However, after filing for bankruptcy, JAL has performed an impressive turnaround, they are turning a profit, and judging by the service offered to our resident a.netter superstar Abrelosojos during his NRT-BOS flight, one can naturally assume that perhaps the old JAL of legend is back?
For many reasons I had always flown NH before, but now the stars had aligned and flying JL was possible.
Initially I had planned a trip to Fukuoka in Japan's southern island of Kyushu, but some last minute wrenches thrown at my wheel meant I had to nix that idea and come up with a suitable plan B, Sapporo it was then. Part of the fun of traveling is dealing with the unexpected I guess.
After a very nice transpacific flight I enjoyed a very relaxing night at Narita.
Rice fields north of Narita town
Heading to the Spa
Ham katsu sandwich dinner, courtesy of Family Mart, yes, it was good
The following morning, thoroughly refreshed, I caugh the hotel's courtesy shuttle bus to Narita Airport.
There was a surprisingly large number of people signed up for the shuttle and we pretty much filled up two large buses, one headed to Terminal 1, and our bus headed to Terminal 2.
Riding the shuttle bus
03 Jun 2012
As with Terminal 1, domestic check in at Terminal 2 is at a separate section, we were checked in by an enthusiastic JAL lady who promptly issued our boarding passes. Upon asking her if it was prudent to cross security at this point, she was very polite in saying that airside options were few at the domestic section and we should stay landside for the meantime.
JL Domestic Check-In at Narita
Narita T2 Check-In Lobby
Terminal 2 is slightly less modern than T1, however there are still plenty of shopping and eating options, as well as a viewing terrace (The T1 viewing terrace is much better)
Even though it was already June, weather was a bit windy and chilly so I didn't stick around for long, though I managed to snap a couple of shots and catch the JAL 787 arriving from Moscow.
New and old JAL liveries at Narita T2
JAL 787 arriving from Moscow
June in Japan, month of soggy weather, hydrangeas and marauding snails
Security at Japanese Airports is easy peasy, you don't have to take off your shoes and you only need to take your laptop out. It also helps that security agents are very polite.
Once you're airside it's pretty boring like the domestic section at T1, though I'd give T2 a slight edge as it has two fun filled levels instead of one.
Narita Terminal 2 domestic
Narita Terminal 2 domestic boarding gates
Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure (yes, 20, even though we were getting bussed to our airplane).
Riding the bus
Our ship for this morning
A short bus ride afterward we were welcomed aboard by a lovely JAL Express FA a the bottom of the stairs, as well as by the rest of the crew on board.
Welcome aboard JAL Express
Great view of our jet
The cabin on this 737-800 is immaculate, bright and airy, and the light load factor today make the cabin feel even better : ) Flight was probably around 50% full.
JAL 737-800 Cabin View
The light load factor means we are ready for departure on time at 10:15am. Off to Sapporo we go.
Departure is a bit delayed due to heavy morning traffic, but it's nothing like the craziness you see in JFK or other places. After about 20 minutes of taxiing we're off into the skies.
Swiss A340 and LH A380 in the takeoff queue
Goodbye Narita airport
Into the clouds
Love the silver winglets
Seat pattern closeup
Heading north to Hokkaido
JAL 737-800 Safety Card
Cruising over Japan
Having only flown ANA before on domestic Japanese runs, I was expecting the basic tea/apple juice/ water routine. However, JAL offers quite a few extra options that give them a slight edge.
With JAL you can choose from cold and hot green tea, coffee, water, coke, apple juice, JAL's Skytime Juice, and, the holy grail of airline beverages, CONSOMME SOUP ! Ok it's probably powdered beef fat mixed with motor oil, but it tastes good so who am I to argue?
I was greedy and asked for both consomme soup and hot green tea and the FA happily obliged. The cups are small but enough for a tasty and refreshing shot.
Hot green tea and beef consomme
Afterwards an FA passed by with container of more consomme soup and I could not say no to more.
The drinking frenzy did not stop there, no siree, another lady soon passed by offering cold green tea, and who was I to say no?
Green tea and my hairy knee
From this point on, I will say that JAL had won me over, yes, I'm cheap. Give me some consomme soup and/or cold or hot green tea with a smile and I'm a happy man.
Throughout the flight we enjoyed a few sights of Tohoku and Hokkaido up to our descent into Sapporo's New Chitose Airport where it was cloudy.
Descending into CTS, rugged Hokkaido terrain in view
Descending into CTS
Forests and rivers in Hokkaido
Golfcourse next to CTS
We landed on time and parked next to a company 777 that was about to depart.
Yellow piano keys for snowy weather
Skymark 737 departing
JAL's H J K rows
Pulling into CTS
The iconic tsurumaru
Heading to Haneda
Our flight from Narita
Thus ended my first JAL experience and I was in Hokkaido again. And boy… even in early June, I could really tell I had packed for Fukuoka weather instead of Hokkaido. It was less than 50F and I only had shorts and a t shirt on, brrrr. Fortunately it was warmer up north in the city and the sun came out which helped a lot too.
Scenes from Sapporo
Heading out for lunch
Enjoying delicious Sapporo style soup curry
Fragrant walk under the wisteria
Hoheikan in Nakajima Koen
Delicious meal at the Hokudai cafeteria for less than 500 yen, crazy!
Shopping in Sapporo
Sapporo Miso Ramen
Cheese katsu meal at Tonkatsu Wako
Old Prefectural Office
Ladies keeping busy
05 Jun 2012
After a couple of very fun and tasty days in Hokkaido, it was time to head back. JAL and ANA offer pretty much hourly departures to Tokyo (and sometimes more than that ) hence it is easy to pick a departure time to suit your needs.
Since CTS seemed like such a fun place, we got there at around 3pm with hopes of hanging out for a couple of hours. Flying on standby tickets, I was honestly a bit hesitant of approaching the JAL counter so early and asking to be put on a flight at 7pm, however It didn't hurt to ask, low and behold, the agent didn't even blink and gladly offered me a seat on the 7pm flight, wow, if I loved JAL before, now I'm a fanboy.
Nice ride to Chitose Airport
Easy transfer between the train station and the airport
With check-in formalities completed, it was time to explore the huge mall of Chitose.
There's plenty of shops to keep you busy, however, most of my time was spent at the Manyo No Yu spa, part of a big Japanese chain (Like the one in Yokohama's Minato Mirai). I love onsens and I love airplanes, when the two come together, bliss.
The bath has a nice array of indoor hot pools and an open air bath with a view to the north, so you can see planes arriving at the civilian CTS airport and part of the action at the military part of the airport. The military part was actually quite interesting with a few fighter jets doing touch and go's, and even a Japanese Government 747-400 doing one of the shortest takeoff runs I have ever seen on a jumbo jet.
Food, fun and more.
Manyo No Yu Spa
After the nice warm dip it was time to get ready for the long journey home. Did some plane spotting at the terrace and had some wonderful hokkaido caramel ice cream. I'll let you know, Hokkaido cows are top quality, so any time you see a shop featuring local dairy products, you're in for a treat. This was no exception. The caramel was rich yet not too sweet, a perfect mix for the smooth ice cream. Happiness in a cup !
Three way action at CTS
Low cost newcomer Peach
Simple and elegant look, red and black on white
Good looking plane
Once a common sight, now becoming ever more rare
Planespotting has made me hungry
Soon it was time to go past security and say goodbye to Hokkaido, but the treats had not ended yet… most of the shops inside security had a basic yet interesting array of Hokkaido goods, including toasted corn snacks, and my favorite, curry chips !!! They didn't just tempt you with pictures, they actually had boxes that could open to try some chips for yourself, I tried one and was hooked. I really would have bought a box, but my bag was already about to burst, so I just shed a tear and tried to memorize the flavor of the curry chip… and I may or may not have gone round the terminal a couple of times grabbing a sample from each of the shops, I shall never reveal the truth !
Airside at CTS
Curry chips… they're like crack
Our 767 for today's flight to HND
I am unsure about this, but I seem to remember having no free internet at CTS last year in the ANA zone, however, at the JAL side of the terminal now you seemed to have free internet courtesy of JL. A very nice touch, would be very curious to hear if this was in response to NH, or if NH has responded in kind…
Free Wifi courtesy of JAL
Our gate for HND
Boarding was called 15 minute before departure and as per usual Japanese standards, everyone was magically seated and settled before departure time, with very little fuss I might add.
Now boarding JAL 524 to Tokyo
Hey there 767
Love the flag worn above the main entrance
Today we were flying on a rather vintage 767, the interiors looked like they had quite a few years on them, however they were by no means dirty or tattered. I almost felt nostalgic looking at these old style buttons. I hadn't seen these since I flew on AeroMexico's DC-10s.
JAL 767 Economy Cabin
JAL 767 Economy Class
Oldschool baby !!
Doors were closed and we pushed back on time for our flight to Haneda. There was not much in the way of views as the weather was quite foggy until we broke out of the cloud into the summer twilight.
Doors closed and ready for departure
Cloudy evening in CTS
Lining up for departure
Into the clouds
And into the skies
I was looking forward to comparing service on mainline JAL vs my previous JAL Express experience. But, due to the relaxing effects of the onsen soak, I got quite sleepy once we reached cruising altitude.
JAL Domestic Legroom
All grogginess went away when the beverage cart came along, twas surely the allure of beef consomme. Wanting to indulge my wild side, I also tried out JAL's Original limited edition exclusive premium beverage… Skytime !! This month, Skytime was not the usual ho-hum Juzu citrus flavor, but a limited time only kiwi fruit version. I gotta say, it was pretty good, I can completely visualize myself chugging down a keg of this.
Consomme and skytime, oh yeah.
I was hungry for more, however, the all out drink-fest of the JAL Express flight was not to be repeated as I dozed off after I got my Skytime fix, perhaps it contains a narcotic that lulls heavily drinking passengers to sleep?
Woke up a few minutes later to the bright lights of the Tokyo region. There is nothing quite like landing in a big city like Tokyo during a bright and clear night. Our approach took us over the city of Chiba then hugging the coastline along Tokyo bay for a landing on runway 23. I was a bit jealous as during our approach we had an airplane that was coming in for a parallel landing at runway 22 that was even closer to the coastline than us, surely giving them a magnificent view of downtown Tokyo.
The bright lights of the Tokyo region
Cabin lights were not turned off for takeoff or landing hence the glare
Over Tokyo Bay
We pulled into JAL's Terminal 1 at HND and promptly deplaned into the 1988 era terminal. Terminal 1 is not quite but I think it looks pretty decent.
Tokyo International Airport
Pulling into T1
Gate 15 at HND
Terminal looks pretty nice
You don't see these arrivals in Narita
10 minutes after scheduled arrival, we're at the arrival lobby
As there was still plenty of time before our flight to LAX, there was no better place to go than T1's viewing terrace. The scene at the terrace was magnificent, the warm and fragrant ocean breeze was tinted with a hint of jetfuel, the ramp was a beehive of activity with arriving aircraft, and the bright lights of Tokyo's skyline tied the beautiful scene together , it was one of those moments when you're just very happy to be alive.
You know I read something completely different at first… **giggles**
Perfect night for spotting
JAL 777 and our 767 from CTS
Haneda's International Gateway
JAL proved to be a surprisingly pleasant experience. My past experiences with NH had set the bar high with regards to attitude from the flight crew, and while I'd rate both JL and NH crews on the same level, the extra amenities provided by JAL tilt the bar in JAL's favor with regards to soft product. It may not seem like much, but offering your customers a range of complimentary beverages on a short flight makes a big difference in my humble opinion.
It seems to me that JAL is back to the top of it's game and I'm glad to see them out of economic trouble and looking at a brighter future.
As always, any question or comment is appreciated ! Thanks for reading.
Knightsofmalta From Malta, joined Nov 2005, 1536 posts, RR: 18 Reply 1, posted (1 year 4 months 1 week 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 7663 times:
Thanks for the interesting report. Funnily enough I'll by flying the same routing in December, the only difference being that I'll be traveling on an ANA B737 on the outbound and returning to Haneda with JAL.
palmjet From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1116 posts, RR: 17 Reply 4, posted (1 year 4 months 1 week 13 hours ago) and read 6531 times:
Super report! I had no prior warning this one was on the cards from you but thank you - it's been the perfect complement to my morning coffee.
Seems like JAL treated you well. I also did a CTS - HND flight back in 2007 on a 772 and it was fantastic. I am a big JAL fan. I also enjoyed my short stay in CTS although we did not leave the airport as we were only there for a day. The spotting facilities there (like other airports in Japan) were great. I never tried the curry chips though - must go back someday.
Only one shot of your hairy knee? How disappointing...
Quote: You know I read something completely different at first… **giggles**
airbuseric From Netherlands, joined Jan 2005, 4125 posts, RR: 51 Reply 5, posted (1 year 4 months 6 days 4 hours ago) and read 5718 times:
great report on JL. I basically only have good impressions and experiences on them. Wrote quite a few JL tripreports over the years and they never let me down. It's a high service airline and very customer focused.
Yeah, a bit old fashioned on these birds. Well, you flew a non-ER version, build in 1990 so far over 20 years in service with JL. I guess this particular frame will retire soon due to it's hours flown.
Nice pics from the Sapporo area. You were so lucky with the weather too.
"The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going"
SR117 From Mexico, joined Jun 2000, 787 posts, RR: 2 Reply 7, posted (1 year 4 months 5 days 18 hours ago) and read 5353 times:
Quoting Knightsofmalta (Reply 1): Thanks for the interesting report. Funnily enough I'll by flying the same routing in December, the only difference being that I'll be traveling on an ANA B737 on the outbound and returning to Haneda with JAL.
Thanks William, that should be very interesting, although I hope you like frosty weather !! Do check out Otaru if you have a chance... and I have not been to Noboribetsu, but if my budget had allowed I would have certainly paid a visit...
Quoting gabrielchew (Reply 2):
Nice report Ricardo! Great to see another JAL report...I'll be writing a HND-PEK report in a month or so.
Hey Gabriel, looking forward to it ! and I certainly hope that JAL comes through for you with regards to service and the 787.
Great review, thanks for sharing! I never realised JL has narrowbodies as well. Great to see a 737
The 763 looks very classy as well.
Hey Marc, many thanks, well they indirectly have narrowbodies through JTA and JAL Express, but at least in my experience, they were nicer than the mainline widebodies
Quoting palmjet (Reply 4): Seems like JAL treated you well. I also did a CTS - HND flight back in 2007 on a 772 and it was fantastic. I am a big JAL fan. I also enjoyed my short stay in CTS although we did not leave the airport as we were only there for a day. The spotting facilities there (like other airports in Japan) were great. I never tried the curry chips though - must go back someday.
Hey Palmjet, thanks for the comments, JAL indeed was a revelation for me, really wish I could try them on a longhaul... And with regards to the curry chips.. you MUST try them, but as with most Japanese delicacies, they are usually very regional, which is part of their charm, when in a certain area, there are certain flavors which are usually unique.
And, I'm afraid my knee is quite camera shy, but I do sneak it out in photos sometimes ; ) There's a couple of reports that are still there to be written after a few months, I'll do my best to churn them out before my memory fades.
Quoting airbuseric (Reply 5): I basically only have good impressions and experiences on them. Wrote quite a few JL tripreports over the years and they never let me down. It's a high service airline and very customer focused.
Thanks a lot Eric, indeed, I was very pleasantly impressed, and I hope that the reorganization has turned them around for good.
Quoting airbuseric (Reply 5): Yeah, a bit old fashioned on these birds. Well, you flew a non-ER version, build in 1990 so far over 20 years in service with JL. I guess this particular frame will retire soon due to it's hours flown.
Mixed feelings about this, while a bird like this might look old, it is really no different than newer domesitc birds on ANA or such, bottom line, there's no personal entertainment, but it's OK cause these planes fly 3 hours at most.
Quoting 817Dreamliiner (Reply 6): Great report, Sapporo looks like a nice place to visit, I hope I get to visit there and the rest of japan at some point in my life. Thanks for sharing with us.
Thanks for the nice comments, my pleasure And yes, as a flying fanatic, I think anyone would very much enjoy traveling around Japan given the facilities that Japanese airports afford airplane enthusiasts.
Quoting SR117 (Thread starter): As there was still plenty of time before our flight to LAX, there was no better place to go than T1's viewing terrace. The scene at the terrace was magnificent, the warm and fragrant ocean breeze was tinted with a hint of jetfuel, the ramp was a beehive of activity with arriving aircraft, and the bright lights of Tokyo's skyline tied the beautiful scene together , it was one of those moments when you're just very happy to be alive
- I've never been up there at night, finally get the chance in November before my 01:10 flight back to FRA.