01. Introduction: 13,733 amazing miles in Japan Airlines business class
02. Japan Airlines 787-8 business class (Shell Flat Neo) San Diego to Tokyo (Narita)
03. Japan Airlines 737-800 business class Tokyo (Narita) to Beijing
04. St Regis Hotel, Beijing
05. 3 ways this trip to Beijing was exactly like the Apollo 13 mission to the moon
06. BGS Premiere Lounge, PEK
07. Japan Airlines 787-8 business class (Sky Suite) Beijing to Tokyo (Haneda)
08. Royal Park Hotel THE Haneda
09. Haneda to Narita transfer bus
10. JAL Sakura Lounge, NRT
11. Japan Airlines 787-8 business class (Shell Flat Neo) Tokyo (Narita) to San Diego
This was the day I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Not only was it going to be my first time flying Japan Airlines, it was also going to be a nice and refreshing change of pace from having to wake up at an ungodly early hour to catch a flight out of San Diego. If you’ve been getting totally sick and tired of listening to me complain about having to wake up early to catch flights, you’re going to get a nice break on this one.
This flight to Tokyo was scheduled to depart SAN at 11:45 am, which gave me plenty of time to sleep in and play with the cat a bit before heading out the door. Of course my cat didn’t approve of this – she’s normally dead asleep when I leave on a trip, but I couldn’t escape the evil glances this time. She knew that I was up to no good, and I feared for all my personal belongings as I closed the door behind me and walked out to the Uber waiting for me at the corner. You cat owners out there know exactly what I’m talking about – those little furballs have a sadistic way of getting revenge, and it usually involves the complete destruction of our most prized worldly possessions (and toilet paper rolls).
Screw it. Feline consequences be damned, because I’m flying Japan Airlines business class today and that’s all that matters!
San Diego, CA (SAN) – Tokyo, Japan (NRT)
Thursday, January 25, 2018
Duration: 11 hours 14 minutes
Seat: 8K (business class)
Here’s the video I created for this flight, with music courtesy of Epidemic Sound:
Even though I’m not going to be complaining about having to wake up so early to catch this flight, I can’t skip over the usual Camden Food Company part. Of course I was planning on spending a bit of time in the Airspace lounge, but to be quite honest the food there is less than desirable and I was thinking that a Healthwhich would be much better instead.
Unfortunately the air was quickly let out of my tires and I was horrified to find out that they no longer stock turkey sausage. How the hell can a Healthwhich have the word “health” in it with pork sausage smashed between the bread? It’s not like turkey sausage is the most healthy food in the world (duh), but come on. Pork? On a healthy sandwich?
The excitement of flying Japan Airlines out of San Diego was too great of course, and I don’t think I sulked about the sausage thing for more than three seconds before skipping with joy all the way over to the Airspace lounge to relax a bit before the flight. This isn’t the greatest lounge in the world, and the sandwich was mediocre at best, but how can anyone not feel great knowing they’re about to spend 12 hours with one of the best cabin crews in the sky?
I arrived at the gate approximately 20 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin, and the first thing that hit me was the fact that there didn’t seem to be very many people waiting to get on this flight. It seemed like an awfully low number of people for a 787, but I didn’t think much about it considering that there were still some time left. Perhaps they were all mortified about the turkey sausage thing as well, and were scurrying around the airport trying to find an alternative breakfast.
Despite how light the load looked today, I took a spot in the business class queue in anticipation of boarding commencing soon. Since I was doing a full trip report for this flight with pics and video, I wanted to be one of the first onboard to get somewhat decent shots of the business class cabin. Those of you who don’t do trip reports have no idea the struggle it is to get decent footage without other people blocking the view of everything. Trip reporting is not a hobby – it’s a full-on contact sport!
Boarding was delayed by a few minutes, for no obvious reasons, but it made no difference to me. While I was waiting, I couldn’t help but to overhear a woman pleading with the Japan Airlines agent at the desk that her visa for whatever country was she was connecting to was indeed valid. She apparently purchased it the morning of this flight, and all she had was an email receipt. Never in a million years would I be so casual when it comes to obtaining proper travel documents, but I found it interesting that they actually let her on the plane with just that email receipt. Whether or not she got deported when she arrived at her destination is another story…
This flight was boarding from gates 20 and 21 today, which were the same gates that I flew out on British Airways to LHR almost 2 years ago. It’s a long walk to the plane down a very narrow jet bridge, but there was definitely gold at the end of this tunnel in the form of a JAL 787 with a friendly cabin crew greeting us onboard.
This particular airplane had what was called the Shell Flat Neo business class. It’s not the best business class seat by a long shot, as it’s not very private and it’s angled lie-flat instead of fully flat, but it’s still very comfortable and perfectly acceptable for a long haul flight such as SAN-NRT.
There were amenity kits at every seat upon arrival, though I did find it a bit odd that there was no pre-departure drink service on this flight. I was too busy taking pics and video footage anyway, but it should be noted just in case you’re the type of person who expects that sort of thing in business class.
The lack of a pre-departure beverage didn’t necessarily mean that the service was off to a bad start, however. Hardly. Cold towels were distributed while still parked at the gate, which at first seemed a bit odd to me because I’ve never been offered a cold towel on an airplane before. But cold towels are very much part of Japanese culture though, so it quickly made perfect sense and I wasn’t complaining – even a teensy weency bit.
There must’ve been a ton of people still running through the airport looking for a breakfast sandwich with turkey sausage, because by the time they closed the forward boarding door, the seat next to me was vacant – as well as probably half of the entire business class cabin. It was a very light load today! Everything I’ve heard about this Japan Airlines flight from San Diego to Tokyo has been positive, with very high load factors all year round. While it was nice that I had an empty seat next to me today, I really do hope that they actually fill this business class cabin on a constant basis. When it comes right down to it, without premium passengers, this JAL service to NRT would be in jeopardy.
A light load factor translated into a very short and quick take off roll, and we were up in the air and pointed towards the Northwest in no time at all.
Flight attendants began the cabin service just as we were coming up on Los Angeles, generously offering magazines, newspapers, and cardigans to everyone in business class. I sure as heck didn’t need a cardigan, as I felt like the cabin was already much too warm and I had been peeling layers of clothes off ever since stepping foot on the plane. It’s too bad that nudity isn’t more acceptable in today’s culture, because I could’ve been perfectly content sitting there in my tighty-whiteys sipping on my usual glass of water. It was warm!
Drink orders came first, followed very quickly by lunch. It came so fast as a matter fact that it was all basically the same service and the drinks were just the beginning of the meal I guess. Again, something I’m not complaining about since the food was probably the thing that I was looking forward to the most on today’s flight. Here we go!
Today’s lunch service was nothing short of exemplary, from the courteous and professional flight attendants to the quality of the food. Everything about this experience was everything that I had been expecting about JAL in-flight service and it was amazing. I’m going to go down on record and declare this as the best meal service I’ve ever had on a plane ever so far, which says a lot considering that this is just business class. To put this in better perspective, I tried to watch American Made (a movie that I’ve been dying to see since it came out last August), and I couldn’t stay focused on it because the service was just so good.
Why can’t American and European airlines understand this? Exemplary customer service costs nothing, and it creates possibly the biggest impact in terms of overall customer satisfaction. Japanese and Korean Airlines are simply on another level when it comes to in-flight service, and it pains me that I can’t fly them more often.
The first and only hot towel of the flight came 15 minutes after my tray had been cleared, with bottled water not far behind. It should be noted that there is a full self service bar full of drinks and snacks available for the entire flight between the forward and rear sections of the business class cabin, so this certainly wasn’t the only opportunity for bottled water.
One interesting thing to note about the cold and hot towel service is that they never came by to pick them up afterwards. So here it was, three hours into the flight, and I still had used dry and dirty towels sitting on the center console next to me – but the flight attendants didn’t seem to care to pick them up. Is this a Japanese culture thing? I honestly don’t know.
And since I’m complaining, now would be a fantastic time to mention that the windows of the Boeing 787 are not my favorite. Since they are electronically controlled, the flight attendants have complete say over when they are fully transparent or fully tinted. Of course there are individual controls at each seat, but the flight attendants have a master switch which controls them all at once. As a photographer, I don’t like that. However, from a normal passenger perspective, I don’t mind as much. This is because it prevents rogue window openings in the middle of a flight which blinds the cabin with the brightness of 10,000 white-hot suns.
Something interesting to note about these LCD tinted windows though is the fact that they never go completely black, and since this flight was under sunlight for the entire duration, it never got completely dark in the cabin.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t sleep at all on this flight, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the seat. The seat itself was perfectly comfortable and it was nearly completely lie-flat, but the fact of the matter was that I just wasn’t that tired. I tossed and turned for hours, and out of all of that I probably slept legitimately for an hour of it. I know full well that it was because of all of the sensory overload of the day, combined with neat little gadgets like the Japanese-style toilet in the lav which kept me thinking how much I liked JAL and how I wished that every airline could be just like this. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night, folks.
As silly as it may sound, I passed on the midflight snack even though I was actually starting to feel a little bit hungry. I think the problem is the fact that it seemed more like a “this flight is almost over snack” instead of something being served exactly in the middle. I mean, it was served with just over three hours to go, which had me thinking that they were starting to serve breakfast very early. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, and I wasn’t feeling like eating breakfast quite yet, so I just passed on it entirely.
The lack of sleep got the best of me with about 2 1/2 hours to go, and I put my seat back upright and watched a few episodes of Deadliest Catch. A passing flight attendant noticed that I was awake, and asked me if I would like to eat breakfast now or later. Apparently breakfast was going to be served on-demand, and I could eat anytime that I wanted. I asked if it would be possible to eat 30 minutes from now, and in typical Japanese fashion, she eagerly agreed to serving me breakfast precisely 30 minutes from that exact moment. And you know what? She did just that. 30 minutes later, on the spot, she returned with my meal. Now that’s service!
The cabin lights had already been turned on by the time I was finishing breakfast, and I spent the remainder of the flight watching Kingsman, which was actually a lot more interesting than I thought it was going to be. The odd thing was that I was actually starting to feel little bit hungry again about 45 minutes prior to landing, so I decided to walk up to the self-serve bar and see if I could find a snack. Unfortunately the bar had been picked clean by that point and all I could find was a little piece of chocolate which would have to tide me over until we landed.
I wasn’t able to finish the entire movie unfortunately, as we started our descent into NRT just as I was getting to the best part. Oh well – the scenery outside of the window is always a lot more interesting than any movie could ever be anyway. Especially today, as it had been unseasonably cold in Tokyo over the past week with a light dusting of snow just a few days prior which made for some pretty nice scenery out there during the approach.
Remember in the trip report introduction where I said that “amazeballs” is the best way to describe JAL in-flight service? This is the part where I officially drive that point home.
This was a 12 hour flight from San Diego, and I walked off into the terminal at NRT thinking that this experience had restored my faith in humanity by quite a large margin. I’m very proud to be an American, and I love living in the USA, but I find it really sad that our culture has degraded so much over the past 75 years that it seems like everybody hates everything for no reason at all. It’s so unfortunate, and part of me secretly wishes that I could have lived in time where we all dressed up to go places and respected each other with a smile. It’s still like that in Japan though, so much in fact that it even trickles down into the airlines – an industry notorious for stress and frustration the world over.
Flying on a Japanese airline after spending so much time on US carriers is mind-altering. I felt like a normal and happy human being after this flight, and I absolutely couldn’t wait until my next one, which was scheduled to happen in a little over 1 hour from now…