Al Nippon Airlines

 

Al Nippon Airlines (ANA) is Japan’s second largest airline, after flag carrier JAL. ANA has an extensive domestic network in Japan, and is growing its international routes as well.

 

Booking

 

I found a great one-way ticket on ANA from Vancouver to Singapore for not much more than taxes and fees would have been on an Air Canada ticket.  Fares this low are generally only available on second string Asian carriers with iffy safety records and inflight entertainment systems that are “temporarily out of service.”

 

Check In and Boarding

 

Online check in was not available for my flight but airport counter check in was quick and the agent gave me a row of three seats to myself because the flight was only half full. Score one for ANA before we even left the ground.

I went into this whole experiment with lots of expectations about Japanese efficiency and demure hospitality and ANA did not disappoint. Boarding began exactly 30 minutes before scheduled departure. When the boarding call was made for families or people needing assistance, only families and people needing assistance stood up. After the general boarding call, the remaining passengers in the lounge stood up and moved slowly to form a single line. No one rushed. No one walked to the side of the line, half way back, merged and then pretended to have been there the whole time. An ANA staff walked down the orderly line, holding a card over her head like a ring girl at a wrestling match. The card showed a picture of a boarding pass and a passport open to the picture page, so there was no fumbling, no lost moments. It all paid off as we pushed off five minutes before scheduled departure.

 

Inflight

 

The flight attendants, all very polite and attentive, looked like geishas dressed as bankers in their navy pinstriped skirt suits. The inflight announcements were in Japanese first, followed by somewhat garbled English translations that were always noticeably shorter than the Japanese. I thought of my favourite Bill (Murray) and wondered if we were getting the full picture (you know you want to rewatch that perfect scene).

We flew Vancouver-Tokyo on an older 767. The plane was in good repair but the personal TV screens were small and pixelated. Several of the better on-demand movies weren’t available in economy and most of the foreign films were only subtitled in Japanese. There was a fascinating selection of Japanese programming though – J-pop videos, documentaries on Wagyu beef, sing-a-long flash mobs. Pay-per-use onboard wifi was advertised but I didn’t try it, and there were no power outlets in economy.

The flight from Tokyo to Singapore was my first experience on the aptly-named Dreamliner. The cabin was bright, with calm blue lighting and overhead compartments that were actually large enough for the oversized hand luggage that is the norm on flights to Asia. The windows were big enough for a decent sunset-over-the-wings money shot and the cabin felt clean and spacious. The quality and selection of entertainment was higher as well and economy seats had power outlets.

The food on both flights was better than passable and all of my vegetarian meals were entirely vegetarian (you’d be surprised how often this is not the case). Each meal had lots of little bits of things, bento box style. A few of the selections were a bit weird – like my mid-flight snack course of a cold asparagus sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off – but everything was edible.

 

Landing and Luggage

 

The first landing in Tokyo was a bit bumpy but the 787 glided softly to the tarmac in Singapore as one would expect from a Dreamliner.  On both flights, disembarking passengers were bowed down the aisle like royalty, and my luggage arrived promptly in Singapore.

 

Photo credit: Yamaguchi Yoshiaki