Just 26 days after returning from our whirlwind (mostly) Business Class trip to Europe, we hit the skies again to head to Japan for my birthday. These flights would once again be in American, and on a Boeing 777-200 both ways, but in coach. My experience on this aircraft from Paris to Dallas showed that it’s a dated, subpar product in the Business cabin, so I was curious to see how things would look in the Bob Uecker seats in the back. I do find it a bit curious that American would use such an aged product on a flagship route like Dallas to Tokyo. Then again, for $653 roundtrip, beggars can’t exactly be choosy.
American Airlines (AA) Flight 175
- Wednesday, November 25, 2015
- Depart: Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW), Terminal D, Gate D30, 10:34, 1m early
- Arrive: Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT), Terminal 2, Gate 86, 15:28 (Thursday), 8m late
- Duration: 13 hours 54 minutes
- Seats: 20A, 20B
- Equipment: Boeing 777-200
American offers two daily nonstops between DFW and Tokyo, one departing at 10:35 A.M., and the other at 12:10 P.M. We elected for the earlier flight, so as to maximize our time in Tokyo (granted, it was only an hour and a half of extra time, but I’ll take what I can get). We got to the airport about 8:45, and thanks to our recently acquired TSA PreCheck, we sailed right through security. We did spend some time in the Terminal D Admirals Club (I will have a later post covering the Terminals A, C, and D clubs, so I won’t spend time on our visit here), and headed over to the gate about a quarter to 10. Boarding began with a few minutes, and was surprisingly orderly.
As much as the Business Class cabin of the 772 is woefully out of date, Main Cabin likewise features some significant limitations, namely: no Main Cabin Extra, except for exit rows and bulkheads; in-seat power only at selected seats, and only of the DC variety; and limited entertainment options in the seatback TVs. I’m not a fan of either exit rows or bulkheads, and thus didn’t want to pay extra for those seats. But when I checked in the morning before, lo and behold, a window-aisle combo in Row 20 sat unclaimed. Both my wife and I had acheived AAdvantage Gold status after our trip to Europe, so I could now take them at no charge. That was a no-brainer, so we enjoyed a generous helping of legroom.
The cabin itself features an old school 2-5-2 configuration.
You might think 2-5-2 would be truly dreadful, but in reality, it’s actually not that bad, especially if you’re traveling as a couple. For starters, as opposed to a 3-3-3 configuration, it’s nice to be able to book a window/aisle combo where you avoid both having to disturb a stranger, and a stranger having to disturb you, to get to the aisle. It’s also FAR superior to the almost inhumane 3-4-3 setup that is proliferating like weeds on 777s throughout the world, especially in the elbow room department. No, it’s not business class, or even premium economy, but with an extra inch of seat width compared to a 10-across configuration, it’s noticeably less tight.
Boarding was completed efficiently, and soon enough, the door closed to kick off our nearly 14-hour flight to Tokyo. As we taxiied towards the runway, there was some interesting traffic to be found, like this Sun Country 737. An interesting bit of trivia – Sun Country is one of the few remaining vestiges of former Metroplex powerhouse Braniff International Airways. A small group of BI employees, led by Captain Jim Olsen, created Sun Country after the original Braniff International went defunct in 1982. It’s kind of neat seeing these reminders of DFW’s aviation history still flying around.
After a smooth take-off, I started playing around with the entertainment system after we reached 10,000 feet.
One thing I don’t like about these bulkhead seats is the placement of the TV monitor in the armrest. Not only does that necessitate folding the TV away for takeoff and landing, the position of the monitor when pulled out makes it awkward when trying to balance a drink and a laptop on the tray table, and to get out to the aisle. At least there’s plenty of legroom, which makes it a little easier to get out behind the screen. In general, I found the entertainment selection disappointing. There was only a small selection of TV shows and movies, maybe a couple dozen in total, and the screen quality was poor. There is a DC power outlet underneath this row; it’s not as difficult to get to as in a regular row of coach due to the extra pitch, though it is still a little too easy to get your feet tangled in a long cord if you’re not careful. No WiFi is available on these aircraft.
A little under an hour into the flight, the flight attendants commenced beverage and lunch service. The meal started off with a drink and a small package of pretzels.
This was followed shortly by the main meal. The choice was either “chicken” or “barbeque pork”. I went with the pork, which was served with a sie of rice, a packaged roll, both a potato and garden salad, and a packaged brownie.
I’d rate the meal as fair. The green salad was probably the best item on the tray. It came with a pair of large tomatoes over a bed of lettuce, with a generous helping of cheese, and a zesty balsamic dressing. It actually tasted fresh, and the dressing gave it a nice zing. The potato salad was so-so; it had a decent creaminess level, but the chunks of potato were undercooked and a littel crunchy. The packaged roll was going stale. The main course, meanwhile, was rather forgettable. The rice was pretty bad (I don’t like rice to begin with), and while the pork actually had a modicum of flavor, the sauce was too sweet. At least American now serves house wine for free in coach…
No, it’s not a wine connossieur’s dream, but wine is wine when it comes to helping me sleep on airplanes.
As I munched on lunch and sipped on wine, I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery below, as our route gave us an excellent view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado.
As we reached southern Wyoming, about 3 1/2 hours into our flight, the FAs rather abruptly came by and shut all the window shades. Well, then…guess it’s nap time. Which was probably all for the better, anyway, as the couple of cups of wine were starting to take hold. As far as sleep comfort goes, these seats are a mixed bag. The extra legroom does help, in that you have more room to adjust from side to side if needed, and if you’re in a window seat, you have the wall for additional support. But the lack of a legrest is an issue, as your legs are left dangling with no support. As you’d also expect, the awkward sleeping position in a coach seat is tough on the posterior, though this was mitigated by sitting on a pillow. All in all, I ended up sleeping for a little less than 5 hours, which wasn’t bad (full disclosure – a couple of drinks, and I’ll sleep through pretty much anything in any position).
I woke up somewhere near the International Date Line, just as the midflight snack box was being offered. Inside was a cold cut sandwich and a package of rice crackers, along with a tub of vanilla ice cream.
The sandwich wasn’t great, basically what you’d find at a gas station. There wasn’t much flavor to be had, but I was feeling hungry, so I ate it anyway. I wouldn’t call the “gelato” an authentic version, but it actually hit the spot quite nicely.
About two hours before landing, another lunch was offered. This time, only one meal was offered, a noodle dish.
If it doesn’t look good, that’s because it wasn’t. The noodles were mushy and overcooked, and the dish in general had an unpleasant combination of pungent yet too sweet. Oh well – at least the wine was still free.
The service we received on this leg was terriffic. Our FA was an older Japanese woman, and she terrific. She asked my wife and I what we planned to do in Japan, and after I told her we were going to Kobe to have a steak, she also recommended that we try a fried pork dish that Tokyo food courts are famous for. She also had quite the sense of humor. I guess she noticed I liked wine, so she kept insisting that I take more. “You are going all the way to Kobe…here, you need more wine!”. And when she saw me trying to take a picture of the noodles? “Why do you want to take pictures of the food? It’s no good!!”. That kind of interaction goes a long way in making a tedious flight enjoyable.
We soon began our descent into Narita, and we had a visitor out the window also on final approach. I couldn’t tell which airline this plane belonged to.
The overcast obscured the view most of the way down, but we did get a nice view of the Narita airport complex just as we prepared to touch down.
Customs and baggage claim at Narita was remarkably painless. Bags took only about 20 minutes to arrive, and we were out into the terminal in about half an hour. Not bad at all coming from the back of the bus. After 3 1/2 wonderful days in Japan to get my steak and see a few other things, it was time to head home.
AA Flight 60
- Sunday, November 29, 2015
- Depart: NRT, Terminal 2, Gate 88, 18:11, 4m early
- Arrive: DFW, Terminal D, Gate D25, 14:35 (Sunday), 25m early
- Duration: 11 hours 24 minutes
- Seats: 36A, 36B
- Equipment: Boeing 777-200 (772)
On the return, we chose the later of the two flights so we could enjoy a couple of extra hours in Tokyo before heading to the airport. We arrived at the airport around 3:30, giving us a extra time at the Narita Admirals Club, which I’ll review in a separate post.
We left the club about 55 minutes before departure, as it was a bit of a long walk to the gate. The concourse in Terminal 2 is kind of interesting, with several work cubicles and long tables for lounging scattered throughout.
On the other hand, compared to the relatively orderly boarding process in Dallas, here it was something of a shambles, with gate lice clogging the boarding area to an extreme.
And sure enough, there were two makeshift boarding lines for coach to separate priority boarding from general boarding, but with no real attempt by the gate agents at crowd control, leading to a chaotic situation and lots of cutting in line. Eventually, we figured out which line was for Priority Access, and fought our way through. Not a good way to start off a long flight.
This plane was exactly identical to the one we flew out on, but this time, no bulkheads were available, so we truly did get a pair of Bob Uecker seats towards the back. The seats themselves were the same, but this time we had the standard coach pitch of 31 inches.
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you; that’s the dreaded IFE box restricting my legroom on the left side. Ugh, this promised to be a long flight. In addition, power ports are only located about every 3-4 rows here in the far back, and unfortunately, Row 36 did not have one. That meant I’d have to walk a real tightrope to get some use out of my phone and computer without running out of juice before getting to Dallas. On the plus side, these seats have the monitor in the standard position in the seatback, though the picture quality was equally poor. These screens really need to replaced…
It was already dark by the time we boarded, but we passed an ANA 787 as we taxiied towards the runway, and I had to try and get a picture.
Take-off was uneventful on a clear night, and meal service was offered about an hour after takeoff. The meal consisted of mixed nuts and crackers, followed about 30 minutes later by what was described as a “stir fry chicken”, served with a salad, a packaged roll, a salmon appetizer, and a piece of chocolate cake.
The mixed nuts and crackers were actually pretty tasty, with a hint of wasabi giving it some needed zest. The rest, though, was pretty awful. The chicken was nearly inedible, the mashed potatoes and green beans flavorless. The salad was nothing but a bowl of lettuce with a cucumber or two thrown in. The roll was a little better than on the way to Japan, and the chocolate cake was decent. But overall, this shows why American really needs to step up their long haul game.
After dinner, I settled in for some sleep. Despite the presence of the IFE box, there actually was a small gap between the box and the wall. This proved to be crucial, as it provided just enough space to wedge in a foot while sleeping. Thus, I was able to avoid the “crushed feet” feeling you tend to get when an IFE box forces you to squeeze both feet under half a seat. I would still have to periodically re-adjust my posterior on the pillow as it would get numb, but I ended up sleeping for a good 6 hours – actually a little longer than I wanted to, as it was now about 11:45 in the morning Dallas time.
About an hour later, we caught sight of land at last, approaching the California coast in Mendocino County, south of Point Arena.
Our flight path then took us south of Clear Lake in wine country…
…and then over the northern suburbs of Sacramento, providing a nice view of the airfield at SMF.
Our second meal was served shortly thereafter, though rather oddly, the meal was breakfast. I say odd, because it was 1:00 P.M. Dallas time by this point. You’d figure lunch would be more appropriate. Anyway, scrambled eggs it was, served with a sausage link, potatoes, and a side of assorted fresh fruit.
The breakfast actually wasn’t that bad, especially compared to the awful dinner earlier. The eggs look pretty rugged, but the taste actually wasn’t bad, and unlike many egg dishes in the air, they weren’t dry. The potatoes were actually quite nice and tender, though the sausage lacked flavor. I ended up eating most of it.
Meanwhile, as I finished breakfast, we encountered the best scenery of the route, passing over the fresh snowcap of the Sierras just south of Lake Tahoe.
That was followed by the stark winter desert landscape of Nevada, flying southeast past Walker Lake towards Utah.
It clouded up shortly after that and stayed that way all the way to DFW, and very low ceilings across Texas negated any sightseeing out the window until we were right on top of the airport. Fortunately, the turbulence wasn’t too bad.
Service on this flight is what I’ve come ot expect in American coach class, which is to say – politely indifferent? Unlike on the outbound to Japan, there was really nothing special about this crew. They weren’t rude, but just went through the motions of providing the basic service. You didn’t see or hear much from them outside of the scheduled meal services. Which is all you can realistically expect these days in coach, I suppose.
We ended up getting to our gate about 25 minutes early, and I was able to sneak in a photo of our plane before heading up the walkway towards customs; turns out it was in the special oneworld livery.
Bags took forever as they always do at DFW, but Global Entry had us through customs in less than 10 minutes, and to the parking lot and on our way home by 3:45.
I won’t lie, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to these flights, but the experience wasn’t that bad. Ironically, though American’s old 772s are a bummer when you’re flying in Business, when you’re in the back of the bus, the wider seats in the old, unrefreshed cabins actually make for a more comfortable flight. Inconsistent service again proved to be a bugaboo, with great service one way and mediocre (but not bad) service the other. I’d probably go out of my way to avoid the 3-4-3 configuration in the newer triple sevens, though.
Note: This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to Japan in November, 2015. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.