Our redeye flight from Hanoi to Tokyo Narita on Japan Airlines was departing at 12:25am, so when we arrived at the airport with lots of time to spare, we had to wait around for quite a bit until check-in.
As you’d expect for a Japanese airline, the check-in desk opened precisely three hours before departure and not a minute earlier, even though the staff was standing around at the counters for hours before that.
The check-in agent quickly processed our documents and issued the boarding passes for this flight as well as our onwards First Class flight to Chicago. We were also given lounge invitations for the NIA Business Lounge, which is an airport-operated lounge that’s used by seemingly all airlines at Noi Bai International Airport.
I won’t be reviewing the lounge separately, although I will say that it had quite an impressive meal selection for an airport-operated lounge, albeit not nearly enough seating room for a popular departure time such as the late evening. More than once I saw a premium passenger entering the lounge and having a difficult time finding a seat.
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At 11:45pm, we headed to the gate to board the plane. I was looking forward to my first-ever flight on JAL business class, primarily because I had heard great things about the JAL Sky Suite, which is the name for the business class seat used on the Boeing 787 and most of their Boeing 777 aircraft.
The seats are known in the industry as Apex Super First Class Seating, or Apex Suites in general, and the First Class moniker shows you just how well-regarded the seats are. Blocked at 4 hours and 45 minutes, this flight would make it tough to both get some rest and enjoy the flight, but I was determined to give it my best effort.
We boarded through Door L1 and made our way to Seats 9H and 9K, the two seats by the window in the last row of business class. Japan Airlines’s Boeing 787-8 planes feature a premium-heavy seat layout on international routes, with 38 business class seats spread out across six and a half rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. (Rows 1-3 and 7-9 each have six seats in 2-2-2, while Row 10 consists only of two seats in the centre section, and there are no Rows 4-6.)
This may be strictly a personal preference, but I found the business class cabin to be one of the most visually beautiful cabins I’ve had the pleasure of flying in. The colour scheme really spoke to me, with the redcurrant seat finishes in particular striking a fine balance between elegance and stylishness.
Let’s talk about the JAL Sky Suite, which is by far the greatest selling point about this business class product. The first thing to note is that while all Apex Suites have a very spacious pitch, this is nevertheless one of those forms of seating where not all seats were created equally.
You see, the seats in the centre section, as well as the seats on each side that are closer to the aisle, have a very basic amount of privacy. The real winners are the window seats, which jut ahead of their aisle counterparts, creating a private walkway that leads you from the aisle to your seat. That’s an unbeatable amount of privacy for business class.
If you’re travelling in JAL business class featuring Sky Suites, or any airline that features Apex Suites, you should always select seats as soon as possible in order to snag one of the window seats, which are truly a cut above the rest. Even if you’re travelling as a couple, there’s a strong case to be made for selecting two of these window seats so that you can both fully enjoy the experience of having essentially your own private suite in business class. In our case, though, I elected to take the aisle and window seats next to each other in 9H and 9K and give Jessica the better seat.
Arriving at our seats, we found the prepackaged amenities waiting for us, including slippers, headphones, the amenity kit, and a blanket.
Upon taking my seat in a business class cabin I haven’t tried before, fiddling around with the seat features is always the first thing I do, and this flight was no exception. The first thing that catches your eye is the gorgeous 17-inch entertainment screen, under which you’ll find the leg rest and some storage room underneath.
Along the side of your suite is a small pouch where the business class menu had been placed. Meanwhile, the remainder of the in-flight literature can be found in different places, depending on which seat you’re sitting in.
The one perk of the aisle-side seats on either side of the aircraft is that you get a useful little storage nook as a result of the window seat jutting forwards; that’s where you’ll find the in-flight literature in these seats. In the window seats, and presumably the seats in the middle aisle as well, the reading material is found in a small holder next to the entertainment screen.
Your in-seat control panel, featuring the seat controls, entertainment controls, headphone jack, and power outlets, are at your fingertips along the partition separating the aisle seat from the window seat. On the other side, you’ll find a reading light.
Importantly, there’s a privacy partition between the two seats, meaning that you can keep it down if travelling as a couple, and raise it if you’re travelling solo in the window seat, to ensure absolute privacy.
Over in Jessica’s ultra-private suite, things were arranged slightly differently; the controls and power outlets were located a little further along the partition. In addition, since this was the Boeing 787, the window brightness was controlled via an automatic switch rather than window blinds, which was lots of fun!
As we waited for boarding to complete, I was handed a warm towel and a bottle of water by the flight attendant.
I also took this time to check out the in-flight amenities – no pajamas on this flight, and the amenity kit was also quite basic.
Right before we began our taxi, the flight attendants did their rounds through the business class cabin to take everyone’s meal orders; I presume this was because people would be looking to get some sleep as soon as the flight began. Since this was an overnight flight, breakfast would be served about an hour before landing, although we could order the light snacks at any time.
Japan Airlines calls their meal service “BEDD”, which is supposed to be a play on the word “bed” with an additional D for “care-free Dining with Delicious foods and Dream-like comfort”. I’m not making this up, they say so themselves on their website. There’s even an entire mini-site dedicated to the BEDD meal experience, including meals served in economy, premium economy, business class, and First Class. I think it’s pretty cool that JAL markets their meal service as a “restaurant in the sky” – it’s clearly something the airline takes a lot of pride in.
Anyway, the menu for this flight read as follows:
Pretty soon, the cabin lights were dimmed and the safety video began to play, as we pushed back from the gate. After the safety video, I checked out the other features on the in-flight entertainment system, including the airshow.
Interestingly, I couldn’t figure out how to actually browse the movie and TV selection on the big screen itself; instead, I could only flick through the titles on the screen of my small entertainment controller. I’m not sure if this is a bug or a feature.
Given this was a redeye flight, I didn’t waste much time after takeoff before transforming my seat into a bed and sleeping for a few hours. I did want to enjoy the meal service later on, so I figured I had to get whatever rest I could possibly get in the span of two and a half hours. Luckily, I’m a very easy sleeper (I routinely fall asleep on 10-minute car rides) so that wasn’t going to be a problem.
I headed to the restroom to freshen up. Japan Airlines keeps their business class restrooms clean and well-lit, which I appreciated.
I also enjoyed the pretty container that held the amenities, the fact that the flush is powered by an automatic sensor (personal hygiene is of utmost importance in tight quarters like these!), and the handwritten note from the crew saying that it’s a pleasure to have us onboard. One of the most wholesome airline restrooms in recent memory 😉
The business class lie-flat bed is pretty great and gave me a very comfortable few hours of slumber. The width of the bed is quite standard, so you should have no trouble sleeping on your back or on your side. However, since there’s no restricted footwell like the type you’d find in business class cabins with staggered seating, you have all the legroom in the world. After all, Japan Airlines uses these very same seats for their long-haul flights in business class, so the ability to get a good night’s sleep is paramount.
About an hour and 15 minutes before landing, I was awoken for my breakfast service. I had selected the Japanese breakfast, making this meal the start of an entire day’s worth of gorging on Japanese food courtesy of JAL.
The breakfast consisted of a main course, served in a bento box, plus a dainomono dish – literally “elevated food” – which represents one of the courses in traditional Japanese kaiseki (multi-course) cuisine, usually consisting of cooked food rather than raw items.
In this case, the dainomono dish was chicken meatball teriyaki with rice, while the main course thankfully came with a pictorial depiction of the items in the bento box in the menu (see above) – otherwise I’d have no idea what was what!
I slowly worked my way through both courses. The chicken meatball teriyaki was savoury and delicious, while the grilled eggplant with miso (top right) and the soy-simmered beef wrapped in thin omelette (bottom middle) certainly made for exciting little bites!
To drink, I ordered both orange juice and grapefruit juice, while the meal also came with a side of miso soup.
Overall, this was a filling and satisfying meal. I like how Japanese cuisine draws upon such diverse ingredients yet always makes a point of maintaining a fine nutritional balance, and I’m excited to find out next time what Japan Airlines offers up in business class on a long-haul route.
Jessica had woken up before me and had ordered the Western breakfast, which she didn’t quite enjoy as much. The beef pie tasted a little moist, while the perfectly oval-shaped fried egg was a little disconcerting. I think she ended up just eating the smoked salmon salad, although that was okay because we had a First Class flight – and a dazzling meal service to match – coming right up.
We descended into the Land of the Rising Sun just as that nickname was playing out on the horizon outside. A smooth landing in Tokyo Narita was followed by a bit of a wait on the tarmac before we arrived at our gate. Jessica and I bade farewell to a business class cabin that we had precious little time to enjoy, before heading to the First Class Lounge.
My first flight in Japan Airlines business class left a good impression overall. The highlight of the flight was no doubt the unique business class seats, which afforded Jessica the utmost privacy. I do think the Apex Suites along the window represent one of the best ways to fly in business class, although to be fair, the other seats are perfectly spacious and comfortable as well, just without the amount of privacy that reminds me of a First Class suite.
In terms of the other aspects of the flight, the Japanese meal service was a real treat, while the Western breakfast left quite a bit to be desired. In addition, the basic in-flight amenities were mildly disappointing, although I don’t think a five-hour regional redeye flight is the best occasion to judge. I’ll be looking to fly JAL long-haul business class in the near future in order to compare notes more fairly.
Keep in mind that Canadians can easily fly JAL business and First Class using Alaska miles, which represent a great redemption opportunity. Intra-Asia business class is only 25,000 miles one-way, while North America to Asia begins at 60,000 miles one-way.