A casualty of the relatively new trans-Pacific service to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) was reduced service between Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and New York-Kennedy (JFK). Whereas there used to be two departures after 6pm daily from NRT to JFK prior to the liberalization of HND service, now there are none.
To have a full day of business in Tokyo, if returning to New York, you now need to fly via Los Angeles, or spend the night in Tokyo and take a 6-something AM flight the following day.
For this trip, though it is a little out of the way, I elected to take the Los Angeles routing, which got me home a little after midnight. Had I waited until the next morning’s non-stop departure, I would have gotten to JFK at around 6:30am.
Thankfully, Singapore Airlines (SQ) operates a daily service from NRT to Los Angeles (LAX) on their A380. I’d never been in SQ’s A380 before, though I doubted it would be much different than the A345 service on SQ21 (which it wasn’t), I thought I’d give it a try.
Flights between NRT and LAX allow you to “land before you arrive leave.” Whereas my departure was at 7:15pm on Friday, I landed at 1:30pm on the same day. My now former secretary was always baffled by this.
With all that background out of the way, let’s begin…
I had originally planned to have my driver drop me off at Tokyo Station and to simply take the Narita Express out to NRT, but I was so exhausted at the end of this trip (7 countries, 10 days), I had my driver drive me out to NRT. We were early enough that traffic was not bad.
We arrived at NRT’s Star Alliance terminal just as the check-in for the flight was opening. There was quite a wait for economy passengers, with the line snaking almost out of the terminal door. Thankfully, there were only a few people waiting in the Business Class / Star Gold queue (and none in the Suites queue). Check-in was quick and efficient, and the agent printed my onward boarding pass for my American flight (LAX-JFK) on SQ boarding pass stock. She reminded me that I needed to reclaim my bag in LAX, though it was tagged through to JFK.
Clearing security and immigration in Tokyo has always been a relatively easy process for me, and today was no exception.
No question that I am in the *A terminal!
There are a number of lounges to choose from at NRT; I went with ANA’s offering. The signage for their lounges was a little unclear to me, and I went up a level to the ANA Suites Lounge, instead of down a level to the ANA Business Lounge. I got the impression I wasn’t alone in my misreading of their signs, as the person in front of me was also re-directed, as was a person after me.
ANA’s Business Lounge is reasonably nice by Asian standards, and would be considered “incredible” by domestic US standards. There was a full noodle bar, with a number of made-to-order options, a sake bar, a rather small buffet, a smokers’ room, a relaxing area, cubicle workstations, plenty of TVs and a number of quiet areas.
Smoker's Lounge (thankfully unoccupied when I poked my head in...but plenty of lingering evidence!)
The color tones and materials used in this lounge were the same as what ANA uses in their HND lounge, and I suspect in all of their operated lounges. I find it very appealing.
I had about two hours to spend in the lounge, and cleaning staff were consistently patrolling the lounge, looking for things needing to be cleaned. (US carriers could take a lesson from this!)
I went down to the gate a little early to be amongst the first to board. Singapore uses four channels for boarding, and puts Star Gold members who are in Economy Class in their own channel. With the number of passengers in the Business cabin, it makes sense to break things up a bit. (Once, when I boarding an AF A380, there were easily 150 passengers queuing in the Business Class / Elite line – roughly the same as the total number of passengers on a 737 or A320!)
Passengers were greeted at the upper deck’s door by a small group of flight attendants, who directed you to your seat.
SQ’s business class is on the upper deck. Unlike Korean’s A380s, SQ has a small economy cabin in the back of the upper deck, too. I had pre-reserved seat 17K, which has an advantage of not having a seat in front of it – and providing a much wider foot-rest area. The drawback of this seat (like most without a seat in front of them) is that it is near the galley, but for me, the benefit outweighed the drawback. (Other seats on SQ’s A380 which have this wider foot area include 11ADFK, 17A and 18DF. For someone with longer legs, I highly recommend these seats.
Note the difference in non-bulkhead seats. (This picture is of SQ’s A345, but is representative of the difference on the A380.)
The meal service started with some Chicken Satay and a beer.
For an appetizer (or entrée to some of my friends), a small shrimp plate with some grilled vegetables was served.
Though not a traditional accompaniment to any aspect of my meal, I selected a pretzel roll from the bread basket, along with two light bread sticks.
Prior to the flight, I took advantage of SQ’s “Book-the-Cook” service (online via their website) and pre-reserved Chirashi Sushi for main course. I was pleased with the selection; the fish was both fresh and flavorful.
Dessert was uninspired (as it so often is on SQ).
After the meal, I set my bed out flat and slept most of the way across the Pacific.
I woke up naturally a little north of San Francisco, just in time for breakfast! I was quite pleased with what SQ offered.
The meal began with some fresh fruit, a croissant and yogurt. While the croissant wasn’t to the level of what is served on Air France, it was far superior to what Delta offers (which is most accurately thought of as greasy bread in the shape of a crescent).
I ordered the poached eggs. The eggs were served just perfect, still soft, but thickening. Too often (even on the ground at restaurants) poached eggs come out hard on the inside – or still pure liquid.
By the time I finished my meal, we were close to LAX, and we landed a short time later.
Landing was uneventful. I used Global Entry at LAX which avoided all the lines for both immigration – and more importantly, customs. As with most airports, at LAX, there is a separate queue to clear customs for GE passengers. It snakes straight up between two of the baggage belts, not to the left or right of the exit, where the general queue is. There had to be 100 people waiting in either of the regular queues; none in the GE queue.
Once I left LAX’s International Terminal, I turned right, and headed towards American’s T4 for the last leg home.
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With the benefit of hindsight, next time, I think I might just spend the night (certainly if I'm staying at the Tokyo Peninsula) and take AA's non-stop HND-JFK flight, which leaves at 6:50am. While certainly the AA experience will be a modest notch less than SQ's ;) , the LAX connection adds so much distance (and still has an AA connection) to arrive home only 6 or so hours earlier. I think for me (and I value getting home quickly from business trips quite highly), the Haneda flight might just be for me.