How Good Is Japan Airlines’ New First Class Product?

In late 2012, Japan Airlines began introducing a new first & business class product throughout their longhaul fleet. While it looked great, it wasn’t actually until this past weekend that I flew it.

Up until this trip I wasn’t too hot about Japan Airlines. Yes, I knew they were a decent airline, but based on my flights with them prior to that, I was never blown away by them. I always kind of thought of them as the second rate Japanese airline, after ANA, with which I’ve had nothing but amazing experiences.

So this weekend I flew from Jakarta to Tokyo Narita to New York in Japan Airlines first class. Jakarta to Tokyo Narita is a very special route, since it’s the only intra-Asia route on which Japan Airlines offers a first class product.

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And much to my surprise, I was blown the hell away. I figured I’d share my initial thoughts about my Japan Airlines flight between Jakarta and Tokyo Narita to start.

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Japan Airlines first class seat

Japan Airlines’ new first class cabin consists of a total of eight seats, spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

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The tones of the seats are gorgeous, and the product is private though not fully enclosed.

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Japan Airlines first class food

This was a 6hr20min redeye flight departing after 9PM and landing in the wee hours of the morning. On a similar flight, Singapore Airlines would just serve breakfast and nothing else.

Instead there was both a snack menu and a set breakfast menu.

The snack menu was extensive, so I had some sushi to start.

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Then I had caviar.

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And then some delicious vegetable curry.

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Then for breakfast I had fruit to start.

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And then pancakes and yogurt as my main course.

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The food was just top notch, among the best I’ve had for such a short flight.

Japan Airlines first class service

The crew was just phenomenal. In the past my biggest criticism of Japan Airlines has been that the service isn’t quite as good as on ANA, but this crew couldn’t have been any better. They were through the cabin every few minutes, and couldn’t have been more attentive and detail-oriented.

Every time I went to the lavatory they insisted on opening the door for me, and the bathroom seemed to be “refreshed” after every use.

At the end of the flight when I changed out of pajamas the cabin senior asked if I wanted to take the pajamas with me. When I said I did, she said “would it be alright if I give you a fresh pair?” So she got me a fresh pair of pajamas, and also let me keep my previous pair. Crazy!

Japan Airlines first class amenities

To round off the great experience, the amenities in first class were top notch as well. The bedding is among the best of any airline, and they even have two types of mattress pads, depending on whether you prefer a soft or hard sleeping surface.

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I was offered comfortable, though thick, pajamas.

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And then there was an awesome Loewe’s amenity kit, along with Shiseido Men’s kit.

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The lavatories featured Toto toilets, with all the bells and whistles.

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I know this might sound crazy, but perhaps my favorite amenity was the coffee cup. Japan Airlines has massive coffee cups in first class which have a handle that touches the table, as well as their first class branding. If only there were a way to buy these!

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The flight also had wifi, which was extremely fast. A 24 hour pass cost just $18, and it lasted me for both flights with no data restrictions.

Japan Airlines first class bottom line

Simply put, this is a world class product. Previously I thought of Japan Airlines as being somewhat second tier behind the world’s top airlines (ANA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore, etc.), but after this flight I think they’re worthy of being ranked in the same group.

I can’t wait to fly with Japan Airlines again!

If you’ve flown Japan Airlines first class, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. Looks good!
    Ben when are we going to get the rest of the 2014 trip reports??
    At the rate you are going your current travel we may fully read about in July or August….

  2. Don’t dry their PJ’s (which I love), they shrink. At least my two sets did.

    I too love their First class product and their FA’s were awesome (and I am a Korean American). The only downside was their IFE, has it changed at all or were you only given like 10 western movies?

    Also, you didn’t mention that their flight from NRT-JFK offer wifi.

  3. I have flown two segment flight in their F in January. while it was all good, i would say they are still one tier below ANA, especially the service. they seemed to be much more attentive to Japanese speaking travelers. also, they need better tableware for all dishes and ceramic spoon for caviar. i had Japanese food on both segments and it was tasty… but much smaller portions than ANA.

    the hard product is solid… very comfortable seat. the bathrooms are quite small…

    obviously the best part of it all is Loewe… you just can’t beat that. since i was going both to and from Tokyo i got both styles of the kits. gorgeous and reusable. i wish more airlines would use Loewe (looking at you, Cathay) but i guess it’s just cost prohibitive.

  4. I’ve flown them a month ago, Haneda to London, 777-300ER, F class. Top notch experience, I must admit I like it more that CX F, which I flew Europe to Asia. Pajamas are really top quality, very useful for winter months, heck, I am wearing one right one… 🙂 Also, service was phenomenal. Maybe my only slight criticism would go to IFE, which could have (much) more (western) choices…

  5. Looks very nice. Every time I read a post about a nice mattress pad for first class, I start thinking about how great it would be to find a travel mattress pad to use in business class where one isn’t provided. For example, I find the CX seat to be particularly hard, or the BA CW seat to be a bit dirty, and think it would be a lot more comfortable if I had something small enough to take along.

    Searching online, I’ve not really seen anything that seems ideal. Have you heard of any good products to bring some of the comfort of first class to business class?

  6. Darn it. No body talks about business class these days any more where I belong. Couldn’t you at least peek through the curtains?

  7. Your post makes me very sad 🙁
    We were booked on the SFO-HND in December. However, we had to cancel the trip due to unforeseen circumstances. I remember being really distraught because it was a flight I was looking forward to. Not to mention that our onward flight to HKG was in F on Cathay’s 747…thought it would be awesome to fly it one last time. Alas, it wasn’t to be!

  8. GF is a 3 cabin chief purser for ANA and we both flew the NRT-SYD product and simply put, she was blown away. I agree ANA is far from close to the new JL product. they are trying and making big headway to being the number one carrier again. Even GF admits. ANA tries too hard to being a Western carrier. while JL is proud to be a Japanese airline. the food and service show it. Too bad the Japanese govt gave away too much slots to ANA in HND. She says staff at ANA are embarrassed at flying minimum crew trying to compete with the JL product.

  9. @ William Kim

    “Also, you didn’t mention that their flight from NRT-JFK offer wifi.”

    Ben touches on that here:

    “…24 hour pass cost just $18, and it lasted me for both flights with no data restrictions.”

  10. @ tpmgpeds

    I found the WiFi to be adequate while traveling until we reached Alaska, then it was spotty at best. I think I paid $27 (I believe they might have had a promo price if you possessed a JCB card) for unlimited data.

  11. my crew gave me one of the coffee cups as a gift when I left because I admired it so much. The thing that blew me away most of all though, was the little timer that they give you when to press the coffee down.

  12. My partner and I flew JAL F SYD-NRT and return over Christmas/NY and were extremely impressed (like you, we found all aspects of the flight: the food, service, amenities and hard product better than we had anticipated). The flight SYD-NRT was extremely solid but it was really the flight home from NRT-SYD that stood out. We were *ahem* a bit tipsy by the time we made it to the plane but even so the service on that flight was outstanding. At one point the stewardesses even sought to entertain us (now somewhat drunk by teaching us origami). I was really very impressed and slightly surprised by the staff’s excellent english and willingness to engage in conversation with us about all manner of things from the wine selection, to the best souvenirs to buy in japan, to the best way to get from the airport to our hotel at peak travel time. We also found them extremely generous with extra PJs and amenity kits for gifts.
    And wifi was awesome (once we got out of Australian airspace) and free.
    Would travel JAL F again in a heartbeat – such a shame we lose the first class cabin on the Oz – Tokyo route in March 🙁

  13. My first ever premium class award was business class on JAL (thanks to the old BA 100k signup bonus). At the time I was blown away, but that was mostly because I had never flown international, let alone in anything besides economy. Then I flew Cathay’s business class with their new seat and it made me realize how terrible JAL’s angled seat was. What I do remember though is how amazing their service was. While Cathay’s service has been great JAL’s business class felt more like first than business. I may have been influenced by it being my first time in business class or just getting a exceptional crew but the experience had left a impression on me. I had heard that ANA was superior to JAL and finally got to fly them on my last trip. It was fine but didn’t leave much of an impression.

  14. My brother and I recently flew ORD-NRT and NRT-FRA. The cabin temperature was terribly warm and their rather well padded mattress and blanket set only made it worse. As vegetarians, we found the food also to be subpar to what United or any European airline provides. And we definitely prefer the entertainment system, seat, and connecting airport much more on Cathay or Singapore. I’m not sure about ANA, but they are still below CX and SQ in my book due to various reasons. Don’t get me wrong service was fantastic and hard product was one of the best. And about the wifi: it was sketchy at best on both routes because there were a lot of no service areas, it was especially a complete waste on the FRA flight. It’s just these little things which place it below the other airlines.

  15. I did JFK-NRT a few weeks ago in First and it was one of the best flights of my life (and I’ve done F countless times on CX, EY, QF, BA, TG, AA, UA, etc.) The catering was mind-blowing, the booze top notch, and the service absurdly attentive without being intrusive. If this is consistent then I think — shock! horror! – I may even prefer it to Cathay. (Also, free massages at the JAL lounge in NRT trump The Wing at HKG)

  16. curious when i hear food complaints on JL if people were ordering the western option. the japanese options in both F and J have been fantastic. had to settle for the western option once due to poor catering amounts and yeah, the beef was as lousy as you’d find on a domestic US carrier. but i love the large anytime menu and the ability to order food/drinks through the handset/remote.

  17. Recently flew SQ Suites to NRT, then JL F to CGK, and then CX F (for the 3rd time) HKG-JFK. JL F was by far the best, followed by CX and SQ. SQ disappointed on many levels, but I think this was crew specific, and the ABSURD dryness in the cabin.

    JL F was far and beyond the best flight I had ever taken, including LH, EY, CX, SQ, etc. in F. I was shocked. Something about Japanese hospitality / culture really gets to me.

  18. I just did NRT-JFK First Last month and it was phenomenal ! … from my experiences plus some reports out there I would say:
    1) Seat function/Cabin looks: slightly better than NH
    2) Service: equal to NH
    3) Food Main meal: slightly better than NH
    4) Food other than main meal: NH is better
    5) Bed: JL is better
    6) FA uniform: the new JL one looks quite good!
    7) Overall… they are both good!

  19. Can’t wait a flight in next April out of CDG to HND, which features SS7 product.
    Some says that CAs watch passengers like jailers, and I gonna find out if it’s true 😀

    @William Kim
    In Japan they do washings with cold water and dry in air. Tumble dry in high temp should be avoided.

  20. Alas, we disagree again 🙂

    Aside from the lounge in NRT (where JL offers massages, even if they are only 10 mins), and the service (I found it to be a bit more proactive than CX, which I prefer), that’s where the advantages run out.

    While comfortable, the JL bed/bedding was not on the level of CX F, no shot.

    There being 8 seats in JL F vs 6 in CX F makes a big difference, both with respect to roominess and service.

    JL’s AVOD/IFE selection pales in comparison to CX (though I did prefer the JL controller to CXs).

    And, finally, I found the PJs on CX (both Shanghai Tang and PYE) to be more comfy and better quality.

    Ultimately, it comes down to answering this question:

    If given the choice, what would you prefer to fly, all else being equal? And that answer to that question, for me, is CX.

  21. Just flew JAL F on ORD-NRT and back on their 777 sky suite. First time redeeming AA miles for premium international travel on a OW foreign carrier. Greatly appreciate Lucky’s past advice on how to find space on JAL and how to deal with agents on the phone. I would not have figured it out on my own.

    On both flights, only four of the eight F seats were filled. I was the only American. The CAs seemed worried that their English skills were not good enough. Smiling and using simple sentences appeared to them at ease and they were very friendly during the flight. I had the Japanese menu; the CAs seemed to be very pleased when I ate everything up.

    Had a great time on the flight. Agree with the earlier comment that the cabin seemed a little warm. Also, I loved the pajamas; the JAL swan reminded me of the Star Wars rebel alliance logo.

  22. Hey Ben,

    I passed up JL F for CX J on a trip back from South Asia early next year. The thing is, right now I can only get F on the NRT-LAX segment, meaning a regional product to NRT and a crappy US domestic product (AA, AS, US, take your pick) from LAX back to the East coast. (Yes, the AA 321T F is a potential work around, but the JL flight from NRT gets in too late to connect to it.)

    Instead, I have a nonstop from HKG to ORD in good old dependable CX J, with an easy connection to DCA (gotta love hourly service on that route, makes for convenient connections!) And I”m going to enjoy it…

  23. flew them on NRT-LAX in December and the onboard service was just okay. I liked the checkin at NRT a lot though.

  24. We’re booked on JL F in November back from BKK via NRT based on a trip review on Flyertalk. Glad you confirmed the awesomeness, I’m excited.

  25. Just did JAL first and ba first OMG, JAL rocked in terms of staff and hard product and even food, great steak, wines and sake. Phoned my mates via viber over internet once left Aussie airspace. Massive seat and private from rest of passengers. Only 2 things let it down. Small toilets and no bar. New bus seats looked OK but narrow but that was prob as I was comparing them to first. BA first on the other hand, never again. Pretty surley staff, not a great hard product, the fact the headphones were not noise cancelling summed up the back experiance and they have the cheek to ask for a massive supplement. JAL all the way.

  26. Nice coincidence to see your report. I’m on the SYD-NRT flight right now in row one. They gave us free internet passes which was great. Great food and service. Much better than our first flight from SFO-Haneda. That flight, food, service was not very good and the SFO lounge was the worst lounge I have ever seen.

    This flight is great although very hot. I did ask them to cool it down and maybe it’s just me. They only negative is they don’t have Johnnie walker blue. Enjoyed the Quantas lounge in Sydney but for they also have an American express lounge I wish I would have tried. Next flight in 9 hours Haneda to SFO. Hope it’s as good.

  27. Also, used us air miles first class round trip SFO-SYD via tokyo. Didn’t have as great an experience at park Hyatt Sydney but what a great location. Among many things, it is such a loud hotel compared to the tranquil expectation usual for park Hyatt. Some disappointment may be that we spent time at Park Hyatt Tokyo before going to Sydney, what a great experience that was.

  28. Agree 100%! Was never crazy about JL’s product in any class. Too many old planes and overworked crew. Since the bankruptcy, I was totally impressed with their service, and my trip in F (NRT-JFK) was off the rails. The seat was very good (I still prefer CX F’s hard product) but I was blown away by the meal and drink service. Who needs DP when they serve Salon onboard? The meal itself was worthy of any top-flight restaurant. Service was extremely attentive (although like much of Japan, the English language ability is spotty at best). I look forward to my next JL flight..

  29. @ Danray — Interesting, didn’t get free internet passes on either of my flights. Happy you’re enjoying your flight, though!

  30. @ Dan — Agree, the convenience of the nonstop CX F flight is worth a lot, in my opinion. I’d probably do the same.

  31. @ AJK — Don’t disagree with your points at all, though I should clarify that for me having wifi is huge. If neither airline had wifi I’d definitely prefer Cathay. But with wifi on JAL and no wifi on Cathay, it’s a very close call.

  32. @ Mike — Highly doubt it. They’re reconfiguring them now with the new business class product and it’s already a really sparse configuration, so can’t imagine they’ll add first class.

  33. @ tpmgpeds — Yes, I found it to be really reliable and reasonably priced at under $20 for a 24-hour pass with unlimited data.

  34. @ William Kim — Yeah, entertainment selection sucks, though I don’t watch onboard entertainment typically, so didn’t bother me at all.

  35. Currently at JAL First Class lounge at Haneda. It is beautiful and one of the best I have seen. Chef, extensive food and bar. Champagne room, shoe shine, game room, spa with massage. All look brand new. Huge facility with about 6 people in it.

  36. I flew both NH and JL First between Japan and USA in the past few months. I found the quality of service to be comparable, but I slightly prefer the catering on NH. What I hought was special on JL is that they serve the Royal Blue tea which is a bottled premium oolong tea. Kept asking for refills the flight attendant gave me a whole bottle.

  37. Thanks Lucky.

    That’s great value for such a long haul in F. I’m crossing my fingers that AS adds JAL as a partner at some point in the future. Would be great, but since they already have CX and KE (which isn’t great considering you can’t access F) it may be a pipe dream.

  38. Luck, so should I stick with JL > CX on my trip to BKK? I was hoping to change it to CX as the date got closer but what do you think? Stick with JL and not worry about trying to change it to CX?

    I do have a CX J flight on the way back …

  39. Why do airlines like this keep the cabin so warm. I complain and they say they will turn it down But it stays very warm. Even my wife is hot and she is usually always cold.

  40. Great review, though it may miss one of the best features of JAL first, namely their champagne, which, if it’s still Salon, is by my reckoning the best (or in any event the most expensive) of any airline in the world, and by a healthy margin. Yay for rare alcohol at high altitudes!

  41. @Lucky:

    I will be flying JAL F from SFO – HND on April , my flight is JAL 1, depart at 1:35 a.m., since the departure time is quite late (past midnight), I was wondering what lounge in SFO that I could check?
    Arriving at HND at 4:45 am, is there any F lounge open that I could visit to have breakfast and drink before heading out?

    Also for inbound will depart ICN to NRT in J (arriving at NRT at 4:25 pm) then from NRT to SFO in F class, departing at 12:05 am, which is the best lounge should I go to? in HND or NRT?

    Your advice is greatly appreciated since this is my first time flying JAL F so I want to maximize my experience. Thanks in advance.

  42. @ David — I haven’t taken that specific flight, sorry. I believe they have their own lounge at SFO and also an arrivals lounge in HND which you should be able to use. Enjoy the flight!

  43. @Lucky

    Thanks, do you think I can use the lounge regardless before departure or after arrival? or it has to be before departure? it doesn’t matter and I still have an access to the lounge even after arrival , right?

  44. @ Lucky

    Thank you Lucky ….. I didn’t know that there are departure and arrival lounges….this is my first time so I hope it will be the most memorable 🙂

  45. Thanks for the great review Lucky. We will be doing LGA-ORD-NRT in about a month, do JL open up F seats closer to departure date? JFK-NRT would be awesome. Expertflyer shows F4 A4 but only 2 occupied seats.

  46. Is there a JAL first class lounge for arrivals too? Or can we still use the Sakura lounge in the departure area after arrival?

  47. I’m flying to Tokyo in October and I’m pretty flexible with my dates. I’d love to fly JAL first class using my AA miles but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of awards open in first class yet. Is there an easy (cheap) way to be able to monitor and be alerted for when those open up?

  48. @ Marc — Can’t set an alert, but they do open a lot of last minute first class award space, in my experience.

  49. It looks like it depends on a route-people who have had JFK-NRT all had great overblown experiences while SFO-HND is the worst one (poor lounge at SFO, limited food during the flight, bad wine…). I wish I had a better idea about that SFO-HND flight before choosing it over CX.

  50. I hope you’re right. Switched from LGA-ORD-NRT TO JFK-NRT last week for $150×2 leaving Tuesday. Can confirm that multiple F seats do open up near departure.

  51. I’m looking at booking a trip to bkk right now and I will be flying CX J one way and the other way I have the option of JAL F or CX J again….which is the better way to go?

  52. Just booked 2 JL F seats on ORD-NRT for next year…so excited, especially after reading the reviews and comments in this post. This is clearly splitting hairs, but would you select 1D/1G or 2D/2G? Cheers!

  53. @ Wendy — Awesome, I’m sure you’ll have a great trip. Personally I’d go with 2D & 2G, as it’s a bit more private and further from the galley.

  54. Hey Lucky. I know that CX F is hard to find these days with AA miles and am looking for a trip to Asia around Christmas time. I found JAL F availability but I know how much you rave about CX F and this will be my first time on a “proper” first class cabin. Is there that big of a different in hard and soft products or will JAL be just as amazing. Thanks and love your posts!

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