While ANA and JAL are by far the largest airlines in Japan, there are also several smaller airlines operating domestic flights around the country. One of those is Ibex Airlines – a regional airline that primarily operates flights in and out of Sendai Airport in the Tohoku region and that partners with ANA.
The airline has long been on my wishlist (so are all the other airlines in Japan that I still haven’t flown on) and so I was happy when a chance to catch a flight on it came up during my trip to catch the last flight of ANA’s BB-8 Jet. I took one of ANA’s temporary flights from Tokyo to Sendai which was operating due to the bullet train being out of service and booked an Ibex flight to Sapporo from there. I booked the flight a week before departure for just 7,500 JPY (approx. 60 USD).
Continue reading this review to see what the flight on Ibex Airlines’ CRJ-700 was like.
Check-in and Boarding at Sendai Airport
I got to Sendai airport at 6:40AM, a bit less than an hour before my flight’s scheduled departure time of 7:35AM.
While completely repaired by this point, it is worth noting that being near the Tohoku coast, the airport was seriously flooded and damaged during the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan. In a couple of places around the airport, there were signs showing how high (about 3 meters) the water reached on that day.
Rather than Ibex having its own check-in counter, there was a shared counter for ANA, Air Do, and Ibex. As there was a bit of a line, I instead decided to use one of the ANA check-in kiosks which Ibex passengers can use too.
While I could have avoided the check-in counters and kiosks altogether by using the QR code available online through “Skip Service” (passengers traveling on domestic flights without checked luggage do not have to check-in), I wanted to get a printed boarding pass.
With the boarding pass in my hand, I went through security. As there was a bit of a line too, it took about ten minutes until I found myself airside.
The flight was departing from gate 8 at the far end of the terminal.
When I got there, I was happy to find out that one of two Ibex Airlines’ aircraft in special liveries was being prepared outside. More specifically, it was the CRJ-700 registered JA07RJ wearing a livery supporting the region’s Rakuten Eagles baseball team.
Boarding started at 7:16AM.
First, passengers requiring assistance were invited to board. Then, ANA status holders (most Ibex flights are codeshares with ANA) were invited to board. Then, it was finally my turn to scan my boarding pass and walk through the apron to the aircraft using a covered walkway.
Onboard, I was welcomed by one of the flight attendants before heading down the aisle and settling in my window seat, 5A.
Ibex Airlines CRJ-700 Cabin and Seats
Like all other Ibex aircraft, the one I was on was equipped with 70 seats spread across 20 rows in a 2-2 layout. The last row only had the left pair of seats as there was a lavatory on the right side.
The leather seats were comfortable and could recline – while nothing to write home about, they were perfectly fine for the type of flights the aircraft operates.
In addition to the obligatory reading lights, the overhead panels were equipped with individual air vents.
One thing that set the aircraft I was on from the others was that headrest covers featured Rakuten Eagles fan messages.
Departing Sendai Airport
By the time the door was closed, the aircraft was about 60% full.
At 7:34AM – a minute ahead of our scheduled departure time – we got on our way. Rather than being pushed back, we simply taxied out of our parking spot by making a 180-degree turn.
Soon after that, we entered runway 09 via one of its intersections. We took off at 7:39AM.
A left turn followed as we climbed before we set our course toward Sapporo.
Ibex Airlines Onboard Service
Eight minutes after departure, one of the two flight attendants on board made an announcement that at that point, tray tables and seat reclining could be used. She also mentioned that our estimated arrival time in Sapporo, where it was sunny and -1 degree Celsius, was 8:50AM.
Seatbelt signs were switched off at 7:51AM and soon after that, the drink service started. Choices included hot coffee, hot and cold green tea, apple juice, and consomme soup. As I do most of the time I fly on domestic flights in Japan, I got both the juice and consomme.
The drinks came in cute cups featuring a cartoon drawing of an ibex and some other animals. The cups were promoting JDL IBEX, accounting software that the airline’s parent company makes.
Inside the seat pocket were a waste bag, a safety card, and an in-flight magazine. On the last page of the in-flight magazine was a page detailing the onboard service including the drinks offered and the availability of candies, postcards, and boarding certificates.
In hindsight, I should have asked for the latter two.
Understandably, other than the in-flight magazine, there was no in-flight entertainment. There was no onboard wi-fi either.
Arriving at Sapporo New Chitose Airport
At 7:58AM, the captain welcomed us onboard, mentioning our expected arrival time of 8:35AM – considerably earlier than the previously reported 8:50AM.
Around 8:10AM, seatbelt signs were switched back on as we encountered some turbulence, and not long after that, we started our descent. As we approached the island of Hokkaido and later Sapporo airport itself, we were offered some gorgeous views.
At 8:29AM, the cabin crew made a rather unusual announcement saying that we had lowered our landing gear, and three minutes later, we landed on Sapporo New Chitose airport’s runway 01R.
We reached our parking gate at 8:38AM – seven minutes ahead of schedule.
Ibex Airlines CRJ-700 Summary
Flying with Ibex on this short flight was fun. While there is not much one can expect from a one-hour regional flight on a CRJ, with the Rakuten Eagles-themed aircraft, cute cups, and great views of Hokkaido, the flight was a memorable and photogenic experience.
I am not sure when I will have a chance to add Ibex Airlines to my itinerary again, but if it pops up as an option at some point in the future, I won’t hesitate to book the flight.