Article Produced by Kochan Kleps
In January, I embarked on my 42nd long haul flight with Japan Airlines. I generally fly to Japan twice a year from New York to visit and help out my family in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.
I vividly remember flying on a JAL Boeing 747 at a young age and being mesmerized by the existence of a staircase in an airplane. My family has been loyal to the airline for decades, and we have not been disappointed.
Since I’ve been lucky enough to fly JAL in business class multiple times, I’ve decided to compile images from various flights to provide a better look at the flight’s features.
One of the many reasons I love Japan Airlines is the consistency it provides in customer service, on board service and on-time performance. This flight from New York to Tokyo was no exception. The level of professionalism demonstrated by the crew and its ground staff was exemplary.
- Flight Number: JL5/JAL5
- Departure Airport: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK/KJFK)
- Arrival Airport: Haneda International Airport (HND/RJTT)
- Departure Time: 1:08PM
- Arrival Time: 4:40PM
- Aircraft: Boeing 777-346(ER)
- Registration: JA737J
- Date: December 23, 2019
JAL uses Terminal 1 at JFK airport, which has always puzzled me since its oneworld alliance partners congregate at Terminal 7 (British Airways, Iberia, Qatar Airways among other non-alliance airlines) and Terminal 8 (American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, LATAM, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian).
JAL used to have a lounge of its own in T1 just past security, but removed it in favor of employing the Lufthansa Senator Lounge and Air France Lounge. First-class, business class passengers and oneworld elites have access to the Lufthansa lounge, while premium economy passengers have access to the Air France lounge towards the end of the terminal.
I’ve enjoyed both lounges, but actually prefer the Air France lounge for its views and better food options.
Since I was flying in business class, I was supposed to have access to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge. At check in, I was informed that due to the self service bar with alcohol at the lounge (I’m 18), I would have to settle for a $20 food and beverage voucher for any restaurant in the terminal. I figured the check in agents had their hands tied, so I accepted the voucher and moved on.
I could have probably gotten myself into the Air France lounge, but I had just finished my first semester of college and was exhausted, so I decided to spend my time roaming the terminal.
I used my $20 voucher for a sandwich which was rather disappointing, so I decided to spare my stomach for the delights of JAL’s onboard restaurant in the sky.
As usual, the boarding process for my flight was orderly and uneventful. It takes JAL just 20 minutes to board the flight, which is quite impressive when compared to other airlines.
Although I did not have access to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge on this trip, I will include pictures of the lounge from past trips.
The lounge is decent, offering a selection of food and drinks, as well as some candy.
While the food is of good quality, the lounge is quite small and has limited seating.
ONBOARD EXPERIENCE – CABIN & SEAT
JAL has a unique seating arrangement and design in its business class on board its Boeing 777-300s.
Each seat has aisle access and is arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration. While this may seem dense compared to other configurations, the seats are staggered and feature privacy partitions which make each seat feel very private.
Upon boarding, the flight attendants offered to hang my jacket in one of their designated closet compartments. Since seat storage is limited, I was glad to not have to worry about my bulky jacket. Waiting at the seat was a menu, amenity kit, pillow, slippers and headphones.
The amenity kit was well stocked, but does not include any creams or sprays, which are included by many other airlines.
Most of these products are also supplied by JAL throughout the flight. Sometimes, flight attendants will pass through the cabin with a basket of these products. I’ve also seen flight attendants offer moisture masks to business class passengers at the end of the flight, which is a nice touch.
The tray table is large and sturdy. It also turns to the side which is great when getting up during a meal service. I spent an hour or so editing some pictures I had just taken at the TWA Hotel’s rooftop deck. The tray table was large enough to fit my 15” laptop.
The seats recline fully, making a comfortable bed. The foot well is extremely spacious which can also act as a storage space. JAL also supplies Air Weave mattresses and pillows which fit perfectly on the seat. These extra layers of support along with a thick blanket make it easy to sleep comfortably.
Although the seat does not have a lot of storage space, it has a small storage area just behind the seat. Storage is also available on a skinny side table (which houses the tray table) and the ottoman at the front of the seat.
My only quarrel with the cabin and seat is the cabin’s temperature. During many of the flights that I have taken with JAL, the cabin has often been very hot and stuffy. JAL’s 777 does not feature individual air vents, making it difficult to regulate temperature.
JAL’s 777 has decently sized bathrooms with washlet toilets. In business class, the bathrooms are also fully stocked with toothbrush kits, lotions and mouth wash.
The bathroom stayed impeccably clean throughout the flight, and remained stocked with the amenities.
Japan Airlines’ flight attendants are excellent and always remain professional. Like many airlines, JAL employs flight attendants from many different countries to cover different languages and cultures.
All flight attendants are able to speak decent Japanese and have no issues communicating.
Each flight attendant I have interacted with has been kind, professional and represented the airline well.
I was very impressed by the purser, who personally welcomed me and addressed me by my name throughout the flight.
ONBOARD SERVICE – FOOD & BEVERAGE
Although the quality of food on JAL might not be as high as other airlines, the incredible amount of choices on their menu certainly makes up for it.
Service started after take off with a beverage and snack service. I opted for JAL’s signature kiwi yuzu drink, Sky Time. Along with the drink, JAL served a small package of Japanese style snacks.
The airline begins each flight’s dinner service with the option of a western (洋食) or Japanese (和食) meal. Generally, both meals start with the same amuse bouche and finish with the same dessert.
The western meal had a light appetizer followed by the main course (fish, vegetables or steak). The Japanese meal is served in a very traditional style – in a box with 8 or 9 different small dishes as an appetizer, accompanied by a bowl of rice, miso soup and a small piece of fish for the main course.
In my experience, the main meal service’s options do not vary too much. The western options usually include a steak, white fish or vegetable. The Japanese option alters slightly based on the season, but are always accompanied by rice and miso soup.
Through the years, I have noticed small changes in the sides or garnishes of the dishes, but much is usually the same.
For my flight, I opted for the western option. While the appetizer was refreshing and light, I was a bit disappointed with the steak. It was pretty overcooked, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
JAL’s real triumph in the food and beverage service is in the remainder of the flight. Passengers can choose anything from its vast menu anytime during the flight. The offerings range from a sandwich platter, a full Japanese style meal, udon noodles and more.
To even better the experience, passengers can order directly from the handheld IFE controller. Although the system hasn’t worked a couple of times, its usually functioning and food is delivered within 10 minutes. This is a really great system and allows the passengers to cater their flight to their needs.
While watching a movie on the large IFE screen, I enjoyed a bowl of warm udon noodles and a small fruit platter after. It was a perfect way to savor the 13 hour flight.
Around an hour before arrival, flight attendants will offer “last service”, a final call for any food service. If previously specified, flight attendants will wake passengers up for the last call and promptly complete a breakfast service before descending and landing.
I had chosen the Japanese style breakfast before taking a short nap, so my food was served promptly. Although it may not seem like an ordinary breakfast to non-Japanese, it was an excellent way to end the flight and made me delighted to be arriving in Japan.
ONBOARD SERVICE – IN FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
This is one area where JAL could use serious improvement. Even though JAL must cater to both a Japanese and Western audience, I was hoping for more variety in its entertainment choices.
Since the entertainment options were the same for both my inbound and outbound flight, I ran out of movies and TV shows I wanted to watch. There were only a handful of hollywood blockbuster movies to choose from and some Disney movies.
JAL’s Sky Suites offer a 23” monitor which was perfect to watch movies on. It was difficult, however, to watch movies while the seat was reclined since the screen does not move.
I enjoyed being able to see the moving map on the handheld touchscreen remote while watching movies. The remote was independent from the main screen, and I was able to order food, browse the inflight shopping catalog and other movie selections without disrupting the main screen.
As per usual, my flight with Japan Airlines was excellent. The best feature JAL offers is the ability to order food throughout the flight. The crew was great and were very active throughout the flight.
Although there isn’t much to critique about the flight, I think JAL should improve its in-flight entertainment selections. I was disappointed to find many of the movies and TV shows to be the same from years past.
Japan Airlines’ product is very neat and tidy and traditionally Japanese. From the very boring and basic safety video to the plating for dinner services, the experience is steady and reflects the Japanese culture.
If travelling to Japan, I highly recommend flying with either JAL or ANA, as they both have high standards and are very consistent. Happy Flying!