The Japanese LCCs: Vanilla Air


My Vanilla Air flight was booked for three hours after arriving in Japan on a long-haul flight. Combine jet lag with a late local departure time and my expectation was mostly to be asleep for the journey. I lived up to my goals, though I still managed to get a pretty good feel for how the carrier operates and what the experience is like, particularly when arriving at the terminal hours before departure.

The Narita T3 food court is outside security and offers some great dining options
The Narita T3 food court is outside security and offers some great dining options

The shuttle bus to Narita’s T3 – the LCC terminal – was efficient and free, dropping me in the shed of a building with hours to spare. I figured I’d get a boarding pass and head through security to zone out for a bit and maybe grab a snack. Alas, I’d booked an exit row seat. The 1000 yen upcharge (~$8.50) seemed worth it for certainty of a window seat and a bit of extra space. But it also meant that I wouldn’t be able to check in online or at a kiosk. A human had to process my boarding pass. And the counter only opens 90 minutes prior to departure. I was stuck outside security.



That proved to be a good thing as I was also in the food court and once inside there is nothing available. I wandered the area aimlessly for a while before settling on the stand-up sushi counter for my first meal in Japan (no surprise, really).

Sushi at Narita T3; It was damn good, too
Sushi at Narita T3; It was damn good, too

Eventually I went back to the counter and the very friendly agents eventually processed me and everyone else in line. It was slow thanks either to the fees for everything or the high-touch level of service Vanilla Air delivers. Were it a flight in the USA many passengers and their bags would not have been on board.

The Vanilla Air check-in line moved slowly but we still all made the flight
The Vanilla Air check-in line moved slowly but we still all made the flight

That was the first of several reminders I would have during this 48 hour adventure that the way airlines operate in the USA is very different from how they operate in Japan.

Yes, someone checked an umbrella. No, I have no idea why.
Yes, someone checked an umbrella. No, I have no idea why.

Security was polite and efficient and soon I was walking what seemed an endless series of halls and stairs to find my gate area. We were in the domestic branch of the LCC terminal and it was little more than a shed, albeit a shed with jetbridges. There were a few vending machines as well with drinks, snacks and branded tchotchkes. I did not partake.

A very, very stark terminal area at NRT T3 for Vanilla Air. Plan ahead or plan to be hungry.
A very, very stark terminal area at NRT T3 for Vanilla Air. Plan ahead or plan to be hungry.


Priority boarding was called, including my exit row, so I was among the first on the plane. With a light load (somewhere around 50-60%) the personal space wasn’t an issue. Still, the flight attendants were on the ball when a woman tried to poach an empty exit row to spread out. She was quickly sent back to her assigned seat.

I was able to compare my exit row to the regular seats. The difference in pitch is significant. If you’re tall or just like a little extra personal space the $8 extra is a solid spend.

Branded carpet is a nice touch on Vanilla Air
Branded carpet is a nice touch on Vanilla Air

The inflight service is all buy-on-board, of course, and it appeared they did decent business from what I could see. I snagged a bag tag – printed, not embroidered; I’m disappointed there – and then passed out for the last half of the flight.

At Kansai we arrived at the main terminal, not the LCC shed, so that was somewhat surprising. We were at the last gate making for a bit of a hike to the exit, but given that my hotel was attached to the terminal it was better than a bus transfer.

Scoring the Vanilla Air experience:

Buying tickets: 5/5

Easily handled online and everything worked just fine. Managing the booking, even purchased from an OTA, was possible on the airline’s website.

Check-in/preflight: 4/5

Loses points for the short check-in window, long lines and needing to find a human. Bonus points for the awesome food court at NRT T3.

On-board: 4/5

Great space (in the exit row) and crew that made sure things stayed running smoothly. No IFE/C but none expected.

Overall: 4/5

Definitely would consider for future flights.

More from my Japanese LCC Adventure

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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