My trip to Tokyo was a result of opportunistic timing and as a Christmas present at the end of 2011, I decided to take advantage of the half miles promotion that AA offered in conjunction with JL from SFO-HND. Although I visited Japan for the first time six months ago on a quick trip to Kyoto and Osaka, I was curious about Tokyo after having read and heard so much about it. I had the last week of December off so I said why not. I redeemed 50,000 miles for a business class ticket and paid $71 total ($46 for taxes and $25 for ticketing over the phone). Deals can't get any better than this, especially on a quality carrier like JL. Ever since my first trip on JL long time ago (MEX-YVR) and a subsequent trip years later (BKK-KIX), I was hooked to JL's quality inflight service. I must add that these two trips were in Y and I was impressed by the attentive and professional service that I received. Since I am also an airline enthusiast I have watched the evolution of JL's logo with great interest and am glad that it has reversed to the classic red crane. Why on earth did JL mess with such a recognizable and well respected trademark? It was like watching someone go through an identity crisis, a malaise that also afflicted DL for a time.
Ok, let's move on to the raison d'etre for this report and talk about my experiences starting with the lounges. As an AA PLT I get access to all Oneworld lounges on an intl tkt and will take full advantage of this benefit. After all I worked hard to get to this level so I will now reap the fruits of my labor (truth be told, I was EXP in 2010 but on my own dime so I soft landed into PLT this year - thanks AA.)
CX First and Business Lounge
I arrived at SFO at around 10:40A and my first target was the newly opened CX First and Business lounge. The JL flight did not leave until around 1800 so there was plenty of time for indulging into a little club hopping until departure time.
I printed my boarding pass online and went straight to security. I flew out on Dec. 24 and I was not the only one planning to travel on that day. The lines to the A concourse were long and even the express line was slow. Families traveling with children and a slight malfunction of the detector contributed to the joy of standing in line for longer than usual. Since I had all the time in the world I could care less. I noticed the frustration on some fellow traveler's faces which became somewhat comical at times.
After what seemed like a century going through security, I ventured into the duty free shop to purchase something and browse the collection of ties from some respectable brands. My favorites are always the ones whose brand starts with an H.
The hallway leading to the CX lounge had an assortment of interesting vintage pictures of the airline. The nice signage and reception desk gave a promising look of things to come.
On the left side of the room there were a couple of workstations with internet connection and the different sections of the club were well lit and stylishly appointed.
There was a section in the back that had a cozier atmosphere and this is where the WC's were located. The lounge did not offer too much of a view though.
The counter had a nice variety of breakfast items in addition to the noodle counter where one can order shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup or spicy peanut noodles.
Made to order noodles
My Western breakfast (yes, that is ketchup with eggs)
I had an enjoyable stay at this lounge and I never felt pressured to leave, even when all the guests departed for the HKG flight.
British Airways Terraces and First Lounge
Located between gates A4 and A6, the BA lounge is a well appointed, cozy, and colorful place to relax before the flight. When I arrived at 12P, the lounge was empty and one of the kitchen crew let me in. I literally had the lounge to myself and my companion for about 3 hrs. There is a small room after reception dedicated to First class passengers with drinks, soup, packaged snacks, crudites and pasta salad.
I stayed in the more spacious Terraces side and surfed the internet for a couple of minutes. The only food availabe were minestrone soup, crackers, packaged goods, and crudites with ranch dressing packs. If you love to drink, this lounge will be more to your liking given the wide assortment of alcoholic beverages available. Since I am not a drinker, I couldn't appreciate this particular benefit.
First class section (small room behind the reception on the right side)
Inside the Terraces area
Resting area in the back of the room
Not much in terms of food. Sandwiches were not brought out during my stay. Only soup, crudites and packaged snacks were available.
Sharing the 4th floor of Terminal A along with the CX lounge, JAL's Sakura lounge is the most underwhelming of the three lounges that I visited this day. Lacking style and space, the lounge can be described as utilitarian with a lack of privacy. In all fairness, the attendants were very approachable and polite, and there is a decent assortment of munchies ranging from trimmed sandwiches to onigiri rice balls to snack on before the flight. I situated myself in an enclosed room by the reception desk enjoying some privacy but that was short lived. As departure time got closer, the lounge was filling up with passengers and I decided to leave my claustrophobic surroundings with plenty of time.
Small secluded room by the entrance
Some nibbles before my flight
Plane arriving from HND taken at the lounge
I took some pictures of the plane at the gate and then decided to head down to the gate area. Once below I saw about 6-7 agents at the counter which was reassuring but honestly I have never encountered that many agents working a flight before. One agent went to each passenger checking the passports and another gathered the passengers who needed assistance for pre-boarding.
Boarding was very smooth and conducted in a very efficient way. As I approached the door of the aircraft one of the agents inside the jetbridge bowed down thanking me for flying JL and a technical crew at the door did the same. The purser and 2 other FA's were at the door greeting passengers and directing them to their seats.
4H is the last row of the first J cabin and once I settled down a FA came over to take my coat. The seat is a bit hard and not the most comfortable out there. When it is in the flat sleeping position, it is angled but I did not have too much of a problem with that. Having said that, I felt a protrusion in my lower back when I tried to sleep so I placed my pillow behind me to cushion it. If you are in a window seat that is not the bulkhead, good luck trying to get out when your neighbor is extended.
As others have mentioned JL does not do a pre-departure drink service at the gate so beverages were not offered while on the ground. The door was closed early at 5:55P and we were on our way for departure. Our taxiing and departure was played on the screens through the outside camera. Shortly after take off the FA's sprang into action and a tray of orange juice and champagne was offered followed by the passing of menus and coats to wear onboard.
Welcome drink after take off
Perfect with Sake & Wine (top row 3 dishes from bento tray)
Maine lobster Seasonal vegetable w/roasted yellow pepper cream dressing
Grilled fillet of U.S. prime beef with red wine sauce Blackened salmon with maitre d'hotel butter (there was an inserted page wishing everyone Happy Holidays with an additional entree of roasted turkey with gravy instead of the salmon.)
Bread or Steamed Rice
Pina Colada Panna Cotta
Anytime You Wish
We will be pleased to offer you the following items anytime after the first meal service. Please ask your cabin attendant by one hour and 30 minutes before landing.
Order in the Sky
Deep-fried breaded pork with curry sauce on steamed rice
Mariage - for the side of your favorite wine -
Hamburger Tokyo Curry Lab x Japan Airlines - Japanese vegetable curry with rice Ravioli & Mushroom with tomato cream sauce Fresh seasonal salad Manhattan clam chowder with oyster cracker
Relish - Fresh fruits Main dish - Quiche Lorraine with bacon & chicken apple sausage Roll
Chocolate Vanilla ice cream Fresh fruits
Hot towels on a lacquer tray were passed before the meal service.
The amuse bouche arrived which were appreciated and then some rice crackers and cheese sticks (really good) followed by a very good lobster dish. Quite a refreshing change from the jaded smoked salmon or shrimp appetizers that some competitors love to serve. There were 2 pieces of bread already placed on a plate when they bring you the tray. No choice for dressing or dessert. I had Skytime and water as drinks.
Amuse bouche and crackers
For the main dish I chose the beef fillet which was tender and juicy, easily one of the best I have ever had onboard.
Dessert to finish off the meal. No choices though.
I decided to order the cheese plate right after that and the FA happily obliged. This item was offered as a la carte snack, but I decided to combine it with the first main meal. It's only proper to have a cheese course after a main dish, right?
Another round of hot towel was passed at the end of the meal service and FA made the rounds with a basket of toiletries and bottles of water.
JAL must be one of the very few handful carriers that do not offer amenity kits in J (the other one that I can think of is SQ), so FA's passed around with a basket of amenities and so that each passenger could choose what he/she wanted.
Right after the meal service FA's patrolled the aisles quite frequently. I saw one walking the aisles like every 15 min. Towards midflight the frequency ceased a bit but you could tell that they were actively checking the cabin.
JAL's JEN entertainment system is decent if not the best out there. CX has better entertainment options in my opinion. After catching up on some movies, I visited the bathroom and it was disappointing to see the lack of facial mist, moisturizers or perfumes. Even UA has these on intl premium cabins. However, there were ample supply of toothbrushes and mouthwash packets in the lav.
I then checked the galley in hopes of looking at some Canon pics but I guess this feature is only available on the 773 models. There were some chocolates (generic brand made somewhere in Kansas), cheese sticks, coconut tarts and chocolate ginger cakes in tightly sealed bags and bottles of water.
I took some post cards and the purser came by to ask if I needed anything else. I asked if they still had playing cards and she said that she will bring them to me. Afterwards she appeared apologizing that they did not have any. About 8 hrs into the flight I ordered a couple of dishes, starting with the Japanese set and later the udon noodles. They hit the spot and were served promptly by the FA's. The service onboard was top notch as expected with FA's being proactive, courteous and always smiling.
Snacks from the a la carte menu
Noodles with mountain vegetables
Soon we landed in Tokyo about half an hour earlier and going through Immigration and Customs was quick and painless.
JAL Sakura lounge
San Francisco - SFO
Tokyo - HND
It was great to fly JAL and experience their renowned service one more time. Crew was excellent as expected and meals were nice, although the lack of choices, especially for appetizer, salad dressing and dessert cheapens the experience somehow.
The WC's lack of amenities that one is accustomed to see in a premium cabin like moisturizer and perfumes are also troubling, especially in light of JAL not providing an amenity kit as part of the service. In that sense ANA started to provide one filled with L'Occitane products for J passengers and I hope JAL follows this practice too.
The greatest strength of JAL is their customer service and great inflight crew. It's great to see that they are updating their cabins starting with their 777-300 ER's.
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