Aviation enthusiasts in Japan and around the world got great news in mid-2015 when ANA announced a partnership with The Walt Disney Company to launch the ANA Star Wars Project which would include painting aircraft in special liveries. Eventually, four aircraft – Star Wars ANA Jet, R2D2 ANA Jet, BB-8 ANA Jet, and C3PO ANA Jet – entered into service as part of the project.
While originally the contract was signed for five years, some of the Star Wars Jets are still around today. However, one of them – the BB-8 ANA Jet – operated its last revenue flight earlier than expected, on March 31, 2022. That’s because the 777-300ER that at this point still wears the livery is being phased out by ANA as part of its COVID-19-related fleet restructuring.
To find out what the aircraft’s last (slightly dramatic) day in revenue service and its very last passenger flight were like, continue reading.
A Domestic Farewell
Throughout its active service, the BB-8 ANA Jet was operating on international flights connecting Tokyo with, mainly, destinations in the United States and Europe.
That said, to give Japanese aviation enthusiasts a chance to fly on the aircraft, its very first revenue service flown on March 28, 2016, was a domestic flight from Osaka where the aircraft was repainted to Tokyo Haneda. Fast forward six years to March 31, 2022, and ANA scheduled extra domestic flights operated by the BB-8 Jet once again, this time to celebrate its last day in service:
- NH1423 / 09:10AM – 12:00PM / Tokyo Haneda – Naha
- NH1426 / 12:50PM – 3:10PM / Naha – Tokyo Haneda
- NH1413 / 4:40PM – 6:10PM / Tokyo Haneda – Sapporo
- NH1414 / 7:15PM – 8:50PM / Sapporo – Tokyo Haneda (BB-8 Jet’s final revenue flight)
Starting the Day Off on the Wrong Foot: A Problem with the BB-8 Jet
While on the morning of the last flight I was making my way from Sendai where I stayed the night before to Sapporo to catch the last flight, a bit of a drama was unfolding at Haneda airport. During flight NH1423’s pre-flight check, an issue with the BB-8 Jet’s landing gear door system was found. With the issue requiring a considerable amount of time to be fixed, ANA was forced to cancel the first pair of the day’s BB-8 Jet flights.
Considering that virtually all of the passengers booked the flight just to fly on the BB-8 Jet, it was a disappointing development for everyone involved. Reportedly, some of the passengers demanded to see the manager (as if he or she could grab a wrench and fix the problem in a second…). Others decided to cancel their flight. The remaining passengers simply boarded a substitute aircraft (a Boeing 767-300ER registered JA615A) and headed to Naha with a two-hour delay.
Those that ended up taking the flight could enjoy something unique in a way – cabin crew wearing BB-8 aprons and serving drinks in BB-8 cups on a normal ANA livery 767. They also received BB-8 themed gifts (more about those later).
— AJ·シマムラ (@FeelNewHawaii) March 31, 2022
As for myself, I kept checking NH1413 and NH1414 flight statuses throughout the day. With some people tweeting that an announcement was made at Haneda airport saying all the BB-8 Jet flights would be canceled and ANA adding a note to the flight status saying that it “might not be operated by the BB-8 ANA Jet,” I didn’t have high hopes.
Luckily, the tweets turned out to be wrong and ANA’s maintenance team pulled off an incredible feat as around 2PM, the note was changed to “the flight will be operated by the BB-8 Jet.”
Waiting for the BB-8 Jet’s Delayed Arrival in Sapporo
Shortly before flight NH1413’s scheduled departure time, a delay was announced. Fortunately, this time it was not due to technical issues but because of waiting for “connecting passengers.” In other words, waiting for those that were originally scheduled to fly on all four of the BB-8 Jet’s domestic farewell flights (now that’s some dedication!) but were at that point instead flying back to Tokyo on a delayed 767-300ER.
The new departure time was set to 5:30PM.
— うまやどのおいる (@umayadonooil) March 31, 2022
Around the same time, people were gathering in Sapporo New Chitose airport’s food court which offers great views of gate 10 where the BB-8 Jet was scheduled to arrive.
Checking Twitter, I saw no signs of boarding taking place even a few minutes before the Tokyo – Sapporo flight’s revised departure time. As such, it became apparent that the flight would be further delayed. In the end, passengers started getting onboard just past 5:30PM and the aircraft took off from Haneda at 6:17PM.
At long last, the BB-8 Jet landed on New Chitose airport’s runway 01R around 6:25PM. From there, it taxied to gate 10 where it came to a full stop about five minutes later.
After taking some photos, I went airside to wait for the final flight’s departure.
Flying Onboard the Final BB-8 Jet Revenue Flight
Airside, I spent some time in the ANA Suite Lounge before heading to gate 10. While many passengers were gathered there already, it took quite a while until the flight started boarding. In fact, rather than simply rescheduling the flight to a reasonable departure time, ANA moved the departure time little by little which I found to be a bit annoying:
- At 5:27PM, it moved it from the scheduled departure time of 7:15PM to 7:30PM even though considering the late departure of the Tokyo – Sapporo flight, the new departure time was completely unrealistic
- At 6:28PM, it moved it to 8:05PM
- At 7:48PM, it moved it to 8:10PM
- At 8:03PM, it moved it to 8:25PM
Boarding the BB-8 Jet and Departing Sapporo
At 8:12PM, an announcement was made saying that boarding would be starting soon and that:
Today’s flight is our way to say thank you and to say goodbye to our BB-8 ANA Jet.
Ultimately, boarding started at 8:22PM, three minutes before the most recently announced departure time. Just a couple of minutes later, I was welcomed on board by the flight attendants and headed down the first aisle to my aisle seat, 31D.
Considering that the BB-8 Jet was in a four-class international configuration, passengers traveling in Premium Class could enjoy international first class seats. Some of those traveling in economy class could enjoy business class and premium economy seats. Unfortunately, by the time I booked my flight, those – as well as economy class window seats – were all taken.
(I won’t go into detail about the aircraft’s configuration and seats here. If you are interested, you can instead read my report about the BB-8 Jet’s inaugural flight and ANA 777-300ER “old” business class review.)
As I walked to my seat, I noticed a small display of BB-8 Jet-related items and paper cranes in a galley that I passed through. The seats were equipped with BB-8-themed headrest covers.
Boarding was completed relatively quickly, and at 8:40PM, the aircraft’s doors were closed. Pushback started at 8:45PM, 90 minutes after the scheduled departure time.
Around the same time, one of the flight attendants made an announcement thanking everyone for taking the flight and apologizing for the delay. She also mentioned, among other things, that it was the BB-8 Jet’s last flight and that the aircraft was normally used on international flights but was put on domestic flights for this special occasion.
I should also note that the announcement (and all subsequent ones) started with a brief BB-8 sound effect.
A short taxi later, we took off from runway 01L at 8:58PM.
Cruising Toward Tokyo Onboard the BB-8 Jet
Seatbelt signs were switched off at 9:05PM at which point the flight attendants put on BB-8-themed aprons reserved for use on the BB-8 Jet (other than that morning’s roundtrip to Okinawa) and started a drink service. Drinks were served in BB-8-themed cups too. At the same time, some of the passengers got up to take some photos of the cabin and enjoy their time on board in general.
Later on, the cabin crew put up a little display in the galley again. This time around, there was a headrest cover in addition to some of the items that were also displayed there before departure. At one point, one of the passengers took out a 1:200 scale model of the BB-8 Jet he brought with him to take some photos of it in the galley.
Once the drink service was finished, the cabin crew went around the cabin handing out gifts. Those included a BB-8 Jet plastic card flight certificate, a BB-8 Jet-themed pen, and a postcard featuring the BB-8 Jet together with the R2D2 Jet and C3PO Jet.
Those interested could also get some of the unused BB-8 Jet cups.
About 40 minutes after take-off, one of the pilots made an announcement thanking everyone for taking the flight and giving us some information about the flight including that:
- We took off from 01L via TOBBY EIGHT departure
- The expected flight time was 1 hour 23 minutes
- Our cruise altitude was 38,000 feet
- We would do an ILS landing on runway 34R at Haneda
- There would be some light turbulence during our descent
- Our estimated time of arrival at Haneda was around 10:25PM – 10:30PM
He also mentioned that the last BB-8 flight was the airframe’s (JA789A) 5,180th landing.
After the announcement, some of the passengers including myself enjoyed taking some more photos while others opted to relax in their seats. One of the flight attendants also passed through the cabin with a large plush Yoda.
Arriving at Tokyo Haneda Airport
The seatbelt signs were switched back on a minute before 10PM at which point I headed back to my seat. From there on, a fairly bumpy descent followed. We landed on Haneda airport’s runway 34R at 10:21PM and arrived at our parking spot five minutes later, at 10:26PM.
Like with some other special flights (e.g. the Bear Do Hokkaido Jet’s last flight), we parked at a remote spot rather than at one of the gates with a jetway. In fact, we parked at spot V2 which is typically reserved for VIP flights. We parked between the two other Star Wars Jets – on our left was the R2D2 Jet and on our right the C3PO Jet.
While waiting to disembark, one of the flight attendants passed through the cabin with Yoda once again. An announcement that passengers were welcome to take the BB-8-themed headrest covers home with them was made too – now that’s something you certainly won’t hear on a regular flight!
With disembarking being done by rows and me sitting toward the back of the aircraft, it took a while until it was my turn to get off. While some people decided to stay on board for some more time to enjoy the cabin, I decided to get off as soon as my row was called so that I could spend some time taking photos of the aircraft’s exterior.
In one of the galleys, Yoda was sending passengers off.
A Rainy Star Wars Jet Photo Session
At the time of our arrival, it was raining quite heavily in Tokyo.
That didn’t prevent a group of ANA employees from welcoming our flight with a “Thank you BB-8 ANA Jet” banner.
It also didn’t prevent me and dozens of other passengers to spend quite some time outside, walking around the BB-8 Jet and taking photos of the BB-8 Jet.
While it wasn’t possible to go to the right side of the aircraft and thus take a picture of it together with the R2D2 Jet, it was possible to take photos that included both the BB-8 Jet and C3PO Jet in one shot. Of course, most of the enthusiasts also took the opportunity to take some photos of the aircraft together with the V2 spot apron marking.
Lastly, everyone was happy that it was also possible to get unobstructed photos of the R2D2 Jet which was parked to the BB-8 Jet’s left.
After spending about 20 or 25 minutes on the apron in fairly heavy rain, I decided to call it a day and board the bus that was waiting next to the aircraft. A few minutes later, just past 11PM, I got off the bus at the terminal and headed home knowing that, unfortunately, the skies of Japan would be a bit less colorful starting the following day.
Star Wars ANA Jets: Two Gone, Two Remaining
As mentioned earlier, ANA painted a total of four aircraft in Star Wars liveries. Of those, two are not around anymore.
The first Star Wars Jet to go was the Star Wars ANA Jet, a 767-300ER (JA604A) which featured R2D2 on one side and BB-8 on the other. The aircraft operated its first flight in the livery on November 22, 2015, and was used on domestic flights until March 2019 when it was repainted back into ANA’s regular livery. The second one was, of course, the BB-8 Jet.
The two Star Wars Jets that remain in ANA’s fleet are the R2D2 ANA Jet (Boeing 787-9, JA873A) and C3PO ANA Jet (Boeing 777-200ER, JA743A).
While the former was the first aircraft to be painted in a Star Wars livery, the latter was the last. The R2D2 Jet entered into service on October 18, 2015, and has been used on international flights since then. The C3PO Jet made its first commercial flight on March 21, 2017, and is used exclusively on domestic flights.
Both of the aircraft are at this point expected to remain in service in their current liveries until October 29, 2022. You can check the latest information on the ANA Star Wars project website.
Six years after flying on the BB-8 Jet for the first time on its inaugural flight, I found myself onboard the aircraft again. This time, it was its last flight. Even though I never had a chance to fly on the BB-8 Jet on one of its regular international flights, I was always excited to see the aircraft when plane spotting at Haneda and Narita airports.
While it is sad to see the BB-8 Jet being retired – especially with the reason being COVID-19-related fleet reduction – it was also inspiring to see how popular the aircraft was. Not only among aviation and Star Wars enthusiasts but also among the general public.
Unfortunately, BB-8 Jet’s last day didn’t go as planned and I can only imagine how the passengers who booked the flight to Okinawa must have felt. Not only the passengers, though, but also the staff that worked hard to make the farewell flights happen. That makes me appreciate even more the fact that the maintenance team managed to get the aircraft fixed in time for the farewell flight and that I was able to take it.
Now all I need to do is figure out a way to fly on the remaining two Star Wars Jets since I haven’t flown on either of those yet!