Japan Airlines' 777 business class was tighter and less spectacular than I was hoping, though I was impressed by the catering, and glad to have a reverse herringbone seat on such a short flight.
I’d always wanted to fly Japan Airlines’ business class, since I’d heard really good things about it. Full-service Japanese airlines (specifically Japan Airlines and ANA) are known to have unparalleled business class soft products, so I wanted to see if this was the case. Both of these airlines also often charge upwards of HK$20,000 for a roundtrip flight between Hong Kong and most Japanese destinations, which is absurd, since that price can typically get you a roundtrip ticket to Europe or the U.S.
So when award space opened up between Hong Kong and Tokyo Haneda on a mid-haul configured Japan Airlines 777 with flat beds, I jumped on the opportunity to fly it.
Booking Japan Airlines’ 777-200 Business Class
I managed to secure two business class award seats on Japan Airlines’ flight between Hong Kong and Tokyo Haneda, which cost me 30,000 Asia Miles (as a short-haul partner award).
My Experience Flying Japan Airlines’ 777-200 Business Class
After briefly checking out a couple of lounges, it was time to fly to Tokyo in Japan Airlines’ business class. We were able to see our 777 from the Qantas lounge, since we were departing from gate 6. Since I wanted to be first onboard and people were starting to line up just as I reached the gate, I didn’t get the opportunity to take a great photo of the plane from the gate, however.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Hong Kong Airport
Boarding started at 2:45 PM sharp. Japan Airlines boards First Class passengers, Diamond members of their frequent flyer programme Mileage Bank, JAL Global Club Premier members and oneworld Emerald members first. Business class passengers and oneworld Sapphire/Ruby members receive second priority along with Mileage Bank Sapphire members and Global Club Crystal members. I don’t think there’s many airlines out there that board so many passengers before business class passengers, since there were around 10-15 passengers in the first priority lane – it did mean that I was nowhere near first onboard, though.
That wasn’t a big deal, and I made my way onboard Japan Airlines’ 777.
Japan Airlines Flight JL26
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 6 Dep: 15:15 (15:10)
Destination: Tokyo Haneda (HND) Gate: 112 Arr: 20:25 (20:05)
Duration: 4 hr 10 min (3 hr 55 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200 Reg: JA704J
Seat: 11A (Business Class)
While signage instructed business class passengers to board through door L1, in hopes of getting better cabin pictures I decided to avoid congestion and board through door L2 instead, where the premium economy and economy class lane was.
I walked into a rather dark cabin, since the cabin crew closed all the windows for boarding (probably in an attempt to create a “cool” ambience, though I just thought that made the cabin seem cramped). The forward business class cabin featured 26 business class seats.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Forward Cabin
Japan Airlines tends to block the window seats in the forward cabin for frequent flyers, so I was relegated to one of the window seats in the smaller rear cabin, which featured 16 seats.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Rear Cabin
Japan Airlines has a variety of business class seat configurations. Their 777-300ERs feature Apex Suites, which I’ve checked out on Korean Air’s 747-8; some of their 787s also feature Apex Suites, whereas a majority of their other 787s feature angled flat seats (Japan Airlines runs this version from Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita, which is why I selected this flight instead). The remainder of their 787s and their 777-200s feature the product that I got onboard this plane, whereas their 767s feature a different product altogether.
On this plane, Japan Airlines’ business class product featured reverse herringbone seats, which the airline calls their “Sky Suite III”. I went ahead and selected myself seat 11A, which was the left window seat in the rearmost row of the smaller aft cabin. My mother was seated in 10A, right in front. I liked this seat as there wasn’t much foot traffic inflight, though I do tend to prefer forward cabins, as they’re much less hectic during boarding.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Seat 11A
The middle seats are great if you’re trying to have a business conversation inflight, though otherwise I’d probably select two window seats even if I were travelling with a significant other. I just find the entire setup of reverse herringbone middle seats to be a little awkward for conversation. In case there are no window seats available for selection, solo travellers will find a handy retractable privacy partition between seats.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Seats 11D and 11G
Behind my seat was Japan Airlines’ 40-seat premium economy cabin, which featured recliner seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. I quite like the colours that Japan Airlines employs in their premium economy and economy class cabins, and also thought the product looked decent.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Premium Economy Class
Since the premium economy cabin wasn’t anywhere near full (they’re not great with releasing award availability, and prices in premium economy on Japan Airlines between Hong Kong and Tokyo are normally upwards of HK$12,000 roundtrip), I had the chance to check out the premium economy seat later during the flight. Every seat featured a legrest, and these are also “shell” seats, which means you don’t recline into the space of the person behind you. I’m not a fan of shell seats, since usually the added space comes at the compromise of seat comfort, though I didn’t find the seat particularly uncomfortable. That being said, the biggest selling point of Japan Airlines’ premium economy is still the fact that you get access to select business class lounges.
Japan Airlines advertises 42″ of seat pitch, which is more than most premium economy seats – though part of that space is eaten into by the seat’s shell, so it realistically feels similar to a normal premium economy seat with 37″-38″ of seat pitch. The recline felt alright, though I wish the seat pan tilted upward to provide more of a “cradle” sensation whilst reclined.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Premium Economy Class Recline
Behind that was the economy class cabin. Japan Airlines’ economy class is interesting, as it’s laid out in a 3-4-2 configuration in order to maximise convenience for different party sizes. I’ve heard it’s a pain in the ass to assign yourself one of the two-seaters on the right side of the plane, though, so you’ll really have to try your luck in that regard. That being said, I’m happy that Japan Airlines has yet to switch to a 10-abreast configuration (unlike their competitor ANA), and I’ve heard these economy seats are some of the most comfortable out there.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Economy Class
Back at my business class seat, I explored my seat for a little bit. To my left was a large side table, and adjacent to that was a storage locker. I actually found the storage locker way too small to store anything other than a phone or small items (even my headphone case was too big to fit), though it was better than nothing.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Storage Compartment
By the storage compartment were the entertainment controls, which were somewhat redundant as the TV screen was touchscreen-enabled.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Remote Control
Above that was a small and handy reading light.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Reading Light
The seat controls were further down, by my leg. I appreciated that it was “out of the way” (a big issue with seat control placement is when they’re positioned by the passenger’s elbow, which tends to lead to many accidental seat adjustments), and I believe it was placed in a way so that passengers wouldn’t even have to move their arm in order to adjust the seat. That being said, I still found it somewhat awkwardly placed. You have to get out of your seat while adjusting your seat back from bed to upright mode, in order to prevent awkwardly twisting your arm (and I imagine it’s rather awkward for flight attendants to help adjust seats back into upright mode prior to landing).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Seat Controls
Underneath the TV in front of the seat was an ottoman. The ottoman was spacious enough, though it’s worth noting that the seats are more densely packed than other reverse herringbone seats out there, since the ottomans of the middle seats sit atop one another (as opposed to next to each other).
This means that the left-middle/”D” seats in this configuration will find that their seats recline particularly close to the floor in bed mode. It’s not a big deal, though it sure does make for some weird reclining positions – another good reason to choose a window seat in this configuration. The reason for this is so Japan Airlines to pack reverse herringbone seats in more densely, so I have to say that this seat felt noticeably less spacious than, say, Cathay Pacific’s version of a reverse herringbone seat.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Ottoman
On the right side of the seat was a retractable armrest.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Retractable Armrest
The tray table folded out from the seat in front, and you could swivel it towards and away from you. This meant that it was quite easy to get out of your seat during meal services.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Retractable Tray Table
Waiting at my seat was a pillow and blanket. I didn’t like the pillow, as I found the pillow cover to be quite weird – while Japan Airlines partners with TempurPedic to make their bedding, my understanding is that this partnership doesn’t extend to the pillow covers, which had a horrible, weird, saggy texture that just didn’t translate into a good night’s sleep. I believe Japan Airlines uses this pillow on long-haul flights – no, it’s not so terrible that it would compromise sleeping comfort, but what were they thinking?
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Pillow
The blanket was also quite basic, though Japan Airlines provides much more extensive bedding on their longhaul flights (including a mattress pad and a duvet).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Blanket
In addition, I found slippers in the literature pocket, which are always a nice touch. The slippers were plush, though the plastic packaging was unnecessary.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Slippers
Noise-cancelling headphones were waiting in the storage compartment. They were pretty good (though I didn’t try them on for an extended period of time, so I don’t know how comfortable they were).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Headphones
As the boarding process came to a close, the crew came over with a basket of eye masks and toothbrushes. I took one of each – they were alright (I ended up using neither during the flight).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Eye Mask and Toothbrush
At this point the crew also passed out menus, which I’ll get to later.
Overall, I was quite happy with the seat. While it’s noticeably tighter than most reverse herringbone configurations out there, it’s worth noting that this is more of a mid-haul configuration for Japan Airlines. The airline doesn’t use this configuration on any of their U.S. longhaul flights (except their route from Osaka to Los Angeles, which is the longest flight this configuration runs on at just over 12 hours), and tends to fly their 777-200s and 787s on southeast Asian routes. This is a step below the Apex Suite, though it isn’t a bad seat by any means, and certainly not on this daytime shorthaul flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo.
Yours truly, strapped happily in Japan Airlines 777-200 Business Class
While the boarding process was quick, it was also rather hectic, especially since I was seated in the back cabin (which meant all economy class passengers boarded past me).
That being said, we were good to go by about 3 PM, when the boarding doors were closed. The captain advised our flying time of around 3 hours and 45 minutes, and we pushed back at around 3:10 PM, five minutes ahead of schedule. The safety video played at this point.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Cabin before Departure
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Safety Video
It was somewhat gloomy in Hong Kong, though we did have a nice view of an adjacent Air China A330.
Air China Airbus A330 Hong Kong Airport
We eventually started making a slow taxi to runway 25L, where we were around fourth in line for takeoff.
Traffic upon Taxiing Hong Kong Airport
We passed an ANA 777-300ER, which also was heading to Haneda at pretty much the exact same time, and also sported ANA’s prized longhaul configuration. It’s interesting that Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and ANA all fly longhaul 777s between Hong Kong and Tokyo Haneda every day!
ANA Boeing 777 Hong Kong Airport
We took off at around 3:30 PM. I found it interesting that Japan Airlines didn’t ask anyone to raise their window shades during takeoff. Since window shades were closed during boarding, most passengers kept their window shades closed during takeoff. I’ve found out since that closed window shades aren’t against aviation safety protocol, though it’s the first time I’ve had that happen in a while. It’s also worth noting that while the crew did safety checks at the gate, they didn’t do a final safety check before takeoff, which I’m also not used to.
Regardless, the takeoff roll was quite smooth, and soon we were on our way to Tokyo.
Taking off Hong Kong Airport
Since it was quite a gloomy day in Hong Kong and the rain clouds were just about to move out of the city, I quite liked the views we got upon takeoff.
Takeoff from Hong Kong Airport
Sure enough, once we pierced through the topmost cloud layer, it was clear skies, as is the case when flying. The skies are always blue when you’re high enough (take that phrase whichever way you want)!
Takeoff from Hong Kong Airport
As I do sometimes, after takeoff I decided to photograph the forward business class cabin. After I returned to my seat, the crewmember serving my aisle came over to my seat and respectfully asked me to delete all the photos that had the faces of the crew and other passengers in them. While I thought it was slightly pedantic (at no point did I make eye contact with anyone while holding the camera, nor did anyone face my direction), I appreciated that the crew dealt with the situation nicely, and proceeded to delete the 0 pictures I had taken that included anyone’s face in it.
The supposedly prohibited photo of Japan Airlines 777-200 Business Class
I proceeded to check my seat out in bed mode. The window seats in Japan Airlines’ 777-200 business class recline to fairly standard reverse herringbone flat beds, aside for the fact that they’re a bit tighter around the shoulders. As mentioned earlier, the center seats make wonkier beds, as the D seats are much closer to the floor; while I didn’t get to check the middle seats out in bed mode, I doubt the footwells are spacious, since they’re atop one another. Hence, I’d recommend selecting a window seat in this configuration if sleeping is a priority.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Bed Mode
As aforementioned, the crew passed out menus prior to takeoff. It read as follows:
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Menu
15 minutes after takeoff we were given a hot towel.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Hot Towel
30 minutes after that, a crewmember came and laid my table. She took my drink order, and I asked for sake, flexing my new 18-year-old identity card beaming inside with concealed pride. Turns out I completely forgot that the drinking age in Japan is 20, so I was denied an alcoholic beverage – the crewmember apologised profusely about it, though she really didn’t have to.
I ended up choosing Japan Airlines’ signature Sky Time drink. I don’t remember why I did, since I remember finding it unpleasant while visiting a Japan Airlines lounge in Osaka, though it was every bit as revolting as I remembered. It was unpleasantly sweet, and tasted like sweetened cough syrup. When the crewmember serving my aisle brought my main meal over, I handed her my drink and asked for water, to which she shook her head and said “you don’t like it?” in a somewhat-sympathetic way.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Nuts and Pre-Meal Service Beverage
The main meal was served an hour after takeoff. I’d ordered the Japanese-style meal, which consisted of black cod teriyaki and boiled pork belly, served with a variety of side dishes. The cod was really nice, though I didn’t like the sauce that the boiled pork belly slices were drenched in.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Meal
The meal came with an impressive amount of side dishes. Some highlights included the chowan mushi (Japanese steamed egg), the Japanese omelet and the tofu, though I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that the jellied summer vegetables and mixed seaweed side were served with the same sauce as the pork belly (which I didn’t really like).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Meal
Overall, though, it’s clear Japan Airlines puts a lot of effort into their catering, and this exceeds the quality of your typical business class airline meal, despite the fact that I was expecting a bit more (since I’ve heard really good things).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Meal
The meal ended with ice cream, which was served rock hard. The ice cream was served with a nice cup of green tea.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Dessert
I can’t deny that Japan Airlines puts a whole lot of effort into their meals, and they’re way above the industry standard in that regard. That being said, since it’s clear they’re going for somewhat of a restaurant-quality experience, as a foodie I’ll put in some pointers:
- You should never serve the same sauce in different “courses” or different elements across a single meal, just in case some don’t appreciate the sauce (for example, the overused sauce was a sesame sauce, so what if I don’t like sesame?)
- Imitation crab has no place on a beautiful chowan mushi
- The octopus and eel were somewhat rubbery and could’ve been treated better (I personally don’t think you can execute eel on a plane, so shrimp sushi would’ve been a much better option; whereas the octopus could’ve been kept in a sauce, where it would’ve stayed moist)
As aforementioned, the crew were courteous, even if it did feel like an assembly line. After all, this is a Japanese airline – the country where you’re told off nicely if you’re caught filming airport security. That being said, I wasn’t allowed to use my GoPro suction camera mount on the window or on my TV during the flight – the flight attendant asked me to remove it, saying “I’m sorry, I know you like to take pictures”. I don’t get how a GoPro suction cup compromises security. I’m not sure how it’s okay for window shades to be closed during takeoff, but a GoPro on the window during cruising to be a breach of safety regulations. That being said, I can’t help but be intimidated by Japanese standards, be it in the aviation industry or not, so I obeyed the crewmembers’ instructions on this flight.
Fat and happy, I visited the lavatory, which was in front of the forward cabin and featured a bidet-style toilet. I found the lavatory to be clean and well-maintained.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Lavatory
In fear of getting my jeans wet, I didn’t use the bidet function, though I’ve heard reports of friends giggling while getting their butts sprayed inflight on Japanese carriers (I’m not sure why, though if you have a valid explanation, I’m all ears).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Lavatory Bidet Function
Mood lighting began to kick in after the meal, and I set my eyes on the beautiful sunset out the window (which was the reason I selected seats on the left side of the cabin – in this case the direction was fairly obvious since we were flying northbound, though you might want to use sunflight.net to figure out whether your next flight features a sunset or a sunrise).
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Cabin during Sunset
I actually think I may have partially missed the sunset, since the sky was dim when I opened my window after working for a bit.
Sunset enroute to Tokyo Haneda
Japan Airlines’ 777s feature their newest MAGIC-VI entertainment system. The interface itself isn’t anything special, though I have to acknowledge that it’s incredibly responsive. There were ~190 movies to choose from, 128 albums, and you could stream BBC live television – that’s not as good a selection as you’d get on world-class entertainment systems such as Singapore Airlines’ (well, before they botched it) or Cathay Pacific’s, though it’s quite a decent selection.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class Entertainment System
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class BBC Livestreaming
Japan Airlines also offers WiFi on a majority of their international fleet. On international routes, the airline charges WiFi as follows (it is my understanding that WiFi is free on all domestic routes):
- 1 hour of WiFi for 10.15 USD (~HK$79.20)
- 3 hours of WiFi for 14.40 USD (~HK$112.40)
- 24 hours of WiFi for 18.80 USD (~HK$146.70)
If you’re connecting on another Japan Airlines flight, your WiFi package is valid for 24 hours after you first purchase the plan. As more airlines switch to charging for airline WiFi by data, I’m glad that Japan Airlines continues to provide unlimited WiFi usage over a certain period of time.
While I value my WiFi, there was no way I was purchasing a 24-hour plan on a flight with a flying time of 3 hours and 30 minutes, so I purchased the 3-hour WiFi plan. While not truly high-speed, the WiFi was definitely usable, and I was quite happy with it.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Business Class WiFi Speed
I worked on my laptop for a while, though quickly got tired (I wish I had a valid excuse as to why that was, though post-exam season has just made me hibernate more than I should). I napped for a while, and soon enough we were 20 minutes out of Tokyo Haneda.
The night views of Tokyo were beautiful, since we had clear skies on the way down. The feeling of setting sights on a city that I hadn’t seen in almost a decade (which isn’t a short period of time, given I’m less than two decades old) was pretty nice, to say the least.
Views upon Landing into Tokyo Haneda
Soon enough it was touchdown into Tokyo Haneda. Wheels-down was at approximate 7:55 PM, and we made our way over to Haneda’s international terminal, where we’d be parking for the night.
Views upon Landing into Tokyo Haneda
While this wasn’t my first time in Tokyo, I’d always flown in and out of Narita Airport, so Haneda Airport was new to me. It looked quite nice from the outside, though it wasn’t until I stepped inside when I realised exactly how much nicer the passenger experience was.
Tokyo Haneda Airport
We taxied past a bunch of ANA aircraft, before finally parking at gate 112 next to an ANA 787 in a Star Alliance livery.
ANA Boeing 787 Tokyo Haneda Airport
ANA Boeing 787 Tokyo Haneda Airport
We parked at the gate at 8:05 PM, and by 8:30 PM we had retrieved our bags and were ready to go. We had just missed the bus that would’ve whisked us straight to our hotel lobby, so we had an hour to burn before the next one came. My mother and I decided to spend some time up on the Observation Deck, which was a great decision – in fact, I’ll probably dedicate a separate installment to it. Getting a premium cabin award ticket into Haneda Airport should be an aviation rite of passage – it’s much harder than getting an award seat into Narita Airport, though the perks are well worth the exclusivity.
Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 Tokyo Haneda Airport
Bottom Line: Japan Airlines 777-200 Business Class
Japan Airlines provided a comfortable ride between Hong Kong and Tokyo. On the plus side, I chose specifically to fly Japan Airlines’ better hard product from Hong Kong to Tokyo – they also run angled flat seats on their Tokyo Narita flight with better award space options (and flight timing), though that wouldn’t have been as comfortable of a ride. Granted, this configuration can’t compete with “non-densified” reverse herringbone seats, Apex Suites, or some of the newer business class seats out there, though it’s worth remembering that this is largely a mid-haul configuration for routes with lots of premium demand. Prior to my flight, I didn’t expect the staggering and the densification to make that big of a difference, though.
In regards to the soft product, I have to admit that the food was above the industry standard, even if there were kinks in the way it was executed. I also enjoyed that WiFi was usable, and was charged by time as opposed to by usage. But as one of the most anticipated flights I’ve had this year, I can’t help but find the other service elements on this flight to be a little…underwhelming? I enjoyed the extra amenities on offer such as an eye mask and a toothbrush (which weren’t really necessary on this short daytime flight), though I received a regional blanket, and the pillow was crap. It was my first time flying a Japanese airline, so I’m guessing I walked in with overly high expectations of service, since I found it to be level with an “average” business class experience you’d get on an Asian airline.
Perhaps my expectations were way too high. I’d always had this impression that Japan Airlines offered a sleek, classy, understated business class product that would subtly fire on all cylinders – the dark horse of premium cabin products. That impression is lost on me a bit after this flight. But while I wouldn’t seek this product out on my honeymoon anymore, I still thought this was a good use of 30,000 Asia Miles, and wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.
I hope to try Japan Airlines longhaul sometime in their Apex Suite, where I’ve heard the experience is quite a bit better.
Read more from this trip:
Have you flown Japan Airlines’ business class before? How was your experience?
Great review as always, Alvin. Last time I flew into HND on JAL, they still had their angled flat seats…
I’ve only ever flown them once (and I haven’t even tried ANA), but that one time the JAL cabin crew were lovely and super considerate (might have been because we were travelling with a 2 year old…).