This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan for the first time with my childhood friend, who happens to be a Japan fanatic. It was an exciting trip, and I was happy to expose him to the world of miles and points via a business-class itinerary on Japan Airlines (JAL).
We flew the same flight path each way, from San Francisco to Tokyo Narita on JAL 57, and from Tokyo Narita to San Francisco on JAL 58. In this review, I’ll highlight both flights, including any important differences I noted.
Booking Japan Airlines Business Class
|Business Class||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration|
|Japan Airlines 57||Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner||San Francisco to Tokyo Narita||10 Hours 50 Minutes|
|Japan Airlines 58||Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner||Tokyo Narita to San Francisco||9 Hours 54 Minutes|
I originally wanted to book one flight to/from Japan on Japan Airlines, and the other way on ANA to compare the two Asian carriers. Unfortunately, award availability for two business class seats on ANA was hard to come by. Thus I booked routing both to and from Japan on JAL business class using my store of Alaska Mileage Plan Miles.
Originally I was booked on an earlier flight from SFO-HND on the 777, with the hope that I could upgrade to F class around 14 days out. However, it turned out that our connecting flight was arriving too close for comfort to the departure time (<2 hours), so we shuffled to the later flight (JAL 57) from SFO-NRT on the 787-9 (no First class cabin).
I booked JAL 57 for a total cost of 120,000 Alaska Miles in addition to $36.20 USD in taxes and fees, for two people. Meanwhile, I booked JAL 58 again for 120,000 Alaska Miles in addition to $116.70 USD in taxes and fees. Japan Airlines fees are typically low no matter what way you book, which is always a nice feeling.
The seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 pattern, with two separate cabin sections for a total of 44 business class seats. The seats in the middle row are side-by-side, while the seats on the periphery are staggered, allowing every seat to have direct aisle access. The compromise on this setup is that there is less available table space. Instead, the bulk of the table space is directly in front of the entertainment console.
On the departing flight, we selected middle seats 7D and 7G, while on the returning flight, we were in 9A and 9C.
I quite liked the cabin arrangement on these flights (SKY SUITE I or SKY SUITE APEX), but would be curious to try the newer cabin setup, SKY SUITE III, which is a reverse herringbone seating pattern and occurs on the 787-9 Type E91 and E92.
British Airways Lounge, San Francisco
San Francisco used to have a JAL Sakura Lounge, which was quite underwhelming. However, that lounge closed in June 2023. Instead, as business class passengers we were provided access to the British Airways Lounge for our short layover in SFO.
The lounge was quite nice with a decent selection of hot food. I was especially impressed with the alcohol selection, which included an entire table of premium spirits, beers, coolers, and wine, not to mention a selection of pre-mixed ‘signature’ gin cocktails.
Despite being a shared lounge, the space wasn’t crowded at all with ample seating choices. I didn’t regret spending our time here rather than trying to get into the notoriously crowded Amex Centurion Lounge. Moreover, food options weren’t of much concern as we wanted to save our appetite for the renowned JAL business class dining service.
Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge, Tokyo Narita Airport
On the way back to Canada we stopped at the Sakura Lounge at Tokyo Narita Airport for some much-needed food, beverage, and a shower (or so we’d hoped).
This lounge is located just past the security gate, in Terminal 2, so very easy to find.
The lounge is open from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm every day and can be accessed by having a same-day business class ticket on Japan Airlines or by holding Oneworld Sapphire member status.
Overall, this two-floor lounge was remarkably clean, modern, and just plain impressive, albeit a bit crowded on the main 3F (dining level) and less so on 2F (lounging level).
The food selection was very good and was served à la carte, which meant it was fresh and nothing went to waste. This was probably also done for sanitation reasons.
My favorite part was the ample opportunity provided to do some plainspotting from the large bay windows facing the tarmac.
Of note, we weren’t able to use the showers as there was a long waitlist when we inquired. So definitely sign up for this as soon as you arrive if you want a chance at using one.
Security and Boarding, Tokyo Narita Airport
A little comment on boarding and security in Tokyo Narita. Japan Airlines had its own fast track and priority lane. As business class passengers, we got to go through this expedited security process and it was easily the smoothest security experience I’ve ever had.
The gate experience was incredibly smooth as well. A flight attendant checked our passports and boarding passes while we waited in line. Then when it was our turn to board, everyone simply scanned their boarding pass at an automatic gate and walked down the loading bridge.
The JAL Sky Suite on the 787-9 Type E71 features two side-by-side seats in the middle of the fuselage, as well as two staggered seats on the periphery. We had the fortune to experience both on our flights, the aisle on JAL 57 and the window on JAL 58.
A pillow, blanket, slippers, and water bottles awaited us at our seats as we got settled. The flight attendants bowed at the start of the service and then came around with a glass of juice (champagne was also offered as an option on JAL 58). The attendants lived up to the Japanese stereotype of being very polite and pleasant. They even offered to take a photo for me and my travel partner when they saw my camera coming out.
The seat itself was comfortable and offered good back support.
With the narrow armrests, there wasn’t a great deal of space for the arms. On the other hand, the seat felt incredibly spacious lengthwise, with almost too much room for my legs (this coming from someone with an average 5’10” build).
There was a decent amount of storage for belongings, but it was almost entirely concentrated at the front of the seat, under the footrest, and on the table beneath the entertainment console. However because that wasn’t reachable without standing up, this limited accessibility and was a slight inconvenience.
There was a small pouch and thin ledge next to the seat for middle seats, meanwhile, the window seats had a small compartment behind the headrest. Once again, not the easiest or most convenient for access.
With the entertainment console so far away, well-placed media controls were essential, and this seat did deliver in that regard. The USB and charging outlets were located in different places depending on the seat. On aisle seats next to the window, they were well within reach, however on my seat for both flights they were located near the entertainment screen.
Likewise, the controls for the seat positions were in a convenient and highly visible location. Also located on the seat controls was a control for the privacy partition, which could completely seclude you from the passenger next to you.
In general, I found it was relatively easy to chat with the passenger next to you from either seat, but a bit easier on the middle side-by-side seats vs. the staggered peripheral seats. Furthermore, the window seats have much greater privacy than any other seat on the plane, something to keep in mind if you’re traveling alone.
All in all, this was an above-average seat for business class and made for a comfortable 10-hour flight to and from Japan.
The seat converted into lie-flat mode with relative ease, and measuring 74 inches long, I had more than enough room. The fully flat bed was relatively comfortable and enabled me to have a pretty solid sleep on my flight to Japan.
Although the blanket was relatively thin, the cabin was kept quite warm and I never felt cold. The provided pillow was a bit flimsy but at this point, I’ve come to see this as the norm with most airlines, much like hard flakey butter served with the meals.
I’ve noticed some other Japan Airlines business class flights have mattress pads available for passengers, but this was not offered to us. I do think nearly any business-class seat would benefit greatly from mattress pads, so I hope it isn’t something of the past.
The amenity kit for both JAL 57 and JAL 58 was designed by MAISON KITSUNE, a French-Japanese lifestyle brand. On the departing Japan Airlines flight, the kit was red, and on the return it was blue.
The contents of each kit were identical and included pocket tissues, a moisture mask, a toothbrush, ear plugs, and a blindfold/sleeping mask, all neatly and individually packaged.
Dining on both flights included a similar menu with Japanese and Western options. In general, the food and inflight service was superb.
Both menus on JAL 57 and 58 were part of a food program called BEDD SKY AUBERGE. The menus on each flight were extremely similar but had minor differences in options.
The main menu decision was Japanese vs. Western menu, the latter of which also had two choices for the main course.
I opted for the Japanese menu on JAL 57, and the Western menu on JAL 58.
Japanese Menu – JAL 57
The service started with a variety of seasonal delicacies served in a bento-style box. Everything included was delicious, but in particular the sashimi dish was a highlight.
Shortly thereafter the main course was served which included the beef steak with sea urchin and black cod. This was accompanied by steamed rice, miso soup, and various other vegetables.
The meal was fantastic, and the rice and soup were of exceptional quality as well.
To finish it all off, we enjoyed mascarpone yogurt mousse for dessert. This dessert was incredible, easily one of the best desserts I’ve had to date on any business class flight.
Western Menu – JAL 58
On my return flight I opted to mix things up and order the Western menu. Admittedly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the meal was a bit underwhelming when compared to the Japanese menu. However coming off two weeks of tasting countless Japanese cuisines, I did miss Western food a little.
To start off the flight, we had some Japanese whiskey, coffee, as well as olives and nuts to snack on. This was soon followed by the appetizer, which was an assortment of sweet corn meatball, cappelini with crab and salmon roe, abalone and pomme puree, and round herring escabeche.
The escabeche reminded me of sardines. I tried them but wasn’t too enthralled by the taste. The pasta and puree on the other hand were both quite delectable.
For the main course, I opted for the Wagyu beef sirloin with red wine sauce and black olives. It was just as delicious as it looked.
While this was a Western menu, you can see the Japanese inspiration, and this was evident in the dessert as well – match tea cream puff with mango.
This dessert was interesting, to say the least. The matcha cream was tasty, but I found the outer shell was a bit tough.
‘Anytime You Wish’ Menu
Japan Airlines had an interesting menu design for the second meal/breakfast. Instead of a formal pre-arrival meal service, there was an ‘Anytime You Wish’ menu available at all times (as implied by the name).
We took advantage of this menu on multiple occasions on each flight, including some delicious ramen which I would put on level footing with lots of the ramen we tasted locally in Japan.
I preferred this ‘anytime’ menu to the formal breakfast or second-meal service that most flights have. We were able to have some delicious meals available to us whenever our appetite desired (up to 1.5 hours before landing).
For each of our flights, we were also given the option by the flight attendants of a ‘wake-up call’ to give us time to order something before arriving.
For beverages, the menus were similar on both flights. I stuck mostly to trying the different shochu and sake on offer, as well as the occasional Japanese whiskey.
The entertainment system on Japan Airlines business class was excellent, offering a large central screen which was easy to control from the main seat console.
The entertainment provided several options from movies to news to games, including JAL stratosphere Mahjongg, SHOGI, and GO.
There we quite a few movie options including classics and recent blockbusters. I opted to watch John Wick 4, which was fitting as a good chunk of the film took place in Osaka, Japan.
WiFi is available for purchase to all Japan Airlines passengers and is included complimentary for First Class passengers.
Connecting on a laptop was smooth. Once I selected the Japan Airlines network I was prompted to the login screen.
The prices for WiFi access are fairly reasonable at$18.80 USD for the entire 11 hour flight.
Of course, I was able to connect for free via my Boingo membership, which is also free for World Elite cardholders. This was especially nice as I have set up multiple Boingo accounts and could connect on both of my devices, laptop, and phone.
Among a few other ex-North American airlines, Asian carriers are widely regarded as some of the best in the world, including the likes of Singapore and ANA. Japan Airlines business class is deserving of this company as well. It has spacious seating with prompt and courteous service. Moreover, the Japanese and Western cuisines offered are both exceptional, including the convenient ‘Anytime You Wish’ menu.
You can’t go wrong in choosing this airline for your next trip to Japan. They will get you there well-rested, well-fed, and excited to experience more of the unique cultural experiences the country has to offer.
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