While thinking of which flight to take to Sapporo in advance of taking the BB-8 ANA Jet’s last flight, Japan was hit by a large earthquake that put Japan’s Tohoku Shinkansen (the bullet train connecting Tokyo with the north of the country) out of service. To fill the gap, both ANA and JAL (and later Spring Airlines) introduced temporary flights between Tokyo and Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region.
Not having flown on the route before – and not having flown on Ibex which offers connections from Sendai to Sapporo either – I decided to book one of ANA’s Tokyo – Sendai flights. Originally, I booked a mid-morning flight on a 767, but later I decided to rebook to the first flight of the day.
Being curious about what flying in Premium Class, ANA’s domestic first class, would be like on the short, sub-200-mile flight would be like, I decided to upgrade my economy class for 5,000 yen (approx. 40 USD). Continue reading to find out.
Premium Class Check-in and Lounge
I arrived at the airport just after 5:30AM, a bit over one and a half hour before the flight. While Premium Class passengers get access to a dedicated check-in area, since the terminal was deserted, I grabbed a boarding pass at the first kiosk I saw.
Then I decided to go through the dedicated check-in area’s security check. With there only being one lane open and a passenger ahead of me, it might have been quicker to go through the regular security check. Nonetheless, I found myself airside in no time.
There are two ANA Lounges in the domestic part of Terminal 2 at Haneda that passengers traveling in Premium Class, as well as those traveling in ANA economy class with a Star Alliance Gold status, can use. Since my flight was departing from gate 506, a bus gate, I used the one on the north side of the terminal as it’s closer to the bus gates area.
You can read my review of the lounge here. In short, the lounge is nothing to write home about – while there is a good variety of seating and the drink selection is OK, there is no food other than packs of rice crackers.
Boarding ANA Flight 1501 to Sendai
After getting some work done, I left the lounge at 6:30AM and headed to gate 506 where boarding was scheduled to start fifteen minutes later.
First, passengers requiring assistance were called. Then, groups 1 and 2 – ANA and Star Alliance status holders and those traveling in Premium Class. With me being part of group 2, I scanned my boarding pass and got on board the bus that would take us to the aircraft.
At the gate, baggage covers were available. JAL offers these too and they are meant to be used by passengers that don’t want to put their carry-ons directly on the floor under the seat in front. It’s one of the small but nice touches that I think set ANA and JAL apart from other airlines.
A few minutes later, after an enjoyable ride around the airport, the bus stopped. Rather than stopping right in front of the aircraft we would be taking, though, it stopped in front of a building. It turned out that our flight was using one of the bus boarding stations – small buildings each with a single jetway – that were relatively recently reintroduced at Haneda.
The boarding stations make bus boarding comfortable on rainy days. However, they still come with the main disadvantage of bus boarding – making the priority groups get on the bus first but off the bus last. They also eliminate the main advantage of bus boarding (at least for aviation enthusiasts) – being able to see your plane up close before getting onboard.
ANA 737-800 Premium Class Cabin & Seat
ANA operates 737-800s with two different types of Premium Class seats. While I was hoping I’d get a chance to review the newer seat type, my flight from Tokyo to Sendai was, unfortunately, operated by an aircraft equipped with the older type. These seats are the same as the ones on the airline’s 767-300ERs.
There was a total of eight recliner seats in the Premium Class cabin split into two 2-2 rows. Between each seat in a pair was a fairly large partition which provided plenty of privacy, especially considering the length of flights that these aircraft operate.
I sat in seat 1K, a right-hand side bulkhead window seat.
As for the seat itself, there was a reading light near the top of the privacy partition.
On the console between seats which doubled as an armrest was a small drink table. Next to it was a cool mechanical indicator offering “do not disturb” and “wake me for meal” options. The fairly large and sturdy tray table could be found in the console too.
There were a USB charging port and a power outlet on the front side of the console too.
The other armrest was home to the (mechanical) seat controls and audio system control buttons.
On the bulkhead, there was a coathook.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that the overhead panels were equipped with individual air vents.
ANA Premium Class Pre-Flight Service and Departure
Going back to the flight, at the aircraft door, I was welcomed by one of the flight attendants.
The flight attendant was also handing out earphones. While I didn’t take a pair, I was surprised to find that there actually were better Panasonic headphones waiting in the seat pocket. There was also a pair of slippers – how nice of ANA to provide these even on short, sub-one-hour flights.
As soon as I sat down, another flight attendant – this time the one in charge of the Premium Class cabin – came to introduce herself and ask if I’d like her to store my jacket which I politely declined.
Just a minute later, she came back offering disinfecting wipes.
At 7:12AM, the cabin crew closed the aircraft’s doors. We were pushed back at 7:17AM – two minutes behind schedule – at which point the safety video was played too. Then, we taxied to runway 34R from which we took off at 7:30AM.
Looking out of the window, I couldn’t help but think about how retro the 737-800 window looked.
ANA Premium Class Breakfast
At 7:35AM, five minutes after take-off, an announcement that passengers could recline their seats and use their tray tables from that point on was made. The flight attendant also mentioned that we would be arriving in Sendai at 8:15AM and that passengers in economy class will be served drinks and those in Premium Class breakfast in the meantime.
In case you are wondering, regardless of flight length, ANA offers four types of meals in Premium Class depending on the flight’s departure time:
- Breakfast on flights departing no later than 10:29AM
- Lunch on flights departing between 10:30AM and 1:29PM
- “Light meal” on flights departing between 1:30PM and 4:59PM
- Dinner on flights departing at 5:00PM or later
Another two minutes later, the seatbelt signs were switched off and another five minutes later, the meal was served. Just as I received my meal tray, one of the pilots made an announcement. With the flight being less than 40 minutes long, it was both a welcome announcement, an announcement to say that we were cruising at 19,000 feet, and an announcement mentioning that we would be starting our descent in about ten minutes.
The meal was served all at once on a tray and consisted of a box with some bites to eat and a bowl of chicken, fried onion, and edamame soup. Inside the box were a small pumpkin and bacon sandwich, hummus, pasta salad with egg and ham, and a small piece of French toast. To drink, I decided to have some orange juice which was served in a plastic cup.
There were also a metal spoon, a wooden fork and knife set, and a packaged wet tissue on the tray. Inside the box was a small menu card.
Less than fifteen minutes after serving the small but tasty meal, the flight attendant came to take my tray and ask if I wanted anything else to drink. By the time she brought me the green tea I ordered a minute later, the seatbelt signs were already back on.
ANA 737-800 In-Flight Entertainment System and Wi-Fi
Considering that the flight was extremely short, there was no real need for in-flight entertainment.
However, since the 737-800 operates also much longer domestic flights, it’s worth briefly mentioning that while the overhead screens were stowed after the safety video was screened and remained so for the rest of the flight, there was some in-flight entertainment that could be streamed over wi-fi. There were some video and audio programs including live TV. An in-flight map was available too.
Additionally, as is the standard with both ANA and JAL on their domestic flights, the aircraft was equipped with free wi-fi which worked well.
Arrival at Sendai Airport
Shortly before 8AM, the flight attendant brought back the jacket that one of the passengers handed her before take-off.
With Sendai airport’s runway 27 being in use, soon after that we flew over the Pacific coast south of Sendai. Then, we made a U-turn and landed at 8:07AM – just 37 minutes after taking off.
At 8:12AM – three minutes ahead of schedule – we reached our arrival gate, gate 4, next to a JAL 737-800. Sitting at the front, I was among the first passengers to get off the plane.
ANA 737-800 Premium Class Summary
With slippers and a (small but) tasty meal, ANA’s Premium Class was about as good as it can get on a 37-minute flight. While getting onboard early didn’t work in this specific case, being off the plane among the first was something worth paying extra for too.
The only thing that I wish ANA did differently with its Premium Class is lounge access. It would be great if the airline either allowed its Premium Class passengers to use the ANA Suite Lounge or if it added some other things to eat to the ANA Lounge than just packs of rice crackers.
As for whether or not it is worth upgrading on an extremely short flight like this, in most cases, the answer is likely no. In my case, though, I wanted to review 737-800 Premium Class anyways so it was worth it.