Saturday, March 8, 2014

CoachFlyer NH126: OKA - HND on All Nippon Airways' Boeing 747.

Travel date: November 2013
Flight: NH126
Route: Okinawa/Naha (OKA/ROAH) - Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT)
Carrier: All Nippon Airways (NH/ANA)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-481/D JA8961
Class: Economy
Direct distance: 1,554 km (966 miles)
Flight time: 1 hour 59 minutes

Naha Airport (OKA/ROAH), serving the capital of Okinawa prefecture, is the gateway to the islands of Okinawa, or Ryukyu. It is also the main airport that connects the prefecture and mainland Japan. Check-in at 1100 was quick with several ANA counters open, so we subsequently decided to visit the observation deck, which gave us a good view of the apron and the airport's sole runway. At 1200 we passed security and strolled to Gate 33, only to know that boarding would be delayed due to the slightly-late arrival of our aircraft. But we didn't mind that, because it would be our last opportunity to fly on All Nippon Airways' (NH/ANA) mighty Boeing 747-400D.
Our Boeing 747-481/D JA8961 arriving at Naha on a flight from Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

A group of high school students, probably 150 or so, were also among the passengers, but ANA was professional in that they lined them up in groups according to their seats, and escorted them to the aircraft soon after boarding started at 1215, before other passengers boarded. Then followed handicapped passengers and groups with small children, while Star Alliance Gold members and Premium Class customers came next. We were one of the last to board, and at 1235 the doors were closed and push-back started at 1238, eight minutes behind schedule. The four General Electric CF6-80C2 engines started to rumble one by one, and we were moving on our own in five minutes, taxiing to the threshold of Runway 16.
ANA crams 58 economy class seats in the upper deck of the Boeing 747-400D. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

We slowly rolled down the runway and gently lifted off at 1248, initially heading south then banking to the left heading northeast. The seat-belt signs were turned off six minutes later and the 12 flight attendants started preparing for in-flight service, which began around 1300. Like Japan Airlines (JL/JAL), ANA only offers a limited selection of complementary beverages: hot coffee, consommé soup, apple juice, hot or cold green tea, and water. However, unlike JAL, ANA has a buy-on-board program branded 'ANA My Choice', which began around 1340. It offers alcoholic drinks at 500 to 700 JPY, special soups at 500 JPY, and snacks ranging from 300 to 1,000 JPY, while Häagen-Dazs ice cream cup is also offered at 300 JPY. Complementary lunch box served in Premium Class, which is ANA's domestic First Class product, can also be pre-ordered on their website for economy class passengers as well at 1,800 JPY.
This cabin can only be the Boeing 747. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Soon after, around 1308, Captain Fujimoto-san made his welcome announcement to the passengers, informing us that we were cruising at 37,000 feet, or 11,200 meters with an estimated flight time of one hour and 55 minutes. Weather at Tokyo would be clear skies. After all the usual, routine information, he made a relatively long note in tribute to the 'Queen of the Skies'. "The Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet has been our flagship and helped ANA become the global carrier it is now. However, times have changed and we are now down to three airframes flying only domestic routes, and all will be retired in March. The 747 was a large, fast, and reliable jetliner loved by everyone. We would like to thank all our customers for the past 23 years, and please enjoy the last remaining days of the Jumbo Jet". Listening to his words filled me with deep emotions. And probably did for the Captain himself too.
Inside the seat pocket on ANA's Boeing 747-400D. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

The nowadays classic cathode-ray-tube TV screens, scroll-down front screens, and round-dial audio channel panel on the seats remind the good old days when mass-transportation was developing. Our aircraft for today was Boeing 747-481/D JA8961, delivered to ANA back on May 13th, 1993. 'D' standing for 'Domestic', ANA's B747-400D seats 23 in Premium Class and 542 in economy (total 565) and was Boeing's answer to Japan's need for a new generation high-capacity short-haul airliner that would replace the B747SR, the 'Short-Range' Classic Jumbo. ANA received its first B747, a SR model, on December 20th, 1978, and inaugurated service on the Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) and Sapporo/New Chitose (CTS/RJCC) routes on January 29th, 1979. Naha was added on February 9th that year. Their first B747-400 entered service in November 1990, and the B747-400D came on-line in February 1992 to start replacing older B747SRs. 
With or without the winglet, its huge wings are simply beautiful. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

I had ample time to walk around the cabin and take photos, until descent started around 1415 as we were passing by Mount Fuji, off the coast of Shizuoka prefecture. 10 minutes later, we had passed Tokyo and were above Boso Peninsula in Chiba prefecture. Seat-belt lights were turned on at 1432, and the aircraft made an approach above Tokyo Bay for a smooth touchdown on Runway 22, dubbed 'Runway B', at 1447. We taxied to Gate 61, right in front of the observation deck where many enthusiasts from children to adults were waiting, where we arrived at 1456, 11 minutes behind schedule. Since autumn 2013, air traffic control (ATC) at Haneda coordinates so that Boeing 747 flights can depart and arrive from a gate that can be viewed well from the Terminal 2 observation deck.
The Boeing 747's gracious wing and engines with Mount Fuji. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

So ended our final flight with ANA's venerable 'Jumbo Jet'. I did deplane, but felt like something kept pulling me from behind, so I spent some more minutes to gaze at the behemoth from the gate. My first ever long-haul flight was on an ANA B747-200B from Tokyo/Narita (NRT/RJAA) to Washington D.C./Dulles (IAD/KIAD) back in 1989, and I still remember when the B747-400, dubbed 'Techno Jumbo' by ANA, entered service with much fame. But long gone are the days when long-haul was dominated by B747s, Lockheed L1011 TriStars, and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, now replaced by super-efficient but sometimes bland wide-body twin-jets of Airbus and Boeing. March 31st will see the last day of passenger Jumbo Jet operations in Japan, ending 35 years of flying with ANA, and 44 years of continuous flying in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Farewell, and thank you for all the memories. You will surely, surely be missed. It will be hard to get used to a Japan without a passenger-carrying Jumbo plying the domestic skies.

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