The airline with the best average rating is Japan Airlines with 8.1/10.
The average flight time is 12 hours and 30 minutes.More information
Hello! Thank you so much for your attention to my first post into this community. I wanted to show you what it was like to fly Japan Airlines for both domestic and international legs; Osaka to Tokyo Haneda, and then to New York JFK, in the end of Apr and early May 2022.
This portion of the report introduces you the first class experience with Japan Airlines in its longest route, Tokyo Haneda to New York JFK.
A beautiful sunrise of Shinagawa, Tokyo. For the former leg, which was the connection flight from Osaka Itami to Tokyo Haneda, I chose an overnight stopover in order to maximize my stay in JAL's First Class Lounge in HND. Naturally, this meant that I woke up 4:30am so that I would check in immediately after JAL's counter at HND opens at 6am.
I arrived at the check-in counter a little earlier than its opening, but before long the staff appeared and quickly welcomed me to check-in. The check-in experience was as smooth as it was in Osaka Itami yesterday. The staff checked my app VeryFLY which is the hub for necessary documents for entering one's destination country. My destination, the U.S., needed ESTA, a declaration, and a negative COVID test result which was issued at least within 1 day prior to departure. After everything was set, VeryFLY showed an approval page with my photo. The check-in staff had only to confirm that this approval page is displayed on my phone and my face and that in my passport matched.
Although it was very early in the morning, I have never seen the airside of HND T3 (international) this deserted. Up in the escalator which appears immediately after passing through the customs, there used to be 2 lounges open for eligible credit card holders. I hope this clusure is only temporarily.
At this moment (30-Apr) Japan was still mostly closed to overseas travellers. Even Japanese citizens had 2 hurdles when returing to Japan: Inbound flight does not allow you to check in unless you have the negative COVID test result taken in the country you stayed before returning to Japan, and the requirements for this result come with multiple specifics which otherwise usually not very much cared, leading to a possible rejection to check-in even if you believe you have a valid negative result. Another is a PCR test performed upon arrival at the airport in Japan. If you receive a positive here, you will be isolated in a quarantine hotel.
Naturally, understanding these complex rules as well as possibilities of not being able to return to your home in Japan led to this deserted airside even though it was Golden Week. As much as I understand the importance of precautional measures to keep the land safer from COVID, I anticipate that Japan will need to look around and see what are heppening in many other parts of the world about recovery from the pandemic.
JAL's First Class Lounge is located on the fourth floor of the terminal, which is one story above the departure gates. In fact this location used to be shared by both First Class Lounge and Sakura lounge (business class lounge for Oneworld Sapphire). JAL renovated this place exclusively for the first class and top tier (Oneworld Emerald) customers back in 2020.
At this moment, however, due to very limited number of passengers, JAL operates only this First Class Lounge and lets business class and Sapphire passengers in. Although this led to a little crowding in the lounge, staffing was enough so that I did not have to wait for something during the entire stay.
The seating spaces came with multiple sections, each dedicated to specific (but not limited) use. Upon entering the lounge you see a large dining area stretching forward, as well as to your left a more relaxed area with lounge chairs. The area with lounge chairs was signed as dedicated for first class and Emerld passengers.
At the end of the dining area was the entrance to still another area, "RED SUITE". Not only was the area spacious but also was equipped with some fun stuffs like soccer game, chess, and displays of model planes. Pre-pandemic a shoe-shine service and Laurent Perrier were on offer in this area, which was unfortunately not yet back available at this time.
At 8am still another area opened up, after a few walk down a beautiful corridor. This area was where Sakura Lounge had used to be. After a big renovation in 2020, it was now another dining area with sushi bar for top-tier status holders.
The picture above is what it was like in this area of the lounge when it served as Sakura Lounge, taken back in 2017. Actually it was also spacious back then.
Foods were offerred on-demand. You only need to scan the QR code associated with your table and then place an order by your phone. The QR code directs you to a webpage, so no app is needed to be installed. The lounge staff brings your order to your table. Although there were many people enjoining this experience, I had almost no time to wait.
Signature menu is no doubt the beef curry over rice (top right corner of the first picture). Appearing on the menu in 2007, this has become well known first to frequent flyers, which created many people posting a photo of the printed ticket and this beef currey onto social media to self-celebrate the departure to another country. Then this menu has become known to even non frequent flyers, perhaps also thanks to TV shows featuring the exclusivity of this experience. I think this phenomenon is more or less has served to attract more people into mileage runs so that they could enter JAL's lounges.
Sushi was made to the order by real sushi craftsman. Naturally, it was with fluffy and airy rice with generously-sized sashimi on top. I also ordered corn soup, steamed vegetables, creamy salmon pasta, and ramen. They were all restaurant-quality, and came in a small portion.
Here are the offerings of alcoholic drink. I was not aware while in the lounge, but the sparking wine Gusbourne was more on the premium side, even more than some famous Champaigne brands.
Those are some views you can expect while in the lounge. In the early morning, when the sun shines directly into the lounge, a curtain is pulled down.
You can also order a shower slot via your phone. There were 7 people queuing up at the time I made a reservation, but thanks to many booths being open, I was called via email in less than 10 munites.
Bathrooms were kept super clean.
After leaving the First Class Lounge, waiting at Gate 114 was B777-300ER, the largest of JAL's fleet. Until 2020, JAL operated this huge aircraft also in some heavily crowded domestic routes such as HND to Sapporo (CTS), to Fukuoka (FUK), and Okinawa (OKA), as well as Osaka (ITM) to OKA. However, the pandemic naturally made JAL decide to remove this 500-seater from domestic routs.
JAL's B777-300ER on international routes has a big advantage in its economy class: It is equipped with generaously-sized 3-3-3 configuration, as opposed to that of many other airlines in 3-4-3 configuration. Also, the legroom is roughly 5 cm wider compared to many others.
As long as I recognized, today's passengers were mostly for connection having initiated from southeast asian countries, since I saw fewer Japanese people. Later the CA let me know that connection demands at JAL was now very hot. On another occasion I read an article reporting the same thing, and it explained about the reduced operations at Hong Kong airport as one of the backgrounds of the Japanese careers currently bustling with increased connection demands.
The experiences at the gate was very smooth, with continuous announcements made about the expected boarding time as well as explanations for a few minutes of delay with backgrounds.
The order of boarding was: 1) Passengers requiring special assistance (e.g., those on a wheel chair), 2) First class and Oneworld Emerald passengers, 3) Business class and Oneworld Sapphire passengers, and so on. I believe JAL used to welcome Oneworld Ruby passengers at the same timing as Sapphire, at least back in 2016 when I was Ruby. Apparently this was not the case today.
After passing through the gate, I moved down an escalator, and a sign was waiting to exclusively let First Class passenger use the boarding bridge to the left. What a moment after more than 2 years of not being able to travel internationally!
JAL's First Class is in 1-2-1 configuration on 2 rows, resulting in 8 seats. 5/8 were occupied today. In terms of the privacy which has become somewhat major in many premium cabins, I think JAL is somewhere in between Emirates and Lufthansa. You do not have complete privacy yet you will never know what other passengers are doing, except the movement of the legs of the passenger next to you over the aisle.
To my understanding, this semi-privacy allows you an ample amout of relaxing to be on your own during the flight while giving CA enough chance to know how passengers are doing. This way, CA is able to give more personalized services to each and every passenger in First Class. For this reason, I think full privacy will probably not be introduced in the next First Class suites coming 2023 in JAL's new main longhaul fleet, A350-1000 (if they do keep First Class in the first place). Of course this is only my hope.
As a pre-depature drink, Champaigne (I believe I heard Delamotte), water, or orange juice was offered. I took orange juice, and believe it was a premium one as I felt solid particles in it.
The amenity set was by Etro, and noise-cancelling headphones by Panasonic was on the table. These headphones were better than the ones provided at least in 2019 in terms of the ability to cancel noises. I took my WF-1000XM4 by Sony, which was a quite good one for earbuds; however the headphones offered were much better.
Well-padded slippers were also provided with a shoehorn, in a fabric case.
Inside the leather file folder were food menu, drink menu, in-flight shopping catalogue, and a code for complementary wifi coupon.
For the first meal, you can choose one from those 2 above, Japanese and Western. Both are from Michelin 3-star restaurant. I chose Japanese option.
After the first meal is finished, you can order anything from the menu on the 2 pictures above. What generous choices!
The signature menu on the alcohol list for JAL's outbound flight is Champaigne Salon. Crystal is offered on the inbound flight. Charles Hedsieck Rose is offered on both inbound and outbound flights.
JAL also has a very good selection of wines.
These two selections are from wineries in California and New Zealand owned by Japanese people. JAL's great way to respect Japanese people standing on the frontline overseas.
Also found in the menu are sake and shochu (Japanese style spirit). Mori Izo is a premium one which is very difficult to buy in its retailed price.
Another signature menu on the list is non-alcoholic drink "Royal Blue Tea" which is, as it says, a tea with very complex tastes such that one who do not prefer alcohols can enjoy along with the food dishes, just as wine or Champaigne.
Before long, it was time to take off. Our fleet flew over Tokyo and Chiba, and then into the Pacific Oceans.
Soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off, it was time for the first meal. I am not quite good at dissolving alcohols; however I could not miss the opportunity to taste Salon.
Amuse bouche: Smoked duck with nuts.
Sakizuke (comparable to starter):
Salmon, Abalone, Sea Urchin, Hard Clam, and Greenling.
These 5 dishes all had different tastes. I felt that eating these are more like a continuous amusement of premium tastes which was not often possible even in restaurants on the fancy side.
Soup: Horsehead Snapper
The delicacy of the mixture of dashi (Japanese broth) and a thick taste coming from snapper was so delicious.
Sashimi: Crab and Caviar on cream cheese
I wondered how it was possible to serve crab sashimi this fresh on an airplane.
Here I ordered Royal Blue Tea.
Wagyu was lightly-tasted. I think this was great because I already tasted many different flavours until now. For wagyu, I enjoyed the taste of wagyu itself, which was of course good. The rice on the left was something we often call takikomi-gohan where rice was steamed with flavours and ingredients. In this case, the ingredient was bamboo shoot. Very delicate taste which goes well with wagyu's thick taste.
Dessert: Matcha mousse
It was incredible that the mousse was topped with shaved ice which did not seem possible on an airplane. I asked CA, and knew that they somehow manage to load the shaved ice as is in the picture, and keep it semi-frozen until being served.
White and round ones are rice chips whose crispy but not salty taste was the best match to the smooth, silky, and sweet taste of the mousse.
After the meal, CA asked if I wished to change to pajamas. I answered yes, and was escorted to the bathroom. While myself changing, CA turned my seat into a bed with Airweave mattress. They have two types of mattress: soft and firm. I chose firm.
What an experience to have a true bed whose length is far longer than myself…
For a good sleep, I ordered Japanese whiskey, Ichiro's Malt on the rock, and a chaser. It was surprisingly sweet in its first note in mouth, and then smokey flavor came in as I swallowed it.
Gradual sunrise is seen in outbound flights from Japan to the U.S. As long as not disturbing to other passengers, which apparently was the case in this flight, I try to keep the sunshade open to see this becautiful view.
As a mid-flight snack, I ordered Mori Izo, coupled with yakitori (somewhat like satey) and lightly-boiled scallops. Surprisingly, yakitori was baked, meaning not microwaved, in the galley, and of course was sizzling and juicy.
Probably thanks to not having much carbs in the first meal, I still had room in my stomach for desserts. The fresh fruits were impossibly sweet and not sour; the petit cake was just like the one I have on the ground.
However, the most surprising was the green tea (sencha). As opposed to matcha which is made from powder, sencha is brewed from leaves. In many cases the color of sencha is lighter, indicating not too many leaves are used. In JAL's First Class, however, one can easily tell how strong the taste is from the yellowish color of the sencha you are served. Yes, it was very strong, perhaps comparable to espresso. It went without saying that this particular cup of sencha was the best match with sweets.
They have a small counter for grab-and-go finiger foods, although CA was always there to serve the passengers.
What a moment to see a sunshine from 4 windows in my seat.
2 hours prior to landing, second meal was served as breakfast. Here again I chose Japanese menu, with a small glass of Charles Heidsieck. Wagyu was served, this time flavoured with soy sauce with a little sweetness, which went very well with the steamed rice. A bite of wagyu prompts you to a bite of steamd rice, which then promps you to a bite of wagyu, cont…
I also had a bowl of green bean soup. Topped with roasted dry-cured ham, it was a very good dish to softly wake up your stomach in the morning.
A view of JFK and Jamaica Bay.
Then landing at JFK. Interestingly, JAL (One World) uses T1 where Sky Team careers such as Korean Air and Air France operates, whereas ANA (Star Alliance) uses T7, where Oneworld careers such as British Airways operate.
Thank you again for reading this long report. I hope you now have a little more sense of what it is like to fly from Japan in Apr-May 2022, under COVID restrictions still in place. Overall, I would say that if you are well prepared in advance, using as many sources as possible like Twitter and YouTube, you will not have too much trouble. On top of that, I am thankful that JAL has not lowered its service in the lounge and on board in the era of pandemic.
Hope to see you in my next post!