When we booked our trip to Bali using 49,500 American Airlines Aadvantage miles in business class (55,000 – 10% rebate due to our Citi card), we wanted to maximize our experience. We had never flown Japan Airlines and their business product had received good reviews, it seemed like the right opportunity to try them out.
We arrived at JFK and stood in security for ages. The Terminal 1 security was under construction so everyone was queuing around scaffolding in a very confusing manner. There were three lines that seemed to overlap, and we picked one, though we were a little surprised there wasn’t a business class/priority lane nor a trusted traveler lane. The Sherpas are trying to contain their travel snobbery (and failing), but we would have liked a fast lane for security. Perhaps it’s our frugality and the value we attach to points that makes us want to utilize every included benefit. Maybe more accurately is that we knew we had status and were traveling on a business class ticket – spending 40 minutes in line behind every amateur traveler who, after 12 years, still doesn’t understand that they can’t take a water bottle through security gets under my nerves.
We made it up to the checkpoint and they were funneling everyone through the full body scanners. I’m not one to rant and rave about possible side effects or where images of the Sherpa’s body will end up as to why I opt-out. My justification is really quite simple. If Janet Napolitano won’t go through the body scanner and she knows infinitely more about them than I do (she should, she instituted them) – I’m not going through either. I waited ten minutes for an annoyed TSA agent to come over for the opt-out pat down, he literally had to stop eating his meatball sub to do his job and my heart went out to him. “Why don’t you want to go through? These are the new ones, they got rid of the ones with bad radiation.” He said still perturbed that I had opted-out. I explained my reasons, we parted ways.
The Sherpstress and I went to the JAL lounge and settled in. We got the internet passwords at check in but soon began looking around for birdseed. The internet was so slow in the lounge that we would have preferred hand writing letters and then using carrier pigeons for their speed advantage. Simply put, if you don’t want to offer fast internet, don’t offer any. I ran a speed test and it registered under 56k. That’s dial-up AOL days Japan Airlines, time to make a change.
The layout of the lounge was excellent for an airplane geek like the Sherpa. It was predominately stadium style fanned seating facing a wall of windows looking out on our aircraft. The fridge was well stocked with a mix of soft drinks, bottled water, and some booze – nothing to write home about. We had some packaged cheese and crackers, and I had a scotch. We spent about 30 minutes there before heading off to board our flight. I believe the lounge had showers but we didn’t use them so I couldn’t say whether or not they were to the standard we have found elsewhere.
The aircraft was a 777-300 and this is my favorite plane. I have to be the only 7th grader in the history of the world to read 21st Century Jet (I just received another copy and started reading it again). We sat on the left side of the aircraft next to the engine, which was awesome for me personally – the Sherpstress could not have possibly cared less.
The seats were standard business class cradle, fully flat (180 degrees) and about 6 feet in length. They featured the small halogen reading light which came in handy as the cabin was dark often during the flight.
This picture doesn’t do it justice. There was a ton of space in the seats and the side shells made it feel more private than other business seats we have tried. Here is one of the Sherpas for you.
Isn’t she lovely? To better show how much room we had though, here is another one of just the Sherpstress and all the spacious surroundings.
I chose the WSJ, which I get at home but didn’t have with me and a glass of champagne before takeoff. The reason why I selected to include this shot is because they gave sweaters in case you were cold during the flight. Some passengers left the plane with them on, others left them in plain site and the flight attendant took them back, I was of the latter persuasion. In future, this is the kind of memorabilia I like, even though it’s a used sweater, it says JAL on it, what’s not to like? We didn’t use them so I left it in the seat back pocket.
I mentioned a few posts ago that I don’t really like to write about simple trip reports but rather experiences. There are plenty of reviews on Japan Airlines business class (though arguably none as enjoyable to read as mine). I want to contribute something different. So this is where the path diverges. There were two particularly excellent aspects to this flight. The first was the food, and the second was about service. This post will focus on the food and the one to come will be about a treasure map, yes a treasure map we were given on board.
But for now, the food.
As is customary on flights to the East from the West (and the inverse) both cuisines were on offer. The Sherpstress wanted to go for the filet, she likes challenging the flight attendants to hit a temperature on the steak (medium rare). The Sherpa was more inclined to give their Sushi a go. Both meals were multiple courses, beginning with Sake, and an antipasti – Mushroom and fish (tasted about as you would expect such a cold combination to taste) or fresh buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and olives.
Following that the East menu featured a selection of sushi. Some of it was amazing, others were things I was never tempted to try, but glad I did, and finally a few I didn’t think I would like and was right. I expected to pick a couple from the list, but was surprised when the entire box of nine sushi dishes arrived.
The red crane chopstick holder may have gone missing after this flight. No comment. The western menu featured a salad, some bread, rolled beef carpaccio, lobster and crab.
Then came the main course, for Sherpstress the steak and vegetables and for me breaded pork cutlet, and rice. This was by far the best of everything I had. I know it sounds strange. It’s a simple dish, inexpensive, no where near as spectacular as my wife’s surf and turf which (they nailed the temperature on her steak). But that’s what made this so amazing. The vegetables were still crisp, and fresh, the breading on the pork cutlet was crispy and not soggy as I expected. The dishes might have been simple, but they were restaurant quality, the best we have ever had in the air, and there has been some stiff competition.
Despite some lighting challenges in the photos, the food was exceptional. I deviated on dessert and had the tiramisu like the Sherpstress and an espresso. It also did not disappoint.
Afterwards the Sherpstress and I lay the seat flat for a nap. It was just after 1PM when we took off, but after a big meal it’s always easy to get some sleep. The two of us watched the Hunger Games and synced our audio and video (it’s really annoying when the other screen is slightly ahead of yours and you see what is about to happen). After 6-8 hours of sleep and a movie, we were a bit hungry again (if you can believe it) and ordered from the “Order Any Time” menu. The list was long and exhaustive: sandwiches, instant noodles, noodle soup, Teriyaki salmon, more than 15 items in total. We wanted to order more, but we really weren’t hungry enough to do so. The Sherpstress had the noodle soup and I had the Teriyaki Salmon and before it was over, we switched. They were both really excellent, but to prove it, here are a couple more pics.
The entire cabin was dark, everyone was asleep, the photo is poor. That aside, the Udon noodles were perfect, the broth was excellent – the bowl was emptied.
It was, as you know amazing. But there was still one more item, (not pictured) that may have won top prize. When coming out of the bathroom there is a small self-service galley. There were some wines, premium booze, bottles of water, and best of all some small chocolate dusted fudge squares. Two by two, the Sherpa found a reason to get up and sit back down each time with a pair of them in hand. The Sherpa may or may not have cleared an entire business class cabin’s worth of chocolates.
There is a plate of chocolates that should be there in the center, after I was done with it, they just removed the plate. It certainly makes the middle of the galley look empty.
There are a lot of good options to go east from New York City, but JAL is a favorite. Their food was great, but so was their service. Look for the Sherpa’s next post where we received a treasure map and were determined to find the treaure.
Has anyone had a better food experience in business class with simple ingredients (no caviar allowed)? Put it in the comments. Need help finding your own business class food odyssey? Try Us.