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Flight Into Timelessness

Flight Into Timelessness

Back in 2018, I’d been wanting to fly business on JAL since practically the day I posted my ANA business class review the previous year year. But while I took several economy flights on the carrier (and a couple in the interesting “Class J” cabin offered on domestic Japan routes) during late 2017 and early 2018, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally ticked this experience off my bucket list.

Japan Airlines business class far exceeded my expectations, not to mention the company’s own “Fly Into Tomorrow” slogan. It’ll probably be a few weeks before I can definitively say whether ANA or JAL business class is better, but I think you’ll be as pleased as I was with JAL’s premium product and service upon reading this review of my flight from Dallas to Tokyo.

Indeed, I’ve now flown JAL business class at least half a dozen times—largely on routes within Asia, but also on several more transpacific segments. I’m happy to report that product is nothing if not consistent, although as I’ll explain very shortly there are some drawbacks to this consistency.

NOTE: I’ll be updating my JAL business class review in early 2024, when I fly onboard JAL’s new A350 business class. Please stay tuned!

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Is JAL’s Business Class Outdated?

Later this year—I’ve updated this post in early 2023—JAL will be rolling out its first international A350, which will eventually replace its aging 777-300ER fleets. While details have you to be announced, it is widely expected that JAL will roll out new business (and first) class product, among other reasons to compete with ANA’s superlative new premium offerings.

This will be welcome, but as I explain within this JAL business class review, there’s nothing “wrong” with JAL’s current business class offerings on most planes. While the APEX suites on the 777s especially are showing their age, this is a minor issue. Unless you’re unlucky enough to fly on an older 787 with “angled” flat seats, JAL business remains a competitive product.

Breaking Down JAL Business Class

JAL business class lounge

I arrived to Narita Airport nearly two hours before departure, and since Japanese airlines generally don’t board any earlier than 30 minutes out, I decided to start my Japan Airlines review at the JAL Sakura Lounge.

I’d been to the first class section of this lounge a few years ago when I was oneworld Emerald, and while I felt bummed out about the poor views from the business class area (it’s one floor down from the main terminal level), the design aspects of the lounge were more remarkable than I remembered. In particular, I love the high ceilings, tasteful floral arrangements and understated staff uniforms, accented by sakura-pink scarves.

Eager to be among the first on the plane and to settle into my masterful Japan Airlines seat selection, 4K, which was cozily located right at the back of the business class cabin, I headed to Gate 71 around 35 minutes before departure. Boarding began promptly at 10:15, and thought the flight left the gate on time, an apology came over the PA as the brand-new 787-9 Dreamliner neared the runway.

“We’ll be taking off a few minutes late due to traffic,” the purser said apologetically, first in Japanese and then in English, “but we plan to arrive in Dallas early tomorrow—well today, according to local time.”

JAL business class seat

I’ve always been more of a fan of the minimalistic Japan Airlines livery than most aviation enthusiasts, and I likewise loved every small detail present inside the 787-9 cabin. Namely the color scheme, which saw maroon seat padding inside the seat juxtaposed with black menus and tablecloths; the “Welcome” JAL-red Dreamliner mood lighting modulated to match the colors of sky as the flight made its way eastward.

And as for the JAL business class seat itself? On this particular aircraft (as well as select versions of the 787-8 and all 777-300ER planes) it was the Apex Suite (branded, by JAL, as the “Sky Suite”), which is also featured on a number of Korean Air planes and is arguably the best business class seat in the air. The window seat I chose offered the utmost in privacy, becoming an intimate individual suite as I raised the divider post-take off, and enjoyed views out my three dedicated windows.

787-9 Dreamliner in JAL Livery
 
Engine on JAL 787-9 Dreamliner
Sake in JAL Business Class
 
Food in JAL Business Class
 
Dessert in JAL Business Class
Business class cabin in JAL 787-9 Dreamliner
 
Apex Suite Bed in JAL Business Class
 

JAL business class food and drink

I was impressed by the breadth and thoughtfulness of the JAL wine list located at the back of the aforementioned menu (labeled, somewhat confusingly, with the acronym “BEDD”), but although I enjoyed a glass of champagne after boarding the flight, I wanted to start my in-flight imbibing, in earnest, with a small bottle of fine Nihon-shu, which most foreigners simply call sake. The gentle sweetness of the Shikoku-made Tosa Shiragiku Junmai Ginjo proved to be just what I was craving.

The food on Japan Airlines was similarly exquisite, though that didn’t surprise me given my previous experience with ANA. While I chose the “Western” entrée (a Wagyu beef sirloin steak) primarily due to the colorful salad (peppered with edible flowers) that served as its starter, I ended up general enjoying the cut of meat, which was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The mint profiterole cookies were somewhat underwhelming as a dessert choice, and I can’t say that JAL’s inflight coffee rocked my world either.

I did manage to sample some of JAL’s Japanese offerings during the “Anytime You Wish” portion of the service, namely the Dainomono plate (which featured flounder-and-scallop sashimi and a clear soup topped with a dried sakura blossom) and the udon noodles topped with edible wild plants. Western or Japanese, every bite of food I consumed during my flight was exquisite, and the service throughout was spot-on.

At least the human element of it—the electronic ordering system was as buggy as the entertainment selection was underwhelming. The screen was absolutely massive, however, maybe the largest I’ve ever had in business class; the noise-canceling headphones worked well, even though they weren’t Bose-branded as they are on many (most?) other airlines in business class.

How to Book JAL Business Class

When I knew that I was going to fly JAL from Tokyo to Dallas, I crunched numbers and realized that my most sensible option for redeeming miles would be through the American Airlines AAdvantage program—just 60,000 miles (a sum I already had in my account, conveniently), plus nominal surcharges.

Booking through Japan Airlines mileage program Mileage Bank would’ve been cheaper, were I flying a round-trip, but they don’t allow one-way awards; I didn’t have any JAL miles (which, for what it’s worth, are quite difficult to acquire) anyway. Other options for booking JAL business class include Alaska MileagePlan and British Airways Avios.

Other FAQ About JAL Business Class

What size seats are in business class on JAL?

JAL’s fully flat business class seats extend out to more than 6″ in length, and can accommodate most passengers comfortably, without the need to bend your legs. Do keep in mind that if you’re unlucky to get a 787 with “angled” flat seats, this might not be the case.

Does JAL business class give you lounge access?

If you purchase JAL business class using cash or miles, you are able to access the JAL Sakura Lounge or equivalent oneworld partner lounge. However, if you upgrade to JAL business from economy or premium economy, you will not be entitled to use the lounge.

Does Japan Airlines have lie-flat seats in business class?

JAL has lie-flat seats on most of its long haul jets: Its entire 777-300ER fleet, as well as all 787-9 aircraft and most 787-8 aircraft. However, the picture is more mixed on older 767-300ER and 787-8 aircraft, which may feature uncompetitive “angled” flat business class seats.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re searching for a Japan Airlines 787-9 business class review to determine whether to choose JAL for an upcoming flight, or simply as a general point of reference for flights from Tokyo to Dallas, I think you’ll find this trip report insightful. Rather than simply flying me into tomorrow (which wasn’t even technically true—the flight arrived the same day), my Japan Airlines Dreamliner cruised at a more timeless altitude, with colors, flavors and personal touches as elegant and satisfying as Japan itself.

 

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