FIRST IMPRESSIONS: With a 1045 departure and mindful of the three-hour check-in advisory at O’Hare International Airport for long-haul flights, I had the good sense to book a room at Hilton O’Hare – the only hotel in the area directly linked to the airport – the night before. Thanks to that foresight, I strolled leisurely out of the building at 0730, and since I had heavy luggage with me, I found the nearest trolley cart stand, fed it US$3 so it would release one and relieve me of my burden. I then entered Terminal 1 at 0743.
ANA and Star Alliance partner Lufthansa share facilities, which are located on the far right side of the hall. Except for one passenger, I was the only other customer to be served. The staff all seemed to be in a jolly mood that morning, and the jokey atmosphere had me smiling in no time. Not having the TSA padlock (required for those wishing to lock their baggage), I was informed that my own would not do as airport officials would certainly force it open should they conduct a spot check. Seeing my concern, one lady offered to “secure” my bulging suitcase (a result of newly bought books and presents) with a plastic cord. That eased my mind somewhat.
As a Business Class passenger, I was invited to make use of the Priority Security Lane. Here, it was computers out of the case and jackets and shoes off. The line moved swiftly however. I headed for United’s Red Carpet Club near my boarding gate 10, where I took a seat overlooking the runway.
Not having had a proper breakfast at the hotel, I was disappointed to find only light fare and snacks at the counter. With no choice and a growling tummy, I settled on a bagel and some camembert. I would make up for it onboard, I consoled myself. Since no flight announcements were made, one had to continuously check the TV monitor for the flight status.
BOARDING: ANA links between Chicago and Tokyo were reinstated last October after being halted in 2003 when the SARS outbreak in Asia led to corporate travel advisories drastically reducing loads to the region. According to Naomichi Terazaki, who oversaw ANA’s marketing operations then, reprising his former position, Chicago is the hub of choice of Asian passengers wanting connections to points such as Ohio, Boston, Toronto and even Florida. For the return journey, the carrier offers same-day connections at Narita Airport to Hongkong and Singapore among other destinations in the region.
After coats and scarves were taken away to be hung, drinks and hot towels were offered. We were told that flight time was 12 hours and 56 minutes. The usual O’Hare congestion delayed departure, and we took off 30 minutes later than scheduled.
THE SEAT: Club ANA’s Business Class seats are not unfamiliar to us, having tried them out on a previous visit to the US. What we appreciate about them are the conveniently placed crevices (under the arm rest and another that’s shoulder level under the reading lamp) to store innumerable sundries we need to keep about us during the trip: spectacles, moisturiser, pen, lip balm, a bottle of mineral water, toothbrush. Following the cradle-type template, this product doesn’t fold out to a fully flat surface but instead materialises into a gentle slope. The control panel features fat push buttons.
THE FLIGHT: This being a Japanese carrier, Japanese cuisine naturally features prominently. But attractive as the Kaiseki (light meal) looked (some highlights included lobster simmered in special soy sauce and tofu and vegetable patty braised in daikon radish sauce), my carnivorous inclination kicked in when I spotted the pan-fried beef tenderloin with creamy mushrooms and madeira sauce on the Western menu. I wasn’t disappointed by the just-right portion that arrived with the bowl of steamed rice I requested. The lobster salad with pear vinaigrette and fresh garden salad that preceded it was a piquant appetiser.
I don’t remember much after the service, except that the attendants kept wafting in and out of my dreams assiduously replenishing my mineral water and face towel supply. I opted for a small portion of pasta before entering Japanese air space.
ARRIVAL: We hit the ground at 1455, and in minutes were parked at Narita Terminal 1. My connection to Hongkong was still in five hours’ time, but I didn’t mind waiting, enjoying the chance to explore the improved Tokyo gateway.
PRICE: A Chicago-Narita weekend return starts from US$9,660 and a weekday return from US$71,860.
VERDICT: Impeccable inflight service and the elegant cuisine deserves special mention.
Margie T Logarta