HND: JAL Sakura Lounge, a set on Flickr.
During the six years that I lived in Tokyo, I have gone through the Haneda Airport only three times, on regional flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong. The experiences then were mostly positive, with the exception of boarding and disembarkation not through jetways but by bus; although two of those flights were with Japan Airlines. (I would understand a foreign airline like Cathay Pacific not getting a preferential treatment; but this was JAL, one of the nation’s main two airlines.)
The rest of my trips originated and ended at Narita. You can blindfold me, and I can still find my way to and from and around the airport: Any trips from home to the Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Tokyo stations, and then with the N’ex (Narita Express) to T1 or T2; shipping luggage both for departure and upon arrival, and where to drop them off and pick them up. I’ve been there when it was a ghost town (during the Golden Week, after the initial rush of travels) and when it was a madhouse (in the first year, when we did not realize not to travel at the beginning of the Golden Week). And I’ve gone through some of the labyrinths that connected us to the Dog Kennel/Quarantine area.
So it was a welcome relief that, for once, we arrived at Haneda from the US, with American Airlines newly inaugurated JFK-HND route (AA 135 outbound and AA 134 inbound). The experience has been mostly positive. What a joy it was to disembark (albeit still without a jetway and using a bus instead) and to walk up only one flight of escalator, to turn around the corner and to find that I was already in the Immigration area. Although there was already a line of passengers waiting, it was quickly winding down. Most of the other plane’s passengers were already in the luggage retrieval area by the time we hit the immigration queue.
Luggage retrieval and Customs inspection were swift. Out into the Arrival Hall, turn left for the JAL ABC Luggage Shipment counter to drop off two huge (empty) suitcases; and then a not-so-far trip to the taxi outside, just by taking one elevator ride down to a lower floor.
Think landing in Oakland or San Jose instead of San Francisco; think arriving at Long Beach or John Wayne airport instead of LAX. Think of La Guar . . . oh, never mind that . . . Yes, Narita (Narita International Airport or NRT) may be the more known name outside of Japan, but Haneda (Tokyo International Airport or HND) holds the record when it comes to the number of passengers passing through. In the past decade alone (2001-2010), according to this statistic found at Wikipedia, HND consistently ranked in the Top 5, while NRT never climbed higher than rank 23.
AA 135’s arrival at 22:20 was on the late side of the day; but the upside to this was that there was no traffic when I took the taxi to the city. It took about 30 minutes to reach the Shinjuku area, from door-to-door. A N’ex ride would have been 50+ minutes from platform to platform (excluding the long trek to the platform at NRT and from the destination station to a hotel or home).
AA 134’s departure, on the other hand and on the other extreme, is around 06:40. I will be on this flight a few days from now, which means I will have to depart from the hotel at 04:30.
Until American Airlines start flying to HND from SFO or LAX, then I may do this JFK-HND route extremely rarely. After all, it is silly to travel to New York first in order to reach Japan, just to avoid the length of time it takes “to process” Narita.