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American Airlines to Haneda
by Christopher Pittman

 

 ALL PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER PITTMAN

 

Flights: AA135; AA134    [July 2011]
Routes: New York-JFK (IATA: JFK) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and return
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER


Haneda is on Tokyo Bay and very near the central business district. Unlike its larger counterpart, Narita, HND is much closer to the heart of this great city. While Narita will remain the major international airport for Tokyo, especially for those travelling from the United States, Europe, or elsewhere connecting to other cities in Asia.     For those whose destination is Tokyo or other cities in Japan, Haneda is a smart option. Before the opening of Narita, Haneda was  called Tokyo International Airport and with a new International Terminal the airport is expanding as a gateway to Japan. Haneda currently serves 60 million passengers a year, one of the world's top ten busiest airports, and far busier than Narita.
After launching Haneda in February 2011, American Airlines resumed service from JFK to HND on July 1 after a  three-month hiatus in the aftermath of the earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster that hit Japan in March (see story, Airways, July 2011).
    My departure was on the third day of the revived service and as expected the cabin loads were light; however, stronger than other brand new routes I’ve experienced. First, Business, and Coach were all around 50% sold.
    

 

 

 

 

 

Having arrived a couple of hours prior STD, I settled into the American Admirals Club, which is accessed by membership or by showing a current boarding pass in either Business or First Class.  JFK Terminal 8 is a very nice and well-appointed terminal having had a more than billion dollar renovation and remodel, including the Admirals Club. Additional features are now being planned to increase the number of gates since the oneworld alliance members American, British Airways, and Iberia received anti-trust immunity for travel across the Atlantic. These additional gates will help accommodate the relocation of BA to Terminal 8 for a more seamless connecting process for passengers.
    At select airports, including JFK, American offers the Flagship Lounge as a step up from the regular Admirals Club. Flagship Lounges are open to customers travelling on international flights in First or Business Class. The Flagship Lounge includes all the usual Admirals Club amenities, such as comfortable sitting areas, showers, business center, Cyber Café, and complimentary drinks, but also includes a complimentary buffet and a smaller, quieter atmosphere.
    Boarding began at 1845 and with the light load for a 777, was completed well ahead of departure time. As we took our seats we were offered water, Champagne, orange juice, or mimosas.
    The aircraft pushed out ten minutes early and with an unusually short taxi for JFK, we were airborne by 1930. A beautiful climb-out over the coast and a turn back over Long Island sent us northwest- bound toward the northern latitudes of Canada.
    Menus had been distributed before departure, as well as amenity kits, pillows, and duvet covers. The menu offered a traditional Japanese meal or American's usual Flagship Dining options. First there were warm mixed nuts, vegetable rice noodles with shrimp and mixed greens with creamy wasabi dressing, and a breadbasket.
    Main course choices featured a beef filet mignon with Foyot sauce served with roasted root vegetables and sautéed broccolini; salmon with teriyaki glaze served on a bed of egg noodles with asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, and red and yellow bell peppers; Shayou chicken breast topped with a soy-teriyaki-ginger sauce accompanied by seasoned mixed vegetables, daikon, and jasmine fried rice; or Stuffed Shells Pomodoro, cheese-filled pasta shells topped with roasted tomato sauce.
    To complete the meal there was Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or fresh fruit. Once meal service ended the flight attendants placed a cart at the galley area between the Business and First Class cabins, which included a variety of fruit, chips, and other snacks for those long flight cravings.
    Once dinner and dessert were complete, most passengers— including myself—settled in to the ‘nearly’ lie-flat bed to sleep or watch slept or watch the well-stocked IFE centers at each seat. In First and Business Class, Bose headsets are offered to each passenger for use during the flight.
    On this flight I found myself able to sleep for some six hours of the 13-½ hour journey. The cabin remained dark and quiet for much of the time after dinner service as most other passengers seemed to settle in well.
    I awoke about four hours before landing and a flight attendant offered a snack of either an Edo-style Mini Bento Box with vinegared rice wrapped in bean curd skin, rolled sushi, and seasonal Japanese pickles with fresh fruit, or a light sandwich of turkey, red pepper, and Monterrey Jack cheese wrap served with brownie and fruit.
    With less than four hours to go, more sleep seemed pointless so I took time to work and again make use of both my laptop and the entertainment system, called 'ON’. Offerings include recently released movies, television shows, documentaries, classic TV and film and kid-specific programming. ON also offers audio/music programming, flight path info, and a course on how to operate the seat, be it Business or First.
    ON is evolving and may be replaced or enhanced as American has announced it is already testing in-flight streaming content that will eventually be on all flights if the tests are successful. Streaming video would allow passengers to use their own devices to stream content similar to that of Netflix or a scaled-down iTunes.
    So far, no good option has been offered for in-flight wireless internet access on long-haul flights because the aircraft is out of range of any reliable ground-based connections.
    Two hours before landing, we were offered a late night dinner.  The pre-arrival meal was an option of a Uno Chicago Pizza, an individual deep-dish four cheese and pesto pizza served with a green salad and Caesar salad, or grilled chicken with adobo sauce, accompanied by coconut curry and Peruvian potatoes. Both concluded with a dessert of glazed peaches with sugared puff pastry.
    At this point, a video was shown to prepare less-frequent travellers with the arrivals process, including immigration and customs. I began repacking the collection of items used during the flight, re-dressing from the shorts and t-shirt that was more conducive to sleep and ensuring my customs forms were completed.
    Thirty minutes before landing, FAs offered chilled sparkling water or still water with fresh citrus garnish.
    Refreshed, repacked, and nourished we touched down at  Haneda at 2140, some 40 minutes early. The taxi at HND was quite long and when we finally blocked on it was at a remote parking stand where passengers disembarked via stairway and boarded waiting buses to travel to the terminal. The commute was quick and while there were other arriving flights, the immigration and customs area was well-staffed and processing was quick and efficient. Before 2215 I was out into the arrivals area and hailing a taxi for my hotel.
    Less than 30 minutes from the city center, Haneda is also a stop on the Tokyo Monorail which connects to the subway system. Compared to Narita this is a very close option; however, Narita does have a commuter rail link into the city center. Haneda will clearly become a popular choice for travellers who want quicker access to the city.


 

 

 


 

 

 

 


At this hour, the taxi ride took only 20 minutes. The International Terminal was already busy but check-in was quick and passengers could use an automated kiosk or the ticket counter. Security lines are nothing like those in the United States; there were at least eight open lanes with no more than one or two people in each.     From the amazingly smooth security screening, passengers are ushered directly to the immigration desks, also with no wait. In a matter of five minutes I was heading to the JAL First Class Lounge (all American Airlines Tokyo flights are code-shared with Japan Airlines).
    The JAL lounge is equipped with the usual seating areas, bar, complimentary food, computers/business center, and a massage room. Twelve massage chairs, with privacy screens, offer the perfect pre-flight ritual to prepare for a 12-15-hour flights.
    AA134 departed from Gate 107B, a jetbridge. Boarding was set to begin at 0555 and in true Japanese fashion, boarding was announced at exactly 0555 with First and Business Class, Elite customers, followed by groups throughout the Economy cabin.
    Boarding was fast and the crew began handing out the usual bedding items, amenity kits, Bose headsets, and immigration and custom forms as we settled in.
    The door was closed at 0625, but was reopened as the captain announced that our flight plan had changed and we needed more fuel for the 12hr 34min trip. Top up was completed and the door re-shut at 0700, 20 minutes past the scheduled time of departure. We pushed back and taxied to Runway 27R. Airborne we climbed over Narita and off the coastline before heading toward the southern coast of Alaska and across Canada. Three meals would be served.
    Breakfast consisted of fruit Danish and fruit smoothie, juices, yogurt, cereal, breadbasket, and a choice of mushroom omelet with a grilled beef tenderloin, pan-fried rosti potatoes, and sautéed mushrooms with onions; roasted ham and Provolone cheese layered between two slices of thick cut French toast served with maple syrup; a ham, bacon, mushroom, onion, and cheese quiche accompanied by fried new potatoes and a seasonal vegetable mixture of asparagus, peppers, and onions; or thinly sliced seasoned beef served over udon noodles with leeks and spinach.
    About six hours into the flight, a snack service consisted of an Edo-style Mini Bento Box with vinegared rice wrapped in bean curd skin, rolled sushi, and seasonal Japanese pickles, served with miso soup; or a roasted chicken and white Cheddar cheese sandwich served with mixed vegetable salad and fresh fruit.
    Brunch, served 90 minutes before landing, was a selection of breakfast breads with an Asian chicken noodle salad of sautéed chicken breast with snap peas and udon noodles, garnished with fresh leeks and sesame seeds, accompanied by bread pudding and chocolate sauce; or a grilled sandwich of roasted ham, Provolone cheese, tomato, and basil, ginger-cilantro pesto sauce, and fresh fruit.
    The flight was enjoyable and making up some of the time lost at the beginning of the day, we touched down at JFK at 0644 and were at the gate by 0648, only 18 minutes behind schedule after a flight half-way across the world.
    With Asia a growing economic and business market and becoming more popular among leisure travellers, American's new service will offer another option not only to Tokyo, but also to oneworld partner connections throughout Japan and other parts of Asia.
    Customers will find Haneda to be very easy to maneuver and that American's Flagship services to either Tokyo airport will serve them well.
    Because demand for travel to Japan since the twin tragedies has "fallen significantly below normal levels," American Airlines intends to suspend daily JFK-Haneda service at the end of the northern summer until around June 1, 2012.

(Thanks to Alan Phillips, AA Corporate Communications (Weber-Shandwick) for making this review possible.)

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