Thoughtful details and stellar service from ANA first class

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Nose to tail logo with cartoon people in different classes on an aircraftIt’s always a little tricky to make a decision when people ask me what was my best flight ever, but All Nippon Airways’ first class is high on the list.

I flew ANA first class a few years ago and was impressed by the service, so during my most recent, pre-pandemic trip to Japan I burned some frequent flyer miles to see how it had evolved in the intervening period. The answer: not much, as designed. And that’s no bad thing.

After the introduction of the Flying Honu Airbus A380s and the latest version of ANA’s first class seats, this hard product is now two generations old — and there remain pluses and minuses.

In the middle of lockdown, I can’t wait to experience ANA’s first class again. Image: John Walton

I really like the swing-out cocktail table, which is unique to ANA and is handy not just for showcasing the excellent wine and sake list but also for catching up with content on a tablet.

The sturdy adjustable table, too, remains above average, while the amount of storage around the suite is still decent.

The swing-out side table is something I’d love to see on other airlines. Image: John Walton

And I have to say, the seat is a lot more comfortable than the new Singapore Airlines suite, since it’s adjustable like a Z-bed and allows you to sit in different positions. I certainly found it comfortable for both of the eleven-plus hour flights.

The window-blocking construction, however, grates, especially on a sunny and clear departure from Tokyo with Mount Fuji in the distance.

The seat may be older, but it’s still comfortable… shame about the window-blocking partition, though. Image: John Walton

On the soft product side, the service remains exceptional. Like any lover of Japanese food, the way to go is the washoku — traditional Japanese — course, and it was an absolute delight in both directions. (That is, in itself, impressive: a lot of airlines can serve amazing catering out of their home hubs but fall down when it comes time for the return flight.)

Every morsel was an absolute delight. Image: John Walton

I really like ANA’s full range of “Light Dishes Anytime”, which of course include my all-time favorite, satsuma-age, the deep-fried Kagoshima fishcake. But it’s not just that, it’s the mixture of comfort food in both the western and Japanese style, making the most of the fact that the departure flight was catered ex-Frankfurt with a truly delightful pork sausage on laugen roll sandwich.

Satsuma-age fishcakes — one of my ANA treats. Image: John Walton

The drinks list is equally delightful, even beyond the Krug Champagne, an ANA staple, and the limited-time Billecart-Salmon 2008, which was a super addition to the menu.

The Billecart-Salmon Champagne was a real pleasure. Image: John Walton

The 21-year-old Hibiki whisky from Suntory was a privilege to drink, and I’m only sad that being a responsible passenger meant that I limited myself to two, enjoyed slowly after dinner with some of ANA’s charming self-produced Japanese travel shows.

I promise that the bottle wasn’t full when I started… Image: John Walton

But it’s not just the booze: ANA also offers special seasonal premium fruit juices, and in this case both were from Mapple Juice, retailing for something around US$20-30 a bottle.

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On the outbound I enjoyed the Chardonnay grape juice, while on the return it was perhaps the most delicious apple juice I have ever had the pleasure to taste.

All of this, of course, is capped off by the stellar service provided by the ANA crew, who couldn’t have been more omotenashiminded.

But what really stood out was the flight attendant who, when I asked for sake recommendations with dinner, smiled and suggested that she send over a colleague whose family was in the sake business in Niigata prefecture, and who explained how the various flavor profiles fit each course, and what I should be looking out for in the nose and on the palate — the equivalent of “this is a Syrah matured in oak, so you may find violets and vanilla” in the wine world with which I’m more familiar.

These flights were what ANA does so well: showcasing Japanese excellence at an international level — in the food, the drinks, the service… all in all, despite an older seat, I couldn’t have been happier with the flight.

Learning about sake from a flight attendant whose family makes it is the kind of experience I’ll never forget. Image: John Walton

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