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Everybody's talking Tokyo, and with good reason. The country is psyched to begin restarting tourism, autumn over there is magical, and the ANA 787 Dreamliner just completed her maiden revenue flight out of the city. So when you do take that dive and head to Japan, you'll likely spend some time in Narita International Airport. If you're flying United and holding a Business Class, ticket or Star Alliance status, then you'll want to know about the United Business Lounge.
We recently spent some time here after bumping ourselves up to Biz, and gave the sizeable lounge a good once-over:
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You've had a long flight, or maybe you're about to have a long flight, or maybehorror of horrorsboth. You've got some sizeable layover time at Tokyo-Narita Airport and you're desperate to have a shower, take a nap or work in peace and comfortor all three things. If you're flying economy you don't have the option to crash in a lounge, but luckily Narita is a large (and awesome) enough airport to offer Shower rooms and Day Rooms, and we just tried them out!
Our story involved a long flight to NRT from Bangkok, an 8-hour layover and another long flight back to the States in economy. Typically we'd enjoy the airport like an amusement park, but we were under the weather and sleepy. Although the day rooms may be reserved online up to one month in advance, we just walked in and plonked down our credit card for five hours in a single room.
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Last week we found ourselves way in the back of a United 777 flying direct from Tokyo-Narita to Seattle-Tacoma in economy class. Yes, believe it. Thankfully we scored an aisle seat, but that was about the only positive. Here's a little review of our experience:
What we liked:
· Seatback TVs! Holy crap, we weren't expecting that considering the United 777 on the way over (from SFO to NRT) didn't have them.
· Two square meals were served. Granted, the turbulence during the first one didn't allow for us to get up and grab our camera from the overhead bin, but it wasn't too bad. Chicken over rice.
· The flight left and arrived on time, so there's that.
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Following a harrowing last-minute upgrade and 11.5 hours in so-so Biz Class from SFO to NRT, we were finally ready to experience the updated seats and in-flight entertainment on United's 747 from Tokyo-Narita to Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi.
That may sound like a reasonably short flight, but nu uhthat's another 6.5 hours of flying, which makes it totally worthwhile to have a nice seat and a nice TV and a nice meal for this last leg of a very long, very tiring journey.
We've already dug into the meals here, so now let's discuss the finer points of the seat and service in Biz Class on this 747:
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Following a $600+ upgrade to Business Class, an 11.5-hour flight from SFO to NRT and some filet mignon, we were excited for a little more local fare on the 6 hour and 30 minute flight. And we got it. Kinda. If Trader Vic's-recipe dishes can be considered thusly.
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United's 777 from San Francisco to Tokyo-Narita in Business Class was a fly-by-night thing. Literally. It was a flight on which we upgraded at the last minute, boarded at the last minute, and everyone onboard slept for the majority of the 11-hour, 15-minute flight.
Since we've already detailed the in-flight meals, we'll keep our impressions of the seats and service quick and dirty:
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"The 'Grilled Shrimp Brochette' looks nice, but then so does the 'Saté Spiced Chicken!'"
No, you are not in a restaurant. You are 38,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean, sitting in Business Class on a United 777, and you've got a printed menu open in your hands. Hard to believe? Hopefully not, because that was us recently after scoring a last-minute paid upgrade.
We've begun by telling you how we got it, now it's on to the experience of the flights themselves. Key to the fun of chilling in biz is enjoying the actual plated meals, instead of a plastic tray of "fish or meat" in economy.
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DRUMROLL PLEASE! The first destination to get regular, scheduled service on the very first Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be...Okayama, Japan! Why Okayama? Well, the airline with the pleasure of introducing the 787 to the traveling public is Japanese airline ANA, and after a few fun flights to show off the shiny new plane, she'll be put into domestic service between Tokyo-Haneda and Okayama.
Okay so this is literally yesterday's news, but we got a little wrapped up in the East Coast Earthquake drama, so chillax.
Finally, some dates: the very first scheduled flight will happen on November 1, to be immediately followed by the start of Tokyo-Haneda to Hiroshima service on the 787. Want to go international? You've got to wait a tad bit longer, but Tokyo-Haneda to Beijing begins as soon as December, with Tokyo-Haneda to Frankfurt kicking off the long-haul routes in January, 2012.
Here's the official schedule, straight from ANA:
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In Japan over the last few days, there's been a massive earthquake, tragic tsunamis and even a volcanic explosion, but the news gripping the world is that of their ongoing emergencies at several nuclear plants. Note the word "ongoing," as the other three big events happened and are done with.
It was reported very early this morning that Lufthansa isn't taking the nuclear crisis and release of radioactivity into the atmosphere sitting down (or rather, flying high as normal). The German airline has begun scanning their planes out of Japan for radioactivity, and though nothing above a normal level has been found, Lufthansa is taking precautions by removing the Airbus A380 from Tokyo routes and putting most Lufthansa flight crew up in South Korea rather than Japan.
In addition, the two daily Tokyo-bound Lufthansa flights from Germany will be diverted to other Japanese airports through this upcoming Sunday. Specifically, Lufthansa Flight 714 from Munich will head to Nagoya and Lufthansa Flight 710 from Frankfurt will land at Osaka-Kansai.
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Last night, or after lunch if you were in Tokyo, a massive 8.9 earthquake hit off the western coast of Japan, causing a rolling of the earth felt though many cities, including Tokyo. The event also produced tsunami waves, which have caused immense destruction in Japan and are currently hitting Hawaii, though no damage has been reported there.
We've glued to our computer, watching tsunami videos as helicopters filmed it live. Watch them here and take a moment to reflect on the fragility of this Earth. We also bet you're on information overload, as are we, so here's what you need to know, straight from the news:
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15-ish hours. That's how long a flight it is on Delta direct from Tokyo-Narita International to New York-JFK, and trust us when we say that you'll feel every one of those hours passing by in the air. So it's all the more important to make the most of your time on the ground before take-off, by eating, finishing up your work, or just plain chillin'. All that is exactly what we recently did at the Delta SkyClub, taking advantage of a Groupon deal where we paid $25 instead of $50 for the Day Pass.
What'd we get for that $25? Well, a glass of green tea and a few finger sandwiches, and the feeling that comes with being part of those who are admitted to the Business Class lounge. And what a feeling that is. Sadly, since the Narita Express train took its damned time getting us to the airport, that feeling lasted a brief 30 minutes until we had to board the plane.
In the meantime, however, here's what we loved and hated about the Delta SkyClub at Tokyo-Narita:
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There is something so delicious about voicing the words, "I'm going to Tokyo." When you mention it to friends, family, co-workers, random people at a deli...Tokyo still holds such an exotic mystique that the idea that you will soon be on the other side of the world, in it, is a thought that generates curiosity from all corners. When this was me, holding the secret that my tickets were booked and I was Tokyo-bound, the days passed seemingly filled with sparkling sakura dancing above my head and yet my biggest (and sweetest) secret was how little I had paid for the roundtrip flights.
I'd lean in closer and lower my voice to tell people this secret, although that barely disguised my excitement.
"Guess how much I paid?" -- I'd ask, practically bursting with the thrill of what I knew would follow.