I recently flew Japan Airlines (JAL) First Class from Tokyo (Haneda) to Dallas Fort Worth in United States.
I had heard so much about JAL First experience and wanted to fly them for a long time. In the end, the flight turned out to be really good and fully met my expectations, which is not often the case when you go in for something with very high hopes.
Booking JAL First
The easiest way to book this flight is with Qantas points, since both JAL & Qantas are members of oneworld alliance.
You can fly Japan Airlines First Class between Tokyo and Dallas Fort Worth for 149,800 Qantas points. Fees, taxes and carrier charges add up to just over $400. If that sounds like a lot, I can tell you that cash fares on this route often touch $20,000.
You could also redeem 80,000 American Airlines Miles or 100,000 Alaska Miles to fly this route. While you would only be forking out under $100 in cash with those two points currencies, they are incredibly difficult to earn in Australia.
For most people in Australia wanting to book this flight, it is Qantas points that will be their currency of choice.
Airport Arrival & Check-in
My Japan Airlines flight had a scheduled departure time of 10:55 am. Since I wanted to check out the JAL First Class Lounge before getting on the flight, I got to the airport plenty early, by 7:50 am. At that early hour, there was barely anyone in the First Class check-in queue. I was quickly processed by the friendly agent and given my Boarding Pass.
First & Business Class passengers at Tokyo (Haneda) Airport have their own dedicated Security lane which makes the whole process a breeze. Before I knew, I had cleared security and immigration and found myself walking towards the JAL First Class Lounge.
I spent roughly 2 hours at the lounge, you can read the full review over here.
On this day, my Japan Airlines flight JL12 was departing from Gate 113 which is under 2 minutes of walking time from the lounge. Since my boarding pass showed a boarding time of 10:25 am, I left the lounge by 10:15 am and made my way to the Gate. As I got closer, I noticed a sizeable queue had already formed.
Here, I should mention that Japan Airlines do a fabulous job of boarding passengers. This is the order they follow:
- Elderly passengers and families with young children are invited to board first.
- This is followed by everyone in Priority Boarding Group 1 (First Class passengers, oneworld Emerald members and JAL elites).
- Next come Priority Boarding Group 2 (Business Class passengers and oneworld Sapphire members).
- This is followed by the remaining passengers including those travelling in the Main Cabin.
As you can see above, each boarding pass clearly shows the Boarding Group it belongs to and there is no room for confusion.
The whole process went very smoothly and I soon found myself boarding the plane from the second door, turning left and entering the First Class cabin where I was warmly welcomed by a crew member.
JAL B-777 First Class Cabin and Seats
First Class on Japan Airlines B-777 is a small, intimate affair. There’s only 6 seats in the cabin laid out in the popular 1-2-1 configuration.
Solo travellers will naturally gravitate towards the window seats;
while couples or those in groups wanting to sit close by may find the middle seats more appealing.
On this flight, I had chosen Seat 2A for myself which was a window seat on the left. While the seats on Japan Airlines B-777 First Class aren’t the most modern and don’t offer a lot of privacy, its personal space and comfort where they score very highly.
As you sit down, you will notice a large inflight entertainment screen at the front. To give you an idea of the size of these seats, you cannot simply lean forward and touch the screen, you need to get out of your seat to do that.
A large tray-table is fitted just below the screen and slides back and forth with ease. Further down is an ottoman which doubles up as a buddy seat. If you were travelling with a companion and wanted to dine together, you could slide the tray-table to the centre while the other person can sit across from you and you could both share a meal.
The storage space under the ottoman is large enough to fit a carry-on, although for most people the overhead compartment should suffice.
A headphone jack and 2 reading lights can be found on either side of the back of your seat, the lights are turned on and off by a gentle twist. A large counter just below the window runs the length of your seat and offers ample space to place personal items such headphones, tablets etc.
There are two separate control pads fitted to the side of the counter just above the armrest, one of them is to adjust the recline of your seat while the other one lets you manoeuvre the head and base of the seat, adjust lumbar support and operate the foot light.
The entertainment screen is operated by a hand-held device locked inside the storage compartments located above the control pads. You can release the device from its position by pushing the button and pulling it out. The storage space is large enough to fit a small laptop, tablet, phone or book.
The power outlet and USB port are poorly positioned next to the entertainment screen and are difficult to reach when seated. That said, I was able to plug-in my Australian iPhone charger directly into the outlet which and did not need a converter.
To sum-up, while the current seats on Japan Airlines B-777 First Class are not fitted with the latest tech and don’t match up to other First Class seats in the market, they remain a very good option to make this 12-14 hour trans-pacific trek.
JAL First Class Amenities
The good folks at Japan Airlines really know how to spoil their First Class clientele. As I boarded the plane and walked up to my seat, my eyes quickly drifted towards the front half of the counter where an array of amenities were lined-up.
First up was a black coloured pouch from Zero Halliburton filled-up with a smorgasbord of products such as a dental kit, all kinds of face and eye masks, comb, tissues and ear plugs plus a high quality hand cream tube and lip balm from L’Occitane.
Then there was the premium Shiseido men’s skincare kit in a hard casing, inside there was a face cleanser, total revitalizer cream and a power infusing concentrate, all very fancy.
After the meal service, the crew came around to handover slippers and a set of soft cotton Pyjama’s which were really comfy to sleep-in.
Lastly, everyone flying First Class are offered a pair of noise-cancelling headphones from Bose. This was presented in a soft leather casing and were high quality.
I cannot think of any other airline which go to such lengths with their First Class amenities, although Qatar Airways do a pretty good job too.
JAL First Class Dining
Lets face it, onboard dining is a massive part of flying First Class with any Japanese airlines. This is one part of the experience I had really been looking forward to, and boy did they deliver on it.
A pre-departure drink was offered within minutes of boarding the plane. I inquired if I could get a glass of the famed Salon but was told they were saving it for later. So I had the other cheaper champagne. Also offered was a neatly folded chilled towel in a tray, which was a feature at the start of every meal service.
Lunch was offered roughly 45 minutes after take-off, the table was set and so commenced one of the most extravagant meal service you will find at 40,000 feet. Then came the moment I had most been looking forward to, as the crew brought out a bottle of Salon 2013 and poured a glass for me.
Why is the Salon so high-profile? I am not a wine expert, but from whatever little information I have gleaned off the internet it seems that it is only produced in exceptional years when the conditions are most favourable, and in very limited quantity (no more than 60,000 bottles per vintage).
This creates a huge demand when they are put out for auction, selling for a minimum of USD 1,000 per bottle. The most expensive Salon was the 1966 vintage which went for more than USD 9,500 a bottle. You can read more on Salon Champagne at this link.
First Class passengers have a choice between the Japanese and International menu for lunch. The Menu is too extensive for me to post here, so I will just provide you the link where you can look it up in full.
I opted for the Japanese offering which started with the amuse-bouche of cured ham, tofu and pickled vegetables.
Next came the five seasonal colourful delicacies comprising seared, kelp-marinated barracuda, coated lobster, lily bulb dumpling, yam with salmon roe and egg yolk rice and egg plant with mushroom and dashi sauce.
While everything was good, I found the coated lobster to be the best, with the barracuda running a close second.
This was followed by crab dumpling soup;
and pressed eggplant and barracuda, with a serve of Malossal caviar manufactured by the Japanese company arcane.
This wasn’t the traditional caviar service most airlines offer in First Class where the caviar is served with a host of accompaniments such as chopped egg, blinis, melba toast etc.
Instead, it came with sudachi citrus gel which is a concoction of a type of Japanese lime and alcoholic gel. You take a spoonful of caviar, dip and swirl it in the gel and eat it. It was heavenly and I made sure to savour it to the last morsel.
At this point the lunch service had been going for more than 30 minutes and we hadn’t even got to the Main Course yet. To break things up, I asked crew for another glass of Salon and was saddened to be advised that they were already out of it. Apparently with just 5 passengers in First Class, the airline had loaded just a solitary bottle of this nectar of the Gods and boy did it go fast.
Anyhow, I resigned myself to the alternate drop which was the Lanson of 2012 vintage selling for a piddly USD 110 a bottle.
The Main dish in the Japanese Menu was the Kichiji Rockfish. It came with spinach, a couple of different types of mushroom and a bowl seasoned rice with tofu, ginger, carrot, miso soup and even more mushroom.
I had no idea mushroom featured so prominently in the Japanese cuisine.
Finally, I finished things off with a slice of Gateau Basque which is a French dessert cake and warm green tea.
What an experience, besides the Kichiji Rockfish which wasn’t to my liking, everything else was sumptuous and beautifully presented. Well do Japan Airlines.
At the conclusion of the meal service, I went to get changed into the sleepwear and also checked out the lavatories. Japan Airlines First Class passengers have access to two lav’s at the front of the plane, one was the standard size you will find on most jets while the second one had slightly more space to move about.
As you can see, both were pretty basic and nowhere near what Emirates, Singapore Airlines or Qatar Airways offer in First Class. I did however appreciate the hand-written note stuck to the mirror.
I returned to my seat and noticed that the crew had already set-up the bed. The bed on Japan Airlines First Class is generously proportioned, the seat is adorned in a soft/firm mattress (you can choose), a duvet and two pillows.
Without any further adieu, I jumped-in and had 3 blissful hours of sleep. It was dark outside by the time I woke up since we had already crossed the International dateline. For some strange reason, I felt little pangs of hunger which was ridiculous considering how much I had eaten just a short time ago.
Quite unashamedly, I went ahead and ordered the Soba noodles and Ciabatta grilled chicken sandwich from the Light Meals section of the menu. To drink, I had a glass of orange juice.
I spent next several hours working on the blog. A snack service was offered roughly two hours prior to landing at Dallas Fort Worth. Taking a break from the Japanese food, I had the stewed Chicken and Apricot from the Western menu. This was accompanied with Greek Yogurt, Grapes and warm bread.
JAL First Class In-flight Entertainment and Wifi
While snacking, I spent some time watching the Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks classic You’ve Got Mail from the 90’s. Although I had seen the movie before I still found myself truly absorbed and enjoying it. Guess there is a reason it’s called a classic.
A word on the inflight entertainment on Japan Airlines First Class. First up, the screen is not touch enabled, everything is controlled by the hand-held device which is well-enough considering just how far the screen is positioned from the seat.
Next, while it wasn’t a problem for me personally since I mostly just like to watch the moving-map, some people may find the viewing content to be limited. To be clear, there’s most of the usual stuff you find onboard such as Movies, TV Shows, Games etc, but the collection isn’t as extensive as what many other airlines offer these days.
Lastly, the screen is not high definition and the controls on the hand-held device are well past their use by date meaning you sometimes have to press a button several times before the input is registered.
First Class passengers on Japan Airlines are offered unlimited complimentary wifi, which is such an important part of the overall experience. I value it very highly since it allows me to keep working and stay connected. Also, while you are able to switch devices, the wifi can only be enabled on one device at a time.
Wifi speeds were very good and in theory at least, the connection should last for the duration of the flight. On my flight though, I had difficulty connecting for the final 2-hours of the flight. Note that wifi service is offered through a satellite connection which is prone to be impacted on account of weather events, so that is something to be prepared for.
Landing into Dallas Forth Worth
We were set to touch-down into DFW at 8:40 am. About an hour prior, the purser came on the P.A. system and announced that it was raining in the Dallas Fort Worth area and that they were expecting a bumpy descent. She also said the seat-belt signs will come on much earlier than normal. A few minutes later, the same message was echoed from the flight deck.
I went and got changed, when I returned I noticed a chocolate had been placed on the tray-table. A short time later, the crew member came and offered me an eye mask. She also thanked me for flying with Japan Airlines.
As you put on the mask, it gradually warms up and releases gentle steam which is soothing to the eyes. I tried it and found it to be quite effective.
Seat belt signs were turned-on soon after, as we started our descent into DFW. As we got closer to the ground, views of the Interstate highways and open fields came into the distance.
From here on, the plane gradually descended until we touched down at Dallas Fort Worth Airport at 8:55 a local time.
Turned out the crew were being overly cautious about the turbulence, we did have one or two minor bumps as the plane went through the clouds but nothing out of the ordinary.
As a side note, clearing immigration was a breeze at DFW and unlike my past experiences at JFK and LAX I found the staff at DFW to be very friendly and welcoming.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of flying Japan Airlines First Class. From high-end catering to attentive crew and the famed Japanese service, everything was on display on this flight.
The seats are starting to show their age, although by no means are they bad or uncomfortable. It’s just that the hard-product in First Class has moved on so much from the times Japan Airlines introduced these seats that they kinda feel old.
The good news is we should see the next generation Japan Airlines First Class seats within the next 2-3 months when the carrier starts flying them between Tokyo and New York.
To conclude, I had the most amazing time flying Japan Airlines First Class and will jump on any future opportunity to fly with them again.
Have you flown Japan Airlines First Class? Leave a comment below.