Fat man flying to Japan
February 24, 2009 10:28 AM   Subscribe

If given the choice to fly coach from Boston to Tokyo (Narita), which of the following airlines would you choose and why: Continental, Delta, American, JAL or ANA. FYI, i'm 300 pounds and 6'1. Legroom is a primary concern, but any tips appreciated.

I've flown AA to Tokyo twice before, and that was fine, but I wanted to know if other airlines offer more legroom, amenities, or a general more pleasant flying experience.
posted by quibx to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I highly recommend one of the Japanese carriers. I flew ANA from Dulles to Narita, am taller than you, but also skinnier, and it was ok-to-normal for a coach class seat.

The BIG plus for the Japanese carriers is the service. You've been in Japan, so you know the whole Japanese politeness thing. The flight crews of the Japanese airlines bring that politeness and good service attitude along with them.

Plus, my seat had the individual monitor with classic Nintendo games like mario and punch out, which helped pass the 13.5 hour flight.
posted by jsonic at 10:39 AM on February 24, 2009

I travel international alot. And I have similar proportions to you, so I definately feel your pain. My experience has been generally, US airlines are the worst to fly internationally, because you have to deal with their old planes, and discourteous staff for much longer than the usual 2-4 hour domestic flight. Usually, I fly, BA, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Austrian, and Lufthansa when going to Europe, Emirates and Saudi Arabian when I'm flying to the Middle East. My suggestion is that I would go with the airline that is the most "lavish" onboard. You will be cramped regardless of airline, so why be cramped and hungry? For my money, id go with JAL or ANA.

just my .02 though.

Also, what im hearing is that delta is flying rebadged Northwest 747-400s with the delta logo on the exterior to NRT. If you go with that, don't expect Delta service, since the planes are managed and staffed by NW employees. There is a difference.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2009

For American carriers, Continental is the way to go. They have a new fleet, and they are still making money, so the employees are nicer to deal with.

Get a bulkhead seat for the most room, but take your own blanket -- it's a cold spot!
posted by jgirl at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2009

JAL (can't comment on ANA). It's like jsonic said.
posted by adamrice at 10:50 AM on February 24, 2009

I found the service on JAL wonderful, but because I was not an elite level passenger, I wasn't able to get the bulkhead or exit row, so I had a random aisle row seat in economy. It was definitely cramped.

When I flew to Tokyo once on AA, I had an exit row on the way there, but a random seat in economy on the way back. It seemed at the time that the AA economy seat had more legroom than the JAL seat. But I could have been mistaken. Either way, unless you get the bulkhead or exit row, you're screwed.

But service-wise JAL is head and shoulders above AA. From the Nintendo games and tons of movies/TV shows to watch on the entertainment system, to the really nice and attentive staff.

The only reason I fly American Airlines these days is to redeem miles I have from when I traveled a lot for business. If the prices are similar, go with JAL.
posted by birdherder at 10:53 AM on February 24, 2009

JAL all the way. Their service is excellent.
posted by elmono at 10:55 AM on February 24, 2009

I have flown on all of them except for ANA to Narita. JAL is by far the best. The seats are better, the snacks are better, the service is better. I was seated on the second deck in one of their jumbo planes. There is even a little bin next to the window seats where you can store your stuff instead of in the overhead. My only complaint is that they showed the same movies both ways.

Delta can be hit or miss based on the plane (I think the 767-ER is the best). I've been in planes with plenty of legroom, but the last time I flew my knees were against the seat in front of me and I'm only 5' 3". I don't know how my 6' husband made it. They do have nice snacks and good cup-o-noodle for whenever you wake up and find that you missed the meal service, and the staff is pretty nice.

Continental and United were both cramped and horrible. I would not fly them again.
posted by Alison at 11:14 AM on February 24, 2009

JAL rules but look at FlyerTalk for specifics. You'd get some more responses if you posted there too.

After you choose your flight, use SeatGuru to pick a seat.
posted by barnone at 11:15 AM on February 24, 2009

I haven't flown either JAL or ANA, but I do travel a lot and only fly international carriers overseas. I've flown all the domestic airlines internationally and wouldn't do it again. None of them are a patch on BA/Virgin/Emirates etc etc. Also, seconding SeatGuru.
posted by poissonrouge at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2009

I used to fly back n' forth from SFO to NRT. ANA or JAL is the best way to go. ANA has even improved service over the past years.

An exit row seat will generally give you more legroom. Any chance you can upgrade to business calss?
posted by drstein at 11:23 AM on February 24, 2009

posted by jeb at 11:40 AM on February 24, 2009

Once you fly a Japanese carrier you'll have a very hard time flying on an American one. I was pretty ticked off when I found out that one of my ANA flights was actual an AA flight. Ugh. So be sure to check for flight shares when booking.

For service I'd pick JAL first, ANA a close second, but I get miles from ANA, so I fly them more often.

In my experience neither JAL or ANA let you do at-the-ticket-counter upgrades, so if you want to fly Business or First then you have to book it that way.
posted by Ookseer at 11:53 AM on February 24, 2009

JAL, absolutely. Friendly, polite, energetic staff who are efficient. And lots of beer.

On a recent trip to Tokyo from Vancouver, I was offered beer. When I finished one can of beer, I was offered another, and then another. I actually had to turn down beer.

Compare that to Air Canada, where the flight staff are old and grumpy (flight attendants should be forced to retire or move to a different department after the age of 35) and never, ever, offer to beer you.

I love JAL.

ANA is okay, too, but their planes are a little older, and you also may travel not with ANA, but instead on an ANA "partner" (like Air Canada).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is no way the service is going to come close to JAL or ANA, but you might want to consider flying United and paying to upgrade to an Economy Plus seat just for the extra room. It's still Economy width-wise but there's more inches between the seat (3-5") which could help with legroom. And my experience is that it's rare for the section to fill up so you get a good shot of having an empty seat next to you which could help with elbow room. I'd never fly United domestically but their international service has never been absolutely terrible for me (I fly SFO-NRT, NRT-BKK or NRT-Singapore and SFO-LHR a few times a year).
posted by marylynn at 12:29 PM on February 24, 2009

I can only say that you will never catch me on another Delta flight. Ever. I will walk or swim first.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2009

I second barnone on the SeatGuru recommendation. No matter what carrier you end up with, it is a god-send helping you find a seat with benefits...
posted by Ashman at 2:06 PM on February 24, 2009

ANA was a generally fantastic service experience (west coast to Narita)


On our flight there we were EXTREMELY cramped. I'm several inches shorter than you are and I was very uncomfortable for the entire flight. The flight back was fine; we had space similar to an American carrier (not great, but fine.) All tickets were economy - I'm assuming it the planes were different for the inbound and outbound trips, but there was no other obvious difference to us. So without outside confirmation that you will have decent space, I would regretfully say to beware ANA.
posted by synapse at 4:08 PM on February 24, 2009

One trick my girlfriend and I discovered is getting the window seat on the row behind where they eliminate one seat. This lets you stretch your legs past the side of the chair in front of you.

Essentially you would want to sit in seat 1 or 2:

posted by thekiltedwonder at 4:18 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd have to nth one of the Japanese carriers. The service is much better, and I would also suggest that you make sure you're not doing a codeshare flight. Codeshare is code for "You're paying ANA/JAL prices, but you're really getting an American carrier and all that that implies."

What it implies, and to be honest, I can see myself getting flagged for this: In Japan, labor laws really don't help the worker so much. The unions are not nearly as strong as in America, so you're much, much more likely to be flying with a younger cabin crew. Aesthetics aside, what I've experienced is that the older flight crews on American carriers have been at the job likely too long, and you're more than likely to end up with someone who views the customer as a burden, an annoyance, or even an adversary. To be blunt, there are way too many burnouts working on American carriers, and the strength of the union helps them to continue to work long after they'd be fired for being rude to customers were they working in most other service industries. Add to that the laws that have been enacted essentially allowing US flight crews to have people arrested upon landing, and you've got what should be a mild discomfort of travel turned into a potential minefield.

FWIW, I've never been involved in any form of altercation, and do my best to be as polite as possible on flights. This is just what I've experienced in my flying to and from Japan once or twice a year for the last 9 years.

Japanese carriers (and many asian airlines, Thai, China Air, Korean, and even Garuda in my experience) make you feel like a guest on their plane. My recent experience with US carriers has made me plainly aware that the staff feel the cabin is their turf, and they are forced to deal with us, the annoyances that have invaded their space. It's a world of difference, and it can be the difference between having the feel of your trip extending until you get home, or having all of the pleasure of the trip ripped out from under you upon boarding the plane.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:38 PM on February 24, 2009

oddly, sometimes RT flights to NRT are cheaper via JAL/ANA than the american lines.

And definitely not Delta.
posted by vaguelyweird at 8:05 PM on February 24, 2009

I've been hopping around Asia the last couple months and holy crap the service on JAL blew my American mind. To contrast, I flew some American carrier and got charged 2 dollars for a can of coke. I get on JAL, you've got that personal video screen with a bunch of movies, tv shows, and video games, free booze, and take one sip of your wine and they're ready (but not annoying) to refill.

As for legroom, try to get an exit row seat.
posted by saul wright at 11:12 PM on February 24, 2009

Just a thought: check the load factors. A half-empty jet flown by a US carrier might be preferable, for someone of your stature, to a packed Asian plane with better service.
posted by dinger at 7:14 AM on February 25, 2009

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