Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sakura-ficing Miles - Lounge Report - Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, Tokyo-Narita

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After spending a fantastic week in Tokyo, I took the Narita Express train to the airport and followed signs to JAL's check-in area.  JAL has a separate bank of check-in counters for first class and JAL Diamond (top-tier) frequent flyers.

First Class and Diamond check-in

I was a little surprised that JAL didn't do more with its check-in area. Many airlines do something special at their home airports for first-class customers. Singapore Airlines has a separate check-in facility for its top customers. Lufthansa has its own first-class terminal at Frankfurt. Even American Airlines offers an enclosed area for international and transcontinental first-class customers to check in discreetly at five of its hubs.

But what JAL lacks in luxury, it makes up for in sheer personnel. Despite there being no line, there were five open counters for first-class check-in, and several "floater" agents were on site to expedite the process. A friendly agent handed me my boarding pass while another agent came across the desk to put a red first-class tag on my carry-on.

Bright red for easy identification

The agent gestured toward the first-class security checkpoint (where, again, there was no line).

Separate security lane

I've been spoiled by TSA PreCheck agents not caring about the size of liquid containers in carry-ons. An eagle-eyed Narita agent confiscated a slightly over-regulation-sized bottle of tare (a Japanese dipping sauce) from my carry-on.

All the security lanes feed to an immigration check (with no separate premium-cabin option). The JAL lounges are immediately after the immigration check.

Entrance to JAL lounges

The first- and business-class lounges have the same check-in area. The lounge agent directs guests to the appropriate lounge depending on class of service and frequent-flyer status.

Entrance to first class area

The first-class lounge is fairly spacious, with lots of seating. It was about 10% full, with lots of unoccupied dark leather armchairs.

Lounge seating

More lounge seating

In the back of the lounge is a small business center.

Business center

And in a back corner were a pair of massage chairs.  I tried one for about ten minutes.  It was confusing and very uncomfortable.

Massage chair

Most of the lounge lighting is very dark, but the food area is very bright, with lots of natural light.

Lighting contrast

The highlight of the dining area is the sushi bar.

Sushi bar

There, a friendly sushi chef prepares sushi on demand (for me, without wasabi).

The master at work

Barrel of sushi rice

Maguro (tuna), Ika (squid), and Tamago (omelet) sushi set

Although they limit you to three pieces at a time, you're free to go back for more. I went twice.

Restaurant-quality sushi

More maguro

There's also a buffet area, although the selections weren't particularly impressive.

Miscellaneous pickles

Sausages and hash browns

Salad bar

The best item in the buffet was a beef curry with rice.

Beef curry tureen

Curry as plated

There was no dedicated bartender; everything was self-pour.

Whiskeys, et al.

Sake bar

Beer machine

Overall, the lounge was a fine place to spend an hour and a half, but I don't think it's worth going much earlier. The sushi bar is impressive, but it's a pretty minor "wow" factor compared with more extensive dine-on-demand lounges (e.g., Air France, Singapore); massages (Thai, Virgin Atlantic), or separate terminals (Emirates, Lufthansa).

Before heading to my gate, I stopped by the Cathay Pacific lounge.  The lighting is brighter and it's less populated, but the food/beverage options were much less extensive than in the JAL lounge.

Cathay Pacific lounge entrance

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

More lounge seating

Lounge food

Not quite top-shelf alcohol

After snapping a few pictures, I went over to my gate. Boarding began at 10:40am on the dot (as stated on the boarding pass); by 10:39, the gate agents had the waiting passengers queued by class of service.

Boarding area

Families and disabled passengers pre-boarded, followed by first class. There was a dedicated first-class jetbridge, although passengers from all classes of service seemed to use it.

Hey, he read the sign!

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