My flight from Tokyo to Jakarta was about the midpoint of a crazy 11-day trip around the world and I was seriously starting to question my sanity when booking this itinerary. What had started as a quick trip to Hong Kong to try out Cathay Pacific’s fantastic first class product had turned into a whirlwind trip covering more than 50,000 km and many different airlines. I decided on Jakarta as my ‘turnaround’ point for a couple of reasons:
Japan Airlines became bookable with Alaska Miles and had a very attractive sweet spot for a ticket from New Delhi to Tokyo plus Tokyo to Jakarta in business and first class, all for 30,000 miles!
The Four Seasons Jakarta had recently re-opened, and I managed to get two nights in a premiere suite with preferred partner benefits for less than $350CAD due to a pricing error with an online travel agency and a very generous best rate guarantee program from The Four Seasons.
I arrived in Tokyo at approximately 7:00am and had about 4 hours to kill after a very underwhelming business class flight on Japan Airlines. Thankfully I had access to the First Class Lounge at Narita Airport, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 10:55am but was running a bit late. Japanese service culture is pretty apologetic, and I probably had about 10 staff apologize in the lounge for my ‘delayed’ flight. About 10 minutes after our scheduled boarding time, I was invited to leave the lounge and make the short 5 minute walk to the gate, but not before the lounge attendant secured a first class tag to my carry on.
Japan Airlines 725
Tokyo (NRT) – Jakarta (CGK)
Wednesday, February, 1
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)
The boarding process was very efficient, and I was greeted by all of the cabin crew working the first class cabin for the 8 hour journey to Jakarta prior to pushback. Japanese service culture is very unique, and takes a bit of getting used to. For example, I lost count of the number of times someone said sorry to me for things that didn’t warrant an apology. Also, I found there was always a flight attendant nearby and if I made eye contact or acknowledged them in any way they would take that as a service request and ask if I needed anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take that over North American ‘service’ any day, but I kind of started to feel bad as they never seemed to take a break.
The cabin is setup in a 1-2-1 configuration over 2 rows for a total of 8 seats. I had selected seat 2A at booking when the cabin was empty, which was good, because the cabin was now full. Although the seats aren’t fully enclosed, they offer a fair amount of privacy and a tonne of space. Even with a full cabin the seat felt private and I had to strain pretty hard to see the other passengers.
For couples travelling together, the middle seats would be ideal, otherwise I would go with a window seat. There is a privacy divider between the middle seats for those not travelling with a companion.
Waiting at my seat were all the standard amenities you come to expect in first class: Bose noise cancelling headphones, amenity kit, blanket and pillow, slippers etc. The amenity kit was by Loewe, and featured standard contents, including dental kit, socks, eyeshade, comb, lip balm and earplugs. The flight attendants later came around to distribute an additional amenity kit with face care products by Shiseido, which were very nice.
Japan Airlines serves Salon 2006 Brut in first class, and I must say it’s delicious. I don’t have a refined palette for champagne, and can’t say whether or not it’s worth the $300/bottle retail price tag on the ground.
The entire boarding process was very quick, with much of the business class cabin boarding through the first class cabin. I know that bothers a lot of travellers, but I really couldn’t care less if it means we depart on time. I always find the taxi to take forever at Narita, and for this flight it was about 30 minutes, with a steady line of traffic in front of us for departure. Thankfully there were some decent plane spotting opportunities!
It was a beautiful morning in Tokyo, which allowed for a scenic takeoff, which is made even better by 3 windows per seat in first class.
The climb was very bumpy, and the seatbelt sign stayed on for about 15 minutes. The cabin crew appeared about 3 seconds after that and distributed menus and offered drink service. They also distributed richly scented warm towels and explained the free wifi would be available at cruising altitude. I appreciate that Japan Airlines offers complimentary wifi to first class passengers – it seems really strange to charge an additional fee for anything in the premium cabin.
I decided to change into something more comfortable before meal service, as pyjamas weren’t provided on the 8-hour daytime flight. The bathrooms on this 777 were old, and really lacking amenities, so I used the ones provided at the seat to freshen up. There was a small bench that folded down over the seat to make changing more comfortable, and of course, a built in bidet in the toilet, which has to be my favourite thing in the world. Similar to my business class flight with Japan Airlines, the bathroom was kept spotless the entire flight.
Storage at the seat was plentiful, with both of my carry-on’s easily fitting under the ottoman. There was also a large storage bin between the seat and the window which held the headphones, amenity kit, wallet, phone, etc. The in-flight entertainment remote was stored under a small lid, which also housed a vanity mirror. The remote was responsive and easy to use, though I found the entertainment options very repetitive from recent flights.
Similar to Cathay Pacific first class, the ottoman can double as a seat for a travel companion during meal service, but must be vacant for taxi, takeoff, and landing. It made an excellent seat for my feet since I was travelling alone!
The menu was fairly limited for the short day flight, though there were a few dine-on-demand options available after the main meal service. For lunch I went with the western option, as I found the Japanese selections a little too authentic (I didn’t know what half the stuff was) and I’m not a super adventurous eater. The beverage menu was extensive, and one of the best I’ve seen.
The tray table pulls away from under the monitor, and was nicely setup by the friendly cabin crew. Meal service started with amuse-bouche and some more champagne. The food was very nice, though I didn’t try the foie gras ‘hotdog’.
Next came the ‘smooth fondant of salted mullet roe and turnip’ which was about as awful as it sounded, though the quality was clearly exceptional and the presentation was nice!
Next came the lobster salad, which blew me away.
Finally, for the main I selected the Kuroge Wagyu beef filet, which was the best steak dish I’ve ever had on a plane or on the ground. The steak was cooked a perfect medium rare, and could be cut with the fork.
I skipped dessert, as I normally do on flights, and instead decided to have the seat turned down for a short nap. Meal service took about 90 minutes, which seemed like a good pace for a short daytime flight. Bedding on Japan Airlines is fantastic, with the choice of firm or soft mattress pad. I learned from my stay at The Marriott SkyCity Hong Kong Hotel that firm means firm in Asia, so I decided on the soft mattress pad. The cabin crew had my bed made up in less than 5 minutes and asked if I would like anything before I turned in.
I slept very well for about 3 hours and woke up just a couple of hours outside of Jakarta. I decided to watch a movie, but couldn’t find anything I hadn’t seen, so I put on the moving map and watched something on my laptop. The seat was extremely comfortable and easy to adjust, with generous lumbar support.
Within no time we were beginning our descent into Jakarta, which was fairly bumpy due to some very heavy rain off the coast. I love the views on approach to Southeast Asia, and this was my first time experiencing it during the wet season.
The taxi at Jakarta was very quick, and in less than 5 minutes we were at the gate!
Using 30,000 Alaska miles was an absolute steal for this flight, although sadly Japan Airlines has recently downgraded this route to a Boeing 787 with no first class, with the same configuration as my business class flight from New Delhi to Tokyo. I do believe Cathay Pacific has a slight edge for overall product, as their seat is slightly more spacious and private (with only 6 seats in the cabin) and very similar service standards, at least when comparing the flights from this trip alone. That being said, I would likely try Japan Airline first class on my next transpacific flight to experience the service on an ultra-longhaul route, which may provide better insight into the overall product.
What can I say… Japan Airlines first class was phenomenal! My only complaint was that at just under 8 hours, it wasn’t nearly long enough. The service was undoubtedly Japanese, the cabin was spotlessly clean, and the food was the best I’ve ever had in the sky (and better than most of what I’ve had on the ground). Adding all of that to a great lounge experience on the ground makes JAL first class a perfect choice for anyone wanting to travel in pure luxury.