drifted off to sleep as we watched TV.  Before landing one of the flight attendants (maybe the purser) came through and thanked us for our business and flying American.  Overall the flight was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to using my upgrades on a trip with M in the future.

That just about wraps everything up.  Japan was an amazing, fascinating, and delicious place and I can't wait to go back.  Stay tuned for our next adventure and plenty of other travel related posts!  Thanks for reading!

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