Please sign in to post.

Flying to Japan from SFO via SEA

Hello! So, this November we're headed to Japan. We're flying out of San Francisco (SFO) on United with a stop/change in Seattle (SEA) to fly the rest of the way to Tokyo on ANA. The ticket was booked via United (on miles!). We've never been to Japan and never been through SEA before either. My question is with regards to the flight transfer at SEA. We have a little over two hours between the two flights. I looked at the terminal map at the SEA website and it looks like the the ANA gates are in a completely separate building, from the main terminal, where United gates are, and that connection between the two are made by bus or some kind of transport. For those of you with experience at SEA and better yet, with this flight connection, is two hours enough time to make the connection? What should I be aware of to better prepare ourselves? On our United leg I've selected first economy row (just behind biz class) to better our chances of getting off the plane sooner.

Since we're leaving the U.S. rather then entering, we won't be held up by CBP so it really is just the transport connection and security, correct?

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
10 posts

SEA has a transit system (a kind of mini-subway/light rail - like that Oakland Airport connector only underground) that connects the different terminals. ANA gates are in the south satellite which is connected to the train. If you come into the A gates, then you'll need to walk to the Main Terminal and take the train to the S Gates. The terminals are not that long of a walk and the trains are frequent, efficient, and fast. Walking through the Main Terminal gives you the opportunity for some of the terrific food choices at SEA. Check out http://www.portseattle.org/Sea-Tac/Maps-and-Directions/Pages/Satellite-Transit-System.aspx

Posted by
13225 posts

International flights depart from the South Terminal at SeaTac. There is an underground train that connects to this terminal from several points in the main terminal. When you get off your flight from SFO, follow the signs to "S Gates". There is access from the area near the junction of concourse C and D, on the "secure" side. You will go down an escalator to the train level. It runs every 2-4 minutes and the ride is very quick.

Two hours is plenty of time to make the transfer, assuming your inbound flight is on time, and you have boarding passes for the ANA flight in hand.

Enjoy Japan. I was there in 1998 and look forward to a return.

Posted by
518 posts

Thanks for the quick and helpful responses. Yes, I suppose it all boils down to the first leg on United out of SFO. Hopefully that goes smoothly.

Now, hypothetically speaking, assuming we do not get our ANA boarding passes at SFO, when we arrive at SEA, do we then need to get them at the S gates? Or do we have to literally go back to the ticketing counters ("pre-security") and get it there?

I'm also scratching my head a little with regards to the departure at SFO. The United leg is domestic and the ANA is international, so when we check in at SFO, do we go to the international terminal or the domestic terminal (because the two terminals are nowhere near each other)? And do we check in at the United counter or the ANA counter (I'm assuming United, since that's who is ticketing this trip)?

Posted by
11292 posts

You go where the flight is departing from; even though your ultimate destination is international, SFO to SEA is domestic, so that's where it will leave from. Furthermore, you go to the airline actually operating the flight, so check in at the United counter (this flight segment is said to be "United metal"). Similarly, your flight from SEA to NRT probably has a United number, a ANA number, and several other airline numbers, but it's actually ANA metal. Be sure to go to ANA gates for that segment (both for departure from SEA and for return from NRT).

Since you are all on one ticket, you should be able to get both boarding passes when you check in at SFO. They will look at your passport there. If you need to show your passport at SEA, you should be able to do this at the ANA gate at SEA without having to leave the secure area. Again, all this is since you're traveling on one ticket; different procedures would apply on separate tickets.

Posted by
5770 posts

Warning - a little bad advice above (mostly good advice tho). To clarify...

UA and NH (that's ANA) are code share partners (especially after United abandoned almost all it's flights to Asia). You need to check in at SFO with United, check your bags all the way through to NRT and get boarding passes for both flights. Should be simple. At check-in in SFO, United will check your passports (have them ready at the ANA gate, too, but do NOT go to the ANA check-in counter in Seatac - that's totally unnecessary and actually could very easily cause you to miss your flight). As others noted above, take the little underground train between the terminals. Seatac is not that big an airport. However, it is a very CROWDED airport nowadays (just like all of Seattle is now over-crowded). You should not have to exit the secure area and be sure you do not - getting back through security can easily take more than an hour when it gets busy. Upon arrival in Seatac, go directly to your gate for your ANA flight. You should have boarding passes, if needed you can get them reprinted/replaced at the gate. Do not exit the secure area - you should not have to. Food court, shops, etc, are all available inside the secure area in the center of the main terminal. Two hours should be plenty as long as your SFO flight isn't seriously delayed. Even if it is, you're flying on one ticket so United and ANA need to get you there (although since you're on an award flight, that can complicate things if they need to re-book you). ANA has very good service (welcome to Japan, where people are polite and really do treat you like an honored guest) so they will take care of you (once when I was late for a flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, they actually held the flight for me - whisked me from check-in through the airport to the gate and on to my flight - I couldn't believe it...).

ANA is great and that flight is one of my favorites (very nice Boeing 787 Dreamliners - the business class is sublime - it's a really wonderful way to cross the Pacific; I understand coach is a bit cramped...but surely better than what it would be on a United plane, though, so keep reminding yourself of that).

Japan is wonderful. You will be amazed. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
518 posts

Thanks David, that all makes sense. I do recall that many years ago I had a similar situation, flying on a multi-segment flight from SFO to Tanzania, the first leg was SFO to Minnesota, and then onwards to Amsterdam, all on a KLM ticket, with the first leg on Northwest (wow, is that airline even still around??), and on the morning of, I went to the KLM counter at the SFO international terminal, wondering why the lights were out and no one to be found.

Yes, my ticket to Japan is an awards ticket, so any changes would need to be made by going back through United, and not through ANA. I'm also going to try very, very hard, not to check in bags to remove one additional layer of work and risk. I've heard great things about the Dreamliner and although I couldn't get business class tickets, I did get front/exit row seats (literally no seats in front of us until the bulkhead where business class starts.

Posted by
5770 posts

Northwest got eaten by Delta years ago (sadly, I miss them). As long as you're booked on a single ticket (and from everything you've said, it certainly sounds like you are), you will be fine. You will get boarding passes for both flights when you check in at SFO. Occasionally (if seat assignments change), you may need to get boarding passes re-printed before you get on your connecting flight, but that can always be handled at the gate, no need to exit the secure area and go to the check-in counter. In your case that's highly unlikely, since you already have assigned seats (I can tell, you're doing this right...), only reason that might happen is if there's an aircraft change (mechanical issue), very very unlikely. Good you got the bulkhead seats, you'll have more room that way. Unfortunately, you'll be tempted to peek into the business class cabin (which is reeeeealy nice). If you're bold, you might sneak into the business class lav - complete with a window and a Japanese style toilet (helps you get ready for being in Japan...your life will never be the same...).

Even though you booked through United, ANA will take good care of you. If a flight is canceled or some other significant issue comes up, yes, you will need to deal first with United. The only real risk is getting to Seattle for your TPAC flight - if SFO has bad fog or the UA flight has other issues, things could get tight. In your favor, I believe the weather in SFO that causes delays (low fog with low viz) is more of a summer phenomenon, in November there's less of that.

As you probably know, in November you are likely to experience some weather in Japan. Bring appropriate gear for cold/wet (maybe snow, depending on where you go). Still lovely. You're gonna have a great time. Cheers.

Posted by
518 posts

Anything, and I mean, anything, other than heat and humidity is good with me, so rain and storms for me not a problem. Even though for the ANA segment I'm currently booked in economy, I was going to ask at check in if there were any available seats say, in the economy plus, and maybe upgrade. However, I'm not sure if this question would be more appropriate at the ANA gate in Seattle or at the UA counter at SFO.

Posted by
5770 posts

re: an upgrade from economy...unlikely that's going to work. No hurt to ask, but if you're on an award ticket, don't count on it. United would happily sell you an upgrade to Economy Plus (or whatever they're calling it) on their metal - you can see that on their website if it's available and how much they want for it. For the 2 hours from SFO-SEA, not a big deal (OTOH I'd consider it for a long flight). ANA does (I think) offer a paid equivalent on some flights, but IIRC not on the version of the 787 used on this flight (check our SeatGuru.com to check your flight). Even if it exists on this plane, I suspect it's not an option for someone booked on an award ticket in (plain vanilla) economy. I'm pretty sure ANA award seats only come in Economy/Business/First flavors - there's no provision for Economy Plus award seats (even though ANA has those seats on some planes). IME Japanese culture, while so wonderful in so many ways, often doesn't really do "flexibility" well, and in business transactions, expect "the rules are the rules". Generally, this inflexibility works to your advantage (high standards, high expectations, you can rely on that) but if you ask to bend the rules a little, you'll hit a wall. Still, you got bulkhead seats, which are better than average.

You certainly won't have to worry about heat and humidity in November (well, humidity maybe, but without the heat). Tip: if it's raining hard in Tokyo, you can actually navigate underground, as a pedestrian, through large sections of the city. We were in Shinjuku for a couple rainy days in October, and after getting tired of being soaked, we found our way down one level, to a vast series of interconnected pedestrian walkways, passageways, shopping malls, etc - it was like an entire second city just below ground (not funky and tunnel-like, more like an airy, light-filled shopping mall, full of people going about their business). Even better, with an iPad + Google Maps + an internet connection, the underground passage-ways were all mapped in great detail (down to every shop), and it was a breeze to navigate them - we eventually figured out how to get around easily for miles below the surface (if we wanted to). If you have budget, a "pocket wifi" device (provides high speed internet connectivity via cellular signal) is a delight to have along (rent for as long as you need it, arrange in advance, pick up at the airport on arrival, drop off on departure, couldn't be easier). Completely revolutionizes travel in a foreign country. Ah, I miss Japan... :) Have fun.