The next day, I pottered around Ueno Park and its sozzled hanami (cherry blossom viewing) celebrations and then, finally, got on the long haul out of Ueno by Keisei. Narita’s never been one of my favorite airports, but the advent of the new South Wing at T1 has certainly pushed it up a few notches in my book. While my favorite “last chance in Japan” sushi restaurant seems to have disappeared, alas, it’s been replaced by a tolerable if somewhat overpriced conveyor belt joint (on 5F) and a whole load of new shops. Check-in for Star Golds was as efficient as always, security was a breeze, immigration had the usual queue and the new ANA huge lounge in slick shades of black and white was a sight to behold. Quirky feature award goes to the free noodle bar, although I won’t be changing my NRT routine until they add in a free sushi bar as well…!
At the gate, the boarding pass reader said “boop” and I was taken aside. My RTW was issued as five physical paper tickets and I’d only shown the first at check-in, so could I show my connecting flight onward from the US? Well, I pointed out, it’s a RTW ticket (see the little “YRWSTAR1” notation there?) and the itinerary is shown in computerese at the bottom: starting in BKK, then TYOSFOPHX, out later via NASYYZYOWYVRCDG and eventually back to BKK. The gate agent was convinced and let me through… but came back a few minutes later: the US immigration authorities, she said, wouldn’t let me in without a return ticket (a valid theoretical point, I’ll admit, although I’ve never been asked), so they’d dug up my baggage from the hold and wanted me to get my ticket. Err, OK — my bag was truly procured, I demonstrated to everyone’s satisfaction that my RTW does, indeed, exit the US at some point, and I was allowed back in, this time with ticket in hand.
I had tried to get a Star Alliance upgrade for this flight, unsuccessfully — I was told that Friday’s a very popular day to fly out, and hence biz was always full. Needless to say, once on board it became clear that at least half the seats in C were actually empty… and I’d already mentally composed half my angry letter blasting KrisFlyer, ANA and Star Alliance for their intolerable incompetence when it dawned on me that, due to the aforementioned Int’l Date Line muddle, I’d been requesting the upgrade for the wrong day. D’oh! (That would also explain why they had some problems finding my booking, although KF never actually confessed that they couldn’t actually find it.)
My consolations were that flight time was just 8 hours (vs a scheduled 9:30) and that there was nobody in the middle seat, allowing me to stretch out a little. This was my first taste of long-haul NH in eco, and I quite liked the on-demand video-and-more system, which had a pretty good selection of J-pop and allowed me to finally watch 2001 from beginning to end (definitely a movie best sampled in the middle of the night at 33,000 feet over a moonlit Pacific).
The Japanese food, though, was surprisingly terrible, especially considering the excellence of NH’s biz fare. For dinner, it was gluey rice with soggy breaded whitefish, and for breakfast, it was a morbidly fatty chunk of bacon coupled with a rice patty topped with salsa (…?). Other flight amenities were nonexistent: no shades, no socks, no earplugs, no toothbrush, not even a shared bottle of moisturizer in the loo. The control box for the AV system, under the middle seat, was huge and prevented me from stretching out from my window seat; I would be chewing my legs off if I had to sit there! Fortunately I was prepared with all the essentials, and thanks to my new laptop’s 8-hr battery capacity killing time on non-sleepy pursuits wasn’t an issue.
In other good news, my threshold for pain seems to have gone higher. Four hours in economy used to be the point at which I started getting antsy, but half a year of commuting between Singapore and Delhi has pushed that up to six. On this flight, though, I experimentally determined that over seven hours is still unpleasant. Fortunately I’ve timed every other flight remaining on this trip to avoid this situation… except the last. Time to pay for an upgrade?