As I said in Part 1 of the Travel in Japan blog, with this job assignment my husband — and I, also — have had a lot of opportunities to travel internationally, and we have gotten used to the process of long distance air travel. But, we have also taken a few domestic flights here inside Japan. What we have found is that there are some interesting differences between domestic travel in Japan, and domestic travel we have experienced in the US.
The biggest difference we have noticed is in the amount of time required to get through the check-in, baggage drop, and security process. Always in the US, we would arrive at the airport at least two hours ahead of our flight. We could never anticipate how long the security lines would be. We could check in online from home, and (because they always charge for checked bags in the US) we would just carry on our bags. But proceeding directly to security, we never knew how crowded it would be. Sometimes we would get TSA-Precheck and the lines were shorter… sometimes not. Sometimes the lines were really long, and sometimes not so long.
Japan seems to have a more efficient system in place. Not that we haven’t had to stand in line for check-in and security, but the lines are usually much shorter and move along quickly. Even with bag check — and there is no additional charge here for checking a bag — it has never taken more than 15 minutes or so to get to our departure gate.
With our most recent experience on ANA, we booked flights online — at which time we were not allowed to pick seats. But a few days before the flight, I went online to the ANA site and was able to choose my seat. This activated what they call “Skip” service so that all I had to do was take my ticket receipt with the 3-D bar code and go to an automated baggage drop at the airport. Step by step instructions (English option) and my bag was tagged and automatically checked in. From there, I went straight to security.
There was no line at security the day I flew. Security moved very quickly. Shoes stay on. I took my electronics out and put them in the tray, but I am not sure I even had to do that. I walked straight through the metal detector, and gathered my belongings. The woman ahead of me had a bottle of green tea, and just placed it in the tray with all of her other things.
Other differences I noticed:
I always take my passport when I travel, and my Japanese Residence Card — which is what I am required to carry here. My passport never came out of my bag, and no one ever even asked to see my residence card. All I needed was the receipt with the 3-D barcode.
Boarding was similar to, but faster than boarding in the US. They, of course, board passengers needing special assistance first, followed by premium passengers. After that, they boarded passengers in the back of the plane (rows 29 and above), and then the rest of us queued up behind them. Scan that same 3-D barcode, collect the boarding receipt, and it was all done.
On the plane, drink service was simple and fast. It was only a 2 hour flight, so the choices were tea or juice, nothing else. No snacks. If you want food, you bring it on board with you. This keeps the flight attendants from having to take multiple trips up and down the aisles with those big service carts.
We have only had the opportunity to fly JAL and ANA which are the major two airlines here. I know that there are other “no-frills” airlines that do charge extra for every service you want… sort of an “ala carte” way to fly… but we have found that JAL and ANA both have fairly competitive prices, and we are very satisfied with their services.
Even though the flights we have taken in Japan have all been 2 hours or less, they tend to use the larger aircraft that we usually associate with longer flights and international travel. Eight seats across, on this most recent flight to and from Fukuoka, and the flight was full.
All in all, domestic air travel in Japan has been very easy and pleasant. I really can’t conclude that the Japanese have a better or more efficient system in place for their airlines and airports, but something about it makes a difference. Maybe air travel can still be an enjoyable experience.