ANA dedicated its three “Flying Honu” A380s to one purpose – flying between Tokyo and Honolulu. Unfortunately, the demand on the route dropped to near zero when Japan closed its borders at the beginning of the pandemic. As a result, the A380s were grounded.
Unlike other airlines which simply sent their A380s to storage, however, ANA kept them at Narita airport and found some creative alternative uses for them.
- Holding “Restaurant Flying Honu” events which allowed aviation enthusiasts to enjoy an onboard meal while sitting in the A380 on the ground
- Organizing A380 joyrides out of Tokyo Narita and some other domestic airports
- Offering packaged tours to Sapporo and Okinawa which included domestic flights on the A380
- Using the A380s as a wedding photo backdrop
Initially, the demand for the joyrides exceeded the supply and so passengers were selected through lotteries. After not being selected a couple of times, I was able to secure a seat twice in a row earlier this year. However, other commitments prevented me from joining either of those flights.
As such, I was really happy when a joyride that one could simply purchase a ticket for without having to be selected was announced for a date that worked for me. I booked the flight immediately – here’s what it was like.
An Organized and Smooth Check-in Process
With at least 250 passengers being required for the flight to go ahead, I was happy to see an email from ANA a bit less than two weeks before departure confirming that the flight would indeed be happening. In the same email, specific check-in time slots were provided for the different types of seats:
- 10:00 – 10:30 economy class window seats
- 10:35 – 11:00 economy class aisle seats and premium economy class seats
- 11:05 – 11:30 business class and first class seats
On the day of the flight, shortly before 10:00AM, people started gathering around ANA’s domestic check-in counters in Narita airport’s Terminal 1 South Wing. Those that had economy class window seat tickets were asked to line up while those with other types of seats were asked to wait elsewhere.
While waiting for check-in, many were taking photos of a screen that showed a couple of different graphics promoting the flight. The first group’s check-in started exactly on time.
With no bags to check in and all boarding passes printed and lined up on tables, the check-in process was very smooth. My group’s check-in started five minutes early, at 10:30AM, and in no time, I had a Flying Honu-themed boarding pass in my hands.
Additionally, I got a voucher with an onboard wi-fi access code and a document explaining COVID-19 safety precautions on one side and a raffle that would be taking place onboard on the other.
Getting Flying Honu Goods and Waiting for Boarding
After getting my boarding pass, I headed one floor up to the domestic departures security check. Before heading down a long aisle to the checkpoint, I spent some time looking at one of the flight information displays to soak in the fact that I would be flying on an A380 from Narita to Narita.
The aisle was lined with a few tables on one side. At those tables, separated by travel class, ANA staff was handing out gift bags full of Flying Honu-themed items. They were also handing out models and other items to those passengers who purchased them together with their tickets.
As for the gift bag contents, all passengers got a boarding certificate, a hand sanitizer gel bottle, a flight tag, and a reusable bag. There were additional items provided based on the class of travel too:
- Premium economy class: another bag
- Business class: Fred Segal amenity kit
- First class: leather tray, Globe Trotter amenity kit, face towel, charging cable
Additionally, children also received a small Flying Honu turtle-shaped backpack.
The security check itself was quick, and in no time, I found myself in the waiting area which consisted of eight bus gates and a couple of shops.
Initially, there was no indication as to which gate our flight would depart from. Just before 11:40AM, however, staff arrived at gates B and C, and soon after that, the screens started showing our flight’s information. At that point, many of the passengers stood up and started taking photos of/with the screens.
A few minutes after that, an announcement was made that boarding would start at noon.
It’s Kai! Boarding ANA’s Second A380 by Bus
Boarding started at noon as promised. First, passengers requiring assistance and those traveling with children were invited to board. Then, premium economy class passengers followed, and so I handed my boarding pass to the gate agent and got on the bus.
After a short ride, two of ANA’s A380 came into sight – the first one (nicknamed Lani, registration JA381A) and the second one (Kai, JA382A). At this point, it was still not clear which of the two we would be flying on. Eventually, however, we stopped in front of Kai.
ANA’s third A380 (Ka La, JA383A) was parked in the distance.
For a few minutes after getting off the bus, we could wander around a coned-off area to see the aircraft up close and take some photos. It was a great opportunity to take in the sheer size of the A380. It was also nice to be able to see some other aircraft taxiing by.
With the next bus approaching, however, we were soon asked to get onboard the aircraft.
While I boarded 747 flights by bus/stairs before, it was my first time to do so with the A380.
Four Classes Across Two Decks
Onboard, I was welcomed by one of the flight attendants and by the massive front staircase. Instead of going to the second deck where my seat was, however, I decided to walk through the entire main deck first.
Just like with ANA’s two other A380s, the aircraft’s main deck consisted of four economy class cabins with a total of 383 seats in a 3-4-3 layout. With ANA dedicating its A380s to its flights to Hawaii, some of the bulkheads were blue sky- and sea-themed.
The last six rows of economy class consisted of ANA COUCHii seats which could be converted into beds.
At the very back of the main deck were a galley and a smaller staircase which I used to get to the upper deck where my seat was located.
The upper deck had 8 first class seat in a 1-2-1 layout at the very front, followed by 56 business class seats in a 1-2-1 staggered layout in the middle, and 73 premium economy class seats in a 2-3-2 layout at the very back.
In total, across the two decks, the aircraft was equipped with 520 seats.
While I won’t go into the details of the premium economy class seat here (I’ll save that for a proper scheduled flight review at some point in the future), it’s worth noting that:
- The seat was very comfortable and offered plenty of space
- The screen was very large – in fact, being 15.6 inches, it is the largest premium economy class screen in the world according to ANA
Departing Narita Airport Bound for Narita Airport
Upon getting to my seat, 29G, I was surprised to find that in spite of it being just a 90-minute sightseeing flight, there was a blanket waiting on the seat. Headphones and slippers were waiting in the seat pocket too.
Other than that, there were a Hawaii-themed safety card and a waste bag in the seat pocket.
Not long after I settled in my seat, one of the flight attendants came through the cabin offering disinfecting wipes.
The aircraft doors were closed at 12:47PM at which point we were ready to go. We were pushed back at 12:52PM – eight minutes ahead of schedule – at which point a welcome announcement was made.
The flight attendant doing the announcement introduced the cockpit crew and mentioned that there were 20 cabin crew members onboard. She also told the passengers to “enjoy the Hawaiian mood with Kai.”
The safety video which ended with a scene in which the three turtles representing each of ANA’s A380s posed in front of ANA’s first A380 was played.
While taxiing to our departure runway, one of the pilots welcomed us onboard too. He mentioned that we would be flying on JA382A and that we were expecting a flight time of 1 hour and 40 minutes. He ended the announcement with a “Mahalo.”
We took off from runway 16R at 1:11PM. Even though I wasn’t in a window seat, I was able to watch the take-off on the IFE screen using one of the onboard cameras.
It’s worth noting that throughout the climb, the storage compartment next to the seat of the passenger sitting in my row’s right-hand side window seat kept opening. To prevent that later on during our descent, the passenger was handed a piece of tape by the cabin crew.
Is there anything that tape can’t fix?!
A Light Meal Based on ANA’s Tokyo – Hawaii Flight Meals
Less than ten minutes after take-off, one of the flight attendants made an announcement saying that the seatbelt signs would stay on for some more time but that it was OK at that point to use seat reclining. She also mentioned that once the seatbelt signs would be switched off, drinks and light meal service would be done followed by an in-flight raffle.
At 1:23PM, the seatbelt signs were switched off and the meal service started about 15 minutes later. In the meantime, I looked inside the giveaway bag and paid a quick visit to the lavatory.
I also tried connecting to the onboard wi-fi. That said, whether due to everyone having a free access code or for some other reason, I was unable to connect to the wi-fi at any point during the flight.
While waiting for my meal, another announcement was made from the cockpit too. One of the pilots mentioned that we would be passing over Yamagata soon. He also said that it was 33 degrees Celsius and sunny at Narita airport where we would be landing on time.
Given the theme of the flight, the pilot then went on to say that the local time in Honolulu was 6:40PM and that it was 27 degrees Celsius there.
I got my meal at 1:45PM, a bit more than 30 minutes after we took off.
The tray included a tandoori chicken sandwich, some cut fruits, and strawberry yogurt. Cold drinks offered on the flight included beer, mojito, apple juice, green tea, and water. Hot drinks included green tea and coffee. I went with apple juice.
While the meal was nothing to write home about, the sandwich tasted good and it was nice to eat onboard the A380 instead of on the ground.
In case you are wondering, the meal was meant to be similar to what passengers would get as a light meal on ANA’s Tokyo – Honolulu flights. In business class and first class, passengers were instead served ANA’s domestic first class (Premium Class) meal.
By the time I finished my meal, we were flying over Iwate and making a right turn to set our course back toward Narita. Around the same time, one of the flight attendants came to clear my tray and she also asked whether I wanted any hot drink.
I decided to get green tea which came in an ANA HAWAii cup.
A few minutes later, another flight attendant came to take the empty tea cup. She also offered me another drink which I politely declined.
Onboard Raffle with Flying Honu-Themed Prizes
Around 2:10PM, the onboard raffle in which passengers could win Flying Honu/Hawaii-themed prizes was held. The prizes were as follows:
- 1st “Lani” prize (3 people): 10,000 yen ANA travel voucher
- 2nd “Kai” prize (3 people): a set of ANA HAWAii items including a bag, bottle, baggage tag, etc.
- 3rd “La” prize (5 people): baggage tag
Every time the raffle host (who was located at the front of the main deck) announced a winner, people clapped. Unfortunately, I wasn’t among those whose seat number was picked. That said, congratulations to the passengers sitting in seats:
- 1st “Lani” prize: 17E (business), 52E (economy), 74J (economy)
- 2nd “Kai” prize: 7A (business), 24D (premium economy), 62F (economy)
- 3rd “La” prize: 1D (first), 9F (business), 12H (business), 21F (premium economy), 37K (economy)
While I am not sure what the load was like in economy class, it was interesting to see that 7 out of the 11 winners were in one of the premium classes on the upper deck.
Landing Back Where We Took Off From
By the time the raffle was done, we were a bit less than 40 minutes away from Narita.
At that time, one of the flight attendants made an announcement saying that we would be starting our descent in about 10 minutes. She also said that the cabin lights would be turning into rainbow colors since Hawaii is the Rainbow State. She talked about there being a “no rain no rainbow” saying too.
As soon as the cabin ceiling became colorful, people started taking out their phones and cameras.
Around 2:30PM, the crew went around the cabin handing out candies and chatting with the passengers, asking them how they enjoyed the flight.
Two minutes later, seatbelt signs were switched back on.
We landed on Narita’s runway 16R – the same one we took off from – at 2:45PM.
A short taxi followed, and we reached our remote parking spot at 2:56PM. This time, instead of parking to the left of JA381A, we parked on its right.
While at this point, the flight was over, the Flying Honu experience still continued.
Getting Off “Kai” and Photographing “Lani”
Deboarding was done by groups of seats to avoid congestion. Once my group of seats was called, I took my backpack and headed down the aisle through business and first class toward the front of the plane.
Along the way, there was a screen showing a “Welcome to Hawaii” graphic. Toys of the three turtles representing the three A380s were displayed in one of the galleys too.
Once at the very front of the upper deck, I walked down the large staircase onto the main deck.
The first thing I noticed after exiting the plane through its L1 door and heading down the stairs onto the apron was the captain waving to passengers through the cockpit window.
Then, I spent some time taking photos of the first ANA A380 – JA381A – as well as some other traffic taxiing by.
Unfortunately, way too soon, it was time to get on a bus to the terminal, bringing the enjoyable ANA A380 charter flight experience to an end.
Luckily, the demand for international travel in and out of Japan is starting to come back and so the A380 has been put back on the Honolulu route on some days. That said, chances are that ANA will still keep offering its unique A380 experiences for quite some time until the Narita – Honolulu demand is fully recovered.
I’m glad I took the joyride – it was great seeing people young and old, traveling on their own and with their families enjoying an afternoon filled with aviation. The flight was enjoyable and so was the time spent on the ground.
That said, I hope to fly on the aircraft again soon, this time reviewing it on a proper scheduled route.