Review: Japan Airlines First Class Tokyo to Los Angeles

Flight Number
JL16
Aircraft
Boeing 777-300
Duration
9 hours 45 minutes
Date
October 2022
Rating

To cap off my trip to Japan, we took a 10-hour flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles onboard one of my all-time favourite airline products: Japan Airlines First Class

This would be my third time flying Japan Airlines First Class, and the first in a few years’ time. Naturally, I was curious to see how the product fared in a post-pandemic world, and I was excited by the prospect of another exquisite Japanese gastronomic experience at 35,000 feet.

In This Post

Japan Airlines First Class – Booking

I booked this flight using one of the most valuable award redemption sweet spots available at the time.

For just 70,000 Alaska miles per person, I secured a one-way First Class flight from Tokyo to Los Angeles. I made the booking right at 14 days prior to departure, which is when Japan Airlines typically releases its last-minute First Class availability.

This redemption is one of Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan’s final remaining sweet spots, and it’s quite possible a devaluation may be forthcoming in December 2022. With a devaluation looking likely, I was delighted to make one final booking using my Alaska miles at such a favourable rate.

Outside of Alaska miles, it’s also possible to book the same route for 80,000 American AAdvantage miles, 103,000 British Airways Avios, or 115,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, with varying amounts of taxes and fees.

By booking Japan Airlines First Class with Alaska miles, there were minimal taxes and fees, as Alaska Mileage Plan doesn’t pass along any carrier-imposed surcharges.

Japan Airlines First Class – Ground Experience

I arrived to a relatively quiet JAL First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda before my flight. The lounge is elegant and spacious, with two floors, but the second floor was closed at the time of my visit.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda – JAL’s Table seating

I spent my time here trying a few of the à la carte items, dividing my attention between curry rice, sushi, and noodles.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda – Noodle soup

Unfortunately, the JAL First Class Lounge lacks the top-quality noodle bar found in the ANA Suite Lounge. The highlight of the JAL First Class Lounge is the unlimited sushi and live-cooking station, where you can watch the chef prepare your meal.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda – Sushi

Nevertheless, I planned on saving my appetite for onboard my First Class flight with Japan Airlines, so I only dabbled a little bit in the food, and then spent the remainder of my time checking out the Red Suite.

The aviation-themed Red Suite is another highlight of the lounge, and was definitely the favourite part of my visit. This space added an elevated sense of luxury to the lounge with its aviation memorabilia, self-serve Laurent-Perrier Champagne, and premium sake.

Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda – RED SUITE seating
Japan Airlines First Class Lounge Tokyo Haneda – Laurent-Perrier Champagne

After spending some time observing aviation maps and antiques, it was time to head to my gate and prepare for a much-anticipated 10-hour jaunt across the Pacific.

Japan Airlines First Class – Cabin

Upon entering the First Class cabin, I took note of the highly traditional and classic First Class cabin design that Japan Airlines is known for.

A soft marble-patterned carpet leads the way to the suites, which are adorned in subdued cream tones. The old-school cabin finishes are quite apparent, right down to the brown leather seats and woodgrain panelling that travels along the edge of the plane.

Japan Airlines First Class – Cabin

The Japan Airlines First Class cabin on the Boeing 777 has just eight suites in total, arranged across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

My home in the sky for the next 10 hours was Seat 1A at the front of the cabin, with almost three full windows to myself.

When it comes to choosing a seat, window seats in either row will be ideal for those travelling solo, while the middle seats will be best for those travelling together.

Should you find yourself in the middle seat, there is a central partition which can be raised for additional privacy or lowered for conversing with your seatmate. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Seat 1A

The cabin was dressed in a gentle purple mood lighting upon boarding. I hadn’t yet seen this mood lighting on Japan Airlines First Class before, and I thought it added some flair to the cabin’s otherwise ordinary appearance.

Although it’s of course a very luxurious product, note that Japan Airlines First Class doesn’t offer quite as much privacy compared to many of the world’s newer First Class products. After all, these cabins are over a decade old, and haven’t been updated since their introduction in 2008. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Cabin

Japan Airlines First Class – Seat

As we prepared for takeoff, I reacquainted myself with my surroundings in the Japan Airlines First Class seat.

First and foremost, while not the most modern of First Class suites, the oversized leather chairs afford a phenomenal amount of space, including ample surface space along the wooden consoles.

Japan Airlines First Class – Seat 1A

There are two sets of seat controls, which are conveniently located on the left-hand side below the console. The first set of controls allows for customizing the seat recline up, down, or into lie-flat mode.

Japan Airlines First Class – Surface space & consoles

To the right is a more comprehensive set of controls, which allow for the full customization of the head, base, and footrest of the seat. Additionally, there’s a function for adjusting lumbar support and the footlight.

Japan Airlines First Class – Seat controls

Just above this seat control is the entertainment controller, hidden under the flap of the console.

Japan Airlines First Class – Entertainment controller

There are ample storage compartments onboard Japan Airlines First Class. Near the base of the seat is a larger storage unit, which is perfect for a laptop, tablet, or something of a similar size.

Japan Airlines First Class – Storage compartment
Japan Airlines First Class – Storage compartment

Just in front of the entertainment controller’s compartment is the literature pocket, where there is also an indented surface space.

Japan Airlines First Class – Literature pocket & surface space

Turning my attention to the front of the seat, I found a small storage unit, power outlet, and USB port that were revealed by the push of a button.

Japan Airlines First Class – Surface space
Japan Airlines First Class – Storage space, USB port, & power outlet

On the front wall of the suite is the entertainment screen, and stowed at the far end of the suite, below the screen, is the tray table. By grabbing the handle below, the tray table unlatches, and can slide back and forth.

Japan Airlines First Class – Front of suite
Japan Airlines First Class – Tray table

Also nestled below here is a multi-functional ottoman. With the tray table in its dining position, the ottoman doubles as a buddy seat, with its own seatbelt for dining with a fellow passenger. Meanwhile, when the seat is in lie-flat mode, the ottoman forms part of the bed.

Under the ottoman, there’s additional storage space, large enough to stow a small carry-on item.

Japan Airlines First Class – Ottoman

The headphone jack and a reading light are located on either side of the seat’s shoulder.

Japan Airlines First Class – Reading light & headphone jack
Japan Airlines First Class – Reading light

Compared to many other First Class products, the Japan Airlines First Class seat is starting to reveal its age, with some signs of wear and tear.

Still, as we took off into the Tokyo sky while the sun began to set, I was elated to find myself ensconced within these classic and comfortable leather seats once again, looking forward to the gastronomic procession that would soon begin. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Amenities

We were offered a choice of pre-departure beverage shortly after taking our seats, as well as a packaged cold towel.

Since it was only the cheaper Delamotte Champagne being served prior to take off, we ultimately stuck to orange juice for our pre-departure drinks.

After all, I was keen to conserve my buzz for the elevated onboard beverage selection once we hit the skies. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Welcome drink

Two amenity kits were handed out on this flight. The first was handed out pre-departure, and then a second, more premium kit was handed out shortly after takeoff.

The first kit is a modest offering by Zero Halliburton, presented in a soft blue case with black leather accents. Inside was the standard toothbrush, earplugs, and eye mask, along with an eye mask, a hairbrush, pocket tissue, some lip balm, and hand lotion.

Japan Airlines First Class – Amenity kit
Japan Airlines First Class – Amenity kit contents

Later on, the more elaborate amenity kits were handed out. We were presented with a Shiseido men’s skincare kit and a Clé de Peau Beauté women’s with facemasks and lotions.

Japan Airlines First Class – Shinsedo skincare kit & Clé de Peau amenities
Japan Airlines First Class – Clé de Peau amenities

Lastly, the First Class suite came with a set of Panasonic noise-cancelling headphones in a leather casing.

Japan Airlines First Class – Noise-cancelling headphones

After departure, the crew came by to provide a comfortable set of stylish grey pajamas made of organic cotton. Along with these came a set of slippers and a blanket.

Japan Airlines First Class – Meal Service

For passengers departing from Tokyo, the First Class beverage menu includes some of the most lavish and expensive Champagne offered in the sky: Salon Champagne 2007, which you won’t find for less than $1,000 (USD) per bottle these days.

Naturally, this was our drink of choice on this flight, and we kicked off many hours of eating and drinking with a few glasses of Salon as soon as we reached cruising altitude. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Salon 2007 Champagne

While sipping on the first crisp glass of many, we began browsing through the leather-bound in-flight menu.

I opted for the Japanese menu, as it’s always my favourite when flying Japan Airlines First Class. My partner Jessy chose the Western menu, feeling in need of a change after a two-week stint of non-stop Japanese food (and giving me the opportunity to steal a few bites and sample both menus). 

Japan Airlines First Class – Menu

The food menu read as follows:

And the beverage menu read as follows:

A few more sips of Salon, and the crew began bringing out the food. Jessy came over to my seat to join me for dinner, sitting in the buddy seat opposite me.

Note that the Japan Airlines First Class tray table is a fairly limited size, and unlike, say, Cathay Pacific First Class, there’s no table extension if you wish to dine as a couple. Instead, the crew positioned our respective meals on the left and right sides of the tray table, so that we’d both have ample space to dig in. 

The Japanese meal kicked off with a starter of five seasonal colourful delicacies. The presentation included deep-fried conger eel, horsehead snapper, matsutake mushroom, seared ise lobster, and Spanish mackerel with truffle sauce.

Japan Airlines First Class – Five seasonal colourful delicacies

The seared ise lobster was juicy and tender, and was unquestionably the highlight. The Spanish mackerel was a delightful fusion-inspired touch, accompanied by a creamy and rich truffle sauce.

The Western menu began with an amuse bouche of goat cheese bavarois, which we found to be only mediocre. It was creamy and had a slightly interesting flavour profile, but wasn’t among our favourites on this flight.

Japan Airlines First Class – Goat cheese bavarois

The first Western appetizer was another fusion dish: sea urchin couscous. We enjoyed this one a fair bit, and so far, both meal services were off to a good start.

Note that there was no caviar course served as part of the Western menu on this flight, although Japan Airlines First Class has been known to serve caviar in the past. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Sea urchin couscous

Following that, a marinated Sakhalin surf clam and vegetable dish was served as the second Western appetizer. It wasn’t quite as exceptional as the previous dish, but the pistachios served on the side were tasty.

Japan Airlines First Class – Sakhalin clam & vegetable dish

The Japanese meal service continued with a soup dish that was truly a work of art. Suspended in the broth was a piece of egg tofu with Japanese crab cooked within it. The crab had a delicious tender flavour, and the broth was savoury.

Japan Airlines First Class – Japanese crab soup
Japan Airlines First Class – Japanese crab soup

Lobster with mushroom fricassée was the main course on the Western side. The dish had rich, savoury flavours, and was perhaps a touch too salty, but we still enjoyed polishing it off.

Japan Airlines First Class – Lobster with mushroom fricassée

Next up on the Japanese side was a more experimental course made up of seared blowfish and boiled blowfish skin accompanied by a ponzu sauce. Alongside this, a small bowl of tofu skin topped with caviar and thickened broth jelly.

Japan Airlines First Class – Seared blowfish & tofu topped with caviar

It was the tofu with caviar and ponzu jelly that stole the show, thanks to the sweetness and smooth gelatinous texture of the ponzu jelly. On the other hand, the blowfish course was less suited to my tastes.

Although not every dish was a home-run, these meal presentations were a prime example of how elaborate the meals onboard Japan Airlines First Class can be, which is something I always appreciate.

I then tried the Wagyu beef fillet from Jessy’s Western menu. The beef was tender and juicy, pairing well with a velvety red wine sauce.

Japan Airlines First Class – Wagyu beef fillet

The showpiece of the Japanese meal came next: salmon roe with steamed rice and toasted seaweed. This was accompanied by simmered snapper, mushrooms, and greens; miso soup; and pickled veggies.

This would be my first time having salmon roe over rice on a plane, and it sure didn’t disappoint.

Japan Airlines First Class – Salmon roe with steamed rice & toasted seaweed
Japan Airlines First Class – Simmered snapper

The dainty pearls popped with flavour in my mouth, blending seamlessly with the simmered snapper and its silky sauce. I eagerly finished the entire course, scraping up every last grain of rice from the bowl. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Salmon roe with steamed rice

Concluding the Japanese meal service was persimmon yokan and sherbert with rum jelly for dessert, though not quite hitting the same high notes as before. 

The persimmon yokan was sweet, but relatively unmemorable, and the rum jelly was somewhat better, but still a bit of a confusing mishmash of flavours.

Japan Airlines First Class – Persimmon yokan and sherbert with rum jelly

On the other hand, the Western desserts were outstanding, consisting of a chestnut macaron served alongside a coffee granité.

The macaron had a pleasurable texture and tasted not too sweet at first, but then subtly grew in sweetness with its aftertaste. Meanwhile, the coffee granité was simply delightful. The dessert was highly creative and superb, made of frozen coffee transformed into shaved ice.

Japan Airlines First Class – Chestnut macaron and coffee granité

Comparing the two meal sequences, I felt the Japanese menu was better than the Western one overall. Still, there were some very strong showings from the Western menu, including the innovative sea urchin couscous and the desserts. 

After concluding a very fulsome and decadent meal service, I was ready for yet another glass of Salon 2007. Alas, at this stage, we learned that the last drop of Salon on the flight had already been poured.

It appears as though Japan Airlines only stocks two or three bottles of the good stuff, and they can run out fairly quickly if multiple passengers order multiple glasses (as we had done). That’s certainly something to be aware of if you’re flying Japan Airlines First Class out of Tokyo: order the Salon often and early.

 We switched to another great bottle of Champagne: Comtes Taittinger 2007.

Japan Airlines First Class – Comes Taittinger 2007

Japan Airlines First Class – Bed

After concluding a successful meal service, I went to the restroom to freshen up and change into the trendy First Class pajamas.

The restroom was small but had plenty of space to manoeuvre about. Its interiors are sleek with jet-black walls, and as you’d expect, there was a Japanese-style toilet with a bidet.

Japan Airlines First Class – Restroom
Japan Airlines First Class – Restroom
Japan Airlines First Class – Restroom amenities

Additionally, there are two hidden benches in the restroom. The first bench folds out and rests on the ground in front of the toilet, and the second folds out over the toilet. These provide a place to stand while changing into your pajamas, and a spot to place your items while doing so.

As far as transpacific crossings go, this one was relatively short at 10 hours between Tokyo and Los Angeles. I opted not to sleep on this flight and instead caught up on some work, but I still went ahead and set the seat into lie-flat mode to try it out.

Japan Airlines First Class – Seat
Japan Airlines First Class – Bed
Japan Airlines First Class – Bed

When lying down, the Japan Airlines First Class bed is very wide and broad. Coupled with the thick and cushy seat, this lie-flat bed would certainly make for a comfortable place to rest if I needed to.

Of course, just like in upright mode, keep in mind that it’s not as private of a sleeping experience as you’ll find on some other airlines.

Japan Airlines First Class – Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is complimentary onboard Japan Airlines First Class, which is a very welcome gesture for premium passengers. A code is passed out by the flight attendants, which allows access to the Wi-Fi for the duration of the flight.

Japan Airlines First Class – Wi-Fi voucher

The connection speeds were fast, and I was able to browse smoothly and upload video content to social media. Note that multiple devices are able to access the Wi-Fi service, though not simultaneously on the same session. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Entertainment

The 23-inch entertainment screen in front of you is sufficient, but not the most cutting-edge display – especially if you compare it to the 42-inch ultra-high-definition 4K monitor on Japan Airlines’s rival, ANA New First Class.

What’s more, the entertainment selection was modest, with a few new releases, but definitely not the widest range of titles to choose from. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Movie selection
Japan Airlines First Class – Movie selection

It’s also worth noting that you can’t navigate the in-flight entertainment software on the monitor in front of you. Instead, your choices must be made on the remote control by your side, before it plays on the larger screen.

Japan Airlines First Class – Movie selection

As I mostly spent my time using the Wi-Fi getting work done, I wasn’t too fussed about the onboard entertainment, though I’d mark it down as a relative weak point of this product. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Snack Service

As the flight continued at cruising altitude, I passed the time by sampling as much of the onboard snack and drink offerings as possible. To start, I ordered a glass of Japan Airlines’s signature “Sky Time” peach and grape drink, as well as some sencha green tea.

Japan Airlines First Class – Signature drink & sencha green tea

I then followed up with a glass of hojicha (roasted green tea). This is usually served in a small cup just like the sencha, but I was instead offered a tall Japan Airlines First Class coffee mug due to some turbulence during the flight. 

(What a beautiful mug design, by the way! I’m always very impressed by these mugs onboard Japan Airlines First Class. This time, I even asked the crew if there was a way to buy these mugs, but unfortunately they weren’t for sale.)

Japan Airlines First Class – Hojicha roasted green tea

For snacks, I opted for the udon and deep-fried Junwakei chicken rice bowl. As one would expect with a deep-fried chicken dish, this one was hot, greasy, and delicious.

Japan Airlines First Class – Junwakei chicken rice bowl

The snack menu on this particular flight didn’t include noodles, which I thought was odd and unprecedented – the Japanese premium cabins I’ve flown before have always had noodles on the snack menu. 

Speaking to the crew, it seems like this flight was a one-off exception in that the typical udon snack dish wasn’t stocked; however, there were still cup noodles available, which still counts as noodles in my books, so I went ahead and ordered a cup.

Alongside these, I also sampled the Queen of the Blue Deluxe royal blue tea. This drink was served creatively in a Champagne glass to enhance the aromas of fruit and honey, and I found it to be quite an intriguing beverage with a whimsical aftertaste.

Japan Airlines First Class – Queen of the Blue Deluxe royal blue tea
Japan Airlines First Class – Junwakei chicken rice bowl, cup noodles, and Queen of the Blue tea

Following this, I indulged in some curry rice and Matsusaka beef. The curry rice was fairly modest, and while I enjoyed the flavours, I’ve definitely had better in the past.

Japan Airlines First Class – Curry rice & Matsusaka beef
Japan Airlines First Class – Curry rice

I then sampled the marbled Matsusaka beef, which was served cold and had an interesting texture, but likewise didn’t exactly strike me as a world-class snack. 

Lastly, after the premium royal blue tea, the sencha, and the hojicha, I ordered a glass of the iced green tea, concluding this memorable “tea flight” in all senses of the word. 

Japan Airlines First Class – Iced green tea

Japan Airlines First Class – Second Meal Service

About 90 minutes before landing, it was time for the final meal of this 10-hour journey, which came in the form of another Teishoku Japanese set with seared vinegared mackerel, rice, miso soup, and a few accompaniments. This set meal was comparable to many of the meals I had eaten in Japan on my two-week trip.

Japan Airlines First Class – Snack service
Japan Airlines First Class – Seared vinegared mackerel

I also elected to give the Hibiki Suntory Blender’s Choice whisky a try, which I must say was a lot less smooth than the award-winning Hibiki 21 that’s served onboard Japan Airlines’s rival, ANA.

Japan Airlines First Class – Hibiki Suntory Blender’s Choice whisky

The flight came to an end with some complimentary Jean-Paul Hévin chocolate, wrapping up this journey on a sweet note as we approached LAX.

Japan Airlines First Class – Chocolate
Japan Airlines First Class – Airshow en route to Los Angeles

Conclusion

When I first flew Japan Airlines First Class in January 2018, I was a wide-eyed neophyte in the world of premium cabins, and I’ll always hold this product close to my heart thanks to the incredible flight I had enjoyed back then. 

Now, as a more seasoned traveller at the front of the plane, I’d say that the Japan Airlines First Class onboard experience remains excellent, though there are some notable areas for improvement that the airline would do well to consider in the coming years. 

Of course, the gastronomic experience is still top-notch, with ornate and decadent dishes that wouldn’t be out of place at one of the many Michelin-starred venues in Tokyo. The Japanese dinner menu was the stronger one overall, with creative dishes and flavours that I hadn’t previously encountered.

The Western concept outperformed when it came to desserts, though, and an inspired meal order on Japan Airlines First Class might well involve sampling items from both sides of the leather-bound menu.

The drink selection alone is well worth exploring too, including $1,000+ bottles of Salon 2007, though keep in mind that the number of bottles may be limited.

However, Japan Airlines First Class is beginning to lag behind its peers when it comes to the hard product. In an era of sliding doors and 4K entertainment screens, Japan Airlines’s old-school seats just won’t cut it for much longer, and I’d certainly expect to see the airline rolling out a new-and-improved First Class product in the next few years if it wishes to remain competitive. 

Still, with relatively predictable award availability patterns and access from a multitude of Oneworld loyalty programs, Japan Airlines First Class continues to be one of my preferred ways to cross the Pacific, and I don’t imagine that’ll change as long as the outstanding food and drink remains in free flow. 

2 Comments
  1. Leon YYC

    Great write up! Sums up my recent experience as well. I still think LH F is slightly better but then it was in a 748 and the FCT in FRA was definitely better than JL’s F lounge.

  2. Christian

    My wife and I flew JAL first to ORD in May. It was quite a step down from previous experiences. Our seats were involuntary reassigned, we didn’t realize that only two bottles of good (we didn’t know how good) champagne were stocked and everyone was guzzling the stuff like crazy so we only got a single glass each, the lack of caviar was a notable let down, the beef dish was short rib rather than a hoped for premium cut, and the snack menu was surprisingly small. We’d had lovely experiences on JAL in the past but that wasn’t one of them. It sounds like they’ve made some progress but still have a ways to go.

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