Singapore for the Weekend: Japan Airlines First Class Tokyo Narita to New York JFK

Filed Under: Awards, Japan Airlines

I flew this exact route on Japan Airlines back in 2009 (you can find the trip report here), though back then it was operated by their 747 featuring their old first class product. That’s the main reason I took this flight, since their new first class product is a huge upgrade over the old one, and I wanted to see how it compared firsthand.

Anyway, at gate 61 boarding was announced for first and business class at around 10:50AM, and moments later I was aboard.

Departure gate

Plane to NY

Boarding queue

Japan Airlines 6
Tokyo Narita (NRT) – New York (JFK)
Tuesday, May 1
Depart: 11:20AM
Arrive: 11:25AM
Duration: 13hr5min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 1K (First Class)

At the door I was greeted by the friendly flight attendants that directed me to my seat in row one. One frustrating aspect of flying Japanese airlines is that Japanese aviation regulations prevent Japanese airlines from serving pre-departure beverages on the ground, and you’re also not allowed to use electronic devices while on the ground. This makes it advantageous to actually board as late as possible, since you’ll sit there in utter boredom. And I always find it rather silly that Japanese airlines are bound by these rules while foreign airlines flying to Japan aren’t, essentially giving foreign carriers a competitive advantage.

The first class product on the 777-300ER is the JAL Suite, which is a fairly private and spacious suite with a decent amount of storage space and well padded seat.

JAL Suite

The bedding is provided by Tempur-Pedic, including the pillow pictured below, which provides for great support.

JAL Suite

JAL Suite

JAL Suite

As you can see below, each seat really does have a huge amount of privacy, so being in 1K I really couldn’t see anyone else.

View of cabin from my seat

To the right of the seat were the entertainment and seat controls, as well as a vanity mirror.

Entertainment and seat controls

As soon as I settled in the flight attendant offered me Bose Quiet Comfort headphones. That was quickly followed by slippers and pajamas.

Bose headphones



I didn’t immediately change into the pajamas, though the guy seated across from me changed right away. I was rather alarmed when I noticed he placed his underwear on the tray table, and obviously wasn’t wearing any.

After that I also changed into my pajamas, and as I emerged from the lavatory the purser hung my clothes for me.

As departure time rolled around all eight first class seats were taken (I was the only westerner), and the captain advised us of our flight time of 12hr30min.

As we pushed back the safety video started playing, and at the beginning the flight attendants positioned themselves in the aisle to bow. I found it rather funny that they positioned three flight attendants in first class to bow, for only eight passengers.

We had a fairly quick taxi to the runway, which was made rather enjoyable by the nose camera that was displayed on the cabin monitors.

Nose camera

After a long takeoff roll we were airborne, and within 10 minutes the seatbelt sign was turned off.

Climb out

As we leveled off the purser came through the cabin to distribute menus and introduce herself. The menus are displayed in very nice leather folders containing both the menus and the wine list.

Menu cover

Menu folder

The menu read as follows:

And the wine list read as follows:

Service started with a hot towel, which was quickly followed by a small smarter. I’m still not exactly sure what it was. The crew’s English wasn’t especially good, so I wasn’t about to find out.

Hot towel


That was followed by a basket with a variety of Japanese snacks, from which I selected some crackers and almonds.

Diet Coke with crackers and almonds

Next was the amuse bouche, for which I’ll simply suggest you reference the menu above, because I still have no clue what it really was, though it was fairly good.

Amuse bouche

The next course was caviar. Even though it had some sort of a zesty “bar,” it lacked the traditional garnishes you get on other airlines.


For the main course I went with wagyu beef. I’ll never understand peoples’ excitement over wagyu beef, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fairly good.

Wagyu beef

The dessert consisted of both a strawberry tart and some cheesecake ice cream. The tart was delicious, but the ice cream really wasn’t (and it’s rare for me to come across ice cream I don’t like).


On the whole the meal service was nice, though not nearly as memorable as those I’ve had on ANA, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore, just to name a few. The flight attendants were all very friendly, though there was definitely a communication barrier, and also at times I think that led to them also being a bit less proactive. I do find that ANA crews generally have a better grasp of English.

After lunch I was dead tired so decided to get some sleep, given that I had taken a redeye the night before. I requested turndown service, and the flight attendant set up my bed with a Tempur-Pedic mattress pad. I’m not going to lie, the pad was *really* comfortable. I tried to fall asleep while the cabin lights were still on, figuring they’d be turned off momentarily after everyone finished their meals, as is the case on virtually every longhaul flight.

After about an hour I asked the flight attendant if the lights could be dimmed. After apologizing profusely she went to the galley and dimmed the lights a little bit. The purser returned and explained some passengers were trying to read, which is why they weren’t dimming the lights all the way. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t that what the reading lights are for?


After a while I decided there was no way I could fall asleep, so I played around with JAL’s entertainment system. While the system itself is fairly thorough with movies, TV shows, audio, etc., the actual quality of the selection was just horrible, at least when it comes to US selections.

Entertainment system

So eventually I just decided to get started on my trip report, which I did for a few hours, until we were already approaching Vancouver with about five hours to go to New York.




Funny enough at this point the purser comes up to me and asks if it would be alright if she dims the cabin lights because some passengers are trying to sleep. You don’t say?

Of course I took that as an opportunity to catch a few hours of shut eye as well, so slept until about 90 minutes out of New York.

JAL has a rather interesting menu in that other than the main meal, they just have an a la carte meal from which you can dine at your leisure. The options are all over the place, as follows:

The purser came by to take my meal order, and initially I wasn’t sure if I was in a breakfast or dinner mood. I decided on the “Everyone’s Favorite” pasta, and as the words started coming out of my mouth a look of pure horror filled the purser’s face. “I’m so so sorry. So sorry. We are out.” The look on her face made it seem as if both of the pilots had the fish for dinner and were unconscious, and I needed to land the plane. Fortunately that wasn’t the case.

I then decided on the “Western Tray,” which was a breakfast option.

In the meantime I had already ordered a Diet Coke, which was served with a hot towel. I guess I’ll be enjoying breakfast with soda today!

Diet Coke and hot towel

The breakfast portion was tiny, basically consisting of a small waffle cut in half and a spoon full of scrambled eggs. It was also served with a very small container of plain yogurt.

Western tray

Again, I was completely puzzled by what time of day it was in terms of food, so had some ice cream for dessert, hoping it was better than the cheesecake ice cream served earlier in the flight.

Ice cream

Oddly the amenity kits were distributed about 30 minutes before landing. I’m not sure if it was an oversight on the part of the crew or what, but I found it rather strange. JAL does have one of the nicest amenity kits, though, including Shiseido branded products and (oddly) a large towel/rag, the purpose of which I’ve yet to figure out.

Amenity kit

20 minutes before landing the seatbelt sign was turned on and the captain advised us of our slightly late arrival due to us having to slow down on approach to NY.

Once we landed at JFK we had a fairly long taxi to our arrival gate.

Taxiing in

Fortunately thanks to Global Entry I was outside within five minutes, ready to conk out.

So how do I feel about JAL? Well, I’m happy to have flown their new product and tried them again, but now it’s on my “been there, done that” list. Overall I’d rank JAL’s first class product as a second tier first class product, ahead of US airlines but behind the best in the world. While the flight attendants are friendly their English skills are lacking. The issue with that isn’t the language barrier, but it makes it tough for them to feel more confident in their service. But I’d certainly recommend JAL ahead of US airlines and many foreign carriers. If only first class award space wasn’t so hard to come by on them…

  1. The Tempur-Pedic topped seat looks very good, but it seems LH, LX, and SQ have much better in flight catering and amenities.

  2. Their seats look very similar to the ones you just flew on Singapore…

    And the menu certainly is…interesting. Am I reading it right that you have to choose an appetizer? For first class?

  3. I have been looking forward to this particular trip report since I’m a *A flyer. The seat looked really comfortable but sadly the food offering seemed lacking compared to ANA F. I would have expected the second meal to be bigger even if it’s breakfast (eggs with the waffles would have been nice).
    Perhaps it is because they don’t cater out of NYC for the NYC-GRU flight.

  4. @ Andy — That’s correct. In practice I’m sure you could order more than one if you were hungry, but that’s what the menu suggests.

    @ Larry — Haven’t they cut the JFK-GRU route in the meantime? Interesting thought, though in this instance doubt that’s the issue. Did they really cater both flights out of Tokyo? That seems crazy!

  5. Note to self: do not read lucky’s trip reports just before lunch. I am afraid that wagyu beef will not compare to the weekends leftover pizza that I brough for lunch.

  6. You left out the part about the “underwear guy” farting the whole night, didn’t you?

  7. @ Andreas — I try not to be too repetitive between my teaser installments and actual reports, but yes, I did. 🙂

  8. On a flight like this where the western meal choices are less than memorable, do you ever feel like you’re missing out by not ordering the airline’s home-culture meal?

  9. I took JAL in Nov. from Tokyo to Chicago in first. I thought it was very good. The seat and service were very good. In fact the service was comparable to Cathay first cl. There was only two of us in first, though. The flt attendants bowing at various pts was nice.

    The food was good. I think the Japanese food options are better than the Western food. My only gripe the next morning I asked for one of the dinner options from the previous day and they said they were completely out. Again, there were only two of us in first and there were 3-4 dinner options. I’m fairly certain the crew ate the first class meals.

    As far as your comment about the amenity kits. On my flt they were distributed before takeoff.

    Regarding not dimming the lights after lunch. Your flt took off a little after 11 am. My flt left about the same time. Even after eating lunch it is daytime in Japan. Most people don’t sleep at 1 pm. On my flt I went to bed about 6 or 7 pm Tokyo time. They dimmed the lights shortly before then.

    The only thing I did not like on the flt was the entertainment system. The video/movie selection was rather limited. Cathay was much better.

    Overall I loved the flt and JAL first class. When I booked it in Dec., availability was excellent. Now it is probably much harder.

  10. @ ES — Absolutely, a little bit. But frankly the non-vegetarian Japanese options are a bit more than I can handle.

  11. One of the more interesting trip reports, thanks!

    And thanks for printing the wine list, Salon is pretty special. For me, the bed and wine is more important than the food, so JAL might be a good option for me.

    Did you like the Hevin chocolate? I’m a big fan.

  12. Just to clarify my above comment, it was more interesting because of the hard vs. soft product differences, not that your prior reports were not as well written.

  13. @ caveman — I did take a peak into business but didn’t take pictures since the cabin was dark when I walked back there. The cabin was HUGE and the seats were angled flat, so it looked like an average product to me. Certainly not up there among the best, in my opinion.

  14. You don’t travel with eyeshades and earplugs? Seems like your missing sleep would be possible with those two tiny, light-weight items.

    The menu writer seems to have gone a bit overboard with the quotation marks.

    That seat looks pretty comfy to me.

  15. FWIW, they had Dean & Deluca “super premium” ice cream in J on NRT-LAX back in March! The seat, however, was only angled flat.

  16. “This makes it advantageous to actually board as late as possible, since you’ll sit there in utter boredom.”

    Are you serious?

  17. @ RakSiam — I do, but just can’t sleep with them on.

    @ steve — Why wouldn’t I be? You can’t use any electronics and the entertainment system hasn’t been started yet. With other airlines you can already settle in but still get work done while still on the ground.

  18. @ jo — There are no fuel surcharges for travel on JAL when booking through American. I do think JAL has a better all around first class product.

    @ Panda — It was, unfortunately.

  19. The seatmap shows a self-service bar in business class, is there anything like that set up for first class?

  20. @ Brian — Many airlines have a self service bar in business class but not first class, since first class is more about the personalized experience and being served. That being said, from the looks of it the bar had nothing more than packaged snacks, so it in no way compares to the likes of Virgin, for example.

  21. Dont understand the logic in all of these

    You go to a far away place for 48 hours. Probably so tired you cant even tell the time. Mediocre airplane food ( compared to 5 star restaurants), OK wine list which loses its bouquet in a pressurized cabin. And end up sleeping in dorm style hard beds. What is the point in wasting all these miles ( and cash)?

  22. @lucky

    The issue of productivity is certainly valid, but “utter boredom” sounds way over the top. It’s alright to be disconnected for 5 or 10 minutes. Hell, take a nap? Use a pen and paper? Given that you seem to regularly re-watch movies on flights, I’m sure the lost productivity of sitting without electronics surely wouldn’t hurt. It might even be beneficial to your eyes.

    And I really don’t mean this to be a jab at you. It just sounded unhealthy.

  23. @lucky

    Also, note the issue of FT sitting to the right of your seat. It may not be an iPad, but the info is equally valid on paper.

  24. @Patrick M – My guess is the rag/towel is due to the many Japanese public restrooms that don’t have paper towels or hand dryers. Perhaps JALs restrooms once lacked them and the towel’s inclusion in the amenity kit is a holdover from that time? Many Japanese carry their own handkerchiefs/towels to use. I find the omission a little odd given the emphasis on cleanliness in their culture.

  25. Interestingly, I was served dinks on the ground in NH F in NRT, and they didn’t mind me using my phone or camera.

  26. As usual, I always look forward to your travels. One question though – how was the cabin temp on this flight? I flew SFO>NRT>SFO a few years back in business class (hated the angled flat seats – just couldn’t get comfortable), but the cabin temp was way too warm for both flights. This has prevented me from flying JL again regardless of the cabin.

    I also found the camera that pointed forward made landings surprisingly scary! Looked like we were going to seriously crash! So what I thought would be a fun novelty, turned out to be just the opposite. I did enjoy it while we were taxiing on the ground and takeoffs were fine. But no-go on landings for me 🙂

  27. NH has been serving pre-departure drinks for the past year or so now (don’t know about JL), and both NH and JL started allowing the use of electronics on the ground as long as the cabin door was open following a “reinterpretation” of the air safety law.

  28. @Lucky – No sarcasm, I dig the retro Adidas sneakers. I’m a bit surprised you don’t wear slip-ons when flying though. 😛

  29. The cabin lighting must be an Asian thing. On my OZ flight over the weekend, they would not dim the lights because one passenger was still eating, even though he decided to begin his meal after everyone else had finished. While the service was great on OZ, that excuse was a bit ridiculous.

  30. Lucky – the thing about JL second menu is that its like a buffet and you order for as much as you want!!! That’s why the portions are small and cmon, try some Japanese meal options!!!

    JL’s Jap food selection is the best! =P

    Also, I suspect the amenity kits were actually more like souvenirs and meant to help you to “freshen” up after your flight or to take home for keepsake.

  31. @ Antonio — Hah, they’re different than my running shoes, so I guess you could call them slip-ons since I keep them tied pretty loosely.

  32. I had totally forgotten what a glass of Diet Coke looks like…so, thank you for the pics.

  33. “The look on her face made it seem as if both of the pilots had the fish for dinner and were unconscious”. I have been flying long before “Airplane” was made and I found this reference to be hilarious. Great writing; keep it up!

  34. Just to point out, the AVOD controllers on this aircraft are the same as the ones they use in coach. In the picture titled “entertainment and seat controls” you can clearly see its the same. A bit shabby if you ask me. SQ and CX both have different controllers for the AVOD in both Business and First.

  35. @Jason
    “You go to a far away place for 48 hours. Probably so tired you cant even tell the time. Mediocre airplane food ( compared to 5 star restaurants), OK wine list which loses its bouquet in a pressurized cabin. And end up sleeping in dorm style hard beds. What is the point in wasting all these miles ( and cash)?”
    makes perfect sense to me, meeting or not. you’re reading the report right?
    eh, can you explain to me the science behind bouquet and air pressure– just kidding, I dont care and 90% of people who enjoy wine couldn’t define bouquet

  36. Nice seats. Someday I’ll be in one or at least something like it. But if one is flying with their spouse, would it seem like your were traveling alone since these seats are so “private”?

  37. Looks like a very Japanese flight… down to your sneakers stowed neatly in front of your seat! I assume that was your choice, not a JAL requirement 🙂

  38. man, with that extensive japanese selection on the menu, you didn’t order anything off the first page of the menu?? sad! =P

  39. @ Fred — While the seats along the windows are private, the cabin is in a 1-2-1 configuration, so if you’re seated in the center section you can lower the “wall” so that you can communicate during the flight.

  40. Totally agree with you about the service lacking confidence and suffering as a result. I’ve always found JAL service to be well-meaning and friendly but ultimately not of an F class standard. Even in J I’ve had issues. On a recent JAL F flight they didn’t take a drink order for 45 minutes after takeoff; fine maybe for business, but not for F, in my opinion.

    And they should have handed those amenity kits out after takeoff. That’s a surprising slip on their part.

    And will second your and others comments about the IFE. Terrible selection, terrible quality picture–really not acceptable. By the way, I took the 787 the other day and they’d done away with the nose camera!

    The one thing this product really has going for it is the comfort of the seat–I think it’s my favorite seat to sleep on. But give me CX any day.

  41. I am reasonably sure that the “towel/rag” thing is a FLANNEL. Commonly used by us Brits to wash our faces in the morning?!


  42. Not so sure I can agree with your assessment. Having flown JAL Suite twice and Cathay Pacific First a suite twice I will say JALs food and alcohol far exceeds the quality (not quantity) of CX. The service is more reserved than that of CX but I think this is a cultural thing rather than an airline policy. I think it is rather bold to call this ‘second tier’. While we can argue which is better JL, CX, or Qantas, compared to the disgraceful service of AA and Inited these are all top tier and compete on different points in that category.

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