ANA (All Nippon Airways) Business Class

Three things stood out during my recent flight in Business Class aboard All Nippon Airways' (ANA’s) first 787 Dreamliner flight connecting Seattle (SEA) and Tokyo (NRT): superior service, staggered seating, and the state-of-the-art aircraft.

ANA’s service was every bit as gracious as I recall the service being when I first experienced British Airways’ First Class some 25 years ago and clearly surpassed what I experienced in the business class sections of American Airlines and Spanish carrier Iberia Airlines (see previous post) just a couple of years ago.

Lounge access

A business class ticket on ANA includes lounge access at both SEA and NRT.

Business Class lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, used by ANA
Club International Lounge at SEA

Seattle passengers had access to the Club International lounge, a facility shared by ANA, Emirates, and Condor, Lufthansa's low-price carrier. It is fairly good sized with an assortment of nibbles that align with the airlines’ national origins, wireless Internet access, complimentary alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and a no-tipping policy. The ANA lounge at Narita is larger with an even broader selection of food, though it seemed with fewer beverage options.

Lounges can be used pre-flight, and between flights if one is connecting.

On board

It’s important to understand that first or business class on an overseas flight isn’t even in the same league with similarly named classes of service on domestic flights. Certainly, domestic passengers “up front” get better food, free drinks, and often – though not always – better service than what the airlines euphemistically call “the main cabin,” but it still does not compare to trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific service.

Boarding the aircraft, I was greeted by one of the six ANA flight attendants (F/As) who would be looking after the business class cabin. As soon as I slipped into seat 3A, another F/A took my coat and offered me a choice of sparkling wine or green tea to sip prior to departure.

While the airline added an extra flight attendant for the Dreamliner’s inaugural passenger-carrying flight between the two cities, ANA normally has five F/As in business class, which is an excellent ratio of F/As to its 46 business class passengers. For comparison, Iberia had four F/As for 42 business class passengers.

Waiting at each seat were basic amenities including a pillow and blanket, slippers and a shoehorn. Rather than providing each passenger with a pre-stocked amenities kit as both Iberia and American did, ANA’s F/As offered passengers a range of items including earplugs and sleep masks, premoistened face cloths, and mouthwash. Complimentary postcards, pens and memo pads were also available.

Individual toothbrushes with toothpaste were available in the lavatories.

Additional amenities included knitwear for rent or complimentary pajamas for those would rather not spend 10 hours sitting in their Brooks Brothers or Jones New York suits.

Business-class seat aboard ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Standard Business Class seating

Each seating station had ample storage including under seat shoe storage, a huge sliding table for meal trays and laptops, universal power ports (no need to dig out your plug adapters), a personal entertainment center with on-demand videos and movies, noise-canceling Sony® headphones, lie-flat seats, and a “do not disturb” light. American provided its business class passengers with Bose® QuietComfort® headphones, while Iberia’s were standard airline headsets.

The Dreamliner's entertainment centers also provide the ability to send text messages to fellow passengers, a feature that could prove useful for business associates who aren’t seated together and who may need to discreetly discuss business matters or an upcoming presentation.

One feature Dreamliners do not have at this time is in-flight Internet access. As I noted in a previous post, Boeing plans to have it available by the end of the year, and ANA plans to add it to its 787s.

Seating arranged for convenience and privacy

Business-class seat aboard ANA Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Row F seat with two workspaces

ANA’s designers chose to stagger the Dreamliner’s business-class seats in this configuration so that every seat has direct access to the aisle, and so that no one seat is directly behind another. That staggered floor plan means there are three different types of business class seating arrangements.

Each business-class seat has a work space next to it, but the position of that work space alternates from row to row. Window seats in the odd-numbered rows are directly next to the window with the work space on the in-board side, while seats in the even-numbered rows are on the in-board side and have the work space between the seat and the window.

Double seat with small work space

Seats in row F have two work spaces, with one such area on each side of the seat (see picture above).

By contrast, the seats in rows D and G are the only seats adjacent to another passenger. That makes them a good choice for couples or business associates traveling together, but the arrangement also means each seat’s work space is half the size of those at the single seats (see picture at right).

Since this post was originally published, ANA has taken delivery of Dreamliners with different seat configurations than that covered by this article. Business Class seats in the three-class Dreamliner are the same as those in the two-class Dreamliner; however, Business Class seats in the other two-class configuration are arranged in a two-two-two grouping and are without individual worktables, according to 

Marvelous meals

When meal time came around, passengers were offered their choice of Japanese or Western fare, though why anyone would pass up the opportunity to have Japanese food prepared by those who really know how is beyond me.

Business class meal aboard ANA Dreamliner
Amuse bouche

I opted for the Japanese meal, which started with an amuse bouche including shrimp in puff pastry and an assortment of nuts. That was followed by a first course of kobachi and sunomono: simmered octopus and tofu patty, salmon with bonito flavored citron vinegar sauce, a shrimp wrapped in daikon, a sea scallop topped with flying fish roe, and small slices of mackerel and beef.

The main course was grilled yellowtail with sweet miso with rice and miso soup. Dessert options were a mixed berry parfait or a fruit and cheese platter.

Business class meal aboard ANA Dreamliner
Appetizer course

The beverage menu was quite extensive for an airline, and included two sakis (rice wine), two shochus (one made from sweet potatoes and the other from barley), and a plum wine. I sampled them all. It also included champagne, a California Chardonnay and an Italian white, a California Cabernet Sauvignon and a New Zealand Pinot Noir, as well as spirits, aperitifs, digestifs, beer, and soft drinks.

As with many long-haul carriers, ANA has an area near the galleys where passengers can help themselves to water and wine. ANA also offers what its menu calls “Light Dishes” – things like a cheese plate, fresh fruit, soup, or hamburger – which flight attendants will bring upon request.

When the time came to stretch and use the lavatory, my fellow business class passengers and I were pleasantly surprised by what my inside sources at Boeing told me has been nicknamed “The Dream Lav.”

Business class meal aboard ANA Dreamliner
Dessert of wine and cheese

They are rather amazing. About twice as large as the standard aircraft lav, they feature the very Japanese TOTO toilets, complete with built-in bidet function.

While the food and the Dreamliner itself were both noteworthy, it was the service that put ANA head and shoulders above my most recent prior experiences. Iberia Airlines’ A340 was also well equipped and the food and drink were quite good, but the service I experienced was lacking.

Not so with ANA.

The F/As frequently walked up and down the aisles, refilling glasses and clearing trays, checking to see if passengers wanted anything, and just generally being available.

Many of them spent time chatting with the passengers, demonstrating their command of the English language, and making us feel more like guests than customers. In addition, they reacted favorably when I used the little bit of Japanese I’ve learned over the years. Their gracious acknowledgement that I was making an effort really made me feel valued.

When the flight crew darkened the Dreamliner’s electrically controlled windows indicating it was time to snooze, I found that ANA’s lie-flat seats actually did lie flat, and accommodated my 6’ frame pretty well. Iberia’s beds were tilted at about 170°, just enough off-level to make me feel like I was in danger of sliding off.

An ANA business class ticket includes up to two checked bags with priority handling so the passengers who are out of the plane first can get their bags first and clear customs quickly.

Based on my sole experience, I am not at all surprised that ANA won the title of Best Transpacific Airline in the 2012 Skytrax World Airline Awards. Even without WiFi, it has my vote, too.

ANA provided me with round-trip transportation and lodging in Tokyo as part of a media familiarization trip so that several reporters and bloggers could experience its service and the 787 Dreamliner first-hand.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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