Most people hate Terminal D, the oldest one at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, but walking through its 80s-fabulous corridors always makes me imagine what my birth city must’ve been like around the time I was born. Plus, since only foreign carriers use Terminal D at IAH, being there means I’m on my way somewhere far-flung.
For the purposes of this blog post it’s Kuala Lumpur (via Tokyo-Narita) in business class on Japan’s All Nippon Airways, an experience that evokes even more nostalgia: My first experience in international business class was on ANA, a fact that should give this review a deep sense of perspective, since it’s covering (essentially) the same product and service.
Service and Hospitality in ANA Business Class
Walking onto an ANA plane always takes me back. From the airline’s boarding music, to the impeccable uniforms and grooming of the flight attendants, to the aroma of the cabin, to the beautiful blue color scheme (which, on this day, I perfectly matched), very little about the ANA experience has changed since I first flew them, besides of course the percentage of time I’m in business vs. economy.
Indeed, the service and hospitality remain exactly as impeccable as they’ve always been. From the beginning (right after the aircraft reaches 10,000 feet) all the way until de-planing in Tokyo, ANA’s flight attendants strike the perfect balance—the best on the planet, in opinion—between the over-the-top shenanigans of airlines like Emirates and the rock-bottom standards of, say, United.
This flight took place just a few days before my birthday, for example, and the stewardesses wrote me a special note, which they handed to me discreetly near the end of my flight, along with a bag of goodies I gave mostly to my friend’s Japan-obsessed son.
On the other hand, the service is never overbearing. While a flight attendant always arrived immediately when I pressed my call button, or was quick to chat me up when I engaged her in conversation, I never really noticed the presence of the in-flight crew when I didn’t need them—flying in ANA business class is a quiet, serene experience.
ANA Business Class Food Quality and Seat Comfort
One of the accolades I often repeated to people after my maiden voyage in ANA business class was that the cabin felt like a Japanese restaurant in the sky—sashimi, noodles, sake, oh my! I still feel that way, but one quirky thing I noticed on this flight was that the flight attendants actually prepared the “Udon” using cup noodles of all things—I saw them doing this upon exiting the bathroom. This is fine, since I never would’ve known otherwise, and if anything speaks to their presentation and seasoning skills.
Conversely, I didn’t remember ANA’s business class seat to be as confining as it felt, although to be fair my first experience with it was on the new-ish Boeing 787-8, rather than the much older 777-300ER I flew from Houston to Tokyo-Narita. In general, the cabin condition of the 77W was much worse than the 788 had been and the seat felt more coffin-like, which I guess is good from a privacy perspective, but results in visual crowding that seems very un-Japanese.
ANA Regional Business Class: NRT to KUL on the B788
After an hour or so in the ANA lounge (the smaller one near gate 41, which I’ve always preferred sentimentally to the larger one but which I realized, on this trip, is actually not very nice at all), I made the very long walk to gate 58A, where my Kuala Lumpur-bound B787-8 was waiting to be boarded. This one, unlike the one I’d flown in from Seattle two years prior, was regionally-configured, which means that instead of lie-flat beds it had so-called “shell seats” more typical of premium economy than business. But I digress.
To be sure, I was so tired by the time the first meal service on this flight finished that I slept just fine, in spite of the less-than-full recline of the seat. I don’t even remember how the meal was, or anything about the service other than how native my flight attendant’s English sounded, and how open and inviting the cabin seemed when I finally came-to—the smaller seats are definitely more visually pleasing than the larger ones, function notwithstanding.
The Bottom Line
I’ve taken dozens of trips in premium cabins between this business class flight on ANA and my first one, but I’m happy to report the airline mostly still wows me. While the condition of cabin can really vary between ANA aircraft, flying in ANA business class guarantees you a private (if perhaps a bit confining) seat, not to mention impeccable food, service and hospitality. ANA regional business class is great, too, even if the hard product leaves something to be desired.
How to Book ANA Business Class Using Miles & Points
I chose to fly ANA business class to Malaysia when I noticed late last year that space had opened up on the United website. Booking via this method is the easiest way to book one-way awards on ANA (on the ANA website, you can only book round-trip tickets), which are priced at 80,000 miles (plus nominal fuel surcharges) from the U.S. to Southeast Asia. If you don’t earn MileagePlus miles by flying United or using a co-branded credit card, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a ratio of 1:1.
I recently learned, however, of a much better value way to book ANA awards, albeit one that like booking directly with ANA requires roundtrip travel. Specifically, you can book a roundtrip version of my IAH-NRT-KUL flight with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles for just 120,000 miles, which amounts to a 25% discount on each one-way segment as compared to booking with United.
As far as how to get Flying Club miles, you can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 ratio, although bonus schemes appear at least once per year, so if you’re flexible you might hold out.
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