“Sir, I’m so sorry, but is it okay if we upgrade you to first class?”

I love Japan. It’s the only place in the world where someone does something nice for you and apologizes for it.

After landing from the Los Angeles to Narita flight yesterday, we headed over to the domestic terminal for our Narita to Nagoya flight on Japan Airlines. The domestic lounge is pretty simple, and I got caught up on email for a couple of hours. About 15 minutes before we were scheduled to board, my travel companion and I (or at least names slightly resembling ours’) were paged in the lounge. My friend was on a call, so I went to the desk for both of us, and was rather concerned about what might be wrong, since the flight still showed on time when I checked a few minutes earlier.

There were three agents standing there with frowns on their faces — “Mr. Lucky, I’m so very sorry, but is it okay if we give you a better seat?” I looked a bit surprised, though they had a laminated piece of paper with the aircraft’s seatmap. “Mr. Lucky, I’m so sorry, may I put you in 1K, this is a first class seat?” I said “that would be great, and where would my friend sit, in 2K or 1G?”

All three of them covered their mouths and let out a collective gasp. “I’m so sorry, you are traveling together?!” I said “yes,” and they said he would be in 1G, which is immediately across the aisle. I said I’m sure that would be just fine (given that the plane’s configuration is 1-1-1), and all three of them thanked me profusely and apologized once again, concerned this arrangement might not be okay since we would be seated so far apart.

The first class seats on this aircraft were JAL’s older model first class seats, the same one I flew in from Narita to New York a few years ago.

Since there’s still a trip report on the way, let me just hit on four points about the flight:

Boarding signs

What are we, pre-boarding the cast from Dora the Explorer?

Here’s a close-up of who they’re actually trying to pre-board (cause obviously anyone under seven and over 65 wears a hat).

Mt. Fuji

We flew right next to Mt. Fuji. Holy wow!

Onboard service

While the flight attendants were super-friendly, they make in-flight service at US airlines look impressive. The service onboard consisted exclusively of a beverage served in a small plastic cup with a lid.

Turbulence and announcements

The flight was bumpy as could be. We were rocking and rolling the whole way. The funny thing is that the seatbelt sign stayed off for the entire flight, until we began our descent. When the seatbelt sign was turned on the purser said “ladies and gentlemen, we are expecting a little bit of turbulence, so the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign.” So, what have we been experiencing for the past 30 minutes? Funny enough there wasn’t a single bump for the rest of the flight once the seatbelt sign was turned on.

An all around enjoyable experience, and now I’m in Kyoto.

Filed Under: Japan Airlines, Travel
  1. That is amazing alright! I wonder what they would have done if you said it was a problem.

  2. From the sign, it looks like they’re advance boarding children in wheelchairs, babies, little-leaguers, women with enlarged hearts, and hasidic Jews.

  3. The Japanese have a habit of holding up signs in Airports like these.

    Take Narita T2 when coming off of a SYD-NRT – JA ground agents were walking atop the baggage carousel w/pax names to contact ground staff. They also have a-folds circling the belt with much the same thing.

  4. Lucky,

    Now that you are in Japan, can I ask what your actual int’l ticket routing was and whether all those domestic segments were add-on priced or part of the TPA-Nagoya thru fare?

  5. When in the Japanese capital, I feel truly happy to be alive. The politeness, the warmth, the respect for others, the apologies, the bowing, the over-delivering — it’s an advanced culture. There’s nothing else quite like it.

  6. Haha, this is funny. The first thing I noticed about Japan is that people apologize for everything…it’s weird at first but you get used to it. Next time I go to Japan I hope they feel bad and upgrade me too!

    The Mt. Fuji pic was awesome, just enough light to catch the outline of the mountain.

  7. @ Sean M : Now that would be rather weird wouldn’t it! Imagine that, you get an upgrade and then compensation for it at the same time. Hey, I’m all for it!

  8. That happened once with me on a CX flight from HKG-LAX. I was boarding the plane on business class and when the agent scanned my ticket it did not go through. She looked at the screen and promptly apologized to me and asked me to wait on the side. She then came back with another boarding pass and said she was very sorry for any inconvenience that would cause but the business class was overbooked and “unfortunately” she has to upgrade me to first class. Well, I was so “not happy” with that!!!!!!  Had an amazing 15 hours flight being treated like a king.

  9. @Lucky: I’ve flown to/from Japan a dozen times or more, including on Japan Airlines, and never once received an apology while being upgraded for free. Is there something I’m doing wrong? :-/

    As for the flight, those signs are humorous, while the first class cabin looks absolutely HIDEOUS. Full stop. What kind of visual masochist came up with that eye-gouging mess?

    For future reference, there’s not much turbulence to worry about on Japan’s world class passenger rail systems. You should consider giving them a try if you haven’t already. I find them to be much more interesting and enjoyable than yet another sky-high puddle hop.


  10. My buddy Kenny and I recently flew to Tokyo on JAL and were also amazed at how nice and eager to please they are. Almost as if they are scared to disappoint the gaijin. Being the long flight that it was we decided to order some free drinks. And then some more. And some more. We completely expected them to cut us off after a few, but even after we could no longer order a drink by name and just had to point at the word on the menu, they still kept eagerly bouncing down the aisle with hot trays of sake bombs and a smile on their face.

    Japanese hospitality is the best.

  11. @Darren – Compensation should be due whenever a passenger is involuntarily moved from his booked cabin, either upgraded or downgraded. At the end of the day, accepting an upgrade is helping out the airline for their own mistake in overselling Economy Class.

  12. @Sean Next time you reserve a flght, remember to check the “do not upgrade” box. Personally, I “volunteer” at check in to be upgraded if the flight is overbooked. I’m always willing to take an upgrade for the team. 🙂

  13. @Everett: “My buddy Kenny and I recently flew to Tokyo on JAL and were also amazed at how nice and eager to please they are. Almost as if they are scared to disappoint the gaijin.”

    Try asking for more than one tiny dose of Japanese-sized aspirin. They’re not scared to say that’s against some imaginary doctor’s orders apparently.

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