When you are setting out on a long haul flight, it’s nice to know what to expect. My family of five booked our trip from Chicago to Tokyo through United Airlines. This flight is sold through a few different Star Alliance partners and has different flight numbers associated.
The flight is operated by ANA (All Nippon Airways) and was a great experience! Flight UA 7911 or NH 1111 is a long haul flight from Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD) to Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND). It leaves Chicago at 4:20 pm and arrives in Tokyo at 8:35 pm. The journey is 13 hours and 15 minutes long.
Embarking on a long haul flight can be stressful for those who fly infrequently or for those traveling with children. There are questions of where to sit, what will my kids eat, what can I bring on the plane, when/how are we supposed to sleep or how do I ask for what I need. This flight and all those flying west for a long haul pose a challenge for families in trying to optimize rest. Arriving in a new place at what is their evening when it feels like 6:00 am to your family requires strategy. The remainder of this post will highlight our positive experience on this flight, flying with ANA for the first time, and what strategies we used to have the best flight experience.
Flight UA 7911 is the operating number if booked through United Airlines. The same flight can also be booked through multiple Star Alliance Partner Airlines including the operator All Nippon Airlines. The flight number is different when booked through other airlines. For ANA, the number becomes NH 1111. This flight leaves from Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare Airport.
The plane is divided into First Class, Business Class and Economy seating. The flight offers the following food and drink services: snack mix and beverage, beverage refill, evening meal (choice of two options), morning meal (choice of two options), coffee and tea service, and snacks/drinks available during the night in the galley between seat classes.
The Economy section of Boeing 777-300ER that we rode on was divided into a two – four – two seat configuration rows in slight offset. Each seat is equipped with a screen, removable keyboard/remote, cup holder, tray table, foot rest, and back of seat net storage area.
Seating Layout. We flew on the Boeing 777-300ER (77W). You can see a variety of layout variations on SeatGuru’s website. The version we flew on had three lavatories in the back. We boarded the plane in the middle of business class and turned right to find out Economy seats. The economy section ends with row 42. We chose seats in row 39. With the two – four – two configuration and five members of our family, we selected the four middle seats and the aisle seat on the left row – seats C, D, E, F, and G.
I am a believer in sitting toward the back of the plane and once again, this strategy served us well on this flight. You may want to read my article on why sitting at the back of plane is easiest for families. As soon as the airplane took off, we were free to re-seat ourselves. We always make sure the flight attendant is ok with our moving, but with children, they are typically extremely accommodating. Our two older children moved into the four seat section of row 40. This layout gave them both two seats to lay down in for sleeping which was sufficient for them at eleven and nine years. My husband kept his seat in 39C and since no one else was seated in seat A, he had some extra space. Two seats is not really sufficient for a full size adult to lay down. However, my youngest (who is six years old) and I shared the four seats of row 39 and were able to lay down with heads at opposite end since he didn’t require a full two seats.
Seat Amenities. I found the seats themselves to be quite spacious for economy seats. The seat pitch (distance from the top back of the seat in front of you to the top back of your seat) is 34 inches. There are versions of the same plane with a 31 inch seat pitch. From the moment we sat down, it felt we had plenty of room compared to other economy experiences. The seat width is 16.5 inches. Again, there are other version with a 17 inch width. Each seat included a USB power outlet for charging. One of my favorite feature of this airplane is the foot rest for each seat. The foot rest must be upright against the bottom of the seat in front of your seat, but can be pulled down to provide a comfortable place to rest. My husband found the foot rest to be difficult for him to use and our six year old couldn’t quite reach his foot rest.
Seat Recline. ANA has a unique seat recline as well. I must admit that I did not get very accustomed to it, but think it’s a great concept. They call it a fixed back shell design. The concept is that because the back of the seat doesn’t recline into the person behind you, you do not impact the amount of space they have to utilize. When you click your recline button, your seat bottom actually slides forward giving you the same feeling as the back reclining. The headrest on the back of the seat also adjusts up and down. ANA shows many of these features in detail on their website.
Food is important to me in general – options, flavors, presentation, etc. You can, of course, pack your own snacks for yourself or picky eaters, but it is really nice when the offerings on an airplane are both diverse and delicious. When I first realized we were flying on a Japanese airline, I feared my pickiest eater wouldn’t care for anything they served. ANA impressed me with their offerings and we found some items that he really did like.
Snack & Drink Service. About an hour into our flight, we were served a rice cracker mix along with a visit from the drink cart. They offered various juices, milk, sodas, and wines for no fee. I believe you could purchase a cocktail, but I didn’t see anyone doing so. The rice cracker mix was quite tasty and included various cracker/pretzel items with salty and savory flavors. I was particularly impressed that they offered my six year old a paper cup with a lid and straw, making it easier for me to enjoy my snack and wine.
Evening Meal Service. This is the first economy flight that I have ever received a menu from which to select my meal. There are two options for each meal service. One tended more toward Japanese cuisine while the other was more Western. For this meal, ANA served either Salmon with a soy-based sauce or Meatballs with a mustard gravy. Among our family we tried both and liked both. The other impressive detail about the meals ANA serves is the amount of side dishes. These options were served with a green salad and Italian dressing, a dinner roll with butter, seaweed salad, cold, cooked noodles with a noodle sauce packet and dried seaweed, fruit and a mini water bottle.
Morning Meal Service. The morning meal we were served was not a breakfast type of meal. The options were a seafood and veggies with pasta and meat sauce or a Chinese style braised beef with rice. To accommodate the Westerners, it also included a blueberry muffin. There was a bean salad, cold cuts, and a few pieces of a semi-soft white cheese. A full drink service was also offered. There was a coffee and tea service offered in addition.
Snacks During Evening. I didn’t notice the sign until the morning, but apparently if you were feeling restless and/or hungry, the flight attendants offered a selection of snacks and beverages in the galley area between seat classes. This note was on the mirror in the back lavatory. I thought this was a very accommodating touch as middle of the night hours on a long haul can feel very lonely and boring.
Kids and screens can really save you when needed and I would argue long haul flights are one of those needed times. ANA offers a kid specific section of the entertainment menu with games, movies, and shows. They offered headphones, but we like to plug in our own to get the right fit for everyone. There is a full keyboard removable remote that can be used to navigate games and the menus.
I also really appreciate when the airline has an interesting flight safety video because it engages the kids so that they listen and are distracted from the fact the electronics they brought cannot be used until we are in the air. ANA’s video features a geisha and samurai acting out the various rules and regulations.
For adults, there is a variety of movies available in English and other languages. There are fewer English options that American based airlines, but I would estimate at least 20-25 English films. I watched Judy on this flight, albeit with approximately 200 interruptions with helping kids stay settled. There is some freedom in having kids at our children’s current ages so I’m grateful to be able to watch a movie at all.
ANA is well thought of in the industry for their service and they did not disappoint. We found the attendants all to be extremely kind and helpful. The handheld keyboard is very convenient, but also makes it a little too easy to call an attendant which my six year old did shortly into the flight. The attendant who replied just smiles and leaned over to turn off the call, no sign of frustration. There were ocassions when they didn’t have the beverage remaining on their cart and they just took note of the order and brought it back soon after. The service interaction was delightful and easy even with some attendants spoke service related English.
Each seat included a packaged blanket and small pillow.
How did you keep your children entertained on a long haul flight?
What will entertain your child depends on their age and interests. Since this can be challenging, I always schedule the first flight of a long trip for the evening so that sleeping take a large portion of our time. For my 11 year old, this included using the airline’s games and movies in addition to playing on his ipad and travel size battleship. For my 9 year old, she also enjoyed the airlines movie offerings, played on her ipad, and journaled about her experience. For this flight, my 6 year old really did sleep much of the time, but also enjoyed a movie and played with a travel game briefly.
Enjoy your next long haul flight and let me know if you take this route! I would love to hear your experience.