Hello, flight-report community, and welcome to my first aviation adventure of the new year, a whirlwind three-day-and-change trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo, in Cathay Pacific and JAL First Class.
AC503 - YYZ-ORD - 1/7/2018 - E190 - Y - Brief summary with below CX807 - ORD-HKG - 1/7/2018 - 777-300ER - F - Check it out here CX520 - HKG-NRT - 1/9/2018 - 777-300ER - F - Check it out here JL10 - NRT-ORD - 1/10/2018 - 777-300ER - F - You are here AC506 - ORD-YYZ - 1/10/2018 - E190 - Y - Brief Summary with above
When last we saw our intrepid flight-report, he had checked in to the Hotel Nikko near Narita, and was watching the Cathay 777 that had just delivered him to Japan take off homeward-bound.
This will be my first time in longhaul JAL First Class, and my first time JAL’s First Class at all when I’m in any shape to stay awake and do anything close to enjoying it.
For full details on how this trip came to be — including the incredible adventure of getting this particular leg you are now reading to book, and the story of why my previous regional flight in JAL First Class was memorable for all the wrong reasons — please check out the Background part of the ORD-HKG flight-report linked above. If you don’t care about such details and just want to see the pretty pictures, read the insights and/or snark, and get down to the details of the flight, then by all means, let’s get right into it.
Waking up — Hotel Nikko Narita
Unlike the previous flights and my overnight in Hong Kong — and perhaps because of those — sleep came quite easy on this flight. I got to the Nikko about 5:00 in the afternoon, quite stuffed from my feast on the flight up to Tokyo. I worked out for a while, and I slept for a good four hours or so, waking up at about 10:00 pm Tokyo time to deal with some business at the opening of the day in North America, then went back to bed, waking up about 4:00.
I puttered for a bit, did some Web-surfing in my little room, and then headed downstairs shortly after 6:00 for the scheduled 6:25 shuttle to Narita’s Terminal 2. It’s a short trip, and about ten minutes later, I was at home in the rather quiet Terminal 2.
Narita observation deck spotting and check-in
I quickly find the JAL First Class check-in at aisle L, but it turns out it’s not open yet. I presume it will open around 7.
Alright then — let’s go upstairs, and check ou the observation decks, shall we?
These aren’t even supposed to be open at this hour — it’s about 15 minutes before their scheduled opening this time of year, but they are quite open. They aren’t as impressive or expansive as the observation deck at HND’s international terminal, but still it’s a nice touch to get a publicly-accessible place to watch airport operations.
There’s not much going on at this hour of the morning. The first plane I see is the plane that Flightradar24 tells me will be taking me across the Pacific this morning — JA732J, wearing JAL’s Oneworld colours. That, and quite a nice sunrise in the distance.
Over at the satellite, there are a couple of Hong Kong Airlines planes hanging out.
And that’s about it from the Southern observation deck. As I’m walking across the fourth floor towards the northern observation deck, I notice a stream of JAL employees making their way into the First Class check-in area, so it appears I’ll be able to check in when I get done up here.
The Northern observation deck is pretty much the same as the Southern — a couple of CX RJs, and a Philippines Airlines bird are pominent here, with some Scoot and other narrowbodies in the distance.
Meanwhile, at the satellite, all that’s to be seen from here is a hometown Dreamliner, and a China Airlines A330.
Alright, it’s cold outside, and there’s not much action, so let’s go get checked in.
Sure enough, things are open for business at First Class check-in when I get downstairs. My boarding pass is quickly issued, my carry-on bags given a First Class tag, and I’m told that security will open at 7:30.
Well, that’s true of the South security point — but the North security point, and the Priority lane for First, Business, and One World elite passengers opens 15 minutes earlier, just about 15 minutes from now. There’s a long lineup at the the main North checkpoint, and one person in line for Priority. I join the latter line. A security agent appears from the checkpoint at 7:13, and then stands there with his eye on his watch, until exactly 7:15, when he lets the first passenger in. Ahhh, Japanese precision.
There’s one person in front of me for security, and no one for immigration — as a result, I’m through and airside by 7:18. A whopping three minutes to do both security and immigration. Impressive.
There’s still about 10 minutes before the JAL First Class Lounge is scheduled to open, so I decide to take the short walk up to Gate 62, to get a better look at my ride over to Chicago this morning.
And there she is, in all her oneworld glory. See you in a little bit, JA732J.
Back upstairs, and let’s go check out the lounge.
JAL First Class Lounge
It’s not quite 7:30 when I return, but the doors are open, so I presume I can go in. I’m right.
The lounge attendant who welcomes me in tell me I’m welcome to have a seat, and that service will commence “in just a few minutes” at 7:30. There’s only one other passenger in the lounge when I first show up, so I’ve got a good chance to explore before things get too busy — although it does fill in quite a bit rather rapidly, given the relatively liberal Oneworld First Class lounge access rules.
The lounge is a fairly large space, with a variety of seating options, and good access to tables and power outlets.
A business centre area.
Some massage chairs — apparently, until late last year, there were massages offered in the lounge, but that was stopped in favour of more massage chairs. Yeah. That’s totally the same.
Another workstation area.
A satellite drinks and snacks stations.
The main bar and snacks station.
The legendary sushi bar is getting ready to offer fresh-made sushi. And that’s where I’ll start my breakfast.
So fresh, so delicious, so good. This was such a nice treat.
Exploring the bar area, starting with cheeses.
A number of self-pour booze bottles, and some snacks.
Champagne and wines.
Juices in a cooler.
The other side of the bar includes a nice selection of whiskies.
The ubiquitous Japanese beer-pouring machines. I’m surprised by how many Japanese people have beer with breakfast here. Way more than expected. Oh yeah, and there’s a soft drink dispenser too.
And finally, coffees and teas.
I grab a capuccino, a cinnamon bun, and a strawberry danish for the next part of my breakfast.
After enjoying that, I explore the main part of the buffet, which starts with some salad fixings.
A number of little bites..
Three kinds of soups.
Scrambled eggs, potatoes, and sausages.
Beef curry and rice.
Some more small bites.
And finally, some desserts.
Up next, some orange juice, scrambled eggs, a sausage, and potatoes, as well as some miso soup, and a little shrimp and avocado salad. All of it, very good.
WiFi is wide open in the lounge, and also very fast. How fun that Rewardflying’s coverage of the reverse of this sector is in the first row of the front page?
I’ve never had the Pannier champagne before, and it’s not my favourite, but it’s okay. Quite nice with the little cheese bites on offer.
I’m pretty full at this point, but can’t resist trying the beef curry. I love Japanese curries, and this one is really enjoyable as well.
Having finished quite a substantial breakfast to my surprise, I decide it’s time to take a shower. I’m shown to one of the shower suites, and it’s small, but well-appointed.
The showerhead offers three settings — the handheld showerhead, the rainshower overhead, and the body blaster nozzles. Among the lot of them, it makes for quite a nice shower, and I enjoy my time in it.
Back at a window seat, I indulge in one of my secret weaknesses. On my first trip to Japan, I somehow fell in love with Pocari Sweat, and I’m happy to see it here. I’m not even sure what it is about it that does it to me. I’m not a big fan of grapefruit, which is nominally tastes like.
By 9:45, the lounge is hopping indeed, and the sun is high enough that the window shades are lifted so we can see what’s going on outside. Just in time to see this 359 arriving from Helsinki.
Before I leave the lounge, I can’t resist one more round of sushi, fresh prepared for me. So good! Especially the melt-in-your-mouth tuna.
Fuller than I’d like to be before setting off for an international F flight (What can I say — I can’t help myself!), and with about 10 minutes before the posted boarding time, I decide it’s time to leave my haven and make the short walk over to Gate 62 to be ready for my flight back to North America.
I really enjoyed JAL’s First Class Lounge. It would be a pretty good lounge without the fresh-made sushi. With it, it’s extraordinary.
The walk was all of about three minutes, and when I headed downstairs, the place was busy, but orderly, with a couple of JL agents standing in front of the boarding area to answer questions, and maybe keep any would-be gate lice at bay.
A couple of minutes after I showed up, our flight crew showed up as well. Very impressive hair.
About 10:20, lines started forming up, and I joined the designated lineup for First Class and JL and OneWorld top-tiers. I guess seeing the First Class tags put on my cabin bag by the check-in agents, the gentleman in front strikes up a conversation, noting that there are eight of us in First this morning. News to me — I checked on ExpertFlyer not half an hour before, and we were showing five of eight occupied for this flight. He’s a Korean, living in Atlanta, heading home from visiting for his mother’s birthday. He asks why I’m flying through Chicago when surely, there are direct Tokyo to Toronto flights. (There are, although none by Japanese carriers) I say award availability, and he chuckles knowingly.
Just before 10:30, we start boarding. Homeward-bound.
The Flight Report
Flight: JL10 From: Tokyo Narita (NRT) To: Chicago O’Hare Date: 1/10/2018 Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER Registration: JA732J Seat: 2A ATD (STD): 11:39 (10:50) ATA ( STA): 07:23 (07:40)
For this flight, I’m in seat 2A, the second of two rows in the eight-seat First Class cabin, 1-2-1.
The seat looks big, and wide and inviting, and it is, with buttery soft leather that’s just a pleasure to sit in.
Nice big IFE screen in front.
Legroom for miles, even if the seat in front of me is fully reclined. Hehe.
Along the outside wall of the seat, the amenity kit, with slippers tucked away in cubby behind.
Reading materials — and the all-important card with my free WiFi code — are immediately behind the amenity kit.
Behind that, seat controls, and a couple of storage cubbies — the forward one that mainly just contains the touch-screen remote control fo the IFE, and the one behind it has another wired remote (older style). I’m not sure what it does. But it has a whack of storage.
The forward storage cubby and remote control.
And the rear one.
Above, there’s a reading light, and the headphones port. That’s a matching reading light on the other side of the suite, because First Class is all about more reading lights.
Up front, there’s a third small cubby, which contains your AC power adaptor, and a USB port.
Privacy is pretty good, although there’s no door. It’s aided further by the fact that there’s no one in the seat next to me. We did, in fact, end up five of eight, with all four windows seats occupied, and only 1D of the middle seats.
Headphones for First Class customers are full-on Bose headphones. They feel good, and they look great. No complaints here.
The slippers are fine. A little bit small, and maybe not quite as good as the CX slippers I got a couple of days ago, but definitely above average for airplane slippers.
There’s a business class mini-cabin right behind — the Apex suites look pretty good, although no comparison for the throne I’m in. Still, I’d be happy to fly JL J on these seats one day… but then I keep remembering that if I just push through for 20k more miles, I can do it in F. Hmmmmm….
Looking out the window — it’s not very exciting.
But this is! I’m introduced to the first of the flight attendants working First on this flight — Inoue, who seems very young to be working First. Or really, working at all. I’m sure she’s just blessed with a baby face, but if you told me she was 17, I would have believed you. She asks if I’d like some champagne, and brings it by with an oshibori, the first of many on this flight.
Moments later, I’m greeted by Kamazawa, the senior flight attendant working First, who’s charming and polished and quite delightful. She introduces herself, and offers a blanket, in case I should be cold with the door open. I’m not. But I’ll still take a blanket, thanks.
I turn the IFE on, and it seems we’re taking a much more standard routing on this flight than we did according to the moving map on either of my Cathay flights.
Oddly, the IFE isn’t touchscreen — although the remote control is. The third flight attendant, Fukai — who’s between the other two in age and seniority — stops by to introduce herself, and seeing me struggle with the IFE (I had somehow gotten myself into Japanese mode) helps get me straightened out and things figured out. It looks like a pretty good selection of films… although I find it a little bit awkward trying to scroll through the selections on the small touchscreen remote.
I’m a journalist by training, and All The President’s Men is one my favourite films of all time. So I’m quite interested to see this take on “the other side” of the men who brought down Nixon. It’s slow and political, and I enjoy it quite a bit.
A look across the cabin as boarding completes — notice they do have a full complement of overhead bins in JAL F, in contrast to Cathay.
We push back a few minutes late, about 11:05 in the morning.
I don’t quite get him — but we do get the usual nice wave from our ground handlers.
We taxi for a few minutes, and then it’s announced that due to congestion on the ground, we’ll be taking off in probably about 20 minutes. The scene as we taxi.
Alright, so let’s make the most of this delay. Here’s a look at the amenity kit, broken down. I love the Porsche-designed bright red kit itself, but the contents aren’t too exciting.
Finally, about 11:38, we line up and are ready to go.
Goodbye, Japan! Lovely views as we take off, climb out, and head out over the east coast of Japan and out over the Pacific.
Once we’re above 10,000 feet, service begins with another oshibori.
Menus for drinks are offered, and drink orders taken. No more Salon on JAL, so I’ll have to try Cristal for the first time. As I write this, I realize with some disappointment that I failed to sample the Royal Blue tea I had intended to have a bit later in the flight. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to fly JAL F again.
My drink is delivered — in a somewhat non-traditional champagne glass — along with a couple of interesting amuse bouches (amuses bouche?).
Up next, the menu is offered. I’m torn. On one hand, the western menu probably promises a bit more of the Waygu beef than the Japanese. But on the other hand, the Japanese meal is always a great, and it does feature Waygu. In the end, I select the Japanese course. I think it’s interesting that JAL F features the big meal after departure, and then no “set” meals after that, it’s all just eat what you want when you want.
I'm surprised by the speed with which my starter course is offered — but then, since the items are mostly cold, and there’s little choice involved, I guess it makes sense, since all there it to do is presentation. And quite the presentation, might I add? Everything is beautifully laid out. The items are all quite good, with a nice variety of flavours and textures amongst the various small bites.
Up next, it’s the soup course. This wasn’t the strongest part of the meal, but still quite good.
Around this time, my first movie wraps up, and I select my next flick — a decidedly silly action romp. It’s a decent airplane flick.
The seafood portion comes up next. Both offerings are really good — but especially the crabmeat with black vinegar jelly. Really good. I got a kick out of Inoue’s somewhat protracted effort to explain to me the premise of mixing the caviar up with the shrimp dish.
And then the main dish is presented — again with a rather laboured attempt to explain how to eat the beef sukiyaki, dipped in the egg, this time by Kamazawa. She also advises that any leftover sauce, and any leftover egg, should be added to the rice, as it is quite good that way. She’s right too. This was a great main course. Usually, I don’t care for my mains to be quite this sweet, but the melt-in-your-mouth quality of the beef made up for that. Everything was very good. One of the better meals I’ve had in the air, full stop.
The pace of the meal was pretty unrelenting, but I never felt overwhelmed. My dessert was brought soon after, a sampler of three small items. The Roppongi pudding was very good, but the little pistachio cake was just amazing. Such a nice little one-bite tread to end the meal.
I wrapped up my lunch with a cup of green tea, which I also thoroughly enjoyed. And another oshibori, naturally.
After dinner, Inoue presented the skincare products, thoughtfully offered with a plastic baggie for going through security prior to my next flight.
Kamazawa was back immediately after her, with my pajamas.
Before we change, a look at the beautiful last light over our port wing as we race towards the night.
Off to the lav, and time to change into my jammies.
The JAL pajamas are very nice — simple, but quite heavy enough. Very comfortable.
The lav itself is not quite as elaborate as what CX features in the same location on the same plane, but it’ll do the job. And, of course, it features an always-cool Japanese toilet.
When I emerged from the lav, Inoue was there to hang up my street clothes, and I returned to my seat with it fully made up and ready for bed, with my choice of a soft mattress pad. It looks inviting, and it is.
The free WiFi code works well, and while I didn’t do much work, I did putter for a while and found it quite good enough. I’ve already included ye olde corporate shot in this report, so let’s just take a look at the status of our flight instead to prove our Internet connection.
My movie comes to an end about half an hour later, as we’re just crossing the international date line. Time to see if I can get some sleep.
Long story short: I can. I sleep for about four solid hours, waking up as we cross over the eastern edge of the Rockies, just into Alberta.
Movie time. I’m out of first choices, so I decide to go with something a little sappy and sentimenal. It’s not as bad as I expected.
Inoue notices I’m up, and asks if I’d like anything to eat or drink. I just ask for some water. In a surprising service oversight, no bottle of water was proactively offered after the first meal service. But soon, I’m on the road to rehydration. And have another oshibori.
After the water, she reappears with the dessert tray, and I can’t resist this little wrapped no-bake cheesecake. It’s very good. I request a coffee to go along with it — very nice presentation, between the cool mug, the personal press, and the egg timer to know when it’s time to plunge it. A pretty good cup of coffee, too.
Since we’re doing this whole mid-flight meal backwards, I request an order of the beef curry from the menu, and it’s brought to very quickly, along with, needless to say, an oshibori. I thought this was a pretty good Japanese-style curry.
Afterwards, a wee bit of a drink. I request to try the Hibiki, neat. And it’s delivered promptly by Inoue. Say it with me, longtime readers — for relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
Shortly after, Inoue returns with a little treat, this box with a couple of very nice macarons. They would make a nice little treat later in the day. She asks if I’d like anything else to eat, and I ask if I can eat a little later — probably about an hour before arrival. She says she has to go and see, but promptly returns and says that will be just fine. As I suspected, she must be quite new, based on her age.
With the flight winding down, it’s time to find something to watch for the short remainder of the flight. I settle on this documentary/bio, which isn’t bad, although quick and rather broad.
Sure enough, with an hour to go before the flight, Inoue re-appears, and asks what I’d like to eat prior to departure. I’m almost embarassed to say it in international First Class, but I’m fascinated by the idea of a chili dog, and decide to pair it with the ramen noodles, to make a truly college-kid pre-arrival meal.
My “meal” arrives in no time. The chili dog wasn’t of Chicago dog standard, but it wasn’t bad at all. And it was worth it for the chuckle of eating a chili dog in international First Class.
I was disappointed by the ramen. The broth was simple and just tasted like soy sauce — nowhere near as good as I have enjoyed on Japan, or in NH F or J. Kind of a letdown, all things considered.
“Perhaps a little ice cream for dessert?” Inoue suggests. Well, sure. Just twist my arm, why don’t you? Quite enjoyable. Because who doesn’t enjoy ice cream after their chili dog at 7:00 am?
I round out my meal with another cup of coffee to help me face the just-beginning day in North America. The presentation is much simpler this time — but that mug is very cool.
After eating, I get up to go change, and Inoue reads me perfectly — sprinting to the front of the plane to produce my clothes before I could even ask for them. When I get out, she’s standing by to take my pajamas from me, and bag them so I could take them home. Great service, but it led to another funny moment. After returning to my seat, I noticed that my wallet — also home to my passport — was neither in my pants pocket, or in the backpack places were I usually put it when I’m going to change in-flight. No worries. It must have fallen out in the closet.
“I think my wallet may have fallen out in the closet,” I tell Inoue, making a hand gesture in roughly the size of a wallet.
She apologizes profusely, and returns moments later with…. a jacket. Not my jacket. Someone else’s jacket. I clarify that it’s not my jacket, and that I was looking for my wallet, which I think may have fallen out of my pocket. She looks quite embarrassed by the whole exchange, but it’s nothing more than a slight language barrier issue (and a bad point for me, not taking care of my wallet and passport while traveling.) She returns very quickly with it, and apologizes again for it — as if SHE had dropped my wallet out of the pocket.
Sadly enough, we’re getting very close to home, and this experience, and this whole journey, is almost over.
A very impressive sunrise above the thick layer of clouds.
It’s a very foggy day in Chicago, and we only break through the fog when we’re practically on the ground.
It’s a fairly long taxi as we go past the majority of the terminals en route to T5. Hmmm… I could have sworn I saw a JAL check-in at Terminal 2 or 3 the other day?
And so our flight ends, at a very quiet T5, with only Copa visible in the distance.
Unfortunately, we’d depart the plane through door two, so I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye and thank you to either Inoue or Kamazawa, as it was one of the business class agents doing farewells at the door.
Arrival into O’Hare
We weren’t very far from immigrations, and with no lineup and Global Entry, it took me just ten minutes from leaving the plane to being landside in the very bland arrivals level of T5. How… inspiring?
Apparently, I could have booked an earlier ORD-YYZ flight home — I booked about a four-hour layover just in case. Oh well. I already had my AC boarding pass home on my phone, so I just hopped the train back to T2, and was through security in no time.
I killed the time between flights at one of the many ORD United Clubs, which was nothing special, but at least provided a reasonably quiet place to do some work.
Getting home - AC506 ORD-YYZ
Man, is it a step down from 1A and 2A on CX and JL 77Ws to 27F on an AC E190.
I’ll not belabor the point here, as we’ve already gone quite long on this journey. It left pretty much on time, and arrived a little early. I had a ginger ale, and having been flying Delta the last year, was surprised by just how small the little plastic cups in AC Y are.
The only interesting part was that we got to the end of the active runway in ORD, then taxiied to the first exit to the right, turned right again onto the taxiway, and then right again to get right back to where we had started 45 seconds prior. I thought it seemed odd, and then the guy in the aisle seat next to me turned to me and said “Did we just go in a circle?” Yep. We sure did. I hope this isn’t a case of entering the active runway before we should have…. AC could start getting a reputation for runway-related hijinks.
Thanks for joining me for this flight-report adventure — I hope to see you for the next one, and read about your adventures with you.
As the AC safety video would put it… nous vous souhaitons un vol agréable.
JAL First Lounge
Tokyo - NRT
Chicago - ORD
A great first experience in longhaul JL F, and the first JL F experience I’ll actually remember. It may not be the fanciest, or have doors, but JL’s F seat is one of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever enjoyed, just so soft you sink into it.
Service was excellent in that polished, unfailingly polite if somewhat reserved Japanese style. Catering was fantastic, especially that first meal after departure.
And, like the airline experience itself, the lounge was a bit understated, but just outstanding. After this trip through HKG and NRT, I have a new understanding for why people put such a high value on Oneworld Emerald status. Quality time in either JAL’s or Cathay’s hub First Class lounges would take a lot of the sting out of longhaul flights, even if one should be stuck in Y.
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