Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sakura-ficing Miles - Japan Airlines First Class, Chicago-O'Hare > Tokyo-Narita (777-300ER)

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Japan Airlines rolled out a new first-class product on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft in 2008, a considerable upgrade from its previous first-class product from its 747-400. And in January 2013, JAL began the rollout of its current first-class product (although the 2013 version is substantially similar to the 2008 version except for a new color scheme).

Current 777-300ER First Class ("Sky Suite")

Pre-2013 777-300ER First Class ("Suite")
Source:  Fabflyer

Pre-2008 747-400 First Class ("Skysleeper Solo")
Source:  Wikimedia

The 2008 redesign was a great upgrade to a dated first-class product (look at that tiny personal TV screen!) But JAL could have been more ambitious with its 2013 revamp. By that time, both Emirates and Singapore Airlines had been offering suites with closing doors since 2008, and Asiana and Etihad joined them in 2014. Lufthansa was offering a separate seat and bed on the 747-400.

Japan Airlines 009, Chicago-O'Hare > Tokyo-Narita
First Class, Seat 2A

Despite the lack of closing doors, the JAL first class suite offers considerable privacy. Seats in the center of the plane have a privacy partition.

 Privacy partition

Seats 2D and 2G

And the seat offers a lot of room.

 Seat 2D

Seat 2A

After boarding, the purser and each flight attendant working first class came by to introduce themselves. Some stopped to make some small-talk about why I was going to Japan or where in Tokyo to see the sakura blossoms. Lots of smiles. This was a great cabin crew.

Waiting at the seat was a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, a grey Porsche Design-branded amenity kit, and slippers.

Seat goodies 

Soon, a flight attendant came by with a warm towel, champagne flute and glass of orange juice. When I declined the champagne, the flight attendant looked a bit disappointed. "You don't drink alcohol?" I reassured her: "I have some work I need to finish, but I'll have a drink soon."

 Pre-departure beverage

The flight attendant returned with immigration forms for Japan and a code for complimentary wi-fi. Offering free wi-fi to first-class passengers is a classy touch. Without the voucher, wi-fi for the flight costs $18.80 (less than many U.S. domestic flights!)

Immigration form and free wi-fi voucher

She also offered a "Fast Lane coupon" for immigration at Narita. A good idea in theory, but there was no fast lane available at Narita when I landed, and immigration took about 20 minutes to clear. 

Fast Lane Coupon 

Then, another flight attendant asked me whether I wanted to change into pajamas now. I told her I'd wait for before the meal service, and she handed me pajamas in a nylon bag (on the ottoman in the picture below).

 That's good leg room

Boarding was very efficient (taking less than 20 minutes), and we were soon on our way. Only 3 of 8 first-class seats were taken. The other two passengers looked like Japanese senior businessmen.

Flight route over Canada and Alaska

The seat controls were easy to use and intuitive.


 More seat controls

Soon after departure, the flight attendant invited me to the restroom to change into pajamas. There are two restrooms for first class; one has a changing platform that folds down from the wall.



The pajamas and amenity kit are part of a limited-time partnership between JAL and Porsche Design. I love these pajamas - I'm wearing them now at home as I type up this trip report.

JAL releases the menus ahead of time on its website. For the main meal, I could choose a Japanese kaiseki meal or a Western five-course meal. 

I asked whether I could start with the caviar from the Western menu, then switch to the Japanese menu. The flight attendant was happy to oblige, and asked whether I was ready for a drink. I ordered the 2006 Champagne Salon, which the wine menu described as "exud[ing] citrus, white pepper and ripe quince, with hints of limestone and the yeasty smell of freshly baked bread." It tasted like chocolate.

Salon Champagne, 2006

The amuse bouche was a mushroom stuffed with herbed cheese and a smoked-salmon tartare on white bread. Both items were good, but not that memorable.

Amuse bouche

Next up was the caviar course. It's a relatively small portion of German caviar, and it didn't seem very high quality.

I wasn't sure what to do about the chilled apple soup in the wine glass in the upper-left corner. It was about as thick as pea soup, and didn't seem like it went with the rest of the items. So I ignored the soup, topped caviar onto a blini, added some of the egg omelet, and that worked fine.

The truffled honey was exceptionally good, but would have overwhelmed the taste of the caviar, so I tried it on its own.

The Japanese service began with the kozara gosai (five small plates) course.

 Five small plates

Clockwise from the top:

Grilled egg cake topped with caviar

Broad bean in jelly with abalone 

Eggplant wrapped with conger eel

 Shrimp "hamburger" with Asian salad

 Ankimo (monkfish liver) with spinach and jelly (and maybe bonito?)

These five small plates were designed to evoke a sense of the springtime. My favorite among these was the ankimo dish, although all five were very good.

Next came the owan (literally, "bowl") course, which is traditionally a clear soup. The presentation was elegant, and the soup was delicious.

 Clear soup with scallop cake

The mukozuke (sashimi course) and azukebachi (side-dish course) course came in two dishes with a small vessel of soy sauce.

Smoked salmon with miso and scallop sashimi

Seared tuna and tofu skin with sea urchin and grated mountain yam 

Everything in the first course was excellent. I was worried that the yellow sauce on top of the smoked salmon was mustard, but it was a delicious miso sauce instead. The second course was a mystery to me. The tuna was fine, but I could detect very little sea urchin. The grated mountain yam (the white substance in the bottom of the dish) had a mucus-like consistency and didn't taste much better. Definitely the low-point of the meal.

Next up: the main courses.

Simmered beef tongue with onions and potatoes

 Seasoned rice with bamboo shoots

 Miso soup

Each of these items was very good, but I have to give a special shout-out to the onions. I don't usually like onions, but these onions had soaked up the delicious beef flavor from being stewed with the beef tongue. I ate every last onion.

And to finish up, dessert.

Mochi with red bean paste 

 Green tea-flavored "senbei" cookie

After the meal service, the flight attendant offered to prepare my bed in the seat across the aisle. She asked whether I preferred a soft or firm mattress pad. I opted for the firm pad. (Unfortunately, the cabin was dark, and I didn't get any good pictures of the bed, although I got a few on the return flight). The bed was comfortable and I slept for a couple of hours.

When I woke up, a flight attendant appeared within seconds and asked if I wanted anything off of the à la carte snack menu.

I asked for the salmon and salmon roe rice bowl.

 Salmon bowl presentation

 Seared salmon, salmon roe, squid, and cucumber over rice

Delicious! This was my favorite item on the flight.

As the flight progressed, I tried a few other snacks.

 Trio of Japanese appetizers (urchin, salmon, and squid)

Udon soup with seaweed

Fresh fruits 

I also ordered a coffee just before landing, which came in a French press with an hourglass timer to let me know when it was ready. I told the flight attendant I liked the mug (the handle goes all the way to the tray to add stability during turbulence).

 French press

As we descended into Tokyo after a wonderful flight, I browsed through the duty-free catalog. This massager is ostensibly for the face.

Just before landing, the cabin crew came by to wish me a pleasant stay in Japan. Then one handed me a very thoughtful gift: a wrapped first class mug.

This was a wonderful flight thanks to an excellent cabin crew who seemed to truly enjoy their jobs. Special thanks to Maeda-san, who was the main flight attendant on my side of the cabin!

Sakura-ficing Miles - Tokyo 2017
1. Introduction
2. Lounge report - American International First Class Lounge, Chicago-O'Hare
3. Japan Airlines First Class, Chicago-O'Hare > Tokyo-Narita (777-300ER)
4. Lounge report - Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, Tokyo-Narita
5. Japan Airlines First Class, Tokyo-Narita > Chicago-O'Hare (777-300ER)

1 comment:

  1. How many times better was Suites Class compared to this? Looks very nice, but Suites looked out of this world. The price/points difference did not seem substantial, but I did not do the math.