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For my first trip to Tokyo I wanted to try out both Haneda and Narita airports, since Delta now flies to both. Haneda is served nonstop from Detroit and Los Angeles, though the Detroit service isn’t slated to re-start until June 16, 2011 (but now may be delayed further, just like American is delaying their JFK-HND and Hawaiian is holding off on their second daily Honolulu-Haneda) and my trip was on June 3rd. I decided to fly to Haneda, because the non-stop JFK-Narita leaves at 1:55pm and I had my last day of work, so I couldn’t skip out early. The Haneda flight leaves Los Angeles at 1:10am and arrives into Haneda at 4:55am Sunday, so this meant I could take the 9pm JFK to Los Angeles flight as long as there weren’t any major delays since my connection would only be 55 minutes. While I would essentially lose my entire Saturday due to the time change, I’d be able to get into Tokyo early and hopefully maximize my Sunday.
I ended up being lazy and taking a cab from my apartment in Williambsurg, Brooklyn to JFK, which I personally dislike doing since traffic is usually horrendous. And indeed it was on a Friday evening (and with major fires happening in Brooklyn), but my driver ended up snaking through back streets and taking Atlantic Avenue and luckily got me there with plenty of time to spare. Terminal 2 is the premium check-in terminal, so I always recommend people check-in there and then walk to Terminal 3 if necessary since they are connected.
The kiosk couldn’t read my passport, so I saw an agent who had all of my boarding passes printed in no time. I did not check a bag since I’d only be in Tokyo for 3.5 days. Security was also empty, so I was the first one on the Sky Priority security lane and through the checkpoint in no time. Note: they now have an annoying scanner machine, which I successfully avoided by simply choosing the line to the right which was linked up to the metal detector. What idiots – how is it keeping us safer if you can choose to go through a metal detector line instead?
I went straight to the Terminal 2 SkyClub which was conveniently next to my departure gate (21). Due to my longer than expected cab ride, I didn’t have enough time to run to the Terminal 3 SkyClubs and snag extra 300 Amex point certificates. However, I chummed up the friendly SkyClub attendant and I ended up getting an extra certificate for being nice (or good-looking, not sure), so I recommend doing the same, or simply asking for another. They seem to have a TON of certificates left and since this promo ends June 30, 2011, you may get lucky and get a bunch. As always, it never hurts to ask.
I ended up getting a cocktail in the SkyClub (they do have top-shelf liquors and wine for purchase), but most drinks are free. They were also running a trial program where you could buy entrees, but that has since been discontinued. They remodeled the lounge recently, so the furniture is new and the lounge was not crowded. I apologize in advance – I only took a picture of the food display. I ran into several friends at the lounge, so I got sidetracked and then realized I had to leave for my flight. It was 20 minutes to departure and I thought I’d be fine, but once I left the lounge I heard them paging me in the airport. Luckily the gate was right at the bottom of the steps, but it was still mildly embarrassing and unusual to have the flight completely boarded 20 minutes before departure.
The BusinessElite cabin was full upon my arrival, so I snapped a picture upon deplaning.
One of the things I really like about flying BusinessElite is the large full-size pillow and substantial blanket. I flew Cathay Pacific New Business class this past weekend and while the seat is in another league, the pillow was practically the size of a stamp (ok, more like a piece of legal sized paper). Delta’s blanket is also large and reasonably thick – better than the likes of most every other business class I can think of, including Singapore Airlines.
The seat itself is not the most cutting edge business class, but still better than most domestic first class seats. Delta has a bunch of different 757 models, but you know your flight has a full-blown BusinessElite cabin if the cabin has four rows, as shown on Seat Guru. While Delta generally runs all JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco flights with BusinessElite cabins, they do sub-in other 757s from time to time. The good news is that upgrades are easier to get since the BusinessElite cabins only have 16 seats vs up to 26 on other versions. However, the other versions are often old planes that don’t even have personal TVs. If I paid a business class fare, I’d definitely want to fly on a BusinessElite equipped plane – it’s a much nicer experience. These seats are well padded and are 20.5 inches wide, have 55″ of pitch (legroom), a 150 degree recline, are wifi capability (paid) and have power plugs at each seat.
Delta isn’t the only airline to have international style business class service between NY and Los Angeles/San Francisco, but they are the only airline that upgrades all elites upon space availability:
American flies their 767-200 which has 18.5″ wide seats with 50″ of pitch and in-flight entertainment and wifi. However, they have deactivated their power-plugs due to maintenance issues and while some are fixed, they aren’t power plugs – they are cigarette chargers, so they have limited use. AA does give Executive Platinum (top tier) members complimentary upgrades to business.
United flies 757s with 20.5″ wide seats that have 55″ of pitch and are equipped with personal tvs, wifi and powerports.
Virgin America flies A319 and A320s with 21″ wide seats that have 55″ of pitch and are equipped with personal tvs, wifi and powerports.
Continental flies mostly 737 and 757s that have personal tvs, but they do not have international business class seats or wifi. Elites are eligible for upgrades.
Upon getting situated in my seat, the flight attendant promptly asked me for my pre-departure beverage and I ordered a Heineken. He brought over an entire can and a glass (I kindly gave him the glass back). I also thought it was nice to get the whole can, because I can drink a small glass worth of beer in about two gulps. I also like being asked what I’d like to drink instead of being handed a tray of cheap sparkling wine or orange juice, like on other airlines.
Since the flight boarded early, the doors were closed 10 minutes prior to departure and we pushed back from the gate at 8:57pm. By 9:04pm we were rolling down the runway on a clear, New York city night. This allayed my fears that I’d miss my 55 minutes connection at LAX. In fact, now I’d have time to pick up an extra 300 point cert at the SkyClub!
Shortly after takeoff we were given menus of the dinner options, which are inspired by Delta’s celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein, who I met at a recent event in NYC. I generally try to eat light on planes, but I actually enjoy Delta’s BusinessElite steaks, so I usually order them, which is what I decided for this flight. It would be a long way to Tokyo, so why starve? :-)
Meal service started with hot towels and then a glass of red wine (Tamas California red, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah and Barbera).
Then came the salad and shrimp appetizer. I normally don’t care for the appetizers, which are either shrimp or smoked salmon, but this shrimp dish was tasty and came with a mango salad and nice herbs without being oversalted.
Then came the beef, which was nice and tender as usual. However, usually it’s cooked a nice medium rare, but this time it was more medium – I guess I should just be thankful it wasn’t cooked into a rubbery oblivion.
After the steak I wasn’t hungry, but what would a trip report be without a full meal? I opted for the cheese plate, which consisted of three mild cheeses- brie, cheddar and ?. It also came with perfectly ripe strawberries, which were pretty juicy, as far as airline fruit goes (which I normally find unripe and or dried out).
After dinner, I decided to put on a movie and try not to take a nap so I could sleep soundly on my 11.5 hour LAX to Haneda flight, but that plan failed miserably. Since I had an exhausting week and just had a couple glasses of red wine and steak, I passed out shortly after I reclined the seat and sunk my head into the big pillow.
I was awoken by the announcements that we’d begun our initial descent into the Los Angeles area, which was kind of surprising – I wasn’t expecting to sleep for 3+ hours. It ended up working out, because I wanted to be fresh to experience my first ever 777LR flight, which I’ll be writing all about shortly.
In summary, Delta has a very competitive transcontinental business class product. Would I want to fly the same plane to Europe? Probably not, but the service and amenities are on par or better than Delta’s competitors on the transcontinental routes and on top of all of it – all Medallions are eligible for an upgrade on all paid fare classes, which is a great deal when you think about it. While some flights sell out and I’ve sat in coach as a Diamond several times, you can usually Same Day Confirm to other flights in order to get the upgrade (like the first and last flights out). This trip was comped by Delta, but I’ve written reports on this route in the past when I paid for my ticket (and got the upgrade), so feel free to check out that trip for another reference.
Full disclosure: My flights and hotels were comped by Delta and Hyatt respectively but all opinions expressed are entirely my own.