Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: All Nippon Airways (ANA)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Flight #: NH5
Route: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Narita International Airport (NRT)
Date: October 1, 2023
Duration: 11 hours, 55 minutes
Cabin and Layout: Premium economy; 21 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration
Seats: 14D (aisle) and 16G (aisle)
Cost: 65,000 United MileagePlus miles + $5.60 (including onward flight to Singapore) each
After a recent rush of premium economy flights, I’ve come to enjoy flying in this cabin. And when my wife and I decided to celebrate her leaving a toxic workplace, a short-notice trip to Singapore and Bali seemed like a great idea. Given that we couldn’t find any reasonable awards in business class, I convinced my wife, who has trouble sleeping on flights, that premium economy would be an acceptable substitution.
While the plane got us safely to where we needed to go, it was not a good flight. That’s sad, given that it started so well, and we had such high expectations. Service was abysmal, and I’ll look to avoid ANA in the future. That’s on top of my wife not finding the seats comfortable for sleeping, though I can sleep pretty much anywhere, to be honest. Here’s what happened and why the flight left us unhappy.
I booked this flight with 65,000 United MileagePlus miles per person plus $5.60 in taxes each. We were originally scheduled to fly United the whole way, going from Los Angeles through San Francisco to Singapore. When there was a schedule change, I asked a phone agent to put us on this route via Tokyo with ANA on both legs instead.Hot Tip:
Typically, United would charge more miles for partner flights to Japan or Singapore — starting at 71,500 miles. Cash prices average $1,400 to Singapore, though premium economy flights just to Tokyo cost slightly more due to demand: around $1,500.
Thus, redeeming 65,000 miles for flights to Singapore or Tokyo provided a good value. That’s 2 cents per mile, which is above average per our valuation of United MileagePlus miles.
On arrival at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX, we were surprised to see that premium economy passengers had access to the priority check-in line with business class and ANA elites. As no one was in this line ahead of us, check-in was ultra-fast. We showed our passports, the agent saw that we weren’t entering Japan (and thus didn’t need any declaration forms), and we were on our way in less than 5 minutes.
The real surprise was the agent telling us we could visit the Star Alliance Lounge as premium economy passengers. When I flew premium economy with Air France and ITA Airways recently, I didn’t get lounge access, so this was pleasant news.
The lounge had an open layout divided by partial walls, curtains, and glass walls leading to a patio overlooking the main hallway in the terminal. Immediately to the right after check-in, there was an unattended luggage storage area and a small library seating area.
There was a hot food bar, which changed from breakfast to lunch during our visit. Breakfast items included sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Lunch items included salads, pasta, and miniature desserts.
In the far corner of the restaurant area, there was a make-your-own ramen bar, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
The lounge also had a full-service bar, coffee machines, bathrooms, complimentary Wi-Fi, and soda machines with Coke products.Hot Tip:
Check out our list of over 20 airport lounges at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
We departed from the Tom Bradley International Terminal using gate 154. Interestingly, we were in group 5 as premium economy passengers because ANA sells multiple levels of tickets in each cabin. We were booked into the cheapest fare type of premium economy, boarding after other premium economy passengers and with those who’d purchased the most expensive refundable economy fares.
Boarding was organized and efficient, however. Even-numbered groups lined up to one side, with odd-numbered groups on the other. While group 2 boarded, group 3 got ready, and so on. With employees organizing the lines and checking boarding passes, this process moved faster than I’d thought it would.
After scanning our boarding passes and showing our passports, we boarded through the middle door into the galley in the middle of the 2 business-class cabins. Premium economy seats sat between partitions from business and economy cabins.
Seats were arranged in a 2-3-2 layout. From checking the seat maps in the days leading up to our flights, I didn’t expect the flight to be full and picked seats D and G in row 16. These were both aisle seats in the middle row of the premium economy cabin. By the time we changed our reservation, there weren’t any pairs of seats at the windows available together, so this option left an empty middle seat between us.
With an empty middle seat in front of and behind ours, I figured the likelihood someone would come to sit between us was small, and I was right. That gave us extra space for our stuff during this long flight.
This partition behind business class had closing flaps and a video screen that played the safety video before takeoff.
Once we were in the air, flight attendants attached signs to the curtain to let us know that business class was off-limits.
Once we were on board, I took a quick tour of the seat. It had an interesting color scheme and pattern that I didn’t really like, but I did like the reading light on an adjustable arm next to each seat. The spacing between seats was solid as well.
Each seat had a legrest. It wasn’t practical, to be blunt. It merely lifted our legs up so that they smacked the bottom of the seat in front.
The seat’s recline and legrest were both controlled by buttons on the armrest, which were labeled.
The fold-away footrest was much more useful.
The seat back pocket had safety information and a sick bag, and pockets above it held our headsets and slippers. The headsets weren’t noise canceling but were good quality.
Slippers were another surprise for us, as we typically associate these with business class only. I put them on right away.
The slippers also came with a shoe horn and a carrying bag.
The armrests between the seats had several important features.
There was a slide-out cup holder.
The tray table was inside, accessed by flipping open the top of the armrest.
The tray table opened into a folded version, which had a divot to serve as a cup holder.
When unfolded, the table easily held my 13-inch laptop.
At knee level, the plastic molding between the seats had 2 universal outlets.
Overhead, there were reading lights but no individual air vents.
Since our cabin wasn’t completely full, the overhead bins were more than sufficient. Bins were located in the center and sides of the plane over all passenger seats in our cabin.
I will save my most biting criticism for the service section later on, but the food and beverage section also deserves some harsh words.
My wife and I are both vegan. Because this flight had a codeshare with United, I requested special meals online, on the phone, and via Twitter from both United and ANA. I had screenshots to prove it when the crew said there were no special meals on board for us, despite us confirming them in advance.
Thus, the food and beverage was a major letdown. At one point, a flight attendant simply dropped this tray of side dishes in front of my wife and walked away. Not much for a nearly 12-hour flight.
When flight attendants passed later with a basket of snacks, I tried to check it out for vegan options. The flight attendant simply told me there were no halal options and yanked the basket away from me. That was confusing and further deteriorated the food experience.
After 6 hours of consuming our own snacks we’d packed and being upset about the situation, a flight attendant arrived to say that a business passenger had slept through his meal and that they could cut his meal in half for us to share. It was better than nothing, so we shared some fruits, a corn-couscous salad, and grilled cauliflower. It was cold, and they hadn’t reheated it prior to serving us.
We were told that we could share that passenger’s meal again if he didn’t wake up for the light meal before landing — no promises. Lucky for us, the passenger didn’t wake up, so we were able to share this unimaginative pasta with vegetables. We were pretty hungry and ate it, lack of flavor and all.
Given the lack of suitable food on the flight, we went straight to eat during our layover in Tokyo. Paying for a meal after coming off a 12-hour flight in a premium cabin with confirmed meal requests was pretty annoying. But it was less annoying than the service.
Each seat had an individual entertainment system. The screens were on the small side but not small enough that we had to squint.
There were options for movies, live TV, shopping, games, e-books, kids’ content, and a map of the flight.
The list of movies wasn’t extensive, but the real downside to the entertainment was the audio selection. Each selection had just 4 or 5 songs. A playlist called “Best 100 of the 90s” had just 5 songs. I checked a few dozen albums and playlists to confirm, and every audio selection was similarly limited. That was odd.
Headphone jacks were located at hip level, under the slide-out cup holder. There were also pop-up remote controls here that could be used to change channels, volume, or play some of the inflight games. Next to this headphone jack, there was a seat number indicator.
Wi-Fi was available during the flight. It wasn’t cheap, though. A 30-minute plan cost $6.95, a 3-hour plan cost $16.95, and a flight pass cost $21.95. Given the time when you can’t use your laptop during takeoff and landing, that’s a bit over $2 per hour for the flight pass.
Premium economy passengers used the economy lavatories on this flight. They were standard and located along both aisles in the front and rear of the economy cabin.
While the lavatories weren’t spotless, the flight crew did a good job overall of keeping them clean and stocked.
Boarding was great, and we were warmly greeted upon entering the plane. Flight attendants passed through the aisles, smiled, and offered to help passengers find their seats or stow their belongings. The flight was off to a great start. Everything went bad when the meal service started and the flight crew didn’t have our vegan meals.
The flight attendant on my side arrived first. I said that I’d requested a special meal, and her response was a hummed version of “OK” and then she carried on with her business. I assumed that meant someone would come with my special meal. When my wife’s flight attendant arrived on the other aisle, she told the flight attendant we’d requested special meals. The flight attendant checked a paper and responded with, “No, you didn’t.” That was not an appropriate way to respond.
We informed her that we had confirmed our special meals, including a final check the day before departure, and even inquired at check-in that our special meals were on the computer. I produced a screenshot showing our special meal confirmation, saved on my laptop.
The flight attendant laughed nervously and simply walked away. To be clear, I don’t think she was laughing at us, but with the language barrier, her not-great English, and the situation, I think she just didn’t know what to say. So she left.
Roughly 30 minutes later, after we’d assumed we weren’t getting food and relegated ourselves to the snacks in our carry-on bag, the same flight attendant dropped a tray full of side dishes on my wife’s tray table and disappeared again. I never got one and didn’t care to use the call button to ask for one. The flight attendants had been rude and condescending thus far — including the weird situation with a flight attendant not allowing me to peruse the snack basket for options — and I wasn’t interested in talking to them if I didn’t have to.
A full 6 hours later, we got half a meal each. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think this was the flight crew’s idea. They made no offer or effort at any point to look for solutions. Somehow, it was simply our fault they didn’t have any food for us.
During the flight, I tweeted at ANA saying it’s one thing to forget our meals but another issue to be rude to us about it. My guess is that ANA looked up my name, found our flight, and realized we were still on board. The flight attendants made a complete 180 after this, and it was only then they found this uneaten meal. Dinner was several hours prior, meaning they knew this meal was sitting around for quite a while. No one had offered it to us until I complained to ANA on Twitter. If I hadn’t, I believe we wouldn’t have received anything.
It shouldn’t take a tweet complaining about a flight crew to get basics during a flight. The crew took no initiative to offer us extra snacks, try to improve a bad situation, or even say “sorry” at any point. They treated us like it was our fault that we lacked the special meals the airline had promised us — promised 3 times, or 4 if you count the check-in agent.
When we landed, we took a short taxi to the gate. My wife and I were itching to get off the plane, not just because we were hungry but because we just wanted the experience to end.
We deplaned quickly through the middle door. Flight attendants from the business and economy cabins were at the door, smiling and saying goodbye. Our flight attendants were nowhere to be seen, and it felt like they didn’t want to make eye contact with us on departure, so they avoided any final checks or goodbyes in our cabin. Their absence was notably peculiar, considering flight attendants should at least pass through for seatbelt checks.
This was our second flight on ANA, and while we weren’t impressed by the first, the second was just bad. It didn’t have to be like this. Minimal effort to try to improve things on behalf of the flight attendants could’ve made the flight decent, but they did everything wrong and made the situation worse.
The cabin and seat were decent — nothing special. The entertainment had its weird peculiarities, but it was passable. This could’ve been an OK flight, but we deplaned, dreading our ensuing flight from Tokyo to Singapore (luckily, I’d rate that flight “pretty good”). And we even debated changing our flights home to avoid ANA, given how bad this flight was. However, the costs of doing that on short notice were too much.
After this bad experience, I’ll avoid ANA whenever possible. Some people love the airline and rave about its service, but not me.
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The number of seats in premium economy depends on which layout your plane has. You will find 3 different layouts, all with 2-3-2 seating. On the Boeing 787-8 and 787-9, you may find 2 rows (14 seats total) or 3 rows (21 seats total). On the B787-10, you’ll find 3 rows of 2-3-2 plus an extra middle section, making 24 seats in premium economy.
Premium economy passengers typically use the same bathrooms as economy passengers, and there may still be middle seats in premium economy. Other than that, there are many differences. Seats in premium economy should have a footrest or leg rest — or both — have more space between seats, wider seats, and nicer amenities. These may include the use of real dishes instead of disposable items during meals, nicer headsets for watching movies during the flight, and seats that recline further.
Premium economy seats don’t lie flat as a bed, which you can find in international business class. Other amenities will differ, such as what types of premium alcohol are available, how many courses are in your meal, access to nicer or larger bathrooms, and the ratio of passengers to flight attendants. Business passengers also tend to get nicer headphones and amenity kits, and meals may be served on better dishes.
ANA typically flies its Boeing 787 aircraft on this route. Typically, it will be a Boeing 787-9 series, but ANA also has 787-8 and 787-10 airplanes.
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Ryan has been on a quest to visit every country in the world and plans to hit his final country in 2023. Over the years, he’s written about award travel for publications including AwardWallet, The Points Guy, USA Today Blueprint, CNBC Select, Tripadvisor, and Forbes Advisor.
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