Japan Airlines Flt. 5 New York-JFK to Tokyo Haneda (JFK-HND)
Boeing 777-300ER, First Class
Sched. Dep. 12:50pm Sched. Arr. 5:10pm +1
Actual Dep. 12:42pm Actual Arr. 4:38pm +1
This is Part 2 in a series summarizing my February-March 2020 trip to Japan, taken just before COVID-19 became a pandemic. The service may not reflect what you can expect now, but I figured I’d post it anyway. You can read my last post, about my trip from DCA to JFK and the lounges at JFK Terminal 1, here.
As I mentioned in my last post, the gate area for my JAL flight to Tokyo-Haneda was pretty crowded, so I waited in the Primeclass lounge until right before boarding time. When boarding began, JAL had Oneworld Ruby and First Class together in group 1, and I was about the 25th on-board. This was late February, and about half of the gate agents were wearing surgical masks.
From the moment I got on board, the crew was extremely attentive. Both the purser and the flight attendant came over about ten times as I was settling in, welcoming me, showing me the menu, providing me the free wi-fi code, and insisting on taking pictures of me in the seat. The purser apologized that the cabin crew was wearing surgical masks as a precaution, which didn’t require an apology to me, even then. I was immediately asked whether I wanted a pre-departure beverage, and was quickly brought champagne and a cold towel.
JAL’s first-class product doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it was a large, comfortable seat. There was no door or anything, but the shell of the seat provided a fair bit of privacy and I didn’t notice any other passengers during the flight, even with 5 of 8 seats occupied. (I was the only non-Japanese passenger.) There was a ton of storage space, including under the ottoman and in a large side compartment. My backpack fit easily under the ottoman, so I ended up not using the overhead bins at all. The main seat was a nice brown leather, but the cream accents were showing some signs of age. The ottoman could be used as a seat for dining for two, and the fold out table was massive.
At the seat at boarding were a large pillow, noise-canceling headphones, a paisley Etro amenity kit, slippers, and a Shisheido men’s skincare set. The main amenity kit was fairly basic, with the same contents as a standard business class kit plus an Etro parfum and a “moisture mask.”
The menus were in a leather portfolio, reflecting JAL’s “Bedd” branded service. For the main service, there was a choice of Western or Japanese menus. Despite the flight length, there was no set second meal, but there was a large dine-on-demand menu with both a la carte and “set” menus. There was also a massive beverage menu, offering a choice of Cristal 2008 or Lanson Noble Cuvee 2002 champagne, two different sakes, two different shochus, 4 red wines, 4 white wines, and a full range of spirits, teas, and soft drinks.
The in-flight entertainment didn’t work on the ground, but we pushed back early and were quickly on our way. I tried to use the controller in the seat, but it must have been an old one they didn’t remove when replacing the IFE system as it wasn’t connected to anything, and there was a separate one with a small touchscreen that did work. Odd! The IFE options weren’t great- a bunch of movies a few years old, and a random mix of TV shows, and a few more recent releases. But I got “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” up. I’d also recommend making sure you have long power cords, as the outlets are in the front of the “suite.” The free Wifi worked super well the entire flight—notably, it was only $18 for the entire flight if you weren’t in first class, which is still a bargain compared to Gogo pricing.
The food and beverage service started very quickly once in the air. At first, I was a little disappointed, as I was brought a lukewarm scented “hot” towel and a stained table cloth. But the rest of the service was incredible. First, there was a delicious duck prosciutto, orange, and goat cheese-stuffed mushroom amuse bouche, which I accompanied with a glass of Cristal. It was quickly followed with a pass of a basket with a choice from a basket of dried seafood snack, soy beans, or trail mix. Five minutes later I was offered a second go at the basket, which would later be placed near the forward lav with bottled water. Throughout, there were Cristal refills proactively offered.
For the meal service, I chose the Japanese meal, so I switched to sake. One thing the trip taught me is I prefer cheap Japanese food to fancy kaiseki-style food, and this was a five-course very fancy kaiseki style mood. It was a ton of food, though, and I enjoyed it—particularly the presentation. All these months out, I only have a bit of a recollection from my notes, which say the short rib was very fatty and the sesame pudding was amazing.
After dessert, the flight attendant asked if I wanted her to make my bed, and if so, whether I wanted it hard or soft. I asked if there were pajamas, and she asked me to wait a moment, and she then escorted me to the bathroom which she had set up with the changing bench down, a package of pajamas, and a hanger for my clothes. It was also my first time in an airplane bathroom with a bidet (and origami, but the bidet was more notable). On my way out, the flight attendant took the hanger with my street clothes and hung everything up.
When I came back, the bed was made with a mattress pad, duvet and a second pillow, with a warm towel and bottle of water placed on the side table. I asked for a glass of Hibiki, and then slept for about seven hours.
When I woke up, I was a little surprised that no one had taken my empty Hibiki glass or trash. After a while with no one appearing in the cabin, I used the call button, and an apologetic, different flight attendant emerged (sans mask, notably). I wasn’t super hungry but I knew I should eat something and wanted to force myself to stay awake so I could sleep when I got to Tokyo in the evening. I had read online that I could request some of the food items from the business class snack menu, like gyoza, that weren’t on the first-class menu, but just did the Long Island duck rice bowl, which was very good. After, I got a cappuccino, which was probably the best in-air coffee I’d ever had (or tied with Austrian’s eis-kaffee), and some ice cream- though they oddly only had strawberry.
Post-wake up, service was a lot more invisible than it had been at the beginning of the flight, which surprised me. I had my empty dishes and mattress pad at my feet for at least thirty minutes. When they were cleared, though, I ordered another Hibiki and watched Judy. As the movie ended, I figured I’d go for one final pre-landing snack, this time from the Western menu, so went with the lasagna, which was fine but nothing special.
About two hours before landing, I told the flight attendant I wanted to change, and she brought me back my street clothes, all hung neatly on multiple hangers (I’d put it all on one). She asked if I wanted to take the pajamas home and offered to package them for me, though I think she may have actually brought me a whole new set, which were presented to me in plastic wrapping in a JAL shopping bag. I also noted that matcha cakes had been put out at the snack station.
Ninety minutes before landing, the flight attendant told me the kitchen would be closing and asked if I wanted anything else, which I found a very funny phrasing. I just got another cappuccino. Forty-five minutes later, the purser came around and thanked each first-class passenger profusely and poured a cup of “Japanese tea” (I think it was just green tea).
At 4:25pm two days later, we were on the ground at Haneda. After a fairly long taxi, I was off the plane at 4:41pm. Some first-class passengers were met with agents holding tablets with their name on them—perhaps making connections—but two of us were not. I walked through a “quarantine station” which just had an area marked for passengers who had been to China or Hong Kong in the past fourteen days, and then an automatic temperature scan. I was clear and made it through immigration and to baggage claim in a matter of minutes.
Bags took surprisingly long given there were no other flights, and mine didn’t come until 5:05. As I waited, I used the restroom and ATM, and noted that all of the airport staff was wearing masks, and about 50% of the passengers.
My notes said: “Not sure if the splurge of miles was worth it since I’m not exactly drowning in them, but the service was lovely- probably warmest of any I’ve had, the bed was comfortable, and the food and drink high end. It’s a shame that there’s no ground service at all.” It’s interesting what ten months’ perspective will do, as I am now totally glad I spent the extra miles for the “specialness” of JAL First Class. Putting aside that I now have hundreds of thousands of points and miles with nowhere to go, it’s good to treat yourself.