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Taking the flying turtle to Hawaii

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TOKYO - The first flight of an A380 with a new operator has always been a notable event. There were 14 of these since 2007 and on May 24 it definitely happened for the last time, in Tokyo-Narita, as Airbus had announced in February the termination of the A380 program until 2021.

Besides a few dozen more deliveries to Emirates there is just one more A380 to deliver, the third and last for All Nippon Airways (ANA). Two A380s were received already in spring 2019 by ANA, the first and only Japanese operator, these have now been put to service on the route between Tokyo and Hawaii. One of the most intensely flown long-haul routes worldwide, as no less than seven airlines compete between Japan and Hawaii.

, © Airbus

Initially ANA flies three times weekly in each direction with the A380, from July 1 this will increase to ten weekly frequencies once the second aircraft is in service. In early 2020 the final A380 is expected to join the fleet.

The takeover of all ANA flights between Tokyo and Hawaii is possible as the sector is comparatively short and one aircraft is sufficient to fly one rotation within 24 hours. The journey in easterly direction from Tokyo to Hawaii takes about seven hours, while the westbound return takes about eight.

ANA has strived for a special A380 branding more than any other operator. A design competition for the public yielded the "Flying Honu" concept as the winner, whose leitmotif is the threatened green sea turtle, honu in Hawaiian. Therefore all three aircraft are adorned with turtles all over their fuselage and differ just in their basic colours blue, green and orange.

It is the first A380 in blue livery that stands at gate 45 in Narita ready for the first revenue flight. It is heartening to witness how the A380 creates a buzz of affection with the public even over a decade after its passenger premiere in 2007.

The first flight has been booked out for long and many fans arrive early and take photos at the gate of themselves with the aircraft in the background behind the glass.

While there is a party-like ceremony next to the gate with dancing turtle characters and many speeches in Japanese I take the opportunity for a short visit in the lounge two floors down.

It has no windows, unfortunately, and I also don’t have time to enjoy a freshly cooked Ramen noodle soup at the noodle bar or even fresh sushi made on the spot at the sushi bar, strangely and strictly limited to two nigiris per person with only razor-thin slices of fish on top.

Instead I enjoy a quick beer at the self-service Asahi beer dispenser, where the chilled glass is automatically tilted to be filled, and grab a few rice bites filled with fish from the buffet.

Meanwhile boarding has begun at gate 45, and even the 56 Business Class passengers and obviously some others not belonging here stand in a long line waiting to board.

There is a party mood all around and everyone snaps photos through the glass before heading down the passenger bridges. I climb the one to the right leading upwards to board straight on the upper deck.

On entering the aircraft the ambience changes. While outside, thanks to the livery, there is a fun mood, as this is almost purely a holiday route, this is not at all taken up on the inside.

The cabin appears aseptic and sober in a black-and-white pattern, a bit of sky pattern in orange and blue on a bulkhead doesn’t make a big difference. This is slightly bizarre and out of tune, as if one got scared to continue inside what one had started outside.

I was very keen to get a window seat, but as I finally got my ticket I could only secure the last and less perfect window seat available, but at least that. The configuration on the A380 upper deck, with the eight suites of First Class in front and the long Business Class cabin behind, is 1-2-1.

ANA uses the identical Business seats, Safran Skylounge, also in its Boeing 787-9s and -10s, and they are staggered. Meaning that the window seats located directly at the window interchange with others adjacent to the aisle with a table underneath the window.

, © Andreas Spaeth

Even numbered rows where seats are located next to the aisle offer much less privacy and one has to make strange moves to actually look outside. At least I am sitting close to the window in 8H, while seats in the centre of the cabin are either very close to each other, in uneven rows, or far apart and well-shielded (in even ones).

Without doubt the best single seats in Business Class are the ones in the first row behind the bulkhead, 5A and 5K, with lots of extra storage space. As I had picked my seat prior I received my boarding pass automatically 24 hours before departure by e-mail.

Unfortunately ANA does not support the iPhone, so I couldn’t save it to the wallet, but a screenshot of the QR code did the trick as well to board.

Compared to other first flights with a non-stop party going on till after landing, today’s mood is fairly quiet. Anyone who isn’t lucky enough to be seated on the upper deck next to a window is unable to make use of the spacious bins underneath.

Without these, storage space is clearly limited and comprises mainly of the fixed small table. The seat is functional and mostly self-explanatory, only extending the table is a bit tricky, as you have to push a button hidden underneath it.

, © Andreas Spaeth

The dimensions are comfortable with 20" of width and a full bed length of 77"(1.95 meters), while the 18.5"-screen is pretty big. The best part of the IFE is not the 40 movies, a rather small selection, or the Live TV programs including CNN International in perfect streaming quality.

But instead the live feed from the on-board cameras in stunning HD quality, on the tail and others facing downward and forward. Now that’s entertainment! Another asset is the first-rate, digital interactive inflight map, though this flight just crosses an endless ocean.

There is also extremely fast wifi on board, available for anyone willing to pay from US$ 6.95 for 30 minutes, three hours are $16.95 and the whole flight is $21.95.

Before take-off ANA offers Business Class passengers cheap Spanish cava instead of French champagne, and even from plastic cups! I thought this was a bad habit of US carriers, sad that the otherwise so quality-conscious Japanese have copied this malpractice.

And plastic in general is a very unpleasant topic at ANA. Hardly any other airline is burdening the environment with such amounts of useless plastic as ANA. The slippers, the bed sheets – and the (nice) amenity bag, already made of transparent plastic, is even wrapped twice! – and other things are all coming packed in plastic.

There is an ugly pile of useless plastic next to my seat even before getting airborne. It is good ANA takes action for threatened sea turtles, but please don’t generate such an absurd amount of waste at the same time.

Scheduled departure time was at 20.10 local time, at 20.38 we actually take off, not too bad for an inaugural flight with lots of hubbub and being at a mega airport like Narita.

Already now it appears the crew is not feeling at home yet: Against all safety recommendations for take-offs in darkness, the bright cabin lights remain full on all the time.

Now the big wait begins for the service to start, which unfortunately also adapts to the pace of turtles. I make use of the time to get a look around. ANA as the first and only A380 operator has opted for a narrow, square stairway in the back to replace the spiral stairs usually found on A380s.

, © Andreas Spaeth

This saves space and enables the airline to install up to two extra seat rows on each deck. Downstairs I end up in front of the so-called "multi-purpose room". As it looks fairly similar to a lavatory inside and out, there are several signs pointing out "This is not a lavatory".

In addition there are pictograms of turtles, one putting on lipstick, one takes a feeding bottle, one is being wrapped in diapers and the last one shown dangling on a hanger. This all looks like a touch too much in the attempt to be funny. In reality the room offers a welcome refuge for the young parents sitting behind me in Business Class with their baby, to change diapers and stretch the legs.

Back at my seat, 55 minutes after take-off drink orders are taken, much too late on a seven-hour night flight. Unfortunately ANA has adopted a very inefficient, time-consuming method to serve beverages: Every bottle is carried separately from the galley to each seat, the glass poured and then the bottle returned before it’s the term of the next passenger.

In this way glasses of sake and water I ordered reach me exactly one hour and 14 minutes after rotation. This feels like forever and even the very friendly attitude of the crew doesn’t really help to patch this over.

With drinks come some slightly underwhelming "Amuse", as they are called in the menu card. Camembert with orange confiture? OK, but the fried tofu with Japanese leek sauce is more pleasing.

To get a refill of my glasses I just walk into the galley and serve myself, nobody even takes note as they are all too busy. I am lucky to sit fairly much in front of the Business Class cabin, so I get my dinner about two hours after take-off, other colleagues in the back wait for three hours!

, © Andreas Spaeth

At least the meal arrives on a tray all at once, being delivered by hand again, not from a cart. That might be looking more exclusive, but takes too long even in smaller cabins and with an experienced crew.

I have chosen my menu before the flight online, which only gave me a vague selection between "Western" or "Japanese", I opted for the latter. The menu looks appetizing: Japanese morsels - Okinawan spinach with bean curd, sea bream with burdock root roll, prawn and celery on a skewer, scarlet runner beans in syrup – might be sounding slightly awkward for Western readers, but most of it tastes superb.

I would have loved to have more of the tiny roast beef rolls in the nice porcelain dish. The hot miso soup is very welcome. The main course (grilled butter fish with miso paste and steamed rice) unfortunately lacks all seasoning, but I won’t test now how long it would take if I’d ask for anything to spice it up.

Desert, a few slices of fruit, a cube of agar plant gelatine and a scoop of sweet bean paste, doesn’t really hit my nerve. From time to time I catch myself looking with slight envy towards my fellow Japanese travellers enjoying a Western menu with steak.

In general I feel the quality of the meals is of a slightly lesser standard than on other ANA long haul routes, probably because this is a holiday run and the airline doesn’t have to win any battles for business travellers here.

I now try to get some hours of sleep, the bed is not very wide, but I can still stretch out my 1.88-meter frame fairly well. The new air-filled rollout mattress is a very nice addition, put on top of the extended bed, the thin and nicely cooling blanket and the cuddly pillow further enhance comfort.

ANA All Nippon Airways
Airbus A380
Business Class
May 24, 2019
Tokyo-Narita to Honolulu
While most Japanese sleep until shortly before landing, I desire a small breakfast after I wake up, as many others do. But there isn’t any, it is just not provided for.

One can only select among some snacks that are available all along. The sandwich from the "Sandwich set" is not very convincing, pita bread, cold inside with sliced chicken and cheddar. This is not what I call yummy.

At least I don’t land in Honolulu with an empty stomach, after even slightly less than seven hours and on time. A ceremony with the fire brigade spraying salute welcomes us as the first scheduled A380 flight arrival.

There are long stretches to walk to immigration, which goes fairly smoothly, and baggage claim, where my fellow Business Class passengers with checked bags get them back almost on arrival at the belt.


The A380 is still a much-loved aircraft, and rightly so, no other jet lets you travel in a similarly quiet cabin, and Japan-Hawaii is a route perfectly suited to the A380.

But this and other early ANA A380 flights experienced very obvious flaws in service delivery, ANA needs to change its procedures and should return trolley service instead of serving everyone individually.

At the end of a night flight there should be an optional breakfast offering. It would be desirable if the airline throw in at least 30 minutes of free wifi in the premium classes.
© Andreas Spaeth | Image: Airbus, aero.de | 23/06/2019 09:15

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