Content on the flight itself is kind of lacking in this review, owing to the fact that I spent most of it in a drunk slumber…apologies in advance.
Last-minute plans for a trip to Vietnam popped up, and I figured that I'd get some good value out of an award ticket.
Some courtesy miles following a complaint to AA gave me just enough miles to book a first class trip there, and indeed the BA/QF/JL websites were showing CX first class availability to HKG, and business availability to SGN as a married segment.
Obviously this would have been my first choice, especially as a oneworld Emerald, but no matter how many times I called, the AA agents insisted that there was no availability–despite 3 other oneworld partners all saying the contrary. In fact, they claimed that they saw no CX availability whatsoever, even in Y and J.
The AA website was showing another interesting option, MH first to KUL, then Y to SGN, but that turned out to be lazy IT from AA–they hadn't remembered to reflect the fact that MH remapped their P code from F partner award to a revenue class.
For a couple of weeks I persisted, but the results were the same; the only flight they could find was a horrendously timed (IMO) red eye out of Haneda. And with dwindling availability on other airlines, I eventually decided to bite the bullet and book the flight.
I hadn't flown internationally with JAL in almost 3 years, so I was excited to see what the experience would be like. Upon checking in online, I was disheartened to see that the seat would be the angle-flat SHELL FLAT NEO, rather than their SKY SUITE seats.
Checking in at the JL F counter was largely uneventful, apart from some brief confusion over whether I needed a visa. That was cleared up quickly upon showing my return ticket that I booked separately.
I spent some time pre-security, but I was disappointed by the lack of seating in the terminal, and found landside shopping options to be more limited than NRT. Also, for an airport that has historically tended to push international slots to ungodly hours, it seems very inconvenient for most of the shops to close up at 10PM.
I suppose that the whole Edo-period decor serves to distract foreign tourists from this to some extent, but I found the terminal to be lacking both compared to NRT, and to HND's domestic terminals. Overall, it really seemed as if HND had outgrown its INTL terminal, and the ongoing expansion efforts for the Olympics can't come soon enough.
Instinctively I headed towards the priority security queue, and it was only when I handed my boarding pass to the agent when I realized that I may not have been strictly eligible to use the lane.
The signage indicated that only certain elite members and F passengers were eligible, and even those with elite status had to be flying with the airline he/she is a member of.
So as a AA Executive Platinum flying JL, it seemed I was SOL, at least according to the rules.
Just as I was about to say something, however, the agent waved me through, so it didn't end up mattering in the end.
I suspect that the policy comes from capacity limitations–another area where HND falls flat.
The greatest perk of being OW Emerald is access to the F lounges, and I was keen to check out the F lounge at HND.
I scanned my BP and was directed to the F lounge (thankfully), which wasn't crowded per se, but the nice seats by the windows were already taken.
While no table dining was available, there was a live kitchen where Wagyu burgers were being cooked. No sushi bar here, unfortunately. There were a bunch of other tasty hot buffet options, and I freely admit I was feeling rather full by the time I boarded the flight.
Another highlight of the lounge was the "Red Suite," which was an exquisitely appointed room tucked in the far end of the lounge. It was sort of similar to what UA had done with parts of their Polaris Lounges, but far more refined. Admittedly, I felt slightly "conspicous" while the shoe shine guy (JAL having partnered with John Lobb, apparently) was on duty, with my fresh-out-of-Payless-Shoesource Lacoste sneakers, but still; the room was such a pleasant place to be in. Photos really don't do it justice.
Waiting for me was the much-maligned 787 angle-flat product once on board. In an ideal world, with a boarding time of 01:05AM, you'd get a flat bed for the flight, but still: I recall managing to sleep quite well on the flight.
The first row appeared blocked when booking, but JL's system had let me select them regardless. I'm unsure whether or not this is a goodwill gesture toward Emeralds, or simply dumb luck. That being said, I recall spending an embarassing amount of time trying to figure out how to deploy the personal monitor…
As I indicated that I'd like to be woken up for breakfast, this happened an hour or so before arrival.
Walking through the corridors, I soon reached immigration, which was sparsely manned, but then again there weren't much passenger activity either. I walked up and presented my passport and the officer glared at me for 15 seconds or so. Only then did I think to show him my return ticket, which (again) was booked through UA separately. Upon affirming that I had no intention of illegally immigrating to Vietnam, my passport was stamped, and I was free to go.
A friend was supposed to pick me up–however upon setting up my roaming connection (roughly 10USD a day with my Japanese carrier) I was slightly concerned that I hadn't received a text yet. However, I figured that I'd see if she was waiting outside first, and if not, return back into the arrivals hall and purchase SIM cards/exchange currency. I would soon realize–after a stern "NO" by a officer in military uniform–that this wouldn't be allowed. I was therefore stuck waiting outside, sitting on a bench while I waited. Thankfully, the temperature was nowhere near as unpleasant as Tokyo at the time, and I actually found the weather quite pleasant.
However, I was soon pestered by what I imagined was an unlicensed cab driver, who insisted that I follow him to his car. For a while, I tried sitting near a tour group, and after the group departed I changed locations, but the same driver continued to pester me. I had even shown him my phone, and a text from my friend saying that she'd pick me up. In no uncertain terms, I explained that not only was my friend picking me up, I had no idea what the address was.
For several minutes, I thought he had given up, until he returned, this time flat out lying that "ahh Madam XXXX. She is here"
After playing cat-and-mouse (with me as the mouse) for another 10 minutes, my friend finally arrived, and I headed on into the city.
This was my first international flight with JAL since early 2017.
While the lounge was exquisite, nothing on the plane particularly stood out to me, but perhaps that is to be expected from a late-night/early morning red-eye. I was grateful to be able to get a few hours of sleep, but the angle flat product certainly wasn't ideal. While it wasn't unbearable, I wouldn't choose to fly it on distances further than say, TYO-HKG.