Japan Airlines continues to offer a superior onboard product with superb food and delightful service. While my JAL 777-300ER first class journey from Los Angeles to Tokyo was not flawless, it was still one of the best flights of my life.
JAL 777-300ER First Class Review (LAX-NRT)
This trip was booked for 80,000 American Airlines miles from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita, representing one of the best values in the AAdvantage program. JAL reliably releases last-minute award space. My final destination was Amman, Jordan but there was no space traveling east, so I booked a trip traveling west, including this segment and then Tokyo – Doha – Amman on Qatar Airways in business class for 45,000 miles, which represents the single best use of AA miles in my opinion. All told, 125,000 is a lot of miles for a one-way ticket to Jordan, but with no premium cabin space the opposite direction, it represented a great value…and 29 hours of premium cabin flying.
Since I was transiting Tokyo on separate tickets and there were still entry restrictions at the time, check-in was a bit complicated. The JAL agents at LAX were unsure what to do and took my passport and itineraries (which I had wisely printed out, which made things easier) to a back office. Over the next seven minutes I just stood there waiting (wondering if I had missed a new travel restriction), but eventually they came back out with my boarding pass, said I was all set, and wished me a pleasant journey.
I was busy that morning and cut it close, only arriving about 90 minutes before scheduled departure. With the delay, I was escorted from check-in to the gate, where boarding shortly commenced. JAL First Class passengers have access to the Qantas International First Lounge, which I reviewed here.
Japan Airlines 61
Los Angeles (LAX) – Tokyo (NRT)
Sunday, March 21
Depart: 1:00 PM
Arrive: 4:45 PM+1
Duration: 11hr, 45 min
Distance: 5,451 miles
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)
Onboard the a pair of flight attendants greeted me at the door and another pair were waiting to greet me in the first class cabin. Spoiler alert: this flight was one of the best flights of my life due to the wonderful service from Yonemaru and Fujii.
We pushed back on time and were soon our way to Tokyo.
The proprietary Japan Airlines First Class seat is aging and not nearly as private as some of today’s leading business class products. Even so, the seat is spacious and very comfortable, spanning 22.8 inches wide and 78.3 inches long.
The first class cabin includes two rows with eight seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. I chose seat 2A for the window and appreciated the immense amount of personal storage this suite provides including a compartment large enough for a purse or large laptop and a smaller one for other personal belongings. The larger one includes a mesh pocket as well that can keep your tablet or laptop from bouncing back and forth.
There was plenty of room for my feet and even a little storage cubby for my shoes and enough room under the ottoman (which also doubled as a companion seat) for a large carry-on bag.
Seat controls include recline, lumbar support, and massage. D and G suites are separated by a retractable privacy screen.
Here’s the primary annoyance that made this flight less than perfect for me: the cabin was stifling hot during the flight. Furthermore, there are no individual air vents (gaspers) above each suite. I laid down to sleep and just could not. I tried and tried, but failed. You might ask why I did not complain about the temperature, but when you’re trying to drift off, you keep telling yourself that you’re almost there and the act of getting up to inquire about the cabin temperature might further impair your ability to sleep. In retrospect, I should have asked. Do yourself a favor and ask early next time you are on JAL.
I really do not understand how some people can sleep in such heat. Those who are cold can cover up but those who are hot cannot exactly disrobe in their seat.
So yes, that is a negative aspect of my flight and of flying JAL in general. Cabins will be warm: prepare yourself.
Also, at least for my seat, the light seeped through even when the window shade was closed. As this was a westbound daytime flight, it remained light for the entire journey.
The bed itself is comfortable, with a mattress pad from Airweave (either soft or hard), a large pillow, and large, soft duvet. Yonemaru made the bed on request after lunch.
Food + Drink
I used to feel guilty ordering Western food on a Japanese airline. I no longer feel that way and make no apology for recognizing that JAL does Western food better than just about any Western airline. Today’s dinner was all Western and frankly one of the largest meals I have ever consumed on an airplane (and that is really saying something).
I love how menus were presented in a leather folder.
I did start off with a glass of Champagne (JAL uses Louis Lederer Cristal 2013) because the only time I drink Champagne (or drink caviar) is when I am in the nose of an airplane. However, I do prefer rosé and switched to Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésimé for lunch.
Service began with a few bite-size morsels including a tangerine wedge wrapped in pastrami and a stuffed mushroom.
Yonemaru set the table for lunch, which included olive oil, sea salt, and butter. The sturdy tray table extends from the seat console.
This was followed by an amuse bouche of petite green pea velouté with Iberia ham chips.
Next, caviar with condiments. Today’s crown jewel caviar was from Malossol. Included on the side was cream cheese, salmon tartare sauce, and Yukon potato blinis.
I added a soup course to lunch, a fennel soup in creamy broth that was delicious.
Soup was followed by a salad with poached chicken breast and prosciutto drizzled in a mustard Champagne vinaigrette.
I switched to a 2014 Château Lagrange French Bordeaux in preparation for my filet mignon.
The bread basket made several appearances, with delicious garlic bread and a selection of other rolls.
By this point, I could have stopped, but little did I know I was about to enjoy a pair of massive main courses.
First came the sautéed Chilean Sea Bass, served with fennel puree and verjus sauce. This was a very generous portion and was flaky and rich.
Then came the beef course, today a thin cut of beef tenderloin served medium by request and served with vegetables and a Stracchino Cheese Fondue.
A cheese course followed.
Finally, I finished the meal with a dessert trio (coffee chocolate cake, creme brûlée tartlet, and vanilla panda cotta) and a cappuccino (which also did not help me fall asleep…)
I concluded the meal smooth glass of Hibiki Blender’s Choice whisky.
The American couple seated across from me ordered one of each (he ordered the Western menu and she ordered the Japanese menu), but the three Japanese passengers (the cabin was booked 6/8) ordered off the Western menu (further signifying how good the Western menu is on JAL).
This is just one meal…just lunch! I was absolutely stuffed, but since I ate lunch gradually over three hours, I was not bloated.
One other observation. Oddly, no water bottles were offered. I am not sure if the flight attendants forgot or if this is just on-request only when flying JAL? I did notice a couple in the galley in a self-service area (along with some nuts and crackers).
Unable to sleep, I ordered a “Beyond Burger” about seven hours into the flight. It was served with tomatoes, lettuce, and onion. The bun was warmed, but not toasted. I am not a big fan of “fake” meat, but after the big steak for lunch, it was probably good I avoided more red meat.
Before landing, I ordered Belgian waffles with berry compote and pecans, some yogurt, and French press coffee. I love the coffee service onboard and found this coffee more satisfying than the cappuccino.
Maybe someday I will fall in love with Japanese food, but I underscore once again that the western food on JAL is just as good if not better than any leading Western airline.
Amenity Kit + Pajamas
A large paisley-style amenity kit branded by Italian fashion house Etro was presented prior to takeoff.
- Eye mask
- Ear plugs
- Toothbrush + toothpaste
- Moisturizing mask
- Etro Profumi items
- “Shantung” eau de parfum
- body lotion
- lip gloss
Yonemaru also offered me a very nice skincare set from Shiseido and an “gentle steam” eye mask.
Pajamas were on the heavy side and felt like fancy tan-colored sweats. I took a size large, thinking it would be just right, but it turned out to be too large (unlike on ANA, where you really need a large size if you are a “medium” in the USA or Europe).
In-Flight Entertainment + Wi-Fi
JAL has finally installed Wi-Fi on its 777-300ER, which was appreciated during the flight. The service is quite pricey, but complimentary for business class passengers.
Speeds were a respectable 13.5 Mbps down.
Noise-canceling headphones were Panasonic-branded and worked very well.
I was not in the mood to watch a movie and found the IFE odd in general. Instead of being able to scroll through the options on the screen. you have to use a handheld device, which lists the movies, TV shows, news reports, games, and audio available on the flight. A moving map and in-flight shopping are also available.
All selections come from the handheld “Magic-V” device and then once a selection is made, it appears on your screen. I far prefer to scroll though the options on the screen itself (a 23-inch HD screen, so hardly shabby).
The lavatory was spotless and cleaned between each use. It was not overly large, but featured enough space to change clothes and a bidet…
Later on, flight attendants added mouthwash, dental kits, and Cle de peau products.
Fujii and especially Yonemaru were truly two of the most delightful flight attendants I have ever flown with. They were attentive, gracious, accommodating, and sincere in their desire to make this a comfortable flight for me and the other passengers onboard.
In many ways, I think Japan sets the standard for service for the entire world and while I love certain aspects of the warmness of American (or Dutch or British) flight attendants, I just love how the flight attendants on JAL are always so kind and pay such close attention to detail.
I enjoyed a beautiful approach into Tokyo, where we landed on a crisp afternoon.
I don’t often ask for a picture with flight attendants, but I could not resit here –
While JAL does not have the best first class suite any longer and the warm cabins are an annoyance, I really look back on this flight with such gratefulness. JAL First Class is a lovely way to fly and well worth the upgrade from business class, especially if you are using miles.
Have you flown JAL First Class? How was your experience onboard?