Tried & Tested

Japan Airlines B777-300ER premium economy

19 Feb 2013 by Tom Otley

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

Check-in JAL has daily flights from London Heathrow Terminal 3 to Tokyo Narita. It is also in a joint business with British Airways on the Tokyo route, making a total of three flights daily, since BA has daily flights to both Narita and Haneda airports. JAL is in the process of introducing new products to the B777-300ER aircraft on this route in all four classes (economy, premium economy, business and first). Flight time is around 11 hours and 30 minutes.

I arrived at T3 on a very wet Sunday at 1700 for the 1900 departure on JL402. Check-in was swift, with premium economy having its own line, and no one in front of me. I could have checked in online up to 72 hours before the flight, but it was quite a long process and towards the end of doing so I had accidentally closed the browser window and had not had time to start the process again. I collected my boarding pass and went up through the main security queue, which moved quickly.

The lounge JAL uses the BA lounge (labelled Oneworld on some signage). Premium economy flyers have access to the business class Galleries lounge, but I used my gold card to go into the First lounge, where I spent an hour working.

Boarding I had arranged to have a quick look at the first class on board prior to passengers boarding, and so walked down to Gate 31 and had a look at that before walking through business class (two cabins) to premium economy. Shortly after I sat down, general boarding began and the aircraft filled up – completely – this was a busy flight. Waiting at the seat were flight slippers, a shoe horn, a pillow and a blanket in a plastic bag.

Once we were all boarded, the captain came on to say they were having problems with the “tractor” that would push us back from the stand, and he kept us informed as this had to be replaced – the delay was around 45 minutes in total, and we didn’t take off until nearly 2000. In the meantime I did the crossword, where one clue in the Financial Times Crossword caught my eye (Some hitman in Japan (5)).

The seat The new premium economy seat is called Sky Premium. The cabin is made up of five rows of seats configured 2-4-2 (to view the seatplan for this aircraft click here). This is a good-size seat with 107cm (42 inches) of pitch (space between the seats) in contrast to 97cm (38 inches) in the previous seat. The seat is in a black frame with a red checked cover.

It looks functional rather than stylish, but is comfortable for sitting and also reclining to sleep – the seat slides forward by an extra 7cm compared with the previous premium economy seat (it’s difficult to calculate a “recline” for this, but it certainly resulted in a comfortable, reclined position).

There is a fixed screen in the back of the seat in front, unless you are in the front row, in which case the in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen comes out of the arm of your seat. There is a hook for hanging a coat, and a USB slot below the screen had a yellow socket for video.

The tray table folds out but also slides towards you and is a good size and very strong – no vibrating as I typed on my laptop. In fact, you have so much seat pitch that even with the tray table pulled towards me, it was a bit of a stretch to reach the table – this is a very impressive premium economy product.

The IFE could be controlled either by touching the 12.1-inch screen or using the small, elegant handheld controller. There was a good choice of recent and classic films on JEN – the JAL Entertainment Network – including many international choices and different languages. I was tempted by some of the latest releases (Argo, Seven Psychopaths) but I fly a lot, and the chance to see some Japanese films, including one starring Beat Takeshi, was too good to miss.

Two buttons allow you to recline the seat within its shell (so not disturbing the person behind) and raise the leg rest, and there is also a foot rest with three different height settings under the seat in front, which allows for many different permutations of position. There is a small pocket between the seats (one for each seat) with netting for objects such as glasses cases, though I think it’s really for the bottle of water we were given, and also between the seats are the power sockets (US adapters needed for UK plugs), which allowed me to power up various electrical devices. I liked that there was a privacy divider at head height between the seats, and that the headrest had wings for sleeping.

Which seat to choose? Well, obviously, avoid the centre seats. If you enjoy looking out of the window then be aware that the premium economy seats are right over the wings so you won’t see much (they are also fairly noisy, though this being a B777-300ER, it doesn’t disturb too much.

I was in 19A and could see that the front row, particularly the two pairs of aisle seats, had more legroom, though these seats can feel a little exposed, and note that premium economy passengers use the washrooms at the front of this cabin (and at the back of business class) so you will get some footfall as a result. There is also always the danger that passengers will stand there to stretch their legs, though I didn’t see that happen on this flight.

The flight Once we were in flight the crew served drinks with some salty snacks and rice crackers. About an hour after take-off, the meal service started. The choice was chicken a la king with penne pasta, which was tasty, or beef curry with steamed rice; fresh salad; asparagus rolled with bacon marinated shrimp, potato salad, Japanese Soba noodles, fruit, and vanilla ice cream.

During the flight there was also the choice of snacks such as noodle “Udon de Sky”. (The menu also contained the choices for the return trip (perhaps to save paper) with lunch detailed but also, prior to arrival in London, an offering of AIR Kentucky Fried Chicken).

After the meal I decided to sleep – I reclined the seat and easily got comfortable, and managed to get nearly six hours’ sleep, which in a premium economy seat is pretty close to a record. Two and a half hours prior to arrival, we were offered a breakfast of peach pancake with mixed berry compote, croissant, fruit yoghurt, along with tea and coffee, which was a good way to wake up.

Arrival We arrived only a few minutes late and quickly disembarked. There was no delay for the luggage at Tokyo Narita airport.

Verdict One of the best premium economy seats I have flown, and the service and food was good as well. Definitely worth trying if you are flying on this route.

Fact file

  • Plane type B777-300ER
  • Configuration 2-4-2
  • Seat width 19 inches
  • Seat pitch 107cm (42 inches)
  • Contact jal.com
 
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