Over the last couple of years, I took quite a few “special” flights – whether inaugurals or farewells. Among others, I was on Air France’s inaugural 787 flight, on the Bombardier Dash 8 Q400CC inaugural flight, as well as on the Cathay Pacific 747 farewell flight.
That said, I’d never been on an inaugural flight to a new airport. As such, Jetstar Japan caught my attention when they announced that they would be launching flights to Shimojishima.
Shimojishima airport is not new per se, but it just got a brand new terminal – and, until Jetstar launched its flights, it didn’t have a scheduled service for almost 25 years. That was enough to make the new route quite special to me, and so, I decided to book myself on the inaugural flight.
While I wrote briefly about it in an earlier article, here’s the full report.
Getting to the Flight’s Departure Gate
As the flight was scheduled to depart Narita airport at 7:05AM, I had to get to the airport the night before. Rather than getting a hotel, I decided to take a bus that left Tokyo station at 1:30AM and arrived at the airport about an hour later.
At the airport, I slept in terminal 2 for a couple of hours before heading to terminal 3 where the Jetstar flight was departing from.
In the morning, as I already had my boarding pass and I didn’t have any checked luggage, I went straight through security.
Not before taking a quick look at the departures board, though.
Airside, I headed to gate 163 where the flight was scheduled to depart from. As it was still about two hours before the departure time, the gate area was deserted.
Near the gate, there were some boxes and banners waiting – indicating that a “special” flight would be departing from it. Outside, it was still dark, but Jetstar Japan’s latest aircraft – JA25JJ which was delivered less than a week prior – was waiting to take us to Shimojishima.
Around 5:45AM, the first passengers and journalists started to gather around the gate. Around the same time, one of Jetstar’s ground staff turned the flight information display above the gate on.
Boarding Jetstar Japan’s Inaugural Flight to Shimojishima
Then, around 6AM, more Jetstar staff arrived at the gate and started preparing for the inaugural event. By this time, it was already daylight outside, and there was a lot of activity going on around the aircraft.
The event itself was fairly simple.
Unlike with some other inaugural flights, there were no speeches by the company executives or similar. But, there was a photo session involving staff of the company that produced one of the gifts that were handed to the inaugural flight’s passengers later, as well as the flight’s pilots and flight attendants.
The boarding itself started around 6:50AM – once the staff was ready to send off passengers with banners, dorayaki (Japanese pancakes) that contained Miyako salt, and Jetstar gift bags.
I hanged around a bit to get some photos of the process before getting in the line, receiving the gifts, and boarding the flight.
With my boarding pass scanned, I walked down onto the apron and boarded the brand new Airbus A320.
Departing Tokyo Narita Bound for Shimojishima Airport
Once everyone got onboard and settled in their seats (the flight was full), the cabin crew closed the door. A brief announcement by one of the cabin crew members followed.
Among other things, she mentioned that we were expecting a flight time of 3 hours and 40 minutes, and that we were onboard Jetstar Japan’s latest aircraft that was delivered only four days before the flight.
We were pushed back at 7:09AM – four minutes behind schedule – and while we were making our way to the active runway, a manual safety demonstration was conducted in Japanese. English speakers were told to ask the cabin crew if they had any questions.
We took off at 7:21AM from runway 34L.
Cruising Towards Shimojishima with an Okinawan Cockpit Crew
It took more than twenty minutes for the seatbelt signs to be switched off. And, at that point, the cabin crew started preparing for the service.
First, they handed out log sheets that the Captain himself had printed for the passengers.
Then, a round of in-flight sales was done. While I didn’t buy anything, there were quite a few people that purchased a 500 yen (about 5 dollars) voucher when booking their ticket, and so the service took quite a while.
Around 8:15AM, the Captain welcomed us onboard over the PA and apologized that the cabin crew would not be filling out log books on the flight (understandably so, since the vast majority of passengers were aviation enthusiasts and filling out all of their log books would take longer than the flight).
He also said that because of that he made the log sheets that the flight attendants handed out earlier. And, that he would be helping us fill them out in a bit.
Before that, though, he told us his story.
A story of how he grew up in Miyakojima near the airport and used to watch YS-11s and other aircraft there – something that influenced his career choice. He also mentioned that once he heard that his company would be launching flights to Shimojishima, he knew he had to be onboard the inaugural flight.
The Captain also mentioned that the First Officer was from Naha on the main island of Okinawa – and so, the whole cockpit crew was Okinawan.
When he was finished with his story, he said “get your pens ready now,” and provided us with the flight data to fill into the log sheets.
He started by mentioning that we were onboard an A320-232 registered JA25JJ, and that the aircraft was delivered on April 27, 2019. Then, he informed us that we were flying at an altitude of 36,000 feet at 560 km/h, against strong headwinds.
What followed was one of the most detailed and interesting flight information announcements that I had a chance to hear to date:
Currently, there is a north wind of 6 meters per second – or 13 knots – at Shimojishima airport. We are planning to land on the well-known runway 17, but our aircraft can only land with a maximum tailwind of 15 knots. And so, depending on how the wind speed develops, we might have to land the other way around. In that case, we will do a circling approach to runway 19, and you should see the airport on your left.
He finished the announcement by mentioning that we were expecting to land at 10:50AM, and that we would get a water salute while making our way to parking spot 2R where we expected to come to a full stop at 10:55AM.
With the Captain’s well-prepared announcement over, I decided to take a look at what was in the seat pocket, as well as the gift bag that I got whole boarding the flight.
The seat pocket contained the usual safety card, menu, and in-flight magazine. The cover of the in-flight magazine featured a photo of the famous Shimojishima airport runway 17 lights that go far into the coral blue sea surrounding the island.
The gift bag included some runway 17-themed items as well. There was a nice notepad, a sticker, a flight certificate, as well as Jetstar Japan pinhole glasses.
By this point, I was tired, and so I decided to sleep for the rest of the flight.
Landing at Shimojishima Airport
I woke up around 10:20AM, and soon after that, the cabin crew announced that the in-flight sales would be closing.
Just a couple of minutes later, the Captain made an announcement saying that we were expecting to land at 10:51AM, and that – since the wind speed was 14 knots at that point – we could likely land on runway 17.
Around the same time, we started descending.
At 10:32AM, the seatbelt signs were switched back on.
Some more minutes of descending followed before the pilots lowered the landing gear at 10:50AM. Then, at 10:53AM, we landed on runway 17 in spite of a fairly strong tailwind.
A Nice Welcome at Shimojishima Airport
Shortly after vacating the runway, as promised by the Captain earlier, we were welcomed by a water salute done by a pair of fire trucks.
At our parking spot, 2R, a local group was waiting to do a traditional drum performance to welcome us.
After enjoying the performance for a few minutes, I decided to walk over to the terminal through a nice little garden connecting it to the apron.
The baggage claim area was quite nice, but the departure area that was behind its windows was even nicer. I was truly impressed by the airport’s design. More on that later in a separate article where I’ll take you on a tour of the airport, though.
Walking out of the baggage claim, I realized the welcome wasn’t over yet.
There was a delegation of local representatives including Miss Miyakojima and the local yuruchara Miiya waiting in front of the terminal. Some of the local groups including firefighters were handing out local promotional materials.
After taking some photos of Miiya, I went into the airport’s check-in hall. Considering the occasion, the mood there was quite celebratory as well, and it was full of people.
I took some more photos of the terminal, and headed out of the airport – to my hotel for the night which was about a 45-minute walk away.
While there was no big event to celebrate the new route at the departure gate at Narita airport, other than that, the flight was about as good as I would expect an inaugural flight to be.
The inaugural passengers got some gifts – nicer than on some of the other inaugurals that I flown on – and, there was a very nice welcome in Shimojishima by both the airport’s fire department (water salute) as well as by the performers.
It was also great to see Shimojishima’s new terminal which looked more like a resort lobby than an airport. While currently, it only serves a single daily flight from Tokyo Narita, but soon, there will be Jetstar flights from Osaka and HK Express flights from Hong Kong as well.