It is now December and everyone knows what time of the year that is? That's right!! It is travel season!
Welcome to this report of my winter vacation trip to Kansai region of Japan. This is part 1 of the trip where I will be flying from LAX to Osaka Kansai on Japan Airline's Boeing 787-9. It has been a year and a half since my last international trip to Asia so I was very excited for it. It is the second time I've been to Japan, but first time flying with JAL as well as the 787. For this trip, JAL is the only carrier that flies nonstop to Osaka Kansai from Los Angeles so this particular flight was my first choice to go on. I started looking at ticket prices as early as February and found them to be at $880USD. As I still have 10 months to go, I decided to wait it out a bit and see if the prices would go down some more. Oh boy was I wrong! March, April, May rolled by and the prices increased up to almost $1100 USD. I started getting a little disappointed and researched flights going to Tokyo instead or flights with a one stop. July came by and I looked at the prices again, and it went down to $920. It was still a bit expensive, but considering I'll be flying during the holiday season and it was on JAL, I went ahead and booked the tickets.
Since I booked on the cheapest fare class, I did not get seat selection during booking. Even though the JAL website says my fare class cannot select seats until online check-in 24 hours before the flight, I was able to select a seat a month before the flight. I am not sure when JAL opens up seat selection but I was not going to complain about getting the option to select seats for both flights early. There were no hesitation needed to get myself the window seats to and from KIX.
Seat 48A for the flight to Osaka
As you can tell by the seat selection map, JAL operates their 787s in a 2-4-2 configuration. They are the only airline with 787s that has this configuration while everyone else are 3-3-3. This was one of the reasons that I wanted to fly with them and on their only 787 flight from LAX.
Arrival at LAX
My flight out of LAX departs at 1235 in the afternoon right in the mix of the afternoon international rush. As such, I had to arrive at the airport a good 3-4 hours ahead of departure time. To no one's surprise, LAX was already backed up off the 105 Freeway and Sepulveda Blvd.
The big LAX sign coming off the Sepulveda exit on the 105 was decorated in the winter holiday feel. What a nice touch by LAWA!!
My friend parked the car in the parking structure in front of Tom Bradley International Terminal. Even during this hour, maybe we were lucky, it took us less than 20 mins to find a parking spot. Got my bags out of the car and made my way inside the terminal. LAX at this time were having many ongoing remodeling projects at different terminals as well as building the new midfield concourse.
Check-In and Security
Entering Tom Bradley, I cannot tell you all how nice it is to be back flying and being surrounded by passengers, crews, airport staffs. The atmosphere of busy travel season is all the more exciting for aviation enthusiasts like us.
Walking into TBIT, Japan Airlines is located at Aisle A next to Hong Kong Airlines (which as of Feb 2020, no longer flies to LAX). Even arriving 3 hours before departure, there were already many people lined up to check in their luggages for flights back to Japan. I do have to say that having having two flights depart close to each other certainly doesn't make the lines go any faster. JAL currently operates two afternoon flights out of LAX, JL61 to Tokyo Narita on the 777-300ER and JL69 to Osaka Kansai on the 787-9. Many of the passengers I was lined up with, were most likely flying to Tokyo as I never saw them at the gate. Although I checked in online 24 hours beforehand, I had to go through the lines as I had one piece of luggage to drop off. Also, counter printed boarding passes are collector's items.
The agent at the check-in counter asked all passengers which destination they were flying to (Tokyo Narita or Osaka Kansai) before continuing with the check in/luggage drop off. Everything went smoothly. I gathered my remaining bags and boarding pass. Off we go to security.
Security took a good 30 mins or so as there were many passengers. Also each passenger, before they went for passport check, had to line up 1 by 1 alongside each other and walk forward to be sniffed by drug dogs. This backed up the security line and most of the time was spent slowly walking up that queue. Passport and scanners were passed through at a decent pace. We didn't even have to take off shoes.
The walk across the bridge to airplane wonderland and airside here we go.
Settling in to the nicely decorated TBIT once again, I can start my airplane spotting and picture taking frenzy. But before I can do that, I needed to get some breakfast as I didn't get the chance to eat before leaving home in the morning. I didn't want to get too much food as I knew the first meal service would start soon after takeoff. In addition, airplane food > airport food.
Out of my observation, for an international terminal like Tom Bradley, you wonder affordable choices like Mcdonalds and other fast foods options would be more abundant. Instead, I was stuck with a small spicy chicken burger from KFC for 7 dollars. KFC and Panda Express were the only two fast food choices with the most people lining up.
JL69 to Osaka Kansai at Gate 157
It is always good to see an "On Time" for your flight from the FIDS. Now that I have fed my empty stomach, it is time for the plane spotting to begin!
I was very happy to be able to see ANA BB8 in person. It is such a beautiful livery and I hope someday I can fly on it. This livery and EVA Hello Kitty are currently the top two special aircrafts I would like to fly on.
Before our JAL 787 arrived, the ANA BB8 was parked at our gate and getting ready to fly off to Tokyo Haneda.
JA877J, the plane that will be taking me to Osaka Kansai
Flight: JL69 from LAX to KIX
Airline: Japan Airlines (JL)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Delivered: Jan 2019 (11 months)
Route: Los Angeles (LAX) - Osaka Kansai (KIX)
Departure Gate: 157
Departing Runway: 07L
Scheduled Departure Time: 12:35PM
Actual Departure Time: 13:37PM
Scheduled Arrival Time: 18:15PM (+1)
Actual Arrival Time: 18:38PM (+1)
Landing Runway: 06L
Arrival Gate: 38
Scheduled Flight Time: 12 hours 40 mins
Actual Flight Time: 12 hours 01 mins
Information screen at Gate 157
Boarding started with passengers needing assistance followed by loyalty club members, first and business class passengers, and finally economy class passengers. Passengers in economy were boarded in groups starting from the rear. As I was sitting in row 48, I was in the second group to board the plane. Unfortunately the first group cuts off at row 50. I should have known better.
When I stepped into the aircraft, I was instantly amazed at the interior and the very catchy red colored seats. The 2-4-2 configuration made the seats and aisle so much more spacious than a 3-3-3. The entire cabin also looked very modern and clean.
JAL SKY WIDER II has a very comfortable 18 inch seat width with plenty of pocket space under the foldable tray table and personal AC power outlet. They also include a 10.6 inch touch screen PTV + USB port, coat hanger, and 2 accessory pouches. The seat itself has a single prong headphone jack where I was able to use my personal headphones without any issues.
The seat pitch is a very generous 33 inches although I only have a 5'5 body frame. But I am sure even for a tall person, it is more comfortable than most economy seats. I was able to stretch my legs a decent amount during the flight and not intrude into the space of my seatmate. Padding of the seat was enough where I didn't feel any aches in my body even after 12 hours.
So far, this is the best economy class that I have ever flown in.
Each seat was also provided with a pillow and pre-packaged blanket. I really liked this pillow as it can rest on your shoulders and you can sleep with your head tilted without any neck pain.
Window view of my seat
An El Al Las Vegas livery 787-9 parked at the gate next to us just before we were given clearance for pushback.
Pushback from Gate 157 and we're ready for taxi to runway 07L (no I did not type that wrong). On this day, LAX was operating in reverse flow.
Because of the weather the night before, the normal ocean departures were all reversed. All flights from the morning and afternoon instead, took off towards the city. Other than midnight and early morning hours, it is pretty rare for LAX to operate takeoffs and landings on runway 06 and 07. It was very unique to have an experience like this.
The captain came on the PA and gave us a flight time of 12 hours. The weather is forecast to be nice the whole journey across the Pacific and landing into Osaka. Our route will take us on a northwest path across the Pacific before turning left after Attu Island and flying straight down to Osaka.
JL69 route from FlightRadar24
Our taxi from the gate to runway 07L was extremely long. We were already stuck in a line after turning right out of the alley way. It was about 30-40 mins of slowly inching forward to the front. We took off after the Hong Kong bound HX A350.
After taking off, we made a 180 degree right turn heading out towards the ocean. One of the unique features of the 787 is the dimming functions on those gigantic windows. Heading out west and flying on an afternoon flight, the sun was shining bright into my eyes and cabin. I made sure the dimming button was put to good use. I got some nice filtered pictures out of the dimmed windows as well.
We reached our initial cruising altitude of 34,000 feet very quickly. There were many traffic flying around us on that day as seen by the contrails.
Drinks and snacks services began 30 minutes into the flight. Cabin crews started off passing an Oshibori (hot towel) to each passenger before coming back with the snacks and drinks. Before flying on this flight, I had researched JAL economy services and found that they have a special drink only available onboard JAL. It is called Sky Time Kiwi (non-alcoholic) and I had been dying to try it since. I was given a bag of rice cracker and selected a cup of the special kiwi juice.
About 45 minutes into the flight as we have just left the Californian coast, the cabin crew were getting ready for lunch service. There was no paper menu distributed. Instead, a card carried on the galley carts was shown by the crew to let passengers choose which dish to pick. Meal service started from the front of the section and I had no trouble picking what I wanted. The choices for lunch were Chicken Tikka Masala or Beef Stew with Rice.
I went with the Chicken Masala and I am sorry to say that it did not taste like chicken masala. The tray was filled with other side dishes as well as a small bowl of miso soup and salad. A bottle of water was also handed out in addition to another cup of drinks. Again, I went for the Sky Time Kiwi. To start off, the bread was not warm as with a lot of breads on planes it seems like. The assorted fruits, tuna sashimi, soba noodles, and miso soup were all very good. In my opinion, the main dish was very tasty if it was called something else. I had no problem eating it and enjoying it. It just didn't taste like masala. Thinking back to pre-flight, I was glad I didn't have a filling breakfast or else I would have never finished this much food.
On JAL and ANA flights, the eating utensils are actually metallic instead of plastic like on other carriers. I saved a set of ANA metal utensils from a while back when I flew with them and now I have a set from JAL as well.
Lunch service ended 1 hour after and cabin crew started passing out ice cream. On Japan bound flights, we got organic Madagascar Vanilla flavored ice cream made by Three Twins.
After dessert, the meal carts were out again and the crew offered coffee or tea. I selected a cup of green tea.
Because this was an afternoon flight and we were to land in Osaka at 1815 in the evening, I chose not to sleep on the flight except for a 30 minute nap. Other than that, I enjoyed watching the inflight map, taking pictures of the outside, and watching movies.
These pictures were not representative of the brightness outside. It was still full daylight at this time. There were about 2 to 3 levels of dim but it made for a good sunset-like photo.
The inflight entertainment included many movies and tv shows. I personally don't like watching tv shows and would just enjoy the movies. JAL had a wide selections of movies that were pretty up to date. One thing that the inflight entertainment included were instructions on how to fill out arrival forms for multiple countries as well as arrival information at different Japanese airports. I thought this was very attentive by JAL.
About two hours before landing and cruising at 40,000 feet just off the coast of Hokkaido, the lights were switched on and cabin crew began preparation for dinner service. Once again, meal service started at the front of the section. Interestingly, there was only one dinner choice offered for everyone. It was a bacon and egg fried rice with asparagus and sprinkled with some chives. The side dishes had assorted fruits, a small bag of wheat crackers, and yogurt. Again, I chose Sky Time Kiwi as my drink. I think this was my third or fourth cup.
The fried rice was genuinely not bad and got me ready for the amount of Asian food I ate in Japan.
After dinner service, the cabin crew distributed arrival custom forms for passengers to fill out.
The lights remained turned on for the remainder of the flight which I found weird as we would land in Kansai after the sunset. Because the lights were on, there was a reflection from the windows and I was not able to get any good pictures of the approach or landing. It was very disappointing.
We flew past Mt. Fuji and other cities along the Japanese coastline where I could see the lights forming the outline. After passing east of Nagoya, we began our approach. Because I sat on the left side and we arrived from the northeast, it was difficult to see the Japanese landscape.
It was quite a bumpy final approach onto runway 06L and I could feel the pilot-flying putting in multiple left-right corrections to get the plane aiming for the centerline. The touchdown was decent, not the smoothest probably because of the windy weather, but nothing to complain about. Our flight landed 23 minutes late because of the long taxi and takeoff from LAX. The plane taxied quickly before parking at gate 38.
I gathered my belongings and said goodbye to the cabin crew as I walked down the aisle and out of this beautiful 787.
Stepping into the terminal for the first time, I was surprised to see there weren't that many people. It is probably because Osaka Kansai is still a relatively uncommon long haul destination for international carriers. The arrival customs area was small compared to airports like Hong Kong or LAX. Nevertheless, it meant the arrival process was quick.
I got my bags from the carousel and made my way out into the arrival hall where I saw a lot more people.
Initial reaction out to the arrival hall, the pink color on the walls doesn't really look great for airports. It ages the airport and makes it look old. Apart from the color scheme, Osaka Kansai was a decently sized airport. There were shops, restaurants, multiple services desks, and a big transportation station.
By this time, I was getting pretty tired from the long day of travelling. I made my way around the airport to retrieve my wifi-egg and activate my JR pass so I can get on the train to go to my accommodation.
This is a flight that I will always treasure and look back on, but it is time to experience the food/culture of Japan.
First time flying Japan Airlines and the 787, it didn't disappoint one bit. The ticket price was very worth for the high quality services you get. The flight attendants took very good care of all the passengers. They made multiple trips down the aisle to check on passengers and sometimes offered cups of water. The best thing I can say on JAL is their economy class product. By having a 2-4-2 configuration, it added extra comfort and space that you wouldn't get with other 787 carriers. The Japan-bound flights catering definitely have room to improve especially compared to those on their US-bound flights. Being one of the top carriers in Asia, JAL backed up the expectations I had and I would definitely look for another opportunity to fly them again.
On a side note, I find the JAL cabin crew uniforms very well designed. It is a fine line between professional and modern stylish. The dark blue outer layer on white mixed with a subtle red was really well done.