JAL’s San Francisco Flight Gets A Very Nice Schedule Change

Filed Under: Japan Airlines

I recently took Japan Airlines’ flight between Tokyo Haneda and San Francisco, which I enjoyed. Japan Airlines has among my favorite business class products in the world.

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Japan Airlines 777 business class

There are a few things that make this flight unique:

  • It’s JAL’s only flight to the mainland US operated out of Tokyo Haneda Airport, rather than Tokyo Narita Airport; the former is considerably closer to the city
  • The flight between San Francisco and Tokyo Haneda typically has a good amount of award availability, so it’s great for people looking to redeem miles
  • The route has had the worst schedule of any JAL flight to North America

View from the Haneda Airport observation deck

More specifically regarding that last point, the schedule for the flight has been as follows:

JL2 Tokyo to San Francisco departing 12:05AM arriving 5:25PM (-1 day)
JL1 San Francisco to Tokyo departing 1:35AM arriving 4:45AM (+1 day)

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This is because for years, Tokyo Haneda Airport has had major slot restrictions for longhaul flights, meaning these flights had to be operated in the middle of the night. While I on one hand appreciate that the flights are timed to maximize the business day, they’re also absolutely miserable to take, especially if you’re paying for a hotel, since the flight times don’t work well with standard check-in and check-out times. Furthermore, while Haneda Airport has public transportation, most of it isn’t available in the middle of the night.

With that in mind, Haneda Airport is opening up daytime slots for longhaul flights, so it looks like JAL’s San Francisco flight will get a very nice schedule change.

Per Routes Online, JAL’s flight between Tokyo Haneda and San Francisco will operate with the following schedule as of October 30, 2016:

JL2 Tokyo to San Francisco departing 7:45PM arriving 12:05PM
JL1 San Francisco to Tokyo departing 2:55PM arriving 7:20PM (+1 day)

That’s a perfect schedule, as far as I’m concerned, and very nicely matches the schedule of many of JAL’s other routes to North America. It’s much better for those staying in hotels, and on both ends you arrive at reasonable hours. Furthermore, JAL currently has a limited menu on this flight due to the timing, though I suspect they’ll expand the service due to the new schedule.

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Beef curry and sake in JAL business class

I’m a big fan of this change.

What do you make of JAL’s new Tokyo Haneda to San Francisco schedule?

  1. Does this mean any change to award availability (e.g., New inventory loaded, aircraft change, etc)?

  2. @ FF — Nope, a schedule change in and of itself doesn’t lead to more inventory. Not noticing any trends in that regard yet.

  3. IMO those flight timings are significantly worse on the whole – especially JL1. Any time you can get on a flight late enough to fall asleep, be on that flight for 8-12 hours, and arrive early in the morning with a full day ahead of you, you’ve got a perfect flight timing IMO. 445am is a smidgen early – I’d prefer about 6am – but accounting for time at immigration and to actually get in to the city, I think the old timing was a home run.

    Instead, now you take off in the afternoon and arrive in the evening – which makes it hard to fall asleep if you did any significant sleeping on the flight – and makes the flight significantly more painful if you try to stay awake so you can go to sleep when you get there.

    The timing for JL2 arguably improves a bit with an evening departure and early-ish arrival, but it’s a little early to fall asleep if you’ve acclimated to Japan time, still.

  4. Its terrible for business travelers (who dont/should not care about hotel check in times and extra nights etc) as this will waste a day in each direction. Business clients care for a good bed, excellent connections and max business time at destination – not timings that will allow for expanded catering offerings!! Then again, this blog may be targeted to a different demographic.

  5. Well I guess I wont be using this flight anymore. I used to be able to leave late Saturday night and get there early Monday morning for work. Now this flight is like all other flight going to Tokyo, meaning I land and lose the entire day if I get there early evening. I’ll have to stick with the LAX-HND flight with ANA

  6. It will be interesting to see if new timings reduce award availability; it seems likely that more people will book based on better schedule and improved connections.

  7. Gotta agree with @Justin here. Those new JL1 timings are pretty hideous, especially for sleep/adjusting to the local time zone in Tokyo, if you are on a US based body clock. They also essentially kill a day of productive time

  8. @ Bob — I can definitely see how this could lead to lost productivity, though don’t really follow how it’s worse for adjusting to local time in Tokyo?

    Adjusting to Japan you now land in the early afternoon. You can nap a bit on the flight to Tokyo, stay up in the evening, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

    With the current flight, assume you sleep after takeoff in San Francisco and get eight hours of sleep. You’d be waking up at midnight in Tokyo. Even if you sleep till the cabin lights are turned on, you’d be sleeping until 3AM in Tokyo.

    I know everyone has a different body clock, but I’m not sure I understand how that’s better for adjusting to local time?

  9. @ Lucky: This is not a good schedule change for most of us.

    I’ve flown this route at least 6 times in the past 6 months, on staff/business/award ticket in every cabin. The best part about this flight is that leaving from SFO at midnight, so i can actually work the whole day and catch the late night flight and just fall asleep on the plane. Now I’d have to take at least a half day off – most likely the full day.

    HND-SFO landing at noon is not ideal either – that’s a whole day wasted. Getting home in the afternoon is the worst for Jetlag too. I’m not excited about this change.

  10. Hmm… I am already booked on some of these flights with the old timing. The changes shouldnt impact my award bookings right?

  11. Agree – as a biz traveler, I go out of my way to book this flight due to its departure hour.
    I spend the day in Tokyo working – dinner with client then return flight to the states – no time wasted and I can attest to less jet lag. Terrible JAL decision in my opinion.

  12. JL’s flight isn’t the only one that’s changing. DL, AA and UA are retiming their HND flights from LAX and SFO to basically match their current NRT offerings. These changes were announced a few weeks ago.

  13. What are you talking about? That’s not “prefect schedule”. That’s much worse schedule! Current schedules are red eye flights, which are much more desirable that the new mid-day schedules!

  14. Awful change. I’m surprised Ben is so out of touch with people who have schedules and time constraints.

  15. Have to agree with everyone Re the SFO-HND direction. The flights that leave super late at night are great for sleeping. You can even fall asleep easily in coach.

    I see where lucky is coming from since he values the experience on the plane more than the timing, but for the average traveler who just wants to avoid lost days, this is worse.

  16. No, no, no! This is terrible for those, like myself, who used JL1 because of its early morning arrival into HND and many possible onward connections. I often would purposely build in an extra connection at SFO because it allowed me to work a full day in NY, take the late flight to SFO, and then connect to JL1 at 1am.

    If I were on vacation and wanted the maximum JL experience, I would fly the nonstop JFK-NRT which has a terrible schedule IMO.

  17. The schedule prior to the current one was, to me, close to optimal. It had you departing SF around 6 or 7 pm (depending on DST), arriving late in the evening to Tokyo (10 pm). This was perfect for those who wanted a full day in CA and then a regular night’s sleep in Tokyo, or even the ability to walk around the city late that night before going to sleep.

    The return left HND just after midnight and got to SF at 5 pm — that gave you a chance to have a nice evening/dinner in Tokyo, take your time to Haneda (the monorail was a great way to go), and then a red-eye back to the US.

    The newly-announced schedule looks better than what’s in place now, although I would have departed HND around 10 pm instead of 7:45 pm, so you could enjoy the last night in Tokyo if you wished, and returned to SF a little earlier in the afternoon. The new SF departure time seems a bit early, too, for my tastes.

    BTW, on the older schedule, the main meal service was a full (nice) dinner in both directions (at least at the front of the plane).

  18. Like all the other posters: THIS IS A TERRIBLE CHANGE.

    I only travel for leisure. Leaving SFO at midnight allows me to work all day before I leave. Now I and all of the other leisure travelers will have to take an extra day or at least half day off work to make it to the airport by 5:45PM (at the height of the terrible bay area rush hour). So I will have to leave home by around 3 PM, therefore only being able to work till around noon.

    Arriving at 6-7 AM at the hotel has never been a problem for me. Most of the time they will give me a room, and if not I will let them hold my luggage till check out time while I go enjoy the city.

    Arriving at 12 noon is bad because by the time I am finished checking-in to my hotel it will be 3PM and the day is gone with only the evening left.

    I loved flying out of Tokyo late at night because it would give me one whole extra day! 3:55PM is terrible because I would lose the whole afternoon and early evening.

    The schedule change.is a LOSE-LOSE for leisure travelers because it will cost us 1.5 valuable vacation days.

    I read this blog all the time and it seems to me that the posts are not neutral but a positive spin to win favor with the companies that they write about, except when they really mess up. This change is a bad thing for most business AND leisure travelers.

  19. I’m certainly not a fan of the change either. In order to maximize time spent at travel destinations I looove westbound redeye flights, since you can get an extra day in the city for no extra cost, with a late-night connecting flight. I also try to pick eastbound redeyes with the latest arrival time, since they make it easiest to stay awake until a normal bedtime. I’m glad that SQ, CX, BR, and China Airlines use such a schedule from SFO, and I’m sad to see JAL leave it

  20. Are other new HND-US schedule released yet, there must be changes on other flights like ANA too?

  21. @ Lucky.

    Original Bob here.

    On the old JL1 schedule – I’d be able to get ~8 hours of sleep. Wake up before landing, it’s (albeit early) morning in Japan. Arrive rested. Stay awake, go about a normal day, drink an extra cup of coffee, go to sleep at an early-to-normalish local hour, and I’m fully adjusted to local time in Tokyo. Functions just like the normal nighttime flights from the US to Europe, but long enough to get meaningful sleep. Basically lines up with my normal cycles of when I want to be sleeping and when I expect to be awake. Perfect.

    On the new schedule: Stay awake the whole flight. By the last third of the the flight, be fighting to stay awake or worse fall asleep for a few hours. Land with my body clock thinking it’s 3.30am Pacific. By the time I get to the hotel and in my room, pushing having been awake for close to 24 hours. Go to sleep as soon as I get to the hotel – wake up due to natural sleep cycles probably at like 3 or 4 am local. Try to go through a day with my body clock being somewhere in the Pacific ocean.

    The old JL1 schedule just aligns with sleep schedules in a way the new one doesn’t. Board. Sleep. Land in the morning. Go about my day. Psychological as much as physiological.

    As an AA traveler my favorite flights to Asia are the midnight-ish CX and now AA departures from LAX to HKG, precisely because of the schedule.

  22. I took this flight from SF to Haneda this time last year. Made for a long couple days, I had to get a connection to get to Frisco in the first place. Once I got there I had to wait at Haneda for the subway to begin service, that was annoying but I’m not used to luxury in the way of travel so I didn’t mind all too much. Luckily I had an airbnb with a cool fella that let me ‘check in’ as soon as I got there in the morning. I flew another trip to Beijing to I didn’t experience the return trip. The main story for me was how amazing JAL service was compared to the AA service I took back home at the end of it all. I was flying coach.

  23. Not sure I’ve ever seen a post on this blog so beautifully highlight the disconnect between Ben and those who live and work in the real world.

    In the real world, companies hold their employees accountable for maximizing working hours spent away from the office. A late night departure and early-morning arrival makes the company happy, because the employee’s daytime productivity is maximized. The employee is happy, because he can sleep on the plane and is generally not expected to spend his airborne time working. JAL has taken a flight time that worked for both real-world parties and made it less optimal.

    A small group of flyers, consisting of Ben and maybe a handful of like-minded people, is now happy because they get to eat some new food and sit around the Park Hyatt a few extra hours. The real world is unhappy.

  24. Agree with all the other reality-based commenters who have pointed out how awful the new flight times are for people who have, you know, an actual job. Of course, bloggers whose lives are centered around what kind of warm nuts are being served in first class would think this is better. For anyone not wasting their entire life on such snobby nonsense, not so much.

    I’m booked on JL1 in October, before this change goes into effect, and I’m that I got it before they farked it up. Next TPAC will be on CX.

  25. To clear up some confusion above, this is not a JAL decision. The government moved almost all of the nighttime HND transpac slots to the daytime, so JAL was basically forced to reschedule this flight.

    (ANA got to keep a nighttime slot for its LAX flight because the current government loves ANA and hates JAL.)

  26. @David – Of course lucky is out of touch with reality, he flies these flights primarily to review them and so the more service and amenities offered onboard, as is the case with daytime flights vs redeyes, the “better” he thinks he is. Unlike the majority of us he’s not coming from or going to a regular work day with regular office hours.

  27. I’m going to be on JL 2 next spring, and I’m excited for this change. Will allow me to enjoy the flight more, including the real dinner menu in First. I can see why someone who just wanted to maximize the sleep time would prefer the old schedule, however.

    Also, everyone needs to stop hating on Ben so much. If you feel like this website doesn’t apply to you, then why are you reading it? There are other sites like FT, for business travelers.

    Thanks for the detailed update, Ben! Keep up the good work.

  28. I already have a JL2 flight booked in award biz later this year after the change. I have a connecting flight which actually now leaves BEFORE JL2 lands. There are actually now no connecting flights that same day. Any suggestions on how to handle this? Any AA award rules about being able to cancel the award due to schedule change? Will JAL make any considerations due to the change?

  29. @ Dan — Are there no flights operating, or just none with award space? AA should be willing to work with their liaison to accommodate you for no additional miles, or will cancel your trip with no penalties.

  30. As an SF local I’m extremely excited about these changes. Going to TYO always felt like I was wasting a day just waiting to take off, and coming home there was a huge gap from the time I checked out of my hotel from the time that I hit the plane. The service in F was also quite limited because most passengers slept for the majority of the flight in both directions.

  31. I too hate this change. I flew JL1 a few months ago and the schedule allowed us to get a full nights sleep, which led to us starting the day fresh without any jetlag.

  32. Add me to the list of ppl who dont like the change. Being able to work a whole day on the other side of the country before flight was nice. Now need extra day.

  33. Yikes. Was about to buy a flight on JAL from Sydney to Narita then transfer to HND and fly to SFO. The old schedule gave me 7 hours to transfer, plenty of time. Now I would only have 2.5 hours. Probably not possible but never flown thru Japan — thoughts?

  34. @ Me Too — That should still be plenty of time. JAL has a great on-time record, so that would be my preference anyway.

  35. Not happy about this. Flying JAL from SFO to HND, then connecting to PEK and arriving late afternoon worked best for my needs. I could be checked into my hotel, grab a bite, workout and be ready for bed local time. This helped me avoid jet lag issues and I would be functioning normally the next day for work. Guess I’m gonna have to find another route.

  36. I only prefer the midnight departure out of HND and never fly out of NRT solely because of the wasted day in Japan with the afternoon departure. I hope that ANA and UA stick with or are able to stick with the midnight departures, otherwise I find this really not good at all.

  37. @Tiffany, there are no flights operating until the next day 8AM which doesn’t have award availability. There’s another flight later in the day 5PM which has availability. So I should go thru AA instead of JAL to negotiate another option?

  38. @ Dan — It doesn’t matter whether or not there’s award availability, they’ll fix it for you. Call whomever issued your ticket (it sounds like AA). The solution might involve travel on a different airline, and you might have to call a couple of times to find a good agent. Similar to the process in this post: https://onemileatatime.com/how-to-be-your-own-liaison/

  39. In my opinion even from a leisure traveler I liked the old schedule better. My wife and I would fly business class and sleep all the way to Tokyo, wake up fresh at HND, taking advantage of their comp shower benefit. We’d then go get some breakfast ramen right there in the airport which is excellent while having our bags delivered to our hotel. Approximately 7am we can pickup our rail pass at the JR ticket counter and we have a full day ahead of us while being rested, fed, and no luggage to worry about.

    But yes, from a flight experience standpoint the timing is better, more in line with the JL60/61 flights out of LAX-NRT, which are my preference even though it doesn’t fly into HND.

  40. This is terrible. I like the old schedule so much better. Like many others have said, the new times are horrible for someone with a working schedule!

  41. Yeah this new schedule is pretty hideous…. the old schedule allowed me to arrive into Tokyo early (although I would’ve preferred 6AM as noted by another poster), now it’s a pretty weird schedule. You even got a “free” hotel night since you’d be sleeping on the plane! No more flying this route for business travel…. even for leisure travel this schedule is bad.

  42. As a leisure traveler based out of SFO, I think this is a huge disservice. Sleeping on the plane saves time for sight seeing places you actually want to see, instead of some boring hotel lobby or airport lounge. I’d rather see Shibuya crossing, Tokyo Tower, or Fushimi Inari than some damn buffet line.

  43. As a retired tourist, I will love this new schedule! In March we flew SFO-TYO in First Class and were too sleepy by 1am to enjoy the service. And the dinner they served was definitely an abbreviated meal, not what we had looked forward to.

  44. While the new schedule may be a good news for O&D passengers, it makes connections to China very difficult. The majority of JAL flights from China arrive HND at night and it used to be super easy to make the midnight flight. But now you either have to stay overnight in Tokyo or have a super long layover in HND.

  45. Hello,

    I’m arriving in HND from SFO at 7:20 pm in F on 19th of January and departing at 10:05 am the next morning on JL J to HKG and departing HKG arriving in MNL in F on CX. I’ll be staying at the Royal Park Hotel at the airport upon arrival in HND. Due to the scheduled change, I had to change the arrival date from the January 19th to the 20, which caused all this mix up.

    My question, will I have lounge access when I depart out of HND and arrival in HKG?

  46. I am on Japan Airlines 001 from SFO to HND today (Oct 30th) and booked in first. However, it looks like they swapped the aircraft to the 777-300 from the 777-300ER! No first class on the new flight, it is recliners in business class…heads up to others.

  47. False alarm, I got an alert from Award Wallet to say they changed to 777-300 but when I got to the airport JAL confirmed it is still the 777-300ER 🙂

  48. This is a perfect schedule for me. Arriving in Tokyo I stay up the whole flight and immediately you’re on their time. Not difficult at all.

    The flight back is a tad early but late enough to get a bit of sleep. Commute times to SFO are also not during rush hour in both directions.

  49. Arriving in Tokyo in the dark is not pleasant for first time travelers, I’d prefer an earlier arrival time but I know that’s difficult for folks that have to jump on a connection.

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