On the occasion of the first flight of ANA’s brand new Airbus A380 between Tokyo and Honolulu, Robert Erenstein of Austrian Wings was given the opportunity to take part in this remarkable event. Once all aircrafts are delivered, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Japan’s largest airline company, will fly its three attractively colored A380s solely between Tokyo and Honolulu.
On the 24th of May, a ceremony was held before departure at Tokyo-Narita Airport. ANA Management, local dignitaries and staff were present, to celebrate this event, together with the first passengers and national and international press. Mr. Chihiro Masuoka, the designer of the ‘Flying Honu’ (sea turtle)-livery, was personally introduced as he was also a passenger on the flight.
No need to go West …
When traveling to Hawaii from Continental Europe, the first thing that comes to mind is to travel westward, through the Contiguous United States (CONUS) and also because Hawaii has been the 50th State since August 1959. From a Central-European view, however, Hawaii is exactly on the other side of the world. Considering that there is no difference in distance, flying through West or East would be equal and thus it is possible to see the sun go down in Hawaii via the East. In addition, by going over the International Date Line, it is possible to travel back in time as one leaves Tokyo at 20:10 in the evening to arrive in Honolulu at 08:30 in the morning, on the same day.
ANA is of course fully aware of this geographical fact and therefore encourages travelers to first experience the fascinating Japanese culture before enjoying the Hawaiian version of American culture. Since there are now direct daily flights between Vienna and Tokyo, it became even easier to travel to Hawaii with just one stop in between.
Who dislike the loutish manners of many drivers in Vienna and other large European cities, will be pleasantly surprised in Japan, where people are exceptionally polite, friendly and helpful. It's hard not to be in a good mood and one would quickly deal with his or her jetlag. A lot can be learned from this.
The Japanese air crew makes passengers feel welcome and make sure you are comfortable. In the past, staff in a few Western-European airlines had better rights than customers. Flying was almost considered to be an honor for the customers, and those customers should not expect anything else. Fortunately those days are long gone. This customer-focused approach does make a difference on long-haul flights.
The A380 Experience
In January 2016, ANA ordered three A380s specifically for Tokyo to Honolulu route. This route is rather lucrative and a main holiday destination for the Japanese, but ANA has a 16% seats-share and they would like to increase it. The lack of attractive slots at Tokyo-Narita airport also played a role in the decision to purchase larger aircraft. ANA’s aim is to increase their seats-share on this route to 25% of the approximately of around 1.5 Million passengers per year.
Austrian Wings flew from Vienna to Tokyo in a Boeing 787 and then from Tokyo to Honolulu in the first ANA A380. Both aircrafts are modern and comfortable, which is of course not unexpected. One difference between the aircraft was in their method for darkening the windows. While the A380 has manual shutters, the 787 has dimming windows with different intensity-levels. Just push a button and electrified gel between the glass makes the window either lighter or darker. Cabin crew can do the same remotely, for all section of the plane.
It is often said that the A380 is the passengers’ favorite aircraft due to its comfort. And indeed, the cabin is extremely quiet. It is unique to experience such a quiet cabin. No other aircraft comes close to this. Additionally, the size ensures the aircraft glides through the sky in a more stable and smooth way. It is a real pleasure to fly in the A380. It is a pity that the production of this aircraft will cease in 2021. Airbus could not secure new orders for the largest passenger-aircraft on the market anymore. One of the main reasons for this is that the market has changed and new aircraft were developed, whereby airline companies prefer to fly directly to final destinations with smaller fuel-efficient long-range aircraft, instead of flying large numbers of passengers to airport-hubs first and then further with smaller aircraft.
ANA’s A380s have 520 seats each in the following categories:
First Class: 8
Business Class: 56
Premium Economy: 73
Economy Class: 383 (60 in ‘Couchii-Configuration’, whereby 3 or 4 seats, together with foot rests, can be combined into a kind of couch / flat bed, which is useful for families with children).
Entertainment and communication services on board
ANA’s A380 is equipped with a wide range of entertainment and communication options and where the choice of movies will expand over time. During this flight, it was pleasant to catch up with a few movies that my teenage daughter saw and me not yet. In addition, those on vacation a large part of the passengers on such flights are business travelers. That number has been increasing since the US and the UK decided to create distance between them and Continental Europe. One does not need to be disconnected during the hours in the air. ANA’s 787 and A380 are fully equipped with modern communication and entertainment equipment and WiFi is available for a relatively modest fee.
Newly introduced on this first commercial A380-flight of ANA, is that cabin crew have been effectively trained to communicate with each other using small ear plugs. This way there is less to no need to use the Intercom. As the devices can be used throughout the aircraft, it makes flight attendants more flexible and mobile. In addition, it will probably be appreciated by passengers, as it does not interfere with the quiet cabin-experience.
One feature which generally is appreciated is the camera-view from the tail that can be selected to watch on the display in front of the passenger. I turned it on when we were landing as I expected the aircraft to be greeted by the fire department upon arrival in Honolulu, which is a tradition in the aviation world as readers may know. The Honu did indeed receive a nice shower, which created a rainbow over the aircraft.
There are procedures that most regular travelers may recognize. Once the doors are closed and the safety-video is turned on, it is a sign to those to turn off and start reading. Additionally, they watch outside, let the thoughts move away to business or private issues, or just dream away. ANA had a special video made for the A380 to remember, involving their three mascots Lani (blue). Kai (green) and Lȧ (orange). I leave it to the reader to form their opinion of the video, which was well received by most of the passengers.
ANA took the opportunity to completely redecorate their lounge at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Honolulu, including the introduction of a family area. In addition, first and business class passengers can enter the A380 directly from the lounge.
Japan has many interesting airfields and aircraft, both civilian and military. As time was rather limited, I was only able to briefly visit the airports Tokyo-Haneda and Tokyo-Narita when flying to and from these airports. I managed a brief visit to the Tokyo Heliport, which is relatively easy to reach by subway and a bus stops right in front of the heliport.
Both Haneda and Narita are nice for aviation enthusiasts and have several viewing areas. For the heliport, which is a must for helicopter-admirers, it is best to walk to the southeast and backside of the airfield, where great pictures can be taken from small hills between the trees.
As is often the case in warmer countries, blurry images can ccour due to heat waves, so pictures should be made when aircraft are flying and from closer.
Honolulu is also very interesting for aviation enthusiasts. Besides exotic airlines, there is Hickam Air Force Base, co-located at this airport with interesting based aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor and visitors like the B-52.
Although there was no sufficient time to do a full recce and also not much information could be found online, a good start is to go to the 8th floor parking opposite terminal 2, which provides a good view on the apron. From here one gets a good overview of what is where and pictures can be made with a long-focus lens.
Honolulu, Oahu and other islands
As Austrian Wings is an online aviation and not a travel magazine it suffices to keep the tourist-element brief. Hawaii is a truly touristic island with many interesting sites to see. Most memorable are the beaches and artifacts and relics from World War II in particular the attack on Pearl Harbor. Most visitors to Honolulu, Oahu Island and the neighboring islands are not visiting the islands for aviation-related activities, but more to enjoy the beaches, surfing the waves and shopping. But there are a few ‘musts’ like Pearl Harbor with the USS Missouri, the USS Arizona Memorial, and the Aviation Museum.
Traveling to Hawaii through Japan should be kept in mind for next year, when the 2020 Summer Olympics take place in Tokyo from 24 July to 9 August. The special-colored A380s fly only between Tokyo and Honolulu.
ANA offers daily flights from Tokyo-Narita to Honolulu. Currently the only A380 in operation will fly on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. The other flights will be with a Boeing 787-9. Once all three A380 are delivered, there will be daily A380 flights and from 1 July this year, 10 flights per week.
Note: For transparency reasons we would like to mention that ANA covered the organization and costs for our travel to both Tokyo and Honolulu.
Text, Photos & Videos: Robert Erenstein