Flying ANA's Dreamliner to Tokyo


Does the 787 Dreamliner represent the great new era in travel Boeing would have us believe?

My first impression on boarding the plane for All Nippon Airways' inaugural flight to Tokyo Tuesday was not a good one. Sure, the ceilings are high, but the business class seat to which I was directed—I’m told the tickets cost upward of $5,000—certainly didn’t seem to match the price. The slimmer baggage bins overhead and high ceilings make the cabin seem more spacious, but look down, and the cabin seems to be covered with rows of tiny office cubicles placed back to back. Sitting down in my window seat, I felt a little squeezed between the high tray on my left and the window on my right.

But once the plane took off, I began to feel the difference. The sun coming through the unusually large window was blinding as we took off, but rather than close the shades, I was able to darken the glass at the push of a button, cutting the glare yet still allowing me to enjoy the view as we flew north along Lake Washington, then curved left toward the west.

My seat was right above the engine, yet even as the plane climbed steeply to reach cruising altitude, it emitted little more than a muffled roar. Above the engine, the wing fluttered gently like a bird's. I never felt my ears pop, thanks to the composite structure of the plane which, I’m told, allows the cabin to be pressurized closer to what humans prefer. My sinuses still seemed dry, but I didn’t get the parched throat that often bothers me on flights. 

So is this a revolution in travel? That’s asking an awful lot of a new-model airplane. I was born and raised in Japan, and I’ve seen some pretty amazing advances. As a child, I often traveled by ocean freighter to visit my grandparents in California, a trip that took a week to 10 days, depending on the weather. The first Boeing 707 aircraft allowed us to make that trip in a day, stopping in Hawaii to refuel. Of course, the planes were noisy and shook so much in turbulence you thought they were going to come apart. It was almost always a pretty unpleasant flight, though preferable to being on stormy seas aboard a freighter. Things kept improving until the arrival of the Boeing 747, when it felt to me like travel had hit its zenith, with attentive flight personnel and relatively spacious seating.

The arrival of in-flight movies made travel a lot easier to bear. Perhaps that’s what allowed airlines to cut back on the service and the quality of the food to the point where air travel seemed more and more like traveling on a Greyhound bus. Even on the rare occasion when I traveled first class, while I felt pampered, the food and service were never at the level of luxury of the late 1960s.

So what of ANA’s 787 Dreamliner service? Well, the business-class cubicles looked awful, but once I’d settled into mine it felt pretty special. It was as if I had my own private pod, complete with a place for my shoes, a spacious side table for my papers, lots of room for my legs to spread out under the side table in front of me, and a screen on which movies were a pleasure to watch. There was an outlet for my laptop and a USB port to charge my iPhone. If you’re the gregarious sort who likes to chat up strangers, this setup is not for you. If you prefer being in your own world to do your work, read or watch movies as you please, it is ideal. 

When I felt like napping, I fussed with the buttons until I found the one that reclines the seat until it lies flat. It seemed as if I was in a cozy cocoon—a nice feature that might be common in first class but is still rare in business class.

It’s the service that truly stands out on the ANA flight. Immediately upon boarding, I had a choice of cold green tea or champagne. Once we were airborne, I was offered a wet towel and an enticing selection of drinks that included a Jacquart Brut 2005 Champagne, an excellent Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand, and a pair of superb sakes.

Dinner was a choice between Japanese and Western. The Western meal started with marinated sea bream flavored with wasabi, a scallop with yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) and a filet of beef with mushroom-pepper sake sauce that I’m told was excellent. I chose the Japanese dinner, which began with an assortment of appetizers, including seared blowfish in a vinegar soy sauce, some slices of duck and a grilled scallop. The entree was grilled yellowtail marinated in a sweet miso sauce served with rice and miso soup. The food was outstanding, which is amazing, since the flight attendants have to put it all together in a galley that’s impossibly small. I'm told the Japanese food will be even better on the way back since it will be prepared in Japan by ANA's catering operation rather than in Seattle.

The strong Japanese flavor extends to the movie selection: There were a half-dozen Japanese movies, many other international films and only a few good selections from Hollywood. For the obsessive compulsive, there’s also a high-tech toilet. Pass your hand across a sensor, and the toilet lowers the lid and flushes itself. No need to touch anything.

Perhaps ANA's Dreamliner service doesn’t represent a revolution in travel. But it's a worthy evolution that combines best-in-breed comfort with a return to the kind of service I recall from the heyday of air travel. In ANA business class, there’s a sense that you are experiencing a special luxury, the kind you expect at the very best Japanese hotels and restaurants, the sort of hospitality that represents Japan at its best. Delta and United are going to have to up their games if they want to keep up with ANA on 10½-hour flights from Seattle to Tokyo.

Upgrading the Tuber Section

Upgrading the Tuber Section

Lamb Weston’s expansion of a french fry processing plant showcases the state’s potato industry.
No doubt you’ve noticed that Washington is in the grips of a gustatory frenzy, with an entire industry growing up around the desire to provide eaters and drinkers with the latest in exotic, artisanal, handcrafted, small-batch, organic food and beverages.
For sheer economic impact, though, few comestibles can top the humblest of vegetables and possibly the most popular mass-market product made from it: the potato and the french fry.
Lamb Weston, part of packaged-foods giant ConAgra Foods Inc., is adding a second french-fry production line to its existing plant in Richland. Construction is expected to be finished by autumn 2017. 
Even by the standards of big agriculture, in a region that does food processing in a big way, the Lamb Weston project is no small potatoes. The $200 million-plus investment will add 128 full-time positions to a plant that already employs 500. The new line will increase annual processing capacity by more than 300 million pounds of spuds.
Potatoes don’t get quite the same attention as Washington’s other major agricultural commodities — wheat and apples — but they are a big deal nevertheless. In 2014, potatoes were a $771 million crop in Washington, placing the state second only to Idaho (which touts “Famous Potatoes” on its license plates) in the nation. The Washington State Potato Commission says Washington growers plant more than 160,000 acres annually in the Columbia Basin and the Skagit Valley, producing yields per acre that are the highest in the world — about 30 tons — and twice the national average.
Making stuff from potatoes is also a big deal in Washington. Nearly 87 percent of Washington’s potato crop gets processed as dehydrated potatoes, potato chips and frozen french fries. The commission says Washington leads the United States in frozen french fry production, accounting for 20 percent of the nation’s output. Fries are also a major contributor to Washington’s export economy: Of the french fries made in this state and shipped internationally, Japan alone purchases about 65 percent.
Growing, harvesting, transporting, storing and shipping large quantities of potatoes make for a sizable economic presence. With about 4,500 employees across the Columbia Basin, Lamb Weston operates an innovation center in Richland, it has corporate offices in Kennewick and it runs processing facilities in Connell, Pasco, Quincy and Warden, in addition to the Richland plant that’s being expanded. It sources potatoes from growers in the Columbia Basin — its purchases will increase when the new line begins operating — and it sells frozen potato products like packaged french fries under its own brand names as well as for sale by retailers under private labels. 
It’s not alone, of course. Idaho-based Simplot has potato-processing plants in Moses Lake and Othello, each making an array of products, including french fries. The Canadian potato giant McCain Foods also has a french fry plant in Othello.
French fry consumption is considered a maturing market. At times in the past decade and a half, there have been reports of consumption plateauing and even declining. Still, the London-based market research firm Euromonitor International predicts a 10 percent increase — about 2.6 billion pounds — in the worldwide frozen-potato category between this year and 2020.
That projection appears to be enough to encourage ConAgra, which is spinning out Idaho-based Lamb Weston as a separate publicly held company this fall, to invest not only in the Richland expansion but also in Boardman, Oregon, where it plans to make more hash brown patties and potato puffs.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to help our customers realize their global growth projections,” says Lamb Weston President Greg Schlafer of the expansion, “but we need to make more french fries to do that.”
The Richland project will add operations, maintenance and technical staff — a mix of salaried and hourly positions — to run the line. But the economic impact goes beyond those employed at the plant, during and after construction.
For example, more food processing means more work for companies that manufacture food-processing equipment, such as Walla Walla’s Key Technology, which makes optical inspection systems, laser sorters and sizing, grading, and packaging conveyors for potato lines. While the company won’t get specific about customers and their projects, Key’s most recent quarterly earnings report mentions “a large seven-figure order received from a major potato processor.”
The Lamb Weston expansion also signals the potential of the Tri-Cities and the state as a place for large-scale food processing. Schlafer cited cooperation from Governor Jay Inslee’s office, the state Department of Commerce, the Association of Washington Business, the city of Richland and the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC, as being key “community partners.”
TRIDEC President and CEO Carl Adrian believes the Lamb Weston announcement will certainly be heard elsewhere in the industry. While they might not care to admit to it, Adrian says, executives at other food companies see announcements like Lamb Weston’s and start asking, “If they’re there, how come we’re not?” 

Potato Power
The humble spud’s impact in Washington state.

160,000 | Washington acres planted in potatoes
#1 | Washington potato growers’ worldwide ranking in per-acre yield  
87% | Proportion of Washington potatoes processed into french fries, potato chips and mashed potatoes
99% | Proportion of Washington potato farms that are family owned
$4.6 billion | Industry’s impact on the state economy
23,500 | Jobs supported by the Washington potato industry
8% | Proportion of potato volume that becomes a byproduct (such as starch for the paper industry or feed for the cattle industry) in a french fry plant

Shoestring Operations
Companies making french fries in Washington

Lamb Weston | Plants in Connell, Pasco (2), Quincy, Richland and Warden

J.R. Simplot Co. | 
Plants in Moses Lake and Othello

McCain Foods | 
Plant in Othello
SOURCE: Washington State Potato Commission