A short-notice business trip right smack in the middle of Japan’s busy hanami season and the Philippines’ holy week meant that direct flights to Tokyo were booked solid. I flew with PAL (Philippine Airlines) to Fukuoka on Japan’s southwesternmost Kyushu island instead, and connected on a domestic flight to Tokyo Haneda via ANA (All Nippon Airways).
The Manila – Fukuoka segment of my ticket was assigned an ANA flight number (NH5328), but technically it was a codeshare operated by PAL. This meant the departure terminal was NAIA T2 instead of T3 for ANA. With the cramped check-in counter area at T2’s International Wing, check-in process at NAIA T2 was painfully slow. Even with a short queue it took some time before I got my turn to check-in.
Manila to Fukuoka (NH5396/PR426)
PAL operates its Manila to Fukuoka route using Airbus A321’s, basically an extended version of the A320 used in most Philippine domestic routes. Annoyingly, there were no individual in-flight entertainment (IFE) monitors on this aircraft; only overhead monitors served as entertainment for the entire 3.5 hour duration of the flight. Further annoyances came in the form of lack of lavatories for economy class passengers. Because the forward section lavatories were blocked off for exclusive use of the 12 business class seats, the rest of the passengers in cattle class were forced to use the remaining lavatories in the back of the cabin. Normally in an A320 with all-economy seats, 3 lavatories are available for the entire plane. This time in an A321, there were probably 50% more passengers sharing the remaining 2 toilets at the back.
In-flight lunch composed of chicken cutlet on rice with steamed veggies was satisfactory, nothing remarkable as far as flight meals go.
Layover at Fukuoka
The flight landed at Fukuoka International Airport on time. The configuration of FUK was similarly situated as MNL: single runway, right smack in the middle of built-up areas, an international terminal with no train access located across the runway from the main domestic terminals. I had approximately 90 minutes to disembark, clear immigration and customs, transfer to the domestic terminal across the runway, and check-in for the domestic flight to Haneda.
Fortunately, there was a free shuttle bus from the international terminal to the domestic terminals. Cherry blossoms in full bloom greeted me as I waited at the shuttle bus stop. The 15-minute ride was hassle-free because the bus mostly used internal airport roads. A trip of similar distance from NAIA T1 to T3 uses the congested public streets and would take twice as long if you’re lucky.
Fukuoka Domestic terminal was utilitarian, a bit rundown if you may say, by Japanese airport standards. I think what matters is an airport that is clean, functional and efficient. It takes less than ten minutes from the check-in counters to the gates, but I took time to check out the shopping options. Fukuoka is famous for 2 things: Hakata-style ramen made of tonkotsu broth, and mentaiko, a delicacy made out of spiced fish eggs. I bought a few Instant ramen packs made by popular ramen shops in Kyushu. I haven’t arrived at my final destination yet but i already had pasalubong!
Fukuoka – Tokyo Haneda (NH262)
The Fukuoka-Tokyo Haneda leg was operated by All Nippon Airways using Boeing’s latest aircraft: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In 2011 ANA was the first commercial airline to fly the Dreamliner. Boeing advertises the plane as 20% more fuel efficient than any existing aircraft, because of lighter materials used for the fuselage of the plane. The electronically-dimmable windows ditches the window shades and are 65% larger than usual, giving passengers a bigger sense of space inside the cabin. This particular plane used for this flight had a 3-3-3 configuration in economy class.
Boarding and departure for this flight was no-frills: passengers boarded quickly, flight crew paced down the aisle doing their pre-flight checklist, then takeoff proceeded promptly without any fuss. This was, after all, a very busy route: ANA alone has 18 daily round trips using widebody aircraft between Fukuoka and Haneda, this is on top of the dozens of Shinkansen departures per day.
I can’t remember if there were any refreshments offered as I dozed off during the flight. The only thing I recall now is the cool blue LED lightings of the lavatory as well as the faint image of Mount Fuji to the left side of the plane.
The flight arrived at Tokyo Haneda on schedule. As this was a domestic flight, I was done with immigration and customs in Fukuoka. The disembarkation process was quick and I was at the limousine bus stop in less than 30 minutes from stepping off the plane.