Last month, I enjoyed a lovely trip with one of my best friends in scenic Japan. The hotels we stayed at were spectacular, and the flights to/from Japan were not bad either. You can read my trip reports here:
- Trip report: Japan Airlines B77W Business Class London to Tokyo (today)
- Review: Amanemu (Ise-Shima National Park)
- Review: Aman Tokyo
- Review: Hyatt Regency Hakone
- Review: Park Hyatt Tokyo
- Review: St Regis Osaka
- Review: Andaz Tokyo
- Review: The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto (to be published on September 7th)
- Trip report: British Airways B77W Business Class Tokyo to London
Today (June 29, 2016): Trip report: Japan Airlines B777-300ER Business Class London to Tokyo.
On May 4th 2016, I flew Business Class in a Boeing 777-300ER (B77W) of Japan Airlines (JAL) from London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) in the United Kingdom to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) in Japan.
I was pleasantly surprised by JAL, which definitely ranks amongst my preferred airlines for Business Class. The seats are located in their own cocoon (earning them the designation ‘JAL Sky Suites), the flatbed is almost as good as in First Class, and the food is mouthwatering. The flight was delayed by one hour since we encountered a technical problem just before takeoff (more on that below).
- Trip: LHR-HND
- Airline: JAL
- Aircraft type: Boeing 777-300ER
- Aircraft registration number: JA738J
- Flight Number: JAL44
- Date: May 4th, 2016
- On time departure: no (8.30 pm; + 1 hour)
- On time arrival: no (3.30 pm; + 1 hour)
- Miles: 5974
- Flight time: 11 hours
- Seat: 12K
- Class: Business
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Price of my ticket
- British Airways lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3
- Occurrence of an onboard technical problem
- Business Class Cabin
- Business Class Seat (& what seat to choose)
- Other inflight experiences
- My verdict
1. PRICE OF MY TICKET
The cost of my Business Class ticket was 1349 euro, including taxes, for the roundtrip from Brussels to Tokyo via London. This is a terrific deal, since that’s less than half the normal price, and in the range of a flexible Economy Class ticket. The flight was booked as a British Airways ticket (JAL codeshare) during a British Airways promotion.
As previously explained, I almost never pay a full price for a flight, as I mostly use my hard-earned miles for booking a premium class seat or make the booking during an airline’s promotion. Most of us will completely ignore any Business Class fare as it seems out of reach. However, that’s a wrong assumption. Business tends to slow down during the school holidays and airlines cannot fill their Business Class seats, hence selling them at an impressively discounted price, that – in some cases – matches the price of tickets for the seats in the crammed back of the plane.
2. BRITISH AIRWAYS LOUNGE AT HEATHROW TERMINAL 3
JAL does not have its own lounge in Terminal 3 at London’s Heathrow Airport. Instead, Business Class passengers have access to the British Airways lounge, dubbed ‘Galleries lounge’. Although British Airways’ main activity at Heathrow takes places at Terminal 5, the airline does have several flights departing from Terminal 3 (with destinations including Denver, Cape Town, Phoenix and Vancouver among others), hence why it has a dedicated lounge at this terminal as well.
The lounge is very similar to the British Airways’ flagship Galleries lounge at Terminal 5 (which I reviewed here), albeit it’s a less glamorous version. The passage to the lounge is somewhat unappealing as you have to make your way through a long tunnel, before you enter the reception area where you find the separate entrances to the Spa, the Business Class lounge and the First Class lounge. The Business Class lounge is a long rectangular space, that is divided in four, consecutive rooms: a small seating area, a restaurant, a large seating area with a business center on the side, and another seating area centered around a stylish bar. The lounge features British Airways’ signature contemporary decor that can be found in the airline’s lounges around the world, with stylish design chairs, an oak wooded floor, and an impressive lighting fixture above the bar. A buffet is displayed at the restaurant: when I arrived at the lounge around 4 pm, only poorly looking sandwiches, fruits and soup were available, but things improved after 5 pm, when a larger buffet was offered, including several hot dishes and salads.
Overall, the lounge feels less modern and airy as compared to the excellent British Airways lounge at Terminal 5. That’s explained by the fact that Terminal 3 is an older building, with low ceilings and cramp spaces. In addition, although part of the lounge has large windows on one side with views of the apron and runway, the lounge itself feels quite dark.
From the lounge, it was about a 10 minute walk to the gate where – unfortunately – the JAL Boeing 777-300ER was partly hidden by the jet bridge. I did manage though to take some better photos from the plane after landing at Tokyo Haneda Airport. Boarding was a very efficient process. Remarkably, together with my travel companion and a male flight crew member, we were the only non-Asian people onboard the flight.
3. OCCURRENCE OF AN ONBOARD TECHNICAL PROBLEM
Unfortunately, a technical problem occurred, which delayed our departure by one hour (and which I recorded with my camera; you can watch it in my Youtube clip from 6’18’’ to 8’05’’). The moment the plane turned on the runway, the cabin crew announced there was a technical problem, after which we evacuated the runway and returned to the gate. A technical team came onboard to investigate the problem – a faulty indicator, or so I was told – which took around one hour. During that time, passengers were offered a drink. I was very surprised though that the crew announced that we had to refuel the Boeing after the problem was fixed, even if we had only been taxiing for 5 minutes or so. I understand that planes always have extra fuel onboard for potentials diversion and weather-related problems, but it came to my mind that they should surely have enough fuel in the tanks to cover five minutes of extra taxiing on the runway, unless there was a problem with the fuel pressure indicator itself. Although the problem was a minor occurrence, it made me feel uneasy since I suffer from a fear of flying, although it did help that the professional cabin and flight crew kept us well-informed during the event. And when we left the gate for a second time, a JAL ground employee gave us the most enthusiastic and heartwarming farewell ever: he waved to all passengers for around 2 minutes as the plane gently drove past him (watch my clip).
4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
JAL’s Boeing 777s come in several version, but currently, there’s only one cabin layout for the Boeing 777-300ER, which is mainly rostered on the international routes from Japan to Europe and the United States of America. From the front to rear, there are 5 cabins: the First Class cabin (which seats 8 passengers), a Business Class mini-cabin (which seats just 7 passengers), a large Business Class cabin (with 42 seats), Premium Economy Class (with 40 seats) and a large Economy Class (which seats 147 passengers and has a galley in the middle).
Business Class seats in JAL’s Boeing triple seven are placed in a staggered 2-3-2 layout. All seats face forward and all of them have direct aisle access, except for the middle seat in each row. The cabin itself features a modern and contemporary decor, with mainly white and light grey colors that somewhat contrast with the pink color of the seat cushions. The checkered pattern of the cloth on top of each seat adds a subtile Japanese touch to the overall warm cabin ambience.
Click here for a seat map of the Japan Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER.
5. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
Business Class seats on JAL’s B777-300ER are designated “JAL Sky Suites” since each seat is located in its own cocoon, with high walls to ensure complete privacy.
The seat itself is very comfortable, albeit a tad narrow with a width of 25,5 inch (65cm). In front of each seat, there is an ottoman below a generous 23-inch (58 cm) LCD entertainment screen (one of the largest in its class). On one side of the seat, you find the remote control for the inflight entertainment screen (which can be commanded by touching the screen as well) as well as the controls to adjust the seat’s position. At the press of a button, the seat can be lowered into its horizontal position to create – together with the ottoman – a fully flat bed. Upon request, the crew provides a highly resilient airweave mattress, which will send you off to dreamland even if you are like me and have trouble falling asleep on a plane.
There are retractable privacy dividers between the seats, which can be lowered when you are traveling with a companion. It’s a somewhat similar system to the one you find on British Airways’ planes, although JAL’s staggered configuration means that you never directly face the passenger seated next to you (which is the case with the British Airways Ying/Yang seat plan) and as such, you won’t encounter moments of awkwardness when the screens are lowered by the crew.
Although the seat itself is very comfortable, it has to be noted that the entrance to the suite – if you are seated in a window seat or the middle seat – is very narrow and will pose a problem for overweight people. I do realize though that obesity is a very uncommon problem in Japan.
Another issue with the window and middle seats is that at first sight, they seem to lack a decent storage compartment, except for the overhead bins and the space below the ottoman (all other seats have an extra storage compartment on their side). It’s only after I landed in Tokyo that I found out that these seats do have in fact a large extra storage compartment somewhat hidden behind the headrest. I wish I had found out about this before I took off, since I struggled throughout the flight to store my belongings.
What are the best Business Class seats on JAL’s B77W? Click here for a seat map.
- Seats in row 5 are located in their own private cabin, which offers a more intimate ambience.
- Solo travelers should go for the window seats.
- The 3 middle seats are ideal for passengers traveling with a child.
What are the worst Business Class seats on JAL’s B77W? Click here for a seat map.
- Obsese passengers should avoid the window seats and middle seats because of the narrow entrance.
- Windows seats in row 11 miss a window and are best avoided.
- Passengers seated in row 7 may be occasionally troubled by some noise because of this row’s proximity to the lavatories and galleys.
JAL offers its Business Class passengers a very nice amenity kit, which comes in the form of a lovely, semi-hard, red case, designed by manufacturer Zero Halliburton. It contains all the essentials such as a moisture mask, lip balm, eyeshade, earplugs, tissues, toothbrush, and toothpaste.
To enhance the sleeping comfort, Business Class passengers are given a (firm) pillow and blanket. In addition, an excellent resilient airweave mattress can be requested (making the JAL Business Class seat one of the best flatbeds in the sky).
A very nice touch is that Business Class passengers are also offered a pair of slippers and a cardigan.
Onboard cuisine was thé surprise on this flight, as it was by far the best food – both in terms of presentation and taste – I ever had in all my years of flying Business Class (at least as good as the food offered on Austrian Airlines, which was my favorite so far as you can read here). The stylish menu featured a la carte dining with a Western and Japan multi-course dinner to choose from. My friend had the Japanese menu, while I enjoyed the Western menu. We were served the following course:
- Amuse-bouche: seafood ceviche & fennel panna cotta
- Irodori Gozen: selection of seasonal and colorful Japanese delicacies, including:
- Squid dressed with green miso
- Braised potato julienne, braised taro, and Yuba fish cake
- King prawn with white miso jelly, sweet vinegar jelly, and chopped okra.
- Zucchini & shiitake mushroom, with sesame vinegar
- Chicken & burdock rolls, grilled tuna steak with sesame soy sauce, grilled squid & mashed potato sushi style, minced egg with soya bean jelly, tomato jelly with scallop, and spinach roll with smoked salmon and cream cheese
- Dainomono: Fried lotus root cake rolled with grilled conger eel, grilled chicken & fried tofu dumpling, seaweed sauce, steamed rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles
- Dessert: strawberry trifle pot
- Amuse-bouche: seafood ceviche & fennel panna cotta
- Hors-d’oeuvre: snow crab meat timbale with salmon roe & caviar
- Main dish: sea-bass fillet with artichoke parmesan sauce
- Dessert: strawberry trifle pot
One of the great things about JAL is that you can order your meals from the a la carte menu by tapping the controller, in any order, at any time, and as often as you wish. Apparently, I was hungry since I ordered several snacks during the flights, such as octopus fritter balls (a famous street snack from Osaka) and Japanese seafood curry. In addition, I also had the Japanese breakfast before landing, which consisted of grilled black cod, egg cake, French bean & fried bean curd dressed with sesame, and miso soup.Delicious! While getting in the suite via the narrow entrance during the boarding process was no problem at all, leaving it upon landing was a more challenging affair.
As mentioned above, every Business Class passenger has a 23-inch (58 cm) LCD entertainment screen (one of the largest in its class), which can be controlled by touching the screen or by remote control. The entertainment system itself will make the hours fly by with hit movies, games and audio programming covering everything from the latest pop tunes to traditional Rakugo-style Japanese comic monologues. SONY background noise-canceling headphones make sure that the entertainment experience onboard JAL is a good one.
9. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# CREW: The crew was wonderful and communication was not really a problem, although not all cabin crew member were fluent in English.
# LAVATORY: Business Class onboard the Boeing 777-300ER has 4 lavatories, 2 at the front and 2 at the rear, although passengers from Economy Class seemed to use them as well (which is not a problem for me of course). While clean, there was really nothing special about the restrooms and I did miss the presence of some luxury brand toiletries. This is Japan Airlines, so as one may expect, the toilet comes with control elements (including cleansing jet of water).
# WALK-UP BAR: JAL does not have a walk-up bar on its Boeing 777 planes, but that’s not a problem at all since you can order several snacks from the menu at any time you wish.
# INTERNET: JAL does offer WiFi on its Boeing 777 airplanes, although I did not try it out. It’s a fee-based, in-flight WiFi connection that supports passengers’ smart phones, notebook computers and other wireless LAN devices.
# FLIGHT PATH: The flight path took us over the northern parts of East Russia and Siberia, flirting with the coast line along the way. Although we took off during sunset, the sun rose again after only 3 hours of flying because of the arctic summer.
10. MY VERDICT
- Seat : 8/10
- Food: 9/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- Amenity kit: 9/10
- Service: 9/10
- Cabin atmosphere: 8/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8,5/10