Three FAs, one passenger makes for a great ratio in first class. Not only was I blessed to fly Japan Airlines (JAL) in first class, but I had the entire cabin to myself. But I think even if the cabin had been full it would have been one of the best first class flights of my life.
Let’s get the one negative out of the way here: first class ground services. While the onboard product is simply amazing, the ground service is not. Sure, there is a special check-in area for first class and even a first class security line. No escort, though. Sure, the first class lounge is spacious and comfortable…but hardly anything special. Free massages have been cut and the food was only so-so.
But JAL more than makes up for the decidedly average ground experience with service, food, and comfort onboard that just blew me away. Please note this review is from 2016. I note the reasons for publishing older reports here.
After spending a few hours in the JAL First Class Lounge, it was time to board. I found my way to the gate, where I encountered boarding already in progress.
I maneuvered away around the crowd and to the first class boarding lane. It was time to fly!
Japan Airlines (JAL) 725
Tokyo (NRT) – Jakarta (CGK)
Monday, June 20
Depart: 10:50 AM
Arrive: 04:35 PM
Duration: 07hr, 45min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2K (First Class)
I liked the informational display about the flight just inside the boarding door:
Since I had not been among the first to board, I figured I’d encounter a full cabin…just like my ANA flight the previous week.
Instead, I found the cabin empty. I began snapping picture of the cabin, something that is far less awkward when flying on a Japanese airline. Two of the FAs greeted me and immediately offered to take a picture of me in my seat. Rather than explain why I was taking pictures and potentially ruin the authenticity of this review, I simply said, “Thanks, maybe later. I’m just so excited to fly JAL in first class for the time.”
The FA smiled back and said, “Well today, Mr. Klint, you have the whole cabin to yourself!”
I was so ecstatic. Immediately, I stopped taking pictures and settled into my seats. I figured I could take unobstructed pictures later.
JAL 777-300 First Class Seat
While not the most private of first class seats, the JAL seat is one of the most comfortable. The eight-seat cabin is configured in a 1-2-1 layout. Privacy dividers do slide up in the center section if you are traveling alone.
Seat controls include adjustable lumbar support, massage, manual recline, and pre-set reclines at several positions.
One cabinet contains an interactive IFE handset and mirror, while another deeper cabinet contains a secondary IFE remote and deep storage container.
The suite has several lights, but no individual air nozzles. Thankfully the flight did not get warm.
A power port, USB port, and old RCA video port were located toward the front of the seat.
After lunch I took a long nap. While I changed into pajamas, FAs prepared the bed. JAL uses tremendous bedding including a thick mattress pad to make the bed extremely comfortable. I was asked whether I wanted a “hard’ or “soft” mattress pad and chose hard. Since I had the cabin to myself, the FAs just turned the seat across from me into by bed.
JAL 777-300 First Class Service
Service shined like no other flight in all my years of flying. What made this unique is that the FAs were the absolute superlative combination of professional, kind, diligent, warm, attentive, but not obtrusive.
I was addressed by name the entire flight. My glass never went empty. Plates were immediately cleared away. But most of all, the FAs were charming. While ANA FAs seemed more robotic, this crew exhibited character and had a perfect command of English. They coaxed me to try the Japanese menu (we compromised: dessert only) and encouraged me try every single item on the menu.
While I changed into pajamas, FAs waited outside with a clothes hangar and to escort me back to my seat. A glass of water and liquid eye mask were waiting at my seat.
This great service was not just the byproduct of having the cabin to myself. In fact, just a couple days later I would again have the first class cabin to myself from Kuala Lumpur to London on Malaysia Airlines and the service did not come close.
JAL 777-300 First Class Dining
Prior to takeoff, I enjoyed a glass of Salon champagne. JAL now uses Cristal in first class.
The feast began after takeoff with an amuse bouche.
Here’s the menu for the flight:
For the appetizer, I chose caviar with prawn ceviche. It was delicious, and presented beautifully, with fresh rosemary drizzled over the ceviche. Bread was served with amazing French butter, sea salt, and incredible olive oil.
A FA also brought over the squid appetizer, insisting that I try it:
Since I had ordered red meat for my main, I asked for red wine, choosing Chateau de Fieuzal 2009 (Bordeaux, about $60/bottle). It was marvelous.
Next, I enjoyed a soup course and more bread. The Vichyssoise soup (chilled creamy potato and leek soup) was superb.
But the main course was the true highlight. JAL proves that an airline can cook a steak perfectly from 40,000 feet. My Japanese beef skirt steak was served a perfect medium rare and placed on top of a wonderful eggplant puree. Wow, this gave Asiana and SWISS a run for my best steak award.
Isn’t that a remarkable presentation? I devoured every last bite.
The meal was not over. Next came a beautiful cheese course:
You know when you’re at that point where you are full but cannot stop eating? The cheese was so wonderful I just could not stop eating it.
Finally, the conclusion: dessert. I ordered the summer fruit compote, which was a fabulous apricot in its own juices. It was served with Blancmange which is like an almond-flavored panna cotta. I also tried, per the insistence of the FAs, roppongi pudding.
As I sipped my cappuccino, I once again marveled at what a fabulous meal I had just consumed.
I could have had another meal prior to arrival in Jakarta. But when I woke up from my nap I was still stuffed.
JAL 777-300 First Class Lavatory
Lavatories were kept immaculately clean…so clean I would have eaten off the floor. Real towels were used and special amenities like a toothbrush and toothpaste were laid out for me, so I did not even have to open my amenity kit.
I was amused that the FA call buttons were clearly women…I haven’t seen a button like that since I last flew a Boeing 727 in 2011.
JAL 777-300 First Class Amenities
Speaking of amenity kits, I never opened mine. During the 2016 phase of my travels, I was hoarding amenity kits and did not want to open any of them. In retrospect, now I’ve got a garage full of them and they will all likely go to charity.
Waiting at my seat were slippers and a shoehorn.
Learning my mistake on ANA, I ordered XXL pajamas, which fit me perfectly (especially after the feast I had for lunch).
But my favorite amenity was a pair of macarons from Jean-Paul Hevin:
Lastly, I was offered a skincare kit form Shiseido for myself and another beauty kit for my wife.
JAL 777-300 First Class IFE
The 7.5 hour flight flew by far too quickly and I did not take out much time to use the onboard IFE, beyond a couple games of Sudoko and a bit of Hail Caesar! (which had me in stitches). But the library was comprehensive and I loved the Bose Noise-cancelling headphones.
The hand-held controller also offered a full range of options and was actually easier to use than the larger screen.
The combination of tremendous meal + tremendous crew + private cabin made this one of the best (if not the best) flights of my life. Even with a full cabin, I highly recommend JAL first class…a tremendous product that exceeded all my expectations.
I’ll conclude with some window views from the flight: