Gastronomic Delight: Japan Airlines First Class To Tokyo
I’ve flown Japan Airlines in Business several times and regard them as a fantastic airline with some of the most gracious staff you will find in the air. I’ve wanted to experience their First Class as it has been highly praised. It was never a priority for me to book it however, as their physical product even back in 2018 seemed rather dated.
I was holding out for a new product to be launched. Well that was exactly what happened with ANA in a surprise launch, but there was no sign of JAL following suit. When a trip to Chicago allowed me to get adventurous with my routing, I found an option to return via Japan forming yet another mini round the world trip! So what is 14 hours in Japan Airlines First Class like?
Route: Chicago O’hare – Tokyo Haneda
Flight No: JL09
Departure Time: 11:30
Flight Duration: 14 hours
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300 (Tail: JA736J)
Seats/Suite: 1A First Class
Japan Airlines operates from Terminal 3 in Chicago O’Hare. I had to get a transit from Terminal 5. I got to the airport just past 9am, arriving in the check-in area upstairs in what was a sea of American Airlines desks.
There was no JAL counters in sight so had to look up the screens to find which check-in counters were designated for our flight..
Check-in area was relatively quite with maybe half a dozen economy passengers waiting to check in.
There we 2 Economy Counters, 1 Business & 1 First Counter, with one passenger just before me in First
Within a minute I was greeted by a nice lady who checked me in. I was originally booked into seat 2A but she asked if I wanted 1A instead as that was free. I’m not sure that made any difference to me but agreed to go for 1A. I had nothing to check in as I always try to fly with cabin luggage only where I can.
She printed out my boarding pass and even hand wrote my carry on luggage tag!
Lounge At Chicago O’Hare
JAL do not operate their own lounge at O’Hare. Alongside my boarding pass I had an invitation to Flagship Lounge Operated by American, which was very pleasant.
Boarding Japan Airlines First Class To Tokyo
In typical Japanese fashion, boarding started earlier than expected. When I headed for the gates, it was very crowded, with several other flights boarding in near by gates.
There were numerous names being called out by the agents who had to have their document checks. I assumed that was the reason for delay to boarding. Even though our incoming aircraft arrived on time, boarding did not seem to go to plan. Initially there was little communication of that. Then it appeared they were delaying boarding due to weather issue.
About 20 minutes later, there was an announcement to all passengers to use the restroom by the gates as the lavatories onboard will out of use for the first hour due to expected turbulence
Finally around 11.20 am, boarding finally started for First and Business passengers.
Japan Airlines First Class To Tokyo
As is customary, I was greeted at the door by 2 flight crew and then escorted to my seat, 1A in the far left corner of the 777.
JAL First Class cabin consists of 8 semi-private, open Suites in a standard 1-2-1 configuration.
At this point 3 out of the 6 other First passengers had already boarded. As there was so much activity in the cabin, I was reluctant to take many pictures, as it would inevitably capture others in it..
While the cabin does have overhead bins, the space under the footrest seat is large enough to fit a large carry on..
Each spacious seat comes with a large fully adjustable leather chair that naturally turns into a full flat bed. There are so many features and storage units, they have a 6 page pamphlet to guide you..
While it does not seem obvious at First, what initially looks like a console table just below the TV screen can be released forward from the latch to form a large dining table and subsequently frees up the seat on the front to dine with a companion.
Already placed in my seat was an amenity kit, additional men’s Shiseido set and some slippers.
After moments of sitting down, I was asked what I’d like to drink and I opted for the champagne.
I liked the amenity kit which looks like a mini luggage for your essentials..
This contained various masks, wipes, dental kit and lip balm etc. The Shiseido kit had 3 more full sized lotion, facial toner
Placed in front of your seat is leather bound menu book which contains some essential information about the flight, with landing cards and a free WiFi voucher alongside the food & beverage options in the flight.
JAL provide a Panasonic Noise-cancelling headphones..
Immediately on the left housed quite a large and deep storage unit beneath the console with a separate pocket to store your smaller items where they are visible
There is an electrical point just under one of the storage units in the front of the Suite
There is also a smaller storge unit with a mirror and the main IFE touchscreen controller, revealed by a flap door
The crew later came around with grey organic cotton Pyjamas for the flight, which I decided to change into on the ground.
I realise I did not take many pictures of the actual seat, so here is one of me in it which one of the crew volunteered to take for me when she noticed I was taking pictures of everything else in sight!
Japan Airlines First Class To Tokyo Departure
First Class boarding was complete within 10 minutes and the rest of the cabin not long after that. However our departure was delayed further, initially for 25 minutes.
After the doors closed and we left the gate however, our taxi into the runway was rather slow. The weather was turning increasingly severe that we were kept on the ground with engines running for over 45 minutes!
The storm was so heavy it could actually be felt inside this fully loaded 777 on the ground!
Japan Airlines First Class To Tokyo Post Departure
As warned prior to boarding, the first hour after take-off was quite rough. Crew were advised to delay service until after the first hour. Honestly, it felt much shorter than an hour before the crew were doing a drinks round in First Class though!
That gave me plenty of time to look through the First Class dining and beverage menu as well as, which was as follows:
As is the case First class is all about dining exactly when you want and how you want it! As such the crew asked about my preference for meal times and then down to the specifics of what I would like to order.
Japan Airlines First Class Lunch
For the first meal, I was already set on sampling the full Japanese options and decided to stick that. However, the Japanese options do not feature Caviar, so I asked to mix and match somewhat and ordered Caviar from the Western Menu.
The good thing about choosing the Japanese set menu is you do not have to worry about what to choose amongst all culinary delights that await you.. first up was the amuse bouche..
Then the Caviar course come in as a surprise! I had not previously considered having Caviar with a waffle and always associated Caviar as a savoury course. It looked very enticing nonetheless
Instead of the usual condiments you may be accustomed to with other airlines dressing it with eggs, sour cream, onions and blini, the JAL caviar came with smoked salmon and a rich salmon tartare sauce
The plate was neither sweet or savoury. While different, it was every bit as enjoyable!
Once done with that, it was time to switch back to the Japanese dishes, and what would essentially be the starter course, Kozara
Unfortunately, the super bright and overexposed ( was natural sunlight!) shots do not do justice to the selections of this course.
Each little dish was gastronomy epitomized! Wholesome, flavourful yet light. It was as if I was dining in a high end Japanese restaurant. As far as starters go, this looks like a substantial selection but it was all delightfully light.
The next course was a palate cleanser of clear broth with some fresh vegetables
Then after about 20 minutes or so came the next course, Akukebachi ( Lobster with egg yolk soy sauce ) and Mokozuke ( Tuna with grated Yam )
I liked that the lobster was served boneless, and it must have been around 50 grams of it! It went wonderfully with the egg yolk sauce! The tuna steak were also excellent, however I wasn’t the biggest fan of the yam here.
After a little breather, I was ready for what would be the main course, Dainomono (stewed beef tongue ) with a clear broth for which I chose steamed rice instead of chirachi sushi to accompany it.
I don’t eat beef tongue often, and this was simply superb!
Finally to finish off for dessert, I had the apple sorbet. It was super light and a perfect way to finish.
The whole lunch service was just over 3 hours long and really felt like an experience in itself.
I loved the feeling of still having over 9 hours left to the flight, so I could just chill out and enjoy the seat..
Japan Airlines First Class Bed
About an hour after the big lunch, I decided to get some sleep ( even though this flight was entirely in daytime, 13 hour time difference was no joke! )
I asked the crew to make my bed while I went to the restroom to change to brush my teeth..
JAL provides a substantial mattress and high quality bedding with a pillow menu, but I was a little miffed to find there was no other pillow other than the one that was originally in the seat already..
Within moments and before I could ask, the lovely crew came to ask me which pillows I would like and then handed them out!
I had a nap for around 2 hours, and felt super comfortable in the bed. It did not feel like an airline bed at all, it was that wide and cosy.
Japan Airlines First Class IFE
By today’s First Class standard, the IFE screen certainly feels small, but not as small as Lufthansa First Class!
The MAGIC-V system has a good range of programming otherwise with a convenient handheld controller that responded well to selections.
In bed mode the screen quality is almost passable..
I found the noise cancelling headphones to be very comfortable to, as usually by the 5/6 hour marker you notice how many headphones just fall short on that front!
In the 14 hours flight I watched 2 films and several documentaries. You are unlikely to run out of options if you did this route several times a month!
Japan Airlines First Class Dinner
After I got up from my nap, I decided to order some Japanese Tea, Queen of Blue, which was quite refreshing. I did not feel hungry enough to order anything from the anytime menu of snacks to save my appetite for what would be an early dinner!
I also decided to wander around the business class cabin to stretch out my legs and check out JAL’s brilliant Apex Suites too.
After that I was back in my seat enjoying another drink and then I was ready for more food!
Once again for dinner, I opted for the full Japanese options here..
Dinner was grilled seabass with rice malt, broiled eggplant with mashed green soybeans, miso soup and with steamed rice and Japanese pickles..
This was a more condensed affair and once again all around excellent.
I decided to finish off with some fruits and ice cream..
Right after that, the crew asked me what my plans for Tokyo were and I explained this would be my forth time but I would be open to suggestions! I decided to take a picture with them for the album 🙂
Soon after dinner, we began our descent into Tokyo.
As I gazed out the windows as the sun was beginning to set and as was the flight..
Despite the 1 hour 40 minute delay, we landed only over 1 hour past our scheduled arrival time
JAL First Class Overall Thoughts
What a memorable flight this was. I cannot say how glad I am this was a day flight, but 14 hours is still long enough to fully enjoy First Class even if it happened to be a night flight. I began my journey with excited anticipation, as with most First Class flights and boy did JAL deliver.
The flight was everything I could have hoped for in terms of the service levels, staff, amenities and the catering. Even though this was an almost full cabin, there was no noticeable lag in any way. The 2 crew looking after me were just so attentive and gracious. Nothing seemed like a chore to them and everything was done with care and attention. From setting up the tables, checking in at the right moments, clearing away plates and even striking up conversation in the most natural way.
I knew coming in the hard product is dated, and that still holds true. But it does not take away from what at the bread and butter of it, is still an excellent spacious seat and superb bed. That with the compelling soft product would indeed put Japan Airlines First Class to Tokyo as one of my best First Class flight experiences! There is no denying that the time is ripe for JAL to update the First Class cabin now though, what is merely tired looking now will undoubtably start to degrade even more aesthetically and even functionally when many competitors now have 4K quality IFE and more modern mood lighting.
If you want to read a review of a JAL First Flight from its home airports, can read a review here