To Paradise And Back – Part 6

Tokyo – London in British Airways FIRST Class

With our bags already waiting in the hotel lobby area, we climbed into a taxi and our bags were loaded in. We’d be flying out of Narita Terminal 1 back to London, so the hotel staff explained this to the driver, and we were off.

It was just as we were pulling onto a motorway that we realised the mistake we’d made. I’d forgotten that should be going to Tokyo station to get the Narita Express train to the airport‚ a taxi direct to the airport would have cost well over 100 quid!

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been the end of the world – we’d have just asked the driver to turn around and go to Tokyo station. But, of course, the driver didn’t understand a word of English. It took a further 10 minutes of gestures, attempted apologies using sign language, and checking my watch as we were bound to miss our train.

The extended journey had added an extra 20 minutes. As we eventually rolled to a stop outside, I paid the driver, grabbed our bags from the boot, and we ran as fast as we could with 4 bags. We had 4 minutes to catch our train‚ which would have been just about do-able had the queue for tickets not taken 10 minutes.

What made it worse was that the next Narita Express train wasn’t for an hour. I was absolutely not in Emma’s good books at the moment, so to satisfy the requirements of “just get us on a train”, I got tickets for a “rapid” train which would take us to the airport. I think the word “rapid” is meant to be sarcastic. In fact, I think the double quotes may even have appeared on the ticket‚

It did however get us in 15 minutes before the next Narita Express would have, so we sat our books and read for the 90 minute journey. On the plus side, the tickets were about 8 quid cheaper!

We eventually made it to Narita Terminal 1, and found the British Airways check in. The first area I came to was the Club and First Class check in area, so I have no idea how these compared to the normal queues. The bags that we wished to check in went through a scanner, and as I was loading these on, a British Airways lady came up to me and said “Are you flying in Club today sir?”

“No. I’m flying in First today”. Hers eyes widened slightly and she went back to her post with a few apologies and bows of the head.

Check in was very quick – I’d checked in online, so there was little more to do than drop off our backs and collect our boarding passes. We then went through security and round to immigration, which I though was an odd name for passport control when you’re leaving a country rather than entering. I also stopped off at the customs desk and showed them the tax slip in my passport. He pulled it out and then gestured for me to carry on to the passport desks.

A few minutes later and we were in duty free, buying a few presents for family. We bought some Suntory whisky, which meant I had no option but to continually re-enact this scene from Lost In Translation until Emma threatened to downgrade us to economy. If anyone’s interested in what’s really said in this scene, here’s the translation.

Despite our lengthy journey to the airport, we still had a plenty of time before the flight, so we went to the lounge to wait. I wasn’t expecting much as it was a shared lounge with Northwest, but it was conveniently located immediately by Gate 15, from which our flight was due to depart. I was actually pretty impressed though – the lounge was quite new, it was large with plenty of comfortable seats and tables, and was surrounded by new iMacs around the perimeter. There was a decent selection of drinks and snacks, some of which was even non-fish-based!

As our flight was called for boarding, we made our way out to the gate, through the priority boarding line and down the jetty. As we boarded, the CSD again was not present at the door, but we somehow managed to negotiate our own way to the pointy end of the plane.

This time we were in seats 4E and 4F, in the centre of the cabin as the first row had been taken a few months ago. The crew were, as always, extremely friendly and provided us with champagne and canapes before takeoff.

The CSD came around to each passenger in our cabin and introduced himself. He apologised for not being able to greet us at the door, and stayed to chat for a while. This simple gesture is something that so many CSDs these days tend to rush or miss out completely, and is such an important part to making the passengers feel welcome.

I’d noticed when boarding that immediately behind the First cabin was World Traveller Plus. This meant that the plane had been upgraded to New Club World, and so we’d be able to us the Audio/Video on Demand. Given the time difference, the flight was effectively a 12 hour daytime flight, arriving in the early evening. I didn’t really want to sleep too much otherwise it would be harder to sleep that night, and I had work first thing the next morning! Therefore it was very handy that there was a decent selection of films which I could start, fast forward, rewind and pause as often as I wished to fit around meals and drinking schedules!

As I would be driving home from Heathrow, I could only drink for the first half of the flight, and therefore made the most of it! By the time my meal came I had quite a selection of glasses!

It was nice to see that there were very few people in the First cabin, and there didn’t appear to have been any upgrades. This made for a more personal service and effective execution of the PETUR (Pre-Emptive Top-Up Regime) system with the champagne!

The food was served to our schedule, and was excellent. I even managed to sneak in a bacon roll while Emma snoozed. As always I took some time between films to chat to the staff in the galley when they’d finished the meal services, and enjoyed a peppermint tea while I did so. In fact I think one of the crew had been quite bored because she didn’t want to let me go back to my seat, and made me another pot of tea without my asking!

The whole crew were fantastic, and just prior to landing one of the pursers came up to us and said “we hope you had a lovely anniversary, and here’s a little something with our congratulations”. A very kind gesture, and a very nice bottle of 1995 Charles Heidseick champagne. A lovely end to another excellent BA flight.

As we disembarked the aircraft, the CSD shook our hands and said “Thank you for flying with us again Mr and Mrs Schofield, and many congratulations again on your anniversary”. This crew really knew how to make their passengers feel good!

We wandered through to immigration, and both made use of the IRIS booth. We were both through first time, which surprised me as they can be quite pedantic sometimes about you being exactly the right distance from the screen.

It was a 10 minute wait for our bags, and as they started to come through, I called the Purple Parking phone number to let them know we’d arrived.

Purple Parking Part 2

The Purple Parking team told us to collect our bags and gave us directions to the bus stop, which was about a 5 minute walk. As the stop came into view, there was already a Purple Parking minibus there being loaded up, so we had to run the last leg to catch it.

The bus was fairly full, and the traffic was pretty bad at 6pm on a Thursday evening. This, however, didn’t stop the minibus driver from swerving in and out of the cars, continuously changing lanes, cutting up the other road users, and performing more emergency stops than Maureen from Driving School. I expected Jeremy Beadle to make an appearance if and when we arrived back at our car.

How we made it, I just don’t know. By rights, we should have at the very least have ended up in a ditch. I can honestly say that this driver single handedly ensured that we would never ever use Purple Parking again. If they drive their own vans like that, how the hell do they drive our cars when parking them?!

The Aftermath

Having written this mammoth report, I can’t believe I’m back in the real world and about to start another day of work.

Tokyo was so much more than I’d imagined – despite the near impossible language barrier, everyone was exceptionally friendly, and the city was very impressive. In a city of extremes, it’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that stands out – but for me as an observer in the most part, the shear efficiency of everything they did was just astonishing. I wouldn’t say this is a destination that I’d want to just sit back and relax in, but it was fascinating.

Bora Bora was so far removed from Tokyo. You could do as little or as much as you wanted. The hotel bungalows were so good that you really didn’t feel you had to leave them to experience Bora Bora. You didn’t have to go to the pool for a swim, you just dived off of your own private terrace. The island and lagoon are text book paradise. If you’re going, and you can put aside the fact that paradise comes at a price, you will absolutely love it.