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  • Graham

Review: ANA's "regular" Business Class, Tokyo-Singapore, Boeing 787

This is the second half of a two-part review. In Part One, I took you inside ANA's flagship business-class product "The Room" on a trip from LAX to Tokyo Haneda; here in Part Two, I'll compare it to ANA's 'regular' long-haul business product on the second leg from Haneda to Singapore.

Using Aeroplan miles and a Priority Reward, I was able to book LAX-Tokyo-Singapore-Dubai-London, all in business class, for 93,750 points and $295 CAD in fees and taxes. Availability is hit-and-miss to be sure, especially as tourist demand has surged following Japan's post-pandemic reopening, but in this case I was able to change an existing reward on Air Canada metal when ANA released last-minute space at three weeks before departure.

Part One - Connection at Haneda

My overnight flight from LAX arrived just before dawn, and we were quickly ushered through to the transit area.

As Japan's post-pandemic reopening lasted a bit longer than we saw in the West, there were one or two COVID protocols left in effect, and certainly more people wearing masks than you'd see in a North American or European airport, but the service offering was ~90% back to full form and running smoothly.

The ANA lounge I visited on this trip was upstairs from Gate 110 - it's easy to walk past the entrance, but keep your eyes peeled and you'll see well-signed entry to several ANA lounges, including the Suite Lounge for those flying in First.

I entered as an ANA business passenger, though my Star Alliance Gold card would have done the trick even if I'd been seated in Economy. As with many airports, lounge capacity was a bit of an issue - I'm glad to have arrived just after 6 AM, by the time I left the lounge around 8:30 it was already lined up well out the door!

There's a variety of comfortable seating for anyone looking to eat and drink, or work, but little in the way of quiet corners for anyone looking to nap or stretch out, and anyone travelling with small children who need to burn off some excess energy will need to take them out into the concourse to run around.

The buffet offered a decent variety of Japanese and Western breakfast dishes, I'd just eaten an excellent breakfast aboard my inbound flight in "The Room", so I took the opportunity to catch up on a bit of work and recaffeinate against jet lag, before picking up the obligatory bottle of Pocari Sweat and heading back out to walk the terminal.

Haneda's one of those wonderful airports where you're going to run into flights from everywhere - you might see flights to New York, New Delhi and New Caledonia parked side by side by side - and with a sprawling concourse with a quarter-mile of glass windows all overlooking the runways and apron, Haneda is a plane-spotter's dream, which made it easy for an aviation nerd like me to kill a few hours before my next flight. For those of you... less fascinated... by AirCalin's new upgraded Airbus fleet, let's get back on topic and get aboard our ANA flight to Singapore!

We boarded right on time, with an efficiently-run boarding lineup missing pretty much all the chaos you'd expect from a North American gate scrum, and after a small pre-departure beverage of sparkling wine, we pushed back spot on schedule.

Part Two - The Seat

Today's flight is operated by one of ANA's Dreamliner 787-900s, which feature their older-style lie-flat pods in business class. While it certainly doesn't quite match up to ANA's flagship "The Room" business pods, it's worth noting that in this case, ANA's "old pods" are the same model currently used on Emirates' Airbus 380, folding fully flat into a bed that's 72 inches (6 feet) long and 21 inches wide.

The cabin is laid out in an industry-standard 1-2-1 configuration, meaning every seat has direct aisle access. It's important to note that in this case, this involves a staggered layout to allow each passenger's legs to fit under the table of the row in front, which means that in each row, 2 seats have the table tray between the seat and the aisle, while the other 2 have the seat/bed directly adjacent to the aisle, which obviously offers considerably less privacy.

As I booked this flight fairly late, I ended up with one of the aisle-adjacent seats. In this case, for a daytime flight it didn't bother me at all, but I could easily see how it would be irritating when trying to sleep on an overnight flight. On the plus side, my bulkhead-window seat had an absolutely ridiculous amount of storage space, such that I could easily have laid my carry-on suitcase out in the forward storage area. As a result, I had plenty of room to spread out and work, even keeping my laptop out to continue watching a downloaded Netflix episode during the meal service.

The seat is comfortable and flexible, and I found several good seating positions throughout my 7 hours aboard this flight. When folded down to bed mode, the seat offers a firm but comfortable sleeping position, my only real complaint being that at 6'1" tall, the bed really didn't leave me enough room to sleep on my back without bending my legs, which pretty much forced me onto my side with legs bent. Not the end of the world, and a problem I have on many airlines, but still, definitely not ideal.

All things considered, I would call this a bronze-medal business-class seating product, insofar as it's only disappointing when compared to the absolute best in the world. By any other metric, this is a perfectly reasonable product for a flight of any length, and it shouldn't lose points simply because a much-newer product has managed to make further improvements.

Part Three - Soft Product / Onboard Experience

After an overnight flight from LAX to Tokyo that featured a reduced cabin service to allow passengers to maximize sleep, I boarded this flight looking forward to ANA's renowned inflight service, and my experience on this flight definitely validated that reputation. Cabin crew were attentive, friendly and available, without being pushy or intrusive.

ANA boasts a wide variety of food and beverage options, clearly designed to accommodate a global clientele. Starting with the drinks menu, I'm always happy to see any airline showcase its country's producers, and in this case Japan's finest were on full display across the menu, which is especially nice to see in areas like whiskey in which Japan is still a relative newcomer.

Further into the menu, we're offered the traditional choice between a Japanese or "International" menu, though it's fascinating to see how ANA's chefs still manage to weave Japanese ingredients into traditionally-Western dishes. I opted for the Japanese menu, not having come this far around the world just to have a hamburger steak and a baguette. Honestly, if you're not willing to dive in and try new and unfamiliar things, what's the point of travelling any further than your nearest beach all-inclusive?

While there's not generally a lot of fermented turnip on my dinner table at home, I really enjoyed the entire tasting menu, aside from the fact that nothing anyone's ever going to do is going to get me to enjoy miso soup in any form. Fortunately, today's flight was just long enough that by the time southern Vietnam appeared out the window, I was ready to snack on a little Ippudo vegetarian ramen.

On this morning-to-afternoon flight, the cabin was bright and airy, and I was thrilled when the cabin crew didn't immediately darken the cabin after meal service to try and put the passengers to sleep. I will reliably choose a good book over in-flight movies, but especially after a few years' pandemic-related absence from Asia, I found myself glued to the window for an awful lot of the flight, watching the South China Sea scroll past beneath me.

That said, the In-Flight Entertainment system is well-stocked with a variety of Western and Japanese movies, TV and documentaries, and in-flight Wi-Fi is available for purchase at reasonable rates. The airshow (moving map) is a bit outdated compared to what's offered on The Room, but I think that's got to be chalked up to what's built into a slightly more outdated system.

Final Thoughts

The point of this two-part review was to compare The Room with ANA's regular long-haul business class, so here it is, the hot take that's going to get me cancelled in frequent-flyer circles:

The Room is a terrific product - and it's definitely by far the better of the two - but it's not nearly "better enough" to make me change where or when I fly, just to get into the nicer, newer product. I've heard from an awful lot of people who are spending hours and hundreds or thousands of dollars repositioning across North America just to get into The Room, and I just... can't get there.

That's not to take anything away from The Room, it's truly world-class stuff and I think just about anyone who enjoys premium travel is going to have a terrific experience flying that product. For me, the difference is more to do with ANA doing such a good job of delivering on their "regular" product.

Yes, you're likely to enjoy The Room quite a bit more than 16 hours with Egyptair or Air India - or Air Canada, United, Delta or American - but I wouldn't move my trip to different dates, or choose a connection over a direct flight, just to fly The Room over regular ANA business, or another top-tier premium product like Cathay/JAL/Emirates.

That's it for me on this review - safe travels!

- G


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