The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.
Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United First Class Mexico City to Houston
United Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Croatia Airlines Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Lufthansa First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Asiana Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA Business Class Tokyo to Singapore
The 747 always holds a special place in my heart because of its links to my childhood. When I was young my father was posted to Silicon Valley to work. Whenever we shuttled back and forth between the USA and Singapore, we’d take one of SQ’s many 747s. Sometimes it’d be the Big Top (-300). Sometimes it’d be the Mega Top (-400). Sometimes we’d be seated in business class on the upper deck (companies were way more generous with expatriate packages back in the day) and sometimes we’d be cramped in the rear, but all the time the stewardesses would fuss over me (My career as a charmer started early) and bring me model aircraft, games and other distractions.
I’d get to go to the cockpit and meet the pilots, who would sign my Young Explorer booklet. For the uninitiated among you, Krisflyer used to have a special Young Explorer program just for kids. It even had various tiers (good to get them started on the status race early in life) which gave better benefits that I can’t quite remember. There was definitely a requalification gift and once I got tickets to watch Space Jam. It was a different time.
So being on a 747 definitely brings back a lot of memories for me. Unfortunately, the heyday of the 747 is long over, as the former queen of the long haul skies gets replaced by more fuel-efficient A380s and 77Ws. And although the A380 is certainly a formidable replacement, you don’t get that same feeling of privacy by having a small mini-cabin at the top of the jet.
As of January 2016 there were about 220 747-400s left in passenger service, and over a third of them were with three airlines (BA, UA and KLM). This aircraft used to account for almost 50% of Asia-Europe and Asia-North America flights in the first half of 2006, but 10 years later it now accounts to less than 10%. Take up of the 747-400’s spiritual successor, the 747-8, has been poor, with only three passenger operators. So it’s likely that within the next 5-10 years we’re likely to see the familiar shape of the 747 disappear from airports altogether (or confined to the cargo terminals).
Asiana too, is in the process of gradually phasing out its 747 fleet. It has four left in commercial services, flying short distance/high traffic routes like ICN-NRT.
The best thing is that even though Asiana’s 747s have three cabins, they only sell business and economy seats on this route. Therefore, if you book business, you can use the manage booking function to select a first class seat in the nose of the 747 (the service level on offer however will still be business).
In other words, if you’re booked in business you can either pick one of the 10 first class seats in the nose of the plane
Or one of the 24 business class seats in the upper deck
Although the upper deck is always an amazing experience, no prizes for guessing which section I took.
I departed from the W Walkerhill very early anticipating a minimum 90 minute journey to the airport, but because it was early on a Sunday morning (and the driver ignored all stop signs speed limits and traffic lights) we were there in just over 45 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to explore ICN airport.
Check-in was really silly. Even though I already had an e-boarding pass on my phone, the security people insisted I go back to the counter and get a physical one. Because physical is so much more legit. There were crazy lines at the counter, even for business class, but I just wandered up to a vacant first class station and asked if they could print out my pass for me, which they happily obliged.
Asiana’s flagship lounge in ICN was functional but not outstanding. It’s located up an escalator from the main concourse
Up the escalator you’ll find reception, but access control isn’t very good and during busy times when every counter staff is preoccupied I can see it being very easy for someone to come up the escalator and automatically turn left to enter the lounge (the lounge is split into two halves with the reception counter in the middle)
I scanned my boarding pass and went into the far end of the lounge (away from the escalators). This is the larger lounge area.
There is plenty of seating in the lounge and a sit down dining area.
The buffet selection was actually really poor, with only two hot items, cereal, bread and the curious option of a salad bar. 5 o’ clock somewhere, I guess.
The alcohol selection was already out even though it was 8 in the morning. Nothing sparkling on offer.
Behind the dining area was a TV area with sports on mute.
Elsewhere in the lounge you could find a selection of Englisha nd Korean reading materials
Some workstations (note the privacy glass separating each workstation from its neighbor)
And a random grand piano. Mostly for ambiance, not for music.
Ultimately the lounge didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I actually thought it was slightly poorer than SQ’s SilverKris business class section in Singapore, given that SQ has a much wider variety of hot dishes and alcohol on offer. It only struck me later that I could have gone to find SQ’s much better SilverKris ICN lounge instead of waiting here. Then again it might not have been open so early in hte morning.
When the time came to board I headed down to Gate 30 to prepare to meet an old friend. I was excited to see that it was a 747 Combi, which takes both passengers and cargo. You can see in the photo below that a large flap towards the rear of the aircraft is open. This is where they load the cargo pallets.
Boarding started exactly on time. The ICN-NRT route, as you might expect, is very popular among business travellers.
I had never been in the nose section of the 747 before, only on the upper deck. There are 10 seats in the nose section of Asiana’s 747
I had seat 3K, on the starboard side of the aircraft. I could imagine this seat being quite the luxury 10 years ago, but products have changed and innovated so much since then that the seat just looked very old and tired. More than sufficient for a 2 hour 10 minute flight of course.
It’s interesting how the seat design speaks volumes about how design priorities have changed over the years. You can see that the seat is really not very private. I could look across the entire cabin from where I was seated. That would be unthinkable on modern-day first class cabins where you’d get high walls and movable partitions to give privacy.
The most private seats in this cabin are probably those towards the front, 1A and K, simply because your blocked by the large rear of your own seat.
That said, I suppose if you sit at the correct angle you could still be seen (as this view of 1A from 3K shows)
The wear was visible on the seat controls especially around the edges
As well as around the tray table slot, presumably from suffering many bangs over the years by frustrated individuals trying to get the trays back in.
Some other minor cosmetic defects could be seen on the leather.
Fortunately, the IFE controller worked just fine (and I think is the same model used on SQ’s A330s)
And despite being an old aircraft, Empower plugs and USB outlets were still available.
I got the same amenities I got on the NRT-ICN leg on the A330, given that the service standards would be business class despite first class seating.
The service was alright but not spectacular. The chief stewardess came over to introduce herself, but subsequently disappeared and passengers were not addressed by name.
We pushed back on time and I heard those four majestic engines spooling up to get this ~400,000kg beast into the air. The aircraft made a very loud, groaning noise on takeoff, which was always very reassuring. I could hear the rattling and the creaking coming from the front and from the seats, parts presumably loosened after more than a decade of service.
Shortly after takeoff the crew started to serve lunch on this short flight. I can’t remember whether a menu was presented, I’m quite sure it must have but I didn’t get a photo. In any case it was your typical Asian vs Western option. I went with the Asian which was beef with rice. It was pleasant but I was saving my stomach for a little adventure I’ll touch on in a bit.
The bathroom was adequately stocked for a small flight. The standard L’Occitane amenities were on offer.
The seat reclines full flat, as you would expect from a first class seat from 10 years ago. It’s not going to win any awards today of course, and I couldn’t help but feel the entire fabric hadn’t been cleaned in eternity, but a flat seat on a 2 hour 10 min flight is already more than anyone can ask for.
We started our descent before I knew it and were flying over the farms near Narita.
Everything else was without drama. An on time landing gave me a four hour layover and I wasn’t about to spend it at the very average ANA lounge.
I had made plans beforehand to leave the airport and explore Narita City. I didn’t fancy being able to squeeze in Tokyo in that four hours, given I was at Narita not Haneda. Most people think of Narita as an airport not a city, but I had two objectives: have sushi and visit a Japanese supermarket. Both could be fulfilled at Narita City…