Airline Review: Vanilla Air

JW303 NRT-HKG 17 June 2018

Price: ¥17,000 (incl selected seat, 35kg checked baggage)


Welcome to my first trip report (ever) featuring an Asian low-cost carrier (LCC).


I needed a ticket from Tokyo to Hong Kong, one of the most trafficked routes in East Asia. During this time of year, the full-service carriers wanted over $400 for the route. So much for Japan Airlines, ANA, and Cathay. However, Vanilla Air (JW) returned a rate of a bit over $100. I didn’t much feel like paying $300 and requiring a change in South Korea or mainland China, so my option (singular) was clear.


JW is a relatively new airline (founded 2013) and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of ANA. Interestingly, Vanilla Air is a rebranding of AirAsia Japan after the Malaysian parent company pulled out.


I decided to ticket directly with the airline, and I opted for a more inclusive fare with 20kg of baggage and a selected seat bundled in. Fine. I did have to buy another 15kg to accommodate my worldly goods.


On the day of travel, I hopped on the Limited Express train connecting Haneda and Narita airports via (among other stops) Asakusa. I loved having a direct, inexpensive (¥1,290) train to the airport.


JW uses Terminal 3 at Narita. It’s obvious from the list of carriers (incl Jetstar, Jeju air) that this is the “LCC terminal” of NRT. It’s also a 730m/half mile walk from the NRT Terminal 2/3 train station.


After changing my leftover Yen to USD, I walked to terminal 3. In airports, I enjoy the exercise before forced confinement. Terminal 3 lacks a priority pass lounge, and I wouldn’t have had time to enjoy it, at any rate. Check-in was quite old-fashioned – queuing up and waiting. It was slow. The main delay seemed to come from delays in checking in passengers who needed to pay extra fees (e.g. baggage) yet didn’t speak moderate-to-fluent English or Japanese. I wasn’t checked in until 5 minutes after the alleged 50-minute cut-off. 


The security experience mirrored the check-in, but I didn’t mind the wait too much as it lacked the uniquely American mixture of incompetence, contempt, and aggression.


By the time I walked from security to the gate, the time for boarding had arrived. For what appeared to be a plane of leisure travelers, the boarding was remarkably efficient. My fellow flyers deserve a kudos for being quick to stow their bags and sit. 


This plane was a 180 seat in Y Airbus A320 with a knee-crushing 29.5” seat pitch. At 5’10” (or 179 cm, if you prefer) fellow, I was at the limit of space. May your God(dess)(e)(s) of choice have mercy on you if you are taller than I am.


vanilla air legroom shot


After a 30 minute taxi around Narita, we were in the air by 11:15 AM. In short order, inflight service began. I was quite hungry, so I ordered Seabura Pork Ramen (i.e. cup noodles), a teriyaki chicken burger, and a bottle of water for ¥1,200. I needed to bill ¥1,000 or more to use a credit card, hence the double food items.


The ramen was surprisingly good for something out of a Styrofoam cup. For reasons beyond my ken, a cheese sauce was present on the burger (cheese…on chicken teriyaki? WHY?!). Note: I hate all cheese equally. Also, they managed to over-microwave it. 


The seats are rock hard. Fortunately, I was so tired from my last night of dining in Ginza and a farewell drink in Roppongi that I cat napped for the last two hours of the flight. My lower back and neck were not happy with me.


Vanilla Air cabin interior


The flight attendants were excellent and polished.


Right on time, we were in Hong Kong for 2:45 in the afternoon. I breezed through immigration, fetched my bags, and was on my way.


picture of the view from the wing