My First Flight on the 787 Dreamliner

This is the story of my first flight aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, traveling on All-Nippon Airways (ANA) flight 1075 from San Jose, California to Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan. An 11-minute video version of this trip report is embedded here if you would prefer to watch instead of read.

The Dreamliner is a revolutionary wide-body aircraft. Made largely with composite materials, it is about 20% more fuel efficient than the older 767 aircraft it is designed to replace. Despite a four-month grounding earlier this year because of electrical problems, the aircraft has performed very well for its initial customers and is opening new “long and thin” routes like San Jose to Tokyo that could not previously have been served profitably.

ANA Cover

I arrived at the airport plenty early to watch the inbound aircraft land, which arrived about twenty minutes late. Having grown up in the San Jose area and able to remember the days when the airport was a much smaller operation, it is exciting to see this cutting-edge plane regularly scheduled to fly here.

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ANA operates from terminal A. Now nearly a quarter-century old, I still recall terminal A as the “new” terminal compared to the 1960s era terminal C that was only recently demolished. As a child, I relished the opportunity to walk across the tarmac and climb a set of stairs to board the airplane. To me, that made air travel much more exciting. These days, the two terminals at San Jose are modern and entirely enclosed. Certainly the facilities are nicer but the travel experience is also more sterile.

ANA has a small counter space but lots of employees working check-in. As a Star Alliance gold level member, there was no wait and I was efficiently checked in by a friendly agent. While the agent did not appear to be of Japanese heritage – several of the staff members were – she displayed all the appropriate cultural training such as receiving and handing documents with both hands. This was a nice touch and leads me to believe that instead of relying on contract employees, ANA is using its own staff.

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Boarding pass in hand – a window seat in the second row of economy class – I headed up the escalator to the security screening area. The terminal has a single consolidated screening point and while there weren’t that many people in line, the process took a bit of time. In particular, the crew of Mexican budget airline Volaris seemed to be holding up the line, unfamiliar with the TSA’s screening procedures. It took several of the flight attendants multiple trips through the metal detector before they finally removed all of their metal items.

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Today’s flight operated from gate 15, one of two gates connected to the International Arrivals Area. This section of the terminal is essentially the connector between terminals A and B. There are few amenities but the windows offer a good view of the tarmac. Unfortunately, the sterile corridor leading to the customs and immigration area means you look out through two sets of windows.

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I spent plenty of time taking pictures of the Dreamliner. It is a unique-looking airplane, with an asymmetrical nose. The plane’s proportions make it looks smaller than it actually is, perhaps because it looks unusually low to the ground for so large an aircraft.

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After taking plenty of pictures – something lots of other waiting passengers were also doing – I headed to The Club at SJC, a private lounge that ANA uses for its premium customers. The Club is the only lounge at SJC, where the only dominant airline is Southwest.

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Located upstairs from the departure gate, the lounge offers limited views of the tarmac but has two large seating areas, workspaces, and a decent selection of food and beverage. They also have a single shower room, so I freshened up before the flight.

ANA Seating

It was nearing time to board. ANA operates the San Jose service with a 787 in a very low density configuration, only 158 passengers in a plane that can easily seat more than 220. Because of this, the gate area was not crowded.

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After the highest level members of ANA’s frequent flyer program were boarded, Star Alliance Gold members were invited. A single jetway is used at this gate but with so few passengers boarding, it isn’t a problem. I was welcomed aboard warmly and directed towards my seat.

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Business class, divided into two cabins, seats 46 people in alternating rows of 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 seating. All seats have direct aisle access and a lot of privacy. The problem with this arrangement is that it isn’t very friendly for couples traveling together. I know that privacy is something that a lot of premium customers value highly, but I prefer arrangements that are a little less cubicle-like.

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A small economy class cabin of just three rows sits behind business class and the mid-cabin lavatories. In another configuration, this area has premium economy seating with 38” legroom and only seven seats across. I can understand why they made that choice: there is nearly a foot of empty floor behind the last row in this cabin. Even without installing premium economy, they could have added a few more inches to each of these three rows.

The design of the overhead bins offers plenty of room to store roll-aboard bags placed on their side. The bins also pivot into the ceiling, making for a very open cabin when they are closed. This being a low-density seating configuration, lots of storage space remained even after everyone had boarded.

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ANA uses fixed-shell seats in economy, where instead of reclining back into the row behind you, your seat slides forward. I like this arrangement because my personal space remains fixed. With 33 to 34 inches of seat pitch, ANA’s Dreamliner offers several more inches of legroom than most competitors including joint-venture partner United Airlines. My one complaint with these seats is that the headrest doesn’t move up and down and, perhaps because it is designed for Japanese customers, it manages to fall at my neck rather than the back of my head.

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The inflight entertainment system is an “on-demand” system with touch screen controls. The selection of movies, TV shows, games, and music is extensive – plenty to keep you occupied on your flight. The system was also one of the more responsive that I have used. When you touch the screen, it reacts promptly. The overhead passenger service unit features a new design and it was nice to be on a wide-body airplane with personal air vents.

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Boarding was complete in about fifteen minutes and soon enough we had pushed back and the safety demo was finished. As the engines spooled up – a higher pitch whine than I’ve heard before – the ANA ground staff lined up to send us off with a wave. Being a small airport, we reached the departure end of runway 30 R in just a few minutes. Number one for takeoff, we pulled onto the runway and launched into our roll without a stop.

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Our departure followed an interesting path, indicated in green on the map. We leveled off at 5,000 feet and maintained that altitude across the south end of the bay, towards Woodside.

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Meanwhile, aircraft were circling wide on our left (yellow on the map), cutting behind us to line up for arrival on runways 28 L and R at San Francisco. While I am confident the air traffic controllers were keeping a close watch on us, the other aircraft came a lot closer than you usually see from your window. It was nice to have such a good view! As we approached Half Moon Bay, we resumed our climb, joining the westbound route across the Pacific.

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About forty minutes after departure, inflight service began with hot towels – real cloth towels – followed by a beverage service with snacks.

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The snacks were simple – rice crackers – and the selection of beverages included complimentary wine, beer, and spirits. The crew was friendly and helpful and there were no difficulties in communicating with them in English.

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An in-seat menu card described the general service while the specific meal choices for today’s flight could be read on the inflight entertainment system and also on laminated cards the flight attendants had on their carts.

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For dinner, I chose the Japanese option – a chicken teriyaki dish served with cold soba – buckwheat noodles. The portion was generous and the food was tasty. The dinner also included miso soup served from a pitcher.

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Afterwards, flight attendants distributed Häagen-Dazs ice cream – a simple and satisfying dessert. Since the meal was served with metal cutlery, I could use an actual spoon to scoop the rock-hard ice cream instead of the flimsy plastic one contained inside the ice cream container’s lid.

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After lunch, I walked around the mostly-full cabin. You can see the windows, which are about thirty percent larger than conventional airplane windows. Truthfully, this didn’t make as big an impression on me as I thought they would. Sure, the windows were large, but the biggest effect was that it made the cabin look narrower. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but because I am used to a standard-size window, as I looked across the width of the cabin and mentally estimated the width, the wall looked closer to me than it really was. Instead of shades, the windows use LCD controls for different levels of shading. Above, you can see two of the windows at the maximum-dark setting.

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The rear cabin has eleven additional rows of economy class seats. As you can see, the cabin has a spacious feel and the 2-4-2 arrangement is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, ANA is moving towards a 3-3-3 arrangement like most operators so the comfortably wide seats will be a thing of the past. I can understand the economics but will say that as a customer, I will go out of my way to fly an 8-abreast 787 instead of a 9-abreast configuration.

The other thing I noticed is that the screens on the entertainment system are coated in such a way that they are not visible unless viewed almost straight-on. For example, I couldn’t tell if the person seated next to me had his screen on until I leaned over to look. This would seem to be a good thing, minimizing extraneous light and also giving greater (although not complete) privacy in what you are viewing.

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The galley and entrance to the crew rest area are at the rear of the cabin. This arrangement is nice because it gives the crew plenty of space to work and minimizes the number of passengers congregating in this area. Instead, the congregate mid-cabin by the lavatories.

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Three lavatories are in the middle of the economy class cabin, located by doors 3 left and 3 right. I didn’t get a picture or video of them, but the doors are hinged in an interesting way. Instead of pivoting on a hinge at one side of the door or folding in half, the door slides and pivots into the toilet, lying flat against the side wall. This improves the accessibility of the lavatory although isn’t intuitive. I noticed several people pushing and pulling the door before they figured out how it moved.

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The lavatories are high-tech on ANA featuring lots of buttons, including for the automated bidet, in case you need to wash your bum afterwards. When you press the flush button, the toilet seat cover is automatically lowered. Oddly, though, the flush happens while the cover is still lowering. Lavatories were kept clean with flight attendants tidying them throughout the flight.

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The LCD shading for the windows is interesting. Instead of having physical shades that you pull shut, there are two buttons that allow you to increase the tinting along five settings from nearly transparent to nearly opaque. It seems that the most transparent setting still seems to have a light tint to it, or at least that was my impression.

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At its darkest, you can still see through the window although little light passes through. That may not make sense when I write it, but when you look at the windows from the side, they appear to be completely opaque. When you look at the windows straight-on, you can see through them as if they were very dark sunglasses. Mid-flight, which was still full daylight outside, the cabin was dark although not as dark as with physical window shades. If I’m not mistaken, I think the flight attendants were able to master set the windows to the darkest setting although individual passengers could modify the settings for their own windows, making them more transparent as they wished.

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Snacks and beverages were available in the galley throughout the flight. The selection was basic – some crisps and crackers along with bananas.

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About two and a half hours before landing – just a little early, in my estimation – a second meal service was offered. Unlike lunch/dinner, which had clear “Japanese” and “Western” options, the choices for the breakfast were less distinct.

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I had the chicken cacciatore, which was pretty tasty. The portion size was smaller than the previous meal, but considering that we had eaten just five hours ago, that was okay.

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One feature of the Dreamliner is that its cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of a 6000 foot elevation instead of at 8000 feet, as found in most airliners. Also, humidity levels are slightly higher, about 15% versus less than 5% normally. My impression was that the cabin was a bit more comfortable than normal. I travel frequently across the Pacific and find I get very dried out. The effect could just be psychological but on this flight, I felt less dehydrated.

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The rest of the flight was smooth as we descended into an overcast northern Japan and landed on-time in Narita. As we approached the airport, there was a lot of other traffic and on our turns there was always a good view of other planes. The rice paddies were also vibrant green and just starting to turn golden yellow.

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Again, thanks to the low-density configuration, it took just a few minutes to deplane. My nine hour, forty-five minute flight aboard the ANA Dreamliner left me with a positive impression of both the airplane and the airline.

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All things considered, I would go out of my way to fly ANA in general and the Dreamliner in particular on future trips. Additionally, flying out of San Jose was a very convenient option so I will keep that in mind for future trips to and from the Bay Area.

Flying Back to the United States

Last Thursday I made a last-minute trip back to the United States to renew my Thai visa. Searching online, I was able to find a combination of dates and routes that were reasonably affordable.

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The trip was booked on United Airlines through Tokyo. While I consider most Asian airlines to be a better experience than US-based airlines, I have to say that United’s revamped economy class product was acceptable, better than it used to be. Sadly, their Boeing 747s have not had the revamp. The Boeing 777 fleet, though, has audio-video on-demand and power outlets at every set of seats. The flight attendants are still kind of surly, though.

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In Tokyo, I was joined by a group of thirty or so Korean primary school children on their way to a Tae Kwan Do competition in San Francisco. One of the group, 11-year old Jun, was seated between me on the aisle and another guy in the window seat. It made for an interesting flight. He was more outgoing than I would expect, talking with both of us throughout the flight and asking lots of questions. Even when I put on my eye shades and tried to sleep.

My fellow traveler and I looked out for Jun, getting snacks for him from the galley and sharing some snacks we had brought on board. An interesting thing that I assume is a cultural trait, when I offered him some granola bars that I had just opened, he declined to break off a section for himself. Instead, I figured out that he was waiting for me to break off a piece and offer it to him. He then broke a piece from that one and offered it to the guy sitting in the window seat.

After about seven hours of flying, awake the whole time, Jun’s energy ran out and he crashed hard asleep. Contorted in his seat in a strange position, I managed to wake him up for the second meal service since he had complained of being hungry. He was so bleary he could scarcely decide what entree to eat. He fell back asleep and didn’t wake up until we pulled into the gate and I shook his shoulder. Poor kid – hope he didn’t have to complete the following day!

I will be in the United States for ten days. Have already gathered some good food pictures and will share them in the next few days.

Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on Lufthansa

Even though the trip was several weeks ago, I’m only now getting to posting my video trip report on YouTube for the trip to Kuala Lumpur. The flight was on Lufthansa, the German airline. They fly it as a tag-on segment to the Frankfurt-Bangkok flight and it is currently the only Boeing 747 being flow between Bangkok and KL.

Here is the nine-minute video trip report for your viewing pleasure. Pictures and brief highlights of the flight are provided below.

Since I had a mid-afternoon departure and was traveling light, I decided to take the Airport Link train to the airport. Since it opened in the second half of 2010 (blog entry about it here), the service has been a money-loser. Ultimately, it isn’t very convenient and the main in-city terminal is located near a subway station but is not connected to it. (In fairness, they are a month or two away from finally opening an elevated walkway to connect the two.) The system has a notable lack of down-direction escalators, making for a lot of heavy lifting or waiting for the single elevator at each station is you have heavy bags. The State Railways promises to add escalators at key stations but no timetable has been provided.

The airport itself is a wonder of glass, steel, and concrete. In many ways, it is hard to distinguish from any other major international airport, although as you can see, some Thai touches have been snuck in. This is a Buddha image that ostensibly contains a relic from the Lord Buddha. It was set up with a large display of flowers right in the middle of the departures hall as a temporary display sponsored by some company.

Hidden upstairs, high above the ticketing counters, is an observation deck. The view is largely obstructed by roof and wall support structures and a scale model of the airport, which has seen better day, is displayed there. Looking closely, I noticed that it had suffered much damage while being moved. It seems a jumbo jet has crash landed on the entrance road to the airport connecting from the expressway!

Before the flight, I visited the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge. One of the luxuries I allow myself is a Star Alliance Gold tier membership, which provides me with lounge access when flying Star Alliance carriers. Having a quiet space away from the bustle of the airport makes air travel a lot more enjoyable. This lounge, in particular, is very nice with views of a large garden area.

The beverage and food selection surprised me with its breadth. In addition to a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, and desserts, there were several different types of proper food including soups, a salad bar, Chinese steamed dumplings, and a few main courses.

I was especially impressed that they had set up a make-your-own “khao chae” bar. Khao Chae (I wrote about it here last year) is a Thai hot season treat, rice served in cool, fragrant jasmine water with a selection of condiments. Not the type of thing you would expect to find in an airline lounge and something that was not on offer over at the THAI Airways lounge! Kudos to Singapore Airlines for their attention to detail.

A small selection of desserts, including a traditional Thai dessert cooked in a pandan leaf box, served with a cappuccino. While the desserts were not breathtaking, they were tasty and a wide variety was offered.

Our bird as seen through the dirty windows of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. This Boeing 747-400 is nicknamed Duisburg after the famous steel-making city in Germany. It entered the Lufthansa fleet on June 5, 1991 but the interior was in remarkably good shape for a plane quickly approaching its 22nd birthday. 

Quick review of the safety demonstration card before departure. You can never be too careful, right?

If I had to sit in these tight economy class seats for ten or twelve hours, I would not be happy, but for the short flight to KL, it was fine. The seats have large touch-screen monitors playing an extensive selection of films and TV shows. One thing I like about these seats is that the magazines are moved to a pouch behind the tray table, freeing up a little more room for your knees. Still, seat pitch was just 31 or 32″, comparable to economy class on most US carriers. 

Our “meal service” was a snack box with a sandwich that contained the thinnest slice of chicken and the saddest looking leaf of lettuce I have ever seen. A muffin and a KitKat candy bar rounded out the meal. Beverage service was the small bottled water. I think you could go to the galley and request a juice or soft drink but no beverage cart was rolled through the aisles. While it is a short flight, this seems a pretty sad offering for an airline that claims to be full-service.

Beginning our descent into Kuala Lumpur on a beautiful late afternoon with high clouds. Closer to the ground, though, the skies were hazy and visibility was limited. Overall, the flight was smooth and reasonably comfortable. The crew, while being pretty senior, was friendly, professional, and seemed to genuinely enjoy working the flight.

 

THAI Airways Bangkok to Los Angeles

When I moved to Bangkok more than seven years ago, I flew THAI Airways’ nonstop flight from New York JFK Airport to Bangkok. In the years since, THAI has discontinued both the New York and Los Angeles to Bangkok nonstop flights. In their place is a one-stop flight via Seoul Incheon Airport to Los Angeles. When shopping for tickets for our recent flight to the United States, this Bangkok-Incheon-Los Angeles flight was the cheapest option offered by a Star Alliance carrier. 


Click here to view the HD version on youtube.

I’ve edited a nice video that overviews the flight, the cabin, the amenities, and meals served. If you would rather view the pictures and read the story, those follow here:

The flight departs Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport at 7:10 am, a bit earlier than ideal. Thankfully, we were packed the day before and made it to bed at a reasonable hour. Still, the 3:00 am alarm came much too early!  The queue at the airport was short and the wait was less than fifteen minutes to check in. There were no lines at either the security screening or immigration counters. 

Just past immigration is a large scale sculpture of one of the most famous episodes in Hindu mythology, the samudra manthan or “churning of the milk ocean”. It is an impressive sculpture that illustrates that this mostly Buddhist culture has strong Hindu and Vedic Brahminist roots.

We made our way to one of the many THAI Airways Royal Silk lounges. These lounges offer a nice respite from the stresses of air travel: a quiet ambience, comfortable seating, and a selection of reading materials, food, and beverage.

Since we had departed home so early, I helped myself to a latte, some small pastries, and (something I never eat!) a box of chocolate breakfast cereal. Maybe this is because my mother would never allow us to have so sugary a cereal in the house when I was a child, now I enjoy having a bit every now and then as a special treat.

Our Boeing 777-300 was waiting at the gate as the sun slowly climbed above the hazy horizon. The windows of the terminal were not very clean, making for this poor-quality image. Boarding commenced a few minutes late but the passenger load was only about 60% so boarding did not take long. 

The economy class product is comfortable and modern. The seat maps provided on THAI’s website indicated that certain rows of this plane had 34″ pitch. I brought a small tape measure and samples several rows and found a consistent 32″ pitch. Comfortable enough and an inch more than most US-based carriers, but nothing special. Asiana, Korean, and All-Nippon offer 34″ pitch and EVA offers 33″ pitch as the standard in their long-haul economy class.

The morning breakfast option was pancakes and sausage or (my choice) stir-fried pork with ginger, rice, and pumpkin and egg. The food was tasty enough, although nothing very special.

About four-and-a-half hours later, we arrived at an overcast Incheon and were soon at the gate and off the plane. The same aircraft would take us to Los Angeles but all passengers were required to disembark so the plane could be serviced and a new crew could board.

This is my first time transitting Incheon since they opened the new mid-field concourse. It is a bright, sun-lit place with modern architecture. Within a few minutes, we had cleared the security screening and returned to the departure level.

Despite only having about 80 minutes on the ground, we took the time to stop by the Asiana Airlines lounge. As a holder of the United Club card, I have access to Star Alliance member lounges. This is a nice perk for long-haul travel and this new lounge in Incheon is very nice, with a faux library and a baby grand piano. I wonder what would happen if a guest decided to begin playing it?

The selection of food wasn’t very interesting, but I did help myself to some salad and a glass of draft beer. Truth be told, the beef was very hoppy and as I’m not much of a beer drink, I had only a few sips. On our return trip from Los Angeles, we had a slightly longer layover in Incheon and I took the opportunity to use the individual shower rooms to freshen up. 

Returning to the gate area in preparation for boarding, I admired the nice combination of steel, wood, and glass. Despite being very modern, the terminal does not feel cold and impersonal, probably because of the wood floors and many plants.

One sore point about flying through Incheon is that there is a pre-boarding security inspection. All liquids must be disposed of, including any bottled water purchased in the terminal. The claim is that this is for US TSA security reasons, but that makes no sense because at Taipei and Tokyo, passengers can bring liquids from inside the terminal aboard US-bound planes. I hope this restriction is lifted soon because not bringing your own water aboard is an inconvenience that does nothing to improve security.

The flight out of Incheon was only about 50% full, leaving lots of space including an empty seat between Tawn and me. There was only one person in the row ahead of us and she sat in the middle seat, so her recline did not affect our leg room. Once airborne for our 10.5-hour flight to Los Angeles, service began with cocktails. Unlike some airlines that have miniature liquor bottles, THAI carries full-size bottles and mixes drinks to order. 

Drinks are served with a retro stir stick featuring THAI’s original 1960s logo. I managed to collect several of these between our four flight segments, figuring they will make a nice collection in the future.

Menus were distributed out of Incheon. Interestingly, the menus include information for both the Bangkok-Incheon and Incheon-Los Angeles segments. I am not sure why menus were not handed out as we departed Bangkok. You could argue that there is really no point of menus but I think it is a nice touch that makes the service appear more sophisticated. Certainly, it is nicer to think of your meal as having four courses rather than just being a single tray of food, even if all four courses are in fact delivered on a single tray!

I opted for the Korean style beef bulgogi, which wasn’t as interesting as I was hoping. It was tasty, though. Note that each tray comes with a package of kimchi! The dessert was a raspberry chocolate cream cake and the appetizer was smoked salmon.

The other selection, which Tawn chose, was a pork green curry served with Thai jasmine rice. Curry is an excellent choice for airplane food because at high, dry altitudes, your sense of taste is diminished. Curry has plenty of flavor and remains enjoyable. Notice, too, that the utensils are metal, even the knives. We can’t bring water aboard but are given an admittedly dull metal knife.

Slightly less than halfway through the flight, we crossed the international date line and jumped back to the start of our day. I dozed only a bit on this flight, instead watching several movies and television programs on the on-demand video service. Gone are the days of sheer boredom on a plane. There are plenty of ways to distract yourself as the hours go by.

Mid-flight, snacks were available in the form of instant noodles and sandwiches. About two hours before landing, a second full meal service was provided. I opted for the boiled glass noodles (made from mung beans) with sauteed beef tenderloin. Actually, I didn’t find any beef in my serving! 

The other option, which Tawn chose, was sauteed yakisoba with chicken teriyaki. Neither of these dishes were that interesting and while quality was fine, the meals weren’t as interesting on these flights as they have been on other recent THAI flights.

It was a beautiful day as we descended into Southern California. Because the passenger load was so light, I moved to a window seat to take in the view when we landed. Rain storms had passed through recently, so the sky was clear and visibility was better than normal.

After landing on runway 24-right on the north side of LAX airport, we taxied the long way around to our gate. This took us past the United Airlines hangar where one of their Boeing 787 aircraft sits, stranded by the FAA’s grounding of these new composite jets in late January. Hopefully, the fleet will be released to fly again soon.

Pulling into our gate at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, we had neighbors from China and Japan. Had the price been right, I would have liked to fly All-Nippon on this trip.

All in all, the THAI flight was a pretty good experience. From departure in Bangkok to arrival in Los Angeles was less than 17 hours, one of the shortest routes between the two cities. Service was good and the flight was reasonably comfortable, given that we were traveling in economy class.

 

Flying the THAI Airbus A380 for the First Time

As good fortune and careful scheduling would have it, the return leg of my Hong Kong trip was aboard THAI Airways’ new Airbus A380. The A380, affectionately known as the Whale Jet because of its profile, is the world’s largest passenger jet, eclipsing the venerable Boeing 747’s floor space by almost half. 

The first A380 went into service in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines after lengthy production delays. These delays produced a roll-over effect and THAI Airways, the ninth operator of the type, just received its first aircraft this past September. (Only 92 aircraft delivered in five years…) Initially, THAI used the airplane for Singapore and Hong Kong flights before adding Frankfurt and Tokyo.

Unlike the Boeing 747, which has only a upper deck for only part of the length of the aircraft, the Airbus A380 has a full upper deck. This means that airport receiving regular A380 service need to have passenger jet bridges that can reach doors on both the upper and lower deck. In Hong Kong, one jet bridge is used for each level, although in many airports there are two lower level jet bridges and one upper level.

Most airlines reserve the upper deck for First and/or Business Class passengers. In THAI’s configuration, there is a small economy class cabin on the upper deck, the final eight rows of the plane. When you book your flight online and choose your seat assignment, the small upper deck cabin is not visible. Knowing that those seats existed, I had to visit a THAI ticket office and request an upstairs seat. Above, a view of this economy class cabin, which has a pair of exits in the middle of it, making for some generous leg room.

I was able to secure the last available window seat, the one you see on the left-hand side of the picture with the bin open next to it. One of the nice things about the upper deck is that there are small storage bins underneath the windows to supplement the overhead bins. This makes it easy to store small bags out of the way, freeing up your leg room while keeping items close at hand.

A look forward past the economy class cabin into the large business class cabin. Two interesting things I observed: there is a small security camera in each of the bulkheads, allowing crew members to see what is happening in each cabin, even if the curtains are closed. Also the overhead bins above the center seats have a different shape in business class than they do in economy. Usually, a single design is used in most aircraft.

Another nice feature of the A380 is the tail-mounted camera. You can watch the view on your seat back monitor. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some dirt (bird poop?) on the lens, making the view a bit less enjoyable. I have been on other airplanes that have cameras located under the fuselage looking forward or down, but this tail camera seems to be a consistent feature of the A380.

Taxiing to the runway, you can see a Russian made cargo jet and on the mountain behind, the tower from the Nong Ping 360 gondola. Here’s the view from the gondola at just about that tower, as I wrote about in this entry.

The view of the New Territories about a minute after takeoff. I lived in Hong Kong in 1998-99, not long after the new airport opened. In those days, there was significantly less development in this part of Hong Kong. Nowadays, there are clusters of high rise buildings everywhere as the city continues to grow, mostly vertically.

Inflight dining: chicken and greens served over egg noodles. There was also a salad of chicken and mixed vegetables and a panna cotta with berry coulis for dessert. The food was decent. 

As a comparison, here is the food we were served out of Bangkok, a Penang curry with chicken and bitter melon. It was very tasty, actually so much so that if they served it from a restaurant, I would seek it out. Also interesting that the service out of Bangkok had sturdier dishes for the main course as opposed to the aluminum ones out of Hong Kong. The salad was a so-so shrimp salad and the dessert was a mediocre chocolate mousse.

If you would like to see highlights of the entire trip, include a tour through the business class and first class cabins upon landing, please view the six-minute video above. Coincidentally, on my way out the business class cabin, I was recognized by one of the flight attendants, a friend of one of Tawn’s friends.

Another video covering my flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong aboard a Boeing B777-200, is located here.  

In this final shot from the gate in Bangkok, you can see that there are three passenger jet bridges attached to the plane, two on the lower level and one on the upper level. They have to be very careful as the bridge are close to each other.

Here is a view of the two forward bridges taken from the window on the upper deck bridge. I hope you enjoyed the trip!

 

Airplane Food – China Eastern Airlines

For our flights to and from Shanghai, we flew China Eastern Airlines. The only reason we chose this carrier, which is a member of the Sky Team alliance, is that their price was 60% of any other carrier’s – the Shanghai market seems to command unreasonably high air fares. The flight was fine, although the flight attendants are frumpily dressed and are surly in their attitude. They make the flight attendants at US airlines look cheerful. The thing I found particularly odd was how the meal service differed on the outbound and return flights.

Our outbound flight left Bangkok at 2:00 am, arriving Shanghai at 7:00. I would have expected that there would be no meal service for this four-hour red eye flight but about an hour after our delayed departure, the flight attendants served a choice of hot entrees for a relatively substantial meal. This is the duck with wide rice noodles. 

Our return trip left Shanghai at about 9:40 pm, arriving Bangkok just before 1:00 am. Considering that you need to arrive at the airport a few hours before departure, I expected they would serve a hot meal service, similar to what they unexpectedly served on the outbound flight. Instead, we were served a plastic box of snack items: dinner roll, slice of banana bread, hickory kernels, apple chips, onion cookies “with original flavour,” and what I think were Oreo-flavored cookie bars. In short, a very sad selection of food.

In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t have any expectations for food served in economy class anywhere in the world, but I was confused by the difference in service levels between the two flights on the same route.

Hawaiian Airplane Porn

While most people have a limited appreciation for it, after I take a long trip I long to post some airplane porn for Matt and the few other people who read this blog who are aviation enthusiasts. If your pulse doesn’t quicken when you watch an airplane take off, feel free to skip this entry and come back tomorrow when we’ll return to regular programming.

San Francisco to Maui

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While waiting for our flight to Maui, I capture this picture of a pair of United Boeing 757-200s, a United 747, and a Lufthansa Airbus A380 (the largest commercial plane in the world) at the international terminal. Sadly, didn’t get to see the “whale jet” depart while we were there.

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A United Airlines Boeing 747-400 taxies to the runway for a trip to somewhere in Asia. Its wings are heavy with fuel and you can see how far they flex back downwards. Pity the poor economy class customers who, on United, are still stuck watching inflight entertainment on “the main screen” at the front of the cabin.

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Our plane to Maui, a Boeing 767-300, pulls up to the gate more than a half-hour late. The hills of Oyster Point in South San Francisco are in the background and some of the Genentech campus is visible. Our plane is in the new United color scheme, an uninspired hybrid of the Continental pain job and the United name.

Video of our take off roll from San Francisco as well as our landing over the sugar cane fields in Maui.

Interisland Flying

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Early morning at Kahului Airport on Maui. An Island Air flight pushes back as an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 beings its take off roll to one of the more than a half-dozen destinations they serve from Maui.

Video of our departure from Kahului Airport on Maui and the beautiful reefs just off the end of the runway.

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The beautiful view of West Maui as we climb out of Kahului and head towards Honolulu. If you are flying in the islands, I recommend a window seat.

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Our inflight service on the short Maui to Honolulu flight consisted of a container of passion-orange “nectar” – which contains only 10% juice. This is the same thing served on every Hawaiian Airlines interisland flight. Talk about simplicity of service!

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Alaska Airlines has built up its presence in the Hawaiian islands the past few years, operating these Boeing 737-800s which are certified for longer-distance overwater flights. Alaska specializes in flying to connecting smaller markets (Sacramento, for example) to the islands, trying to avoid as much direct competition with the larger mainland carriers.

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Delta Airlines has a large presence in Hawaii since their merger with Northwest Airlines a few years ago. They operate daily flights to Tokyo and Osaka, and seasonal flights to Nagoya and Fukuyoka, Japan. There is a Boeing 747-400 on the left and a Boeing 767-300 on the right. You can just see the tail of an All-Nippon Airways (ANA) jet and the rugged silhouette of Diamond Head in the background.

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This United Airlines Boeing 767-400 is originally from the Continental Airlines fleet and operates daily flights to Guam. We flew this flight last year when coming to Kauai, with an interesting Bangkok-Hong Kong-Guam-Honolulu-Kauai routing.

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A pair of Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300s, one almost obscuring the other. Hawaii is a popular destination for Japanese tourists and five different airlines complete to carry them.

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A view of the Hawaiian Airlines maintenance facility behind the interisland terminal. Must be nice to work out in the fresh air every day, although it must be a mess when a rain shower comes through. Hawaiian usually is at the top of the Department of Transportation’s on-time list even though their aircraft work a very busy schedule with a higher-than-average number of flights each day.

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Our bird for the twenty-five minute flight from Honolulu to Kona, a Boeing MD-87. This plane is an updated version of the Douglas DC-9, which traces its roots to the early 1960s.

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A pair of Korean jets at the gate in Honolulu. In the foreground is an Asiana Airlines Airbus A330. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747-400 is in the background. Interesting that Korean flies such a bigger jet – nearly twice the passenger capacity – in Honolulu. Perhaps this is because of their code share with Hawaiian Airlines.

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A United Airlines 767-300 touches down as we taxi to the end of the runway. Tough to shoot these action shots and I missed the burst of smoke when the tires first hit the pavement.

Video of our departure from the “reef runway” at Honolulu International Airport.

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Climbing out of Honolulu, you see Waikiki Beach on the left and Diamond Head crater on the right. Our hotel was on the beach right where that large patch of grass is to the immediate left of Diamond Head.

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Flying over Maui. Just below the middle of the cloud line on the left side of the picture, you can make out a speck of an island. That’s Molokini crater, a fantastic spot where we went snorkeling.

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We arrived in Kona and deplaned using this accessible ramp. Much easier for people with mobility impairments to use, although sort of ungainly looking.

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Another Hawaiian Airlines MD-87 at Kona. Kona is a small airport with two gate area “clusters”. While we had purchased our ticket from United Airlines with the code-share flight on Hawaiian from Honolulu to Kona, connecting to a United flight to San Francisco, schedule changes from both airlines resulted in a short, 45-minute connection time. At most airports, this would be sufficent, but we (and about 20 other passengers who were making the same connection) discovered that you have to exit security from the Hawaiian Airlines gate area, walk around the front of the terminal building, and pass through security again to enter the United gate area. Inconvenient.

Back to the Mainland

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While heading out to our plane, I caught this picture of a Boeing 757-200 preparing for its trip to Los Angeles. This plane leaves just a half-hour after the San Francisco-bound plane, resulting in a bit of congestion at the security screening for the United gates.

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While we were in a rush to get to this fight, we still took time to pause for a picture. It is a shame that so few airports in the United States board by air stairs anymore. In fact, Kona is the only major airport in Hawaii that hasn’t moved to loading bridges. There’s a certain romance to walking across the tarmac and it certainly makes you appreciate the size of the planes.

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View looking towards the tail moments before entering the plane. Tawn and I were the last passengers aboard.

Short video of us departing Kona airport.

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Departing out of Kona, I made sure to select a window seat on the right-hand side of the plane. Tremendous view of Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot (4200-meter) high mountain that forms the Big Island of Hawai’i. Hard to see in this resolution of the picture, but when I look at it in Picasa, you can see the white specks that are the observatory.

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Chicken wrap “meal” for sale on the five-hour flight from Kona to San Francisco. This plane does a turn-around in Kona with the same crew that flew in from San Francisco in the morning. All of the catering, including the food, is boarded in SFO, flies across the Pacific, and then is served (er, “sold”) on the return leg. When I was considering my options, the flight attendant mentioned that she still had some breakfasts from the morning flight, in case I wanted to buy one of those.

Back to Thailand

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On approach into San Francisco International after our trip to Kansas City. You can see the salt evaporation ponds in the Mountain View, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City area. Taken from a CRJ-700 regional jet, which operates this three-and-a-half hour flight. Long time to be in an RJ but at least United is operating two nonstops a day after years of having to connect in Denver.

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A view of the F gates at San Francisco international airport with Mount San Bruno in the background.

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EVA Airways lounge in San Francisco. I cashed in some miles so my travel companions could have lounge access, figuring since this was their first time flying so far, it would be good to make the experience as relaxing as possible. The lounge isn’t the nicest in the world but offers more comfort than the gate area seats.

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Wonton soup. The bowls of wontons are covered with plastic wrap, then you ladle the hot broth yourself. Seems to work pretty well.

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A selection of small desserts and a passable latte from an automatic machine.

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Before leaving the lounge, I asked the attendant to take a picture of us: Tawn and me with my sister, brother-in-law, and some random man who is looking for a magazine to read. This was their first trip to Asia and you can see the anticipation on their faces.

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On the way to our gate, I see a Swiss Airbus A340 preparing to depart for Zurich. A United Boeing 777-200 taxies by in the background.

 

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Brother and sister posing in front of a United Airlines B747-400. We grew up the children of a United Airlines employee and I worked for them briefly after high school, so we have a strong emotional connection to the airline, despite everything it does to try and ruin the travel experience.

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Our “Elite Class” (premium economy) cabin for the EVA Airways flight from San Francisco to Taipei. Since it was a daylight departure, I gave Jenn and Kevin the window seats so they could enjoy the view as we climbed out of San Francisco.