Japan’s flag carrier Japan Airlines (JAL) has three variations of its business class Sky Suite product. This review covers Sky Suite, which at the time of writing is available on 40 scheduled JAL flights operated by its Boeing 787-8s, 787-9s and 777-300ERs.
According to a press release from JAL, the airline deployed its first JAL Sky Suite on a 777-300ER between Tokyo Narita and London Heathrow from January 9, 2013.
With JAL having recently unveiled new seat products on its A350, I thought it would be interesting to look back at how an older JAL seat product fares.
For this review, I flew from Tokyo Narita to Los Angeles on one of JAL’s 777-300ERs.
I was connecting from another Japan Airlines flight that originated in Hong Kong, JL736, so I did not need to check in at Narita. My connection time was less than two hours, so I made my way quickly through the terminal, clearing transfer security in just a few minutes.
Similarly, I did not have time to make use of a lounge, though when I was waiting for my JL736 flight in Hong Kong I visited the Qantas Business Class Lounge, with which JAL partners.
I boarded at Gate 63, which was undergoing construction. There was scaffolding and panelling in the gate area, though there was still sufficient seating and nice views of the tarmac. The gate area was a bit too hot though and, even after taking my jumper off, I was sweating. It felt as though the air conditioning was not switched on, or that it was on a really low setting.
There was some brief information about the construction work posted on the wall, but it did not say when the construction would be finished.
There is free Wi-Fi available at the gate, though I didn’t use it as I only waited a short while.
Boarding was orderly and conducted via lines separated by retractable barriers. First Class passengers, as well as JMB Diamond and JGC Premier members and Oneworld Emerald members, were allowed to board first.
I boarded in the second group, which included business class passengers (me), JAL Global Club, JMB Sapphire and JMB Crystal members, as well as Oneworld Sapphire and Oneworld Ruby members.
Third to board were Premium Economy and economy class passengers in rows 50 onwards. Finally, the remaining economy class passengers were allowed to board.
The business class cabin has 49 seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, which on paper sounds like quite a squeeze, but the way JAL staggers the seats ensures each one is rather spacious.
I was in 12A, a window seat. The seat has direct aisle access via a narrow passageway between this seat and its neighbour. There is also a privacy partition which you can raise, though this has to be down during take-off and landing.
With the privacy partition raised, the seat affords a high level of privacy. You cannot see any other passengers from your seat, and when the cabin crew come to serve you they need to enter halfway into the passageway from your seat to the aisle in order to speak with you.
In the photo below, you can see that the gap is quite narrow.
Two cabin crew members, the chief purser as well as another cabin attendant, introduced themselves to me by name at the beginning of the flight. I had some minor communication difficulties with the cabin attendant, as her English listening skills were imperfect, though the chief purser was quite fluent.
There is S-Line bedding developed by Japanese mattress brand Airweave available in the overhead bin, though I didn’t find out about this until the end of the flight. It would have been nice to have had a cabin crew member introduce this feature at the beginning of the flight, as it would surely have made for a more comfortable sleep.
The seat features three preset positions: Upright Position, Relax Position and Bed Position. You can also manually adjust four separate areas of the seat: the headrest, the shoulder area, the lumbar area and the footrest.
The LED reading light has five brightness levels: 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. According to an information sheet in one of the in-seat pockets, JAL has decided to provide an optional portable reading light “in response to customer comments”. Passengers can ask cabin crew for this, though I found the standard in-built reading light to be adequate for me.
You can expect a nice selection of goodies when you arrive at your seat, including a new amenity kit designed in collaboration with Maison Kitsune. These kits were released in late August and you can read our news story on them here.
You also get JAL branded headphones, JAL branded slippers in a reusable bag (indeed, I reused these slippers on my return Cathay Pacific flight since that airline doesn’t provide slippers in business class), an eye mask, blanket and the business class menu.
Interestingly, you also get a surgical mask into which you can insert a wet wipe. It is designed to moisten the air that you breathe in, since aircraft air can be very dry. I used the mask while sleeping and found it worked to some extent, though if you are not used to wearing a surgical mask you may find the sensation of breathing through it a little strange.
Later, before takeoff, I was also given a JAL branded pyjama top, though no bottoms. The way the stewardess described it, this was more designed to be a “warmer” than a full set of pyjamas.
As a pre-take off beverage, I was offered a choice of champagne or orange juice. I went for a glass (well, a plastic cup) of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV, which is described in the menu as having “refreshing, inviting flavours of citrus and golden-brown toast”.
I enjoyed it, though just had a few sips as I had already indulged in a glass of sake on my flight from Hong Kong and didn’t want to dehydrate.
On the subject of hydration, the seat also came with a 600ml bottle of Asahi mineral water, which was nice to have as I was quite thirsty after I had to wait in the hot boarding area.
A nice touch was that a cabin crew member came to hang my coat before takeoff. Each seat has its own labelled coat hanger.
The seat was spacious with plenty of storage space. I was impressed by the footwell, whose shape allows you to lie straight rather than with your feet at an angle, which is the case with some business class products.
Below this ottoman there is storage space, and you can even store items here during take-off and landing, which is handy if you want to put a small backpack or handbag in that area and not have to get up again to retrieve it from the overhead bin after the seatbelt sign goes off.
For charging your devices, there is a three-pin plug socket and a USB socket to the bottom right of the seat.
At 23-inches, the personal monitor is generously sized.
The inflight entertainment system is controlled by a touch-screen remote. You can also order food on here, which I thought is a nice feature. It will be a very comfortable way to order for Japanese people, or those who travel regularly to Japan, as many restaurants in Japan use touchscreen tablets to take customer orders.
Which seat to choose?
The window seats are clearly preferable on this aircraft, as they offer considerably more privacy, ensuring you can sleep undisturbed. My seat was up against the rear galley, but I had no disturbance from it. There was a baby crying across the aisle, though when the cabin lights went out for bedtime it was quiet and I heard nothing (though I did wear earplugs).
After a smooth takeoff, at 1.59am Los Angeles time (5.59pm Tokyo time) I was given a hot lemon scented white towel on a long tray. At 2.23am, the cabin crew member set my table with a black table cloth.
I was impressed with the menu on this flight, which offered a wide selection of food and drinks. The menu is called Bedd, Sky Auberge by JAL. The intro page of the menu explains that Bedd stands for “bed, dining, delicious and dream”. This is to “subtly remind passengers in first class and business class that they can transform their seats into snug beds after a satisfying repast”.
The left side of the intro pages of the menu is adorned with colour photos of six Bedd chefs and two JAL “wine advisors”.
Let’s start with the champagne and wines. The selection is impressive and well-presented, with evocative tasting notes accompanying most of the wines. The champagne I have already mentioned above, so I will just detail the white and red wines here.
- Albert Bichot Bourgogne Vieilles Vignes de Chardonnay 2017 (or Boschendal 1685, Chardonnay 2017 [South Africa] may also be available).
- Stepp Pinot Blanc 2018 (or Stepp Riesling 2018 may also be available)
- Ken Forrester Petit Sauvignon Blanc 2017
- Cave de Tain Crozes Hermitage – Grand Classique 2017 (Syrah) (or Vina Cobos Felino Malbec Mendoza 2017 [Argentina] may be available)
- Friedrich Becker “Doppelstueck” Pinot Noir 2016 (or Bouchard Pere et Fils Bourgogne Pinot Reserve 2017 [France] may also be available)
In addition to red and white wine, there is also sake available.
- Kamonishiki Junmai Daiginjo JAL Original (Niigata) (or Zaku Megumi no Tomo Junmai Ginjo may also be available)
- Imanishi Junmai Daiginjo JAL Original (Nara) (or Senkin Issei Junmai Daiginjo may also be available)
Besides these, the following alcoholic beverages are also available:
Aperitif & Cocktail
- Plum Wine (100% Japanese Plum)
- Bloody Mary
- Chivas Regal
- Jack Daniel’s Black
- Today’s Japanese Whisky
- Bombay Sapphire Gin
- Absolut Vodka
Brandy & Liqueur
- Cognac Remy Martin
- Baileys Irish Cream
- No specific brands listed
- Imo Shochu “Tomi no Houzan” (Kagoshima)
- Mugi Shochu “Nakanaka” (Miyazaki)
For non-alcoholic beverages, there is:
- JAL Original Drink “Sky Time Kiwi”
- Coca-Cola Zero
- Ginger Ale
- Oolong Blended Tea
- Cold Green Tea
- Juice (orange, apple, tomato, grapefruit)
- Sparkling mineral water
- Still mineral water
- JAL Cafe Lines Coffee
- Decaffeinated Coffee
- Green Tea
- Herbal Tea
For dinner, you can choose from a Japanese menu by chef Jun Kurogi or Western menu by chef Shinobu Namae. I was somewhat torn about which to choose as there are two ways of thinking here: (1) this is Japan’s flag carrier so let’s see what their Japanese food offering is like; (2) this is Japan’s flag carrier so let’s force them out of their comfort zone and see if they can whip up a decent Western offering.
Since I wasn’t actually spending any time in Japan on this trip barring less than two hours in Narita airport, I decided to go for the Japanese menu so that I could enjoy some flavour of Japan during my trip. I was not disappointed.
The meal started off with two small dishes of deep-fried eggplant with grated yam sauce, and Matsutake mushroom and turnip flan. The latter is created by chef Shinobu Namae. The yellow drink in the photo above is the JAL Original Drink “Sky Time Kiwi”.
Then I was given this bento box tied with a piece of red string. The object in the bottom left-hand corner is a chopstick holder in the shape of JAL’s signature crane, which features in the airline’s logo.
Opening the box, I was struck by how beautifully presented the dishes were. From top-left to top-right, there is scallop and vegetables marinated in vinegar sauce, chicken teriyaki scrambeld egg green beans, and simmered prawn spicy-simmered konjac roasted chestnut; from bottom-left to bottom-right there is mushrooms dressed with tofu and seasame sauce, tuna sashimi and bechamel sauce and caviar.
All six dishes were delicious.
This was followed by the main course: beef sukiyaki with slow cooked egg, as well as grilled salmon “Yu-an” style. This comes with steamed rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles.
This was actually the third bowl of miso soup I’d eaten that day, since I’d already had a bowl for breakfast in the Qantas Business Class Lounge at Hong Kong Airport (which is shared with JAL) and a bowl on my JAL flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo Narita earlier that day.
All of these dishes were delicious, but three bowls of miso soup in a day is a little much, so if you’re taking multiple JAL flights in a row you may wish to opt for the western menu on one of the flights and the Japanese menu on another in order to vary your diet.
After the meal, I enjoyed a matcha green tea flavoured “Ukishima”, a Japanese style steamed cake made with sweet bean paste. I had this with a decaf coffee, as I wanted to try to sleep afterwards.
After the meal, I reclined my seat to the fully flat position and raised the divider between my seat and my neighbour’s. With the help of the provided eyeshade and ear plugs, I managed to get a good sleep.
I awoke with about two-and-a-half hours of the flight left to go and checked out the flight tracker on the IFE system.
Not long after this, the breakfast was served.
Instead of having a set breakfast menu, cabin crew direct you to order from a two-page “Anytime you wish” menu. As mentioned above, and as the name suggests, these dishes can be ordered any time during the flight up until one hour and 30 minutes before landing.
Here is a rundown of this menu:
“Otoriyose” in the Sky
- Japanese Jack Mackerel with Steamed Rice and Sesame Sauce
- Colourful vegetable salad with five grains and beans, with beet dressing
- JAL The Curry
- Fettuccine carbonara with bacon and spinach
Noodles (accompanied by Chinese rice dumpling)
- JAL original “Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta” ramen noodles in soy sauce soup
- Japanese hot “Udon” noodles
- Wasabi flavoured smoked salmon sandwich
- “Sangenton” pork cutlet sandwich
- Assorted cheese
- Fresh Fruits
- Yogurt with fruit sauce
- Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream (vanilla, matcha green tea, custard pudding)
On the second page are dishes created by Bedd chef Fumiko Komo.
“Fumiko’s Japanese Set Plate”
- Grilled Mackerel “Yu-an” style, boiled garland chrysanthemum and chrysanthemum petals
- Japanese clear soup with sea lettuce, “Fu”, Yuzu flavoured somen noodles
“Fumiko’s Western Set Plate”
- Frillice lettuce salad with fricassee of Japanese beef sirloin and mushroom, with truffle vinaigrette
- Fig compote
Special bread from Maison Kayser
- Pumpkin Ekmek
- Smoked Pain de Campagne
Western Set Plate
- Pancetta and vegetable omelette with marinara sauce
- fresh fruits
- special bread from Maison Kayser (same as above)
I opted for this Western Set Plate as I fancied an omelette.
It tasted good, though I wasn’t quite as blown away by the breakfast as I had been with the dinner. Still, there are plenty of other options on the Anytime menu, which I look forward to trying on future JAL flights.
Following the breakfast, I went to the bathroom to freshen up before landing and was pleased to see the bathroom stocked with toothbrushes and mouthwash.
The bathroom was clean and, interestingly, comes with a bidet function, which you don’t often find on aircraft.
We soon began our descent into Los Angeles and, being in a window seat, I was treated to some stunning views of the Southern Californian coastline.
Before landing, I was given an eye refresher, kind of a wet wipe in the shape of a pair of spectacles that you put over your eyes for three to five minutes. It was a nice thing to have and it did make my eyes feel a little refreshed after using it.
We landed smoothly at LAX. While we were taxiing to the gate, I was able to spot the special 2015-released Star Wars livery of rival Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways.
This is a very comfortable, well-thought-out product with an excellent food and beverage offering. Service from the cabin crew was of the highest Japanese standard.
The Sky Suite offers a high degree of privacy that ensures you can arrive on the West Coast well rested, particularly if you secure a window seat.
- Price Business class return fares in mid-October start at JPY 475,100 (US$4,415)
- Flight No. JL062
- Configuration 2-3-2
- Seat width 20.5 inches
- Bed width 25.6 inches
- Bed length 74 inches
- Departure 1720
- Flight duration 10 hours and five minutes
- Contact jal.co.jp/en/