Tried & Tested

Flight review: Japan Airlines B777-300 business class

26 Nov 2022 by Hannah Brandler
JAL B777-300

Background

This is a review of Japan Airlines’ London Heathrow-Tokyo Haneda route, with a connection onto Osaka (Kansai International Airport). The flight to Tokyo Haneda is 14 hours and 5 minutes, followed by a 1 hour and 20-minute trip to Kansai International airport.

The B777-300 aircraft is configured with 244 seats across four cabins: JAL Suite (first class), JAL Sky Suite (business class), JAL Sky Premium (premium economy) and JAL Sky Wider (economy).

Japan had only just reopened its borders to international visitors at the time of my visit (beforehand you could only go with a packaged tour), so there are still several measures in place with regards to Covid-19.

You no longer need to take a Covid-19 test to enter the country if you are triple vaccinated, but you do need to fill in various forms and wear a mask during the flight. For my trip, at the start of November, I had to download the My SOS app to complete forms. This is colour-coded and appears as red to begin with, turning blue when your forms are approved. The process has now changed to Visit Japan Web – an online service for the fast-track of customs and immigration.

JAL London-Tokyo-Osaka

Check-in

Japan Airlines operates from Heathrow’s Terminal 3, with check-in at Zone D.

I arrived at the airport at 1500 for the 1745 departure. There are several desks for economy class and a separate desk for first and business class. Fully vaccinated customers must show their My SOS app, and I was also asked to provide details of my return flight, though my next trip was to Singapore – luckily I had all this printed out. Plan ahead!

Cabin baggage labels were affixed to my luggage and I was told that I would have to pick up my luggage at Tokyo Haneda before connecting to Kansai airport. This is because it is the first point of entry into Japan and you have to clear customs.

Business class passengers can use the fast-track security lane, which was quite busy on this Tuesday afternoon but did not take long. I was airside by 1535 and headed to the lounge.

BA Galleries Club Lounge

Lounge

Japan Airlines is a Oneworld carrier, meaning that business class passengers can use British Airways lounges when travelling from Heathrow. At Terminal 3 this is the BA Galleries Club Lounge at Zone F, along the corridors leading to gates 13-22.

The large lounge begins with a rectangular dining area, with a buffet along one of the walls. This opens up into a space with various seating areas. Passengers can choose from tarmac-facing tables, armchairs in the central zone (ideal for those wanting to be within reaching distance of the Prosecco) and a business-like zone on the right-hand side with high-top wooden tables. I sat at the latter and got some work done, with plenty of space for my laptop as well as food. There are USB and plug sockets throughout the lounge.

The food buffet was replenished regularly and included finger sandwiches, cakes, various salads, a soup of the day, nachos and a spread of hot dishes. Staff were cleaning areas regularly and were very polite.

There is a separate station to refill your water and alcoholic drinks such as wine and Prosecco are located at the back of the lounge, along with a fridge of beers, mixers and soft drinks. There is also a station with self-serve Mr Lyan liqueurs, with instructions to craft your own cocktails. For those that need to stay awake, there’s coffee provided by Union Coffee Roasters and a tea station. You can also order food by scanning a QR code and entering the day’s password.

The lounge was fairly quiet on my arrival but had filled by the late afternoon. By this point, there were not enough washrooms for the number of people.

BA Galleries Club Lounge Terminal 3

Boarding

I made my way to gate 3 at 1715, located around a five-minute walk from the lounge, and boarding was scheduled for 1725. An announcement was made to apologise for the delay, which was quite humorous as it commenced only five minutes late at 1730, which is usually the norm. Once on the plane however, we sat for a while. The pilot said that the delay was due to “departure preparation”.

JAL sky suite 777 business

The seat

Business class is fitted with 49 fully-flat seats in a 2-3-2 configuration (AC-DEG-HK), with row 5 located to the left when you board (behind first class) and the remaining rows 7-12 to the right. The B/E Apex seats are staggered and feature sleek deep blue leather upholstery, a beige suede shell with wooden furnishings and a huge 23-inch LCD monitor. All include direct aisle access, meaning you’ll never be disturbed from other passengers.

There is also a retractable privacy screen between seats, although it’s not really necessary as it’s staggered so you can’t see the passenger unless leaning forward. I never used mine and was thankful as I got chatting to my neighbour over the dinner service.

JAL business class seat

A tray table is neatly hidden within the right-hand side of the shell, which you lift up and pull out to position in front of you. This slides back and forth, and also swivels to the right, so you can get out very easily even when it’s open and can also recline your chair and work comfortably on your laptop. Aside from this, there are narrow siderests where you can fit drinks.

The machinery is easy to use, with a seat illustration accompanied by buttons to adjust the recline,  perform massage functions and to operate the privacy screen. There is also a touchscreen remote for the monitor and, below this, a panel with a USB port, a plug socket and a headphone jack.

JAL Sky Suite B777-300 (Business class)

When the seat is fully flat, with an approximate length of 188cm and width of 65cm, it combines with the footrest under the TV, and staff provide comfortable Airweave mattresses and pillows. It felt very wide with lots of space for me to move around while sleeping.

There is a Maison Kitsuné amenity kit, some very good noise-cancelling Sony headphones, slippers, a duvet and pillow at the seat. The kit is beautifully designed but the contents are a little basic and include a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, an eye mask, tissues and a moisture face mask, but no toiletries.

JAL business class Maison Kitsuné

I was in seat 12H which is at the back of the cabin and very close to the galley and toilets (though there’s a curtain to separate you). I was concerned that this would be noisy during a night flight but  it was not a problem and, on the positive side, meant that I could easily access the toilet throughout the 13-hour journey.

The downside is that you are last to be served food, which is not ideal if you want to get a decent sleep, and the overhead locker above this seat is for emergency materials so you have to either store luggage at your seat or in one of the lockers above a different seat (make sure to remember which one and not to forget your luggage when you exit the aircraft).

There is, however, plenty of storage at each seat, with a cabinet on the right-hand side for aisle passengers (behind the headrest of the window seat) where you can store magazines and a bag. The window and centre seats instead have some netting on the top of this cabinet where you could put some magazines but not much else. You can also store belongings beneath the ottoman.

JAL business class B777-300ER

In terms of lighting, there’s a reading light embedded into the seat shell, on the top left-hand side, which can be dimmed, and a light in the well to the right-hand side. Neither were necessary during the flight as the cabin was fairly bright during the few daylight hours.

There are two washrooms at the front of the cabin for business class passengers, but I used the economy ones at the back as these were closer to my seat.

JAL business class B777-300 IFE monitor

Best seat

Seats in the front section of the cabin, just behind first class, are advisable as these are more private and exclusive.

The middle seat in the centre of the aircraft is inadvisable as, although you have privacy screens on either side, you might feel a bit boxed in. It still has direct aisle access, as you can exit from the front and to the side.

Window seats are recommended for those that want sky views (many have three windows to one seat) and aisle seats for those that want a little more storage space.

JAL business class B777-300 fully-flat seat

The flight

The flight was full, which is unsurprising given that Japan had only just reopened to tourists after two years of travel restrictions. Friendly cabin attendants offered business class customers a bottle of water along with a glass of sparkling wine at 1757. The aircraft took off at 1817, around half an hour late, following a safety video.

The cabin’s lighting changed throughout the flight, with a calming purple hue during the night hours.

The IFE content isn’t wide-ranging, which is a shame as the screen is one of the largest I have experienced on a flight and the headphones work well so the airline should maximise this. I only watched one film, which had Japanese subtitles that I wasn’t able to turn off.

JAL Japanese meal

Food and drink

Business Class passengers get a choice between either a Japanese or western menu for the dinner service, and there’s also an ‘anytime’ menu with both cuisines which can be ordered up until 2 hours and 30 minutes before arrival – the menu indicated it was an hour and a half, but this was incorrect. It’s also worth noting that they were running out of a few of the ‘anytime’ items towards the end of the flight.

The Japanese menu, called BEDD (meaning bed, dining, delicious and dream), has been designed by award-winning chefs – my flight had dishes by Hayashi Daisuke, owner chef of restaurant Roketsu, and wines by JAL Wine Advisor Okoshi Motohiro.

We were offered a warm towel at 1920 to prepare for the dinner service, and our tables were set with a placemat.

My meal order was taken at 1940, but took a very long time to arrive (to the point that I thought they may have forgotten), and my glass of rosé Champagne only appeared an hour later. I peeked my head into the economy cabin and saw that some passengers had already finished their meal. My starter arrived at 2105 and a main course at 2140.

The Japanese set menu included an Irodori Gozen starter, a bento box filled with various colourful products:

  • Squid mixed with vegetables
  • Potherb mustard, fried bean curd and shimeji mushroom in Japanese broth with salmon roe
  • Duck breast dressed with tofu sauce and dried mullet roe
  • Simmered turnip and bok choy with mushroom sauce, yuzu peels and carrot
  • Smoked salmon, grilled scallop, lobster, simmered kale, deep-fried eggplant, mangetout, cherry tomato, deep-fried walnuts, Sakura cress, sliced beets, edible flower, carrot greens, cauliflower sauce and Japanese broth jelly

This was followed by a main of simmered yellowtail and white radish alongside grilled chicken with lotus root plus rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles. Dessert (for all menus) was lime leaf and coconut panna cotta.

I was very excited for the food ahead of the journey, but was unfortunately a little disappointed, particularly as it took so long to arrive. Everything was beautifully presented, with edible flowers and intricately cut shapes, but the starter was quite watery and tasteless. The fish in the main course was overdone, unfortunately, but I really enjoyed the miso soup and sticky rice.

It also took a long time for the staff to remove the dishes, which delayed those that wanted to sleep.

JAL Japanese menu

Wines included a Maison Burtin Besserat de Bellefon Rosé Brut NV Champagne, three whites, two reds, two Japanese brands and two sakes. There are also Japanese whiskies, Shochu and non-alcoholic beverages such as Japanese cooled green tea and coffee from JAL’s own line in collaboration with Kawashima Yoshiaki.

Passengers were asked if they would like to be woken before the deadline for the ‘anytime’ menu, but I said that I would prefer to sleep and would order if I was awake. I didn’t have too much luck in the sleeping department so ended up ordering the recommended chirashi sushi for breakfast. Again, I was not too impressed as it was very dry, with slices of fish on a bed of rice.

Tea and coffee were served at 1428, along with a warm towel to refresh your hands.

Shuttle bus Tokyo Haneda

Arrival

Ahead of arriving, passengers are provided with a customs form and an immigration form (though I had already filled in online).

We arrived at 1700 local time, with a very smooth landing and quick disembarking. As soon as you exit the aircraft, there are huge numbers of staff who present you with a laminated health card if you have completed the My SOS app.

You are then guided to a room with many desks where staff check your app – make sure to sign up to the airport wifi as it doesn’t work otherwise. Next is immigration and you are asked to scan your fingers, with a photo taken of your face – a disturbing sight after little sleep.

This whole process was speedy and very well-run – though I imagine it is different now that there’s a new online portal.

I waited for my luggage for about ten minutes and then made my way to the check-in desk to drop off my bag for my connecting flight. This is located on the same floor as arrivals, but you then have to get a free shuttle bus to the domestic terminals (Terminal 1 and 2), which was very busy at this time of the day (around 5.30pm).

I had my first Lost in Translation moment when we arrived at the domestic terminal, doing pirouettes as I tried to find the right security control for my flight. Eventually, after staring at signs in Japanese for far too long, I gave up and just showed my boarding pass to one of the guards at a security gate and they let me through.

I headed to JAL’s Sakura Lounge, hoping to get some work done over some dinner as I had four hours before my next flight. My plan didn’t quite work out as the domestic lounge does not serve food (apart from individual rice crackers). If you’re only thirsty then this long room is a good spot for hydrating and catching up on work, with various private spots, including massage chairs, and tarmac-facing tables with USB and plug sockets.

My flight to Kansai International was at 2055, operated by a 165-seat B737-800 aircraft. This is configured with two cabins, with 20 wide and comfy business class seats in a 2-3 configuration across four rows, and 145 economy seats in a 3-3 configuration. The flight was very smooth and quick so I don’t have much to add, though it’s worth noting that you are only served soft drinks on this flight. We landed at 2210, five minutes ahead of schedule, and arrival was trouble-free as I had already sorted customs in Tokyo.

JAL Sakura Lounge domestic terminal Tokyo Haneda views

Verdict

Japan Airlines has spacious and comfortable seats in business class which provide privacy, plenty of storage space and an impressive monitor for IFE.

The service, while friendly, was very slow and the food was disappointing given its excellent reputation.

Fact box

Flight duration

16 hours 10 minutes

Configuration

2-3-2

Seat width

20 inches

Seat length

74 inches

Price

Internet rates in December for a one-way London-Osaka flight start at £1,226.

Contact

jal.co.jp

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