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To Ishigaki with KLM, British Airways, Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways

To Ishigaki with KLM, British Airways, Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways

Old Dec 29, 13, 6:56 am
  #1  
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To Ishigaki with KLM, British Airways, Japan Air Lines and All Nippon Airways

INTRODUCTION

Let me take you briefly, if I may, on a trip down memory lane. In December of 2002 I travelled to Japan for the very first time. I flew in Swiss International Air Lines Business Class on the mighty MD-11. The company had only just started operations earlier that same year in the wake of Swissair’s collapse; and even though Swiss International Air Lines promised and hoped to be an entirely different animal, traces of its predecessor remained. There was the aircraft’s livery for one – a somewhat slipshod and cheap affair that served its purpose rather badly. In fact the only thing that belied the aircraft’s previous operator was a decal with ‘SWISS’ titles which had been hurriedly plastered over those of the airline that lay in ruins by then, and which had a tendency to come undone after only a few flights.



You cannot step in the same river twice – I know. But for reasons I have never been fully able to understand myself, I have kept returning to Japan ever since that first visit. My yearly trip at the end of the year to the Land of the Rising Sun has become something of a ritual that needs to be adhered to meticulously, almost religiously.

And so I bring to a trip report covering my sixteenth journey to Japan.

Part I: Basel to Amsterdam, KLM Economy Class

Part II: Amsterdam to London Heathrow, British Airways Club Class
Part III: London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita, JAL Business Class
Part IV: Tokyo Haneda to Ishigaki, ANA Premier Class
William Agius is offline  
Old Dec 29, 13, 6:30 pm
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Nice. Not seen a report from you in a whole. Your photos of the JAL j cabin cement my choice to fly aa from nrt to ord in may...even old j on aa for 3 is better than that very private j...looks terrible if you travel with another...even if aa puts a new 77w, it would be better than that....
mkjr is offline  
Old Dec 29, 13, 6:32 pm
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Nice report. It's "Japan Airlines", not "Japan Air Lines", by the way.
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Old Dec 29, 13, 6:40 pm
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Originally Posted by armagebedar View Post
Nice report. It's "Japan Airlines", not "Japan Air Lines", by the way.
Careful...your correcting a linguist (correctly in "this" case...might want to make sure you don't have any errors in any of your posts...)

William.., do you fly on points for this annual trip.
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Old Dec 29, 13, 6:46 pm
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Very nice to catch another of your reports. Looking forward to some pictures of Ishigaki. Hope the weather won-t let you down.

You were very sensible to stick to Perrier. A couple of years ago, on a lunchtime ANA (Air Nippon) flight returning to Haneda from Wakkanai (WKJ) I got quite excited when I noticed Medoc was on offer. It turned out to be lightly chilled, which spoiled the pleasure a bit.

Another thing I remember from that flight was that the individual seats in the pairs in business class on the 737-800 were slightly out of alignment with each other, which made for a little more privacy.
michlflyer is offline  
Old Dec 30, 13, 12:54 am
  #6  
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Hi mkjr
Originally Posted by mkjr View Post
Nice. Not seen a report from you in a whole. Your photos of the JAL j cabin cement my choice to fly aa from nrt to ord in may...even old j on aa for 3 is better than that very private j...looks terrible if you travel with another...even if aa puts a new 77w, it would be better than that....
The seat certainly is very private, it's more or less impossible to chat with the person next to you because you'd have to lean forward the whole time. I've never tried AA but if I'm not mistaken, their new J class seat is the same that CX has. The seats in the middle row point inwards, towards each other.

Originally Posted by mkjr View Post
Careful...your correcting a linguist (correctly in "this" case...might want to make sure you don't have any errors in any of your posts...)

William.., do you fly on points for this annual trip.
I am all mortification...

As for the points, it depends. This one is a paying ticket, but last year's trip was with points.

Hi armagebedar
Originally Posted by armagebedar View Post
Nice report. It's "Japan Airlines", not "Japan Air Lines", by the way.
Thanks. Guess that's a blast from the past, from when I still worked for SWISS. Originally the company should have been named Swiss International Airlines. That was changed to the current spelling in four words when somebody in legal noticed that Swissair's original name had been Swiss Airlines.

Hi michlflyer
Originally Posted by michlflyer View Post
Very nice to catch another of your reports. Looking forward to some pictures of Ishigaki. Hope the weather won-t let you down.

You were very sensible to stick to Perrier. A couple of years ago, on a lunchtime ANA (Air Nippon) flight returning to Haneda from Wakkanai (WKJ) I got quite excited when I noticed Medoc was on offer. It turned out to be lightly chilled, which spoiled the pleasure a bit.

Another thing I remember from that flight was that the individual seats in the pairs in business class on the 737-800 were slightly out of alignment with each other, which made for a little more privacy.
Actually, the weather has not been good so far. It's breezy, wet and rather cool. But very relaxing. As for the drinks, I stick with the Perrier out of necessity - for some reason wine gives me an immediate fat head on a plane. But I'll check the wine list on the return.

The privacy of the seat is good on the 767. The seat proper has 'ears', so unless you lean forward you can barely see your neighbour. There's also a fixed screen between the twin seats.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.

Cheers,
William
William Agius is offline  
Old Jan 2, 14, 6:37 am
  #7  
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I’ve decided to try a new format for my trip reports. Rather than waffling on about my own personal experience, I figured it might make more sense to provide some hands-on information instead. Let me know what you think!

For the pictures, please click here.

And a happy new year, by the way.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In Ishigaki I stayed at the ANA Intercontinental Resort. There are two options to get from the resort to the airport. A taxi will take approximately 20 minutes to make the journey and costs roughly 2’500 Japanese Yen.

Alternatively, there is also the bus line 10, which in fact stops right in front of the hotel on its way to the airport. The journey by bus will take roughly 20 to 30 minutes and costs 430 Japanese Yen.

CHECK-IN

Online check-in does not appear to be available on the ANA domestic website. There is, however, an iPhone app which would, theoretically, allow you to check-in. But it seems that bookings for domestic flights that were purchased abroad or not purchased directly with ANA are not eligible for any type of remote check-in. This also means there's no advanced seat selection, unless of course you call ANA directly.

Ishigaki is a nice little airport.

There are six ANA check-in counters at the airport, three of which are for passengers with checked bags. The other three are for passengers with cabin luggage only and also serve as ticketing counters. There is no dedicated Premium Class counter.

What Ishigaki airport also has, is a very nice open air observation deck on the second floor.

LOUNGE

There are no lounges at Ishigaki airport. At least though there is a mini food court adjacent to the ANA check-in area where you can get some tasty Japanese food or a Starbucks coffee.

Departures are also on the second floor.

BOARDING

Boarding for domestic flights is always very efficient, orderly and quick. A fully loaded Boeing B 767-300 is boarded in just under 15 minutes.

CABIN

ANA operates a variety of different cabin configurations and seats in its Premium Class cabins. It helps if you know what aircraft type you’re travelling on, although even then there appear to be differences within the same fleet type.

Further information about the seats and configuration can be found here. Please note however, that there are no detailed seat maps on the ANA domestic website and seatguru provides no information about ANA’s domestic configuration.

IFE

The Boeing B 767-300 are kept in good shape, for sure. But their IFE is somewhat antiquated and consists of a limited number of audio channels and one video channel. Films are showed on a big screen mounted on the cabin bulkhead. On this particular flight they're showing a documentary about the Boeing B 747-400SD in ANA service. The aircraft will be leaving the fleet with the start of the summer schedule on 29 March 2014.

SERVICE

ANA provides every passenger with a blanket and slippers (available on international flights too). Additionally, pillows, eye shades and ear plugs are available upon request.

THE MEAL

The ANA domestic website gives a lot of useful information about the kind of service and food on offer on flights that have a Premium Class service. Flights with departures between 13:01 and 16:59 are served a light meal, which has an afternoon tea theme and is branded as Premium SABO. The meal consists basically of a variety of sweets and savouries.

Further information can be obtained here. There is also a menu in every seat pocket of the Premium Class cabin.

ARRIVAL

ANA operates from Terminal 2 in Haneda.

GETTING INTO TOWN

Haneda is the first, original Tokyo airport. Narita was built much later. To get into central Tokyo the most reliable option is to take the monorail from the basement of the airport to Hamamatsucho, which is the terminus station of the train.

At Hamamatsucho you can transfer to the JR Yamanote line, which draws a circle around Tokyo and connects most of the important locations. Shinjuku and Tokyo Station are both served by the JR Yamanote line and the Narita Express and are only a few stops away from Hamamatsucho. So having a hotel in close proximity to one of these two stations is very convenient. I normally stay in the Shinjuku area because it’s quite lively by day and by night. Tokyo proper is mostly a business district and once the offices close, it gets rather quiet and, well – a bit boring.

You can buy combined tickets for the monorail and JR lines at the ticket machines for the monorail in Haneda. If you’re not sure about the ticket price, simply get the cheapest ticket there is, which is 600 Yen. There are fare adjustment machines at every station for you to top up your ticket.

MILEAGE

In the meantime the miles for the outbound leg to Ishigaki have been credited to my Senator account. Premium Class is treated as First Class and subsequently yields 3684 miles, which is quite substantial for Miles & More these days, especially given the cuts they’ve made in an attempt to cause maximum irritation at minimum advantage – even to themselves…

Last edited by William Agius; Jan 2, 14 at 6:56 am
William Agius is offline  
Old Jan 2, 14, 9:33 am
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Great Stuff William-----you are one of my favourite posters. I can never understand why we in Europe have to put up with such lousy 'Business class' sections on hops around Europe. I'm old enough to remember dedicated First class sections on European Flights-----LH and SR even had a 3 class system on all flights until the end of the 80's.Ive Also seen talk on other FT forums about a rumoured separate superior Euro premium class being introduced by Lufthansa/Swiss thats being considered.I'm sure people would be happy to pay for it.
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Old Jan 3, 14, 3:06 am
  #9  
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Smile

Hi handsomestpete, thanks for your message and the encouragement. That's very nice of you. From your comments I believe we must be in the same age bracket. I can still remember the Swissair MD-80 in a three class configuration too. It had proper seats in First and Business Class, none of that 'yes-we'll-keep-the-seat-next-to-you-empty-and-pretend-it's-premium' bla.

As for Lufthansa and Swiss (re-)introducing a dedicated premium cabin and product in European Business Class, that would be rather cool. But to be honest, I won't hold my breath. The way things are going right now, I'd rather say Lufthansa is more likely to withdraw from short-haul completely and hand over everything to Germanwings, to the further detriment of the short-haul premium product. But we shall see.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Cheers,
William
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Old Jan 3, 14, 3:22 am
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Originally Posted by William Agius View Post
Hi handsomestpete, thanks for your message and the encouragement. That's very nice of you. From your comments I believe we must be in the same age bracket. I can still remember the Swissair MD-80 in a three class configuration too. It had proper seats in First and Business Class, none of that 'yes-we'll-keep-the-seat-next-to-you-empty-and-pretend-it's-premium' bla.

As for Lufthansa and Swiss (re-)introducing a dedicated premium cabin and product in European Business Class, that would be rather cool. But to be honest, I won't hold my breath. The way things are going right now, I'd rather say Lufthansa is more likely to withdraw from short-haul completely and hand over everything to Germanwings, to the further detriment of the short-haul premium product. But we shall see.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Cheers,
William
Hi William.As far as i can recall the First class seats on the Swissair MD80 were nice tan coloured leather seats, but 'Business' was just regular economy seating with the moveable curtain.I actually preferred Lufthansa short hops on 737's/727's----Nice cosy 8 seat cabins and great service.
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Old Jan 3, 14, 5:37 am
  #11  
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Leaving Tokyo for London

To view the pictures, please click here.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

In Tokyo I spend my last night in Japan at the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku, which is in walking distance of the railway station and actually overlooks the railway tracks.

Shinjuku is a convenient location because it is one of the few stations in central Tokyo with a direct Narita Express service to the airport (the other stations are Tokyo Station, Shibuya and Shinagawa). Trains from Shinjuku are, however, less frequent than they are from Tokyo Station. The journey from Shinjuku to Narita takes approximately one hour and 25 minutes and costs 3110 Yen, including a seat reservation. There are also standing tickets available for when the Narita Express is fully booked, which cost 510 Yen less. Note though, that even if the train leaves with empty seats after all, holders of a standing ticket may not avail themselves of the empty seats. And the staff actually enforce this policy.

CHECK-IN

The booking for this flight was made through the British Airways website, the flight was booked as a code-share service with a BA flight number. Subsequently I receive a notification on my BA app once check-in opens 23 hours prior to departure. All things considered though, this is rather pointless. Being only a BA code-share flight operated by JAL, I cannot check-in with my iPhone. Fortunately, I figured this might happen and made a quick phone call to BA once the ticket had been issued to select a seat.

JAL and their Oneworld partners call Narita’s Terminal 2 home. The check-in counters for JAL Business Class are on row K.

Oneworld status card holders may also check-in at the JAL Global Club counters on row L. The queue there is shorter...

There is a dedicated Fast Track for Business Class passengers.

LOUNGE

The southern JAL Sakura lounge is situated near gate 61 and spreads over two floors. Access to the lounge is on the upper level. This is also where JAL has a ‘dining bar’ with restaurant style seating that serves hot and cold dishes. The lounging area is one floor down.

The lower floor is spacious, with comfortable seats and some really excellent views of the ramp and traffic arriving on runway 34 Right.

By the way, since my last visit to Tokyo in August the monorail connecting the main terminal with the satellite has been replaced with a covered moving walkway.

As far as food and drinks are concerned though, all you get on the lower level are Japanese crackers, sweet biscuits and drinks.

All in all it’s a nice lounge, but strangely it has the feel and vibe of a hotel lobby…

BOARDING

Boarding is scheduled to start at 11:15 for the 11:45 departure. But there appears to be some hold up today while they finish preparing the cabin, so the gate agent makes an announcement to apologize for the ensuing delay.

Eventually, at 11:18 – I check the time – boarding begins with a staggering, unforgivable delay of three minutes. As one of the gate agents makes his announcement that boarding has commenced, the others (yes, there is a total of four agents processing this flight) bow politely.

We push back more or less on time. Once the tug has been disconnected and the gear pin removed, the three ground staff who pushed us back give us a nice send off – first the bow and then the wave. It’ just so sophisticated.

There’s quite a queue for departure today, but it moves quickly and once the Thai Airbus A340-600 ahead of us has finally, miraculously managed to get off the ground, it’s our turn.

CABIN

The main Business Class cabin on the JAL Boeing B 777-300ER is located right behind the L2 door. There is a further, single row of Business Class located forward of the L2 door, right behind the First Class cabin. The total number of seats in Business Class is 49 on this bird, with seven seats in the forward cabin and 42 in the main cabin.

The seat is very comfortable and spacious. JAL has obviously also put a lot of effort into making the seat as private as possible:

The partitions between seats are quite high. In fact, if you’re sitting by the window you are barely visible from the aisle.

There is a divider between seats as well. Although to be honest I’m not quite sure about the etiquette and protocol regarding this matter. Do I just raise the divider? Should I ask the lady on the aisle seat first? Should I wait for her to make the first move? Fortunately, the lady on the aisle seat is Japanese, so I figure any affront committed on my part could easily be put down to a cultural misunderstanding. So I push the divider to raise the divider, to which the lady nods and says ‘origato’, thank you.

The seats are also slightly staggered.

One thing worth noting is that there is slightly less storage space on the window seats. All the other seats have a small alcove in the side of the seat in which to place small items like a book or a Mac Book Air during the flight. However, this is not the case on the window seats. Personally though, this is just a minor issue. The seat’s strong selling points really are the privacy and direct access to the aisle for every passenger.

IFE

To navigate your way through the IFE, there is a remote control with a large touch screen, which also functions as a track pad to move the arrow around the big screen. Tapping once on the respective icon selects the medium of choice. Theoretically you can also use the remote control to order food throughout the flight, once the main meal service has been completed. On both the outbound and the inbound though, this feature was inoperative.

The selection of films is somewhat limited and dated (The Devil Wears Prada, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – need I say more?).

SERVICE

JAL provides every passenger with a thin duvet style blanket and a Tempur pillow, which adjusts to the shape of the head to support the neck. It’s an extremely comfortable pillow. There is also a futon available for every passenger. Slippers are also provided.

JAL does not provide vanity kits in Business Class. But the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of eye shades, ear plugs, dental kits and facial masks during the flight.

A peculiarity of Japanese carriers is the provision of cardigans in Business Class, which are normally distributed before departure. JAL will even allow you to keep the cardigan, whereas ANA actually asks for it back at the end of the flight. In case you were wondering, last year I ‘accidentally’ forgot to give my ANA cardigan back at the end of the flight. Once I got home and realised the mistake, I figured I might as well keep it and give it a good wash before using it again. If you chance to end up with an ANA cardigan too, whatever you do, just don’t wash it! By the time I took it out of the washing machine I think it would probably have been a tight fit even for a four-year old kid with a tremendously slender build! I have yet to experimented with the behaviour of the JAL cardigan in warm water.

THE MEAL

No drinks are served while the aircraft is on the ground. The welcome drink – orange juice or champagne – is served after take-off. This strikes me a bit odd, as shortly after the welcome drinks service, the meal service begins with an amuse bouche and a further drinks service.

I go for the plum wine

There is a choice between a Japanese meal and a Western menu with two choices for the main course. Perhaps just a word of warning at this point: the Japanese food we get on flights to Japan originating in Europe is not quite the same as the Japanese food loaded on flight from Japan back to Europe. The European variety of Japanese is a bit less hardcore, shall we say. Furthermore, Japan Airlines’ take on Western cuisine places the emphasis on using delicacies with a decidedly French flavour. So all things considered, you may end up - like me on today’s flight - in a bit of a quandary. The idea of steamed anglerfish liver, more cod roe or more sashimi – all of which are part of the Japanese meal – isn’t that appealing to me.

Similarly, I’ve never been very fond of foie gras or duck confit – which are on the Western menu – either. Fortunately, JAL has an extensive selection of other meals on offer that you can order throughout the flight, once the main meal service is over, so as not to cause too much of a disruption.

And this is what I do on today’s flight. I just want something simple, so I go for the pasta in tomato sauce and a selection of Japanese cheese with bread. Both dishes are very tasty and hit the spot nicely.

For dessert I have a delectable creation which is advertised on the menu as ‘Espuma of Coffee & Jean-Paul Hévin’s Macaron Miel‘in. And this really is absolutely divine! Essentially it’s a coffee flan with a base of crunchy biscuit and nuts. Inside the flan are hollow balls of chocolate filled with liquid coffee. On top of the flan is the macaron, which is filled with honey that oozes all over the place the moment you take a bite. And on top of the macaron is a thin sheet of chocolate. Heaven!

I leave it here for the time being. I'm posting this just under three hours out of London. I shall upload the rest and finish this report after we land.
William Agius is offline  
Old Jan 3, 14, 6:15 am
  #12  
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Hi again
Originally Posted by handsomestpete View Post
Hi William.As far as i can recall the First class seats on the Swissair MD80 were nice tan coloured leather seats, but 'Business' was just regular economy seating with the moveable curtain.I actually preferred Lufthansa short hops on 737's/727's----Nice cosy 8 seat cabins and great service.
The Swissair MD-80 still had proper Business Class seats as well. They were striped, light grey and a darker colour - blue I think. Initially the seat disappeared with the arrival of the A 320s. But later when Flightline was operating as SwissairExpress the 3-3 configuration on their Avros was deemed unfit for Business Class passengers and they had the old MD-80 Business Class seats installed in at least one of the aircraft operating under the SwissairExpress brand. Looked rather hideous to have such an enormous seat on such a small plane.
William Agius is offline  
Old Jan 4, 14, 10:00 am
  #13  
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British Airways Club Europe from London to Amsterdam

To see the pictures of this report, please click here.

My vacation is quickly drawing to an end, but at least it will be a gentle re-acclimatisation. Yesterday I arrived in London from Japan. So theoretically today I could simply fly home to Basel and that’s that. It would even give me enough time to go to the gym and work off some of the calories of that lovely Japanese food. Or I could return to Amsterdam first for a day of shopping.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I spend the night at the Sofitel Heathrow adjacent to Terminal 5. It’s a five minutes walk – if you’re walking slowly – from the hotel lobby to the departure level of Terminal 5, which is on the fifth floor.

CHECK-IN

I checked in using the BA app yesterday evening in the hotel. So no need to use the check-in counters. In Terminal 5 there is a Fast Track for security.

I never would have thought I’d see Heathrow looking so empty. Security is a breeze. There is only one woman ahead of me and that’s only because she’s taking her time while she’s busy doing some heave duty flirting with the security guy.

LOUNGE

There are two Galleries Lounges in the main building of Terminal 5. I’ve never been to the North Lounge, so I decide to check that one out first today – new year, new habits.

Eventually though, I decide not to stay at the lounge. Somehow it doesn’t feel quite as cosy and comfortable as the South Lounge. It’s very bright and looks a bit sterile. So the new habits go flying out the window and I head for the South Lounge instead, my usual haunt in Terminal 5. On the downside, half the toilets are out of order - half the toilets!

But the food selection in the lounge is simply amazing.

Incidentally, the lounge is equipped with electric sockets for all kinds of plugs.

BOARDING

The first boarding call is for status card holders and Business Class passengers. I’m surprised to see that today’s flight has been upgraded to an Airbus A 321. And from what the flight attendant tells me, it’s going to be a full flight.

It’s quite windy today, you can feel the aircraft lightly shaking while we’re still parked at the gate. We take off form runway 09R, and I figure I might take some interesting shots of the line up of exotic heavies gracing Terminal 4. But as soon as we get airborne the aircraft starts shaking violently with the wind and all the pictures I manage to take are seriously blurred and de facto useless.

CABIN

The seats on this bird look rather worn, but apart form that I’m assuming that this must be either one of the newer aircraft of the type in the British Airways fleet, or it’s something BA inherited from BMI.

The Business Class section takes up the entire space between the L1 and L2 doors, which means 7 rows of Business Class with a total of 28 seat, although I think two seats remain empty on this flight.

SERVICE

I count five ladies working the cabin this morning. They’re all of them a very friendly bunch. The purser takes her time to welcome everybody aboard, and even finds time to give the many kids on this flight a special welcome.

Despite the full cabin and a very short flight time of only 40 minutes, the crew still manage to serve every passenger a hot breakfast in a very unrushed and unhurried manner.

Service begins on the ground with the distribution of scented hot towels.

THE MEAL

The main event! Breakfast consists of a small plate with fruit, and a hot breakfast with button mushrooms, tomato, omelet, bacon and a sausage. I take a croissant and a warm bun from the bread basket.

ARRIVAL

Fortunately the weather in Amsterdam is slightly better than what we left behind in London. At least the sun is trying to break through the low cloud.

We make our approach for runway 18R, the infamous Polderbaan. Ahead of us is a Saudia Boeing B 747-400 freighter.

GETTING INTO TOWN

The first thing I do once I arrive in Amsterdam is find a locker to put all my stuff in. I don’t much fancy carting all my junk around the city for a whole day. The lockers are located in the basement of the shopping plaza. Lockers are available in different sizes. A medium sized locker will cost you 18 Euros for 24 hours.

And then from there I head into town by train. The journey from the airport to the city takes 17 minutes by intercity train. There is a train departing for the central station every few minutes. A return ticket will cost 8 Euros. If you’re planning to stay in Amsterdam for a longer period, I would recommend that you get yourself a chip card, which works the same way as the London Oyster Card. The chip card can be used on all public transport in the Amsterdam area.

Train tickets can be obtained either at the ticket counter of the Dutch railways or from one of the many ticketing machines in the plaza. The machines take either cash or credit card, but not both. Also, it is worth pointing out that the machines only accept credit cards with a four digit PIN code.
William Agius is offline  
Old Jan 5, 14, 1:29 pm
  #14  
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Originally Posted by William Agius View Post
A peculiarity of Japanese carriers is the provision of cardigans in Business Class, which are normally distributed before departure. JAL will even allow you to keep the cardigan, whereas ANA actually asks for it back at the end of the flight.
Actually the JAL cardigan is for rental only and you aren't supposed to take it home with you. It is stated clearly on Japanese version of JAL website: http://www.jal.co.jp/inflight/inter/business/c_service/
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Old Jan 5, 14, 4:53 pm
  #15  
 
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Nice picture of the bowing and waving ground staff. Arriving and departing in Japan always feels special because of that.
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