To read the London-Tokyo leg of this flight in JAL’s new premium economy class, click here.

Check-in I arrived at Tokyo Narita Terminal 2 at 0915 for my 1115 departure on JAL flight 401, and after queuing for about five minutes to check-in and drop off my bag, went through security and immigration.

The lounge JAL has lounges both in the main terminal and the satellite terminal. My flight was from Gate 63 in the main terminal, so I walked around the shops, which took only five minutes, and then went to the lounge. This is in two parts, for business and first class passengers.

Since I have Emerald status with Oneworld (BA gold card), I went into the first class lounge, though after peering into the business class lounge, there didn’t seem to be much difference. It has lots of sofa chairs, an area for working and a couple of different areas for food and drink, but it got busy in there so when at 1000 there was an announcement that we would be welcome to use the new lounge upstairs, I went out of the door, up the escalator and used the new first class lounge. This was the same layout and style, but almost empty.

Boarding I waited until 1100 and then walked down to the gate, where boarding was just starting, with business and first class passengers given priority. Once on board, my jacket was taken. Shortly before take-off we were offered a cardigan for the flight, which I wore, though it was a tight fit. It said “F”, so perhaps I was wearing the ladies version.

The seat This is JAL’s new business class, and is a unique layout with a new BE-Aerospace-designed and built fully-flat seat. There are two cabins of business class, though the front cabin has only one row (row 5). There is then a galley and the main cabin, which goes from row 7 to row 12. The configuration is 2-3-2 (A-C, D-E-G, H-K), with all seats having direct access to the aisle. The main cabin has washrooms at the front and the back, though note the ones at the back of the cabin are also used by premium economy passengers. To view the seatplan for this aircraft, click here.

I was in 10D, about midway through the cabin on the aisle. Each seat has its own power socket (US and EU power) as well as a video input and USB port. The centre seats have a retractable privacy screen on either side that can be raised after take-off. The seat covers are a deep checked purple, but the surround of the seat is pale, and it feels like a spacious and airy cabin once the overhead lockers have been put away – while they are down, however, you have to be careful not to bang your head.

The seats are set in their own privacy cubicles and, once you are sitting down, you would have to try to make eye contact with other passengers, so they are good for privacy. Each has several different pre-set positions as well as a massage function, and the ability to raise the leg rest, for instance, though this happens automatically if you press a setting for the bed. There is a recessed step in the side of the seat, allowing you to step up to reach right into the overhead locker.

Note that there are differences between the seats – window and centre ones have a larger ledge table in front of the huge 23-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen, while aisle seats have side compartment where things can be stowed (though not for take-off and landing).

The window and aisle seats also have a strange storage compartment behind your head in the shell body of the seat. It looks like a classic place where you’d put something and forget it, and walking up and down the cabin I didn’t see anyone using this space, assuming they knew it was there.

All seats have room under the ottoman, which is a useful place to store, say, a laptop bag during the flight, since you can finish work, turn the seat into a bed, have a sleep and then carry on working later without having to pack everything away and put it in the overhead locker.

The table swivels to allow you to get out of the seat and, while it’s difficult to get the hang of, it does move forward and backward so you can have it close to you or far away. The table wasn’t quite as firm as I’d hoped, and vibrated as I typed, though it was fine for working on.

The Thales IFE system is top notch and allows you to have different things showing on the handheld and main screens, though this can get complicated – it took me a while to figure out how to pause a film, for instance, since sometimes the main screen seemed to respond to touch, and sometimes not. I was obviously doing something wrong, though I’m not quite sure what.

Which seat to choose? The best are the window seats or the centre seat, since they have more privacy than the aisle ones, and have no disadvantage since they have direct access to the aisle. I’d avoid the front row 7 because of noise from the galley, and perhaps the back row by the washrooms – other than that, window seats in 8-11 would be best. JAL maintains that the single row front cabin is popular with people – perhaps it is, but it would be too close to the galley for my liking on an overnight flight when I wanted to sleep.

The flight The meal service is something that JAL has obviously spent a lot of time, on, and is very sophisticated in its choices. There were two menus – either Japanese or Western. The new meals are called BEDD (it stands for bed, dining, delicious and dream) and Sky Auberge by JAL.

The Western menu was created by chef Chikara Yamada and started with an amuse-bouche of foie gras, beet and Pedro Ximenez or Anglerfish liver, crabmeat and lily bulb in Japanese starch sauce. I checked whether these were alternatives or whether you got both, but couldn’t understand the answer and ended up getting both, either because that was the way it was, or perhaps because they thought I’d requested both. They were delicious. If I had stuck with the Western menu I would then have had the hors d’oeuvre of smoked yellowtail with radish, and a main dish choice of hamburger steak with truffle, or bouillabaisse in tartelette.

Instead, I was intrigued by the Japanese menu of nine seasonal dishes in Kobachi bowls, including steamed anglerfish liver and turnip with soy vinegar jelly, sand borer and yam with laver vinegar jelly and olive flounder rolled with kelp steamed fish mousse with black bean. I was unable to identify all of the dishes, and not all were wonderful, but many were and it was well worth trying. The main course (called Dainomono) of grilled sablefish “Yuxo Miso” flavour and deep-friend scallop mousse was lovely.

I finished off with some Dean and DeLuca Madagascan vanilla ice cream. I think it’s admirable of JAL to go for food like this on board, and I’d urge you to try some.

On this day flight, service was prompt in the sense that whatever you asked for was quickly brought, but preparing this amount of food in such a delicate and precise way takes time and the dessert didn’t appear until 3pm – which was fine, because it was a long flight and day time, but worth bearing in mind if you want to get plenty of sleep. That said, this was some of the most delicious and interesting food I’ve ever had on a flight.

The drinks were Champagne Duval-Leroy, Chanson Vire-Clesse 2010 or 2011, Errazuriz Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Chuo Budoshu Grace Gris de Koshu 2011, Chateau Peyrabon Haut-Medoc 2004, and Sileni Celar Selection Pinot Noir 2012.

After that I reclined the seat and, helped by the flight attendant, placed the airweave blanket – almost another cushion – along the flat bed, and pulled a blanket over myself. The pillow is Japanese style, very firm but comfortable. I had no trouble sleeping for five hours, since I was tired after several days of jet lag.

When I woke, I asked for a cup of tea and then worked. The “anytime” meal options were extensive, from penne pasta with tomato sauce to beef curry; from Chinese Ramen noodles in soy sauce-flavoured soup to Japanese hot Udon noodles with edible wild plants, along with a deep-fried breaded salmon sandwich and a hot dog.

Again, the attention to detail in all of this was impressive – bread is from Maison Kaymer, the rice is freshly steamed Koshihikari rice. Judging by the slurping of noodles going on around me, the Japanese passengers thought the food was pretty good as well.

I should also mention the coffee, or JAL Café Lines, as they call it, a collaboration with coffee master Yoshiaki Kawashima, and the “Coffee of the Month”, which was “Kilema Church Kilimanjaro – “nutty and chocolate flavours, along with a robust wild streak… aftertaste conveying hints of citrusy acidity”. It tasted lovely though could have been a little hotter when served.

Arrival We arrived on time into Heathrow Terminal 3, and my bags were waiting once I had gone through immigration (IRIS was working).

Verdict The seat is very comfortable, the IFE state of the art, and the service good, but the food offering raised this flight to something truly special – probably the best I have tasted in business class.

Fact file

  • Plane type B777-300ER
  • Configuration 2-3-2
  • Seat width 26in/66cm
  • Seat length 74in/188cm
  • Seat recline 180 degrees
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