For Christmas of 2018 we have managed to pull together a trip to New York relatively lately. Getting from Sydney to New York was surprisingly easy on combination of QF A380 F SYD-LAX and 789 Y LAX-JFK, but flights were quite full getting back from the US to the Australia towards New Years eve. In the end we managed to find F award availability on JL from ORD-NRT and it was an easy decision to stop by Japan for a couple of days before getting home on QF 747 HND-SYD.
This flight was booked through Qantas Frequent Flyer (ticketed as JFK-DCA-ORD-NRT) for a total of 146,000 points + tax. Booking was all done via the Qantas website.
We took an uber from our hotel downtown Chicago to O'Hare in the morning - despite being a Monday morning there wasn't too much traffic and we got arrived at Terminal 3 in about 30 minutes.
JL's check-in counters were located towards the end of Terminal 3 and there were only 4 counters open with 2 of them actually staffed as we arrived. We lined up at the First Class counter which was not staffed and was promptly called over to the Business Class counter who had us processed quickly.
Our hand luggages were tagged accordingly with the prized JAL First Class tags.
Unfortunately JAL did not participate in TSA Pre at the time of the flight (this has changed since Feb 2019) so off to the normal security queue we go. It took around 10 minutes despite the short queue.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge Chicago
We located the American Airlines Flagship lounge on our way to the gate. Our boarding passes were checked by the attendants and were handed a cardboard invitation to the Flagship lounge (as opposed to the Admirals Club).
The First impressions of the lounge was great - spacious, airy with lots of natural lights and good views of the tarmac (as it turns out, it could get quite hot if you are seated near the window). The lounge was well designed and furnished, and feels quite classy. What I also liked about the seating area was the availability of a wireless charger which makes it much easier for you to charge up your devices before boarding.
Food wise the selection was extensive. As the breakfast service there was a decent selection of salad, sushi (although they look weird and very un-Japanese - I am not sure what JAL thinks about that), cold cut, pastry, cereals, as well as hot spread of scrambled eggs (overcooked), sausages, quiche and bacon. There was also an omelette station although there is quite a bit of a wait. As with any food that you get in lounges in the US, quality wise it is only just acceptable and certainly not remarkable.
Not pictured here was also a good selection of drinks, although the champagne is of an unknown variety instead of the proper stuff that they serve in the Flagship Lounge in JFK. As a note too, JAL also have their own rep at the Flagship lounge counters to help with any requests or queries.
There was also a Bloody Mary section that they have set up in the sitting area further area from the buffet although it was not stocked for the first 50 minutes or so of our time in the lounge.
We stayed at the lounge for about an hour to part take in some light breakfast and relaxed a bit before slowly making our way to the gate.
Our gate today was K19 towards the end of the pier. Boarding began about 5 minutes after our arrival via the dedicated First Class lane and it was interesting that the gate staff commented that she has never seen anyone with an Australia passport boarding this flight (well you have 2 of them today then!)
Upon boarding we were greeted by the very professional Crew who led us to our seats. First impressions of the JAL F cabin was great although it is not the newest product in the market. The seat is wide and furnished with brown leather, and the whole suite was well appointed and feels elegant. There was also a nicely portioned entertainment screen in front too although the angle is not adjustable.
Amenity kit, noise cancelling headsets (by Bose) and menu has already been pre-set into the seat upon boarding.
We settled into seat 1A and 2A after boarding, and shortly after the crew came around to greet us and gave a warm welcome and made small chats about our travel plans. They have also offered pre-departure drinks and we opted for champagne (although it was unclear what they were pouring, but I assume this was not Cristal).
The flight ended up being fairly full - going out with 7/8 (with a family of 4 settled into 1DG/2DG). Departure was prompt and we pushed back a couple of minutes before our scheduled 11:00am departure.
We had a relatively short taxi after push back and took off into the winter skies. There were quite a bit of snow the night before and it was a rare sight for us (coming from Australia) to see these snow covered grounds.
A free-wifi voucher was provided by JAL to all First Class customer with fairly good useable speed that is good for whatsapp and a bit of social media. The only thing was that smoehow it is extremely slow when you load up instagram (or try to post contents there) whilst it was not an issue for other apps.
Hot towel was provided by the crew shortly after seat belt sign was off.
Apart from everything else, one of the major selling point of JAL F is their drinks selection. For the flight today we have a choice of Louis Roederer Cristal or the Bollinger 2009. I went with the Cristal for my champagne of choice. Amuse Bouche was also served with the champagne.
Our orders for lunch was then taken by the crew. I went with the Japanese selection which started with the five small dishes of appetizers, followed by a clear soup with scallop cake (amazing!) and sashimi. My main dish set was sukiyaki beef served with steamed rice and miso soup. The Sukiyaki beef was extremely tender and full of flavour - whilst simple it was perfectly executed. Dessert was just a simple ice-cream served with a cup of green tea as by this time I was completed stuffed. The meal was extremely high quality and great work for JAL's caterer in Chicago for being able to execute the Japanese meals perfectly!
I caught up on a couple of movies and then requested for my bed to be made up.
The wonderful crew provided me a set of JAL pyjamas (very comfortable although a bit on the thick side given the cabin temperature) to change into whilst they prepare my bed. One of the differentiating point of JAL's bathroom against other carriers is the availability of a TOTO bidet (I know it is not everyone's thing - but once you are used to this you can't go back!) and a foot step for you to step on to get changed. A small range of amenity (mouth wash, face moisturiser and toothbrush) was also available in the bathroom.
I also checked out the small First Class self service bar next to door L1 briefly and it is stocked with chocolates, small snacks, water and wine with some lovely decorations.
The bed was made up with airweave pillow and mattress (your crew would check if you prefer a soft or hard mattress - in which I chose the hard option) and a comfortable duvet. I went to bed somewhere over Canada and managed around 5-6 hours sleep. Whilst the bed was comfortable, the cabin temperature was a bit too warm to have a comfortable sleep and unfortunately the sleep quality was not the best here.
I checked out the Business Class self-service bar briefly after I got up (and as the crew was clearly up the bedding). The Business Class was nicely set up at door L2 with pictures of different areas of Japan (and the pictures are changed every season as per the Business Class crew). There was a slightly different range of snack selections in the Business Class bar and also a couple of goodies that you can take home (season limited JAL coasters).
As I settled back into my suite the crew offered me something to drink again. Sadly they have already ran out of the Cristal so I switched over to the Bollinger Rose which is excellent.
Caught up on a few movies and TV shows for the remainder of the flight whilst indulging in the dine anytime menu, starting with the seafood bowl (minus the natto), Japanese curry rice and the JAL original healthy ramen. Again quality of all of these are great although portion are on the small side (hence the reason I sampled all of them - it certainly has got nothing to do with my appetite!)
The Japanese breakfast was then served approx 1.5 hours out of Narita and I had the Queen of Royal Blue tea to go with that. The Queen of the Royal Tea retails for around US$50 each bottle and is certainly a good drop (although I am not sure it is really worth the price).
Finished off the meal with some chocolates paired with the beautiful Grahams 30 years old Tawny port
Crew came around to thank us for the flight and to distribute express entry cards for Narita (which was not necessary in this occasion as the lines were not long).
On descend into Narita where another ANA 777-300ER was landing together with us in parallel.
We thanked the crew upon arrival and bid farewell to JA732J for possibly the best flight to end 2018, before making our way into Tokyo for New Years eve.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge
Chicago - ORD
Tokyo - NRT
Overall a wonderful first experience of JAL International First Class - we just wished the flight was longer than what it was!
We have another trip over to Europe come later in 2019 and we are now close monitoring award availability on JAL First from Japan to Europe!
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