Japan Airlines 777 First Class Tokyo Narita to Chicago Review
- Excellent customer service
- Impressive in-flight menu and wine list
- Premium amenities
- Unlimited free Wi-Fi
- Self-service lounge dining only
- Open rather than closed suite
World class dining and service
Japan Airlines (JAL) is the newest airline to achieve the prestigious 5-star airline ranking certified by Skytrax, featuring an impressive first class product to select destinations in Europe and North America. Hence, in order to experience JAL's finest cabin product, passengers based in Melbourne and Sydney (both are JAL destinations) need to connect via the hub in Tokyo. As a regular traveller to Japan, trying out first class with JAL has always been on my radar. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do so in a recent trip from Tokyo Narita to Chicago. Here are my impressions of the journey.
Table of contents
Aircraft Type: Boeing 777-300
Route: Tokyo Narita to Chicago
Class: First Class
Current JAL first class destinations
I redeemed this ticket using 75,000 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, which also included a flight from Singapore and a complimentary stopover in Tokyo. Considering a one-way first class ticket from Tokyo and Chicago alone with JAL typically prices above $15,000, this multi-city redemption was an absolute steal. I have previously discussed some of the excellent uses of Mileage Plan miles and this is one of them.
Redemption using 75,000 Mileage Plan miles:
- Flight 1: Singapore to Tokyo Haneda (business class)(complimentary stopover in Tokyo)
- Flight 2: Tokyo Narita to Chicago (first class)
JAL redemption seats can be searched for and booked using the Alaska Mileage Plan website, saving you the hassle of ringing a phone agent. If you are not an Mileage Plan miles collector, no worries. You can consider using a oneworld affiliated points currency such as Qantas Points or Asia Miles for this redemption.
On a side note, Mileage Plan doesn't allow seat selection at the time of booking. Therefore, I had to retrieve my booking on JAL's website for seat selection. To my surprise all window seats were blocked for this flight. With a bit of ingenuity I found a solution by changing my frequent flyer number attached to this booking from Alaska Mileage Plan to Qantas Frequent Flyer. A oneworld membership with elite status automatically unlocks every first class seat on this flight for selection.
With an entire row of counters dedicated for first class check-in and a fast-track security lane, the check-in process was seamless.
Lounge Access: First Class Lounge, Narita
Entrance to JAL First Class Lounge in the main building of Narita Airport
JAL First Class Lounge is located both at the main building and the satellite building of Narita Airport. In addition to first class passengers, oneworld Emerald members are also able to access these lounges. I visited the lounge at the main building, which is a sizeable two-storey space. The lower floor was closed for maintenance during my visit, so the upper floor seemed pretty packed.
On arrival, lounge staff offered us hot towels to freshen up and seated us at a table with the tarmac view. Once situated I perused the food options. At first glance I was a little disappointed by the lounge lacking a noodle bar (like the one found at ANA's lounge), but I was delighted to discover a more-than-suitable alternative in the form of a sushi bar. I ordered a delicious sushi set comprising of maguro (bluefin tuna), shrimp and rolled egg sushi. It was a real treat to witness the sushi chef showing off his superb knife skills.
Unlike some first class lounges that offer a more formal dining experience, dining in JAL's lounges is predominantly a self-service affair. A selection of canapés, cold dishes, salads and Japanese curry was available on the buffet station. There was a good variety of drinks available, ranging from Japanese sake to imported wines, other drinks such as espresso, green tea and draft beer.
JAL First Class Lounge seating with tarmac view
Sushi chef serving up freshly made sushi set
Cod roe, grilled mackerel and salmon canapé
A few other lounge features worth mentioning are:
- A baggage storage and cloakroom
- Private shower suites
- A business centre equipped with computers, work desks and photocopiers
- Power sockets widely available in the lounge (they are unfortunately not universal but power adapters can be borrowed from the front desk)
- 3S Takumi medical massage chairs (a downgrade from the complimentary 10-minute spa treatment offered up until 2017)
- Shoe care service, offering shoe polish service up until 30 minutes before boarding time
Lounge staff were a little perplexed when we decided to head towards the gate before boarding commenced and offered to escort us to the gate when boarding officially began. We politely declined as we wanted to explore the terminal before boarding.
I'm always pleased by the Japanese punctuality and efficiency during the boarding process and this flight was no exception. Interestingly, priority boarding was further categorised into two groups based on elite status: Emerald members boarded before first class passengers without status while Sapphire members boarded before business class passengers without status.
We entered the plane via the front door, where access was reserved for first and business class passengers. Cabin crew made a brilliant first impression by introducing themselves, offering to cloak our jackets and showing us the main cabin features. Before taking my seat, I also peeked into the business cabin out of curiosity to check out the Sky Suite seats.
First class cabin
There are a total of eight first class seats in this aircraft arranged in 1–2–1 seat configuration. Unlike enclosed suite products offered by Etihad and Singapore Airlines, these open suites don't come with a sliding door and are comparatively smaller. The seats located in the middle row are suited for those travelling with a companion, otherwise retractable privacy screens can be applied between the seats. Funnily enough, my wife and I rarely sit together in a first class cabin as we both enjoy the window seat.
First class cabin: middle seats
Japan Airlines 777-300ER seat map (courtesy of Seat Guru)
Middle seats with stowable privacy screen
The cabin features dark-brown leather seats and wood-grain surfaces coupled with dark-red carpet. The seat dimensions are similar to Singapore Airlines' 777 pre-refurbished first class cabin, at 33.5 inches wide and 78.5 inches long. While I am not a great fan of its dull colour scheme, the actual seat functionalities are quite good.
There are ample storage compartments. I could fit my carry-on suitcase under the ottoman and my shoes in a dedicated shoe compartment beside it. There's a storage space designed for a suitcase or laptop located next to the armrest, as well as a pocket suitable for reading glasses. There's also another compartment that stores the touchscreen controller plus a vanity mirror.
There's a USB port, video input and AC power outlet next to the TV screen, as well as a compartment here to store your handheld devices when charging.
The table is slidable should you decide to convert your ottoman into a second seat. The ottoman is equipped with a seatbelt, which comes in handy when travelling with a companion, allowing face-to-face dining.
Dining for two
JAL first class bed
When fully reclined, the seat converts to a very spacious and comfortable flatbed. The turndown service even offered guests an option of a hard or soft mattress to optimise sleep quality. It's actually the same mattress but with two sides, thanks to the dual-mode technology designed by Japanese mattress maker, airweave.
airweave dual-mode mattress pad (courtesy of Japan Airlines)
The amenity kit is fantastic and designed in collaboration with Italian luxury brand ETRO. Each bag contains a toothbrush set, mouth wash, earplugs, eye mask, hand and body cream, perfume, brush, moisture mask and pocket tissue. First class guests also receive individualised facial products: Shiseido Men skincare essential kit for men and Clé de Peau Beaute set for women. Additionally, a comfortable set of pajamas and slippers are also provided.
ETRO amenity kit and Shiseido skin care product
In-flight entertainment/ Wi-Fi
In-flight entertainment can be enjoyed from the 23-inch touchscreen monitor. When seated it's impossible to reach the touchscreen, making the use of handheld console necessary. The audio experience was exceptional thanks to the deluxe set of noise-cancelling Bose headphones.
In terms of in-flight entertainment, the range of Western options were pretty modest, which is reasonable given the need to cater to Japanese and other Asia-based customers.
Staying connected in the air is increasingly a necessity for modern-day travellers and thankfully this aircraft has Wi-Fi. While many airlines offer only a capped amount of complimentary data, JAL offers first class customers unlimited Wi-Fi, which would have otherwise cost US$18.80 to purchase.
Noise-cancelling headphones: Bose QuietComfort 25
Dining time is flexible during this 11-hour service and the menu is divided into 2 sections: the lunch menu and the à la carte menu. There are two lunch options, either the Japanese set menu or the Western set menu. I chose the Japanese menu, which was composed of eight courses, showcasing dishes created in collaboration with two Michelin 3-star chef-restaurateurs Hideki Ishikawa and Kouji Koizumi.
The five seasonal colourful delicacies
Owan: Soft-shelled turtle soup with vegetables and egg tofu
The first course was definitely the most colourful, consisting of an array of local delicacies such as abalone, Wagyu beef, caviar, hair crab meat, scallop and sweetfish. Moreover, I was in awe throughout the lunch service both by the presentation and the flavour of each dish. Other delicacy highlights included the Japanese spiny lobster and unagi. The sea urchin unfortunately didn't quite agree with my tastebuds, partly because it was my first time savouring it. But I am not ruling out an acquired taste for it in the future.
Otsukuri: Seated Japanese spiny lobster, sea urchin and smoked cutlassfish
Nimono and Hnmono: Simmered eel, vegetables and seasoned steam rice
To finish the meal I had a dessert combo made up of Japanese bean jelly, sherry mousse and chocolate truffle, followed by an after-dinner cappuccino and a serve of ice cream with raspberry sauce dotted with gold flakes.
Kanmi: Soft adzuki bean jelly, mousse and truffle chocolate
Raspberry ice cream with gold flakes and cappuccino
The drinks list on this service was equally as impressive as the main menu. The vintage champagnes on offer were one of the most luxurious in the skies and comprised Louis Roederer Cristal 2009 and Bollinger La Grande Annee 2007, normally retailing at $400 and $200 a bottle respectively. There was also an extensive list of non-alcoholic beverages such as the Royal blue tea made using rare tea leaves and elegantly served in wine glasses.
Louis Roederer Cristal 2009
The à la carte menu allows you to dine on demand. With several hours left on our journey, I decided to have my second meal and ordered a grilled miso chicken set. I was also offered another cappuccino coupled with some premium macarons and a bean pastry. At this point, I wished the flight was a little longer for me to sample a few more items from the menu.
Grilled "Awaodori" chicken set plate
We had quite a bit of interaction with our flight attendant, Kama and the cabin manager, Toda, who both were very personable. The level of attention provided, such as checking the cabin temperature and lighting to suit our comfort, made us feel very spoiled.
As cabin crew prepared the cabin for landing, all three members of the first class crew thanked us for choosing Japan Airlines and delivered a delicately wrapped farewell gift: more Jean-Paul Hevin macarons. We arrived in Chicago on time and the customs clearance on arrival was surprisingly straightforward with minimal wait time. I was also pleasantly surprised that our luggage was pre-collected from the carousel and ready for collection from baggage agents dedicated to serve first class passengers.
The Points Finder Flight Rating: ★★★★★☆
Perhaps not as glamorous as Emirates or Singapore Airlines on the surface, Japan Airlines first class is more than meets the eye. It delivers a world class service in its own right. The most memorable aspect was undoubtedly the dining experience while the excellent customer service made the journey even more unforgettable. I cannot fault any particular aspect of the service but there is room for improvement with the hard product, in order to match a closed suite offered by the current industry leaders. As such, I score this flight a solid 5 out of 6 stars.
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