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13 April


Your childhood dreams become true: an airline tour

Two big Japanese airlines fulfil your dream

Photo: JAL

/NOVOSTIVL/ Ask 100 children what they want to be when they grow up and it’s a safe bet that a dozen will say they want to be a pilot. This article appeared in the The Japan Times.

Sure, air travel is less glamorous than during my father’s generation, but the act of flying remains magical to kids. Adults too. You don’t have to be a schoolkid to find aviation interesting. For those who love planes, two Japanese airlines offer a chance to experience some of the biggest jets in a new way.

Both Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) offer tours of their Haneda Airport maintenance facilities. This is often called a factory tour, but you won’t see planes being built. Instead, retired pilots, flight attendants and ground staff show you airplane maintenance up close — all while you learn about air travel and the mechanics of aviation. Oh, and did I mention that this is free?

First, the entire experience is in Japanese — the exhibit explanations, the presentation and the guided tour — although some English pamphlets are available. The online registration process is also in Japanese. If you struggle with the language, have a local friend help sign you up. It’s worth noting, though, that Japanese proficiency isn’t required to enjoy the tour. The awe of standing next to a massive Boeing 787 engine requires no translation.

Second, the tours are for school-aged kids 6 years old and above. In fact, regardless of age, I would only suggest visiting with kids you know can stay with the group. There are safety factors to consider once in the hangar.

Third, these are very popular tours and spots are limited, so I recommend registering as early as possible. Some people register months in advance. The limited numbers, however, will work to your advantage. It never gets too crowded and you get a more personalized experience, with less people in the way when you want to take pictures.

Both the JAL and ANA tours allow photography, but with some stipulations. ANA, for example, emphasizes that images must be for personal use only. You must request permission to reprint them elsewhere. JAL has similar rules, and they don’t allow any pictures of the emperor’s seat or of government planes if they are being serviced during your visit. Either way, there will still be plenty of opportunities for selfies here and there.