After riding the high-speed Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kobe, for the return trip, we decided to take the quick way and fly home. At first, I figured this would necessitate heading to nearby Osaka (KIX) to catch a flight from there, but I found out that Japanese low-cost carrier Skymark Airlines operates several flights a day to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport directly from Kobe. This was appealing for a multitude of reasons: 1) much like Brad, I’m a sucker for exotic airlines, especially bankrupt ones, that are otherwise difficult to fly; 2) it would give me the opportunity to sample both of Tokyo’s airports on the same trip, and 3) flights were available for just 8,790 yen, or less than $75 at the then applicable exchange rate. And so after a long day exploring Kobe, we caught the “Portliner” light rail train at Sannomiya Station for the short (~20 minute) ride to the Kobe Airport for our flight.
Skymark Airlines (BC) Flight 118
- November 28, 2015
- Depart: Kobe Airport (UKB), Gate 4, 21:04, 4m late
- Arrive: Tokyo-Haneda International Airport (HND), Terminal 1, 22:10, 5m early
- Duration: 1 hour 6 minutes
- Seats: 4E, 4F
- Equipment: Boeing 737-800
We ended up getting to the airport nearly 2 hours before departure time. There really was no need to, except my wife and I were getting tired by this point and really didn’t want to walk around any more. That did give us some time to look around, not that it took very long in this small terminal. The check-in area is just one long rectangle, with a few backless benches to sit on in the center, and a couple of rows of chairs along both ends. Note that the first photo makes the terminal look chaotic, but when we were there at 7 P.M. on a Saturday, it was deserted. There was a sign for an observation area up on the second floor, but since it was already dark, I didn’t go up there to look.
Kobe Airport, by Masayuki Kawagishi, via Flickr Creative Commons, License CC BY 4.0
View of ticketing area, Kobe Airport, by Masayuki Kawagishi, via Flickr Creative Commons, License CC BY 4.0
When you walk into the main terminal area, the ticketing area for Skymark is to the right, in front of a small duty free shop. We walked up to an automatic kiosk, where there was no line, and our boarding passes were dispensed lickety split.
Kobe Airport (UKB/RJBE), by Hideyuki Kamon, via Flickr Creative Commons, License CC BY 4.0
The duty free shop is interesting. In addition to the usual airport shop trinkets, you can buy frozen Kobe steaks. Ummm, yeah…tempting, but I didn’t think it would survive the trip back to Dallas…
Anyway, security literally took 2 minutes, and we sat in the departures area for a while. The terminal is one, long corridor, with a pedestrian zebra crossing painted in the carpet the entire way down. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before. Ample seating is provided in front of each gate. Only a couple of flights were departing at this hour, so there were only a handful of people milling about.
The gate area itself is simple, featuring a single counter with seats both in front and to the side. There actually was a lounge next door to gate 4, which appeared to be for ANA and JAL Business Class passengers, and possibly certain Japanese-issued MasterCard holders.
Our scheduled flight time kept approaching, and a gate agent appeared about 30 minutes prior, but boarding was delayed for some reason that was never announced. Finally, 8 minutes before scheduled departure, boarding began. All of the announcements were only in Japanese, though an agent also held up a sign indicating which rows were allowed to board. Curiously, he held up a sign for the back half of the plane, but never held one up for the front half. We finally just joined the line after a couple of minutes and were let through with no problem.
Once onboard, seating is in an all-economy, 3×3 configuration. The plane was clean, and I thought the beige seats were sharp looking. The flight attendants wore orange polo shirts and dark slacks; the casual look kinda sorta reminded me of Southwest.
But boy…were these seats tight!
Keep in mind, I’m only 5′ 7″, and my knees are up against the seat in front. I thought the seats were even tighter than Spirit, which features 28″ of pitch. And indeed, this photo from my Spirit flight back in November seems to back that up. SeatGuru doesn’t publish seating charts for Skymark, so I wasn’t able to verify the number independently.
Amazingly, boarding was completed in just 12 minutes, and we pushed back just 4 minutes past our scheduled departure time. I guess that’s your ruthless Japanese efficiency in action. Our taxi took only a few minutes, during which blue mood lighting was turned on in the cabin.
Our flight path initially took us to the west, before turning north and then northeast towards Tokyo. That took us right over the city of Kobe and then the mountains surrounding the city to the north, providing a great night cityscape on the right side of the plane. The larger looking city at the top of the photo is Osaka.
Shortly after the seat belt sign was turned off, the FAs began offering snacks and drinks for sale. Unsurprisingly, as a low-cost carrier, Skymark charges for all snacks and drinks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that prices were quite reasonable – just 100 yen (~$1) for most snacks, soft drinks, and tea/coffee, and 300 yen (~$3) for wine and beer.
For that matter, Skymark isn’t nearly as fee-happy as most LCCs in general. One checked bag is allowed free of charge on all fares, no seat selection fees charged to pre-reserve seats, even towards the front, and except for the lowest sale fares, cancellations and refunds are allowed for a modest charge of 4,500 yen (~$45). I should also mention, though Skymark’s website is reasonably easy to use and processes foreign credit cards without issue, the multitude of fares available can be confusing to navigate. The FAs seemed to be peppy and friendly enough, though it’s a bit tough to judge on a flight that’s only an hour long. As far as seat comfort goes, despite the tight pitch, it wasn’t that bad, though again, it’s tough to draw conclusions on such a short flight. I’d probably say an hour and a half is the most I’d want to do, as I can imagine my back and thighs would get uncomfortable, since I had to slouch a little to keep my knees from hitting the seat in front.
We ended up making up the minor delay en route, arriving at our gate at Haneda a few minutes early. For those who haven’t flown through Haneda, the big advantage it has over Narita is its superior access to Tokyo’s mass transit system, given how much closer it is to the city center. Haneda to Odaiba can be done in about 35 minutes via one stop at Tennozu-Isle. That is, if you don’t do something stupid like me and head the wrong way after switching trains…
Skymark provides basic transportation, but considering how cheap tickets are – our flight was about half the cost of the Shinkansen – it provides a good value when traveling within Japan. The tight seating isn’t my favorite, but given that the airline’s longest flights are just about 2 hours in length, it’s not as big a deal as it could be. I’ll put up with a little discomfort to fly for $75, after all.
Photo at top: Boeing 737/8 of Skymark Airlines at Nagoya Centrair, by Alec Wilson, via Flickr Creative Commons, License CC BY-SA 4.0.
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.