Japan Airlines First Class Tokyo – San Francisco Introduction
This will be a shorter flight review than normal, mainly because I flew the same Japan Airlines first class from San Francisco to Tokyo where I went into greater detail on the hard product. On this flight, I want to focus more on the service, which was great, and the catering, which may have been the best I’ve ever had!
As a reminder, I used Alaska Airlines mileage plan to book this ticket, with a roundtrip itinerary from North America to Singapore costing only 75,000 Alaska miles each way, with the transpacific in first class, and the segment from Tokyo to Singapore in business class (highest cabin class on the intra-Asia flight).
As a point of comparison, Air Canada Aeroplan charges 107,500 miles from North America to Asia 2 (including Singapore), highlighting Alaska’s fantastic redemption rates. Also, unlike ANA first class, which can have limited availability, Japan Airlines consistently releases first class space last-minute, which can be very helpful when planning award travel.
I spent the entire day in the first class lounge at thoroughly enjoyed my time. My flight ended up being delayed about 45 minutes, which meant I was able to enjoy one more glass of champagne in the Red Suite before making my way to the plane!
The Flight: Japan Airlines First Class Tokyo (HND) – San Francisco (SFO)
Japan Airlines 2
Tokyo (HND) – San Francisco (SFO)
Friday, April 13, 2018
Arrive: 1:36pm (same day)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)
Apart from the number of passengers, nothing was different on this flight compared to my outbound flight from San Francisco. On that flight, only 3/8 seats were occupied, but on this flight 5/8 were taken, meaning no second suite as a dedicated bed (though thankfully the seat across the aisle from me remained empty). The Japan Airlines first class cabin is gorgeous, with rich leathers and warm wood finishes. While certainly not the most groundbreaking product, I like the understated luxury and think the seats offer enough privacy and comfort to make it a really great product.
Waiting at the seat during boarding was a small pillow, slippers, and day blanket, along with the same amenity kit from my previous flight, and Bose noise cancelling headphones.
The seat had a bunch of storage, and I was able to keep all of my cabin luggage under the ottoman (which also doubles as a jump seat for couples wishing to dine together) without taking away from personal space.
During boarding the cabin crew working first class came around to introduce themselves and offer a pre-departure beverage and warm towel. The person serving my aisle was so charming. She introduced herself and prefaced the conversation with ‘it’s my first time working first class and I’m very nervous. Apologies in advance’. I assured her I would be the least demanding passenger ever, and that we were going to have a great flight!
Boarding was really quick, and we pushed back about 40 minutes behind schedule. After a bumpy 10 minute climb, the seatbelt sign was turned off, at which point the dinner service started.
Japan Airline First Class Dinner Service, Tokyo – San Francisco
I had opted for the Japanese menu on my flight from San Francisco, and was curious to see how the western option compared. In hindsight, I probably should have done it the other way around, assuming the Japanese option would be best ex-Tokyo, but it didn’t matter. The western option on this flight ended up being one of the best airline meals I’ve ever had.
The menu read as follows, including a comprehensive beverage list.
Meal service started with a small amuse bouche that wasn’t actually on the menu. I asked what it was, but the crew member had a difficult time explaining it to me, and I could tell she was feeling nervous, so I only pretended like I understood what she was talking about….. Anyways, it was really tasty!
It started to get really bumpy shortly after the meal service began, though thankfully it didn’t last long.
Next the table was set for the full meal service, including some sparkling water, a glass of champagne, and salt/pepper, butter and olive oil.
Although the salt and pepper display looked pretty, it sure wasn’t practical. Also, the butter presentation felt a bit cheap, especially compared to Lufthansa first class which has a small logo pressed into the butter (small details matter in first class).
Out first was the amuse bouche listed on the menu, which was a Scottish smoked salmon dish. It tasted even better than it looks!
For my appetizer I chose the warm salad of spring vegetables and iberico chorizo with an organic bread roll. The crew seemed puzzled that I didn’t choose caviar, and asked if I would like both. I admitted I didn’t actually like caviar, but thanked them for the offer!
As it turns out, it was a great choice. I’m not much of a salad guy, but this was without a doubt the most flavourful and tasty salad I’ve ever had, anywhere.
I went with the grilled beef filet for my main. I had the steak on my Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo to Jakarta, and it was probably the best steak I’ve ever had. I asked for it cooked medium, thinking it would come out medium-well as it usually does on planes, but to my delight it was cooked perfectly.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. It was quite simply delicious. In fact, I’d be willing to say that Japan Airlines has the best catering of any airline I’ve flown, by quite a margin.
Next came dessert – Kotoka strawberry and rhubarb in springlike vacherin style. It was delicious, and probably the prettiest dessert I’ve ever had.
Japan Airlines First Class Bed
I was absolutely stuffed at this point, and decided to get some much needed rest. I asked for the bed to be made while I checked out the bathroom. Similar to my last flight, the bathroom was simple but clean, with clever benches for sitting and standing while getting dressed.
The cabin was feeling really warm, so I asked for just the day blanket to be used on the bed. I posted a similar photo of the bed on Instagram and many people commented that it looked like an execution table, which was news to me (I guess I don’t know what they look like). I can assure you it was the most comfortable bed in the sky I’ve experienced, with plenty of width and choice between firm and soft mattress pad and two pillows.
I actually slept so well that I missed the pre-arrival meal, though I was still quite full when I woke up about an hour outside of San Francisco. Instead, I opted for a french press coffee and mimosa. The coffee was served in a cute Japan Airlines porcelain mug, which I thought would make a great addition to my desk. I asked if the cup was available through their sky shop, and was told no. Too bad.
Just before landing, all of the cabin crew came around to thank passengers for flying Japan Airlines. When they got to my seat they could hardly contain their excitement…
Mr Weatherup. Sadly the mug is not for sale, however, we have an extra one as a gift for you!
They presented a carefully wrapped mug in a small bag for me to take (and yes I use it daily)!
Our descent into San Francisco was uneventful and fairly smooth, with some nice views of the coastline as we arrived. We parked next to a KLM Boeing 747, and luckily I was out first and ahead of the several hundred passengers making their way towards immigration.
I managed to snap a couple pictures of the business class product on Japan Airlines, which is an Apex Suite in a 2-3-2 configuration, with direct aisle access from each seat. I flew a similar style seat from New Delhi to Tokyo on the 787 and found it comfortable and private, though the service wasn’t that great.
Japan Airlines First Class Bottom Line
I think Japan Airlines could be my new favourite first class product. Although the seat is definitely not groundbreaking, the entire product is great:
- Terrific first class lounge at Tokyo Haneda Airpot
- Friendly, professional and courteous staff
- Private and comfortable seat
- Incredible bedding, with a choice of mattress pads and supportive pillows
- High-quality catering with Japanese and western options, paired with top-shelf beverage list
Even better though, Japan Airlines consistently releases award space to partners, both at the beginning of schedule and for last-minute flights (within about a week of departure). Redemption rates are competitive using Alaska Miles, with a one-way first class ticket between North America and Japan costing only 70,000 miles, or 75,000 miles for a ticket with onward flight from Tokyo to Southeast Asia.
For me, a good first class product has to have a good seat, lounge, and world class service, in addition to being readily available. Sure Emirates and Singapore Airlines have shiny new first class suites, but currently neither are bookable with points – so are they really that great?
I’m a fan of Japan Airlines, and would recommend them to anyone looking for a compete first class experience to Asia!
Interested in flying Japan Airlines first class using Alaska Airlines miles? Consider applying for the MBNA Alaska Airlines Mastercard and earn 25,000 miles as a welcome bonus. Best of all, apply through Great Canadian Rebates and earn $60 cash back on approval in addition to the welcome bonus!
Have you flown Japan Airlines first class? How did your experience compare with mine? Let me know in the comment section below!