Flying Honu to Hawaii: A Review of ANA’s A380 Business Class
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Brand-new superjumbo plane, friendly service, comfortable and spacious seat, superspeedy Wi-Fi, live TV.
Sluggish service, no overhead air vents, slightly overcooked entree, poor-quality snacks.
Some three and a half years after first announcing plans to operate the Airbus A380 on flights between Tokyo Narita and Honolulu, Hawaii, All Nippon Airways, or ANA, has finally launched its first superjumbo service.
TPG‘s Emily McNutt was on board the inaugural flight, where she experienced economy, and I joined in the second week for a flight from Narita (NRT) down to Honolulu (HNL) in biz.
There wasn’t any award availability on the date I needed to fly, and the one-way flight on ANA’s A380 was pricing at near $5,200 in business class — it was time to get creative. I remembered from a flight last year that ANA offered decent fares between Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and the US, so I priced that out with a stop in Honolulu using the Google Flights multicity tool.
Eventually, I determined that adding a flight to St. Thomas (STT), US Virgin Islands, or San Juan, Puerto Rico (SJU), at the end would bring the price down even further. In this case, I paid a total of $2,700, including a nonstop first-class flight from Honolulu to Newark (EWR) on United’s 767-400ER and a business-class flight to the Caribbean later in the year.
Since I ended up in a higher booking class, I was technically eligible to apply a United Global Premier Upgrade to the reservation, but that turned out to be far more complicated than I had anticipated. First, I needed to convince an agent to move me from a United codeshare to an ANA flight number, and then there needed to be space in the “O” (first-class award) fare class, which never became available. Still, if the stars align, Premier 1K and Global Services members may be able to take advantage of this nifty perk.
Since I was traveling on a revenue ticket, I was able to earn redeemable miles and elite-qualifying credit for both flights. I booked the flight on United stock in order to earn Premier Qualifying Dollars, so redeemable miles were issued based on the cost of the ticket — as a Premier 1K elite, I earned at a rate of 11 miles per dollar for each segment.
We also earned a significant number of points by paying with a rewards credit card — the Platinum Card® from American Express in this case, earning 5 points per dollar, for a grand total of 13,705 Membership Rewards points, worth nearly $275, based on TPG’s valuations. I could have also paid with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which would have earned me 3x points on all travel and provided trip delay or cancellation coverage, which isn’t available with Amex’s premium card.
Since I began my journey in Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t have an opportunity to use the check-in facilities at Narita Airport. Instead, I passed through the international-transfer security checkpoint, which barely took a couple of minutes.
From there, I headed to the ever-popular sushi spot at Terminal 1, for some fantastic local pre-flight grub.
Located across from Gate 33, Sushi Kyotatsu tends to get pretty busy, especially ahead of the afternoon US departures, but I didn’t have any issue getting a seat at the sushi bar right away.
I ended up ordering a mixed sushi bowl for 2,100 yen (about $20), which included a cup of hot green tea — it definitely hit the spot!
Even with a five-hour layover, it would have been tough to head into the city, given how far Narita is from downtown Tokyo. If I had been connecting at Haneda (HND), that would have been a different story, but with an NRT layover, I was stuck hanging out at the airport.
There were plenty of things to keep me busy, though, including a range of duty-free and souvenir shops.
There were also a couple of children’s centers for the little ones.
Thinking back to my childhood, my favorite hangout would have probably been right in front of ANA’s Flying Honu, the A380 bringing me to Hawaii later in the day.
Instead, I went to the lounge — well, both of ANA’s lounges, given how much time I had to kill.
My first stop was the ANA Lounge in the South Wing, just above Gate 53, and quite a distance from my A380 at Gate 45.
The lounge had a mix of hot and cold items, including pork with vegetables, breaded chicken and french fries.
There was also a small selection of premade sushi and rice balls, but nothing looked especially appetizing.
My favorite ANA lounge food comes from the made-to-order noodle bar, where you can order a mix of soups and curries.
I went with a kitsune soba. I just learned “kitsune” means “fox” in Japanese — apparently foxes like the taste of the sweet, fried tofu used in this dish, hence the name. Who knew?
There was a decent selection of self-serve liquor as well, including Japanese whiskies, sake and shochu.
I found the lounge to be a bit more crowded than usual, especially considering that it was set to close in a bit over an hour, around 6:30pm.
Finally, I stopped by the shower area with plans to get refreshed, but there was a 45-minute wait. The agent suggested I’d have better luck at the lounge closer to my gate, so that’s where I headed, via Narita’s fun connector tunnel on the ground floor.
On the other side of the tunnel, my first stop was the gate, to snap pictures of our plane, since I figured it’d probably be dark out by the time we boarded.
I then headed back downstairs to ANA’s second lounge.
I actually preferred this location of the two — it was easy to identify, thanks to the Star Wars-themed 787-9 Dreamliner parked in the lobby.
In the No. 4 Satellite (home to gates 41 to 47), this lounge even offers a sushi bar. It doesn’t open until 5pm, though, so passengers on most US-bound flights are out of luck.
There’s also a strictly enforced limit of two pieces per customer, though you could go back for a second serving if you don’t mind getting back in line.
The sushi here was sliced thin and wasn’t nearly as flavorful as what I got out at the terminal restaurant. You get what you pay for, I suppose.
There was plenty of other food to choose from, too.
While the other lounge only had one small tray of premade sushi, this location had a wide array. It looked more appealing overall, too.
And I finally got my shower! After an hourlong wait. If you’re hoping to score one of the private shower rooms, be sure to head straight there and put your name on the list as soon as you get to the lounge.
Both ANA Lounges had fun Asahi “beer machines” too — that’s what I call them, at least. Pop a chilled glass on the tray, press a button, and the dispenser leaned your glass back for the perfect pour before topping it off with a healthy serving of foam.
There was a noodle bar here, too. This time, I sampled ramen and chicken curry, both of which were absolutely delicious.
There was free Wi-Fi in both lounges, of course, and it performed quite well, making is easy to get work done as I was waiting for a shower.
Hoping to be first on board for empty cabin shots, I headed to the gate a few minutes ahead of our 7:25pm boarding time. At 7:25pm on the dot, an agent got on the PA with a vague announcement of a boarding delay, but the process began just three minutes after that, starting with elderly passengers, followed by a seemingly endless line of families with small children, then first-class flyers and ANA’s top-tier Diamond elites, and — finally — little old me at the front of the biz queue.
Turns out, I was right about the daylight shot — it was pitch black outside by the time we actually boarded, making capturing a clear shot of our very special A380 a bit of a challenge.
With 480 passengers to board, ANA used three jet bridges, which really helped speed things up. First-class, business and premium-economy passengers all boarded directly onto the upper deck, while the 343 economy flyers were split between two bridges on the main level.
Everyone seemed especially excited about their Flying Honu experience — I’d never seen so many passengers using their smartphones to document the process of boarding a plane!
Immediately after boarding, I managed to sneak a very quick peek at the closely guarded first-class cabin before making my way back to business class.
Cabin and Seat
ANA offers a total of 56 lie-flat business-class seats, just behind the first-class cabin on the upper deck.
Seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, and they’re staggered, which means some are closer to the aisle, alternating from one row to the next.
Seats in odd-numbered rows offer a bit more shelter from the aisle, and odd-numbered center seats are very close together, making them an ideal fit for couples and other passengers traveling together.
Even-row seats are much more exposed, meanwhile. I’d generally avoid grabbing one of those, unless the cabin is otherwise full.
I really liked my seat, 17K — a window-facing window seat in the second-to-last row of the cabin.
After snapping pics of business class, I headed back to check out premium economy.
ANA offers a whopping 73 premium economy recliners on the A380, arranged in a standard 2-3-2 configuration.
From there, I wandered downstairs. This happened to be the first A380 I’d been on to feature Airbus’s new more compact staircase, leaving more room for the galley.
You’ll find nothing but a sea of coach downstairs — some 343 seats in total, in a 3-4-3 arrangement throughout all four cabins.
While economy looked quite nice, especially with the mood lighting and 13.3-inch seatback TVs, I was more than happy to walk back upstairs to biz. TPG‘s Emily McNutt seemed to enjoy her ANA economy experience, though.
Back at my seat, I found that there was more storage than I was expecting at first glance, including a large side table.
Best of all, window seats had large storage bins, which made it easy to secure larger items without using the overhead bins.
With the exception of the tray table, which took a lot of effort to release, I found the seat design to be especially intuitive — especially the recline controls and “Do Not Disturb” button.
The seat was also decently comfortable as a bed, especially with the provided mattress pad installed.
17K ended up offering a decent amount of privacy, thanks to its distance from the aisle. My only real disappointment was the lack of overhead air vents — always a must, if you ask me.
Amenities and IFE
There was a wrapped pillow, blanket and mattress pad waiting at my seat during boarding, along with slippers, headphones and an amenity kit. That meant lots of plastic waste, though.
Later, I asked if there were pajamas available, and a flight attendant returned quickly with a comfy set.
ANA’s currently offering a fun, clear, plastic amenity kit, which lists the date of the inaugural flight. Very cool!
I also received a special “boarding certificate” right before landing, along with the Honu-themed luggage tag.
There were additional amenities in the lavatory, including toothbrushes and mouthwash.
As for entertainment, ANA offered a high-definition, 18.5-inch monitor at each business-class seat.
The screen was touch-enabled, but there was a handy wired remote available, too.
ANA also provided Panasonic headphones, but as nice as they looked, I found the quality to be lacking — I’d recommend using your own pair.
The inflight entertainment system offered a variety of content, from new-release films to TV shows to live television and more.
The live TV function worked well after takeoff. Selections included CNN International, NHK World and Sport24.
The streaming quality was quite good — an important detail, since frequent flyers may have found the selection of 40 or so films to be lacking.
Of course, you could watch the moving map, as well. It was fully interactive, just as you’d expect from a brand-new plane.
And, like most other Airbus A380s, ANA offered a variety of external camera views, including downward, forward-facing and a slick tail cam.
Wi-Fi was available for purchase. At $21.95, pricing felt a bit steep for a relatively short red-eye, but it might be worth considering on the daytime return to Tokyo.
The performance was outstanding — this was easily the best Wi-Fi I’d experienced on an A380.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Shortly after boarding, a flight attendant came by offering a choice of orange juice or sparkling wine. I asked if I could have a lighter meal served shortly after takeoff so I could maximize sleep, and while she seemed to understand, that’s not exactly how things panned out.
There was a very long lapse in the service from there — the crew stayed seated for a bit after takeoff, so it took nearly an hour for a flight attendant to come by with the menu. She took my drink order as well, and 30 minutes after that, a flight attendant returned with my Blue Hawaii, which tasted like a slightly alcoholic Capri Sun.
I asked asked for sparkling water, which was served in a can with lemon.
Fifteen minutes later, a flight attendant came by with an amuse-bouche tray. All of the passengers around me seemed to take just one item, but since I was in the second-to-last row I asked to try all four. None were especially memorable, though I did like the last dish, a thick, fried tofu with Japanese leek sauce.
Because United had switched me over to an ANA flight number, I was able to order my meal in advance. Options were limited to “Japanese Meal” or “Western Meal,” though, so I went with the Japanese pick.
My full meal didn’t appear until more than two hours after takeoff — not ideal, given that we had just over four hours to go until landing. It looked spectacular, though.
I started with the main course, a grilled butterfish with miso paste and steamed rice. The fish was overcooked and barely warm, but I really liked the flavor.
I also had miso soup, which was served from a thermos at my seat, so it was still very warm.
From there I moved onto the zensai, or appetizers, including spinach with bean curd; a sea bream and burdock-root roll; prawn and celery on a skewer; simmered beans in syrup; and a savory Japanese omelet with dried nori. It was definitely a fun mix.
I also enjoyed the roast beef, and kinda wished I’d had a larger portion.
The dessert was interesting and consisted of agar, mixed fruits and bean paste.
The meal was served with sake, though I could have had my pick of shochu, plum wine, Champagne, white wine, rose, red wine or a mix of beers and spirits instead.
Dinner was the only scheduled meal, but there were a variety of snacks available on demand as well. About 90 minutes before landing, I had my a la carte arrival meal, which began with chilled green tea.
I also ordered a sandwich, which consisted of smoked chicken and cheddar. It came with yogurt and fruit and a bowl of udon noodles with fried tofu. The soup was plain but had good flavor. The sandwich was awful, though: lousy, cold bread and only a tiny bit of meat and cheese.
Finally, a flight attendant offered some takeaway treats just before landing, which I enjoyed later in the day.
Just as on my other ANA flights, the service was incredibly polished and formal, though it was difficult to communicate with the crew at times, given the language barrier.
While clearly well-intentioned, the service could be sluggish, as well, which made sense given that this was the first time this crew had operated an A380 flight for ANA. As I mentioned, it took over two hours to get my main course — that paired with another meal 90 minutes before landing meant I barely had a couple of hours to sleep.
ANA’s first A380 looks so cool — from the outside. The cabin feels fresh and pristine but perhaps a bit sterile. Given the exciting livery, I was expecting more of a Hawaiian theme aboard.
That said, I had a great experience overall, and wouldn’t hesitate flying ANA’s A380 again — especially up in the business-class cabin. I might skip the meals next time around, though, given that there really isn’t enough time to sleep and eat on this short eastbound flight.
All photos by the author.
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