This year I had opportunities to fly JAL and ANA in First Class and thought it'll be interesting to compare their products, given that they are both based from the same country. There actually are very few set of airlines based from a same country serving international first class - apart from the mentioned two airlines, I can just think of Korean/Asiana (South Korea), Air China/China Eastern/China Southern (China not including Hong Kong), Air India/Jet Airways (India), Emirates/Etihad (UAE), and United/American (USA) but the last pair won't last long since United are fading away their First product, so I think it's quite a unique comparison.
I flew JAL in January 2017 from Narita to Jakarta, while I took the chance with ANA just a weeks ago in July 2017, from Narita to Singapore. Both of them offered exceptional experience, but each offering had a character in it. It's definitely worth comparing product in various categories to see which of the two airlines excels in what.<Check-in at Narita>
JAL offer standard check-in counters at Narita. ANA have fortified area dedicated to First Class passengers and their highest-tier members which really does make one feel exclusive. In both cases procedures were very swift and hardly had to wait for the check-in.
Entrance to ANA F check-in counters at NRT
Inside the "fortified" zone
JAL F check-in counters at NRT
One surprise I experienced at JAL check-in process was that there were two representatives at a counter, one for handling the procedures and the other agent just to have the luggage tag hand-written and put it on my cabin luggage. Never had the luggage tag written by an agent before! The same agent also tried to escort me to the dedicated security check area but I refused politely as I had other things to be done before clearing the security.
Hand-written luggage tag!
While ANA agent was very friendly, the check-in procedures for JAL had more "wow" factor.The winner in check-in at Narita category is: JAL <Lounge at Narita>
Unfortunately, neither JAL nor ANA F lounges are spectacular in terms of offering. I'd say they are "good quality business class lounge". Currently a very few aircraft are fitted with First Class and most passengers who use the F lounges are the highest-tier frequent flyers who are likely to consist 90% of total users. They could be REALLY packed during peak hours.
What I like about JAL F Lounges (there are two, but I'll talk about the main one):
1) Great shower pressure with traditional Japanese ambiance
2) Good quality buffet food (especially the curry!) and fresh sushi made by professional sushi chef! (Only certain hours in a day though)
3) Comfy massage chairs
Overcrowded JAL F lounge!
Shower room toilet
Great water pressure
Random breakfast items and the quality pretty good
Famous must-try JAL Beef Curry (also available in business class lounge)
Great massage chairs!
*There is also a 10-minute massage service by therapist but the service will be discontinued after October 1st, 2017.
What I like about ANA lounges (there are two but I will judge based on the one at Satellite 4):
1) Staff actually do serve passengers with drinks/food when requested (JAL lounges are completely self-service).
2) Delicious sweets!
3) Counter-made pasta/various rice bowls/hamburgers/ramen and udon noodles available
ANA F lounge seats (sorry... but looking quite cheap for F)
Welcome drink and hot towel in lounge
Buffet corner in ANA F lounge
Appetizer buffet spread
Beautiful & tasty desserts!
Seafood rice bowl (kaisendon)
Home-made pasta in tomato sauce
While my JAL lounge experience was not too pleasant due to over-crowd, I still rate the JAL lounge higher due to food quality, better chairs (sofas) and massage chairs. While ANA lounge gets more personalized service, I didn't like their lounge chairs and could be a bit uncomfortable when sitting for longer hours, there was an absence of massage chairs and a shower room was quite normal.The winner in lounge category is: JAL<Onboard Seat>
In both JAL and ANA, F service is only available on their 77Ws. ANA offer more privacy with enclosed walls around each seat, while JAL offer more spacious looking seat with less privacy.
ANA F seat
ANA F seat
JAL F seat
JAL F seat
I personally preferred ANA seat simply because of more privacy offering. Before riding, I thought their seat would be too claustrophobic but it was just about the right amount of space, where as for JAL seat I thought it was a bit too wide for my liking and I didn't like the fact that I could see what neighbor was watching across the aisle. I also preferred ANA's padding more than JAL's leather cover.The winner in seat category is: ANA<Amenity Kit & Pajamas>
Since March 2017, JAL have renewed their amenity kit product so I'll be comparing based on the previous product (I flew with them in January). They used to give away Loewe kit and in addition there was separate Shiseido-brand kit consisting of cleansing form, hydrating lotion, and skin cream. The latter had two versions, for men and women.
JAL's Loewe pouch and kit
For the pajamas, JAL's are quite thick in fabric therefore could be warm to wear them in cabin.
ANA kit comes in a hard-case Samsonite pouch which I loved. Nice bright sky blue color adds to my favorite too. Inside there was super luxury "The Ginza" branded packet of cosmetics which consisted of "moisturizing emulsion", "energizing lotion", and "creamy cleansing foam". This one seemed unisex. The retail price for these "The Ginza" cosmetics is very high: I have calculated the prices of each item according to its size and the total adds up to JPY 11,665 before tax which is just above USD 100! That's so far the most expensive amenity kit ever received on a plane!
ANA Samsonite pouch
Inside the pouch (and a crew brought a nice piece of orchid just for the photo purpose
ANA pajamas are quite thin but I like them better than JAL's as I tend to sweat in cabin while sleeping.
All in all, I personally prefer ANA over JAL for better pouch, luxury items, and comfortable pajamas.The winner in amenity kit & pajama category is: ANA<Food & Beverage>
Before I start, I'll simply say that JAL meal & beverage quality is over the top. I don't think any other airlines can beat the effort they put in this category (may be Air France?). While ANA also perform well, JAL are just up there. Will start with ANA.
ANA serve Krug and Jacquesson for the bubbles.
Soon after take off amuse was served.
I decided to go for a Western course since Japanese meals didn't look too appetizing and there were items that I didn't like in the latter, such as turtle meat and foie-gras. Also, the main dish for Japanese course being just some grilled fish I thought it was a bit too typical and boring.
Kaviari Baeri Fermier brand from Paris
Steak accompaniment: horse-radish sauce and mustard
Warm blueberry tart with ice cream
Maccha and bean cake
Illy's iced cappuccino!
Sea-bream and steamed rice with soup stock
All dishes were quite good, but not much of "wow" factor. Unlike JAL which is simply divine throughout. A few months back I made a separate thread on JAL's fantastic meals which you can find it here
Super luxury champagne Salon - the only airline in the world to serve this!
Famous yet not-so-easy-to-get Mori-izo shochu (whiskey made from sweet potato)
Premium Jyu-yondai sake (wine made from rice)
Just for reference, Mori-izo shochu costs about USD 120 per 720ml bottle (and that too if it can be found), and Jyu-yondai sake costs about USD 220 per 720ml bottle in Japanese retail. The menu is full of high-end beverages. You can also find the latest menu on JAL's website (and the same goes to ANA).
Here is what the full Japanese meal course is like, tied up with 3-star Michelin restaurant Ryugin in Roppongi area of Tokyo:
Bowls of Japanese appetizer - some are served warm and the rest at room temperature
Third course: Seafood platter
The main wagyu beef sukiyaki and accompaniments
The beef literally melts in your mouth. Never had such great quality beef in my life.
Trio of Japanese dessert
Western dessert option: Coconut & citrus sorbet
Udon noodles as snack
No questions asked. JAL's drinks and meal quality is THE best.The winner in food and beverage category is JAL<Sleeping Comfort>
Both JAL and ANA provide very high quality (and expensive!) mattress pad that costs about USD 1,000 per pad in retail. JAL provide Airweave where as ANA provide Tokyo Nishikawa made ones.
Seat after bed-making
One thing about JAL's pad is that the passenger can choose either soft or hard side, which is reversible. Usually it seems that Japanese passengers prefer hard pad where as other passengers prefer soft pad.
It was comfortable but I do prefer ANA one more, plus JAL's duvet-like blanket was too hot for the cabin.
Here is how ANA bed looks like:
After covering with blanket
Much better. The pad had kind of bubbles inside that felt like a massage, and very comfortable. The blanket was also thin and since the cabin temperature was not too cold this was just the right thickness. Slept very well on this one.The winner in sleeping comfort category is: ANA<Cabin Crew Service>
Both airlines have very polite and professional crew. However, I do prefer ANA crew more, because they are usually friendlier and can strike up some personal conversations (sometimes they ask about me and what I plan to do in the destination etc.). JAL crew are more formal and I sometime feel a bit distant. I find ANA crew more charming and easier to communicate with.The winner in cabin crew service category is: ANA<Washroom>
In both experiences crew cleaned washrooms regularly and it was always pleasant.
However, there was quite a difference in ambiance.
The JAL F washroom was more like Economy washroom and can be quite a contrast to ANA F washroom, which at least had hand towels, branded moisture cream, natural flowers and so on.The winner in washroom category is: ANA
So, of the 8 categories, JAL win 3, and ANA win 5. ANA have better score but I don't want to count the washroom quality too seriously and the amenity kit is just some goodies, while JAL should be given more credit for providing top-notch quality food and beverages, so I say the result is a tie
Choosing between JAL and ANA lies in what the passenger is ultimately interested in.If you prefer: Comfortable lounge, open-style seating, and great meals on board, then I say choose JAL.
If you prefer: Privacy, better sleep quality, and service with more human touch, then I say choose ANA.