Review: Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER Tokyo Narita To New York JFK

Introduction
British Airways Galleries First Class Lounge Chicago Airport
Cathay Pacific First Class 777-300ER Chicago To Hong Kong
Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class A330 Hong Kong To Jakarta
Transiting Jakarta Airport
Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER Jakarta To Tokyo Narita
Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport
Japan Airlines First Class 777-300ER Tokyo Narita To New York JFK


After a really awesome flight on JAL from Jakarta to Tokyo Narita, I was excited to see whether it was a one-off, or if JAL has really become this awesome. In this review I won’t focus too much on the hard product, since I covered that pretty thoroughly in the last installment.

Japan Airlines 6
Tokyo Narita (NRT) – New York (JFK)
Monday, February 16
Depart: 11:10AM
Arrive: 10:05AM
Duration: 12hr55min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)

At the door I was welcomed by the senior cabin attendant, Akahane, and two of the other first class crew. I got a full round of bows before I even stepped foot on the plane. I was escorted to my seat, 2A.

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Japan Airlines 777 first class, seat 2A

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Japan Airlines first class cabin

As soon as I sat down Akahane came to my seat for a more detailed welcome, including informing me of the flight time of 12hr15min. She offered me a drink, and I of course requested a glass of Salon champagne. It was served with a hot towel.

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Japan Airlines first class pre-departure champagne

Shortly thereafter I was offered the same pajamas and amenity kit I had been given on the last sector. As on the last flight, one of the flight attendants escorted me to the lavatory and waited while I changed so that she could hang my clothes upon emerging.

The cabin continued to fill up, almost exclusively with Japanese passengers. There was one guy traveling with his wife who seemed to be an especially big deal, because the crew just about bowed at a beyond 90 degree angle for him.

To quote “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he most certainly wasn’t getting “$hit bows:”

At around 11AM Akahane came on the PA to welcome everyone aboard on behalf of the two captains and two first officers, as well as the rest of the crew.

At 11:05AM the door closed with a full first class cabin, and we began our pushback to runway 34L.

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View on pushback Tokyo Narita Airport

As usual, the traffic enroute to the departure runway was interesting, from a Delta 757 to a Japan Airlines 767 to a FedEx 777 to an ANA 787 to Nippon Cargo 747-8s.

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Taxiing to runway Tokyo Narita Airport

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Japan Airlines 767 Tokyo Narita Airport

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Fedex 777 Tokyo Narita Airport

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ANA 787 Tokyo Narita Airport

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Nippon Cargo 747s Tokyo Narita Airport

Once at runway 34L we were number two for takeoff, and were airborne in a matter of minutes after a roughly 40 second takeoff roll.

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Taking off Narita Airport

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Airshow enroute to New York

The weather on the initial climb out was beautiful, and our ride was smooth at first, so the seatbelt sign was turned off a bit over five minutes after takeoff.

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View after takeoff from Narita Airport

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View after takeoff from Narita Airport

However, as we reached our cruising altitude we hit some serious chop. Like, I’m not scared by turbulence and certainly don’t get fazed by it anymore, but this was among the worst I’ve had in a while… yet the seatbelt sign stayed off, so the crew tried to continue their service. Hah.

On the plus side, the views were breathtaking. For such a small and densely populated country, I didn’t realize Japan was so mountainous and unpopulated in many areas.

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Gorgeous views over Japan

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Gorgeous views over Japan

Once the turbulence subsided menus and wine lists were distributed.

The menu read as follows:

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Random thought, but can anyone explain to me why JAL markets their menus as “BEDD?” Like, I could get if they marketed their turndown service that way (who wouldn’t want an extra “D” in BED?), but the meal service…?

I was eventually hoping to sleep so took it easy on alcohol, and instead had a Diet Coke. It was served with a colorful plate of things to nibble on.

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JAL first class lunch — palate pleaser

I was then offered rice crackers and fermented soybeans.

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JAL first class pre-lunch snack– soy beans and rice crackers

The next course consisted of sea urchin and marinated octopus. While I’m not usually a huge fan of those sea creatures, it was quite good.

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JAL first class lunch amuse bouche — sea urchin and marinated octopus

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JAL first class lunch amuse bouche — sea urchin and marinated octopus

I was also offered a selection from the bread basket.

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JAL first class lunch — bread selection

Next I was served caviar, which was accompanied by a surprisingly good cauliflower veloute.

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JAL first class lunch starter — caviar and cauliflower veloute

For the main course I ordered the wagyu beef. For wagyu beef it was quite good, though I’m not sure if I’ll ever “get” wagyu beef.

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JAL first class lunch main course — wagyu beef fillet

I had the Japanese dessert, which was one of the most interesting and tasty desserts I’ve had in a while.

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JAL first class dessert — Japanese chestnut Mont Blanc with passion-fruit granite

Lastly I had a cappuccino to finish off the meal.

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Japan Airlines first class cappuccino

All-in-all it was a good meal, and the crew was just so lovely. Since the cabin was full the service wasn’t quite as attentive as on the last flight, but the crew showed the same passion and friendly/positive attitude as the last crew did.

The meal service was done a bit under two hours into the flight, at which point it was time for some shut eye.

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Airshow enroute to New York JFK

I immediately had my bed made, and this time opted for a “soft” mattress.

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Japan Airlines first class bed

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Japan Airlines first class mattress pad

I slept extremely well all the way until we were over Northwest Canada.

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Airshow enroute to New York JFK

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Airshow enroute to New York JFK

At that point I got out my laptop and got some work done, given that I still had the wifi pass from the previous flight.

About three hours before landing I was a bit hungry again, so decided to take a look at the menu. While JAL has a set meal after takeoff, for the rest of the flight they just have an a la carte menu, so you can order what you want when you want.

The a la carte menu read as follows:

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I decided on the Japanese udon noodles and lobster sandwich. Both were phenomenal. I find udon noodles on planes to often be among the best airplane food out there, since it can actually be executed fairly well. Meanwhile the lobster roll was the thing that surprised me — the lobster tasted fresh and not at all “dried out.”

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Japan Airlines first class snack — udon noodles and lobster sandwich

Then for dessert I asked if they had any ice cream, which they did indeed. It was even properly “plated,” rather than just being served in a carton.

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Japan Airlines first class dessert — ice cream

Soon enough we were about 45 minutes out of New York, so I changed out of my pajamas and back into my jeans and t-shirt. Once again as I emerged from the lavatory I was asked if I wanted a fresh set of pajamas to take with me — sure! Four sets of pajamas after just two flights isn’t half bad (well, unless you live out of a carry-on like me, in which case it’s sort of problematic). 😉

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Airshow enroute to New York JFK

As we began our descent Akahane and her team came around to each passenger to thank them for flying JAL and to offer them a box of macarons. What a nice touch!

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Japan Airlines first class pre-arrival gift — Jean-Paul Hevin macarons

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Japan Airlines first class pre-arrival gift — Jean-Paul Hevin macaroons

Our descent was a bit turbulent, and the seatbelt sign was turned on only about five minutes before landing.

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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View on approach into New York

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Final approach into New York

We touched down at Kennedy Airport at 9:30AM, and from there had quite a long taxi to the gate.

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Final approach into New York

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Touchdown JFK

At one point we were taxiing on one of the outer taxiways at maybe 20 miles per hour and came to a really abrupt stop. Good thing the crew were all seated, or else they would have likely fallen. I think the pilots made a wrong turn or something, because after the abrupt stop we stood there for about 30 seconds and then turned onto a taxiway to make a U-turn of sorts.

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Terminal 8 JFK

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Terminal 1 JFK

We were arriving at gate 6, which I guess was a bit tight, since we turned off our engines short of the gate and were then towed in.

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Arrival gate JFK

Parked a couple of gates down from us was a National 757, which was an airline I had to look up (it’s not often that happens nowadays!).

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National 757 JFK

I bid farewell to the crew and headed towards Global Entry, ready to be back on solid ground after an awesome but crazy three day trip.

Interestingly the guy that seemed to be “someone” was met at the gate by no fewer than a handful of Japanese guys in suits, and was escorted through immigration. I’m not sure if he was an airline executive or diplomat or what…

Japan Airlines first class bottom line

Japan Airlines really impressed me with this trip.

The hard product was fantastic, from the seat comfort for lounging to the bed for sleeping. I also love the fact that JAL has reasonably priced and fast wifi, which not many transpacific airlines have — for me that’s a huge selling point.

But what impressed me the most were the crews on both sectors. They were warm, friendly, and attentive.

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Comments

  1. Your seat choice/recommendation: for one? for two?

    I don’t understand the gift of food, which would make me uneasy about needing to declare and go through the ag line. I’d hate to risk losing global entry over such a thing, especially with “sniffer dogs”.. Any thoughts?

  2. Hi Lucky … How was the temperature onboard? I want to try JAL but don’t want to sweat for 14 hours.

  3. @colleen: According to the USDA APHIS (which the CBP defers to), baked goods are generally allowed entry. You should still declare them, though.

  4. I got my macarons right after dinner w/ dessert – must be a flight 2 flight kind of differences…

    fyi: they only have 1 for each passanger (since I loved the sweet stuff – I tried getting 2 boxes to be consumed on the plane)

  5. I think JAL blows away CX – I think CX is good, but they need some badly needed updates. For one, I think their “new” first class seat simply isn’t the same when in “bed” mode as JAL – JAL is simply amazing and more comfortable – I don’t like how the CX seat “forces” your feet into the corner, as opposed to JAL having an equal width throughout the bed. As you say, the WIFI is a key point and I think the entertainment and screen itself blows away CX. Keep it up JAL, very nice!

  6. Lucky,

    How was the cabin temp and IFE selection (which I hear can be lousy)?

    How many snacks is one allowed to order mid-flight? As many until full>

  7. The engine off tow is usually a pretty standard procedure for Heavy operations into JFK T1. It usually applies to almost all aircraft and gates to ensure precision docking

  8. i am about as loyal to CX for asia trips as one can be but this review and the last really have me fiending for a JL journey soon. both F and J are phenomenal in my opinion. the only reason i don’t use my AAdvantage miles for them more often is the inconsistency of their hard product across various aircraft. no way i’m going to do a longhaul in some angled flat BS. once they get skysuite across all J cabins, i might have to abandon beloved CX sniff sniff.

    and man, the japanese food on JL is ridiculously good.

  9. Great report once again. I can’t wait to fly JAL once again in December from Tokyo-Honolulu. It’ll be my first time with them in Business. I’ve flown with them before but that was years ago when they still were the largest operator of the 747.

    Out of curiosity, did they have a “secondary” security check at the gate in NRT for U.S. bound flights similar to what you get at HKG? Not that I’m bothered by it, but curious to know.

  10. In the battle of Japanese carriers, who wins now? Does NH Square still reign supreme? Or does JL now join the top tier of F products along with CX, SQ, and the likes?

  11. Agree with others about cabin temperature. I mentioned to flight attendants but it didn’t seem to change.

  12. Ben,

    It looks like it is the Western menu that comes with caviar. If one ordered the Japanese menu but still wanted to have the caviar is that usually ok? Thanks.

  13. Lucky,

    Love this review. I am trying to do the same route(NRT-JFK) in July this year but didn’t find any openings. I was wondering if seats will open up close to departure?

    Furthermore, if I am in Japan while trying to use AA miles to redeem, do I call the Japan AA customer service or the US one?

    Thanks in advance

  14. Love the views after takeoff from Narita, have similar pictures from my flight in February. Definitely will look into JAL for future trips after reading this report.

  15. @Lucky — Did you punch the FA in the teeth for serving you the soy beans and rice crackers in bags rather than in a bowl? No? See, this is why you can never be an airline executive.

  16. Oh man, I’m heading to Japan later this year and I’ve been trying to decide between JAL and CX (since we might be in HK for a couple of days). Seems like either choice would be a sold one. Might just have to fly with one and then come back on the other just to try both first class options.

  17. Can you dine across from your travel companion similar to how you can in CX F? I have an upcoming flight in JAL F with my squeeze and find being able to dine together one of the best parts about flying in first.

  18. You really can’t wait till you’re such a “bigshot” hah that you get the shit bow can you? Your envy is pretty disgusting.

  19. We’re doing this same flight in reverse (JL5) in F this Friday. We cannot be more excited!

  20. @ Ginny — JAL is great about opening last minute award seats, which is when most seats seem to become available. You can call the US customer service number to book.

  21. @ Forrest — Tough to say, I’d say JAL has probably joined the top “tier” of Asian carriers in my mind, now.

  22. @ ILDC — I doubt they’ll deny you food if they have enough. The cabin was warm at first but got cooler towards the end. IFE selection wasn’t great, and I didn’t partake in it.

  23. @ John — Hah, it only flies intra-Asia, though I remember a while back they were repositioning one and flew it nonstop NRT-SEA.

  24. @ colleen — Alone I’d do one of the window seats in row two, while if traveling with someone I’d do the two center seats in row two.

  25. Changed an inconvenient routing on JAL J to Tokyo to JAL F, SFO-HND 777-300ER. Only after I booked I read a trip report on this exact flight, JAL001. It’s a flagship route, but F service aboard is pretty much non-existent as it’s a 1:35 a.m. departure with arrival at 4:45 a.m. next day. Your report shows the full JAL F service. I used extra miles to get this routing – no J class available – so at least I’ll be able to sleep in the SkySuite. This one-way flight lists for over $13,000. For a ‘dinner’ snack it’s essentially a 75 cent box of microwaved bought-at-Safeway Top Ramen! Surprised they don’t have vending machines on board. Cannot make this up or overstate this unmitigated disaster carrying flight number 001 – this for $13,000!

  26. Have been on both Cathay and JAL first class flights across the pond….had heard how bad the JAL flights were…small seats, etc….one of the best flights I have ever been on. It was amazing..had a wine made out of sweet potatoes that I tried to find for years…..not the usual sweet potato wine you find….this was spectacular….loved that flight…

  27. Lucky,
    I just redeemed CX first ORD to SIN and return on business on JAL and I paid 125$ today. Is that correct?

  28. Question about the pajamas – have you had a chance to wash them at home? If so, have you noticed significant shrinkage?
    Our upcoming JAL F is our first intl F ever, and I’d like to hang on to the PJ’s if possible, and would love to know if we should hang dry them or if a dryer is ok

    Thanks!

  29. Lucky – My husband and I are travelling to Thailand for vacation next month. We are currently in Cathay business class both ways with hopes of upgrading to first class (we are flexible as to what city and have a two day window). It looks like we may have the option of securing first class if we use japan airlines and go through Tokyo instead of cathay through hong kong. How does JA first compare to Cathay? Would you recommend doing one way each or sticking to Cathay if we can?

  30. “I got a full round of bows before I even stepped foot on the plane.”

    How else should you be properly greeted? Shake hands? Wave hands and say hi? Lol. You european folks are funny.

  31. It appears by looking on JAL’s site and BA’s site that they are discontinuing this flight sometime next year. I am looking all over August on both sites and the JFK-Tokyo flight does not exist. I can find the nonstop from SFO and LAX but not JFK. Do you have any insight on why they might stop this?

  32. @Lucky – A quick advice plz, I have two options (JAL NRT-LAX and AA LAX-JFK) First Class on a saturday arrival or JAL NRT-JFK arrive Monday morning. What do you suggest. Is the AA LAX-JFK transcontinental First worth a try or 3hrs more on JAL first class to JFK direct better?

  33. I would just do NRT-JFK nonstop if I were you and can spare the time. JAL F so much better, and without a stop.

  34. the pre-arrival gift were macarons, not macaroons. JAL looks fantastic unlike unfortunately the poor us carriers.

  35. I thought the main point about these reviews was so people could view the wine/champagne list? The reviewer failed miserably.

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