07 October 2013

Tokyo in a Flash on United's Dreamliner

The opportunity came up to fit in a quick trip to Tokyo where I could fly on United's version of the 787 Dreamliner.  I had planned to try this out last January, but the planes were grounded the day before my trip was to commence.  This time, everything was a go.  I still had to fly down to Los Angeles' LAX Airport.  Normally, I do not like making connections on international flights, but there was no choice.  It was either LAX, Denver or Houston.  LAX provided the quickest connection in the shortest amount of time.  I also build in a 3-hour layover cushion by taking an early-morning flight.

The flight to LAX arrived early, so I had plenty of time to hang out in the 1st-class lounge (which I had never been to before).  Even though I was traveling in BusinessFirst (787 planes are only two-class airplanes), as a Global Services member, I have access to the lounge if traveling in Business.

As Global Services,  I also get to board very early in the process, so I was able to take photos before many people were getting to their seats.

There are two sections in the front of the plane allocated to BusinessFirst.  each had 3 rows of 2-2-2 seat configuration.  There are three lavatories in the section -- one if the very front on the right and two at the middle of the BusinessFirst cabin.

The overhead bins on the side are very spacious and can accommodate roll-aboard suitcases loaded in the wheels-first and on-the-side position.  The bins over the center aisle are shallower, but can still accommodate the roll-aboards wheels-first. I discovered that there are no overhead bins over the first row of the center aisle seats.

Seat Controls

The footwell at my seat was quite spacious and deep.This helped to make for a comfortable lie-flat bed and provide for a decent space to store a medium-sized carry-on bag (which is permitted on this plane configuration).  I discovered that this footwell size is unique to this row of seats (as I'll see on my return flight).  

Behind and to my right was a cubbyhole with the USB port, AC power socket, and headphones jack.

The plane takes a long run before leaving the ground.  It is definitely quieter on take-off cruising than other aircraft of similar size. Much like my experience on the ANA 787 over a year ago, I didn't feel the environmental conditions were significantly different.  The air was still dry, but not AS dry, and my ears didn't pop as much during ascent and descent.

We landed in Tokyo about a half-hour early.  Given that I had plenty of time to get to my hotel and make my evening dinner reservation, I decided to take the slower train to Central Tokyo, which I had not done before.  The Keisei Narita SKYAccess Express train is about half the cost of the Keisei Skyliner and about a third of the cost of the JR Narita Express.  One reason that this train worked better for me this time was because I chose to stay at the Conrad Hotel.  This is near Shimbashi Station and the SKYAccess train has a stop at Shimbashi station.  If I took any of the other trains, I would have had to transfer to either the subway or the JR commuter trains to complete my journey.  So overall, the travel time comes out almost the same (over an hour).  And, I could just use my pre-loaded PASMO card for the fare, rather than having to buy separate tickets to use.  From Shimbashi Station, I had a 10-minute walk to the hotel (either via underground passageways or elevated walkways).

For dinner, I went to a Catalan-based restaurant called Restaurant Sant Pau.  The chef has a restaurant in a small coastal town outside Barcelona and brought her Catalonian-inspired dishes to Tokyo a few years ago.  It's classified as serving modern Spanish cuisine.

Small bites to start

Squid course
Cheese course
Mignardises to conclude the meal
To read the full write-up, click here.

the next day, I had a late afternoon flight.  I decided to visit the East gardens of the Imperial Palace.  These are free to enter, but are open only on specific days (they were not open any of the days of my last visit).  While the weather was nice still, there was not much color to the gardens.  All the summer flowers were gone and it was still too warm for fall colors.  The gardens themselves used to be the site for castles and fortresses from the shogun period.

 For my trip back to Narita Airport, I had enough time to take the low train back.  However, I couldn't find a schedule anywhere that I could read.  So I asked the hotel concierge and they looked it up for me. The trains from the airport had schedules posted in English on the Keisei website, but I just was not able to find the return times.

The train was exactly on time and well-marked, so it was an easy ride to the airport.  I had plenty of time to shop and to have lunch in the lounge before heading for my Dreamliner flight back to LAX.

On the return, I was seated in row 5 center aisle, which is located i the middle of the second section of the BusinessFirst cabin.

My return trip aircraft

A peek at the Economy section

The much smaller footwell for the return flight

The return flight was ahead of schedule by half an hour on its arrival.  I almost could have tried to make an earlier flight back to SFO, but I wanted to go back to the lounge and have a bite to eat before getting back on a plane.  Since everything was running on time, with nice weather at both airports, there were no flight issues.  The only flight issue during the trip was at the very end.  We were on approach and close to landing when we began climbing and then went around the airport for another landing attempt.  The pilot came on later to say that the cockpit indicator detected an anomaly with the flaps on the first approach, but everything was fine as we set up for our second try.  And he was right, as we landed on our second attempt without incident, closing out a very quick weekend trip.

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