Hello, Flight-Report.com community, and welcome to my latest whirlwind adventure to Asia, featuring a healthy dose of Cathay Pacific First Class, a bit of Business Class and First Class with JAL, and brief experiments with Porter Airlines economy class and Delta regional jet.
With this report, the much-delayed finale to this series, we finally bring this epic home and get ready for a new year of flights.
I apologize if this report lacks some of the vivid descriptions many of my reports feature. I’m unfortunately writing significantly after the fact, and the memories have faded somewhat. But it’s still a story worth telling. So let’s tell it.
We covered the booking of this one in the background of the MNL-NRT sector, so let’s get right into it. Check out the previous flight-report for the full story of how this ended up getting booked. It’s a bit of an adventure in its own right.
As the previous flight-report came to a close, I had just settled in for a night’s sleep at the First Cabin Haneda capsule hotel after flying up from Manila. Quite the experience….. I recommend trying it sometime.
I set an alarm for 6:00 am, but ended up waking up a little before 5:00 am, so I ended up getting about seven hours’ sleep in my capsule. It was a bit early, but I might as well get going, I figure.
That means I have to get to the international terminal, which is accomplished by a very short bus ride. The bus is easily found right outside from First Cabin, and in fact, there’s one at the bus stop when I show up. Score!
While that’s quick and efficient, it also means that I’m here almost an hour before check-in opens. The international terminal is pretty dead quiet at this hour, the only exceptions are a few fellow early-arrivers, and a smattering of people trying to get some sleep in various public areas.
Unfortunately, one of the things not open at this hour is JAL's check-in.
So it’s time to explore the landside of the international terminal and kill a little time. My first stop is an attempt to enjoy the fantastic observation deck at the terminal. Unfortunately, it’s a little less fantastic this rainy September morning. The rain and cold combined with a pretty quiet apron at this early hour mean no repeat of my previous Haneda avgeekout.
So back inside we go. Fortunately, Haneda’s international terminal offers some pretty interesting spaces, including shops and restaurants in a charming Japanese small town feeling area, and a recreation of the icon Nihonbashi bridge which is all but mandatory to photograph.
The Nihonbashi also offers a fantastic view over the departures level of Haneda, which is still pretty quiet. Other airlines are checking in, but all is still pretty quiet at JAL.
Minutes before 6:00, a group of agents arrives en masse to staff First Class check-in. I’m about third in line by the time I join the lineup, but it still takes less than five minutes to get my boarding pass, get the classy red JAL First Class luggage tags attached to my bags. Unfortunately, all the window seats are taken, so I’ll have to content myself with 2G. Bother.
Security doesn't look like it will be a problem at this hour.
The sign is true to its word. The entirety of security and immigration took less than five minutes to complete, and I was airside in the terminal by about 6:10.
JAL’s First Class Lounge at Haneda was pretty quiet by the time I showed up, having opened just minutes earlier. But I was somewhat hungry and looking forward to enjoying the facilities.
After checking in, the first thing one notices is a bank of lockers for storing any carry-ons one doesn’t intend to use while staying. Since they’re not precisely packed at this hour, I grab one.
The lounge unfolds off this central corridor — most of the lounge areas on the left, and washrooms and other facilities on the right.
And a business area.
Into the main seating areas of the lounge — it’s a pretty large space and appears to have the pretty standard JAL lounge feel. Gotta love those seats long the window for spotting opportunities.
More seating and the dining room area.
FIDS and magazines on offer.
More seating on the far end of the lounge, past the buffet.
Speaking of the buffet…. It’s a pretty extensive offering available this morning, although it lacks the awesome NRT lounge feature of sushi chefs preparing awesome little tidbits in front of you.
I start breakfast with a sampling of various simple goodies, accompanied by my guilty pleasure Japanese soft drink, Pocori Sweat. All was pretty good.
Nobody at the chef station as of yet, so it’s time to sample a little bit more — a very JAL combination with some JAL beef curry, miso soup, and the outlier, a scone.
One of the real gems of the lounge is the area called the RED Suite. Set at the far end of the lounge, it’s a lounge-within-a-lounge that features a lot of dark wood, and fascinating JAL memorabilia from throughout its long history. There’s also a games room, some seating areas, a shoe shine service, and… oh yes… their high-end champagne and sake offerings. An enjoyable place to check out and grab a drink — and it would seem to be an excellent place to sit if you want decent privacy. While there’s a fair bit of foot traffic with people coming in to grab a drink or two, not many people seemed to sit down here.
Back in the central part of the lounge, the chef is at his station and is preparing breakfast galettes.
Who am I to say no? It’s a lovely little treat and goes so nicely with the Laurent Perrier.
Having had more than my share of breakfast, it’s time to grab a shower — I figured the First Class Lounge would be a better place to do that than the shared shower area at First Cabin. It’s immediately available and is a beautiful, tastefully designed space if nothing overwhelming. The water pressure and temperature are perfect.
Feeling refreshed, I grab a seat by the windows and putter a bit online. WiFi is free and fast. About 9:00 am, my eye catches a 77W being towed towards me, and towards the gate from which we’re supposed to be departing.
Yep, sure enough, that’s my ride alright.
A few minutes before ten, I decide it’s time to take the short walk to the gate and get ready to head for home.
While the JAL First Lounge in Haneda probably comes in a nidge behind its Narita sibling in my heart, mostly due to the lack of sushi, it’s still an excellent lounge in the upper tier of First Class lounges, if somewhat behind some of the world leaders.
Down at the gate, boarding for First Class is called at about 10:15, and away we go!
From: Tokyo Haneda (HND)
To: New York Kennedy (JFK)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
ATD (STD): 11:13 (10:40)
ATA ( STA): 10:14 (10:35)
Before I get into flight-report, I’d like to discuss the elephant in the room, at least in my mind. While everything was objectively good on this flight, for some reason it just didn’t connect with me in terms of memories the way other similar First Class experiences have. I can’t quite put my finger on why — as looking back at it, I remember things fondly, but it just didn’t leave the same impression. I can’t point to any significant faults, but a big part of the reason it’s taken so long for me to get this written is that I just don’t feel as strongly about it — good or bad — as I have other experiences.
Now that that’s out there, let’s get into it, shall we?
For this flight, I’m seated in 2G, the middle-right aisle seat in the second (and last) row of First Class. We were completely full at eight of eight for this flight.
While it’s not fully enclosed, JAL’s First suites have a nice enclosure and offer good privacy. They’re a big, comfortable leather seat that you sink into. Quite a nice seat.
And privacy is decent — 2K is the only other passenger I could see from my seat, and I could barely see her at all.
On the table in front of the monitor is a handsome folio containing menus, shopping details, U.S. arrival forms and the code for free WiFi offered to First Class passengers.
Slippers, and amenity kit, as well as the first of many cubbies located along the inside wall of the suite.
Moving back, JAL offers full-size Bose noise-cancelling headphones in First Class, which are of course excellent. Behind that, there’s the safety card and magazine, and a little area for drinks.
Further still, a pair of storage cubbies, and seat controls. The cubbies contain the wired remote for the IFE, which is definitely necessary because that display is a long way away.
Finally, charging and USB ports are located in the front cubby.
Legroom shot and a look at the “foot well.” Lots of space, and good storage too.
The display is large and offers excellent resolution.
As I explore my seat, I’m greeted in turn by flight attendants. Nakano would end up leading service for my aisle and was warm, friendly and polished, if not overly chatty. Sort of exemplary excellent Japanese-style service. Tanaka would also introduce herself, although I didn’t get to know her very well. And finally, Hagihara, the in-flight service leader for this flight, a bit more senior to the other two, but very charming.
Nakano offers a pre-departure drink, suggesting champagne. Again, who am I to say no?
As we settle in, let’s take a look at the menu. I’ve already seen it on JAL’s website, but just for reference on what’s about to come.
And then food.
The amenity kit is different from what I’ve had on previous JAL F flights — a simple fabric pouch instead of the familiar Samsonite-branded hard case.
And the contents, which are nothing special.
About 10:40, Hagihara makes the most Japanese announcement ever, apologizing for a delay due to baggage loading. Oh great, how long is this gonna be?
“We expect to depart in about two minutes.”
Alrighty then. It actually ends up being more like five minutes before the safety video rolls — but still, we probably didn’t need an apology.
Sitting in an aisle seat in the middle means no departure shots for me, so I entertain myself instead by choosing my first film selection for the flight. Not bad, really.
Once we cross 10,000 feet, Nakano is back offering a hot towel and asking for drink selections. I ask for some more of the Cristal and a glass of sparkling water with ice. Both are promptly delivered, accompanied by some tasty amuse bouche tidbits.
For lunch, I request the Japanese menu but ask if I can have the caviar service from the Western set first. Nakano says she’ll have to go check — I guess with the cabin full, there’s a chance all the caviar could be going out to passengers who requested the Western menu.
But she returns a couple of minutes later with the requested goodies. While it’s a small portion, I like the JAL presentation — an ideal little sample with lovely presentation of the onions, chives and egg accoutrements.
Lunch continues full-speed ahead, with Nakano replacing dishes as I complete them, but not feeling rushed at all. The appetizer course, which is a collection of six little samples, comes out next and is always a highlight for me. The eel and the alfonsino and burdock with truffle sauce were my favourites here, but everything was very good.
Up next, the soup — not bad, but I’d prefer miso. Of course, that’s to come.
That’s followed by the smoked bonito and the crabmeat with salmon roe. Again, quite pleasant.
And then we get the main course, simmered duck, which is quite delicious as well. I was given the choice of regular rice or vegetable rice simmered in duck stock, and I have to choose the latter. It proves to be a great decision, as it’s quite flavourful, perfectly prepared, and the “vegetables” are predominantly mushrooms, which works very well. The dish is accompanied by Japanese pickets and miso soup.
This has been quite the feast, but it comes to an end with a dessert trio of mascarpone mousse, adzuki beans, and a couple of very rich truffles. I request a cup of green tea along with it.
Finally, a bottle of water is offered, with Nakano asking if I would like anything else. Who can I resist? I request a bit of the Hibiki, because whiskey. Say it with me, everyone — for relaxing times, make it Suntory time.
As I watch my movie, Nakano appears again, offering me the skincare kit, which is separate from the amenity kit in this case and includes products from Shiseido that I will ultimately not end up using but still have somewhere in my office.
No flight-report is complete without unnecessary lav shots, so here’s a look at one of the F lavs at the front of the cabin. Other than the fancy Japanese toilet, and a few amenities, it’s pretty simple.
The other First Class lav is a bit more elaborate, with a bench and raised floor that can be put down for changing. Which brings to mind the fact that pyjamas have not been offered. Strange. Is JAL doing away with these, or have they not been loaded? The woman in 2K is the only passenger wearing JAL PJs. Did she bring them with her from a previous flight, or did she ask and receive? I mean to ask Nakano about it, but forget to do so.
I love that Japanese airlines post this info panel with flight aircraft details. I wonder if the plane got ferried from Narita for this flight, or what its story is.
The crew has set up a little mini-bar area next to door 1L.
With my movie done, I make my next selection. I’d not heard of this before, but enjoyed Mackenzie Davis in Halt and Catch Fire, so figure I’ll give it a shot, and it’s quite enjoyable, even though watching Charlize Theron play the ageing mother who’s struggling to regain a youthful outlook doesn’t exactly make me feel young.
By this point, we’re rapidly approaching the International Date Line and about to back in time.
I request Nakano to set my bed up before I start the movie, but miss the opportunity to ask about pyjamas. With the mattress pad in place, it is, of course, quite comfortable.
When the movie ends, we’re coming up on Alaska.
I’m not feeling sleepy yet, so one more film.
When it’s over, I slip into a couple of hours of sleep, taking up as we’re over the western midwest.
Shortly after I wake, Nakano approaches and asks if I’d like anything to eat before our arrival into JFK. I request the Japanese Set Plate and have a cheese plate to follow it, and this time, I will not forget to try the Queen of Blue tea, having read so much about it.
I’m not a huge tea fan, but the Queen of Blue is quite enjoyable. I’m glad to have had the experience.
The Japanese Set Plate is up next. The Waygu beef is delightful, and I’m tempted to ask for a second helping, but in the end, I don’t. The side dishes are nothing special.
The cheese plate is a lovely presentation, with interesting accoutrements.
With my pre-arrival meal over and movie both over, I decide it’s time to check out the free WiFi. It’s easy to connect, and speed is decent. Good enough for a corporate shot, that’s for sure.
Shortly after my meal is done, Nakano stops by to offer her thanks for me flying with them and offers me a couple of chocolates as a farewell gift.
Arrival into New York is a bit ahead of schedule, and the taxi is pretty short by JFK standards, bringing this trip in JAL F to an end.
We were quickly let off the plane, thanks for flying with JAL, and in the loose at JFK. We arrived very close to customs, and with Global Entry by way of Nexus, it was only about 15 minutes for me to get through customs and get over from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 on the train. Not bad at all!
I was already checked in for my Delta flight back to Toronto, booked on a one-way reward ticket in economy and upgraded to First Class at the five-day window, so it only took me about another seven minutes to get through the PreCheck lane and airside at JFK T4.
I had a few hours before my flight back to Toronto, so I decided it was time to head to the lounge.
It was a pleasant September afternoon, so I killed a good amount of time on the SkyDeck, which was mostly private, and of course, offered fantastic spotting opportunities.
Unfortunately, my 5:00-ish flight home to YYZ was delayed repeatedly by a mechanical problem with the CRJ-900 on which we were flying, and we ended up leaving about 7:45, getting into Toronto about 9:00. Other than that unfortunate and uncharacteristic delay, it was a pretty standard Delta Connection flight. I had a tequila and Bloody Mary Mix, and something from the snack basket. That’s about all there is to say about this.
I don’t know what it was about this flight, but it just never “clicked” for me. The food was good. The service was good. The seat was good. Was it that it was coming at the end of a busy week of travel with some really big highs? Was it too much in too short a time? Was it the non-window seat? The missing pajamas? I can’t quite put a thumb on why I don’t look back at this flight as warmly as I do my other First Class adventures. All in all, it was a pretty darned good experience, and there’s nothing I’d rate particularly low or big misses in terms of service. And yet, it’s just not there for me.
Oh well. You can’t win them all. I don’t look back on this flight badly… but it lacks the fondness that other flights in this series and other, similar series have for me.
Despite my puzzling feelings towards this flight, JAL First remains an absolutely world-class experience. Try it out for yourself, and I’m pretty sure you’ll end up with more positive memories than I seem to have of this one.