Airline: Japan Airlines
Flight Number: JL710
Aircraft: Boeing 747-446
Seat: 02K (First Class)
Distance: 3324 miles
Duration: 6hrs 15mins
Photo © Peter de Jong
Photo © Jerry Pang
So we pick the story up from where we left off, or touched down to be more precise, Changi Airport following our arrival from Bangkok on Cathay Pacific. Although we'd been able to check our bags right through to Tokyo we hadn't received our boarding passes. We had pulled up close to the Cathay Pacific lounge and I wasn't sure whether I'd have been able to get my boarding passes printed there instead. I wasn't and was directed to the transfer desk just a few steps away. There we were told that they couldn't print our boarding passes for another four hours as check-in opens 4hrs before our 10.35pm flight. We were handed invitations to the SATS Premier lounge which we could use.
It seemed our best option was to go to the British Airways/Qantas lounge and see if they could help us out by at least giving us a place to wait for a few hours. We arrived there and were told not a problem at all. They couldn't print our boarding passes but JAL do use the lounge there so we more than happy to let us in.
It was a rather nice facility; little waterfalls and flowers scattered around the place. It was also very quiet at this time of the afternoon so we got ourselves a couple of Tiger beers and fired up the internet to catch up on uploading photos of our travels, emails, reading the news etc. My wife meanwhile, partook in a little shopping
The BA & Qantas First lounge at Changi
Being buried in the laptop with my headphones on listening to music I didn't realise how quickly the lounge filled up. I guess it was about the time when flights from the west arrive heading east and vice versa. Waiters also appeared with plates of food and nibbles; a small selection were out so one could help one's self but this worked too.
Nibbles and drinks
With security beckoning before our onward flight it seemed our nice bottle of wine given to us on our last flight would go to waste. Alas, no! My wife initially was going to put it out with the other reds the lounge had on offer but I said that I'd rather have it myself. Not travelling with a corkscrew I asked one of the roaming waiters if they were able to open it up, they seemed happy to and returned to our table a few minutes later with a couple of glasses. They seemed quite excited about the bottle! 'This one's pretty good, we don't serve ones quite like this here!' said one of the two who brought it out.
It sat on our table, us filling our glasses with them every now and then. As the lounge became more and more full our table surrounded by four chairs became fully occupied. One of the men took a liking to our bottle and was about to pour himself a glass when we put him straight. My sense of generosity failing at this stage He seemed very apologetic and gave the impression he thought we were alcoholics that couldn't be bothered to walk the twenty feet to the bar when we wanted a top up
At around 7.30pm I made the five minute walk down to the transfer desk, which had an empty premium line. Quite handy as it allowed me to skip past a line of about fifty people!
As one might expect in a Qantas lounge there were a lot of Australians about Some more respectful (for want of a better word) than others; one in particular was a mother in her forties with a young child who was a complete tearaway, just shouting and screaming the whole effin' time! What annoyed me most was the mother did NOTHING to try and calm him down. This was compounded by a younger family with their daughter of a similar age who now wanted to play with this other boy. Playing as in running around the lounge screaming at the top of their lungs. This could all be heard above the latest Paul van Dyk mix I'd got my hands on that was being played at near nightclub decibel levels through my earphones. A quick look around the lounge at some of the more 'excited' moments you could see other people staring at the families in question with looks that could kill! What made this worse was the Melbourne flight both families were on was heavily delayed and so they were around much longer than they should have been, this also helped keep the lounge much more busy. Surprisingly a PA was made to the whole lounge explaining the thrust reverser issue in quite some detail to the passengers. Probably more than some would like, 'It's ok to fly with one broken but with two we can't' was mentioned at one point!
After a few more hours of munching on nibbles and sorbets of various kinds I went to brush my teeth at 9.55pm, just in time for us to head down to the gate for our flight. With only 6hrs in the air it was key for me to do as much as I could on the ground.
One of the worst things about Changi Airport are the people who operate the departure boards (if there are such people!) and want to get everyone to the gate as early as possible. Our flight was no exception and showed gate closing around thirty minutes before departure! Nevertheless it still worries you into rushing to the gate only to find a small line for security. The line was handled very quickly and then it was straight onto the aircraft down the Business/First jetbridge to door 1L.
JAL are a bit like Singapore Airlines in that their First Class seat is one of several variations and unless you know what you are doing you could end up on something much worse than you first thought. Alas, I knew this flight would be operated with old school seating. 6 pairs of seats, three on either side with no centre seats and enough room in the middle to play a game of basketball. With this First Class seat I was glad I wasn't a solo traveller!
The service didn't start out too great, we were all but ignored for several minutes as the crew seemed to be tending to the needs of a Japanese man in row 1 who I nicknamed 'Mr Mollycoddle'. We had seen him in the BA/Qantas lounge before the flight being escorted in and out by a couple of JAL staff and I overheard him saying to someone he commutes between Singapore and Japan on a weekly basis. Our first interaction with a crew member involves us being offered newspapers. Following a decline I asked if it was possible to get a sleeper suit which were delivered right away and so headed to the bathroom to get myself ready for the night. The pyjamas were perhaps the most weird pyjama design ever conceived; button up with short wide sleeves in blue and white. The best description I could come up with was Japanese nautical peasant...with brown slippers. My wife and I emerged from the bathroom at the same time and almost burst out laughing.
Our clothes were hung on the way back to the bathroom and we settled into our seats. Despite looking like something from the 1980s they were rather comfortable although could have done with a little more width. Pre-pushback duties were completed including handing out of QC2 headphones and bottles of water. Then at 10.40pm we jerked back from gate 46 although Mr Mollycoddle felt the need to get up and visit the bathroom as we were taxiing from the gate towards the runway!
The taxi to runway 20C was rather short but quite entertaining as we had the nosewheel camera view being displayed on the screen in front of row 1. At this time we were informed of predicted turbulence during times of the flight and they were very specific, 'around three and half hours' etc. Never heard that before on a flight.
With the 180 degree view of our taxi thanks to windows on both sides and nosewheel camera we were able to enjoy the takeoff and departure from Changi. However, as we faced up into the night sky a problem with the camera lens made it look like the flying through stars MS Windows screensaver!
Despite a steep climb and several turns it was only five minutues before the seatbelt sign was switched off and the noisy electric motors in ten seats were simultaneously fired up, alas Mr Mollycoddle already had his seat in full recline on takeoff! (The twelfth seat was vacant )
Despite this being a short flight we were without the usual accouterments one would expect on an overnight; no pillows, no amenity kits, no blankets. Instead of wasting time on these things I put the seat into full recline and tried to sleep but the lack of pillow wasn't helping so I meekly put the seat up a little and waited for one of the flight attendants to make a pass. Our first interaction was a couple of minutes later as we were greeted by a tray of vintage champagne. We asked if it was possible to get some pillows, blankets, eyemasks etc and it was as if a light went off in her head that we wanted to sleep and not partake in the meal service,..if there even was one, we didn't get any menus. With sleeping gear delivered the next thing I remember was waking up around forty five minutes from Narita...
I fetch my washbags from my carry-on trying not to wake the half of the cabin that were still asleep and then headed to the toilet to freshen up and change back into my regular clothes. As I return to my seat I see my wife is enjoying a Japanese breakfast, I'm not hungry enough to request food specifically but when offered by our smiling and happy flight attendant I oblige. Her 'boss' came back soon after dangling a copy of the menu in front of me asking which options I'd like. In an attempt to work fast with little time remaining I look straight at the familiar western options but am cut off about five seconds into my perusal saying, in a rather stern manner, I need to order now or it'll be too late! I choose a yoghurt with omelette and sausage and this is brought to me very quickly...sans yoghurt. Not wanting to kick up a fuss I let it go devouring it very quickly but managing to spill some nasty tomato sauce all over my shirt in the process.
Western breakfast setup
We descend fairly quickly over the sea as I rush to fill out immigration forms, during this time the slightly rude flight attendant comes over and thanks us for flying JAL before making a beeline for Mr Mollycoddle to do some last minute brown nosing. The view of our landing on runway 34L through the nosewheel camera was a nice way to end a flight that was otherwise well below par.
Immigration was very quick and bags, in priority order were delivered as rapidly, then it was through customs and downstairs to tackle the early morning Narita Express 'Lite' into town.
Verdict: The lounge JAL use at SIN is decent enough, nice decor and nibbles selection (including sorbets) but other than that this flight was a real letdown. OK, so the seats aren't as bad functionally as they are aesthetically. They are flat, they are comfortable and for those used to international First Class on world class airlines it was a novelty to have a window seat and a seatmate!
In my opinion short overnights like this one should be set up right from boarding to allow those to sleep as soon as the sealtbelt signs goes out. This means amenity kits, blankets, pillows and pyjamas should be ready from the second the first passenger boards. Perhaps even handing out breakfast menus so that once a passenger wakes their breakfast can be prepared without delay.
On other notes the service was a little sloppy, in addition to the general neglect in favour of Mr Mollycoddle, my wife for example was given her breakfast without chopsticks which took another five minutes to rustle up!
Overall it wasn't the experience I was expecting, and was left hoping that our daytime NRT-SIN flight would give the airline a chance to redeem themselves.