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Best of Airways — ANA Business Jet: Mumbai-Tokyo

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Best of Airways — ANA Business Jet: Mumbai-Tokyo

Anosh Tamboowala

Best of Airways — ANA Business Jet: Mumbai-Tokyo
August 08
14:00 2017

By Anosh Tamboowala • Airways Magazine, May 2017


Over the years, various legacy carriers such as Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA) have tried to dabble—with limited success—in this niche market.

One airline that dipped its toe into this high niche market was All Nippon Airways, ANA (NH), which took delivery of two Boeing 737-700(ER)s in February 2007. Due to the extra fuel tanks installed, these aircraft had the ability to fly up to 5,500nm.

One aircraft was outfitted with a mixed cabin, with 24 Business Class and 20 Premium Economy seats. Service, marketed as ANA Business Jet, was inaugurated in the spring of 2007 to Guangzhou, China (CAN).

The second 737-700(ER) was fitted with a 38-seat all-Business Class configuration. Later that year, this particular aircraft was used to launch direct services between Tokyo-Narita (NRT) and Mumbai (BOM), with a refueling stop in Nagasaki (NGS) on the westbound leg.

Over the next few years, ANA did not deviate much with its two Business Jet services. Eventually, the refueling stop was switched to Fukuoka (FUK) on the Mumbai route, and the CAN route was replaced with a Narita–Yangon (RGN) one.

The aircraft featuring the original livery of the ANA Business Jet back in 2007. PHOTO: AUTHOR.

The aircraft featuring the original livery of the ANA Business Jet back in 2007. PHOTO: AUTHOR.

During 2015, ANA officially announced it would be retiring the Business Jet service, and fly to Mumbai and Yangon with a Boeing 787 and 767 respectively.

While I had tried the Privatair BBJ in the past, I realized that this would be my last chance to sample the all-Business Class 737 with ANA, so I went ahead and booked a ticket from Mumbai to New York via Narita a few weeks before the planned retirement date.

I reached a rather deserted Mumbai Airport just shy of the recommended two hours before scheduled departure time.

The check-in desk was easily located on the west side of the huge check in area of Mumbai’s relatively new International Terminal, which opened its doors in early 2014.

The stunning architecture and decor of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s International Airport (BOM). PHOTO: AUTHOR.

The stunning architecture and decor of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s International Airport (BOM). PHOTO: AUTHOR.

As I approached the designated counters, a staff member inquired whether I was traveling on ANA, and I was personally escorted to one of the open desks. The smiling agent behind the desk verified my documents and asked whether my pre assigned seats to JFK were what I still wanted. Bags tagged, and with both boarding passes in hand, I was wished a pleasant trip and directed towards security.

Once all the usual formalities and stamping were done, I headed straight for the contract lounge that ANA uses in Mumbai for its flights. The GVK Lounge was easy to locate, and I was welcomed in with a warm ‘Namaste’. I quickly grabbed a drink at the bar and found a seat by one of the large windows, which provided some great aircraft viewing opportunities.

Along with a full bar, there was a full buffet area that offered various dishes ranging from cold cuts and sandwiches to several kinds of hot foods. I also saw a plate of sushi, which I suspect is not on offer all the time but, rather, is only available when ANA passengers are in the lounge during the late evening hours.

The impressive GVK Lounge at Mumbai features beautiful walls and lighting effects that make it modern and elegant. PHOTO: AUTHOR.

The impressive GVK Lounge at Mumbai features beautiful walls and lighting effects that make it modern and elegant. PHOTO: AUTHOR.

The amenities offered in the lounge could easily have kept me satisfied for hours. I gobbled down some snacks while enjoying the free Wi-Fi on offer.

Soon enough, a uniformed ANA agent appeared and discreetly walked up to each of us to inform that boarding would begin in a few minutes and that we should be making our way to the gate. I took her suggestion and started the walk towards the gate, which, from the lounge, took a good ten minutes.

Once we had reached the gate, the ground staff almost immediately swung into action and ushered us down the jetway with a smile.

Upon reaching the front door of the aircraft, I was greeted by two female FAs bowing with huge smiles on their faces. I walked down towards the rear of the aircraft, stowed my bags, and settled into 8A.

1. Plenty of leg room to stretch out with the 60-inch pitch on each seat on board the ANA Boeing 737-700(ER). 2. The recliner Business Class seats, while relatively comfortable, were missing a few creature comforts. 3. The IFE System consisted of a ‘DigEplayer’ with pre-loaded entertainment.

1. Plenty of leg room to stretch out with the 60-inch pitch on each seat on board the ANA Boeing 737-700(ER).
2. The recliner Business Class seats, while relatively comfortable, were missing a few creature comforts.
3. The IFE System consisted of a ‘DigEplayer’ with pre-loaded entertainment.
PHOTOS: AUTHOR.

Within a few minutes, an FA appeared by my side with a tray of water and orange juice.

“Mr. Tamboowala, my name is Miyu and I shall be one of your Flight Attendants today. Is this your first time on ANA?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I hope we can make it a good flight for you then. There are two bathrooms, one in the front and one in the back. The seat controls are here on your armrest and your portable TV is in this armrest. If you need anything, please let me or one of my colleagues know.”

The main cabin door was closed and I counted a total of 12 seats occupied, which meant a relatively light load this evening.

Before I knew it, we began our pushback with the safety video being shown on the ceiling flip down screens. As there was not too much congestion at this hour, we did not have to wait long before our rather heavy 737 blasted off into the night sky.

As we began to climb towards our initial cruising altitude, I pulled out the stored media player, which happened to be a ‘DigEplayer’, the kind designed by an Alaska Airlines employee a few years ago. A stand that protruded from the armrest helped balance the player and kept it more at eye level. While a bit clunky, the stand certainly helped and was better than not having one at all, like many airlines do.

The quality of the video was pretty decent and, while being somewhat limited, the selection was ample enough to keep me entertained.

Miyu came down the aisle handing out menus to all passengers, followed by hot towels. Another FA came down the aisle with a pen and paper, addressing each passenger by name.

“Welcome on board, my name is Keiko and I am the senior on this flight. Shortly, we will start serving dinner. Would you like a drink?” She proceeded to take my drink order, inquired whether this was my first time flying ANA, and seemed genuinely delighted when I confirmed it was. She asked me to look through the menu and said she would return shortly to take my order.

The menu was quite extensive, with a Western and a Japanese selection on offer. While the Western selection featured exquisite and lavish items, such as two kinds of lobster and a Japanese beef fillet, I decided to go with the Japanese selection.

According to the menu, all the food had been prepared at Mumbai’s landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which made it sound even more mouthwatering. I informed Keiko of my decision; she seemed genuinely elated about the fact that I was going to try the traditional Japanese choice, and promised me that I would enjoy it.

I reclined my seat and, to pass the time, I started watching a movie on the DigEplayer. Keiko eventually came around the aisle with white table linens. My pre-dinner cocktail was delivered with an amuse bouche.

My drink of choice is normally rum and coke but, since ANA does not serve my rum, I had no choice but to go with an alternate cocktail, a Bloody Mary.

To be fair, it had quite a pleasant, balanced flavor; not overly spicy, but definitely with the needed kick to it. The smoked salmon tartar was excellent and accompanied the olives and gherkin quite nicely. The two spiced puffed pastry biscuits were also quite enjoyable, and I used them as sort of a toast point for the other condiments.

Overall, I was quite pleased with this tiny plate, which provided a nice change from the dull bowl of warm mixed nuts I am always served on my regular airline.

After a few minutes, Keiko rolled a cart down the aisle and gently placed my tray down with a smile. Being a fan of bento boxes, I could not wait to uncover the box and dig in. I started off with the assorted delicacies. While I am not a fan of cold poultry, the grilled vegetable chicken roll was full of flavor and quite pleasant.

The Japanese omelet and sweet potato cubes had a subtle flavor that was pleasing after the smoked salmon. The tasty tidbit of apricot with tofu paste was interesting, but not something I would really ever order at a restaurant.

Keiko was by my side a few moments later, checking up on whether I had enjoyed my bento box. As she collected my tray, she carefully moved my chopsticks and glass of water to the side. Miyu delivered my piping hot main course a few moments later. The chicken and vegetables were delicious, rich in flavor and something I would quite happily order in a restaurant. The bowl of steamed white rice was done perfectly, fluffy and soft, neither dry nor mushy.

I tried to savor every last bite, but I must have inhaled my meal as it was gone in an instant. All the while, Keiko kept a watchful eye from the galley and, when she saw I had finished, she emerged by my side with an inquisitive look. Once I was done praising the meal, she insisted I set aside room for dessert, which, that day, was green tea tiramisu.

Now, green tea is something that can go horribly wrong in a dessert, and I have tasted my fair share of inedible sweet treats laced with this lush green leafy blend. However, after one spoonful, I realized it was balanced perfectly, not too cloyingly sweet, and just the right amount of green tea to not turn each bite into a bitter mouthful. Miyu collected my plate after I declined any more beverages; a bottle of water was placed on my armrest as the cabin lights were dimmed.

Keiko brought around a basket containing some amenities, such as ear plugs, eye shades, socks, lip balm, tooth brushes, and shaving kits. After every passenger had had a chance to grab whatever they needed from the basket, the cabin lights were completely turned off. This was one aspect upon which I thought ANA could improve. Surely, a small amenity kit with the bare essentials would be a nice gesture.

I pushed the seat as far back as possible, finished up whatever was left of the movie, and tried to get some shuteye. While the seat was not flat and was nowhere near the standard one expects in today’s full flat bed-saturated market, it was cozy enough. I did have a bit of difficulty sleeping, but managed a decent nap, albeit with some tossing and turning ever so often.

1. A main course of chicken sukiyaki followed. 2. A wonderful Japanese breakfast of rice balls with miso soup. 3. An amuse bouche and a cocktail. 4. The bento box appetizer was very well presented. PHOTOS: AUTHOR.

From left to right:
1.a) The main course of chicken sukiyaki.
1.b) Japanese breakfast of rice balls with miso soup.
2.a) An amuse bouche and a cocktail.
2.b) The bento box appetizer was very well presented.
PHOTOS: AUTHOR.

I woke up a couple of hours later to the sun peeking out on the horizon. Keiko was immediately by my side, coaxing me into having a glass of chilled orange juice, which she delivered with a smile a minute later, while immediately pulling the menu out from the seat pocket. She asked whether I wanted to try the Japanese option for breakfast. At this point, I just did not have the heart to say no, and I accepted her offer.

First, hot towels were passed around and, a short while later, Miyu delivered my tray. While I would normally not eat such items for breakfast, they really hit the spot and represented a nice change from the bland and insipid eggs that airlines usually try to force on us for breakfast.

The miso soup was hot and flavorful, while the two rice balls added a nice salty/sweet balance to the breakfast. As Keiko collected my tray, she inquired about whether I had liked the unique Japanese taste, and I assured her that it had not disappointed. She asked whether I wanted anything to drink, and I settled on a hot cup of English breakfast tea.

Towards the last hour of the flight, Keiko stopped by and finally decided to ask me about all the pictures I was taking. I told her it was just a hobby. She began to ask the normal questions about where I lived, and what did I do for a living. Once I had mentioned that I worked in the aviation industry, her face lit up even more. She and I ended up having a good 20-minute conversation on the aviation industry, ANA’s BBJ service, her Mumbai layovers, Japan, and much more. She was so pleasant and engaging.

How much I was enjoying conversing with her took me a bit by surprise. All too soon, the aircraft began to dip, and we began our descent into a rather dull and cloudy Tokyo.

We touched down on a very wet Runway 16L, taxied past busy Terminal 2, and headed out to a set of remote hardstand gates. As you can imagine, deplaning the only 12 passengers was a very quick and efficient process. Keiko and Miyu stood in the galley by the door wishing everyone “Sayonara”.

We all boarded the bus and waited less than a minute before driving off towards the terminal. However, just before we headed off, Keiko appeared at the bottom of the stairs, and bowed and waved at everyone with a smile.

The ride to the terminal took just under 10 minutes. A short walk later, I was in the ANA Business Class lounge, which marked the completion of my ANA Business Jet experience.

Overall, I was quite pleased. It was truly unique, and I was glad I got to try out his dedicated BBJ service before it was terminated. The seats may have been far from state of the art, and the IFE could have used a bit of work. However, the catering was quite pleasant and, more importantly, the service was among the best I ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I believe this was a by-product of having a small, dedicated cabin.

While ANA has a reputation for having some of the best cabin crews in the industry, I could not help but feel that the FAs had taken extra steps to interact with the small number of passengers on this flight. In the end, this was what stood out the most for me: the genuine hospitality showed by this particular cabin crew.

While this may have been my first experience on ANA, sadly, it is now one for the history books, as ANA has retired its two Boeing 737-700(ER)s.

I can think of no better introduction to this marvelous airline, as I plan on flying them a whole lot more in the future.

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A Global Review of Commercial Flight since 1994: the leading Commercial Aviation publication in North America and 35 nations worldwide. Based in Miami, Florida.

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