Flight Review – Japan Airlines #12: Narita, Japan (NRT) to Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW)

I recently flew home from a business trip to Japan. It just so happened that my administrator selected for me to fly home using Japan Airlines (JAL) on their direct route to and from Narita (NRT) and Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW). JAL uses one of their 787-8’s to fly this route using the JAL Sky Suite in business class. This is one of my fav seat products out there! It was a nice treat after having spent about three months in Japan.

Booking

So uhh…I have the ridiculous advantage of being able to travel business class paid for by my company. If I were doing such a trip on my own, I would use flights.google.com to check prices, and explore using AAdvantage Miles to book business class award tickets. If I end up purchasing the ticket, I would use a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve to maximize points earning for a travel purchase such as airfare.

Anyway, via my company and administrator booking this flight for me, I was able to select seat 8A, which is a window seat in the more aft business class section on the port side. JAL #12 departs at ~11:10AM daily.

Lounge

Ok. So…I’ve been traveling to Japan many times over the past two years. Because of this, I’m currently Executive Platinum for American Airline’s AAdvantage program. This translates to oneworld Emerald status. And it’s because of being oneworld Emerald that I was able to gain access to the First Class Sakura Lounge at Narita International Airport. There are two locations, and I went to the one closer to immigration as it was closer to my gate. The other First Class Sakura Lounge is just to the right in the satellite section of Terminal 2.

To summarize my experience here, I enjoyed a lite breakfast buffet because I had already eaten at my hotel prior to leaving at the airport.

I enjoyed the services of the massage chair, the shower room, and massage with a masseuse.

The most ridiculous thing I did was get in line at the sushi bar to get some egg omelette and tuna sushi and wash it down with Suntory Yamazaki 12 year whiskey. At 9:30AMFor the blog. While waiting for my upper body care massage.

After my massage, food, shower, and lounging around, I felt loosey-goosey enough to head to my gate.

 

Boarding

I don’t like waiting last minute to board, even as an elite, so I usually like heading to the gate a little early. I sat down and waited about 20 minutes before they called for boarding.

The flight didn’t seem so full based on how many people were sitting around at the gate. I think some youth group was also part of the flight based on a group leader’s constant inquiring about the whereabouts of one particular youth. I know the struggle having been a practically professional chaperone for youth events, haha.

Because I’m oneworld Emerald, I got in line in the appropriate late during pre-boarding lineup. Again, I always feel awkward when boarding because I’m usually the youngest and most dressed down (short-sleeve polo and gym shorts).

Seat

As I mentioned before, I sat in seat 8A. Window seats are great on JAL flights with their business class Sky Suites because you can get a lot of privacy.

There are some good amenities to this seat. The screen is fairly large, each seat is powered with normal plugs and USB, privacy divider between adjacent seats, the seat can lie flat, and they even provide an Airweave mattress.

The amenity kit is a Zero Halliburton bag with toothbrush, ear plugs, mask, lip balm, tissue, and moisture mask. I like the amenity kit bags that JAL usually provides, but I’m not often not too impressed with their contents.

In previous trips to Japan, I’ve gotten to ride business class on American’s 777-200 (old, angle-flat), 777-200 retrofit (new “Cirrus” AAL config, and Super Diamond), and 787-8 (new “Cirrus” AAL config). But! I think the JAL Sky Suite is still my favorite.

Entertainment

JAL provides a lot of a content on their in-flight entertainment systems that use Magic Suite. The content varies from Eastern to Western titles. I find that JAL doesn’t usually have a lot of Western TV shows, but they do have a good selection of recent movies and classics as well.

I didn’t peruse their music, but in the past I know it’s pretty varied.  I also didn’t check if there was an e-reader function, but I know from a past trip that manga is available to read, if offered.

Flight

After takeoff, we were given a choice of either champagne, orange juice, or water. The flight attendant working my side as well as the head purser both personally introduced themselves, which is very nice touch.

I opted to go with the Wagyu Beef on the Western set menu for lunch. I paired this with a red pinot from South Africa.

The thing about business class meals is that they are multi-course style.

For amuse-bouche, I had sesame tofu with wasabi and a tuna confit. The tofu was squishy and spicy, and the confit was a weird combo of fishy taste with pesto, but still petty good.

The hors-d’oeuvre was grilled spear squid. Seafood, especially of cephalopod nature, are usually not my first choice of things to eat. The squid had a weird chewy texture and was kind of tasteless, but I still finished it all.

And then of course my main course: wagyu steak with eggplant caviar. It was delicious! The flight attendant also asked if I wanted a side of steamed rice, which being the Asian that I am, I obliged. The wagyu was juicy and easy to cut into, which is pretty impressive for airplane food, haha.

To finish it out, I had pomelo pudding. Bitter and sweet.

My only struggle with JAL flights in business class is that the main food service takes a long time. We weren’t given menus until 25 minutes after takeoff. And the entire meal service lasted a little over 2 hours. But! The flight attendants were attentive and really strived to do their best.

During the meal service, I had watched The Great Wall, but it finished before I received dessert, lol. I then started Star Wars: Rogue One, and I also decided to bust out my Nintendo Switch to make a little progress on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I did this for a little while until I felt tired.

I knew I needed to get as much sleep as I could on this flight knowing that I’d be arriving at 8:30AM in DFW and still have to go to work. Bummer.

In preparation, I got into the overhead compartment bin and unpackaged the Airweave mattress to lay it across my now-flat seat.

I kept tossing and turning because the cabin was too bright at the time. I was too lazy to grab my face mask, but I eventually did after while. I think I was able to fall asleep after a while, and I was probably “in bed” for about 4 hours.

At 6 hours into the flight, I used the lav. It looked pretty clean so I’m guessing the flight attendants had been attending to it.

You know you’re on a Japanese carrier when even the toilets in the lavs have spray functions.

Feeling a little hungry, I perused the snacks available at the galley. Honestly, I think American Airlines does this part better with a selection of savory snacks and plated foods. I grabbed a macaroon.

Still feeling hungry, I used my handset to order ramen. On JAL 777 and 787 business classes that have it, you can order food on demand with their “Anytime You Wish” menu.

The ramen was okay. It felt too pre-packaged, and the hardboiled egg were still a little cold. I washed it down with JAL’s specialty Skytime kiwi drink.

After this mid-flight meal, I played my Nintendo Switch some more and decided to take a short nap.

Upon waking, I turned on the new Beauty and the Beast. Halfway through the movie, the pre-landing meal service started. Again, I ordered the Western set, which was roasted lamb with bread. Delicious! Oishi! Not what I’d consider “breakfast” per se but then again, I did eat sushi and drink whiskey in the lounge the day before, haha.

Overall, it was a good flight. The flight attendants offer great service as to be expected from a Japanese carrier, but they’re always slow with the main meal service. I had good options to be entertained, and good opportunities to be comfortable in order to get some sleep (even if I was too lazy to actually make it more comfortable).

Here’s a cool timelapse I filmed of the landing at DFW:

I look forward to my next opportunities to fly JAL!

-JD

 

Japan Airlines #66: Narita, Japan to San Diego, CA

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January 20, 2016 (NRT to SAN)

I woke up this particular morning in Nagoya, Japan to it snowing outside. Long story short, my intended half day at work was dismissed by my boss’s blessings. Conveniently, he was in Japan too and happen to run into me in the hotel lobby as I was gathering up with my coworkers and recommended that I just not go into work because of potential travel delays due to the snow since my flight was in the early evening. I couldn’t help but oblige. I left early to board the bullet train to Narita. Despite being about 25 minutes late, I still made it to Narita without further delays and a few hours earlier than originally intended. Because I arrived early, I was able to decide that I should chronicle and review the lounge and flight experience.

I left Nagoya Station just past 9:00 AM and arrived at Narita Terminal 2 at about 12:30 PM. In previous trips, I’m always hesitant at arriving around this hour because I know American Airlines closes their counters from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Thankfully, I flew Japan Airlines this time, and their ticket counters had no one in the Business Class line. I checked in with the ultra-polite ticket agent, made my way through the priority security line (for Oneworld Emerald/Sapphire and first/business class travelers), and Japanese customs. I opted not to do any shopping this time, though the Pokémon Store upstairs before security seemed really tempting. Gotta buy ‘em all, ya know? In previous trips, I’ve often bought sweets as gifts to take back to my family, but I didn’t have room in my backpack this time. I usually hit up the Sakura Lounge in the main building, but since my gate was in the satellite building, I made my way to the satellite First Class Sakura Lounge.

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I recently discovered the satellite location on my trip before this one.

I was the only passenger in the whole First Class lounge for a good while. Wow. I was able to take some pictures around the lounge.

To me, this lounge seems a lot bigger than the First Class lounge in the main terminal. Perhaps there’s more natural light, more seating, and it seems like there is more square footage. Because it was lunch time, I was pretty hungry so the first priority was to go grab some food. What I like about the Sakura Lounge is their selection of actual food and simply not snacks and hors-d’oeuvres like I’ve seen in other lounges.

I settled with beef curry and steamed rice with a side of meatballs and croissant. A sweet soy-filled daifuku as a dessert finish. Asahi Super Dry to wash it all down.

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After lunch, I went to hide in a corner of the lounge and send off some work emails. I guess I was somewhat actually concealed because I saw a staff member peek around the corner. When I finished sending work emails, I gathered my stuff and moved to the part of the lounge close to the separate bar area. Here they have a selection of alcohols, juices, sodas, and snacks.

I’ve been working on establishing a process to manage all the pictures I take because I have a lot from previous events and trips. As I was working on that, I poured myself some 12-year Yamazaki whisky and grabbed a Kit Kat. Not sure they actually pair well, but I wasn’t complaining.

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I reached a good stopping point and wondered if this satellite lounge also offers some of the same amenities that the main building First Class lounge offers.

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Complimentary 15-minute massages? Upper body, feet, and scalp? Check. Upper body felt awesome after lugging around my carry ons.

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Shower facility? Check. It’s nice to get refreshed before a long flight. Also, the Japanese tend to keep interior locations on the warmer side year round so it’s pretty common for me to break into a sweat at the airport even though it’s just above freezing outside.

After showering, I worked on a blog post. Then I proceeded to my gate.

Japan Airlines #66 from Narita to San Diego is a Boeing 787. Because my company pays for business class, I was able to sit in business class on this flight. On this JAL 787 route, they use Shell Flat Neo business class seats. It’s strange to me because I think their Sky Suite on their 777-300’s is a better hard product and seat overall. But it was still a pleasant experience. Couldn’t complain.

Each seat comes stocked with a pillow, blanket, Sony noise cancelling headphones, and an amenity kit. I sat in seat 7H, which is a bulkhead seat. I didn’t mind because I haven’t really sat in a bulkhead seat on an international flight, and I was having fun deploying the video monitor arm. After takeoff, I watched the sole episode of How I Met Your Mother that was available on their IFE.

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Japan Airlines tends to be slower in terms of starting in-flight service. When we reached cruising altitude was when the flight attendants busted out the orange juices and champagne. Following that was a multi-course dinner. I opted for the Western style meal featuring an amuse-bouche of shrimp with mayonnaise and foie gras mousse with an hors-doerve of quiche lorraine. The main course I selected was the ‘Wagyu’ beef sirloin steak with endive accompanied by some bread. To finish it off was a dessert of tea pudding. Honestly, I had to keep looking at the menu to know exactly what I was eating. JAL enlists the help of pro chefs to design their meals. You can view the same menu I was looking at here.

All the while I was eating dinner, I was watching The Transporter: Refueled. JAL has a pretty excellent database of movies to watch with new releases, older Hollywood movies, and Japanese ones too. Likewise, for audio selections. Depending on the IFE system installed, manga may also be available to read for some e-reading.

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I actually started to read Naruto, but I hit the wall pretty hard between drinks, food, and traveling so I decided to ‘get ready for bed’. In the lavatory, I removed my contacts, brushed my teeth, and marveled at 787’s LED lighting. Upon returning to my seat, I engaged its sleeping mode. Now, Shell Flat Neo is an angle-flat seat. This means that when you’re going horizontal to sleep, you’re not actually lying flat but rather at a shallow downward angle. My only other experience with angle-flat seats is with American Airlines’ 777-200’s that I’ve taken to and from Japan in the past. I couldn’t decide which one is more comfortable. However, JAL 787 wins because the seats are newer and they actually work. It’s awkward when your seat doesn’t have a working video monitor or it doesn’t fully go into angle-flat mode.

I must have actually fallen asleep, albeit intermittently. Because the next thing I knew, there were 3 hours left in this 9 hour flight. If dinner took 2 hours, then I must have been “asleep” for 3-4 hours. Cool? I got up and checked out the mid-flight snacks available. I didn’t get anything, but it looked alright.

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I went back to my seat and ordered an udon noodle soup. For some reason I thought that I could order food on the IFE, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. No worries, because JAL flight attendants are pretty good about checking the cabin so I was able to order it. Oishi! Delicious!

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After consuming deliciousness, I decided to spend the rest of the flight staring at my screen and drafting the beginning of this blog post.

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Great flight, even though I asleep for a good chunk of it! While I personally like Business Class on JAL’s 777’s better due to those seats, these seats on JAL 787 are pretty nice, too. Japan Airlines offers a great experience from airport to airport, and this particular trip was really nice to escape the snow in Japan and arrive in sunny San Diego.

– JD