Review: Japan Airlines First Class 777 Tokyo To Chicago

Filed Under: Airline Reviews, Japan Airlines

Introduction: A Detour Across The Pacific
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Review: Sheraton Melbourne
Review: American Express Lounge Melbourne Airport
Review: Air New Zealand Lounge Melbourne Airport
Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Lounge Melbourne Airport
Review: Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge Melbourne Airport
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Review: Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge Kuala Lumpur Airport
Review: Malaysia Airlines Business Suite Lounge Kuala Lumpur Airport
Review: Malaysia Airlines Business Suite A350 Kuala Lumpur To Tokyo
Review: Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport
Review: Japan Airlines First Class 777 Tokyo To Chicago


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Japan Airlines 10
Tokyo (NRT) – Chicago (ORD)
Monday, December 17
Depart: 10:50AM
Arrive: 7:30AM
Duration: 11hr40min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)

Oh, Japan Airlines, how I love thee! At the door I was greeted by the cabin manager, cabin senior, and a trainee. The cabin senior and trainee escorted me to my seat. Japan Airlines’ first class cabin consists of a total of eight seats, spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Japan Airlines’ 777-300ER first class cabin


Japan Airlines’ 777-300ER first class cabin

This isn’t the most spectacular hard product, and personally I find the cabin finishes to be kind of boring. However, I have a strong preference for Japan Airlines’ first class hard product over ANA’s first class hard product, since ANA “boxes in” all their seats (so if you’re in a window you can’t easily look out, and if you’re in the center you can’t easily talk to the person you’re traveling with).

For those traveling together, the center seats are ideal, since you can enjoy the flight together. But don’t worry, if you’re traveling alone and end up in one of those seats, there’s a privacy shield that can be raised.


Japan Airlines first class center seats

I had assigned myself seat 2A, the window seat in the second row on the left side. While JAL’s first class seats aren’t fully enclosed, they do have a good bit of privacy.


Japan Airlines first class seat

As you can see, the seat is wide, and the aisle side has a nice shield for added privacy.


Japan Airlines first class seat

Then the front of the seat has an ottoman, personal television, and the tray table.


Japan Airlines first class seat

The seat has a good amount of storage — on the left side of the seat is a long (but narrow) storage compartment, the entertainment controller, another small compartment, and a small monitor.

Japan Airlines first class seat storage

Seat functions could also be controlled from here. You could either adjust specific functions of the seat, or you could just choose from a few pre-sets.


Japan Airlines first class seat controls


Japan Airlines first class seat controls

Then at the front left of the seat is another small compartment, which also has the charging port. I don’t love the location of this, since you have to get up to plug something in — you’d think they’d instead put this closer to the seat.


Japan Airlines first class seat storage

The tray table is well designed, though. It slides out easily from the front of the seat, so you can move it around even during the meal, in the event that you want to get up.


Japan Airlines first class tray table

My biggest complaint about the hard product is that Japan Airlines doesn’t have individual air nozzles at seats, which is frustrating since they tend to keep their cabins quite warm.

Already waiting at my seat upon boarding was a pillow and a light blanket. This isn’t all the bedding, as there’s a lot more when they provide the turndown service.


JAL first class pillow & blanket

Also waiting at my seat were Bose headphones, which are among the best headphones you’ll find on any airline. I find far too many airlines skimp on headphone quality — they spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars per seat, and then give you cheap headphones.


JAL first class Bose headphones

Also already waiting at my seat upon boarding was the amenity kit. Not only was there an amenity kit, but there was a Shiseido kit with products. Japan Airlines has excellent amenities in first class, among the best of any airline, in my opinion.


JAL first class amenity kit

There were also slippers, a shoe bag, and a shoe horn.


JAL first class slippers

Within a minute of settling in, the cabin senior came by my seat to introduce herself. She also introduced her colleague, who she said was a trainee. Service in Japan is consistently excellent, but the combination of her and the trainee was the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time.

The trainee was so nervous and as a result so over-the-top (in a good way) in the way she acted, and it was both amusing and refreshing to see how seriously she took her job.

They asked how they could address me, since they struggled to pronounce my last name, so I said “you can call me Ben.” She insisted that wasn’t okay, and then repeatedly practiced how to pronounce my last name.

Anyway, within a minute I was brought a (small) glass of champagne and a warm towel.


JAL first class pre-departure drink & towel

I was then also presented a leather binder, which contained the menu, duty free card, a card for free wifi, and more.

JAL first class menu


JAL first class menu

Japan Airlines has great inflight wifi to begin with, but I love that they offer free wifi in first class with no data caps.

JAL first class complimentary wifi

I’ve never really understand Japan Airlines’ product branding. They call their menus “BEDD” (which, like, might be a decent name for their bedding, or something), and am I the only one who thinks aubergine every time I see “Sky Auberge?” I get “auberge” is a word, but the whole thing just seems strange.

JAL first class menu

10 minutes after settling in the cabin manager came by my seat to introduce herself. While she did that, both the cabin senior and trainee stood behind her, and then they all bowed at the same time.

This was a pretty empty flight — there were four people in first class, only about 20 people in business class, about a dozen people in premium economy, and economy was less than half full. The boarding process was efficient. It was ideal to have four people in first class, since there was one person in each window seat, and the center seats all remained empty.

At 10:45AM the main cabin door closed, and the cabin manager announced our flight time of 11 hours. At 10:55AM we started our pushback, and at 11AM we started our taxi, at which point the safety video was screened.

By Narita standards we had a fairly quick taxi and queue, and by 11:20AM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 34L.

As is often the case when departing Japan, in my experience, there was significant turbulence after takeoff. The seatbelt sign stayed on for quite a while.


View after takeoff from Narita


View after takeoff from Narita

At 11:50AM the captain announced that we were expecting moderate turbulence for a further 5-10 minutes, and asked everyone to remain seated. Finally at 12PM the seatbelt sign was turned off.

As soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off, the crew asked if I wanted to change into pajamas, so they prepared the lavatory for me. There are two lavatories at the front of the cabin, with one being larger than the other.

Japan Airlines first class lavatory

The lavatory had some pretty amenities from Cle De Peau, which are apparently quite expensive.


Japan Airlines first class lavatory amenities

The most remarkable thing about these JAL lavatories is that they have bidets.


Japan Airlines first class lavatory bidet

Japan Airlines’ first class pajamas feel high quality, but the problem is that they’re quite thick, which isn’t ideal when you consider how warm they keep the cabins.


Japan Airlines first class pajamas

The meal service began a moment after I changed into pajamas. The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows (sorry this is really long, but I know many love to see all the details):

My table was set at 12:10PM, and I started off with a glass of Cristal champagne. Cristal isn’t my favorite champagne, but nobody can deny that the airline is spending a lot of money on their wine program!

Japan Airlines Cristal champagne

I was offered some canapés to go along with the champagne.


Japan Airlines first class — canapés

About 20 minutes after being served champagne I was offered the amuse bouche, consisting of piquillo pepper stuffed with cod brandade. The dishes was served warm, and I loved the presentation with the cute little dropper.


Japan Airlines first class — amuse bouche

About 15 minutes later I was served caviar, which was beautifully presented in a tin, with some crispy rice wafers, and a mother of pearl spoon.


Japan Airlines first class — caviar

At this point I asked to switch to the lovely Bollinger Rose 2006.


Japan Airlines Bollinger Rose 2006 champagne

When trying both champagnes I asked the flight attendant if I could take pictures of the bottle, though when I had the rose she proactively suggested she bring me both bottles, because it would be a better picture. LOVE!

Japan Airlines first class champagne

I was going to have my main at this point, but the crew insisted I also have another starter, so I tried the warm red king crab & sweet tomato salad with avocado. OMG this dish was good, and was easily one of the best salads I’ve had anywhere, in the air or on the ground.

Japan Airlines first class — appetizer

For the main course I had the grilled rosy seabass “saikyo miso” flavor with radish veloute. This dish was spectacular, and tasted like something you’d get at Nobu (which is an impressive accomplishment when you consider this is an airplane). The fish was so delicate, you could “cut” it with a spoon.


Japan Airlines first class — main course

After finishing the main course I ordered a cappuccino.


Japan Airlines first class — cappuccino

The dessert options were fairly limited, though frankly I was happy to have a light dessert, given how over-the-top the meal was. I had citrus fruits with herb sorbet.


Japan Airlines first class — dessert

The meal service concluded just over an hour after it started, and I have nothing but good things to say about the entire experience. The food was exceptional, truly one of the best first class meals I’ve had in quite a while. The service was just as good, with the crew being so kind and attentive.

After lunch I was quite tired, so decided to sleep. The crew immediately made my bed, and asked if I wanted a soft or firm mattress pad (I selected the former).


Japan Airlines first class bed

Japan Airlines has good bedding, though it’s not my favorite in the sky. I do find it strange how the mattress pad is literally just a pad they put on top of the seat — it doesn’t have a cover or anything that goes around it.

Also, while the blanket is comfortable, I wish it were wider. Personally I like to wrap myself in a blanket like a burrito, but that’s not possible with these blankets.


Japan Airlines first class bed


Japan Airlines first class bed

By the time I was ready to sleep we had just over 8hr30min remaining to Chicago.


Japan Airlines airshow


Japan Airlines airshow

I ended up getting a solid three hours of sleep, and woke up with just under 5hr30min remaining to Chicago, so we were right at the halfway point of the flight.

Airshow enroute to Chicago


Airshow enroute to Chicago

At this point I looked through the entertainment selection. One of the things I don’t like about JAL’s product is that the entertainment monitor isn’t touchscreen, so you can only peruse the entertainment selection the small monitor next to your seat. At least I couldn’t figure out any way to view it on the main screen.


Japan Airlines entertainment selection


Japan Airlines entertainment selection

At this point I tried to get some work done, given that we’d be landing in the US on Monday morning. Japan Airlines has among my favorite wifi of any transpacific airline.


Japan Airlines wifi

Ordinarily you can pay $18.80 for a wifi pass that lasts the entire flight with no data caps.


Japan Airlines wifi

However, thanks to being in first class I got a free code for wifi, which is even better.


Japan Airlines wifi

In the meantime while going to the bathroom I saw that the crew had set up a small display in the galley with bottled water and some snacks.

Japan Airlines first class snack bar

I decided to order some coffee at this point, since I knew I wouldn’t go back to sleep. I love Japan Airlines’ standard coffee service. They present the coffee in a french press and then pour it at your seat, and I love the Japan Airlines first class mugs — they’re my favorite coffee mugs offered by any airline.

Japan Airlines first class coffee

Eventually I also ordered some ice cream from the snack menu, which came nicely presented, much more so than the little tubs of Haagen-Dazs that some airlines serve.


Japan Airlines first class ice cream

About 3hr20min before arrival we were over the US West Coast, as we were just passing Seattle.

Airshow enroute to Chicago


Airshow enroute to Chicago

I worked for a couple more hours, and then 90 minutes before landing the crew asked if I wanted anything else to eat before arrival.


Airshow enroute to Chicago

The menu read as follows (this is all stuff that can be ordered at any time):

For the pre-landing snack I ordered a salad and the beef curry.

Japan Airlines first class snack

The salad was tasty, and had lots of veggies.


Japan Airlines first class snack

While it may seem simple, the beef curry was excellent. I find curry usually tastes great in the air, and really enjoyed this one.


Japan Airlines first class snack

About an hour before landing I decided to change out of my pajamas. When I got out of the lavatory the cabin senior asked if she could fold my pajamas for me so I could take them with me. That was a nice offer, though I guess she noticed they got a little wet (the water sprayed a little bit while brushing my teeth), so she brought a whole new set to my seat.

Japan Airlines first class fresh pajamas

I was also offered a box of macarons as a gift.


Japan Airlines first class gift

The last hour of the flight consisted of some absolutely glorious views, as the sun began to rise.

Sunrise approaching Chicago


Sunrise approaching Chicago

About 45 minutes before landing the captain announced that we’d be descending in about 10 minutes, and were scheduled to land at 7:25AM. As we descended all three first class crew members came by my seat to thank me for flying with JAL, and of course I thanked them for their exceptional service.

At this point the cabin manager said “thank you so much for saying thank you so much — we are nice because we are Japanese and it is our job, but you are so nice too.” LOL!

At 7:10AM the crew was advised to prepare the cabin for landing. We flew out over Lake Michigan, which offered some stunning views.


Sunrise approaching Chicago

We then circled back around and flew right over downtown.

View approaching Chicago


View approaching Chicago

As expected, we touched down at O’Hare at 7:25AM, and from there had a 10 minute taxi to our arrival gate.

Final approach to Chicago O’Hare


Taxiing Chicago Airport

We parked at a fairly empty Terminal 5, where there was a Copa 737 a few gates over.

Arrival gate Chicago Airport

I bid farewell to the crew, headed through immigration, and then made my way to United’s terminal for my connection to Miami.

Japan Airlines first class bottom line

Japan Airlines first class is spectacular.

The hard product is good but not remarkable. I find the seat as such to be comfortable, but there are a few design quirks I don’t like (the location of the power port, the monitor not being touchscreen, the lack of air nozzles, etc.). However, overall it’s a good seat.

Where JAL really stands out is with their soft product, as they have exceptional service, food, drinks, amenities, and even free wifi.

I love Japan Airlines, and rank their first class as being in the top five globally.

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Comments

  1. Great review Ben, as usual. I stopped flying JAL since, as you point out (but really should mention again in the “Bottom Line”), they don’t have air nozzles and, combined with the near-sauna temperature at which they keep the cabin, is a waste of money if one cannot get any sleep.

  2. I would suggest you change the caption of the pics after take off to ‘view after take off Tokyo Narita’ instead ‘view after take off Chicago’

  3. @Lucky nicely written. I would be curious about the taste of blowfish sashimi. By the way, based on your two photos, was it correct when it said view after takeoff from Chicago? I think it should be Tokyo?? ^^

  4. I like how you need to clarify how your PJs got wet…that’s ok us guys sometimes miss the target 🙂 just kidding.

  5. @Lucky: Great review as always! Just a small note, the takeoff pictures say “takeoff from Chicago”, though it should read takeoff from Narita

  6. Did JAL first JFK-HND last March and it was amazing. Booked the same as a return for November. Get to experience HND first class lounge this time. There is just something so peaceful and calming when flying Japanese airlines (in all classes). And how they load planes in Japan; calmly, respectfully and on time, it makes the airport experience bearable. And then reality hits you as you arrive at JFK.

  7. Ben, the amenities in the bathroom is anything but basic. The face oil and body lotion are by cle de Peau, a high end line created by shiseido. Oil is $168 and body lotion is $150!!!!!!! I don’t blame you for not knowing though since you are an aviation blogger not skincare, but I thought you might want to know! Great review, I look forward to someday flying on jal first class! Maybe you can do an article for just comparison between Ana and jal?

  8. @ Mag — Whoops, that’s great to know, will update the post to reflect that. Thank you! I’m actually flying ANA first class roundtrip between Chicago and Tokyo next month, and am excited to compare. 🙂

  9. I too found the PJs too warm for the cabin but they’re perfect for wearing around the house during winter.

  10. Do you recommend JAL First Class or the United Polaris Class to Tokyo? I have miles in both programs, need suggestion please.

  11. I find the “Asian airlines keep the cabin too warm” complaint a bit of a red herring. I don’t find them any warmer than on AA and UA (where FAs turn up the heat to encourage sleep)…and I’ve never been in a premium cabin where you can’t ASK to have the ventilation/temp adjusted (esp on newer aircraft).

  12. It truly boggles the mind that AA and JL have a jv so everything is theoretically supposed to metal-neutral. I cannot possibly imagine a scenario where I’d prefer an AA flight.

  13. Theyve changed pajamas to almost sweatpants and crew neck sweater in gray, and the last time i flew I had to actually ask the JAL F attendants to turn up the temp in the cabin as it was too cold. And this is someone who sleeps in winter with a window open. My friend took them a week after as well and they said they’ve been trained more to keep the cabin cooler. So I would argue their biggest flaw is being worked on.

  14. I’ve done this flight a couple times and love the experience. The sushi bar in the sakura first class lounge paired with world class sake, and then the service in first class is just unbeatable.

    Last time I rode this route, the first class was so empty that they gave me two full servings of caviar without me even requesting it. Incredible.

  15. Very nice and complete overview of the flight experience. In Nov. I will be flying ANA’s 777-300er First Class from ORD-HND and rtn. It will be interesting to compare your trip with that and see how the seat stacks up as well as food and service. I’ve heard nothing but good comments on both carriers and look forward to the trip. Also, comparing the ORD Polaris Lounge (which ANA uses) and their own lounge in Haneda will be interesting.

  16. @ Ray Malczewski — Sounds like a fun trip! Am flying the same route in May, so will share my experiences on that as well. The Polaris Lounge in Chicago is a great lounge.

  17. @ Hong Konger — I’d say it’s on par with a very good day at Singapore Airlines. Though in fairness there’s also a huge cultural difference between Japanese and Singaporean service, so it’s probably largely personal preference.

  18. @ james H — Perhaps, but to me an air nozzle makes a huge difference, because more airflow at least creates the illusion of being cooler.

  19. #realfirstclass These are some of the best food photos I have seen on any review you have made. Ben,what is your issue with Cristal exactly?

  20. Great review. How was your transfer from ORD Terminal 5 to the main terminals? You might think about writing about the mess for all international travelers arriving in Chicago now. The connecting train service is down for the remainder of 2019, which means you must schlep over to Terminals 1-2-3 on the bus. You are herded like cattle outside of Terminal 5 to a tent to line-up and then shoved onto buses for the ride over. That takes a considerable amount of time, especially during busy international arrival periods.

    This summer is will be a real mess. My advice is to either avoid ORD in connecting from an International flight to domestic, or leave LOTS of time for your connection.

  21. Um, I’m sorry but Nobu is a very poor restaurant. You should note that sugalabo, which is the partner restaurant with JAL cannot be booked for more than years in advance. Moreover it requires referral to even have a shot.

  22. Took this flight in both directions mid-March, not sure when you flew Ben. The PJs were different, looked like a lighter weight to what you had, and the cabin temperature was quite cool to me in both directions as well. As a bonus they served Salon 2007 on the ex-NRT leg.

  23. @Mike – yes the transfer from Terminal 5 is a total disaster even arriving early in the morning on this flight when it was quiet.

  24. JL first Japanese catering are by two Michellin 3-star and yet you went with some sea bass…
    I’m all for global food and find all the “why you don’t try more airline home country food” unnecessary but this is still too far.
    Also JL could have some better smaller stuff in amenity kit, like those earplugs never work for me. Get some Ohrfrieden, JL.

  25. @ Mike — Ouch, that sounds bad! The train was still working when I was traveling, so it wasn’t bad at all.

  26. @ Robert J Fahr — Not an issue per se, it’s just a bit too sweet for me. I prefer other champagne.

  27. This looks all very good (and quite comfortable) but I will never understand Japan Airlines’ marketing. They rebranded a few years ago, when they emerged from financial difficulties and revived the 1980s livery and the crane logo. It all looks so dated and tired. The cabin interior, seat coverings, First Class logo, etc…all look as though they were last refreshed in 1983. ANA’s marketing is not a whole lot better, but at least it has a decent color scheme.

  28. Really enjoyed the review Ben – your’s are some of the best out there! That said, you may want to edit the captions for the photos you took after takeoff – that’s sure not a view you’d see near Chicago! I think you meant Narita.

    Keep up the good work!

  29. @Andy “I cannot possibly imagine a scenario where I’d prefer an AA flight.” –> Well, there is the small issue of the timetable. The TPAC JVs schedule many overlapping routes so that the Japanese partner (JL/NH) flies eastbound in the morning and the US partner (AA/UA) flies eastbound in the evening, which often makes the US carrier schedules more attractive, especially for Americans who want to fly home right after their last day of meetings.

  30. What’s the reasoning behind why airlines continue to fly planes with empty premium cabin seats and not open them up for redemptions? Isn’t some better than nothing? I know AF does it to keep their first class “exclusive” by not releasing any award space to non elites, but that’s not the case with JAL.

  31. Most important piece of advice was left out – how to book this flight? with which points? where to transfer them from? where to look for availability? etc…

  32. I flew HND-JFK in F yesterday. Salon 2007 was served along with Cristal 2009 and Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs. PJs are different now and of lower quality. I ordered the caviar along with the Japanese meal which was excellent!! Overall a great flight, a little warm cabin, great service from the FAs and purser and mediocre seat/entertainment system. I liked it and would not hesitate to fly it again but it didn’t blow my mind.

  33. I’ve always found JAL cabin crews to be superb.

    My first experience flying First Class on Japan Air Lines (as it used to be spelled-out) was way back in 1975; aboard a DC8 from Anchorage to Tokyo. The male purser wore a white dinner jacket and hovered over the female flight attendants who served everything with consummate skill and grace. I still have the beautiful embossed menu – with its gold tassel – and see that the list of appetizers included ‘Russian Caviar, Smoked Salmon, Ox Tongue, Shrimp in Barquette, Crab Claw with Egg Yolk Sauce, Teriyaki Chicken with Burdock and Abalone’. Entrée offerings were ‘Tenderloin Bearnaise, Stuffed Boneless Cornish Hen, Salmon Steak with Shrimp Butter, Buttered King Crab, and Marinated Scallops’. Everything was plated and served from carts in the aisle; every move and gesture of the flight attendants noted by the eagle-eyed purser.

    I know the trend now is towards absolute privacy in the front cabins of airliners; walls and sliding doors to shut-out other travelers. But there was something appealing about First Class on planes such as the DC8 and 707, where there was often an elegant, party-like atmosphere in flight. Most people had never flown in those days, and those of us who did appreciated the experience. These days, sadly, everyone around me on planes looks bored and slightly fed-up. I’m glad that you still enjoy flying, Ben!

  34. Glad to see free, uncapped wifi offered. Tired of seeing airlines charge $10,000+ for first class flights and then hitting you up for $30 for wifi throughout the entire flight with data caps.

  35. @Ben “Perhaps, but to me an air nozzle makes a huge difference, because more airflow at least creates the illusion of being cooler.”

    Not an illusion

  36. Alonzo Adams says:
    April 1, 2019 at 3:33 pm
    Glad to see free, uncapped wifi offered. Tired of seeing airlines charge $10,000+ for first class flights and then hitting you up for $30 for wifi throughout the entire flight with data caps.”

    NH caps at 100mbp wether using the free code of paying $19.95 for “full flight”. My 100mbp were gone in 3 hours as aol dial up from the early 90s was faster

  37. Omer
    “Most important piece of advice was left out – how to book this flight? with which points? where to transfer them from? where to look for availability? etc…”

    not as if this hasn’t been mentioned hundreds of times before and will be hundreds of times again. full trip review not complete yet

  38. @Luis

    witnessed NH a week and a half ago, tell one of their FFs at the counter they weren’t upgrading his level that day. flew with 9 x J and 5 x F empty

  39. I’m a little sad you didn’t try the Japanese menu and chose to stick to mediocre champagne and not have some of the pretty fantastic Sake and Shochu.

    I like the Sky auberge branding, auberge is the fresh word for a country inn, sort of the equivalent to a Ryokan and it brings to mind childhood holidays in France which would always feature being treated to a dinner in an aubergine somewhere in the hills of central France. I think it works because their western menu skews french and their Japanese menu is very much the sort of meal you might be served in a ryokan.

    Never flown JAL first and unlikely to unless I get op-upped but they easily have the best all round business class experience, in my opinion, and I always get excited about flying with JAL.

  40. Hi Lucky, I will also be flying ORD-HND-ORD in ANA F in May. How cool would it be if we were on the same flight!

  41. @Super VC10

    I too flew JAL many years ago. They operated a LHRJFK flight then and I took it every couple of months. I recollect there being an actual hard door between F and Y and I don’t remember it ever being opened in flight.

  42. Cleanliness of the onboard restrooms and the bidets are some of the best features, aside from the polite respect of all the employees of the major Japanese airlines. Notice now quiet the Japanese flight attendants are (compared to many US airlines staff who slam things around in galley and chit chat.)

    The food and drink are top notch and the time it takes to board a plane are unparalleled, as is how they treat your luggage.

  43. I’m with angel. Liked jal first from Narita to Ord but wasn’t blown away as such. Would take suites or apartment in a second!!! Loved them. Flew jal biz on way there. Was also very nice but middle seat had NO storage. Literally zero. Kind of made whole thing annoying.

    I also really like rear cabin aa biz. Don’t think it’s that far behind jal biz tbh

  44. Funny everyone’s comparing with NH but I’m inclined to compare with CX. I prefer the JL seat, the warm cabin (sorry, Ben), the warm pjs (sorry, Ben) the Royal Blue Tea (I don’t imbibe so this was a wonderful indulgence for a teatotaller), the free WiFi (which didn’t perform well for me) and the mother-of-pearl spoon. CX pleased me with a service style I prefer (less theatrically deferential and more psychic/anticipatory), a very significantly better lounge experience in HKG (they had me at Cabana), “afternoon tea” as a menu item (spectacular) and a more exclusive cabin.

    Oh, by the way, JL has only one type of mattress pad. It’s supposedly “soft” on one side, “hard” the other. Sorry, not falling for it and not impressed. I could feel the pea.

  45. Thanks for the review. I flew CX F class in Feb. From this writeup, I guess that JAL’s seat and food are superior to CX’s. The ottoman in CX’s seat doesn’t cover the entire length of the seat. It’s off one side and therefore the passenger has to sleep in a slight angle. Also, CX’s food wasn’t that impressive. Service was good, but perhaps not up to par with JAL’s.

    Hopefully, one day I will have enough miles to fly this product.

  46. Benny, big mistake mate, next time on JAL on a similar route, go for the Japanese menu.I would say Is excellent, well worth to try it!

  47. Strange that the Japanese make some of the best whiskies on the market and a huge variety and they don’t have any on the menu . Agree with other posters JAL planes are unbearably hot. Almost sickening.

  48. PLEASE review the JAPANESE FOOD on JAL First, not steaks or seabass every time… It was supposed to be exquisite!

  49. @Ben – I enjoy JAL F and love their service. However, no inflight meal compares to that served at Nobu. I would grade the food on JAL as good, at best, which is of higher quality than most other airlines serve.

  50. Two things that are quite odd:
    1. No Japanese Whisky to be found? Really disappointing, especially on a route to the US where it’s currently a very trendy product / is being sought after by many consumers.
    2. No proper stemware for $150+ of Champagne? How hard is it to get a flute to properly preserve the bubbles in the Champagne?

    Looks like a nice way to get from point A to B, though.

  51. Ben, do you find there’s significant turbulence when departing japan no matter what time of year? Or are certain times in the year much worse than others?

  52. The champagnes look good, although I prefer Bollinger RD, but you missed out on some great Chardonnay. DuMolis is one of the leading California Chards, and even the non-vineyard designated Russian River Valley is outstanding and goes for $50-ish per bottle. I’m surprised and very impressed to see it on a flight, it certainly will make me think twice about carriers for my next flight to Japan.

  53. Agreed with the above comments that you need to try the Japanese menu.
    Apparently the Salon is back again, after the 2006 bottles were depleted, though perhaps drunk 20 years before their prime. Cristal and Bollinger are already peculiar choices that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, but they’re absolutely fantastic if you’re into them…
    I can only guess the whisky was probably skimped on because of depletion too. There used to be Hibiki 17 in F and basic Yamazaki in J, and even the lounges had big bottles.

    @Keith They do have flutes as observed with the pre-departure drink. The senior probably realised and switched to proper wine glasses in service because flutes are a tragic way to waste good Champagne, especially in an aircraft where sense of smell is diminished.

  54. Really excited to fly this product for the first time later this month! Still can’t believe I found availability during the Sakura season

  55. I was skimming through the review when the wine list stopped me in my tracks. The wine list, to be blunt is incredibly mediocre but it does have one saving grace. The Kusuda Pinot is served on this flight?? Oh wow! Do you know how hard it is to find this wine?? Heck even in New Zealand it’s pretty hard to find!! Wow! I need an excuse now to fly this route!

  56. @those commenting on the whiskey

    I really can’t say I’m surprised. Suntory and Nikka have both been going through a severe shortage of aged whiskies, and discontinued the varieties that used to be served (Suntory Hibiki 17 and 21 IIRC for JAL and ANA F). They did still have Hibiki 17 when I flew in JAL F last summer, but I guess the well is dry now. In any case, all the more reason to drink the sake and port wine instead. Graham’s 30 is delicious.

  57. @Dusty, that might be a valid excuse for J class, but not for F class on a Japanese airline! ANA somehow manages to still serve Hibiki 17 & 21!

  58. If the suppliers aren’t supplying, I’m not sure what you expect them to do. I know ANA served Hibiki 17 in J as well, but when I flew back in January this year it was gone. ANA seems to still have stocks left while JAL doesn’t, but I can’t fault JAL for not having any when it’s an exercise in futility trying to find them at all, let alone bottles not marked up 200-300%. Going back to ANA per their website Hibiki 21 is only on 3 F routes, with Hibiki 17 on the remaining. Business class is down to NAS Hibiki. So they’re definitely feeling the squeeze as well.

  59. I flew JFK-NRT a year ago. I wish I had had the same experience in first. It was polite but not great. If I got up to go to the bathroom my empty glass was taken away and nothing ever offered to replace it nor was there anyone around to ask if I needed anything. I used my call button more than I ever have and there were only two of us in first. It was as if the FAs were afraid to be in the cabin.

    I’ve flown several times with JL and this was an exception.

  60. Thank you for very informative write-up and review of JAL First (with nice photos 🙂 – I would love to sample JAL First while I felt JAL Business (Narita to Vancouver) was decidedly underwhelming with limited Food & Beverages selections, and no more playing cards…
    .
    Do you look or read the inflight magazines? Even though JAL no longer has playing cards, I find their in-flight magazine a worthwhile read; thoughts?

  61. Long time reader, first time poster.

    “Personally I like to wrap myself in a blanket like a burrito, but that’s not possible with these blankets”.

    Best. Review. Ever. This just made me laugh. And giggle. And laugh some more. I always appreciate your take on the minute details, and this one has to be my favourite. The question is, were you trying to be funny (which it was), or was this a genuine review (which is even funnier)?

  62. JAL is certainly disappointing on the whiskey front. ANA does hibiki 17 I business which knocks what JAL does in first into a cocked hat. Except for the fact that hibiki 17 is all show and no go; bland to the point of being boring. I’d never go out of my way to drink it especially when there are cheaper, better drams from the likes of Ichiro’s

  63. You have inspired me! I bought points on Alaska and booked JAL in First from SFO next January. Can’t wait.

  64. Those overhead air nozzles can be treacherous as well. I flew SEA – AMS on 1st February 2006 in seat 1A. Before my kip I switched on the air nozzle. When I awoke I swear I was in the early stages of rigor mortis. Not only was I paralyzed from the blast of cold air, but due to the time of year, the draft from the sub-freezing air outside whizzing by a nearly 600 mph. was uncomfortable indeed!

  65. Dear Ben, usually I always agree to your reviews and your site is the first one I alway turn to for advice. However, my experience with JAL fro LHR – HND in First Class two days ago was a total disappointment with average to uneatable to unavailable food, a dirty mattress and bad service. Here are some details:

    When we boarded, I found the seat to be great, with tons of space. The overall cabin was not so impressive, especially the overhead bins are not pretty. But still I really liked it and we were happy to fly to Japan the first time.

    We were greeted and asked if we would like to have champagne or juice. We said that we would love to have two glasses of Rosé Champagne. The Flight Attendant looked at us, as if we were aliens. She vanished, and we never received anything.

    After take off the Purser introduced herself and recommended a special champagne to us. When she came back, she told us that this champagne is gone, sorry. She gave us some other, no big deal.

    Since we were travelling as a couple seated on 2DG, I asked the purser if we can eat our dinner together. Absolutely she stated. Every single course we had, we waited almost 10 minutes until we both had food and of could start eating together. After serving my partner on 2D they always served one of the other single travellers in 2A or 2K, then me.

    The Coke I ordered after take off was refilled exactly: zero times.
    The water I had with dinner was refilled: once! Although it was sitting there empty all the time and they saw me drinking out of a plastic bottle, they did not bother.

    The „chef“ onboard introduced herself as well. I thought this would be a good opportunity to ask her if she can tell me, what kind of cut the „Beef Confit“ would be. She had absolutely no clue. I asked the purser as well, she did not know either.

    Ok, up to this point nothing really bad happened and we were still in a good mood, happy for our first time to go to Japan. I was really looking forward for the Caviar, since I only eat this about once every year, only when we fly First Class. Since the purser said that we should take the Japanese Meal, I asked her if we can have the Caviar from the western menu as a starter. She said, this is not possible, since they loaded only 8 Caviars, which they all need for the Japanese Meals. (7 Passengers on board) I then asked to pleas skip the Caviar on the Japanese Meal for us, and she finally agreed.

    Of course, the caviar was not served as a starter. So I asked the purser for the third time. She then brought out an opened can of caviar and a coffee spoon. That´s it. I asked, if she can please prepare it the usual way with onion, egg and some blini and she took it back to the kitchen. She returned after one minute with the Caviar dumped on the Vichyssoise Soup, which they also had on the menu and told me, that this is the way they serve it here. Ok, I did not want to cause any more trouble and skipped the caviar.

    I cannot really judge the Japanese Menu well enough, but I can say that we were not impressed at all. All the dishes did not taste special or great, they were ok I guess. Since I did not like many of the things they served, and was still hungry I asked if I could have the Beef Confit from the western menu. This was the saddest peace of meat I have ever seen in my life. It was just dry and dull. It was cold, so was every side dish along with it.

    We rejected any more of this, and did not have any desert. Ok, well, this was not so good, but at least I can get a good sleep I thought.

    I started making the bed, when on of the flight attendants helped me and put one of the mattress toppers on the seat. I saw it and asked, if she can put any kind of sheet or cover on it. „No“ was the answer. I showed her all the disgusting stains that thing had in the middle, so she took it away and placed a different one on the seat. I did not look at this any more, since I did not want so see more of this kind.

    While the lights in Business Class were fully shut off, the First Cabin was fully lit, although everyone was trying to sleep. I asked if they could turn off the lights. They turned off half the lights in First (Row 2) the other lights remained on. I asked, if they could please turn these off as well. No, she said. I should please wear a sleeping mask.
    Since I hate those in my face, it took me quite a while to fall asleep.

    When I finally did get to sleep, the crew decided to make a full-sound-high-volume PA announcement to inform each and every sleeping passenger, the the IFE is out of order for now.

    I ordered some breakfast shortly before landing, which was below average, such as the rest. I have never seen bread with this kind of consistency. The scrambled egg looked like something, that should have come along with the caviar. The purser also dropped the egg timer which came with the french press coffee on my foot.

    This was by far the worst First Class Experience in my life. I really save up all these miles for that one special trip every year and I am totally disappointed. My fiancée and I felt like some involuntary upgrades from basic economy and I had the impression that all the Japanese Businessmen on the flight were treated with much more attention and courtesy.

    I would love to draw this to Japan Airlines attention, but I don´t find any contact and I don´t think they will care at all.

  66. @Stefan
    As everybody knows, Japanese could not speak good English. And from my experience and other people’s feedback, when you speak Japanese and English, the services you will receive are very different. I am 100% sure there is a language communication problem during your flight.

    My only suggestion is: when you fly F on ANA or JAL, speak JAPANESE instead of ENGLISH.

    And I do think learning Japanese is very useful, I could understand comic, anime, and Japanese TV shows easily without translation.

  67. Dear Speak Japanese,

    I would indeed love to speak Japanese, but I am afraid I am too old by now to learn it. It seems to be quite difficult.

    We went to Tokyo and are in Kyoto right now. We are absolutely in love with Japan. Everyone is friendly, polite, respectful, quiet – just wonderful.

    The most amazing part is the delicious food everywhere.

    The purser on our flight spoke english perfectly, and she was the one looking after us the whole time. I totally stick to my bad review, especially for the food part. That was embarrassing for JAL. No matter, in which department store we go here, each and every single dish looks and tastes more delicious, than what we had on board. Furthermore everything here is super clean, and I don´t understand, that they put dirty mattress pads with stains on their beds.

    They really left a very bad first impression , believe me.

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