TRIP REPORT: ANA First Class from Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles

What's it like to fly ANA First Class from Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles?

I'd call it amusing. As business class improves industrywide -- ANA's business product on the Boeing 777 features flat beds and direct-aisle access, just like first class - it becomes harder for carriers to sell first class. So to make first class passengers feel as if they're getting value above business class, airlines like ANA offer over-the-top service.

ANA's shtick is lovely. Does anyone need caviar service on a nine-hour flight? Or turn-down service? Or ridiculous pajamas? Of course not. But business class doesn't get that stuff, so it makes you feel you are getting some value up front. (This is part of the strategy behind Qantas' recent move to give some first class passengers virtual reality headsets.)

I flew ANA in late January on an award ticket using a strategy developed by Ben Schlappig, who runs the blog One Mile At a Time. I bought 75,000 frequent flier miles from South American carrier Avianca, which, like ANA is a Star Alliance member. Avianca, perhaps short on cash, periodically sells its miles for cheap rates, and they're redeemable on most Star Alliance airlines. The strategy is a bit convoluted, and the Avianca program is not as generous as it once was, so you'll want to read Ben's site for details. 

My first class journey wasn't as cheap as coach. But it was considerably cheaper than the least expensive business class ticket. 

Here are some of my impressions of the flight. 

First class passengers check in at Narita in a special room, just off the main ticketing lobby. The staff gives hot towels when you arrive. From here, you go to a special first-class security area with short lines. The special service, however, ends at passport control. You'll have to wait in a regular line to meet the inspector. 

First class passengers check in at Narita in a special room, just off the main ticketing lobby. The staff gives hot towels when you arrive. From here, you go to a special first-class security area with short lines. The special service, however, ends at passport control. You'll have to wait in a regular line to meet the inspector. 

Next is a visit to the first class lounge. As others have said, ANA's lounge in Narita is not particularly memorable. But there are some light snacks and free booze. 

Next is a visit to the first class lounge. As others have said, ANA's lounge in Narita is not particularly memorable. But there are some light snacks and free booze. 

There also a made-to-other noodle bar. Because, why not?

There also a made-to-other noodle bar. Because, why not?

ANA called for first class passengers to board only 30 minutes before departure, making us just about the last people to board. The cabin is immaculate and each "Square Suite" is full stocked with goodies.

ANA called for first class passengers to board only 30 minutes before departure, making us just about the last people to board. The cabin is immaculate and each "Square Suite" is full stocked with goodies.

Another shot of the first class interior upon boarding. 

Another shot of the first class interior upon boarding. 

I was amused by the shoe horn sitting near my television. Just in case, I suppose. 

I was amused by the shoe horn sitting near my television. Just in case, I suppose. 

The flight attendants almost immediately handed out pajamas and ushered me into the bathroom to change. This look is ridiculous, right? I left the jammies on the plane.

The flight attendants almost immediately handed out pajamas and ushered me into the bathroom to change. This look is ridiculous, right? I left the jammies on the plane.

In the U.S., we rarely see so many options on our toilets. And certainly not on an airplane. 

In the U.S., we rarely see so many options on our toilets. And certainly not on an airplane. 

In addition to the amenity kit, flight attendants come by with extras. They said the lavender blend is good for sleeping. 

In addition to the amenity kit, flight attendants come by with extras. They said the lavender blend is good for sleeping. 

Controls for the seats are self explanatory. The 'do not disturb' button is a nice touch. Unlike in business class, where everyone is usually awakened at the same time, it's possible to sleep late in first class. 

Controls for the seats are self explanatory. The 'do not disturb' button is a nice touch. Unlike in business class, where everyone is usually awakened at the same time, it's possible to sleep late in first class. 

You can't quite make it out here. But at Narita, the ground staff first bows to the departing plane and then waves to it. It's a nice local custom.

You can't quite make it out here. But at Narita, the ground staff first bows to the departing plane and then waves to it. It's a nice local custom.

I love a good fun safety video. 

I love a good fun safety video. 

Jumping ahead here to bedtime. In perhaps the best bit of theater on the flight, attendants come by to make your bed while you go into the bathroom to get ready to sleep.

Jumping ahead here to bedtime. In perhaps the best bit of theater on the flight, attendants come by to make your bed while you go into the bathroom to get ready to sleep.

And finally. Above, a photo gallery of my dinner on the flight. To advance to the next picture, just click on the photo. You'll be pleased to know I had the caviar course, even though I skipped the expensive champagne. Sometimes you just want a Sapporo. 

 

FINAL VERDICT: I know this could bother some regular first class fliers, but I'm not sure I get the point of first class. So many of the extras are ridiculous and unnecessary. It's the type of thing you probably want to do once, maybe with miles, just so you can say you've had the experience. On most carriers, business class gets the job nearly as well.