Flight Date: 09MAY14—A lot of you Fabflyers will have noted my trip reports have been few and far between lately. So after a long, but festive spring semester at school, I decided I needed an international flight fix and off to Narita I went.
On the Honolulu-Tokyo route I’ve flown every business class product there is in the past year except United’s and Hawaiian’s; but when checking flight schedules in mid-April I noticed JAL would be introducing their new Boeing 787s on the Narita-Honolulu route as of May 1st, 2014 and decided HA and UA could wait for another trip.
JL flight 785 for Narita departs Honolulu at 09:25am. I arrived just under two hours prior to departure but the JAL check-in counters were deserted. Hmmm…for a moment I thought I may have set my clock wrong (something I’ve done before) and missed my flight. I proceeded to the counter with dread as neither a trip back home to wait or a six hour wait at the airport sounded very enticing. Alas, my fears were unfounded and the clerk told me my flight was on-time and that simply most passengers had just checked-in early.
TSA was likewise a ghost town and I was the only person! A first and I truly hope not the last! My stuff was x-rayed and I was scanned in about 30 seconds and headed directly to JAL’s Sakura Lounge which they now share with American Airlines and Air New Zealand as well.
Although I reviewed JAL’s Honolulu Sakura Lounge last year, I thought I should snap a few shots nevertheless. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. I’m sorry to report but it still exudes its late 80s dentist office charms. Same old bland interior, truck stop pastries, and elementary school drink offerings. I only go there for the free wi-fi, which Honolulu airport still does not offer in the main passenger terminal areas…ugh!
After a scant 30 minutes or so I exited the lounge and headed over to an open-air walkway to check out the B787-800 from an unobstructed vantage point. I visited Boeing’s plant north of Seattle in 2006 so I had a good idea what the B787 looked like, but it was cool checking out an actual plane up-close and personal. For you non-plane spotters out there, the wings and engines are the easiest way to determine this isn’t your run-of-the-mill B767 or A330. The JAL plane was spotless and I later found out it had only been in service for 10 days. Hoped they checked those batteries! 😉
Boarding was called and I strolled down to the gate. The gate area was surprisingly full compared to the scene at check-in.
I’ve tried out two of the six JAL business class products in the past: Skyluxe (awful), Shell-Flat (tolerable) so I was eager to see how their second generation lie-flat product: Shell-Flat-Neo was going to stack-up. Upon boarding the B787 you notice immediately how large the windows are and how high the ceiling is. JAL uses a dark charcoal, light grey, and finished metal color scheme with an accent of red which is fresh, professional and soothing to the eye.
The JL B787-800 business class cabin utilizes a 2-2-2 configuration for the 42 seats. This is a welcome change compared to their older generation B767s and B777s which have a 2-3-2 set-up. Who wants to sit in a middle seat anymore?
JAL is one of only a handful of airlines that do not provide a welcome drink to their premium class passengers prior to take-off and although I’ve heard conflicting stories as to why (tax duties, cost savings, safety etc.) I think they should re-introduce this service. It’s a nice ice-breaker between crew and passengers and since their lounge at Honolulu is well…rather sparse with regards to drink choices; it would confer a nice gesture of welcome.
The JAL Shell-Flat Neo product is, at first glance, quite similar to their older product, but a closer look revealed a much wider IFE monitor, enhanced seat-back pocket and storage areas as well as a more sleek color scheme and design. The downside of the Shell-Flat Neo seat, as with its predecessor, is the seat recline. At 170 degrees of recline you tend to slowly slide down your seat during flight and for tall people, like me, I never did quite find a comfortable sleeping position. That said; the seat is very comfortable in the seated position with ample leg and hip room and easy to use controls.
The captain announced an on-time departure and the B787-800 glided up with ease and for those of you whom haven’t been on one yet. Spoiler Alert. They’re super quiet!
A quick scan of the in-flight entertainment options revealed an adequate selection; however, this is one area (probably the only one) where American-based carriers still outshine their Japanese competitors.
Soon after we reached our cruising altitude the head purser came by each seat, bowed and greeted passengers. Another flight attendant was quick to follow taking drink orders and yet another was passing through the aisles with a basket of amenity items. What JAL doesn’t offer pre-flight they surly try—and succeed—to make up for afterwards.
The glass of Sauvignon Blanc I had ordered arrived along with some rice crackers and dried natto (dried fermented soy beans). Yum! They’re much better than they sound. I had three packets. The lunch menus were also being distributed and I chose the western meal.
I had evidently misread the menu as when a fat filet mignon was delivered I gave the flight attendant a quizzical look. Yep, I had indeed but she was quick to offer me the Japanese meal main dish which was steamed Opakapaka. These are the little things that make the two main Japanese airlines service winners in my view. I made a similar mistake on a US-based carrier late last year and the flight attendant gave me a look like ‘oh well, your fault, can’t do anything about it’.
Compared to the ANA flight I took in mid-January, JAL’s in-flight meal service is a notch above: more variety, bigger portions and better drink selections. The ‘Western’ meal consisted of an appetizer box (basically a small Japanese bento box filled with western-style fare) and the aforementioned fish for steak switch of main dishes along with rice and miso soup (also from the Japanese meal) followed by tofu cheese cake for dessert and cheese assortment. Everything was tasty and portion size adequate.
I used a few hours after lunch to catch up on some long overdue reading, movie watching, and music listening. About half way through the eight-hour flight I decided to try out the ‘bed’ mode on the seat. As I mentioned earlier the Shell-Flat Neo product is fine when you are eating, watching a movie etc., but definitely not a seat I would want on a really long flight of ten or more hours. I never got more than a few minutes of fitful sleep the entire flight.
About an hour and half prior to landing the final meal service began which consisted of: seafood crepe, fruits, and yogurt with strawberry sauce.
More Information on Japan Airlines Business Class Service
Final Thoughts—Really liked JAL’s new B787-800 business class service on today’s flight as well as the plane itself. The ground crew, flight attendants, cabin ambience, meals, drinks and overall service were great. The JAL Shell-Flat Neo seat; however, while comfortable in the seated position is not conducive to restful sleep and for tall people you might as well give-up the notion of finding that just-right position. I think for shorter passengers if you stack enough pillows and/or blankets on top the footrest you may find it adequate. JAL have introduced fully lie-flat seats on their newer B777s as well as some of their B767s. This new seat is called the Sky Suite (versions I & II). I’m planning a trip to New York later in the year and will report back my findings. All-in-all other than the angled seat I had a trouble-free and an enjoyable flight today. I would not hesitate to fly with JAL on flights under eight hours with their Shell-Flat Neo product, but would probably hesitate on a long-haul flight.
Japan Airlines B787-800 Business Class Photo Gallery