By: Idries J. Abdur-Rahman, MD, FACOG

 

SOUTHEAST ASIAN ADVENTURE:

I truly believe that travel is cathartic for the body and the soul so we try our best to take at least two family vacations every year, one in the summer (or during Spring break) and one during winter vacation. This winter vacation we opted for Southeast Asia for a few reasons. First, we always try to escape the harsh Chicago winter for warmer climes. Second, we were traveling with my in-laws and my wife (and her sister) wanted to take them to experience a Muslim majority country outside of the Middle East. Third, since we last visited Bali in 2008, I’ve always wanted to return. So, Southeast Asia it was and in particular Jakarta, Indonesia followed by Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and lastly my lovely Bali, Indonesia. So come on along for our 16 day journey through Southeast Asia.

 

FLYING CHICAGO TO JAKARTA:

I don’t even have to keep telling you all that I am a United/Star Alliance guy, so when it came time to book flights from Chicago to Jakarta I had quite a few options. I considered Turkish via Istanbul, ANA via Tokyo, Asiana via Seoul and EVA via Taipei. When I came across a roundtrip fare of $710 on united.com, I jumped on it. The routing was via Tokyo/Haneda in both directions which meant that all flights were on ANA (United only flies from O’Hare to Narita). United/ANA have three daily JV roundtrips between Chicago and Tokyo with two flights to Narita (one UA, one NH) and one flight to Haneda (NH).

 

ANA CHICAGO/ORD TO TOKYO/HND:

 

This picture says it all. With temperatures in Chi-town of only 5 degrees Fahrenheit, I was more than ready to abandon the frigid midwest for somewhere  a little closer to the equator.

 

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 4:15PM so we made sure we were checking in at United’s terminal 1 (where ANA and Lufthansa flights depart) by two o’clock. Star Gold status meant we could skip the general lines which is always a nice time saver.

 

Talk about options. It looks like flyers could decide if they wanted to be courteous with the folks on the other end or if they wanted to just rage at them. I’m guessing most flyers choose option B. Seriously, if anyone knows what the heck a raging phone is, I’d love to know.

 

The United departures board is always busy here at ORD and luckily most flights were in the green today.

 

Just your standard, run of the mill, everyday airport dinosaur. That’s all, no other comment needed.

 

All Nippon Airways flight NH#111 was operating out of gate C-10.

 

Boarding time was planned for 3:45PM which was only 30 minutes before the STD. I thought 30 minutes could be cutting a bit close for a fully loaded 777-300, but they do this everyday so I’m going to go with their judgement (like I have a choice)?

 

At about 3:00PM the cabin crew was huddled at the gate waiting to board the aircraft.

 

Our flight was operated by JA777A, a 2006 built Boeing 777-300 that would be taking us on the 6,298 mile 12 hour and 26 minute journey to Haneda. JA777A had arrived hours earlier as NH#12 from NRT.

 

Boarding started about 20 minutes late, a few minutes after 4PM. I scoped out J-class as we boarded and it looked pretty nice. Comfortable seats, lots of space and aisle access but at $6,500 a pop with ten of us flying, Y-class it was! Look at those show off’s stowing their luggage and meandering about their J-class thrones.

 

There was one last reminder of the service we would not be receiving as we trudged back to Coach, the location where I’m guessing mid-flight snacks will be located for the lucky souls in J-class.

 

Now, I’m neither high maintenance nor am I picky, I would have been more than happy to settle for Premium Economy tonight. Those seats actually looked pretty darn comfortable!

 

None the less, we were all smiles and happy to be in any class tonight. After all we were just minutes away from starting our next adventure to the other side of the world. My youngest son Noah and I in 31A and 31C.

 

With 34 inches of pitch and 9-abreast seating, this sub-fleet of ANA 777-300’s offer a comfortable ride in the back. Once the full 777-300 fleet is refurbished and becomes 10-abreast with 31 inches of pitch, I will stick strictly to UA and Economy Plus if I’m not flying up front.

 

It was a cold but relatively clear day and of course…

 

it was a beautiful day (and night) for flying.

 

I checked out the seat pocket contents including the safety card (always safety first),…

 

a general service menu that included…

 

a list of beverages and meals and of course…

 

Wingspan, ANA’s in-flight magazine.

 

Now you know that I always have to checkout the fleet page which included…

 

ANA’s Star Wars themed planes (bummed we weren’t flying one tonight) and…

 

the Millennium Falcon. Gotta love the extent of the Star Wars branding. I was hoping the Millennium Falcon would get subbed today but I hear those only fly the JFK and Heathrow routes.

 

I got the in-flight entertainment systems fired up while…

 

boarding was wrapping up. Here you can see the generous legroom on this NH 777-300 sub-fleet.

 

The movie and TV selection was adequate at best but as long as my favorite channel is there (the flight map of course), I’m good to go!

 

Just as boarding completed, a United Boeing 757-200 pulled in along our port side. By now the sun was starting to slowly set.

 

I checked out the various flight map views (a guy always likes choice) as…

 

we pushed off of the gate starting our 12+ hour journey.

 

You can checkout the taxi and take-off in this video trip report right here. If you leave just remember to come on back:

 

After a 46 second take-off roll, we launched off of runway 28R into a beautiful winter sunset. Check out that wingflex.

 

I decided to take a quick walk around the cabin before the aisles were blocked by service carts. After 20+ years I still love the curve of the 777 walls and ceiling.

 

As the cabin crew prepared for the first in-flight service, I decided to browse the movie selections.

 

The service started with a small bottle of water and…

 

rice snacks which were actually pretty good.

 

I ultimately decided on Girls Trip which was airplane funny but not $18 movie theater funny. Still, it kept me nicely entertained for the first couple of hour of the flight.

 

After the snack service, the beverage cart came by. Yes, I always stress the importance of in-flight hydration and yes, I did get a Pepsi but remember, I already had a bottled water so they just cancel one another out, right?

 

I decided to give the wifi a go and…

 

at $19.95 for the entire flight, I thought the value was pretty good.

 

Best of all, the speed was good and there were very few drop zones. What else would an aerophile do? Of course I went directly to FlightRadar24 and tracked our flight.

 

We were over the middle of Canada when the flight attendants…

 

brought a menu card with the dinner and breakfast options. The days of individual menus in Coach are all but dead but I feel like this is a nice option especially when the potential for language barriers exist.

 

I opted for A, the curry with potato croquette.

 

The eagle eyed amongst you probably noticed my second Pepsi. I know, I know, bad Doctor I, but to be fair I make a rule of having two waters for every non-water beverage.

 

The potato croquette was…interesting. It was edible but definitely not something I would order again.

 

Okay, okay ANA, I forgive you for that questionable culinary presentation. Ice cream, especially Haagen Dazs makes everything better.

 

Dinner and movie done, it was time to stretch my legs and take the three year old on a quick bathroom run.

 

The door to the crew rest near the aft lavatories was so subtle that I almost missed it. I’m sure this is by design.

 

The Y-class bathroom amenities were pretty spartan and just included soap and lotion.

 

I don’t know who the person is who would still try to smoke in the lavs (although I’m they exist) but if you are contemplating this option, there are clear warnings as soon as you close the door that you should reconsider your plans.

 

If that first warning wasn’t enough, there is a second warning letting you know that you better get ready to pony up 500,000 yen for that cigarette.

 

This is my artsy fartsy way of telling you that we both finished our business (I didn’t think you wanted any more concrete evidence). Business done, it was time to head back into the now darkened cabin and try to catch a few ZZZ’s.

 

The timing of the flight meant that you could potentially get a decent “nights” sleep. With a departure time of 4:15PM and arrival time of 5:30AM (Chicago time), I was able to sleep for a good 4 hours.

 

By the time I woke up, we were over eastern Russia with about 3 hours and 15 minutes left in the air.

 

A couple of hours out of Haneda the cabin lights came back on. Okay, I said you could theoretically get a few hours of decent sleep. This is still Coach as evidenced by the poor guy about to fall into the aisle or the guy next to him doing his best impression of a pretzel.

 

I headed back to the lavatory before the carts were in the aisles to find this bootleg air freshener that was giving off the scent of eucalyptus. Nice touch.

 

Sorry for the dirty mirror but it is time for another one of Doctor I’s flying tips. Gotta keep your skin and face nicely moisturized throughout the flight. Yes, that is Oil of Olay. Don’t laugh, guys want to keep their skin wrinkle free as well (at lest this guy does).

 

A little bit of that ANA attention to detail. Clearly the trash bin was being regularly emptied. I know some carriers that would have garbage over-flowing 11 hours into a longhaul flight.

 

A quick peek into the mini-Y cabin immediately after Premium Economy and before the lavatory/galley break.

 

The main Economy cabin after the lavatory/galley break.

 

The “breakfast” service started with wet towelettes. I put breakfast in quotes because I never understand the idea of serving breakfast at 8PM local time.

 

Thankfully my little angel is a pretty good flyer. From this viewpoint I can keep an eye on her and everyone else behind me.

 

I decided to check out Atomic Blonde during the last few flight hours. Again, airplane good but not $18 in the theater good.

 

The menu card made a second appearance. I opted for the cod while my son went for the chicken.

 

To be honest the chicken looked a lot more like beef to me but Noah said despite it’s deceptive appearance, it was actually pretty good.

 

The cod was average at best but definitely edible. Notice, I had a Pepsi AND a water. I have to stay true to my word.

 

“Breakfast” done, movie done and we were almost there.

 

I took one last opportunity to stretch my legs and explore the cabin which…

 

was in pretty good shape for the end of a 13 hour trip.

 

What can I say? I have a door thing.

 

My poor oldest son got stuck in the middle of the middle (he’s the black one in case you were wondering). We booked our flights and pre assigned our seats 10 months in advance. At that time we pre-reserved five consecutive rows on the two seat side. Somehow my in-laws seats were changed to the two seats in the middle of the middle so my oldest children had to take the hit and sit there.

 

Little miss thing woke up after the meal was done bright eyed and bushy tailed ready to take on the new day. Even though it was about 8PM local time, we had crossed the international date line so it really was a new day.

 

Hard candies were distributed as we were making our descent into Haneda, nice touch.

 

Almost there, almost there…

 

12 hours and 26 minutes later and we were on the other side of the globe.

 

ANA doesn’t turn cabin lights off for takeoff and landing, so getting good landing shots was impossible. Take my word for it, we did in fact land.

 

Welcome to Tokyo International Airport aka Haneda airport.

 

We pulled along side a company Boeing 787-8. I wondered if this would be the bird for our Jakarta bound flight in four hours.

 

The oldest (mother) and youngest (my baby girl) ladies in my life disembarking. Sayonara JA777A, thanks for the safe ride!

 

The color palate is kind of plain but to me the Business cabin still looks warm and inviting.

 

Even after leaving ORD about 30 minutes behind schedule, we still arrived Haneda 9 minutes ahead of schedule at 8:21PM.

 

JA777A on the the other side. Three hours later she was heading back to the good ole USA, this time LAX.

 

Don’t forget to check out the full video report right HERE:

 

ANA TOKYO/HANEDA TO JAKARTA/SOEKARNO-HATTA

With about four hours before flight NH#871 to Jakarta, I decided to explore Haneda. I’ve had a million and one layovers in Tokyo but they have all been at Narita, so Haneda was a new airport for me. I like the fact that the departures board had a terminal map above it. The board alternated between Japanese and..

 

English which was good for me because my Japanese is rusty and by rusty I mean non-existent.

 

The terminal was quite busy with multiple flights headed to S.E. Asia, Europe and the USA scheduled within the next few hours.

 

A few walks, a few bathroom pit stops and a cup of coffee later and it was time to head to the gate for boarding.

 

Again the crew were hanging out at the gate waiting to board.

 

Jetlag and coffee meant that I was wide awake and happily irritating my family with selfies. Noah indulged me,…

 

the wife not so much.

 

Boarding was called right on time and we were soon headed into the gate. That sign really just rubbed it in, no Business class for us.

 

Soon we were heading back down the jetway, boarding…

 

JA807A, a 2011 built Boeing 787-8 for the 3,598 mile, 7 hour and 18 minute flight from Haneda to Jakarta.

 

A member of cabin crew was at the door greeting boarding passengers and checking boarding passes.

 

This 787-8 had the regional Business class product which still looked awfully inviting as 21 hours later, jet lag finally started to win the battle.

 

These regional J-seats don’t lie flat but with 160 degrees of recline, I’m sure they are comfortable enough for a short long-haul flight like this one.

 

These two class 787-8’s have two Economy cabins with no Premium Economy.

 

ANA has 787-8’s with a 2-4-2 Coach configuration and some with a 3-3-3 configuration, we were obviously on one of the later tonight.

 

The roomy 787 cabin even makes the 3-3-3 configuration with 31 inches of pitch look roomy. The fallacy of that soon became clear once the cabin filled up.

 

Being close to 6 feet tall, I could definitely feel the difference between the 34 inches of pitch on the 777 and the 31 inches of pitch on the 787.

 

As I got settled in, I checked out the safety card.

 

A company 777-300 was parked next to us.

 

Yes, my mother is THAT one person who actually bought that silly looking neck pillow. She said it was comfortable but I still had to shame her with a picture.

 

Stickers were placed on the headrests for people with special meals. My children had…you guessed it, Children’s Meals.

 

Boarding proceeded a bit slower than expected but soon enough, boarding was complete.

 

We pushed off of the gate about 35 minutes late and…

 

had a long taxi out to the active runway while…

 

the safety video played.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the active thresh hold and finally took off into the night sky above a sleepy Tokyo. My wife and youngest just couldn’t hang and were asleep before the wheels were up.

 

If you want to see the taxi and takeoff, check out my video trip report here. Just don’t forget to come back:

 

After takeoff, a very light snack service commenced. The snacks were distributed in these cool plastic bags.

 

I wonder what happens if you enjoy the contents of this bag after the flight is finished? Spontaneous combustion?

 

The snack was accompanied by a full beverage service.

 

Now, when I say light snack this is how light we are talking. A single, sweet pastry. Given the hour of the night/morning I don’t think it was unreasonable to save the full meal for the pre-landing service, but I was still a bit surprised with the size of the snack.

 

It was small but at least it was good. Apple if I recall correctly.

 

My combo, a water and a Pepsi. A little bit of business and a little bit of pleasure.

 

This was the child meal. Luckily my daughter was asleep because I can only imagine what her response would have been to an egg salad sandwich. Hint, it would not have been good.

 

Once the snack service was done, I made a quick pit stop to the mood lit loo with…

 

a view. I’m not British but I had to make that all rhyme.

 

Business done, I made my way back to my seat and caught this shot of the beacon light lit wing before my adventure to Slumberland.

 

The dark cabin with the night-time mood lighting made for a nice, cozy environment.

 

Caught the illuminated wing on the starboard side as well.

 

Despite the 31 inches of pitch, I slept for a good portion of the flight, awakening over the Philippines.

 

The cabin mood lighting was slowly shifting to dawn to awaken the slumbering passengers.

 

As the “sun” continued to rise,…

 

the cabin slowly stirred to life.

 

Well at least most of it did. My mom and middle daughter we still sound asleep.

 

The breakfast started with…

 

wet towelettes.

 

Beverages came next followed by…

 

the meal.

 

The Muslim meals are all Halal certified meaning that the animals were handled and slaughtered in a specific, ritualistic way.

 

The curry fish was a bit heavy for the early hour but none-the-less good. Yup, that is a Pepsi and no, there was no accompanying water. Busted!

 

The dessert was some type of lemon puree which was actually phenomenal.

 

I swear, 26 hours into this journey and as long as she has something to watch she is just fine.

 

I decided to watch The Dark Tower during the last few hours of the flight. I think you know what I’m going to say by now, airplane good, yes, $18 movie theater good, nope!

 

This was the Child meal by the way.

 

With the exception of the breaded chicken, this one was a miss as well.

 

Once the meal service was completed I quickly stretched my legs and explored the rear galley and…

 

yes, I know that I have a problem. But yes, another door pic.

 

There was one last round of beverages before…

 

the last call was made for duty free shopping.

 

Yeah, yeah, I get it. We steerage folks better stay in our lowly place ;-P

 

By now, the real sun was rapidly rising.

 

The sky seemed to become brighter by the minute.

 

27+ hours later, we were truly almost there.

 

Doors and wings, those are my two things so here is an alternative wing view for you.

 

As we started our initial descent, the sun started to peek out from behind the clouds.

 

We slowly banked to the right as…

 

we continued our descent.

 

There is the Rolls Royce Trent that has been humming for the last 7 hours to get us to Jakarta. Keep up the good work buddy!

 

The skies over Indonesia were beautiful. Our descent continued and we were soon on short finals for Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport.

 

If you want to check out the video trip report including our Jakarta landing, check it out right HERE:

 

After a nice, smooth landing, the windows immediately fogged over. It was clearly steamy out there but given the weather at home, I had absolutely no complaints.

 

Welcome to Jakarta!

 

After a short taxi we were parked at the gate and disembarking JA807A. One last look at the J-class cabin.

 

The terminal was nice and empty at this early hour which I hoped meant that immigration would also be nice and empty.

 

Clearly there was no such luck but hey, we were finally here and at the start of a 16 day vacation. So, I took a deep breath and just relaxed, we had no where to be anyway.

 

I wouldn’t be an aerophilie if I didn’t immediately check out my flight info on FlightRadar24 so…

 

here it is. We flew 3,598 miles in 7 hours and 14 minutes with a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet at close to 540 knots.

 

-Check out part 2 of our adventure exploring Indonesia’s capitol city Jakarta right HERE.

-Check ot part 3, flying KLM to KUL HERE.

-Check out part 4, Exploring Malaysia HERE.

-Check out our video diary exploring Jakarta right here:

-If you haven’t done so yet, check out the full video trip reports for both flights right HERE: