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The Best Flight of My Life

The Best Flight of My Life

Thanks to taking advantage of various frequent flyer programs, we were left with plenty of airline miles to cash in.  We decided to splurge a bit on our flight from Uruguay to Tokyo by booking first-class tickets.  Since the trip was so long we figured this would be the best bang for our buck (err… mile), and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, luxurious travel experiences of my life.

The first two legs of our trip were business class, not first, which, while comfortable, were not anything to write home about.  The real star was our final leg from Chicago to Tokyo, an All Nippon Airways flight aboard a Boeing 777 Dreamliner.  Our first-class treatment began before we even got on the plane; we realized that our tickets gave us access to the United Polaris Lounge, which gave us a comfortable, quiet, amenity-filled location to relax while waiting for a couple hours before our flight.  There was a buffet of small portions of a variety of foods and desserts, private (and clean) bathrooms, couches and armchairs with charging stations and tables, a spa and shower area (extra charge, unfortunately), and best of all, an open bar that we happily took advantage of.  I think the best part was really having a comfortable place to wait away from the crowds, loudspeakers, and general chaos whirling around an airport.

We made full use of these facilities

We made full use of these facilities

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Plenty of snacks and soft drinks available to grab as you please

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And a comfortable place to enjoy it. I think the lady in the booth was judging me for taking pictures though.

After some drinks and snacks, charging our devices, and relaxing in comfort, we made our way to the gate, where we were guided to a separate first-class line.  After getting on the plane we realized that we were in a different line because we had an entirely separate door on the plane that ensured that none of the riff-raff in the back would bother us in any way.  Not even in our peripheral.  Once aboard, our personal flight attendant greeted us and asked how we would like to be addressed.  I told her “Sean” and she said “OK, Mr. Sean!”.  Oh, and yes, I said personal flight attendant.  There were three of us in first class and three flight attendants, although if first class had been more full I’m sure we would have had to share.  We were then handed our own folded pajamas and directed to the restrooms to change.  These things were more comfortable than any clothes we’ve worn in the past six months.

Lookin' sporty

Lookin’ sporty

The seats themselves were incredibly comfortable and had all kinds of amenities available.  The seats had a variety of settings and modes, from upright takeoff, to reclining comfort, to lie-flat for sleeping.  We were provided a pair of over-ear noise-canceling headphones, which fed the audio from our individual 20-something inch TV’s and had access to both USB and regular plug charging ports.  On our shelves were small cases with a variety of products, including an eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotions, oils, and hand sanitizer.  After taking our seats in our new comfy clothes, we were offered a welcome glass of champagne.

Not a bad welcome

Not a bad welcome

After takeoff, we were handed the food and drink menu to peruse, which boasted a choice of two separate multi-course dinners, a selection of over two dozen wines, a dozen Japanese sake options, and any liquor you could ever want.  We, wanting to get in the spirit of our destination, chose the Japanese-style menu over the Western-style one.  Our dinner consisted of TEN courses of delicious, authentic Japanese cuisine, many of which the flight attendants had to explain to us how to eat, but all of which tasted amazing.  Through it all, the attendants were very… attentive, bringing us wines and sakes that paired well with each course, happily explaining the almost literal cornucopia of food options, and swooping in with the next course time after savory time.

The appetizer course - prosciutto and melon, truffle-flavored scallop and cauliflower soup, crab meat and grilled zucchini with mango, and cheese pepper bars.

The appetizer course – prosciutto and melon, truffle-flavored scallop and cauliflower soup, crab meat and grilled zucchini with mango, and cheese pepper bars.

The starter - Snow crab meat in vinegar sauce, and a selection of "morsels" including sea urchin, pickled Chinese yam, soy sauce cured-salmon roe, grilled squid with egg yolk, and stir-fried whelk (had to look that one up - it's sea snail) with garlic and butter.

The starter – Snow crab meat in vinegar sauce, and a selection of “morsels” including sea urchin, pickled Chinese yam, soy sauce cured-salmon roe, grilled squid with egg yolk, and stir-fried whelk (had to look that one up – it’s sea snail) with garlic and butter.

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The soup – Owan, a clear soup containing Japanese plum-flavored thin wheat noodles and short-neck clam fishcake.

Otsukuri - Sashimi, a kelp-cured sea bream with yuzu citron pepper paste

Otsukuri – Sashimi, a kelp-cured sea bream with yuzu citron pepper paste

Simmered lobster in a white miso sauce, steamed monkfish liver with ponzu sauce, and halibut in a soy-based ginger sauce

Simmered lobster in a white miso sauce, steamed monkfish liver with ponzu sauce, and halibut in a soy-based ginger sauce

Steamed rice and miso soup

Steamed rice and miso soup

After almost more food than we could eat, they set up our beds for us.  There were seats available next to us, so they made the bed in a separate seat so we could move back and forth from lying down to sitting up watching TV or reading at our leisure.  The beds had a memory foam pad, full pillows, and super warm blankets.  Our goal was not to sleep much on the plane so as to adjust to the time change better, but Bridgette wasn’t feeling well so she slept quite a bit, and I couldn’t resist taking a few hour nap myself with that full-length bed tempting me from across the aisle.

So comfy

So comfy

After sleeping we were given coffee and tea and offered a number of smaller food options; we both ordered the ramen which was, of course, delicious.  We made use of the provided toiletries to freshen up before landing and somewhat reluctantly changed out of our pajamas and back into our regular clothes.  We did get to keep the PJ’s though!  Once on the ground we were escorted out of our personal door once again and bid farewell by name.  We literally never saw any of the coach passengers; for all we were aware there might as well have been just the three of us on board, making it feel a bit like our own private plane.

After that trip, I gotta say it’s gonna be hard to go back to coach, but until I hit a jackpot or get a company expense account I don’t think there’s any other option.  It was definitely a nice change of pace after a plethora of frequently uncomfortable long-distance buses in South America.  Saving up our airline miles was the only thing that made this experience possible; a quick Google search says that just that Chicago to Tokyo leg would have cost over $11,000 per person if we were to have purchased it with cash.  Looking at it that way, it’s one of the best per-mile redemption values you’ll ever see, so if you’re building up some airline miles it might be worth a splurge now and then!

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