BACKGROUND Tokyo’s “close-in” airport, Haneda, reopened to international traffic in October, paving the way for British Airways to launch five-times-weekly flights from February 19. Flights are timed to fit in with Haneda’s stringent curfew for long-haul flights – airlines can use the airport only between about 2300 and 0600 – so the outbound flight departs Heathrow at 0805, arriving in Haneda at 0455 the following morning, and departs Tokyo at 0625 to land back in London at 1000. I was on the inaugural outbound flight.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Terminal 5 at 0610 for my 0805 flight BA007. Club World passengers would check in at Zone H if they hadn’t done so online, but as I was a guest of the airline I was invited to check in at the first class desks at Zone J, at the far right-hand end of the terminal. I was seen to immediately and then proceeded through the fast-track lane at security, which took five to ten minutes to clear.
THE LOUNGE After security I headed for the southern Galleries lounge for Club World passengers (for information on facilities visit the lounge section of our Heathrow Airport Guide, downloadable HERE). There was a good spread of food, including bacon rolls, cold meats and cheeses, cereals, fresh fruit, pastries and yogurts, as well a wide selection of newspapers and magazines. I grabbed some fruit and a coffee, took a seat and kept an eye on the departure screen.
BOARDING At 0720 I proceeded to the satellite B building, going down to the main departures area and then down a further level via a lift to the transit, then up the escalators to Gate 37. I boarded immediately and once settled was offered juice, water or champagne by welcoming staff.
THE SEAT The Heathrow-Haneda flight is operated by a four-class B777. The aircraft used for the inaugural flight had 12 seats in First arranged 1-2-1 (it was the new First product), six rows of business (10-15) configured 2-4-2, with BA’s combination of forward- and backward-facing seats labelled AB-DEFG-JK (for a seat plan click HERE), four rows of premium economy (21-24) in a 2-4-2 layout, and 15 rows of economy (26-40) disposed 3-3-3.
I was in 12A, which like all window seats was rear-facing (the middle seats E and F also face the back of the aircraft, while seats labelled B, D, G and J face forwards). Upholstered in navy fabric with leather armrests, it was comfortable and converted to a fully-flat bed by joining with the footstool in front. It could be separated from the seat next to me by a privacy screen built into a dividing wall – when the screen was down I initially found it a little strange to be diagonally facing my neighbour, but once it was up I felt nicely tucked away in my own space.
Built into the dividing wall was the control for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system and, above that, an adjustable reading light. A 10.4-inch TV screen folded out from the divider, along with a good-sized table that bounced quite a bit when I was using my laptop, though it could slide in and out and fold in half, which was handy. There was also a storage drawer at floor level big enough for my laptop, newspapers and the bits I needed for the flight. The seat could be adjusted four ways via buttons in the left-hand wall (upright, lounging, Z-shaped and fully flat) with further settings for lumbar support and headrest adjustment, and there was also in-seat power. A blanket, pillow and noise-cancelling headphones were provided.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Club World’s forward-backward configuration means all seats have direct aisle access, although if you are in a rear-facing seat (ie, the window or middle ones) you will have to climb over the legs of the passenger in the facing row if they are using their footstool. If this bothers you, take an aisle seat, but bear in mind that if you do, cabin crew may have to lean over you to serve your neighbour. For me, the window seats win because they feel more private, especially at night. Service starts from the front of the cabin but be aware that if you sit in the front row (ten) you are closest to the galley and washrooms so you may be disturbed. Similarly, if you are in the back row (15), you are separated from premium economy only by a curtain and bulkhead partition, behind which are the bassinets. Middle seats E and F are good if you are travelling in a pair as they face the same way and have no dividing wall between them, but I wouldn’t recommend them if you are flying solo.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back on time at 0805 and took off 15 minutes later. I was given a menu and an Elemis amenity kit containing socks, an eye mask, toothbrush and paste, ear plugs, lip balm, moisturiser, facial wipe and eye cream. Hot towels were given out and the breakfast service started just over an hour into the flight. To start there was a choice of yogurt, granola and compote, or fresh fruit – I had the former and it was very nice. It was served with another yogurt and a choice of breads. That was followed by scrambled egg with cheese and a muffin, or English breakfast of bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, tomato and sautéed potatoes. I had the latter and it was fine but rather salty. To accompany it I was offered tea or coffee, juice and water. After breakfast, crew handed out of bottles of water, and juice was offered periodically.
After eating I browsed the audio-video on-demand IFE system. Having experienced BA’s brand-new Thales system on board the airline’s new B777-300ER aircraft a month earlier, which boasts more than 80 movies, a wide range of TV and radio shows and more than 400 albums, I didn’t find this one as expansive, but there was still a decent selection to choose from – more than 40 films and 60 TV programmes as well as music and audio. I watched a film, had a snooze and then did some work.
About an hour and half before landing, drinks and “lunch” was served, which felt a little strange given that it was dark outside and I would be landing before 0500. The choice was smoked salmon with dill pickle, crème fraiche and lemon, or inarizushi with beni shoga pickles – I had the Japanese option and it was very tasty. The mains were fillet of beef with mushroom pie, Glenarm salmon with teriyaki sauce, Japanese vegetable curry or Ploughman’s salad. I had the salmon and it was also enjoyable. I declined dessert, which was rhubard and custard tart, cheese and biscuits or fruit, but I had a lovely La Puerta Malbec Reserva 2008 from Famatina Valley in Argentina. Also available throughout the flight were snacks and drinks in the Club Kitchen. Service throughout was friendly and helpful.
ARRIVAL We arrived into the brand new international terminal at Haneda 15 minutes early at 0440 and were off the aircraft quickly. Immigration was a few minutes’ walk to the left from the airbridge, down a long corridor, and was well organised, with several desks open and ushers guiding you to the quietest ones. It took five to ten minutes, and baggage retrieval was immediately after it, with my bag appearing after a short wait. After clearing customs, I was airside by 0515. A bus had been arranged to take my party downtown, which took half an hour, there being minimal traffic at this time, but I noted the arrivals area was also directly connected to both the monorail and train stations.
VERDICT An excellent new option for flying to Tokyo – a comfortable seat, good service and a hassle-free, well organised arrival into an airport much closer to town than Narita. Hopefully in time the Japanese authorities will relax the curfew enabling more hospitable flight times.
PRICE Internet rates for a business class return from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda in March started from £3,044.