Eloping To Japan With A Little HEL On The Side Part 12: The 36 Hour Trip Home

It was time to say farewell to Japan and begin our close to 36 hour trip home. Even if we were flying directly back to London it would have taken around 18-19 hours from the hotel lobby to opening the door to our flat. Instead we had 18 hours spread over two flights in the world’s best business class and three hours in Y back to London. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. We walked off towards Tokyo station to pick up the train and obviously change on to the monorail to head off to Haneda.

Wow! The monorail was something from a different era, most definitely a future past! We bumped along through yet another part of Tokyo we had not visited and before long we arrived at Haneda.

Check in was easy to find and there was a short queue for business class and an apology that our flight was scheduled to depart a few minutes early. I asked the lady at check in very nicely if she could through check our bags to LHR, but after trying hard our agent was not able to. Perhaps it was because check in was not yet open for our BA flight? Who knows. We’d have to pick up our stuff in HEL, hopefully it wouldn’t be busy and we’d be on time.

There was no fast track available for QR passengers as we were only flying in business and fast track seemed to be exclusively for passengers on airlines with an F cabin. In the end the queue was very short and we were through in no time at all. Once through security we headed for the tourist shop and picked up some goodies to bring home for friends, family and colleagues (and some chocolate covered crisps for myself).

JAL Sakura Lounge Skyview – (As of May 2018)
Access: oneworld First, Business Class and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire

After our mini shopping spree we headed up to the rather disappointing JAL Sakura Lounge Skyview (The lounge was renovated since our visit and re-opened late October 2019) where we enjoyed limited views of the apron, ice cold machine poured beer and some curry rice. It wasn’t great and whilst people often give BA a hard time the only advantage this place had over any of the LHR business lounges was a lack of crowds.

We thought about heading up to the CX lounge and on realising it was closed decided to sit at the gate instead. OK, the gate wasn’t nicer than the lounge but we couldn’t be bothered to go back. It was a long half an hour till boarding was called.

Flight: QR813 Tokyo to Doha
Depart HND: 00:01
Arrive DOH: 06:00
Seats: 2A and 3A (Business Class)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 A7-ALT First Flight November 2017

Priority boarding was fully enforced and we soon headed onto our racoon that would fly us off to Doha. Sadly we were on one of the A350-900 without the Q Suites but the cabin was still excellent. Comfortable seats and that great, friendly QR service. We had some champagne to console ourselves that the trip was coming to an end.

We left on time and unlike our flight to Tokyo, our flight from Tokyo was pretty smooth going. We decided for once to follow the suggested meal order and timings and opted for some dinner.

We both had the soup, chicken and the cherry crumble cake, I stuck with champagne and equal parts water to stay hydrated.

We changed into our pyjamas, had our beds made up and attempted some sleep. I have to say this was the best sleep I’ve ever had a on a plane and I managed a good 5-6 hours on and off. I watched some movies, one of which was Black Panther and some other super hero movie that may or may not have been Justice League.

Breakfast consisted of coffee, waffles with strawberries and honey plus the usual QR breadbasket. Whilst it may not be first class food you will not go hungry on a QR flight!

These Absolutely Hit The Spot

Twelve hours or so after we took off we arrived into Doha on a beautiful morning. We loved looking out the window as the sun rise reflected off the ocean.

Life was good but we were tired and in need of a shower, even more so when we had to step out into the 30C heat at 6am and onto our business class bus. Just two more flights and a couple of train journeys till we were home.

It was a short trip on the bus and through transfer security, after which we stumbled over to the lounge in need of caffeine, hydration, a change of clothes and a cool refreshing shower.

Al Mourjan Lounge
Access: Qatar Airways and oneworld First and Business Class passengers only

However, it soon became apparent this would not be straightforward. If you have been to the beautiful Al Mourjain Lounge in Doha you will know it is near perfect but for one thing – signs to the shower rooms. I fired up the terminal maps, Flyer Talk and my friend Google and it told me that the best option were the showers downstairs in the restaurant area near the family zone. We headed to this part of the lounge and with no signs for showers and it being fairly warm and not particularly comfortable Anne-So quickly requested we call it quits and head to the upstairs dining area where we stayed on our outbound transit through Doha.

The Lounge Was Quiet, Unless You Wanted A Shower

We had some coffees and determined not to lose to the lounge I went in search of showers again. The first attempt failed as I was quoted an indefinite timescale and most likely would still be waiting for that shower as we speak. When asked if there was another set of showers I was told no. Anyway, I put my name down and tried one more time to follow the instructions on Flyer Talk to find the elusive shower room. After heading right to the far end of the lounge and following the signs to the toilets, looking lost, heading through a door with no signage and round the corner to what felt like the fire exit I found the holy grail. OK, it wasn’t the shortest of waits but I actually had a single digit place in a visible queue that seemed to be moving. I immediately WhatsApped Anne-So knowing she wanted the shower too. My directions were simple enough and thankfully we were soon reunited and both of us managed to have our much needed showers. Whilst the rooms themselves looked nice and the attendant was friendly there was a real lack of air in the rooms and it was hard to stay fresh. Still it was better than nothing and we were both in much improved moods.

Flight: QR301 Doha to Helsinki
Depart DOH: 08:30
Arrive HEL: 14:25
Seats: 3K and 4K (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-800 A7-BCO First Flight June 2014

After the shower there was time for a quick coffee before we headed to the gate, this time taking the transit train and realising we were cutting it a little fine. As per usual priority boarding was enforced and if I’m not mistaken we had another bus gate.

I have to say this was my least favourite QR flight of the four and not just because I was exhausted and looking forward to being at home. I think the best way to describe it was lacking warmth. However put on the service routines may have been on all our other flights, including BA and JAL the one thing they had in common was a sense of warmth from the crew that they were glad we were flying with them. On this flight whilst everything was delivered as promised, it felt cold and I’m not talking cabin temperature here.

The Brics amenity kits were back again after the Armani ones to and from Japan including a very fetching light blue male kit which was definitely our favourite of all the kits received. There was also another round of pyjamas but I didn’t feel like changing. As per usual the sense of space is fantastic on the QR Dreamliner thanks to the open design of the cabin making it feel very relaxing.

Out with the champagne, it was all about the lime and mint as my pre-departure drink.

Here are the menus for this flight:

For food I enjoyed the traditional Arabic breakfast thinking it might be the first and last time I would get to try it.

Later on in the flight I had the steak sandwich. Anne-So went with the afternoon tea.

I watched some more movies, I don’t recall what they were but nothing overly good compared to the outbound legs.

The six hours went by fairly quickly but that being said the travel was beginning to take its toll on us and we were glad to be landing in HEL. Yet again we had the fun of the bus.

Finnair Lounge Terminal 2 – Non-Schengen Area (As of May 2018)
Access: oneworld First, Business Class and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire or €48 per person off-peak

HEL was a lot less hellish than on the way out and we soon had our bags back and headed around from arrivals to departures for check in and security all over again. We had to do a mini repack as we were pretty much maxed out on hand baggage thanks to our duty free haul from Haneda and there was not an inch of room in our suitcases.

Check in was fairly quick but the comedown of that premium QR service was notable as we had to endure the Euro Traveller lines, no fast track and so forth as neither of us had yet made it to Bronze where we would have enjoyed at least the business class check in. One plus point, all our fears over missed connections, missing baggage and the like were unfounded and we were in fact early. The other bit of good news about being early was that we could enjoy one more perk from our QR tickets, the Finnair lounge as thanks to access rules we were still allowed in due to our same day business class tickets. We showed our QR and BA BPs and access was granted without issue.

I do love this lounge, the décor is right up my street and the food and drink options are pretty decent as well. We spent our time here enjoying some drinks, snacks and a good bit of people watching. Towards the end of our visit the lounge really filled up and time began to drag. Eventually it was time to head to the gate and woohoo, it was another bus gate! The queuing system was not great thanks to the layout of the gate and the wait was long as I think the flight was slightly delayed.

Flight: BA799 Helsinki to London
Depart: HEL 17:10
Arrive: LHR 18:15
Seats: 19E and 19F (Euro Traveller – Economy)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 G-EUYB First Flight 2008

Eventually we made it on to the bus with the other sardines and being sat towards the middle of the plane we decided to take the rear stairs thinking they’d be quicker… they weren’t. We were practically last on board but thankfully we still found space for our luggage.

Just another 3 hours or so of flying and we were home… take off came and went, we enjoyed that beautiful view of the Finnish coast with its green woodland, blue lakes and small islands. As always there is not much in the way of service on these flights and I spent most of the time working on this trip report, staring out the window and looking forward to being home.

As we came into land it quickly became apparent that one of the younger passengers did not enjoy the happiest of landings and the crew did a great job of putting the little flyer and his family at ease and helped them get cleaned up. The glamour of flying… We were glad to be leaving the plane and thankfully there was not much of a queue at passport control or a long wait for our baggage. That was that, we were back home, well almost. After 21 hours in the air we were glad to be on the ground, quite how those bloggers and TP runners do this on a semi regular basis I don’t know. I thought I really loved flying but three back to back flights made me realise I don’t love flying quite as much as I thought.

Train: Heathrow Express Heathrow to London
Depart: Heathrow Central (Time – Just get me home)
Arrive: London Paddington (Not a moment too soon!)
Seats: Unreserved (First Class)
Train: Siemens BR Class 332 Maximum Speed 100 mph (160 km/h)

So I had been looking at an excuse to make use of the cheap (relatively speaking) HEX first class fares when booked in advance and this was finally that opportunity. Unfortunately it did not go to plan. That lovely interior and those comfy seats meant very little when it’s a balmy summers day and the air con is out… Thank goodness the journey was just 15 minutes! It would have been nice to have had a warning before the train came in so we could have used the first class carriage in the other portion of the train. Oh well… at least I got to try first class on the HEX.

The Heat Was On

From Paddington it was a short journey on the tube to St Pancras, we picked up some food from M&S for dinner and tried our best to stay human on the last leg of our journey. It had been almost 36 hours since we left the luxury of the Palace Hotel and headed out into the Tokyo night. Thankfully the journey home went without a hitch (well almost) and between snacks and working on the Trip Report it wasn’t long before we were at the station. Feeling exhausted Anne-So forced us to take a Taxi home. Our driver was clearly in a hurry too, attempting his own version of Uber Pool and most likely breaking the speed limit. We settled up and opened the door to our flat, happy it was still there and happy to be home. It had been an epic ride, thanks for coming along with us!

Final Thoughts

This trip definitely exceeded our expectations and left us wanting to return to Japan one day. We definitely needed more time in both Tokyo and Kyoto and we really wanted to visit Nagasaki to see some castles as well. It also helped we gave ourselves a gentle start and got to see a few of the less visited tourist cities like Sapporo and Fukuoka.

Moving on to the transport. Our short hop flights with BA and JAL were fine but nothing to write home about. Moving on to QR, I can definitely see what all the hype was about. The inflight hard product is great, particularly on the Dreamliner and A350, comfy seats, good sleeping space, great IFE. It’s not quite First Class but it’s great way to fly and I’m sure the Q Suites are even nicer. Soft product wise service was excellent on one flight, very good on two flights and not great on the final flight. The one big disappointment was the quality of the food. QR has an excellent reputation for food but on our flights most of it was overcooked and dry and the less said about that gluten free meal the better. On the upside, dine on demand was very useful especially when helping to adjust to new time zones. The lounge is Doha was amazing and the Finnair lounge in HEL was excellent as well, it was a shame about the JAL lounge in Haneda. Overall eight flights for around £1200 each and some Avios were great value for money, though I’m not sure how keen I would be to do another 3 leg ex EU as the return was absolutely brutal without the stop to break it up. Also thanks to these flights I got nearly all the way to Silver on BA which I have now achieved.

We were also very impressed with the trains in Japan which were a lot more spacious than we expected and great for short and medium hops around the country. The rail pass really paid for itself and the seat reservations were easy to come by.

Moving on to hotels and this was the biggest benefit of going DIY rather than booking a package tour. For an average cash rate of £120 a night over the trip I think we did really well. More than half of the trip was in high quality 4 and 5 star properties with some truly fantastic rooms & suites. We really lucked out with our bumper upgrade in Kyoto which was probably my favourite hotel room ever, we felt really at home and both the hard product and service was excellent from the moment we laid eyes on the property till the moment we left in the taxi. I would love to go back there again if we could afford it. It was also a great experience to stay in a Ryokan and I think this is something I would feel more confident doing on a return trip. From a low budget point of view there were also some great bargains with some of our cheaper places being around £60 per night. Definitely a country where good options can be found across the price range.

Even Now This Trip Sees Too Perfect, Almost Unreal
Eloping To Japan With A Little HEL On The Side

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