Class: Business (First Class Cabin)
Flight Time: 7:35
Load factor in J: 60%
As some of you may know, I am currently traveling on a Round The World ticket. A OneWorld Explorer ticket in fact and to be very precise: an AONE6. A for First Class and 6 for the continents. It is a paper ticket good for 20 flight segments issued on BA stock. No problem so far on BA, QF, LA and CX.
No before this flight I had flown SGN-NRT on JL on the same ticket. I still have to write a report on that flight but let me say that at SGN airport I already had some inclination that Japan Airlines is not altogether there in the OneWorld Alliance. I was able to check in online (with a paper ticket???) but at the airport they had lost my booking. They welcomed me with a sign to say they had lost my booking. You get the irony I hope...
To prevent more of the same I had called JL in advance to reconfirm my NRT-DPS flight. Of course the kind lady informed me that my PNR was invalid (the JL one) and that I was not booked on the flight and if I wanted to make a booking... After some incomprehensible explanations back and forth I finally asked for a supervisor. After 10 minutes or so she gave me a new PNR for my flight which I could indeed find online. Problems avoided at the airport.
Something kept nagging at me so I decided to get to the airport early. 3 hours before my flight I was enthusiastically greeted by the lady at the JL First Class check in counter. I was armed to the teeth with JL confirmation codes, PNRs, paper tickets, seat assignments and still she looked at me as if she saw water burning. I tried to explain the principle of paper tickets, one world explorers and the joy of having a seat assigned to me already. “Please check the passenger in 1K for JL729. That is me!”
No luck. She had to call a supervisor. She was on the phone for 10 minutes and said 'Hai!' at least 20 times per minute. Since 'Hai!' means 'yes' I assumed we were at least making progress. Unfortunately it took another 5 minutes for a supervisor to arrive and clear up the mess. After at least 40 frustrating minutes I was handed my boarding pass and lounge invitation. JAL does not make a good impression as far as the booking and check-in procedure is concerned.
Next came the security check. I am carrying a carry-on and a backpack with photographic equipment. In that backpack is also my laptop and my ebook reader. Attached to the side is a tripod case. At no airport in the world does this pose a problem (take out laptop and Bob is once again my uncle) but in NRT security is going crazy. I open the case for the tripod to show that there is no Samurai sword in there but no, I have to take it out and take it all apart. Ok, what the heck. Next they want me to take everything out of my backpack so it can be screened individually. Remember that I just came from a very frustrating check in procedure... I unpack everything very slowly and do not try to hide my annoyance. I remain polite (it is security) but offer resistance in the form of extreme slowness. A police officer now comes up and asks for my passport. He is trying to intimidate me, possible annoyed by my obvious irritation. I slowly take out my passport and boarding pass and hand it to him. I ignore him and continue to repack my bags. It looks like he expected a more nervous reaction from me but I keep ignoring him. He starts writing stuff down. I keep ignoring him. When I finish packing my stuff I look at him. “Done?” He hands me down my passport and boarding pass and I leave. The weirdest security check ever. I was tempted to ask them if they would all take a picture with me, but I decided that might be pushing it...
Now one of the stranger aspects of Japan is that a lot of people speak English, just no very well or at least understandably. I now get the move 'Lost in Translation' perfectly. 'Lip them!'... So when I ask for the JL First Class Lounge at the airport information desk I get a blank stare.
“Where is the JL First Class Lounge please?”
“No the lounge”
“Yes, lounge depends on gate”
“JL has more than one First Class Lounge”
“Yes, what gate”
“Ok, take tlain and the lounge is on the light”.
The tlain in question
The tlain station
When I get to the satellite terminal there is a JL lounge but of course the First Class lounge is back in the main building. Actually it is almost next to the airport information desk. I head back and decide not to pursue the issue. Japan and I will never get along.
The JL First Class lounge. Not sharp but it took me so long to get there I am going to include it!
The lounge itself was very good. When you enter you have the choice of the regular lounge (on the right) or the First Class lounge on the left. The staff was extremely welcoming and I was in the lounge in no time.
Entrance to the First Class section
I must say that the lounge exceeded my expectations. It was stylish, with a good view of the airport. There were lots of sections where you could hide out and it was not all that busy. Maybe 10 people. The thing that let it down was the food. There was a very limited choice for a First Class lounge. I managed to still my appetite with the chicken 'nuggets' and beef sandwiches but I was not impressed.
Very big lounge
The limited food section
Good work spaces
I have noticed that in a lot of JL lounges you find massage chairs. Normally I do not use them much since I actually own one at home and am sort of immune to them. This one was a very nice one with a very complicated remote that was – what else? – in Japanese only. After some fiddling I found a good setting and had a 30 minute massage that actually left me feeling better.
These chairs looked very relaxed as well
Although you had a pretty nice view of the airport there is not much to see. This is terminal 2 so you find mainly OW carriers and here that means JL or AA.
It is 747 central here...
Time passed rather quickly and it was time to get to the gate. The airport is not that big so even with the use of the train it took less than 4 minutes. Has anybody ever noticed that Japanese people seem to be very 'nervous' or 'insecure' travelers? They always look very lost and even a bit scared at airports. It must be my interpretation but it feels like it. They also come up to staff with a very confused inquiry and are very apologetic for their questions... Strange.
Ah well. The boarding process was, naturally, very organized. I arrived at the gate at almost the exact moment we started boarding. I managed to get a quick shot of the boarding gate.
One of the other things that surprises me about Japan is the willingness to serve. Before the boarding started all the staff assembled before the waiting pax and took a bow. They did that on board as well. I think I rather like it.
I was expecting the old style business class product for this flight but I was presently surprised that they used the old style First for this flight, sold as business. I was in seat 1K and this was by far the roomiest seat I have ever been in...
Illustration of the legroom (seat 1AB)
Now I realize that these are very old First Class seats but I am going out on a limb here... This was the most comfortable cabin I have ever flown in. I know it does not look fancy and does not have 30” plasma screens or 999 settings for your seat but look at the room!
Only 12 seats in the cabin so the empty floorspace is unbelievable. Also there is no closet to speak off in the front of the cabin so you really feel you are in the nose cone.
In row 1 you have about 6 windows to yourself. Which airline does better? I can't even get them all in one picture...
We departed the gate bang on time. From my six windows I had a good view of all the activity. Unfortunately it was raining so the picture quality leaves something to be desired.
After they had unhooked the plane the marshals all lined up and saluted the pilot. They bowed about 3 times for 10 seconds each. Still did not manage a good picture.
Then they started waving to the passengers and kept waving until the plane was out of sight. Amazing tradition. Liking it.
Now for some random shots on the way to the runway.
A United 747 just landed
I was surprised to see these NWA birds here. Is that for the Guam run?
From the side
JL has a nose camera for landing and take off. Like that too.
Although the captain had warned us for turbulence after take off and before landing we encountered nothing more than some chop but maybe that is called turbulence nowadays.
Now that I had gotten used to so many windows it was no big surprise that the toilet had a window too. It was one of the best kept airplane bogs I have ever seen. Very shiny, very clean and with lots of mirrors.
Maybe too much credit for a toilet but I think a nice one adds to comfort of a flight. Basically I was just pleasantly surprised.
Something else I was pleasantly surprised about was the food. I was told to order Japanese food since these choices are almost always superior to the Western selections. Since every Japanese dish featured squid I opted for Western and I even dared a steak. I asked them to prepare it as rare as they dared and the very lovely and experienced senior FA said she would do her best for me. I must say: she succeeded. Probably the best steak I ever ate in the sky.
The dinner setting
Dinner was served pretty quickly after take off. I had already snacked quite a bit in the lounge so I told the FA I would skip desert. “You will do no such thing! It is far to yummy!” she said and would hear no more about it. Desert arrived and I thank her for it. It was indeed yummy.
Even though it was a day flight the blinds were shut after dinner. I did not mind. The seats were extremely comfortable to sit in and I was willing to try them on for sleep. They did not disappoint. Another surprise was that when I asked if they could make the cabin a little cooler for sleep they said 'no problem' and within minutes it actually became cooler. Now who ever had that happening?
Very comfortable 180 degrees flat seat.
I woke up about 2 hours before landing and had another of those yummy deserts. 90 minutes out they woke us all up for a snack and to prepare for landing. The FA tried to sell me some noodles but this time I did not give in. I had had enough.
Landing at DPS was a bit bumpy but nothing too bad. I know Bali well, so priority number one was to be the first one of the plane and at the visa on arrival line. I managed the former but a planeload of Aussies was already at immigration. It took the better part of 30 minutes but there I was, back in my beloved Bali...
My hotel room
All in all a very pleasant experience with JALways. The flights were on time, service was outstanding and the product, although old, maybe superior to a lot of the new F and C classes I have flown. I would not hesitate to fly them again.
As always: feedback appreciated and suggestions welcome!
[Edited 2009-05-28 05:30:54]