Even though I went to bed at 10pm, somehow dragging myself out of bed when the alarm rang at 7am felt like torture. I scurried to finishing uploading my photos, send a few texts, repack my suitcase and run out the door in time to catch the shuttle to the airport. Even though we were ¼ of a mile from the Beijing airport, with the traffic it took us 25 minutes before we pulled in the terminal. The ANA check-in was completely empty – was I too early or too late? Weird. Grabbing my boarding pass I was off to the Air China lounge.
The lounge was located on the far end of the airport on the 2nd floor. Having been there a year earlier I remembered it wasn’t the easiest to find and was able to leverage my memory to find the way. There was a kiosk by the door to request a wifi password and the place was fairly open with plenty of seating and multiple sections of food. In the front was the grab-and-go area with sandwiches, fruits, and drinks. Around the corner was the full breakfast buffet of scrambled eggs, sautéed vegetables, yogurt and granola, among other things. If you circled to the other side there was a full bar of beer, wine, and hard alcohol.
Not having much time, I devoured as much of the breakfast buffet as I could while trying to wrap up the photo uploads and texts back home. This would be the third 787 I’d flown, the prior one was in June from Tokyo to Bangkok on ANA and the one before was 4 years ago from Houston to Denver on United. The 787 is one of Boeings newest wide body aircraft made of a different material and the ability to more fuel efficiently go longer distances. The wings curve far back and the windows have buttons to dim (instead of shades). Although it was a pretty smooth flight, if we’d hit turbulence the plane appears as if the seating compartment is suspended to stabilize while the outer fuselage takes the brunt of the movement. It creaks and moves in the weirdest ways. Cool stuff.
The flight was fairly empty and my entire row, row 22, was completely empty from seats A to K besides me. Once we got in flight people from the back took advantage of the open seating and eventually filled in. I sprawled my legs over seats A, B, and C, pulled the blanket over, and leaned back for a nice slumber as we crossed over the sea between China and Korea, then passed over Korea, and over the sea between Korea and Japan, finally landing in Japan. Admittedly I did have images of the plane that fatefully passed over the Ukraine’s troubled areas and hoped with all my might we wouldn’t be a fateful plane that passed over Korea. Does North Korea even notify the airlines when they do their missile tests? Hmm…
I skipped the meal on the plane as I’d filled up too much in the lounge. When we arrived in Tokyo Narita, we went through security screening again, having to dump out my water. The ANA lounge was close by so I ducked in to ditch my bag so I could freely roam the airport, even though I was flying United, they’re friends and this was easier. Narita is filled with high end shops and tourist places to buy random knick knacks for friends and family back home. The hallways are filled with languages from all over the world and the stores accept Yen, Euro and Dollars which was quite handy as I was eager to get rid of my Euro. If only they took Mongolian currency!
The ANA lounge had a separate section for business class / GOLD members and their first class. The GOLD section was expansive with lots of seating and two areas with a huge selection of food and beverage – sushi, noodles, rice, chicken fingers, French fries, etc. There’s no way you could leave hungry from this place. After packing in as much as I possibly could, I made my way over to my gate. Just outside was the ANA R2D2 Star Wars plane, which I had flown just 6 months ago from Tokyo to New York. Funny to cross paths with it again.
When I got to the gate they had started boarding so as seating group #1 I scurried to the front and showed my boarding pass. The machine beeped, like it does when you have an exit row, though I knew I didn’t book an exit row (that would have been nice though). She said, ‘you have a seat change, please go to the front desk’, I glanced down just quick enough to see my new seat – ‘8K’. Sweet! I’ve flown long enough to know that a single digit seat on a wide body aircraft means business first. #ILoveUnited.
The 777 we were flying from Tokyo to Honolulu was a 3-cabin plane, which is rare these days. The first class pods were quite nice with a 1x2x1 configuration. The business first was arranged with a mix of forward and backward facing seats – United’s way to optimize the number of people they can give premium seating too (more seats = more chance for upgrades = happiness!). I haven’t seen the backward facing seats since my stent traveling between NY and London for work a few years back. As with then, this time I also got a backward facing seat.
When flying backward the takeoff pushes you gently forward, instead of backward. Being by the window it was amazing, during takeoff I got this incredible view of the world below us and all the city lights. The oddest part is during the flight, if it’s smooth then it’s hard to notice a difference, but when it gets bumpy you expect the bumps to hit you from the forward and rumble through your body, but it shakes you differently. If you’re sensitive to movement, which I am, then you notice a weird difference. Landing is also quite strange when they tilt back (for you, forward for them) and begin the decent as well as when the wheels touch (as you’re used to wheels behind touching before in front).
This flight was fairly easy, we left at 7pm Tokyo time though having chowed down an obscene amount of food in the lounge as I was packing it in for the flight, I had no room left for the dinner. United does what’s called ‘executive dining’ where you can request to have your meal at any time during the flight so I did that and instead watched a movie and then fell asleep as we flew over the deep blue ocean onward toward Hawaii…