Japan Airlines 787-8 business class (Shell Flat Neo) San Diego to Tokyo (Narita)

Japan Airlines 787-8 business class (Shell Flat Neo) San Diego to Tokyo (Narita)

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
Aircraft: 787-8
Registration: JA835J
Duration: 11 hours 14 minutes
Seat: 8K (business class)

Japan Airlines 787-8 side view
Japan Airlines 787-8 (JA835J) side view illustration by norebbo.com.
SAN-NRT route map

Here’s the video I created for this flight, with music courtesy of Epidemic Sound:

Japan Airlines departure SAN
You have no idea how good it felt to look up at that sign an be able to confidently say, “yup – been there, done that.” Well, technically I hadn’t yet flown JAL yet, but that’s what I was here for today!
Japan Airlines check in SAN
JAL deserves a better check in counter than this. Thankfully they’ll get it when they move to terminal 2 west this summer.
JAL check in counter SAN
The business class queue. Can’t say I’ve ever seen flowers on an airline check in counter, but I’m man enough to admit that I liked it.

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.

Camden Food Company SAN
Hmmm. I see that they still don’t have a picture of me hanging on the walls yet. Apparently I haven’t been promoting them hard enough here on the blog…

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?

Airspace lounge terminal 2 SAN
This marks the first time ever I’ve brought food with me to an airport lounge.
Camden Food Company Healthwhich
If you look closely you can actually see my tears of sorrow soaking into the porous outer layer of this Healthwhich. Who’s decision was it to cut the turkey sausage anyway??
SANspotter selfie airspace lounge SAN
That feeling you get when you think you know someone well, and then they go and do something stupid and things are never quite the same after that.

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.

Japan Airlines gate SAN
My favorite gates here at SAN. This is where the fun stuff departs from (including the British Airways 747 I flew to London two years ago).
Japan Airlines 787 SAN
A view I’ve witnessed many times here at SAN since 2013, but today was the day I’d actually get to take her for a spin.
JAL gate San Diego international airport
Definitely not what I’d call a crowd here at the gate. A “mild gathering” is more like it.
Getting ready to fly
I’m so ready for this. Bummer that I needed a heavy jacket though, because I much prefer traveling light!

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!

Japan Airlines boarding pass SAN
I believe the theme song from Rocky was playing in my head at this exact moment.

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.

San Diego international Airport international boarding gate
I’m not sure what that guy was doing, but if it’s a fist-pump in celebration of boarding this flight, I was in full agreement. Rock on, brother!
JAL 787-8 San Diego
A brief stop to admire the beauty of the JAL 787-8.

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.

Japan Airlines 787-8 Shell Flat Neo business class seats
Japan Airlines 787-8 Shell Flat Neo business class seats.
Japan Airlines 787-8 Shell Flat Neo business class seat
It’s certainly not the best business class seat in the sky, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to turn my nose up at it and stomp off the airplane in disgust. It looks perfectly fine to me!
Japan Airlines 787-8 Shell Flat Neo business class leg room
Not so much privacy, but oh so much legroom.
JAL 787 leg room business class
Feet don’t get any happier than this. What’s not to love about being covered in a funky red wrapper, with all kinds of kick space in every direction?
Japan Airlines Shell flat Neo business class
Ok, now it all makes sense. Now I understand what the “shell” part means in “Shell Flat Neo”. I’m not as dense as you may think!
Japan Airlines 787 business class seat controls
Mission control. I’ll get familiar with this later…

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.

Japan Airlines business lass amenity kit
Amenity kits and blankets (with pillows) at every seat.
JAL business class amenity kit
Contents of the Amenity kit. I was so hoping for a pair of JAL-branded chopsticks, but it wasn’t meant to be.

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.

Japan Airlines business class cold towel
“Whoa” isn’t a strong enough word to describe the feeling of picking up a cold towel which you were expecting to be hot as molten lava.
Japan Airlines business class noise canceling headset
Noise canceling headsets, which are probably going to get a ton of use today since I’m not feeling very tired.

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.

Japan Airlines 787 safety card
I may joke about safety cards in a lot of my trip reports, but flying over large bodies of water still gives me the willies so I need to memorize as much of this as I can. Hold on a sec…
Japan Airlines 787 safety card
Aw, screw it. If we go down, we better hit the water hard enough that none of this will be of any use anyway. Seriously, has there ever been a transoceanic flight that has made a successful “water landing” thousands of miles from land?
Japan Airlines safety video
“In the event of a water landing, the plane will disintegrate into billions of small pieces as it hits the water nose-first at 600mph, right before being ignited by 5,000 tons of molten jet fuel. If you’re one of the lucky few to survive that, you will drown in freezing cold water and/or be devoured by hungry ocean beasts. Have a nice flight.”
SANspotter selfie Japan Airlines 787-8
On a lighter note, it’s selfie time! lol

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.

JAL 787 taxi SAN
The pushback and taxi sequence. Note that we did the “Lindyhop Shuffle” out to the threshold of runway 27 today, which meant crossing the runway and taxiing on the north side.
JAL 787 business class interior
I don’t see any fist-pumping going on in here. Is nobody else as excited about this as I am?
JAL takeoff from SAN inside plane
And we’re off! The short takeoff roll really caught me off guard, as I didn’t even have time to get pics of us blasting down the runway.
JAL takeoff from SAN inside plane
So quiet you could have heard me whispering to myself how badass this is.
Taking off from San Diego
Ok minor complaint about the 787: I hate the color of the window tint! No, I’m not using the “1969 Polaroid” filter on this photo.

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!

JAL takeoff from San Diego airport
I really mean it when I said earlier that I get nervous flying over large bodies of water. It’s all water (full of hungry ocean beasts) from here on out!
Japan Airlines business class slippers
Comfortable slippers are a great way to distract my mind about the horrors of nose-diving into the ocean at 600mph.
Japan Airlines business class menu
Menus! I’ve been looking forward to this.
Japan Airlines business class menu Cover
If I were in charge I would have gone with the name “EATT”, but whatever.
Japan Airlines business class menu
I fully admit that I’m not a foodie, so I tend to skip over these intro pages really fast. These guys look like legit chefs and wine connoisseurs, and that’s all that matters to me.
Japan Airlines business class wine list
Okay. Looks good and legit. SANspotter approved.
Japan Airlines business class menu options
Japanese and western meal options for today’s flight. Choosing anything but the Japanese meal would be a major faux pas I reckon.
Japan Airlines business class midflight snack menu
Here are the options for the midflight snack and breakfast.
Japan Airlines business class menu rear cover
Ok, well, I posted a picture of every other page on this menu, so not including one of the last page would be rude of me. Here you go.
 Japan Airlines 787 business class cabin pic
It was a very light load up here in business class today. There’s plenty of room to spread out, that’s for darn sure!
Japan Airlines 787 wing view
A quick look outside before we dig into the meal service. As long as I see a wing and an engine, I’m good.

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!

Japan Airlines business class launch first course
The first course: Marinated bay scallops with shallots and dried Apricots. On the right is cauliflower panna cotta & wild mushroom.
SANspotter selfie Japan Airlines business class
To an American like me, Japanese food is probably the weirdest on the entire planet. However, it’s probably the tastiest. Here I am thinking a bit too deeply about whatever the hell it was that I just put into my mouth, not entirely sure if I really wanted to know what it was or not.
Japan Airlines business class lunch second course
The second course: a little bit of everything.
Japan Airlines business class lunch menu third course
The third course: grilled pork fillet with Yuzu Miso sauce, along with grilled sea bass “Yu-an” style. Steamed rice and miso soup on the side.
Japan Airlines business class desert
Finally, dessert: white sesame pudding.

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.

Japan airline 787 business class cabin view
A quick look around the cabin shortly after the meal service. Despite eating as much as I did, I didn’t actually feel so fat and ashamed like I normally do after a big business class meal.
Flying across the Pacific ocean
Trying not to think about the fact that if anything goes wrong at this point, we’re getting wet. Only if we survive being smashed up into a billion pieces upon impact (and then exploding in a huge fireball) that is.
Flying from San Diego to Tokyo
Looking at the in-flight map doesn’t help either. I think I’ll have another glass of wine…
Japan Airlines business class video screen
Just focus on the movie, Scott. Just focus on the movie.

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.

Boeing 787 tinted windows
Here you can see how the windows never become fully black, so the entire cabin was fairly bright all the way across the Pacific today. The aqua-colored tint wasn’t helping me to forget about my phobia of flying over large bodies of water though…

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.

Japan Airlines business class flat bed
Sleep? Yeah, right. I tried my best, but my overactive brain wouldn’t allow it.
Japan airline 787 business class bathroom
How the heck did I not take a picture of the most interesting thing about this entire business class experience? Japanese toilets are probably the most amazing things on this planet, and I apologize greatly for not getting a pic of the electronic control panel for it.
Japan Airlines business class free mouthwash
If you’ve been looking for mouthwash, you’ve come to the right place.
 Japan Airlines business class self serve bar
This is the self-serve area between the two business class sections. It was filled with lots of reading material and light snacks. No sushi though. Sorry.
Boeing 787 window tint
If you’re curious, this is what it’s like to take a picture out of the fully-tinted 787 window. Looks kind of cool doesn’t it? Maybe I need to write the people at Instagram a friendly note requesting a “787” filter for a future release.

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.

Yuna Loud Noises
Yuna did her best to sing me a cradle song, but I just couldn’t sleep. One of my favorite songs ever though, which may be surprising to some of you considering that I was rocking out to OG Guns ‘N Roses on an Asiana flight from ICN to HKG not so long ago. I have very eclectic (ok, weird) tastes in music!

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!

Japan Airlines business class breakfast
I can’t sleep, so I might as well eat. Oishii!
SANspotter selfie JAL business class
It’s a good thing pictures can’t talk, because all you’d be hearing from me is “mmmmm mmmmm good!”
Flying to Japan Detroit seamount
Every time I fly by this thing called the “Detroit Seamount”, it makes me want to scurry over to Wikipedia and find out what that thing is all about (I grew up near Detroit, btw). I’d do it right now except that I’m trying to finish this trip report, and chances are pretty good that I’ll forget by the time that I’m finished. On my next flight to Asia, I’ll be reminded about it again and the cycle will continue.

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.

Japan Airlines 787 business class inside
Coming in on the homestretch now! In a few more minutes we will begin the descent into NRT.
Approaching Japan from the east
This is the point of the flight where I was relieved that if we were going to crash, there was a pretty good chance we could coast all the way to the shores of Japan before hitting the beach and bursting into flames. I know I know…crashing is crashing, but for some odd reason I feel better about crashing into land than I do water.

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.

Landing in Japan JAL 787
Despite sleeping horribly on this flight, I was actually feeling that it went by in a flash and I couldn’t believe that we had already reached the coast of Japan.
Boeing 787 windows
They call it “the land of the rising sun”, but that looks a lot like a sunset to me. I want my money back!
Landing at Narita airport Japan Airlines 787
The approach and landing sequence. Welcome to Tokyo (complete with a light dusting of snow)!
Japan Airlines 787 arrival NRT
Never in my life have I arrived at an Asian destination from the US feeling so energetic. Not having to connect at LAX or SFO made all the difference!
Japan Airlines 787 deplaning
I don’t want to speak for him, but…that’s the look of satisfaction right there. I can almost see “wasn’t that incredible?!” right in his eyes.
Japan Airlines 787 cabin crew
The very last moments of one of my best-ever flights. By the way, she’s probably on the phone with the crew to my next flight, warning them to prepare for a weirdo taking pics of everything and scribbling notes before every bite of his meal.
JA835J Japan Airlines 787
So long JA835J! Perhaps we’ll meet again in a few days on my return to San Diego?

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…

Comments (14)

  1. MI2NV

    March 6, 2018
    • SANspotter

      March 6, 2018
  2. Josh Walton

    May 14, 2018
    • SANspotter

      May 15, 2018
  3. mike murphy

    June 5, 2018
    • SANspotter

      June 6, 2018
      • mike murphy

        June 6, 2018
  4. Albert

    February 4, 2019
    • SANspotter

      February 4, 2019
  5. Albert

    December 3, 2019
    • SANspotter

      December 5, 2019
  6. mike murphy

    August 15, 2020
    • SANspotter

      August 15, 2020
      • mike murphy

        August 16, 2020

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