REVIEW: Japan Airlines First Class

(HND-SFO), May 2016

My goals for this flight were:

1. Fly JAL First again
2. Fly AA First (in a 3+ class product) for the first time
3. Experience the JAL First Class lounge at Haneda

I’ve been lucky to try out AA transcontinental business several times using my 500-mile upgrades. But with this year’s AA devaluation, I knew this would probably be the only chance I’d be able to try AA’s first class product, and through this routing, it wouldn’t require additional miles to do so.

The Flight:

After an amazing experience at the JAL First Class Lounge (and a quick trip to the Cathay lounge to get some Dandan Noodles), I headed to the gate. Boarding was quick and efficient. I was warmly greeted and guided to my window seat at 2A. There was only one other passenger in the cabin (out of 8 available spaces), so the flight crew generously offered to set up my bed in the aisle seat next to me.

We left the gate well before 12:05am so make sure to get to gate more than 10 min before departure time. I boarded around 11:45pm but the actual departure time was 12:17am.

The amenity kit, slippers, and headphones were all laid out when I arrived. After settling in, I was offered a pre-flight beverage, and medium size pajamas that I changed into before flight. JAL pajamas are on the thicker side so depending on the cabin temperature and the body temperature, you may decide that it’s better to use your own top for the flight.

The Loewe amenity kit changed from last year and has become more compact. The offerings are the same; however, the new bag looks cheaper. I actually use the old Loewe amenity kit still as my main toiletry bag because of its size and look.

The flight attendants were all very kind and helpful. The purser introduced herself to me and said to feel free to let them know if I needed anything. There is a noticeable difference in service between first class and business class on JAL. While business class service is perfectly fine, it just wasn’t as accommodating and didn’t have that personal touch. I would say the main difference is that maybe because of how many business class seats there are, the crew would leave you alone unless you used the call button.

I did try and use in-flight wi-fi again for this flight but just like when I flew a few weeks prior from JFK-NRT, wi-fi was intermittent, unreliable and not really useable.

Also of note, my remote control froze during flight — so much so that it didn’t affect just the screen but I couldn’t turn lights on or off. As well, the touch screen on the remote control isn’t the best. It became very evident when trying to play Tetris with lots of missed and wrong inputs.

The Food:

Because of the red-eye nature of the flight, there was no formal dinner service, and instead an offering of a la carte items, followed by breakfast service just before landing. I was disappointed since I absolutely loved the meal service I had on the JAL-NRT first class flight but caviar was still on the menu and I was excited to try some of these new offerings.

I’m a sucker for anything uni so I had to get the “Late Night Snack,” which comes a plate of all three options. The bread for the Cream Cheese Canapé was stale so I didn’t care for that. The Spring Vegetable Terrine with Rasberry Coulis was too sweet for my tastes. Thankfully, the Broad Bean Mousse with Sea Urchin was good. It resembled a chawanmushi and the sea urchin flavor was fresh and sweet.

I of course had the caviar, and it was just as good as I remembered. It was also interestingly listed on the snack menu, which meant maybe I could have more..? I thought about it in the moment but didn’t end up inquiring since there were so many other things to try.

I followed up the caviar and uni with the Soy Sauce Pickled Yellowtail “Buri no Ryukyu” on Steamed Rice. This was a beautiful bowl of food, and it was so good. It did eat a bit too salty with each subsequent bite but balancing it out with wasabi and yummy Hakurakusei sake made this a non issue. They actually ran out of that sake meaning they only had one bottle.. which considering there was only one other passenger who was asleep, I drank all of. Whoops. After the meal, I was generously offered a selection of chocolates and snacks. The most interesting one was these large dried shrimps.

Later in the flight, I tried the Kitchen Hida “JAL Original Beef Black Curry,” which tasted pretty much the same as the one offered in the lounge — meaning it was very tasty and fulfilling. I also had the “Sangenton” Pork Cutlet Sandwich, which sadly did not have too much flavor.

After a short nap, it was time for breakfast service. The western breakfast option did not look that interesting with options like yogurt, vegetable crepes, and smoked salmon, so I opted for the Japanese breakfast.

The Japanese breakfast consisted of many different items: Japanese Beef Fillet with Japanese Pepper Sauce, Poached “Nanohana” Vegetable with Simmered Prawn, Slow Cooked Egg with Soy-simmered Tea Leaf, Octopus dressed with Citrus Soy Jelly, Potato Salad rolled with Cutlass Fish, Simmered Bamboo Shoots & “Wakame” Seaweed, Colorful Vegetables, Miso Soup with “Nameko” Mushroom & Tofu, Japanese Pickles, and of course Steamed Rice (“Yukigura Imazurimai” Koshihikari rice).

I loved the octopus, similar to an izakaya-staple called “takowasa.” The citrus went well with the raw octopus. Even though I was still too full to enjoy anything, my other favorites were the beef fillet, miso soup, and pickles. The slow cooked egg was also really good mixed into the amazing rice.

The Details:

Japan Airlines First Class — Tokyo (HND) to San Francisco (SFO)
American Airlines First Class — San Francisco (SFO) to New York (JFK)
Flight #: JL 2 / AA 276
Duration: JL ~9.5 hours (12:05AM — 5:25PM)
AA ~5.5 hours (9:30PM — 6:01AM)
Price: 62,500 AA miles + $43.86 in taxes and fees.

8 first class seats with 2 rows in a 1–2–1 configuration with the middle seats having a partition that can be lowered — a good option for traveling partners.

I booked this flight 4 months before the departure date. I booked using AA miles pre-devaluation but used the British Airways website to search for award availability. This combination booking is actually hard to find — not just because it requires two first class flights but also because AA has a rule that a domestic layover has to be within 3 hours (24 hours internationally). This applies because the layover is in the USA. After seeing availability, I called in to book. Make sure that the agent doesn’t charge a telephone ticketing fee because that fee is waived for flights that aren’t visible through AA.com.

Final Thoughts:

It feels odd to complain about first class flights but I think this itinerary in specific was rough on my body. Timing-wise, both of these flights were red-eyes and really messed with my internal clock. Along with the JAL flight having a shorter flight time made me want to sleep less so I could spend more time enjoying all the meals, alcohol, and my favorite class product.

Having experienced several of these routes now, I would recommend in the future flying business from JFK-NRT since there is no good lounge access at JFK (Air France lounge is lacking), and then flying first on the return route so you can still get a great JAL lounge experience as well as more time and meals to enjoy on JAL first.

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