ANA’s Unique Domestic 737 Premium Class

Filed Under: ANA, Travel

After flying from Chicago to Tokyo Narita in ANA first class, we had a connecting flight to Nagoya. While usually the best way to travel between Tokyo and Nagoya is by train, given that we were already at Narita, flying seemed like the better option. Besides, it would give me the opportunity to review another airline experience.

I booked this ticket in “Premium Class” using cash (separate from our award) — the ticket only cost a bit over $50 more than economy, so I figured it was worth it for a review. Premium Class is the equivalent of domestic first or business class within Japan.

It has been years since I’ve flown domestically within Japan. Actually, the last time I flew domestically within Japan I received an apology for being upgraded to first class. So I was curious to see how ANA’s domestic premium cabin product was.

Well, in a nutshell it was both good and odd.

After clearing immigration we checked in for our domestic flight. ANA domestic Premium Class passengers have access to the ANA Arrivals Lounge. Yes, that’s the departure lounge used for domestic flights. Strange, eh?

The airside section of the domestic terminal is small, and consists exclusively of bus gates.

By the way, there are so many things Japan does incredibly well, but why is it that just about every transaction in Japan involves so much paper? We were issued boarding passes, then when we went through security we were given “security certificates,” and then when we boarded we were issued “boarding certificates.” Huh?

Anyway, on to the actual 737-800 Premium Class experience…

Premium Class on the ANA 737 has just eight seats, spread across two rows in a 2-2 configuration. These are odd seats that you won’t find on any other airline, as far as I know. I don’t really get why they decided on these seats rather than just standard recliners, but for a 45 minute flight they were more than sufficient.

The seats recline a surprising amount, though not in an especially comfortable way. There’s also a legrest, but unless you’re under 5’6″, I doubt you’d find it comfortable.

Even though this was such a short flight, we were offered blankets and slippers.

The service on this short flight was impressive. 15 minutes after takeoff we were served dinner. There were no choices, but rather everyone got the same excellent Japanese meal.

To drink I had “Chic Barcelona” cava. I’ll let you guys guess how it compared to the Krug 2004 on the previous flight. 😉

Given the very short flight times, ANA gets creative with how they serve drinks. All drinks are served in plastic cups, and they can even give you a lid and straw so you can keep the drink during landing.

For example, after the meal I was asked if I wanted tea or coffee. I was confused at first, since we were 10 minutes from landing, and the crew was making final landing preparations. Well, I was brought my coffee in a to-go cup, and was also given a tasty earl grey cookie.

This was a short flight, and since we were flying in the evening, the sunset views were spectacular.

ANA 737 Premium Class bottom line

ANA offers a unique premium cabin experience on their domestic flights. They offer seats you won’t find on any other airline. They have solid food and not great drinks, though I appreciate their innovation in serving drinks in to-go cups, so you can keep your drinks for landing, given how short the flights are.

If you’ve flown ANA Premium Class, what was your experience like?

  1. Ben, you should consider reviewing JAL domestic three-cabin first class. It’s a remarkably unique (and really very nice) experience.

  2. My only experience flying domestic in Japan was several years ago, an economy leg CTS-KIX on a 737-800. I was seriously let down. Wasn’t expecting much in cattle class, but the ground experience at CTS was horrible. There was no order to the lines at check-in, ANA ground staff shouting orders with nobody clearly following. I felt like I was in Terminal B at LGA. Once through security, our flight was slightly delayed, and then it took over 45 minutes to board the plane. I was shocked, especially since even LCCs in the region seem to board A321’s and 738s in 20 minutes or less for intra-asian flights. The service was fine on board, what you would expect. Very bumpy ride, and a very rough landing at KIX, although I wouldn’t fault the airline for that obviously. Since its my only taste of domestic Japanese flying, I don’t want it to tarnish my view, but the ground experience at CTS led me to believe thats just how it is, and wasn’t a one-off thing. Maybe the boarding time was not the norm. Im not sure if the check-in problems fall on ANA or the airport itself. But man, after growing accustomed to how efficient travel in general is in the Korea and Japan region, it was not what I expected at all.

  3. Yikes you were 10 minutes from landing when the flight attendants served coffee! They should have discontinued service in order to be checking seatbelts and tray tables. For final approach flight attendants are supposed to be trained to discontinue cabin service and focus on safety responsibilities.

  4. @Sam – on a recent Air Seoul flight, the FAs were coming around to collect trash and check seatbelts pretty much right until we turned to short final. They kept the seatbelt sign off until about ~12 minutes out too. I thought it was pretty extreme.

  5. @GuruJanitor

    That definitely sounds like a one-off experience (or at least, a rare one).

  6. @Gurujanitor: That sounds highly unusual. From my experience, Japanese airline boarding is strikingly coordinated and organized, with multiple staff members holding informational cards. It always baffles me that they still employ this many human people to coordinate the boarding of an aircraft when airlines in the U.S. and Europe have cut back so much more. I would also suggest that Japanese service staff “yelling” can be quite different from American service staff “yelling”, with the latter generally having a hostile quality to it while the former (if you understand the language) still using really polite phrasing.

  7. I think the seat ANA uses is pretty much the same as the First Class seat on JAL domestic 767. Someone correct me if I‘m wrong…

  8. ANA is a pretty innovative company that puts a lot of thought into their products and doesn’t install off the peg stuff. They have a completely unique Business Class cabin on their 767s, with 5 across, with single seats running down the middle of the plane.

  9. @Lucky ANA used to fly 737-700er on much longer routes (2500+ mi), e.g. NRT-RGN. Not sure these are the same planes or they have these for longer international rotation as well.

  10. I flew this same ANA 738 configuration coming from Osaka Itami to Narita a few weeks ago. Was surprised by the seats and the great service on such a short flight.

    Agreed on the paperwork for the airport experience. Plus the boarding and security passes are quite small with very small fonts to match. Interesting to see their heavy use of QR codes on all these passes.

  11. Also to add, it was a stark contrast to the very subpar flight I had the previous week on JAL’s 738 with 5 seats across in business class from Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima. Service was disappointing as well.

  12. @Aaron and @Justin, thats what I assumed. Its always impressive to see how quickly and efficiently carriers like ANA and OZ can board long haul widebody aircraft. Was on an OZ A380, packed the brim a few weeks ago and we were boarded in under a half hour. Even LCC’s over there, I have experience with both Jeju Air and Air Seoul, get things done quickly. That’s why I was shocked. The ground experience at CTS was an utter horror show landside, even by our standards. The terminal felt old and cramped landside in domestic departures, which is why I was unsure if it was more the airport or the personnel to blame

  13. @Trey – ANA’s Business Jet aka 737-700 had much less dense configuration consisting of all business or combination of biz and econ. Their economy still had 2-2 configuration, perhaps the only airline to do so. It used to fly all the way to Mumbai, which was so long it needed a stop in Nagasaki on outbound from NRT.

    @gstork – What you flew is Class J, not a business class. The service is almost identical to economy, except the seat. That’s why they only charge 1,000 yen or USD 9 per upgrade. There is first class though, but it’s only available on select destinations and that is another league on its own.

  14. I’m on ANA 35 NRT-ITM in a few months. Looks like it’s a 777-200. I believe I’m booked in economy. Is there an easy process to do a paid upgrade in advance?

  15. You have to fly to Sapporo on the 777 with 500 people. Yes boarding takes just 30 minutes

  16. Lucky, a half Japanese person speaking here, formalities and mannerisms are very important in Japanese culture. Everything has to be done properly, especially towards the customer. They do not skim on paper, plastic, or any other materials to ensure the proper presentation. Same as if you purchased anything in a department store, intricate wrapping and packaging are the norm. Boxes of food items often include individual wrapping. To an outsider or an environmentalist, this seems wasteful, but deeply routed in Japanese culture.

  17. If only flights in America served meals like that in domestic 45 min flights…… one can dream lol

  18. @Ben, by saying “everyone got the same excellent Japanese meal”, do you also mean Y passengers as well? If so, that’s incredible!

  19. I got an op up the first time I was leaving Japan and they were seemingly apologetic about that too, I think it’s the deviation from what you were expecting, even when it’s for the better. I was very happy to get the upgrade for a 12 hour flight anyway!

  20. The food looks delicious. Seat is also pretty damn good for such a short flight, puts European short haul business class to shame.

  21. @Trey Those are specially built 737-700ER for ANA, which bases on BBJ1 and has 737-700 body but uses -800 landing gear etc.
    Both already scrapped.

  22. @Jojo 30 minutes to board a 777? That seems like the protracted version of Japanese boarding. I just flew a 777-200 with well over 300 seats, boarding started 15 minutes before scheduled departure, and the doors closed in time.

    On international flights, JAL and ANA typically starts boarding a 777-300ER 25 minutes or less before departure, and get them away on time.

    Main difference inefficiency? The absence of the ridiculous amounts and sizes of carry ons seen in the US.

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