Monday, February 20, 2012

Flying to Europe to Get to Asia Part 7

  1. United First Orange County to San Francisco andUnited International Lounge
  2. United Business San Francisco to Frankfurt
  3. Lufthansa First Class Lounge
  4. Lufthansa First Frankfurt to Tokyo
  5. Tokyo for a Day
  6. ANA Business Tokyo to Frankfurt
  7. Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport
  8. United Flight Frankfurt to San Francisco
  9. United First San Francisco to Orange County
  10. Trip Summary

The Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport is located in the Squaire, a short walk away from the airport terminals through indoor walkways.  The hotel is above one of the main rail links to the airport.  I followed the signs to the hotel once I cleared customs.  There were only a couple people walking the same direction as me given the early hour on a Sunday.  The shops along the way were just opening up and the smell of freshly baked pastries was wafting through the air. 

This hotel just opened at the end of last year along with a main Hilton brand hotel.  Both hotels share the same structure although the entrance to the HGI is more understated off to the side.  The lobby was bright and welcoming and I was warmly greeted by the front desk staff.  Luckily for me, a room was available and I was able to check-in early. 
The Hilton Brands at Frankfurt Airport

Main Lobby

Main Lobby

My hotel room was on the 9th floor facing the airport (the hotel lobby was technically on the 5th floor.  The furnishings in the room were simple and the finishes in the bathroom were very nice.  The overall size was smaller than most US hotel rooms but larger than most of the European hotels I have stayed in. 

Complimentary wired and wireless internet access is available for up to two devices per room so both my laptop and phone could hit up the web.  One detail that I really liked in the hotel was the dedicated power outlets for a range of countries.  I wish more hotels would include this feature so I wouldn’t have to worry about specific adapters everywhere I go. 

I was able to stay awake for a couple hours and had every intention of heading out into the city for the day, but the bed was too alluring.  After 66 hours of traveling without a true bed, I needed to lie down and I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.  I didn’t wake up until 6pm and had basically decided to relax in and near the hotel for the rest of the night.  I was able to grab some food at one of the shops in the Squaire and even caught a brand new episode of Top Gear on BBC2. 

It took me a fair amount of time to fall asleep again at a “normal” hour but the sleep didn’t last long and I was up early in the morning.  Breakfast was included in my hotel stay so I went down to the in-hotel restaurant and hit up the buffet.  The faire was similar to what you would see at most Hilton Garden Inns but a wider selection of breads, pastries, and cold cuts were available to select from.  The restaurant was about a third full with a fair amount of business people eating.  I enjoyed a big plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, roasted tomato, pineapple, and pastries.  It hit the spot in the morning and should give me enough fuel for the morning. 

The checkout process was quick and I was at the terminal in a few minutes getting checked in at the United counter.  I wish I was going back to the Lufthansa First Class terminal…  I was asked a few more questions that usual about my trip since I had been in and out of Germany a couple times in the past few days, but eventually I was able to check in for my flight and find out that my upgrade cleared for a business class seat.  So far I am 4 for 4 on getting my system wide upgrades cleared. 
Departures Board at Frankfurt

I enjoyed my stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport.  Next time that I am connecting at FRA and need a place to stay, I will be back here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Flying to Europe to Get to Asia Part 6 - the 787!

  1. United First Orange County to San Francisco andUnited International Lounge
  2. United Business San Francisco to Frankfurt
  3. Lufthansa First Class Lounge
  4. Lufthansa First Frankfurt to Tokyo
  5. Tokyo for a Day
  6. ANA Business Tokyo to Frankfurt
  7. Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport
  8. United Flight Frankfurt to San Francisco
  9. United First San Francisco to Orange County
  10. Trip Summary

ANA #203 from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Frankfurt (FRA)

ANA Boeing 787
Seat:  3K
Cabin:  Business
Date:  02/19/12
Scheduled Departure:  1:00am
Actual Departure:  12:59am
Scheduled Arrival:  5:25am
Actual Arrival:  5:29am
My Ride at the Gate

The time had finally come to try out Boeing’s new airplane, the 787.  I headed over to the gate about an hour before departure so see the aircraft at the gate.  ANA modified their livery to add a 787 on the side of the fuselage so I was happy to see that on the plane verifying I the 787 was in service.

The gate area wasn’t that full even through boarding.  Several agents were at the gate preparing for the flight and at 35 minutes after midnight they invited business class and priority passengers to begin boarding.  I was standing up and close to the gate so I was able to be first in line to pass my boarding card and passport to the agent.  I was soon walking down the jet bridge to board the aircraft.  Two bridges were used, one to the front door for business class and the other for the second door for economy passengers.  I didn’t get a chance to see the main entry point then although the entry through the front gallery area was better than most airplanes I’ve been on. 
Gate Area

There are a total of 18 seats in the forward business class section in a staggered configuration.  When I took a picture of the cabin, the flight attendant behind me offered to take one with me in the picture.  Another business class section is just aft of the lavatory and galley area. 
The Front Business Cabin

Me on the 787

The new business class seat on the 787 has some cool features but it is more functional than aesthetic.  The seat is comfortable, good cushion (not as much as United or Continentals product), and plenty of room at the shoulders.  The seats are staggered so that you always have a side table between you and the next person.  This setup is great for the business traveler but lousy if you are flying with someone since there is no option to seat together or even see each other. 
Aisle Seat Profile

My Window Seat

My Window Seat

The video screen at the seat is large and is above the power ports and tray table. Most other business seats located the table within the armrests to hide it somewhat. Here, the table is pulled out from below the screen and it latched in place with a pivoting arm.  This is probably the least elegant design component.  The table slides all the way out and has plenty of space for dining or working.  The integration of the power outlets into the screen unit is actually a great solution.  It saves you from having cords along the floor or seat getting in the way of your legs. 
Screen, Table, and Power Ports

Controls for the seat are located on the side table unit along with the handset for the AVOD.  The side table is large with a cup holder and a light.  One armrest can fold upright while the other can be lowered to provide more space.  When it is lowered, a small panel remains that you can remove although I don’t think I was supposed to.  The seat control unit also has two unique buttons on it.  One button turns the LED side table light on and off and the other is a do not disturb button.  When pressed, a plaque lights up on the top of the seat to indicate to flight attendants passing by to let you rest uninterrupted.  My issue with the seat design here is that the handset, which has all of the controls for the AVOD but also the reading light above the seat and the attendant call button, is located at the same point you rest your elbow on the arm rest.  If you move your arm you can hit those buttons by accident. 
Side Table and Control Unit

One of the most striking aspects of the 787 is the amount of space the windows occupy.  They are about 30% larger than standard airplane windows.  Where I usually have to stoop down to look out of the windows I can sit fully upright and look out.  All of the windows, except the ones in the bathroom, do not have pull down shades.  Instead they are electrically dimmed to the point where light is blocked out but some transparency remains.  Unfortunately I was on a night flight and wouldn’t be able to fully test out this feature.  I did do a comparison shot of fully open versus fully dimmed and you can see the difference even at night. 
Fully Transparent Window

Fully Shaded Window


The bathrooms are nowhere near as nice of the ones on the A380 but they are equipped with a couple features that are not standard.  One, a nearly full length mirror is on one wall.  The other items involve the toilet.  They have installed a bidet function and there is also hand motion activated flush which also closes the toilet seat. 
Amenity Kit

Forward Bathroom (One W/O Window)

Service on the flight was interesting.  All of the flight attendants were polite, friendly, and smiling.  Items were provided quickly when asked, but a few small details just seemed lacking.  No pre-flight beverages were offered, not even water.  Once airborne we were given small bottles of water and later offered Champaign, white wine, or red wine from a tray of pre-poured glasses.  I chose the Chateau La Lauzette Bordeaux from the Haut (high) Medoc.  I have actually been wine tasting in that region before and enjoyed this slightly spicy red.  My wine glass was quickly refilled when empty which is always nice.  Hot towels were given out before meal service and after using mine it stayed on the side table and wasn’t picked up until after I had finished dinner. 

A light meal service was provided on the flight due to the late, rather very early hour of departure.  The first course was a small appetizer plate of some sort of sauce with vegetables, and a cocktail of fruit and shrimp in a sweet liquid – all quite good.  Also, two cheese wafers were on the plate. 
Appetizer Plate

I opted for the udon noodles with duck breast in a warm broth for dinner.  It was served in a bowl with chopsticks and was very tasty.  It wasn’t the easiest to eat but I probably could’ve asked for a spoon if I wanted.  After slurping down the noodles, duck, leeks, and spinach I finished off the remaining broth and was ready for dessert. 
Udon Noodles with Duck

There were a few options for dessert on the menu and I opted for ice cream.  A small carton of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream was dropped off at my seat along with a snack mix.  There is a table tray light just above the screen to use while eating.  There is no switch, but as you rotate the light from a flush/flat position, it turns on automatically. 
Dessert, Snacks, and Moneyball

The meal service wrapped up about three hours after takeoff and it was now time to sleep.  I reclined the seat all the way into the bed position.  There is no separate or extra padded headrest on the seat so you have a fully flat surface to lay on.  Width wise, the seat was fine.  My shoulders didn’t hit the sides of the seat shell and I could turn from side to side easily.  The length was almost an issue for me.  I could lay down and fully stretch out and my head would just be about touching the back of the seat shell and my feet would just barely be touching the back of the foot well.  Anyone over 6’2” will have to bend their knees to sleep.  The foot well is actually the width of the seat unlike seats on Continental and United aircraft so you don’t feel cramped.

I was able to get 6 hours of sleep in before waking up on my own somewhere north of Moscow.  Boeing hypes the new aspects of the 787 including pressurization at a lower level, higher humidity, and a quieter cabin.  I did feel that the cabin was more comfortable to be in.  I was less dehydrated than on some previous long haul flights, and I didn’t feel the need to keep drinking water as I did on the 747 flight over.  The cabin was quieter although you could still hear the engine noise.  The low end of the spectrum and rumbling was gone but you could still hear the higher pitch whine of the engines and the changes in speed.  The overall ride was smooth with only a couple bumps here and there. 

Once the flight attendants saw that I was awake, I was given a hot towel and asked if I would prefer the western or Japanese breakfast.  I opted for the western spinach omelet with ham and potato slices.  The eggs were decent, albeit greasy.  Fruit, warm breads, and orange juice were also provided. 

The cabin is lit through LEDs all over the aircraft.  The overall cabin lighting can vary depending on the time of day or flight.  On boarding and landing, the cabin had a blue tint to it.  During meal times the lighting was more of a white / yellow.  The blue accent lighting around the side table reminded me of Tron when all the other lights were off. 
Boarding Lighting

Meal Lighting
Where is the Daft Punk Music?

I felt that the AVOD library was rather minimal and didn’t have the breadth of programming available on United or Lufthansa.  There was a mix of Japanese and Hollywood programming in the movie section but the TV section was pretty empty.  The system also lets you shop from your screen or instant message between other seats on the plane.  The crew didn’t turn on the system until we were up in the air for about 10-15 minutes and they shut down the system 30 minutes before landing.  Only the map function was available as we were heading in.  One part of the maps was interesting as it showed names and dates in the ocean.  My only thought is that the map is showing shipwrecks as it listed the Kursk in 2000. 
Map, with Shipwrecks?

The landing at Frankfurt was smooth and we taxied for 10 minutes heading to our gate.  Once at the gate I waited until all of the plane disembarked so I could head to the economy cabin and grab some photos.  The economy layout has two aisles in a 2-4-2 seat configuration although the 4 middle seats are more like two sets of two seats with an extra armrest in the middle.  The back of the seats do not lean back, but rather the seat bottom slides forward.  An indicator on the die of the seats lets the flight attendants know whether the seat is in the upright and locked position for landing. 
Economy Cabin

Middle Seats with the Extra Armrest 

Upright Seat Indicator - Green is Good

Passport control was packed when I got there around 5:45am.  When I reached the border agent I was asked only how long I would be in Germany and then sent off.  My hotel for the night is adjacent to the airport so I hope that I can get into a room early.

Only 32 international flights of the 787 have been in operation so far (minus a few cancellations), so being one of the first groups of people to fly it was fun. I don't know if the plane lives up to a revolutionary passenger experience, but it definitely is an improvement in comfort over other aircraft.  Perhaps its just that my recent experience in first class on the A380 is coloring my perception.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Flying to Europe to Get To Asia Part 5

  1. United First Orange County to San Francisco andUnited International Lounge
  2. United Business San Francisco to Frankfurt
  3. Lufthansa First Class Lounge
  4. Lufthansa First Frankfurt to Tokyo
  5. Tokyo for a Day
  6. ANA Business Tokyo to Frankfurt
  7. Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport
  8. United Flight Frankfurt to San Francisco
  9. United First San Francisco to Orange County
  10. Trip Summary

Walking Around Tokyo for a Day

I was so focused on first getting my award ticket on the 787 and then trying to get a first class seat on the outbound from Frankfurt that I completely forgot to plan what to see while in Tokyo.  Thankfully, my friend Dyana helped me out with a few great suggestions. 

I didn’t have any issues going through passport control and customs, although the customs officer questioned why I only had a backpack with me.  I took a little time to use the free wifi in the terminal before heading downstairs to the train station.  I had managed to photo capture portions of the Tokyo rail and subway map before I left Frankfurt so I could have some sense of navigation while in the city.  I purchased a ticket on the Express train which took me into Tokyo for my first stop, Asakusa.

Popping up out of the subway station on I side street, I followed the crowds to what I hoped was the Senso-Ji.  I walked a few blocks away and then game across a large gathering of people standing around one of the large gates which surround the temple area.  Just behind the gate was a whole pedestrian street lined with shops selling food, clothing, and trinkets.  The place was packed.  Every few feet a branch of cherry blossoms and metal flags stuck out from the roof structure helping to frame the view to the Kaminari-Mon gate.  The gate’s construction and the other buildings in the temple area are very detailed with structural elements sharing in the celebration of the design.  Many of the buildings in this part of the city are post-WWII albeit rebuilt from previous facilities.  The temple itself is passed the gate and adjacent to a series of gardens.  Once inside the temple it sounds a bit like Vegas as offerings are being tossed into metal bins in the front which sounds like slot machines dropping coins. 

Vendors Along the Packed Walkway



The gardens are a nice change from the urban landscape a few yards away.  I walked through the water features and viewed the other smaller temples around the shrine and then ended up at the five-story pagoda which dominates the area with its height. 

Senso-Ji in Background

Colorful Flags

Five Story Pagoda 

Across the Sumida river are a couple curiously designed buildings which I believe house the offices of Asahi.  The taller building has a golden tint to the glazing so that the light being reflected off of it looks like beer. 
Asahi Tower

Asahi Tower

I hopped back on the subway and headed to Ginza which is a central shopping area with high end merchants.  The buildings have some rather unique design elements and many are extremely narrow, maybe 10 to 15 feet at most.  Some of my favorite designs use some clever texture on the exterior skin or warp the building fa├žade a bit. 

I ate a late lunch at a bakery along the main street of Ginza and people watched for a while.  Although the sky looks clear in the photos, the wind was gusting hard and it was very chilly outside.  My heavy jacket kept me warm for the most part but I can already feel a bit of windburn from walking around all day.  I walked down a few of the side streets to check out the area in more detail before heading to my next stop. 

The Shibuya Crossing was crazy.  I was shocked at the number of people moving across the intersection right outside of the station.  Everyone waits until the walk sign goes green and the entire street is covered with people walking across to another side.  It was so crowded it was slightly claustrophobic.  The streets around the area are smaller yet still crowded.  Vendors are out on the streets trying to sell their goods and billboards advertise the latest Japanese boyband. 

I Thought They All Went Out of Business

After walking around Shibuya for some time, my feet were starting to hurt.  Walking around all day plus carrying a backpack with all my stuff the whole time added up to a lot of weight on my feet and back.  I hopped back on the subway and then connected to a different train to take me to Diamon station where I could catch the monorail to Haneda airport, about 45 minutes outside the city. 

The monorail ride was decently fast, thanks to the rapid version I managed to catch.  I was able to get a few more views of the city at dusk as I headed to the airport.   I was able to see Mount Fuji in the distance with some wispy cloud formations above.  I tried to get a few pictures of it but it didn’t work out how I wanted. 
Dusk Over Tokyo

Once at the Haneda International Terminal I was able to check in without difficulty.  I had secured a lounge invitation to the ANA lounge post-security.  In addition to the typical security check, I had to pass back through immigration where I filled out a small form and verified I was the same person who arrived earlier in the morning.  The lounge is not as nice as the First Class Terminal, but it is a welcome respite from the rest of the airport.  I arrived several hours early and at that point the lounge was practically empty.  By 9:30, that all changed and nearly every seat in the place was occupied. 

Haneda International Terminal

A Model of My Ride

Seating Area

Self Serve Bar Area

Dining Area

I was able to take another shower right after I got into the lounge and then relax a bit and work on my blog entries.  The only food they had out initially was some miso soup, sushi, and rice in fried bean curd.  There is also a self-serve bar station where I tried some Sochi and Plum Wine.  The later was actually good.  I wouldn’t touch the former ever again. 

Miso Soup, Friend Bean Curd & Rice, Water, Sochi, Plum Wine

It was a little chaotic and loud towards the end of the night in the lounge.  Boarding announcements were difficult to hear and I headed to the gate early per my usual practice.  Can’t wait to ride on the 787!