Lost in Translation: American Airlines First Class Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles

Introduction
Westin Atlanta Airport
American Airlines First Class New York JFK to Los Angeles
American Airlines First Class Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita
Japan Airlines Business Class Tokyo Narita to Nagoya
Hyatt Regency Kyoto
Hoshinoya Kyoto
Westin Nagoya Castle
Japan Airlines Business Class Nagoya to Tokyo Narita
American Airlines First Class Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles
American Airlines First Class Los Angeles to New York JFK


We had a six hour layover, the first four hours of which we spent in the Japan Airlines first class lounge. I’ve reviewed the lounge before, so I won’t get into too many details on it this time around. As usual it was pretty crowded since both first class and OneWorld Emerald passengers have access, though I do think the lounge itself is nicer than the ANA first class lounge at Narita (though the ANA lounge is consistently more quiet).

One of the nice features of the lounge is the 10 minute massage they offer guests, which I took advantage of immediately. It’s not as nice as the hour-long massage Thai Airways offers in their first class lounge, but it’s something at least!


Japan Airlines first class lounge

A little over an hour before departure we headed over to the satellite where American’s gates are, which can be accessed by shuttle.


Shuttle to American gates


Shuttle to American gates

When we got to the satellite we walked by the Qantas lounge, which I didn’t even previously know existed, so we decided to check it out. It was empty, so a nice alternative to the Japan Airlines lounge in the future. Even though it doesn’t have a first class section I’ll gladly trade a more substantial buffet for a more quiet lounge, and that’s an area in which the Qantas lounge delivers.


Qantas lounge Narita

We got to the gate at around 3:15PM, right as boarding began.


Departure gate


Our plane to LAX

American 170
Tokyo Narita (NRT) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Monday, May 28
Depart: 3:55PM
Arrive: 9:50AM
Duration: 9hr55min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200
Seat: 3D (First Class)

At the door we took the left turn to the first class cabin, which was still empty at the time.


First class cabin


My seat, 3D

Within moments of settling into 3D one of the first class flight attendants, Colleen, came by to offer us pre-departure beverages. I ordered water.


Pre-departure beverages

Already at my seat was a day blanket, duvet, and pillow, and moments later I was offered an amenity kit, large pair of pajamas, slippers, Bose headphones, and the menu.


Sleeping gear


Slippers and amenity kit


Pajamas

The door closed right on-time and we quickly began our taxi to the runway. Taxiing from terminal 2 at Narita takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R, and the fact that it was “rush hour” and we were about number 10 for takeoff didn’t help. The captain came on the PA as we queued for takeoff to advise us of our flight time of nine hours, anticipating an on-time arrival in Los Angeles.

At the same time the purser came around to introduce himself and take meal orders.

Flights from Narita to Los Angeles are always funny to me, because they’re much more like an eastbound transatlantic flight than a flight to/from Asia for me. The flight is so quick at just nine hours and lands in the morning, so I have my “sleep” strategy down pretty well on these flights. I have dinner after takeoff with a  movie, and then sleep for as long as I can, sometimes waking up for breakfast.

After takeoff I started watching 21 Jump Street, which was hilarious and kept me entertained throughout dinner.


Movie

There was quite a bit of rough air after takeoff, so it was about 30 minutes before the meal service commenced. The dinner menu read as follows:

Colleen was serving my aisle, and she was awesome — friendly, engaging, efficient, and attentive. What more could you ask for?

Service started with hot nuts and pita chips with hummus.


Diet Coke with lime, hot nuts, and pita chips with hummus

The next course was the standard starter of shrimp and salmon, which was plated at my seat. This was done by both Colleen and the purser, who was also friendly.


Shrimp and salmon

The next course was salad.


Salad

None of the main courses seemed especially interesting, so I went with the shrimp bowl. It was alright. By no means “international first class gourmet cuisine,” but it was edible.


Shrimp noodle bowl

The highlight of any American international first class meal is of course the ice cream sundae. Colleen sure fudged mine up good.


Ice cream sundae

After dessert I changed into pajamas to get a few hours of shut eye. I slept for five hours, and woke up with about 90 minutes to go to LAX.


Cabin after dinner


Blanket

At that point breakfast was served. The menu read as follows:

Airline breakfasts are interesting in that on some airlines they’re my favorite meal, while on other airlines they’re my least favorite meal. With US airlines they’re consistently my least favorite meal because they’re usually way too greasy, way too cheesy, and the orange juice sucks. Compare that to Lufthansa where they freshly prepare the egg dishes onboard and also have freshly squeezed orange juice, or the amazing breakfast I had on this Qantas flight.

So suffice to say the breakfast was a greasy omelet so I didn’t really have all that much of it, though the fruit and cinnamon roll were at least decent.


Breakfast

After breakfast I briefly spoke to Colleen, which led to me having to lie. Like I said earlier she was really engaging and friendly, so I couldn’t help but ask about the blazers American’s flight attendants wear on international flights. I’ve always noticed they put on blazers during the service, and wasn’t sure why. So I asked her about them and she said “oh yeah, we wear them on international flights in first and business class to add a special touch to the service. Aren’t they nice?”

How do I respond to that? I happen to think they look like they’re from the 1970s and make American’s uniforms look even older than they are (which is tough to do), so I responded with the only semi-honest thing I could — “yeah, they’re just like the good old days.”

About 30 minutes before landing the captain came on the PA to advise us of our arrival time. At that point the flight attendants served sparkling water.


Sparkling water

We touched down right on-time and thanks to Global Entry found ourselves in the Flagship Lounge within about 15 minutes of landing.

On the whole it was an extremely pleasant flight. I love American first class since it’s comfortable, but at the same time it’s a familiar enough product that I don’t feel like I need to stay awake to “experience” the service. As a result I find that I get the most sleep in American first class, which I suppose is what international premium cabins are all about.

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Comments

  1. Ben,
    I enjoy reading your post and have been reading some of your older post to. I was wondering if you have ever flown Jetblue and written about your experience? I’ve always heard good things about them and now that there starting service out of PVD I will hopefully be flying them. Thanks! Tim

  2. @ Tim — I’ve flown them before though don’t think I’ve ever written a review. I’ll definitely do so the next time I fly with them. Purely in terms of the flying experience I think they’re tough to beat — amazing legroom, comfortable seats, great entertainment, and generally good crews. If only they had a loyalty program that let me accrue miles towards Singapore Airlines first class. 😉

  3. Ben, what do you do with all of those PJ sets you collect? You could offer to send me a set.

  4. @ Dave — They make up 90% of my wardrobe, of course, given that I work from home. 😉

    I like the idea, though. Maybe I’ll give them away with the trip reports in the future.

  5. I’ve noticed there are a few phrases used often such as “rough air.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by 1) chop 2) rough air 3) turbulence? (any others I’m forgetting?) Also, what percentage of your flights would you give at least some designation of the ride vs just a bump here or there not worth mentioning. Thanks!

  6. @ Nick — Great question. For me there are two categorizations of bumpiness (based on my private pilot training, which hardly qualifies me as an expert on the topic) — turbulence (in particular moderate and severe) and then everything else (chop, rough air, etc.).

    Chop/rough air/light turbulence is just annoying constant movement that’s pretty common, and I use those terms interchangeably, for better of worse. Most flights have some form of chop. Moderate and severe turbulence is more serious, whereby unsecured items actually would “fly” around the cabin.

    I have moderate turbulence maybe once a year, and I don’t think I’ve ever had severe turbulence. Here’s a pretty good explanation of the types of turbulence:
    http://www.navyaircrew.com/blog/2009/08/30/light-moderate-or-severe-turbulencehow-are-they-defined/

    Basically in my reports if I mention turbulence it’s uncomfortable (stuff is flying through the cabin if unsecured), while everything else is less severe.

    Hope that answers your question. 🙂

  7. Coins, why didn’t you fly upfront on a OW partner? It’s a much nicer experience than AA.

  8. @ dhammer53 — Because I was on a cheap business class ticket upgraded to first class. If you find a premium international airline that lets you upgrade to first class on an $1,800 business class fare, please let me know.

  9. Just as an FYI… that QANTAS lounge is nice, but it’s a zoo For large chunks of the day. When the BA and Finnair flights are about to head back to Europe, you’ll be pressed to find a seat.

  10. @Lucky: “So suffice it to say the breakfast was a greasy omelet so I didn’t really have all that much of it, though the fruit and cinnamon roll were at least decent.”

    Just a friendly reminder that you can leave the word “it” out of “suffice it to say” whenever you’re using that phrase. Thanks!

  11. @ David — Funny, I’ve actually sold a couple on Ebay in the past, because I was convinced it was a conspiracy theory. Can’t believe they go for so much. 😀

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