Narita to Norfolk

After an amazing time in Japan, it was time to go home. We arrived at the airport via the Narita Express and left ample time to spare.

Check in was a breeze. The agent was even kind enough to check to see if a more direct routing was available, so that we would need to take one less flight to get home. Although, even if something else was available, I was dead set on flying flight 838, as this was one of the very few chances I’d get to hitch a ride on a 747-400 before all the US airlines retire their fleets at the end of the year.

Security was also quick and easy with no TSA to bog down the process. Since we held business class tickets, we were able to utilize the Gold Track lane. The Narita security agents were courteous, thorough, and quick.

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Heading through the Gold Track lane

 

Narita ANA Lounge

We decided to first check out the ANA Lounge, located all the way at the end of the South Wing of Terminal 1. Just like the larger United Club, attendance can fluctuate greatly throughout the day. When we arrived just before 3 PM, it was rather quiet, but around 4:30, it began to get busier.

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Entrance to the ANA Lounge

Just inside the entrance was an autographed model of the ANA Star Wars 787 Dreamliner, signed by the entire cast of the new movie.

Further inside the lounge was an extensive buffet, sake bar, and noodle bar with made-to-order dishes.

Although the food at the United Club was nothing to complain about, they had far more options at this lounge, so I definitely recommend making the trek down the terminal to come here if you have the time. You just won’t find any windows or tarmac views here.

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The Star Wars 787
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The buffet and self-serve drink station
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The sake bar
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Everything was pretty good, but the two items at the top of my plate were better than anything I’d had back home

After checking out the buffet and the noodle bar, I decided to grab a shower, as I knew the next one I’d get wouldn’t be for at least another 20 hours.

The showers were slightly better appointed than those at the United Club, but I did find the soap and shampoo packets that you had to tear open a little cheesy. Overall, it was a bit of a toss up for which Narita lounge was the best to shower in.

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Shower suite at the ANA Lounge

 

NRT-SFO on the 747

United 838
NRT [Tokyo Narita] to SFO [San Francisco]
March 1, 2017
Depart: 5:55 PM
Arrive: 10:10 AM
Duration: 9hr15min
Aircraft: 747-400
Seat: 14A

It was finally time for what I expected would be my favorite flight of the trip. We would be traveling for just over nine marvelous hours on the upper deck of a 747-400 on flight UA838 to San Francisco.

We would be flying in Polaris Business class in seats 14A and 14B. Although business class is split between the upper and lower decks, the upper deck is definitely the place to be if you like space.

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Our beautiful 747-400 waiting for us at the gate
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Untied’s seat map for the 747-400

After a timely start of boarding, we made our way down the jetway to board the Queen of the Skies. Just like other large aircraft, two jetways were used to ensure a quick boarding process.

Once on board, we climbed the stairs to the upper deck.

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First and Business boards through the first jetway and Economy boards through the second
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Never been this excited to take a set of stairs in my life

Once at our seats, we found the standard Polaris amenities and got settled in. Our flight attendant then came by to take our drink orders.

One interesting feature of sitting on the 747’s upper deck is that you have storage compartments next to your seat in addition to the overhead bins. In fact, I found them to be larger than the overheads, as they were the only place my bag would fit.

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Saks Fifth Avenue amenities
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Champagne, of course
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My carry on and all my bedding fit neatly into the compartment

After looking over the menu, our flight attendant came by to take our dinner and breakfast orders. Elizabeth and I both went with the beef tenderloin for dinner and the omelet for breakfast.

Interestingly, in the back of the menu was a note about where the vegetables in our meals were sourced from.

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Dinner/breakfast menu
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Wine list
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Drinks list
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A note about the catering

After a timely pushback and smooth takeoff, the crew began the meal service. Unlike business class on the main deck or on a 777, the service seams much more personal, as you’re not sitting amongst a sea of people with the seats spaced eight across. With only twenty seats on the upper deck, the cabin definitely feels exclusive.

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Drinks and warm nuts
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Appetizer and salad
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Beef tenderloin
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Cheese course with port
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The dessert trolley
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Ice cream sundae, chocolate cake, and a tart

The meal was definitely on point. While the meal on our ORD-NRT flight was certainly my favorite, this one earned high marks as well. Especially the garlic bread. I’d read on Flyertalk that the garlic bread catered out of Narita was the best in the system and it certainly did not fail to impress. I think I had three pieces.

After dinner, I decided to watch an in-flight movie and get some rest. They had stocked an ample supply of mattress pads available on this flight and I was able to request one and try it out as well.

Shortly before we began our descent into SFO, breakfast was served. I do understand that breakfast is one of the hardest meals to get right, and this breakfast wasn’t nearly as awesome as the dinner we were served about six hours prior. The spinach omelet wasn’t as good as on the flight out of Chicago and the roll was rather dry and unflavorful. I definitely would recommend trying out the Japanese option on the way out of Narita.

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Breakfast before landing in San Francisco

After a smooth landing in San Francisco, the captain granted me a cockpit visit. While he finished his checklist, we talked at length about his time with the airline and the retirement of the 747.

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Cockpit visit on the 747
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View of the upper deck from the top of the stairs

Sadly, they eventually had to do a turnaround and I heard over the intercom that they were holding the cleaning crews until all the passengers were off the plane (we were the last two passengers), so we made our way down the stairs and headed towards customs and immigration.

 

United Club San Francisco

We had about an hour and a half left to kill before our next flight, so we checked out the United Club near our gate.

The place was pretty packed and it was hard to find two adjacent seats. If I remember correctly, the club even had a sign at the front desk saying that they weren’t admitting day pass holders at this location.

Nonetheless, the club had good tarmac views, a well-stocked bar, and a decent soup/salad spread.

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SFO United Club
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Shamelessly drinking a vodka Red Bull to keep me going until the next flight.

 

SFO-IAH

United 1615
SFO [San Francisco] to IAH [Houston]
March 1, 2017
Depart: 12:50 PM
Arrive: 6:35 PM
Duration: 3hr15min
Aircraft: 787-8
Seat: 23D

Next up was our flight to Houston, my first flight on a 787. Although we waitlisted for first class, this ended up being our only flight in economy on the trip. Even in economy, the 787 is great, with its lower cabin altitude, higher humidity, and moderate seat width. We selected seats 23C and 23D on this flight, putting Elizabeth in economy and putting me in Economy+ with a couple extra inches of much needed knee space.

The flight was smooth and uneventful and we arrived in Houston twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Perfect, because the next connection would be a tight one.

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Waiting for our flight to board
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United’s seat map for the 787-8
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Front economy cabin of the 787-8

 

IAH-ORF

United 5259
IAH [Houston] to ORF [Norfolk]
March 1, 2017
Depart: 7:17 PM
Arrive: 10:58 PM
Duration: 2hr41min
Aircraft: CRJ-700
Seat: 2D

After a speedy walk to our gate, we boarded a CRJ-700 for a quick flight back to Norfolk. The regional jet gates at IAH are very unique. The terminal is at ground level and you take a ramp and a “gangplank” to board the aircraft.

On the CRJ, there are only six first class seats, so if you’re traveling with a partner, there are only two pairs of seats to choose from. Row 1 has first meal choice, but row 2 has a bit more legroom, so pick whichever fits your fancy. We ended up in seats 2C and 2D on this flight.

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Boarding via the gangplank
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United’s seat map for the CRJ-700

After a quick taxi and takeoff, our flight attendant came around to take meal orders. As we were the last two in the cabin and they only cater six meals, we had one roast beef sandwich and one chicken salad to choose from. Both are equally good and I don’t think any reasonable person would complain if they were stuck with either.

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Roast beef sandwich with a side salad
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Chicken salad with fruit

The flight went smoothly until we were about an hour out of Norfolk. At that point, our flight attendant took up all the glassware and brought out new beverages in plastic cups. Then she strapped in. It was going to be a bumpy ride…

With stormy weather around Norfolk, the remainder of the flight was filled with very heavy turbulence, with the plane dropping tens of feet at a time. Not much was to be seen out of the windows either, as we were surrounded by clouds. The only thing viewable out the window was the reflection of the CRJ’s strobe on the surrounding clouds cover.

After we broke through the clouds, we were on approach over the Chesapeake Bay. A nice crosswind was present, as we were flying over the Bridge-Tunnel at a very pronounced crab angle. Fortunately, the wind was less pronounced the last twenty or so feet from the ground, as our touchdown was surprisingly smooth.

Hope you enjoyed the post!

Until next time,

Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 

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