We had the opportunity, thanks to United MileagePlus, to upgrade to First Class on ANA flight 11 from ORD to NRT while on our way to TPE. The flight was fantastic, both in terms of the seat and service provided. There were some pre-flight reservation issues that threatened to derail the flight, though luckily we had planned a long enough connection at ORD that it was not an issue.
Reservations on ANA can be upgraded to First Class through the use of United PlusPoints, a type of airline currency given to Platinum and higher members of United’s MileagePlus program. The upgrade request can be submitted online but requires the ANA flight to be on the reservation using a native ANA flight number rather than a Untied codeshare number.
We had to call in to our the flight number changed from United to ANA. It required two calls as the first agent was not aware of the existence of international First Class, and also not aware of what needed to be done. This was a hang up and call again situation. The second agent was able to get it done, though it took a bit of time. Luckily, as 1K members with MileagePlus, phone wait times are typically non-existent.
Our upgrade which cleared six days prior to departure. We noticed our first issue when trying to see if we could check in online. We happened to be near our departure airport, PHL, so we headed over to see if the counter agents there could check us in. They could not, and after they called in for help, it seemed that our ANA segment was in an inconsistent state on United’s end due to the upgrade.
We called the 1K desk to verify that there was nothing to be done on United’s end. We then called ANA, which was a bit of a mess. The first number we called ended up being to their customer service line in the Philippines. While the agent tried to be helpful, she had no idea what I was trying to resolve and kept talking about seat assignments on our flight from NRT to TPE, which was on EVA Air.
We called again, this time selecting a different line which is supposed to go to agents in either Japan or the USA. We waited on hold for a long time before finally getting a Japanese agent. We confirmed with her that everything looked good on ANA’s end. We did try doing online check-in with ANA but it failed, stating that the flight was not eligible. We were able to successfully online check in for the NRT to TPE flight with EVA Air so at least something did go right.
The next morning, we returned to PHL when the check-in counters opened for the day. We had the same issue but convinced the check in desk agent to just check us in to ORD and to send our bags there. This means that we would have to leave the secure area, pick up our bags, and check in with ANA. We had plenty of time so as long as our flight wasn’t delayed significantly, it shouldn’t be an issue.
The boarding gate scanner did reject our boarding passes as we boarded our flight from PHL to ORD. One of the gate agents was able to help us and had to phone in for assistance. It turns out that although we were only flying to Chicago and didn’t have boarding passes to go any further, some part of the system knew that we were on an international itinerary. The system required that our passport data be added as it is required to be submitted to the CBP for all international departures. This had to be done manually as our Travel Ready data, which seems to work reliably in normal situations, didn’t seem to carry over in this case.
After arriving early at ORD, we split up to be able to try to check in with ANA while simultaneously waiting for our bags to come out.
Everything worked out fine. ANA was able to check us in without any problems. Security was a bit of a mess with hordes of holiday travelers. We debated going in via Clear, which we have complimentary membership with thanks to United, or just the regular TSA PreCheck line. Clear really bogs down when there are too many people and that line looked extremely slow. We ended up going in via the PreCheck line which wasn’t too bad considering the number of people present.
ANA doesn’t have any lounges at ORD so we used United’s Polaris Lounge. Our last time in this particular lounge was before the pandemic. It largely seems the same as it was before. We went to the sit down restaurant where we were added to the list. They have a text message based system for notification that your table is ready.
Although it is possible to order as much as you want from restaurant area, we opted for just two of the light items and two entrees. The portion sizes tend to be pretty small, though sometimes we have been surprised. But no surprises today.
There always seems to be some sort of juice item on the menu for breakfast, but we’ve never yet encountered a Polaris Lounge that has actually had it available. We’ve always struck out at IAD and we had no luck today here at ORD.
We grazed for a bit at the buffet area after breakfast. While the options available are certainly better than the standard United Club, it doesn’t match what some of the better international lounges offer worldwide. The bacon was good though.
We knew that ANA’s onboard catering would be good so we didn’t try to overeat!
ANA Flight 11
Soon, it was time to head over to the gate in Concourse B. The Polaris Lounge is in Concourse C so we had to head over via the underground passageway.
We were a bit early but not by much. We were invited to sit in a roped off section by the boarding door, though the area was a bit crowded. Our departure time was delayed multiple times due to aircraft preparation but eventually it was boarding time. We boarded via the left jetbridge, reserved exclusively for the First Class cabin.
Our aircraft was JA792A, a 777-300ER. It was equipped with ANA’s older First Class product, branded as ANA First Square. It features a 23″ display along with a wide seat, though lacks a privacy door, a feature that is becoming more common on newer seat products.
As we are 1Ks with United, we do most of our flying with United. ANA’s First Class seat is significantly wider than United’s current Polaris seats as well as all the lie flats that came before, including the retired Global First seats from when United had international first class.
Comfortable pajamas were provided which were higher quality than those offered by United in Polaris. There was also what might be best described as a zip-up cardigan as well as slippers. One nice bathroom feature which is described in many reviews online but we did not photograph is the changing platform. This little drop down platform gives you a place to stand while changing so as not to have to touch the floor with your feet. It is a nice touch.
The noise cancelling headphones were Sony, similar to what we have at home and better than the unbranded product provided by Untied in Polaris. Also, we normally travel with Sony noise cancelling earbuds so are happy with ANA’s choice of product.
The amenity kit came in a small luggage-like container, similar to the Away kit container that was provided by United until recently.
They are made to look like Globe-Trotter luggage, a company from the UK.
The flight attendant also came around to offer additional items.
I grabbed a Suntory Varon Men’s Skin Care product, as did my wife as there was no equivalent women’s product offered. We are more familiar with Suntory as a drink brand and were not aware they make skin care products!
Complimentary full flight WiFi vouchers were provided. It worked flawlessly and was more than adequate for our needs.
The extensive dining and beverage menus were presented in a nice leather folder.
For the the main meal, lunch given the departure time, there was a choice of a Japanese or Western course. Additional dishes were available at any time during the flight.
The beverage menu was even longer!
We both opted for the Japanese meal, after all, we were flying a Japanese airline!
Overall, the meal was excellent! There were a variety of different flavors, many of them new to us despite having been to Japan many times. The biggest weakness was the grilled yellowtail, the primary protein of the main course. It was too well done for our preferences. Generally though, everything was substantially better than we’ve ever had on United in Polaris.
A little bit of Ito En matcha after the meal, along with the brown sugar adzuki bean agar from the meal. Ito En is a prominent Japanese manufacturer of tea products, including matcha, some of which are sold in the US. It was a nice ending to the meal.
Afterwards, we finished watching the movie that we started at departure and went to sleep. The flight attendants make the bed for you when you decide it is time to doze off. They put the bed into lie flat position and put a thin mattress on as well as the bedding. The bed was definitely more comfortable than United’s Polaris as well as the older Global First seat. The width of ANA’s Square seat, from head to toe, makes it feel more like a real bed.
We had some snacks throughout the flight. Due to our schedule, which ultimately resulted in a roughly midnight arrival in Taipei, we wanted to get some sleep but not too much.
The bowl of udon was nice and very satisfying. It is a simple dish consisting of broth, noodles, and tofu, but was well executed.
We normally don’t seek out vegetarian or vegan dishes. However, we were curious about this vegan ramen as it was made by Ippudo, a well known Japanese ramen chain. They have locations in the US, as well as many other countries, though they tend to be more upscale than the ones we’ve been to in Japan. It turned out to be very good with strong flavor, quite unexpected!
Another vegan item on the menu was the curry. This recipe was created by the head chef of a two Michelin star restaurant in Japan so we figured it was worth trying. it was good and flavorful, though not as enjoyable as the ramen.
Another bowl of matcha, because, why not?
The English text for this dish just describes it as bowl of rice with seafood. The key element that is missing is raw seafood! I would have had this earlier if we had known. The Japanese section of the menu has a proper description as chirashi, which is raw fish over rice. It was good!
Despite having a late departure, we arrived more or less on time. It was definitely a great flight! The service provided by ANA’s flight attendants was fantastic and definitely well above what United is able to provide onboard. The flight attendants were extremely responsive whenever we needed anything, but managed to stay almost invisible during other times. One issue that often comes up on United is that the flight attendants are often very chatty, something that is often readily apparent when seated in row 1. But there was none of that here on ANA, it was as quiet as can be on a modern jet aircraft throughout the flight.
And despite the seat being an older product, everything was in good condition and very clean. The bathrooms were regularly cleaned throughout the flight. The First Class cabin is small with only eight seats but two bathrooms for the exclusive use of First Class passengers. It almost felt a bit like flying on the upper deck of the 747 as it was very private. The dividers behind the cabin were kept closed and there was no traffic from Business Class behind us. The front door and jetbridge were also for the First Class cabin’s exclusive use when deplaning, same as when we boarded.
The biggest issue we experienced was the initial problem with our reservation not being synchronized between United and ANA. Luckily, we had a long connection at ORD and it wasn’t an issue. If we had a close to minimum connection time connection through, it could have been a problem. The long hold time with ANA also meant that it wasn’t practical to call again to try and get the issue resolved, something that we would at least be able to easily try with United as 1Ks, though lower tier members would potentially have the same problem that we did.