The R2D2 Plane
When I heard that real_jetstr was going to be on the inagural R2-D2
astromech ANA flight, I just had to get the scoop from him. Luckily, he agreed to share his trip’s experience with Le Chic Geek. And here it is in all it’s glory!
There are many things I will do for the sake of flying and travel, and I do fly a decent amount, averaging around 230,000 miles a year for the past several years. But one thing that never really interested me was either inaugural or last flights. I’m not sure why that’s the case, but I never bothered to invest much time or energy into that part of the hobby.
That is, until I heard about the Star Wars R2-D2 plane.
Earlier this year, I learned that All Nippon Airways was partnering with Lucasfilm to create a series of Star Wars themed planes that would coincide with the December 2015 release of the seventh movie in the Star Wars series, “The Force Awakens.” This immediately triggered a Pavlovian response telling me that I had to fly on this specific aircraft as soon as possible.
Star Wars came out when I was a little boy, and it was one of the first movies (if not the first) that I remember that really captured my imagination and sense of wonder and adventure. My friends and I were obsessed with Luke, Leia (who I’m pretty sure was my first crush), Han and Chewbacca, and when playing, we argued over whose turn it was destroy the Death Star or wanting to be Darth Vader wielding a light saber. And of course, there were the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2.
In short, combining my love of Star Wars and my passion for all things aviation-related was like a Reeses Peanut Butter Cup: Two great tastes that taste great together, and I had to satisfy the craving and hunger for both, immediately. The fact that the R2-D2 jet was also a brand new 787-9 DreamLiner – one of my favorite types of aircraft – just made me want to take the flight even more.
When it was announced that the first commercial flight of the jet (tail registration number JA873A) would take place on October 18, 2015 as flight NH116 from Tokyo Haneda to Vancouver, I immediately checked to see if I could find award space for the return flight (the first passenger westbound flight) on NH115 back to Tokyo. Luckily enough, I was able to find saver award space using United MileagePlus miles, both in economy and in business class (there is no first class operated on this aircraft). I decided to book a business award because, hey, life is short, and why not?
Normally when I fly, my routine is to get to the airport early enough to be able to have a little bit of relaxation time in the lounge, but not so early enough that I have hours to kill. But this wasn’t a normal flight, and for this particular trip I arrived almost four hours before my departure, and I had no desire to go to the lounge. All I wanted to do was wait for the arrival of R2-D2. I did find it slightly odd that ANA didn’t have any special activities or ceremony planned at the gate, but then again, Vancouver is an outstation for ANA, so perhaps the logistics of having an event would have strained limited resources.
It was clear that I was hardly the only one interested in the unique livery of the aircraft. People were crowding around the gate to take pictures; an excessive number of ramp agents were waiting for the plane to reach the gate after landing (and they were waiting for at least 30 minutes after landing, as the aircraft took a “victory lap” around the airport so that as many people as possible could see the plane); one traveler, who was already at the airport for presumably another flight, asked the gate agent if he could buy a one-way ticket to fly on the R2-D2 plane (unfortunately, he apparently asked too late, as it was within 5 minutes of boarding).
Even the pilots were into the Star Wars theme!
Another thing that I don’t normally do (and that I not-so-silently criticize when I see others do it) is line up at the gate before boarding is set to begin. I severely dislike “gate lice,” and I’ll be damned if I contribute to the problem. But again, this was a special flight, so I made sure that I was one of the first to line up (even though I was already in business class and would be the first group to board), because I wanted to make sure that I had enough time to take pictures before takeoff.
Upon boarding, you knew this was a different type of flight: The boarding music was the Star Wars soundtrack! Very cool!
After stowing my luggage and speaking briefly with some of the cabin crew – who were clearly as excited as I was about flying on the aircraft, I went to see what the rest of the plane looked like. Business Class is configured as 1-2-1 seating. What about the Premium Economy section, which is 2-3-2, or the Economy section, which is 3-3-3…would there be anything special in those cabins? Sadly, other than headrest covers in the R2-D2 motif, there wasn’t any special interior decoration or lighting to match the amazing external paint job. And unlike in business class where Yoda was there to watch the boarding process, in the back cabins, there wasn’t even a replica of Jar Jar Binks to greet passengers (well…maybe that’s a good thing, since Star Wars Episode 1 was a little on the sucktastic side)! (Edit: The editor of this blog does not hold the same position on Episode 1. It wasn’t a little sucktastic. It was downright terrible.)
I explored the business class lavatories, as I thought surely there must be Star Wars toothbrushes or little R2-D2 soaps. But again, sadly, nope.
When I returned to my seat, the flight attendants with whom I had spoken about my love for Star Wars allowed Yoda to take my beloved seat 1A.
To be honest, as much as I loved the paint scheme of the plane, the enthusiasm of the crew, and the integration of the overhead Star Wars theme music and R2-D2 chirps, I felt as if there were some serious missed golden opportunities to further reinforce the brand partnership of ANA and Star Wars.
The crew did put together a Star Wars gift bag for business class passengers, and distributed it at the end of the flight, though the items in the bags were not really high-quality souvenirs.
Another opportunity I feel was missed was the selling of R2-D2 model airplanes. Unlike many other non-U.S. airlines, ANA doesn’t normally sell model airplanes from its duty free catalog. However, if there were ever a time to consider selling such items, this would seem the appropriate flight on which to do it, as I’m sure many passengers would have jumped at the chance to acquire one or two…
ANA said that they will eventually have all six Star Wars movies available on the in-flight entertainment system, but at the moment, they weren’t yet loaded, which was a shame, as the movie library was fairly dated and limited, and while there was onboard internet, it was very spotty and slow.
Other than the Star Wars themed aspects (or missed opportunities for such), the on-board service and food were generally what I expect of ANA. Which is to say, the attention and service from the crew was very personal and very good, and the menu items, though not necessarily the best of the Asian airlines, like Cathay or Singapore, was still quite tasty and delicious, especially the Japanese menu selection.
I tend to get some of my best (and some of my only) sleep on planes, but for this 10-hour flight, always flying into the sun until just before landing, I didn’t want to sleep, preferring to enjoy the onboard service, the atmosphere, and the views.
All in all, I very much enjoyed the novelty of my first (semi-) inaugural flight, especially on this R2-D2 livery DreamLiner. Would I participate on an inaugural (or last) flight again? Perhaps, but only if it fit my schedule and budget, and only if I felt as strongly about the event in the way that the Star Wars partnership and theme moved me. Nonetheless, I feel very fortunate that I am in the position I am, and had the ability and means to take the flight at all, and especially in business class, which frankly, was the cherry on top.
Have you ever flown or had a desire to fly on an inaugural (or final scheduled) flight of an aircraft? Are you interested in flying any of the Star Wars livery planes? Do you consider yourself an aviation aficionado, a Star Wars geek, or a little of both?