2022 in Review: Looking Back at My Highlights of Last Year

As I’m finishing writing this article, my daughter just turned 19 days old. What a year it has been!

From visiting my family in Slovakia with my wife for a month at the beginning of the year all the way to my first child being born last week, it was a – in a good sense – busy year. Not only personally, but also aviation-wise. I managed to go spotting at least once a month and take some interesting flights both within Japan and internationally.

With the end of the year here, it’s time for another installment of my annual review. You can check my previous annual reviews here: 201620172018, 2019, 2020, and 2021. It’s hard to believe this is already the seventh one!

I mainly write these to have something to return to in the future and remember some of the aviation-related activities I did. That said, I hope you enjoy reading through it, seeing the photos, and checking out some of the articles I wrote earlier in the year that I link out to from here.

Before continuing with the review itself, I’d like to wish you all the best in 2023 and thank you for reading this blog. I’d also like to thank my family and friends for supporting me (not only) in this hobby and in growing KN Aviation.

JAL A350 at Haneda
Happy New Year!

Miles, Types, Airlines

As usual, I will start by looking back at the flights I took over the course of the year. In total, I took 31 flights in 2022 – four flights more than I did in 2021. Of the 31 flights, eight were international and the rest were domestic flights around Japan. It’s also worth noting that a third of those was taken over the course of just two days in November when I did an ANA mileage run – more about that later, though.

In terms of distance covered, the flights added up to a total of just under 44,000 miles. That’s a couple of thousand miles more than I flew in 2021.

Unsurprisingly given that I did a mileage run with the airline, ANA was – with 16 flights (including those on its subsidiary ANA Wings) – the airline that I flew on the most. It was followed by JAL (five flights), and Finnair and Qatar Airways (two flights each).

The aircraft type that I logged the most was, with seven flights, Boeing 737-800. Tied in second place, each with four flights, were Airbus A350-900, Boeing 777-200ER, and Boeing 777-300ER.

Unlike last year, I was also able to add two new aircraft types to my log – Embraer E190-E2 and Airbus A321LR. I also logged one new airline – Ibex.

International flights I took in 2022
International flights I took in 2022. (Map generated using Great Circle Mapper)
Domestic Flights 2022
Domestic flights I took in 2022. (Map generated using Great Circle Mapper)

Flying on Japanese Domestic Routes I Haven’t Flow on Before

With Japan having almost 100 airports with airline service, there are still many that I haven’t flown into or out of. Similarly, there are many routes – especially between smaller airports – that I haven’t flown before.

After all, being based in Tokyo and mostly traveling to larger cities, the repertoire of domestic flights I take is mainly limited to flights between Tokyo and Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and perhaps, Naha in Okinawa. That said, in 2022, I had a chance to fly on some domestic routes that were new to me, and I also flew in an out of one new airport.

First, at the end of March, I flew from Tokyo Haneda to Sendai. While I traveled on the route by train countless times before, it was my first time flying between the two cities.

In fact, while there used to be regular flights on the route in the past, those were discontinued as the distance is close enough for the train to be, all things considered, faster. The route operated for a few weeks in the spring, though, as the bullet train was out of service due to damage caused by an earthquake.

ANA Premium Class to Sendai
Premium Class breakfast on the very short flight from Tokyo to Sendai.

The ANA mileage run which I will write about in more detail in a separate series of articles allowed me to fly on some routes for the first time too. Namely, they were:

  • Kagoshima – Osaka Itami
  • Osaka Itami – Naha
  • Fukuoka – Sapporo New Chitose
  • Sapporo New Chitose – Memanbetsu and back (my first flight into and out of Memanbetsu)
  • Sapporo New Chitose – Osaka Kansai

Flying on these routes made me want to start working toward flying into/out of all of Japan’s airports with airline service.

ANA Top Gun Maverick
Enjoying Top Gun: Maverick onboard one of the mileage run’s flights.
Kagoshima Airport Foot Bath
“Ashiyu” foot hot spring at Kagoshima airport.

Continuing to Hunt (and Run Into) Special Liveries

Last year, I flew on several aircraft in special liveries including the farewell flight of Air Do’s Bear Do Hokkaido Jet and the inaugural flight of Air Do’s Rokon (Vulpix) Pokemon Jet. This year was almost equally as eventful.

In March, I flew on the last flight of ANA’s BB-8 Star Wars Jet. With the aircraft encountering some technical issues at the beginning of the day, at one point, I wasn’t even sure if I would be flying on BB-8 Jet’s last flight. Luckily, though, the issue was fixed, and with a delay, the aircraft took us from Sapporo to Tokyo.

Not only was the flight itself very enjoyable, but the ability to take photos of one of ANA’s other Star Wars Jet – the R2D2 one – after landing was great as well. I wrote in detail about the experience here. This was my second flight on BB-8 Jet – the first one was its inaugural.

ANA BB-8 Jet
ANA BB-8 Jet arriving at Sapporo New Chitose airport one last time.
ANA BB-8 Jet Last Flight
Onboard BB-8 Jet’s last flight.
ANA R2D2 Jet
ANA R2D2 Jet photographed after getting off the last BB-8 Jet flight.

A couple of months later, I joined another special livery inaugural flight – this time that of Skymark Airlines’ second Pikachu Jet.

While the flight from Tokyo to Okinawa was relatively uneventful compared to some other similar flights, I was still very happy to have taken it. Especially so considering that I missed the airline’s first Pokemon Jet’s inaugural.

Skymark Airlines Pokemon Jet
Onboard service during Skymark Pikachu Jet BC2’s inaugural.
Skymark Airlines Pokemon Jet
Pikachus took the flight too.

Lastly, in October, I took the inaugural flight of ANA’s third Demon Slayer Jet.

With ANA parking its three Demon Slayer Jets side-by-side in the morning and handing out commemorative notepads before boarding, the flight was well worth taking.

I wrote about it – as well as about the Demon Slayer Jets in general – here.

ANA Demon Slayer Jets
Three Demon Slayer Jets lined up side-by-side prior to the third one’s inaugural.
ANA Demon Slayer Jet Three Headrest Cover
ANA Demon Slayer Jet headrest cover.

In addition to the three planned flights on special livery aircraft, I was also lucky to fly on three more unexpectedly:

  • Ibex Airlines CRJ-700 in Rakuten Eagles livery promoting one of Japan’s professional baseball teams on a flight from Sendai to Sapporo
  • ANA 737-800 in Star Alliance livery on a flight from Osaka Kansai to Okinawa which was part of my mileage run
  • ANA 777-200ER in Star Wars C3PO livery on the last flight of my mileage run, from Okinawa to Tokyo Haneda
Ibex CRJ-700 Rakuten Eagles
Boarding Ibex CRJ-700 in Rakuten Eagles livery.
ANA C3PO Jet in Okinawa
Boarding ANA C3PO Jet in Okinawa.

Squeezing in Some Flight Reviews

While domestic flights dominated my flight log for the year once again, I did manage to do a couple of international trips too. I am especially happy I got to try a couple of products that were on my wish list for quite some time.

Early in the year, my wife and I took a one-month trip to Slovakia to stay with my family. On the way there, we flew with Qatar Airways and on the way back, we flew with Finnair. While I had flown on both of the airlines on the same routes before, on our flight from Doha to Vienna, we were able to upgrade to business class.

The upgrade fee – at about 460 USD per person – wasn’t the cheapest but since the flight was operated by a 787-9, it allowed me to try the business class seats which Qatar Airways only has on this type.

Qatar Airways 787-9 Business Class
Qatar Airways 787-9 business class.

Later in the year, I did a mini around-the-world (or rather around-the-Northern-Hemisphere) trip flying from Tokyo Haneda to New York JFK to Vienna and then from Prague to Tokyo Narita via Zurich. That was a considerably toned-down version of the trip that I originally booked but had to cancel because of getting COVID-19.

The original trip would have allowed me to review – among other products – Ethiopian Airlines 787 and A350 business class, Turkish Airlines A350 and 787 economy class, Finnair A330 business class (new seats), JetBlue A321 economy class, and JAL 777 first class. That’s in addition to multiple lounge and hotel reviews that I was looking forward to doing.

The trip I actually did still allowed me to try out two products from my wishlist:

JAL First Class Lunch
JAL first class – about as good as it gets when it comes to places to have lunch.
Austrian Airlines 767 Business Class
Austrian 767-300ER business class seat.

In addition to the above, I also flew on an ANA A380 joyride. With plenty of photo time prior to boarding and an onboard raffle, the flight was a very enjoyable experience. Still, I hope to also fly the aircraft – perhaps in business or first class using miles – on the sole scheduled route it operates, between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu.

ANA A380-800 at Narita
Boarding ANA’s A380 for the first time.

The last flight worth highlighting here is a domestic flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo Narita onboard Jetstar Japan’s new A321LR. Originally, I was meant to fly on its inaugural but I had to reschedule the flight due to other commitments. Doing so, however, allowed me to try some of Jetstar Japan’s buy on board menu resulting in a more thorough review.

Jetstar Japan A321LR Seat
Smartphone/tablet holder on Jetstar’s A321LR.

Plane Spotting Around Tokyo

After over 15 years of plane spotting, I finally managed to squeeze in at least one spotting session each month of the year. While I did take some plane spotting trips, most of the photography was done in and around Tokyo. I visited Haneda about 20 times throughout the year and Narita a couple of times.

I also went to Yokota Air Base for their Friendship Festival. The airshow was held for the first time in three years.

While I am not really into military aviation, for the first (and possibly the last) time in history, Air Force One landed at Yokota during the Friendship Festival. And by Air Force One, I mean Air Force One – with the President of the United States on board.

What an unforgettable sight!

Air Force One Landing at Yokota
Air Force One landing during the Yokota Air Base Friendship Festival.

Haneda Airport

As for Haneda, I started the year with an early morning spotting session after some snowfall. While it’s nothing unordinary to take photos with snow in, let’s say, Sapporo, it’s a relatively rare thing in Tokyo.

While the entire morning was a highlight, if I had to pick one aircraft, it would definitely be JAL’s Dream Express Fantasia 80 (Disney) Jet. The aircraft was repainted back into normal JAL livery later in the year so the photo of the aircraft taxiing at snow-covered Haneda is a prized possession in my collection.

JAL Dream Express Fantasia 80
JAL Dream Express Fantasia 80 at Haneda airport.
Tokyo Haneda De-Icing
It’s not often that you see de-icing trucks in action at Haneda airport.

In September, former Prime Minister Abe’s funeral took place. With many government officials and other VIPs coming to Tokyo to pay their tributes, quite a few governmental aircraft could be seen at Haneda. The one that stood out the most out of all – at least for me – was Qatar’s Boeing 747-8.

On a separate occasion, in November, I had a chance to take a photo – albeit only a single night shot of the aircraft at its parking stand – of Saudi Arabia’s A340-200. Considering that this variant of the A340 is nearly extinct now, the aircraft is definitely one of my highlights of 2022.

Qatar 747-8
Qatari government’s Boeing 747-8.
Saudi A340-200 at Haneda
Saudi A340-200.

More generally throughout the year, it was nice seeing Haneda’s international terminal getting busier and busier thanks to Japan’s easing COVID-19-related restrictions. With airlines like Eva Air, Korean Air, Vietnam Airlines, Qantas, Hawaiian Air, and AirAsia X returning and ITA Airways launching their flights to Tokyo, Haneda finally started looking like an international airport again.

It was particularly nice to be able to get some photos of China Airlines A321neo in Pikachu livery. It was also bittersweet to see Lufthansa upgrade its flight from the A340-300 to the 747-8 – while there’s nothing like a passenger 747, the 747-8 will outlive the A340-300…

Tokyo Haneda International Flights
The international side of Haneda airport got more colorful in 2022.
Lufthansa 747-8 Haneda Airport
Lufthansa 747-8 arriving at Haneda from Frankfurt.
China Airlines A321neo Pikachu Livery
China Airlines A321neo – Pikachu Jet.
ITA Airways A350 at Haneda Airport
ITA Airways A350.

On the domestic side of the airport, it was great to see ANA’s Pratt & Whitney-powered 777s return into service. This also meant the return of the non-ER 777-300 and of the Star Wars C3Po Jet.

The P&W-powered 777s have been out of service for about a year and four months following United Airlines’ troubles with the same engine type.

ANA 777-200ERs at Haneda
A pair of ANA 777-200ERs.
ANA 777-300
ANA 777-300 departing Haneda.

Typical to Japan, there were also some new special liveries to chase – most notably Skymark’s second Pikachu Jet, ANA’s third Demon Slayer Jet, and JAL’s new Disney Jet.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to photographing the first two of those, I also had a chance to fly on their inaugural flights. The Disney Jet only entered into service in mid-December and so I will need to proactively take more photos of it next year.

Skymark Airlines Pikachu Jet BC2
Skymark Airlines Pikachu Jet BC2.
JAL Disney 100th
JAL’s latest Disney livery.

In addition to visiting the observation deck, I also took advantage of ANA and JAL’s free maintenance hangar tours a few times.

Narita Airport

With Narita airport being a bit less accessible and hard to spot at than Haneda, I only went four times – one of those was an hour spent at one of the airport’s observation decks after arriving from Fukuoka.

For a while, runway operations at Narita were modified to accommodate for a taxiway next to runway 16L/34R being closed for construction. This meant that when runways 34L and 34R were in use, all aircraft landed on runway 34L. To take advantage of being able to photograph all the arrivals, I went to the airport in January.

While it’s hard to choose one highlight of the day, it did end up being my last time seeing Peach’s A320 in Vanilla Air livery.

Peach A320 in Vanilla Air Livery
Peach A320 in Vanilla Air livery.
YTO Cargo Airlines 737-300
YTO Cargo Airlines 737-300.

The second visit was in April. While the main purpose of the visit was to get some photos of aircraft together with cherry blossoms, there were some nice visitors like Ethiopian Cargo 777-200F and National Airlines 747-400F as well.

ANA 787
ANA 787 landing at Narita during a “Sakura snowstorm.”
National Airlines 747-400 at Narita
National Airlines 747 in front of Narita’s sakuras.

The third “proper” visit was in October. I decided to go to the airport in spite of the weather forecast not being ideal to see Scoot’s Pikachu Jet. And, sure enough, it was cloudy when the aircraft arrived – it was cloudy the entire morning in fact.

However, for one moment, the sun came out which resulted in one of my favorite photos of the year – a sunlit ANA 787-9 taxiing after arrival with dark clouds in the background.

ANA 787-9 at Narita
ANA 787-9 in beautiful light.
Scoot 787-9 Pikachu Jet
Scoot’s Pikachu Jet.

Plane Spotting at Other Japanese Airports

In addition to plenty of plane spotting around Tokyo, I also took a couple of trips to other airports around Japan. While two of these trips was solely for the purpose of plane spotting, others were combined with taking some of the flights I talked about earlier.

The airport outside of Tokyo that I found myself taking photos at the most often was Fukuoka.

First, I went there for a day in February to take photos of the last flight of JAL’s Dream Express Fantasia 80 special livery. I returned there in October onboard ANA’s third Demon Slayer Jets inaugural flight after which I spent a day and a half taking photos at and around the airport. On both of these occasions, I stayed overnight which allowed me to take night photos from the airport’s excellent observation deck as well.

I visited Fukuoka once more during my mileage run in November. While the stay was very short – I spent less than an hour at the observation deck – it was very fruitful as it allowed me to get some nice photos of Skymark’s Pikachu Jet BC1 and see ANA’s 787 in a green livery for the first time.

JAL Dream Express Fantasia 80 Last Flight
Last revenue flight of JAL’s Dream Express Fantasia 80 livery.
ANA 787
ANA 787 landing at Fukuoka airport.
WOW Air VietJet Fukuoka
Thai VietJet’s A321 in WOW Air livery.
ANA 787-8 Eco Jet
ANA 787-8 in green livery.

The second spotting trip I did – in addition to the one to Fukuoka to see JAL’s Disney Jet – was to Osaka Itami airport in October.

The very spontaneous trip (I booked the tickets the day before) was well-worth taking. In addition to spending a good amount of time at a park that runs along the length of the airport’s main runway, I also tried a spot where banking shots can be taken for the first time.

The weather cooperated throughout the day and I was even lucky to catch one of ANA’s Demon Slayer 767s.

ANA 777-200ER Itami Airport
ANA 777-200ER banking after take-off from Itami.
ANA Demon Slayer Jet
One of ANA’s Demon Slayer Jets departing Itami.
JAL Universal Studios Japan Livery
J-Air’s E190 in Universal Studios Japan livery landing at Itami.
ANA 787-8 at Itami Airport
One of the last photos of the day – ANA 787-8 landing shortly before sunset.

Another airport where I spent a full day was Sendai in the country’s Tohoku region. While I had flown through the airport before, my visit in March (part of the trip to take BB-8 Jet’s last flight) was the first time that I had a chance to do some plane spotting there.

While the airport is relatively small, it was still busy enough to be interesting – especially so considering the nice mix of (domestic) traffic that it gets. Being able to also see ANA’s 767 there due to the extra flights from Tokyo was nice too.I certainly plan to revisit the airport sometime in the not-so-distant future.

On a separate note, it was impactful seeing a marker that indicated how high the water reached during the 2011 tsunami.

Ibex Airlines CRJ-700 at Sendai Airport
Ibex CRJ-700 landing.
ANA 737-800 at Sendai Airport
ANA 737-800 ready for take-off.
Peach A320 at Sendai Airport
Peach A320 lining up for take-off.
Sendai Airport Tsunami Marker
A line showing how high the tsunami reached at Sendai airport.

Lastly, I spent a couple of hours plane spotting at Sapporo New Chitose in March before taking the last BB-8 Jet flight and at Kagoshima airport on the island of Kyushu during my November mileage run.

While I didn’t get any “special” photos during those sessions, they were still a nice way to pass time while waiting for flights and resulted in at least some new snaps for my collection.

Air Do Pokemon Jet at Sapporo Airport
Air Do 767 in Rokon Jet livery landing at Sapporo New Chitose airport.
ANA 787 at Sapporo Airport
ANA 787 taxiing at Sapporo New Chitose airport.
Skymark Airlines at Kagoshima Airport
A pair of Skymark 737-800s at Kagoshima airport.
Solaseed Air 737-800 at Kagoshima Airport
Solaseed Air 737-800 at Kagoshima airport.

Thinking about it, I should also mention Osaka Kansai airport here. While I only took a single photo there during my mileage run, it is one of my favorites for the year.

The photo shows Japan TransOcean Air’s Jinbei Jet special livery before being pushed back for its flight to Naha. The thing that makes this a lucky capture is that my ANA flight to Naha was scheduled to depart at exactly the same time. However, a slight delay meant that I could take the photo below and still make it onboard my flight. How lucky!

Japan TransOcean Air 737-800 Jinbei
JTA’s Jinbei Jet ready to depart Kansai airport.

(Lack of) Plane Spotting Outside Japan

Similar to last year, unfortunately, in 2022, I didn’t do much plane spotting outside of Japan. That said, I manage to take at least some photos on my way to and during my stay in Europe.

In January, I took a couple of photos at Doha airport while waiting for a flight to Vienna. In addition to a line-up of Qatar Airways aircraft at the terminal, I also got the airline’s A350-900 in the OneWorld livery. Luckily, the aircraft was visible from our gate’s waiting area and pushed back just as boarding for our flight started.

Qatar Airways Aircraft at Doha Airport
Doha airport.
Qatar Airways A350 in oneworld livery
Qatar Airways A350 in oneworld livery.

Then, while on a walk around my hometown in Slovakia with my wife, I spotted the Slovak government’s Mil Mi-8 helicopter flying overhead. Luckily, I had my camera gear with me and so was able to get the photo below.

During my second Slovakia visit of the year, I paid a quick visit to my hometown’s airfield where some retired aircraft are on display. While not necessarily my cup of tea, there was also a nice-looking Slepcev Storch (I had to google the registration to find out the type) ultralight visiting from the Czech Republic.

Slovakia Government Mi-171
Slovak government’s Mil Mi-171 flying over Nitra.
Zlin Z-37 Cmelak
Zlin Z-37 on display.
Slepcev Storch
Slepcev Storch.

I was also able to get a couple of photos at New York JFK airport in August while waiting for my Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna.

Air France 777 at JFK
Air France 777-300ER at JFK.

Lastly, on the same trip, I spent a day in Prague before flying back to Japan. A good portion of the day was spent visiting an aviation museum at Kbely airport with my friend Philippe from The Full Gull. While the weather did not cooperate, it was still great to see what the museum has to offer.

I will definitely be back on a day with better weather!

Avia 14FG
Czechoslovakia’s Avia 14FG.

What Are the Plans for 2023?

With my daughter having been born in the middle of December, next year will be exciting! Spending time with my family will, of course, be the priority. That said, I still plan to go plane spotting in Tokyo at least once a month and hope to do some spotting trips – most likely day trips around Japan.

What I am excited the most about, though, is flying with my daughter for the first time! With both my wife and I being Disney fans, the current plan is to first go on a family trip somewhere within Japan on JAL’s Disney Jet. That will serve as practice for my daughter before we go to Slovakia for a month or so sometime in the fall and then again for Christmas.

I hope you had a great 2022 and wish you an even better 2023!

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