Flight Review: Japan Airlines (777) First Class – San Francisco to Tokyo

Flight Review: Japan Airlines (777) First Class – San Francisco to Tokyo

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Introduction

It had been a couple of months since my last international trip and I had a bunch of Alaska Miles itching to be used since redeeming 360,000 Marriott Reward points on a Hotel+Air package for our spring break trip to Maui. I knew I wanted to fly the Japan Airlines Boeing 777 first class product again, since I had a great (but not long enough) flight from Tokyo to Jakarta last year on it, and I also wanted to see how they compared with ANA from North America, which is one of my favourite first class products out there.

I originally considered flying business class on the outbound, as I’ve flown all of ANA’s business class products and wanted to see how the Japan Airlines ‘Shell Neo’ seat compared (it’s the inferior product they fly between Tokyo and Vancouver) though all of the availability I found was failing to ticket (phantom availability). In the end I was only able to find roundtrip space in first class, which would at least give me a more thorough look at that product. As an aside, I was really excited as a bit of an avgeek to be flying flight numbers 1/2, which represent the first international route Japan Airlines launched back in the 50’s, though back then they flew Tokyo to San Francisco via Wake Island and Honolulu.

Japan Airlines is really consistent in how they release first class award space. Generally you’ll see one or maybe two seats released far in advance when the schedule is published, and then nothing new until a couple of weeks prior to departure when more seats opens up. Japan Airlines has to be one of the best airlines for releasing last minute space. On this flight from San Francisco, there were still 5 first class seats available after I booked mine, which is incredible.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Last-Minute Award Availability

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Last-Minute Award Availability

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Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Check-In And Lounge

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I arrived at SFO about 7 hours before my flight and spent much of the morning at the American Express Centurion Lounge, which I have access to courtesy of my American Express Platinum Card. While the Amex lounge offers great food and much better bar service than most domestic lounges, the space was absolutely packed, which unfortunately seems to be the trend in San Francisco, though I’ve had much more enjoyable visits in Seattle.

At approximately 1pm I made my way to the Japan Airlines check-in counters, which are conveniently located in the last bank directly opposite security for international departures.

Japan Airlines Check-In Counters In San Francisco

Japan Airlines Check-In Counters In San Francisco

The check-in process was quick, with my cabin bags being tagged and boarding passes to Singapore issued. I was invited to use the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge, which is located to the left and up a level just past security. The lounge was a bit sad, and felt much more like a domestic business class lounge than anything else, and definitely not comparable to some other airline’s offering in North America, such as the Qantas first class lounge at LAX or the Cathay Pacific lounge at YVR.

Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge First Class Room

Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge First Class Room

Thankfully, the lounge was not indicative of the superior in-flight product I was about to experience! I made my way to the gate about 10-minutes prior to scheduled boarding to find nearly a dozen employees keeping everything neat and organized, and managed to get a shot of the 777 taking me to Tokyo.

Very Organized Gate At SFO

Very Organized Gate At SFO

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 At SFO

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 At SFO

The Flight: Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class San Francisco To Tokyo Haneda

Japan Airlines 1
San Francisco (SFO) – Tokyo (HND)
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Depart: 3:54pm
Arrive: 6:44pm (next day)
Duration: 10hr50min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)

Boarding began right on time starting with passengers requiring special assistance, followed by first class. I was greeted at the door by one of the cabin crew and guided left to my seat, 2k. I began to put my bags in the overhead bin when the friendly attendant suggested I store them under the ottoman, which had plenty of space for my shoes and both bags.

The Japan Airlines cabin is far from flashy, with rich brown leather and earthy tones creating an understated sense of luxury and comfort. The cabin is configured in a 1-2-1 layout across two rows, with only 2 other seats occupied on this flight to Tokyo.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Cabin

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Cabin

Although Japan Airlines doesn’t offer fully-enclosed suites, I found the seating to be very private.  Middle seats have a partition which can be raised should you be seated next to a stranger, or lowered if travelling with a companion.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Middle Seats

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Middle Seats

Plenty Of Privacy With The Partition Raised

Plenty Of Privacy With The Partition Raised

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Cabin

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Cabin

I was seated in 2K, a window seat in the second row of first class. There was a thick curtain and wall separating me from the row of business class seats directly behind and at no point during the flight did I hear noise coming from the other cabin.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2K

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2K

I don’t think the photos do this cabin justice. I love the rich leather and warm wood tones, and found the suite to be very luxurious (though admittedly I do prefer more muted luxury compared to over-the-top bling).

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2K

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2K

Japan Airlines First Class Seat

Japan Airlines First Class Seat

The cabin crew noticed me taking pictures and immediately asked if I’d like them to take a picture of me in the seat, and offered me a choice of pre-departure beverage and warm towel.

Pre-Departure Champagne And Warm Towel

Pre-Departure Champagne And Warm Towel

Waiting at the seat during boarding was a variety of amenities, including an Etro amenity kit, Bose noise-cancelling headphones, slippers, day blanket and a gel pillow. Pyjamas were also offered, though I didn’t take them given I was staying up for this flight to sleep well on my redeye to Singapore from Tokyo.

The Etro amenity kit is new as of last month, and definitely won’t appeal to all, though I appreciate the pattern and actually find the shape and size practical for future use. Contents were fairly standard, including eyeshade, socks and brush, along with some Japanese items including a moisturizing face mask and some Etro branded lotion and lip balm.

Etro Amenity Kit

Etro Amenity Kit

In addition to the amenity kit, staff came around and offered a skincare set by Shiseido, with some high-quality toner, cleanser and moisturizer.

Shiseido Skincare Set

Shiseido Skincare Set

Skincare Essentials Kit

Skincare Essentials Kit

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The Bose noise-cancelling headphones were great quality (as expected) and the day blanket was warm and soft (though the cabin was warm enough that it wasn’t needed).

Japan Airlines Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Japan Airlines Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Japan Airlines Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Japan Airlines Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

Japan Airlines Day Blanket

Japan Airlines Day Blanket

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Slippers

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Slippers

Very Supportive Gel Pillow

Very Supportive Gel Pillow

Seat storage is good, with a couple of compartments on the side for personal belongings, in addition to bag storage under the ottoman, which doubles as a second seat should you want to dine with a travel companion.

Storage Cupboards Above Seat Controls

Storage Cupboards Above Seat Controls

Seat Storage

Seat Storage

Jumpseat For Dining

Second Seat For Dining

The seat controls were intuitive, and featured a variety of adjustments, including one of the best lumbar supports and massage functions I’ve experienced.

Easy To Use Seat Controls

Easy To Use Seat Controls

Quick Access Seat Controls

Quick Access Seat Controls

The in-flight entertainment screen was large and could be operated either by remote control located in the console next to the seat or by touchscreen, though it was too far away from the seat to use this function comfortably.

Nice Size In-Flight Entertainment Screen

Nice Size In-Flight Entertainment Screen

There was a variety of movies and television shows, including a number of new releases, though I forgot to take pictures of the options as I wasn’t using it much during the flight. Japan Airlines has a menu of current options available here if you’re wanting to know what’s offered on an upcoming flight!

Boarding took all of about 20 minutes, with pushback about 10 minutes early (it always amazes me that Japanese airlines can board a 777 in less time than most North American carriers can board a 737). I enjoyed some decent plane spotting and beautiful blue skies on our taxi to the runway.

Pushback At SFO

Pushback At SFO

SFO Airport

SFO Airport

Emirates Airbus A380 At SFO

Emirates Airbus A380 At SFO

The Little Regional Jet Looks So Small From A 777

The Little Regional Jet Looks So Small From A 777

The takeoff was smooth, with the seatbelt sign being turned off after about 10 minutes. As soon as that happened cabin crew came around with another warm towel and asked about meal choices.

The Second Of Many Warm Towels After Takeoff

The Second Of Many Warm Towels After Takeoff

The menu was fairly extensive, with a choice between Japanese and Western, along with a pre-arrival service and anytime snack menu. The liquor selection was top-notch (though maybe not quite as good as ANA) with two very expensive bottles of champagne to choose from.

Japan Airlines Champagne And Liquor Selection

Japan Airlines Champagne And Liquor Selection

Japan Airlines Wine Menu

Japan Airlines First Class Wine Menu

Japan Airlines First Class Wine Menu

Japan Airlines First Class Wine Menu

Japan Airlines Sake And Shochu Menu

Japan Airlines Sake And Shochu Menu

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Menus

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Menus

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Menu

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Menu

First Class Japanese Menu

First Class Japanese Menu

First Class Western Menu

First Class Western Menu

First Class Anytime Menu

First Class Anytime Menu

First Class Pre-Arrival Menu

First Class Pre-Arrival Menu

To be honest, I was having a really tough time deciding on what to eat. On one hand, I’m not an adventurous eater, and I seem to remember having no idea what I was eating when I selected the Japanese menu on ANA. On the other hand, I loved every bite of that mystery meal, and suspected the Japan Airlines offering would be much the same. The cabin crew must have noticed my deep contemplation, and proactively offered to mix and match anything I’d like between the two menus, which was very nice of them.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Meal Service

I ultimately decided on the Japanese menu, and everything was fantastic (slightly better than ANA). Meal service began with the tray table being setup, followed by a glass of Cristal champagne and an amuse-bouche.

Tray Table Setup

Tray Table Setup

Amuse Bouche And Champagne

Amuse-Bouche And Champagne

Yes, I Was Watching Full House

Yes, I Was Watching Full House

A Second Glass Of Cristal

A Second Glass Of Cristal

Up next came the Kozara course, which consisted of a selection of morsels.

Kozra - Selection Of Morsels

Kozra – Selection Of Morsels

The Presentation Was Phenomenal

The Presentation Was Phenomenal

I'm Not Entirely Sure What I Ate, But It Was Delicious

I’m Not Entirely Sure What I Ate, But It Was Delicious!

Next came a Japanese clear soup with scallop cake, which was great.

Japanese Clear Soup With Scallop Cake

Japanese Clear Soup With Scallop Cake

Next was a sashimi dish, which tasted fresh and presented beautifully.

Sashimi Course

Sashimi Course

Second to last was the main, consisting of seared tofu and Japanese steak served with rice. The dish was flavourful and cooked perfectly.

Main - Japanese Steak With Tofu And Rice

Main – Japanese Steak With Tofu And Rice

Japanese Steak And Tofu

Japanese Steak And Tofu

I was stuffed at this point, so decided to forego the cheese course, though did indulge in dessert from the western menu, which was beyond good.

Raspberry Crumble And Ice Cream

Raspberry Crumble And Ice Cream

After dinner I decided to check out the lavatory, which was fairly basic for first class but spotlessly clean throughout the flight. I did appreciate the standing and sitting bench for getting changed, and of course, the Japanese style toilet.

No-Frills First Class Bathroom

No-Frills First Class Bathroom

Hand Towels And Amenities

Hand Towels And Amenities

Changing Bench

Changing Bench

Changing Bench

Changing Bench

Japanese Bidet Toilet

Japanese Bidet Toilet

I returned to my seat and setup shop as I would be working for the rest of the flight. Japan Airlines offers free wifi for first class passengers, and I found the connection reliable enough for emails, messages, and light internet use, though I wouldn’t say it was the best I’ve experienced.

Office In The Sky

Office In The Sky

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Bed

The cabin crew noticed I was staying awake, but still offered to do turndown service on the seat next to me in the event I wanted to have a nap (which I did for about an hour). They also offered me a cardigan to wear while I was working, which was a really nice touch.

Japan Airlines Cardigan

Japan Airlines Cardigan

The bed was extremely comfortable, with choice of firm or soft mattress pad, comfortable gel pillow and thick duvet (though the cabin was kept quite warm). Although I didn’t plan to sleep, it was too tempting to skip, and I managed to get a very nice power nap in.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Turndown

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Turndown

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Turndown

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Turndown

Incredibly Comfortable Sleeping Space

Incredibly Comfortable Sleeping Space

Whenever I would get up to stretch or use the lavatory, I would come back to find the bed had been made and corners turned down, which is simply incredible.

The Bed Would Be Made Every Time I Got Up

The Bed Would Be Made Every Time I Got Up

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Pre-Arrival

I got a bit peckish during the flight and decided to try some udon instead of the pre-arrival meal service (too much food). For me there’s just nothing better than a good bowl of noodles mid-flight!

Mid-Flight Udon

Mid-Flight Udon

I also had a chance to explore the rest of the plane while stretching and noticed the economy cabin looked quite comfortable (for what it is) in a 3-3-3 layout, compared to the dreaded 3-4-3 layout offered by most airlines these days.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 Economy Cabin

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 Economy Cabin

The cabin lights were turned on about 2 hours prior to our arrival in Tokyo (which felt a bit early to me), at which point towels were handed out and pre-arrival meal orders were taken. I had just finished my udon and decided to skip the service, and opted for just coffee instead, which was served in a french press with a very cute JAL first class mug (check out my upcoming review of the return flight to read about the gesture from cabin crew on that flight).

Pre-Arrival Coffee Service

Pre-Arrival Coffee Service

It started to get really bumpy about 30 minutes outside of Tokyo, at which point the seatbelt sign was turned on for the remainder of the flight. We touched down at approximately 6:44pm, and made a short 10-minute taxi to the gate.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777 First Class Bottom Line

I loved this flight. From the moment I stepped on board, the cabin crew couldn’t have been friendlier and proactive in their service, with no small detail going unnoticed. The Japanese carriers certainly put a lot of value in service, and similar to luxury hotels, good service is what makes for a truly memorable experience, in my opinion.

Highlights of the flight include:

  • The service was perfect. Proactive and professional without being overbearing
  • Incredible catering (one of the best airplane meals I’ve ever had)
  • Extensive top-shelf beverage menu
  • The most comfortable bed I’ve experienced
  • Free wifi

Lowlights of the flight include:

  • Lame lounge experience at SFO (though technically this is pre-flight)
  • The cabin was a bit warm (though the crew did offer to turn it down when requested, I didn’t notice a difference)

Alaska charges just 70,000 miles for a one-way first class ticket to Tokyo from North America in first class, which is tough to beat. If you want to add a segment to Southeast Asia like I did, it only costs an additional 5,000 miles and you can add a stopover in Tokyo, which is great deal. Keep in mind that Alaska doesn’t allow mixed partner airlines on award tickets outside of Alaska operated flights (unlike Aeroplan where you can choose any Star Alliance partners).

I earned these miles by redeeming 360,000 Marriott Reward (120,000 SPG points) for a Marriott Hotel+Air package including a 7-night stay at The Marriott Wailea Beach Resort on Maui (a disappointing stay for such an expensive hotel) and 120,000 Alaska miles, which was just about enough for this roundtrip ticket to Singapore from North America  (I used a welcome bonus from our MBNA Alaska Airlines Mastercard for the rest).

While this flight was great, my return flight was simply fantastic (look for that review coming soon) and may have solidified Japan Airlines as my favourite first class product to date.

Have you flown the Japan Airlines first class before? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below!

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About the Author:

Champagne taste on a beer budget has always been reminiscent of Tyler’s travel style. Raised in British Columbia, Tyler has an unquenchable thirst for more adventure, which is fueled by leveraging airline and hotel loyalty programs to travel the world in luxury and style.

2 Comments

  1. Mike April 25, 2018 at 5:59 am - Reply

    I’ve not flown ANA First class cabin, but have tried out JAL F-class a couple of times and it is one of my favorite next to CX, LH and LX. I find their food to be top notch and the beverage options top notch – they have some great sake. They do their best to introduce the best of Japanese products which is great for a non-Japanese to discover.
    Their FA’s might not have the best language skill, but they do try their best.

    Will be flying them again later year in F again, so looking forward to that trip.

    Cheers!

    • Tyler Weatherup April 25, 2018 at 6:57 am - Reply

      Hey Mike,

      JAL definitely competes with CX and LH (haven’t flown LX yet), but I think they probably have the edge with catering, and as you mentioned, really embracing Japan in everything they serve.

      For a lot of people it’s all about the newest seat or having a fully-enclosed suite, but I’ve come to appreciate the soft-product more, and that’s where JAL (and ANA) really deliver. On my most recent flight I mentioned I liked the style of the coffee cup, and 20 minutes later all three cabin crew working F showed up and presented me with one to take home, wrapped in a table cloth to protect it and presented in a bag with a ribbon. Unbelievable!

      Let me know how your experience is later this year!

      -Tyler

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