January 31, 2016 | By Hao Tang
Since Japan Airlines unveiled their new first class product not too long ago, I’ve been itching to test it for myself. My wife and I spent Christmas/New Years in China last month and this was the perfect opportunity to check this off of my “to review” list. I booked us to fly from Tokyo, NRT to Chicago, ORD on Japan Airline’s 777-300ER.
As I approached the front of the plane, the senior attendant greeted me (smiled and bowed at a 47 degree angle) and escorted me to my seat, 1A.
The first class cabin is made up of 8 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, pretty standard. Though Japan Airlines labels them as suites, they are open suites unlike the fully-enclosed ones we have experienced on Singapore, Etihad and Emirates. The suites are 78.5″ in length and 33″ in width. Not the best in the industry, but still pretty generous and comfortable.
As soon as I sat down, an attendant appeared to introduce herself and offered me a pre-departure beverage with hot towels to refresh. “Mr. Tang, may I offer you a drink? perhaps a glass of Champagne or mimosa?” Champagne it is! More to come on the Champagne, as it gets much better.
I felt I had plenty of space and nice hidden compartments for knick knacks and one’s pre-departure beverage. The suites have a good TV size and the table was easy to maneuver. A touch pad to operate the TV and other functions. The seat functions were easy to understand and adjust…pretty straight forward. I noticed that the usual amenities were in my seat and ready for use. Bose noise-canceling head set, pajamas and an amenity kit with toothbrush, lotion, etc…
Fast forward an hour and the plane was cruising at 40,000 feet and meal service was about to begin. I was offered a dinner menu and a wine menu. One thing to call out is that unlike other elite first class products, I was not given the option to dine at my convenience. The entire cabin was served at the same time. For a one way ticket that priced out at $12,000, one should be able to enjoy meals on their own schedule.
The menu had a prix-fixe selection of Japanese and Western 4 course meals, created by celebrity Japanese chefs, one being a Michelin Star rated chef. I chose the Japanese course and eagerly ordered another glass of champagne along with my Amuse Bouche. I was very much looking forward to it because…drum roll…it was Salon 2004!
While I’m not a wine or champagne connoisseur I knew Salon is considered to be more prestigious than Dom Perignon and Krug, so I didn’t pass up the chance to try it. Salon will run a chilled $350 – $400 per bottle (triple that in restaurants). The fact that Japan Airlines serves it (free flowing) is pretty amazing! Maybe I can drink enough to offset my ticket? Noticed that the Salon is served in a larger white wine glass vs. the flute that was previously used for pre-departure champagne. Fine champagne in flutes is considered to be served in poor taste as it does not allow the proper amount of oxygen exposure, denying a fuller appreciation of the wine’s complexity. Needless to say, I was impressed when the attendant pro-actively suggested to serve the Salon in a white wine glass. Kudos!
I chose to partake the Japanese course (which did not include caviar service) but politely expressed that I’m a fan of caviar. 3 minutes later, wish was granted! My main course was Japanese Wagyu beef and this was my main reasons for selecting the Japanese route. The beef was fairly tender and cooked slightly above medium (it should have been medium rare). Beef was dipped in the egg yokes and tasted pretty solid, for airline food. Dessert was offered but I politely declined it as I was stuffed (I also had tons of sushi at the lounge’s sushi bar just prior to the flight).
At this point, I requested a turn down service and to have my bed made. Time to catch up on movies and tv shows! The bed is plenty long/tall and can comfortably accommodate anyone under 6’6. A mattress is placed during turn down service. You can select a hard or soft comfort level.
After about 3 movies, I was in the mood for a snack and ordered Udon Noodles. The noodles were really good, I almost ordered a second round but decided to have ice cream instead.
10 hours had flown by (see what I did there?) and we’d started to approach Chicago ORD airport.
Conclusion: While it wasn’t top notch like Singapore, Cathay or Etihad, I still thought it was a really pleasant experience. The hard and soft mattress products are both solid, and communication wasn’t an issue as the attendants spoke decent English. We landed in Chicago refreshed and without complaints. I would have no hesitation in booking my clients on Japan Airlines’ first class product.
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