COVID Cost-Cutting? That's Overrated: ANA New First Class "THE Suite" on 777-300ER JFK - NRT NH9 During the Pandemic

November 21, 2020

 

Background: This trip was booked as the first segment of a trip that would take me back to China for document renewal. Starting March, China employed a very strict approach in regulating international flights - with one flight allowed per week per airline from any single country. Thus the international flight arrivals saw a sharp decrease of more than 80%, and demand shot up exponentially along with prices as the Chinese nationals frantically looked for ways to return. From April all the way through September, the prices for a one-way economy ticket went as high as 100,000 RMB (approx. 15,000 USD), but as the demand saturated, the prices went down in October. I managed to use miles for this first segment to Tokyo, and snag the connecting sector to Xiamen for a meager 500 dollars (while I concede that 500 is still a lot for a 3-hour flight under normal times, you should look at the prices for that same flight in May - jeez, I could probably buy a cash business class ticket to anywhere in the world with the money they are asking for).

 

Today, the journey started from Washington Union Station - due to the real risk of misconnection if the sole morning flight into JFK is delayed, I decided to stay on the safe side and opted for a Amtrak ticket for my positioning "flight" into NYC the night before. The train to NYC was scheduled to depart at 9:35 pm, and I paid 64 dollars for this ride - compared to the sub-150$ flight ticket running the same route.

 

Needless to say, in the middle of the pandemic at such late hours, Union Station was a deserted ghost town. Although this was not my first time at the station, this was the first time I came to marvel at the stunning architecture of this masterpiece. 

 

Uneventfully, after many subway rides along with twenty or so mask-changing, I found myself at JFK. Only one terminal was open for overnight layover - one practically without any chair or bench - and because I was not old enough to check into a hotel on my own, the floor became my dearest friend for the long and uncomfortable night... (oh how the tables turn haha)

When it finally got into the morning hours after precisely what felt like 2 days, I took the Air Train to Terminal 7, where ANA is located at JFK. Prior to the start of check in, ANA did their standard "group bow". After a long night, what an inspiring welcoming and introduction to Japanese hospitality...

 

Check in was inevitably complicated, mainly due to the variety of arrival procedure required by China. After filling out forms after forms and getting practically every barcode on earth, I was finally issued a boarding pass without issues, and the courteous, apologetic agent soon sent me on my way to security.

 

Due to the pandemic, the British Airways First Class Lounge that ANA usually sends their passengers to still remained off-limit. Fortunately, being the one of the only two flights departing the terminal during the hour (the other being a domestic flight operated by Alaska Airlines), the seating was wide-open and plenty.

 

Unfortunately, ANA happened to use the most avgeek-unfriendly gate that day which prevented any good-natured attempt of headshot of the stunning 777-300ER...

 

Airline: All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Aircraft: 777-300ER

Class: First Class "THE Suite"

Seat: 2A

Route: New York JFK - Tokyo Narita

Registration: JA794A

Date: October 12, 2020

Flight Time: 13 Hrs. 0 Min

Boarding was very organized thanks to the light load during the pandemic. The original class-of-service-based boarding sequence was altered during the pandemic, and we boarded instead by rows.

 

Upon boarding, I was greeted by name very warmly by Yura, one of the two sweet flight attendants working in first today. Stepping into the cabin, I couldn't help marvel at the spaciousness of the suite, and most notably, the size of the SCREEN (with the word SCREEN highlighted, underlined, and italicized - featuring a 43 inch with 4K display). Oh my, that might have certainly been bigger than the one we had at home. The resolution was absolutely top-notch, and I think I might have mumbled too much in awe that Aoyama (the other cabin crew) came by with a concerned look, and asked if there was anything wrong with the seat operations. Yes, it's just too good. 

 

THE Suite is only equipped on 6 aircrafts out of the dozens of 77Ws ANA owns (with the First Class product on the non-refurbished 77Ws being older-generation "First Square"). These six aircrafts only operate selectively between New York/London and Tokyo. The registrations of these new-product-equipped planes are JA793A, 794A. 795A, 796A, 797A, and 798A. Not all existing 77Ws would be refurbished unfortunately. On these new birds, the internationally-acclaimed business class product "THE Room" is also equipped. Later on this flight, I managed to get a brief tour of the groundbreaking J Class design - tune in for more details. 

Waiting at the seat were an array of amenities, including a kit by Globetrotter (which features the Ginza products). The seat itself was very wide (3 windows), with a calming dark color tone (unlike the ANA blue for the old seats) and a minimalistic design. The main differences between this generation and the older one apart from the tech-iness are the removal of window obstruction, tweaks for conversation-friendly partitions for middle seats, and the addition of a sliding door to the suite.

 

The load in First Class today was particularly light, with only one other passenger in 1K. This meant the cabin crew to passenger ratio is essentially 1:1 - combined with the classic ANA hospitality, I know the flight is destined for awesomeness.

Pretty sure I played around with the screen for the entire duration of taxi and takeoff...

 

Being COVID-era, most airlines made various cuts to inflight service, with some airlines being more drastic than the others. For instance, British Airways conveniently cut hot food on all flights in Economy (WT), Premium Economy (WT+), and Business (Club), and only serves boxed meals on international first class that regularly sells for more than 6000 dollars. However, ANA, on the other hand, preserves all the inflight service components, with the only change being the hot towel service (and even then Yura apologized to me multiple times that it was unavailable...).

 

As soon as I settled down, Yura brought me the ANA classic amenity box, from which I picked the ANA Original Aroma, lip balm, and the "leg refreshing sheet".

 

Soon, the pre-departure drink was served, and I opted for orange juice.

 

A pair of headphones, along with a free WIFI voucher were at the seat already. ANA offers free WIFI for the duration of the flight for first class passengers, which I found to be a great touch of convenience. 

 

Also at the seat were a pair of slippers, a set of pajamas, and a cardigan. 

 

The seat also features a hidden mirror.

 

Convenient seat control panel.

 

New generation entertainment system control, similar to the one found on Cathay's 350.

 

At this point, Yura asked if I wanted to change into pajamas, and I answered affirmatively. Yura went to open the door for me, pulled down the bench in the lavatory for me to stand on, and waited outside for my change of clothes. 

 

The bathroom featured The Ginza products, the luxury line under the Japanese cosmetics brand Shiseido, with its products also present in the amenity kit. 

 

Similar to Cathay's PYE pajamas, ANA's sleepsuit also adopted the free-to-switch-between-western-and-asian style. For size, I asked for one size up from the US size and it fitted reasonably well. It was quite comfortable, though not as comfy as Cathay's, which I remained the crowned winner for inflight sleepwear.

 

After all the pre-departure gala (trust me in framing it as a gala), we taxied out exactly on time, and roared into the rainy New York sky. It's so good to hear those GE90 after 10 months of uninvited silence.

 

Just to find that what awaits up there is a completely different scene...

As I previously mentioned, the only change to ANA's service procedure during COVID is the switch from Oshibori to packaged towels, which was served promptly on a tray. 

 

Soon after takeoff, Aoyama came quickly with a thick menu in hand. ANA always puts out menus online months in advance, so it thankfully saved me the (huge) struggle to choose on the spot. 

 

 

 

 

Lunch service started with an amuse-bouche, completed with a glass of... hmmm... let's say, sparkling orange juice :)))

The ingredients were fresh and it was plated beautifully. 

 

In First, the concept is dine-on-demand and choose-as-you-wish, so I chose a mix of Japanese and Western options. 

First up was the caviar service, which came with a mushroom mousse. True classic, although some traditional garnishes were missing (egg yolk, scallions, among some others)

 

Then the traditional kaiseiki journey began... starting with Zensai - a variety of appetizer bites made with the freshest ingredients of the season. (many times I had to look back at the menu to see what exactly I was eating and I gave up eventually)

 

Followed by a fresh soup with prawn ball.

 

Then sashimi of flounder and tuna. 

 

For the main course, I ordered the beef fillet, knowing the amazing cook on the steak ANA was capable of.

 

And it most definitely did not disappoint. Tender, juicy, sumptuous...

 

The meal was extremely well paced, with each course served at exact intervals. The service was very personal and proactive, with my glass almost never empty and Yura constantly checking on me (no less than 10 times) during the meal. At the end of serving each course, Yura always stood and smiled for a solid 3 seconds. I hope I did not disappoint her by finishing every bit of what's served :)

 

After a sleepless night spent at JFK with the dearest arrivals hall corner, the sight of a bed was ultimately comforting. Yura offered to make my bed at the adjacent suite 2D, which was empty. 

 

The bed was completed with two pillows, a duvet, a mattress, and a blanket. Although a little on the hard side, it was easily one of the best offerings in the sky. 

 

After 5 hours of napping, and within 30 seconds of me waking up, Aoyama came asking if I was feeling peckish. Emphatically no - after such a feast mere hours ago - though it's very hard to resist Aoyama's offer. So I went with an IPPUDO ramen and a beef bowl, with a cup of OJ.

 

ANA offers IPPUDO ramen on all flights departing North America in first and business class. It was rich and filling, although I heard it'd be better if had on the ground (duh right). 

 

The beef bowl was delicious as well. ANA perhaps has the best snack menu out of all the Asian carriers. 

 

I also asked to sample the Matcha service, which Aoyama brought along with a small dessert.

 

Live TV was available on the flight - so why don't we watch some *amazing* coverage of the *amazing* election...

 

A new feature on the new entertainment system included a 4K resolution motion background - and you can choose from ones taking you on a "train ride through Kyoto" and many more. A very interesting addition, and it definitely puts the 4K screen to the right use.

 

I napped for a further hour before I woke up again to find 3 hours left to the flight, at which point I asked for the pre-landing meal.

 

Again, started with a glass of orange juice.

 

This time, sicne I was still quite full, I selected items from the snack menu, including a bowl of corn soup and some udon. Both were delicious, and I particularly enjoyed the spices served with the udon.

 

A fresh fruit plate completed the meal - I love the new glasswares ANA is using. 

 

A bag of sweets and a cup of mint tea was brought proactively prior to final approach. Aoyama, Yura, and the chief purser came to thank me for flying ANA, to which I said the pleasure is all mine. Truly, it was such a seamless experience.

 

A few last shots of the cabin under the rays of the soft afternoon sun.

Sight of Japanese shoreline.

 

Arrival at Narita.

 

In short, the flight was as close to perfect as it can get. The seat fixes practically all the issues that exist on the old-generation First Square. The cabin is rooted from practicability and glistens with a sense of low-profile sophistication. Meanwhile, the soft product - from the extensive menu to the perfection in service - sets a near impossible bar to be surpassed in the industry. Forget about the bling of superficiality of the Emirates cabin - this is singularly the absolute best way to cross the pacific in first class, period. 

 

 

There is a shade of blue - called blue as ANA...

 

Overall- A++

Seat- 10/10

Exudes modernity and functionality.

IFE- 11/10

Nothing like it offered in the entire industry.

Food- 9.5/10

Good catering, excellent selection, very nice presentation - perhaps better if departing Tokyo?

Service- 100/10

The best. Personal, friendly, on par with the best set of crew on Singapore Airlines (although different approach)

Timeliness- 9/10

Why didn't we take more time in the air so the experience could last longer? So I guess I will take one point off.

 

 

 

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