FIRST IMPRESSIONS I arrived at Narita’s Terminal 2 at 0925 for my 1200 flight JL401 to London. Departures leave from the South entrance, and JAL flights were checking in at Zones J-M. By the time you read this, the carrier will have opened a bank of new check-in desks, to the left of the existing ones, for first class passengers and members of the JAL’s Global Pass scheme – further revamping of the current desks is planned to create more space and reduce queuing times. I joined the Executive Class Seasons (business class) check-in queue, which had about six customers waiting and the same number of desks open, so I was quickly seen. Business class passengers are allowed two pieces of hand luggage (up to 10kg in total) and 30kg of checked luggage.
THE LOUNGES JAL opened its new first and business class lounges last summer. Situated just past security check and next to Gate 61, they are spread over two floors and look out onto the runway. I was given a tour of the first class lounge located to the left of reception, which has seating for 161 passengers. Designers GA Design International (also responsible for the interiors of the Conrad Tokyo) have created a cosy space, with dark-wood interiors and separate areas for relaxation, dining or business. There is a self-service bar (manned from 3pm), and an adjacent dining area with dishes changing three times a day, fresh bread, and soup choices from the well-known Soup Stock Tokyo. A relaxation area has massage chairs and the latest personal super-thin Sony Organic EL TVs, and 15-minute head, shoulder or feet massages (by a human rather than a chair) are also available. Additional facilities include showers, a smoking room, business centre, free wifi, and an upstairs annex (this has yet to be refurbished but JAL plans to do so this year). Entrance to the business class Sakura lounge is via the stairs to the right of reception. As you would expect, this is a much larger space, with a total seating capacity of 500 guests. It is much lighter in décor, but apart from this has pretty much all the facilities of the first class lounge, but on a larger scale. There is also a children’s area, and for food “The Dining” is located up a brightly lit spiral staircase, where you’ll find a salad bar, hot and cold meals, and an alcoholic bar. The business class lounge was busy but large enough to cope, and my flight was called to Gate 64 at 1145, slightly behind schedule.
BOARDING There was a long queue for economy, but business and first class travellers enjoy a separate boarding lane, so I was straight on and into seat 12G – an aisle seat six rows into the cabin. Coats were taken and we took off at 1225.
THE SEAT JAL plans to begin revamping both its business and first class products in the next 12 months, but for now the London-Tokyo route features the Shell Flat Seat, an angled lie-flat bed which reclines to 170 degrees from horizontal with a 157cm seat pitch, and is configured in nine rows of 2-3-2. The seat includes electronic recline, with individually adjustable foot and leg rests, and a massage function. There is a drinks tray on one armrest, fixed privacy divider, directional reading lamp, and a fold-out table which is actually slightly smaller than the table in the new premium economy. Other than this, the amenities and IFE product are all similar to premium economy (although the TV screen is slightly bigger at 10.4 inches).
THE FLIGHT Drinks and nuts were offered soon after take-off, with each passenger being addressed by name. The food menu in business is more comprehensive than in premium economy, with a choice of two main western dishes, or a Japanese menu including conger eel teriyaki and seared fillet of puffer fish sashimi-style – steamed rice is also prepared fresh on the aircraft.
I plumped for one of the western options, which included a prosciutto with papaya starter and a seafood bouillabaisse. The western menu is designed by the “Association des Disciples d’Auguste Escoffier du Japon”, an organisation of hotel and restaurant chefs, while the Japanese dishes are created by Kyoto cuisine specialists Mebaekai. Beverage choices include Piper Heidsieck champagne, several red and white wine options, as well as Japanese shochu liqueurs. A supplementary menu can be ordered any time up to one and a half hours before landing, including vegetable curry, fish cakes, beef stew and assorted sandwiches. After lunch I watched a film and then worked for a couple of hours until my laptop battery ran dry – as in premium economy there is a power outlet, but unfortunately, due to the size and shape of my Mac power pack, it wouldn’t fit.
ARRIVAL We arrived over half an hour ahead of time, but typically for Heathrow this meant there were no parking slots available, so we had to wait for about 25 minutes before we could disembark.
VERDICT Excellent new lounge facilities, and a good business class product onboard. Ironically, the high spec of the new premium economy service has reduced the necessity to go business class on daytime flights (unless you are a stickler for legroom and increased food options) but for night flights the extra recline and seat pitch in business make all the difference.
PRICE Business class return fares from London to Tokyo with JAL start from £6,110 online, but there are £3,733 saver fares offered when booking three days ahead and leisure fares priced at £3,188 for bookings made 14 days in advance.