Genius12
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A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Sun Oct 14, 2018 3:28 pm

A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Japan is a country that has long held my interest, and so it was with anticipation that this trip edged closer in the calendar. Taking advantage of some excellent ex-Italy fares with Qatar Airways, this trip began the day prior to this report’s opening scene; you can read all about the positioning flights for this trip, overnight hotel and our experience of the city of Venice here: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1401263

Highlights ahead in this report:
    Qatar Airways Business Class VCE-DOH-HND including the Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business lounge and First Class lounge in Doha.
    ANA InterContinental Tokyo in a Kaze Club Corner Suite with 3 days exploring Tokyo.
    Shinkansen bullet train in the Green Car (first class) from Tokyo to Osaka.
    InterContinental Osaka in a Club InterContinental room with 3 days exploring Kyoto.
    Japan Airlines First Class ITM-HND – a unique experience.
    Qatar Airways Business Class HND-DOH-VCE including the Japan Airlines First Class lounge at Haneda.

VCE-DOH

After a morning exploring Venice, we arrived via taxi at Marco Polo Airport somewhat early a little over three hours before our 6pm departure. The agents were just finishing set up for check-in when we arrived, and after a couple of minutes we were greeted and escorted to the single Business Class desk where formalities were completed quickly, and bags priority tagged. There was no queue at Fast Track security, with the single security lane neatly segregated from the main security area. Moving aside a Tensabarrier to avoid the mandated detour through the duty free shop, we headed to the third party Marco Polo lounge, located one floor above the gates.

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The Marco Polo lounge is reasonably modern in design, with excellent views across the airport through floor to ceiling windows along the full length of the lounge, and from its small outdoor roof terrace (although annoyingly smoking is permitted out there).

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A number of small workstation nooks/phone booths flank the entrance corridor, with showers located behind reception; see my separate positioning flight trip report for a review of those.

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The lounge then opens out into a principal large space, with a mix of armchairs and sofas, high back single chairs by the windows and small dining tables.

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To the right of the lounge, flanking the buffet, are two recessed oval quiet areas with a confusing lack of seating, whilst at the far end of the lounge adjacent to the roof terrace is a sort of conservatory area with outdoor-style seating and planted features.

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The buffet had a pretty limited food offering, with mountains of carbohydrates (think pizza, pizza and more pizza). The tended bar was a particularly odd concept, where an invariably miserable barista would operate the coffee machine with their back to the lounge and the inevitable growing queue, whilst at the same time scolding any person brave enough to help themselves to a bottle of something alcoholic from the glass-fronted fridge. The design of the space did not really allow for a tended offering. Paper plates and plastic knives and forks did nothing to add to the buffet experience.

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Washrooms (with a particularly grand entryway) are located in the right-hand corner, adjacent to a small TV lounge and high-top work area. The maroon high-back chairs in the TV lounge had been relocated to the windows on our return visit (a much more sensible location for them) and are incidentally the same design as those found in the BA First lounge at LGW and Concorde Bars at SIN and DXB.

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After passing a couple of hours in what is a well-intentioned but ultimately unmemorable lounge, we headed down and through immigration to Gate 20, where the priority line was in the process of being combed by an agent to check eligibility. Although QR don’t differentiate between status passengers and Business Class passengers for priority boarding, the short line moved quickly, and we were soon being welcomed at Door 1L and escorted to our seats onboard A7-ACC, a 15-year-old A330-200.

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Qatar Airways have two different types of seating in Business Class on their A330 fleet; some aircraft, including the one we were on this evening, feature the B/E MiniPod seat, whilst others (such as the A330 we would fly on the return sector) feature the B/E Diamond seat. Both seating variants are marketed as flat beds (although I have my doubts about the MiniPod seat being truly flat) and are in 2-2-2 configuration, meaning window seats do not have direct aisle access.

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Our particular A330 had three rows in the spacious forward cabin, and a mini cabin with just one row behind Doors 2 that remained empty for the flight.

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As I settled into 3B (at the rear of the forward cabin), the tranquillity was steadily shattered by the entire aircraft load of passengers traipsing through the cabin; all gates at VCE have just the one airbridge, and for some reason (perhaps due to stand configuration), the airbridge was at 1L today rather than the more usual 2L. Despite this intrusion, the cabin crew did an excellent job of welcoming passengers personally with a choice of drink (mint and lime for me), and hot or cold towel. Menus and wine lists were handed out, and the CSD also made the rounds welcoming passengers individually.

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Whilst clearly dated and not a patch on the B/E Super Diamond product found on QR’s 787s, A380s and non-Qsuite A350s, the seats and indeed the entire cabin on our A330 was spotlessly clean and well maintained. One distinct advantage of these older style seats over their modern business class counterparts is the oodles of completely unrestricted leg (and, importantly, foot) room; there are no silly cubby holes to contort your feet into here. The backs of the seat in front provide a home for a large IFE screen, small storage net, literature pocket and shoe storage. Bulkhead seats come with an elongated low level divider between the seats to house the IFE screen, and lack the net and shoe storage spaces of their non-bulkhead counterparts.

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The centre console of each pair of seats houses the table, touchscreen IFE controller, a small and completely inadequate privacy shield and adjustable reading lamp, below which are various inputs, including a USB port. Below the IFE controller is a pocket where unbranded noise-cancelling headphones are pre-placed. I do think headphones are an area where QR could improve; Bose (or similar premium brand) sets would be far more in keeping with the otherwise high-quality experience. Even American Airlines manage Bose in international and transcontinental J. A power socket is located above the lifejacket compartment adjacent to the footrest. Although additional overhead reading lights are provided, there are no personal air vents up there which meant the cabin was uncomfortably warm during the flight.

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The other side of each seat is home to the seat controls within the armrest.

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As if to highlight the unacceptable lack of storage space around the seat, the water bottle and smart Bric’s amenity kit were precariously balanced on the centre console of each seat. Whilst the colour of the amenity kit and its contents on this sector had changed to a lighter blue, the kit was otherwise identical to those I received on my recent Singapore trip; I’ll have a photo of the contents on the return sector of this report. On-seat amenities included the usual large pillow and thick, quilted blanket first introduced on Qsuite routes.

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Once boarding had completed, newspapers were offered, and dinner orders taken as the captain announced a very specific flight time of 5h17 cruising at 41,000ft. In what with hindsight was a rather pointless attempt at adjusting to Japan time and stay awake through a long layover in Doha, I decided to skip dinner and sleep on this sector, but the sector time (at what was in fact 5h25) wasn’t really long enough to enable a good night’s sleep, exacerbated by the early evening hour of departure and the lack of mood lighting on these older aircraft.

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Straight after takeoff, my requested hot chocolate arrived as a nightcap, and I settled down for a few hours’ rest. The MiniPod seat is a little droopy at the foot end when in ‘fully flat’ mode, and the manual extendable foot rest is very annoying. It’s seats like these that make one appreciate the BA Club World seat; despite its failings, it’s streaks ahead in terms of sleeping comfort and privacy (in window seats) when compared to older style business class seats such as the MiniPod. In a nice service gesture, a box of Godiva chocolates had been placed at my seat whilst I was asleep.

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The A330-200 has two washrooms for Business Class passengers; one in the forward galley on the port side, and one in the Doors 2 galley on the starboard side. Both were kept spotlessly clean as is the norm on QR, and were well stocked with Rituals amenities, dental and shaving kits.

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On returning from the rear washroom during the evening, I was proactively asked by the crew whether I wanted anything to eat or drink; my sparkling water was brought in lightning quick speed.

As we approached Doha, the nicely presented seasonal fresh fruit I’d ordered when dinner orders were being taken arrived along with an Americano. As I enjoyed this refreshing snack, I tried out the wifi but gave up when I realised that a user account had to be created in order to take advantage of the free 15 minutes/100MB, something I haven’t had to do before on newer QR aircraft.

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The CSD thanked each passenger for flying Qatar Airways as we came into land at around 00:30 local time, after which there was a short wait for stairs to arrive at Door 2L at a remote stand. The advantage of a remote stand at DOH is that QR provide a dedicated Business Class bus to whisk you to arrivals and flight connections, and tonight was no exception. Unlike my previous visit to Hamad International Airport in February, this time I successfully located the priority security line to the right at transfers security, where there was no queue.

DOH-HND

01:00 is a generally quiet time at DOH, although tonight the transfers security area was bustling but free flowing. I’ve always thought it odd that the route to the Al Mourjan Business lounge (a level above the security area) involves descending to the gate level (two levels below the lounge), only to ascend back up two floors; I guess it’s similar to the non-First Wing route to the lounges at Heathrow T5.

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Our boarding passes were scanned at the podium adjacent to the escalators leading up to the lounge, and then again for unknown reasons at the top by a roving agent. I’ve written in some length about the layout of this lounge (only accessible by passengers ticketed in oneworld first and business class, or for a steep charge) in previous reports, so will focus on the experience more this time around.

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The shower suites at the Al Mourjan lounge are routinely the most criticised element of the experience; staggeringly there are a total of just 13 suites for men and 10 for women, spread across two different locations. For the flagship business class lounge of the ‘world’s five star airline’ at a major global hub airport, this is an unacceptably low number that regularly leads to long waits during peak hours (from about 04:00). At this even earlier hour of the morning, thankfully there was no wait for the male showers (although there was a short queue for the female ones), and I was escorted straight away from the showers reception to a suite in the block next to the café area (which I’ve always thought an odd location for the showers), just down the corridor from the washrooms.

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Although dimly lit and poorly ventilated, my suite was reasonably spacious, with a separate toilet room, walk-in shower, Rituals amenities and plenty of space for luggage; the powerful shower certainly did the trick in waking me up at this odd hour of the night. Dental kits and hairdryers are only available on request, and there are no face cloths which feels a little stingy. For a four-year-old facility, things are starting to appear a little worn around the edges already; a pretty bashed bin lid being just one small example.

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Suitably refreshed, I headed back out through the café to the raised seating area in the middle of the lounge and sipped a cappuccino from one of the many self-service drinks stations dotted around. This was my third visit to the lounge, and as I sat there with the caffeine starting to kick in, I reflected how the space has certainly grown on me over time (particularly when not crowded), although the ambience remains undoubtedly on the cool side and the design more form than function.

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The blue seating area immediately to the left of reception suffers significant glare from the digital advertising screens for the level below; avoid at all costs!

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The red quiet seating area (adjacent to the work area and one of two games rooms) is my favourite spot in the lounge; some rare views of the outside world can be glimpsed through the sun shields.

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Having skipped dinner on the flight, our stomachs guided us swiftly to the restaurant on the mezzanine level; dinner was still being served (despite the tables set for breakfast), but at 02:30 food is food and it didn’t really matter that my brain was expecting breakfast (which incidentally doesn’t begin until 04:30).

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The seating area within the restaurant is expansive and varied (and wraps around the restaurant’s own washrooms to provide a more private seating area towards the rear suitable for families), although there is not a great deal of privacy or colour; the expanse of white plasterboard behind the bar is a good example of lack of attention to detail in the design.

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We headed to a booth with a view over the main lounge area and were promptly approached and asked what we would like to drink; this seemed to be the limit of the table service, as everything else is buffet-led or available at the tended bar. Two hot and cold buffets offer similar options either side of the staircase, whilst desserts were available in the nook adjacent to the coffee machine.

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Whilst presented fairly well, the dishes were of disappointingly mediocre quality. I had thought that an à la carte menu was also available, but perhaps this is only an option at certain times.

In a lounge that’s open 24 hours a day, it must be difficult to undertake maintenance or cleaning without disturbing lounge users; in the early hours of the morning, the number of cleaners outnumbered the number of passengers, which was at times a little uncomfortable.

To relieve the monotony of a long layover, we headed out to check out the First Class lounge. Not to be confused with the Al Safwa First lounge (for oneworld first class passengers only), this is a facility designed for oneworld Emerald members travelling in economy or premium economy. The lounge shares a reception with the Business Class lounge (for oneworld Sapphire members travelling in economy or premium economy) and is located to the right of the desk, one level above the gates. The agent was initially a little confused and tried to send us to the Al Mourjan lounge, but a brief explanation was all it took to be granted access.

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A relatively small space, the design is both smart and conservative, and feels more intimate than the Al Mourjan lounge thanks to much lower ceilings. Arranged in an L shape with reception at the top of the L, multiple different seating areas make up the bulk of the lounge, with a living wall along one side and a drinks station set up in the middle (including a rather temporary-looking table). A few screened-off quiet areas are available near reception, along with a separate family room.

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The tail of the L is home to the dining area, which at the time of visiting was devoid of food, presumably as changeover to breakfast commenced.

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Whilst I didn’t spend longer in the lounge than it took to take these photos, it’s clearly not a first class space except by name, but is more than adequate for a short visit before a flight.

We took the transit train to Gate E21, a remote gate with a clearly defined and empty priority boarding lane and a dedicated Business Class bus (that only left for the aircraft once all seats were occupied). Boarding one-year old A7-ALN was via stairs to Door 2L this morning. At the top, we were greeted in the A350’s expansive entryway and escorted to our seats in the forward of two Business Class cabins. For a full review of the B/E Super Diamond product and configuration of the A350 (and comparisons to the 787), see my Singapore report here: viewtopic.php?t=1392775

As I settled into Seat 2A, the cabin crew stopped by to welcome me and ask my preference for a drink and hot or cold towel.

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Pre-placed on my seat was a pillow and old-style non-Qsuite blanket, whilst on the ledge at the side of the seat was to be found the previous generation amenity kit by Armani. The Armani kits come in male and female versions, and it always impresses me that QR obviously check the manifest in order to place the correct kit at the correct seat. Whilst I prefer the scent of the Armani products to the current Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio amenities, the usefulness of a huge tube of aftershave balm (with no dedicated moisturiser) in the air is debatable, and the unbranded eye mask is of lower quality than the current version in the Bric’s kits. Whilst I appreciate old stocks have to be used up, the inconsistency of soft product elements on QR means it’s hard to plan what to bring on a flight.

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Headphones and Evian water was as usual to be found within the aisle-side armrest.

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Despite an 06:45 departure time meaning this was technically a day flight, with a flight time of 9h30, QR happily consider this to be an ultra longhaul flight, meaning PJs, slippers and – crucially – mattress toppers are offered. The White Company PJ and slipper sets were handed out on the ground, whilst mattress toppers were available on request (fitted by the crew) once in the air. Newspapers were also offered at this time as the captain gave his welcome announcement and informed us of our cruising altitude of 39,000ft.

Breakfast orders were taken on the ground; as I was feeling slightly jetlagged by this point I opted to defer breakfast by a couple of hours and snooze for the first part of the flight, but not before enjoying a splendid view of Doha on climb out.

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As I started watching the captivating Darkest Hour on QR’s excellent Oryx One IFE, I had to prompt the crew that I was ready for breakfast; one prompt was enough however, and the service flow that followed was well paced. I kicked things off with a date and cinnamon smoothie, with my table then laid for the food to follow.

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Whilst QR are renowned for the quality of their catering in Business Class, I have found their breads to deteriorate in quality over the last few years I’ve been travelling with them; this flight was no exception to the trend, with a dry muffin and hard white roll tempered only by a fresh croissant.

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First up was the ever-dependable seasonal fresh fruit plate, followed by the sweet Bircher muesli (rolled oats mixed with yogurt, fruits, almonds and cinnamon).

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For my main course I opted for the flavoursome but slightly over-salted asparagus omelette with grilled chicken fillet, served with sautéed potato with chives and an invisible roasted vine cherry tomato that either the crew forgot to plate, or catering forgot to load. An Americano concluded the breakfast service.

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Jetlag not having been totally shifted by my earlier 90-minute snooze, I paused Darkest Hour for a post-breakfast sleep that, thanks mainly to the comfort of the mattress topper, lasted almost four uninterrupted hours before I naturally woke feeling completely refreshed and ready to peruse the menu once again as landing cards and customs forms for Japan were handed out. I had to use the call bell to order, signifying once again that this crew weren’t quite as proactive in responding to passengers’ needs, contrary to the norm.

It was at this point that I became aware of two passengers talking rather loudly in the entryway between Doors 2 whose voices carried throughout the otherwise tranquil cabin. It never fails to bemuse me how little consideration some people show towards their fellow passengers.

Firing up the IFE once again, my table was laid, and dinner commenced with a glass of wine that was either unremarkable enough not to warrant its name being recorded in my notes, or divine to the point of forgetfulness; I suspect either the latter, or the influence of Gary Oldman’s superb acting simply keeping me distracted.

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The grilled beef fillet with teriyaki sauce and steamed green peas rice served with simmered calamari, eggplant, pumpkin and carrot was one of the nicest dishes I’ve ever eaten at 39,000ft. Incidentally, chopsticks were available.

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As the sun set, I concluded dinner with the selection of indulgent individual desserts which were sublime, accompanied by a herbal tea and finished with a hot towel.

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We arrived on time at Haneda and parked at a stand with dual airbridges, although the one to Door 2L was first to dock and so it was from our point of embarkation that we also disembarked the aircraft. Immigration was a breeze with nobody in line, and our bags were amongst the first off the belt. Soon we were on our way into the city courtesy of an immaculately uniformed taxi driver in a cab decked out with an impressive display of doilies.

ANA InterContinental Tokyo

The rough equivalent of GBP55 worth of doilies later, our taxi pulled up outside the huge Die Hard-esque tower block that houses the ANA InterContinental Tokyo, one of three IC properties in the city. Opened in 1986, the tower is part of the Ark Hills complex in the Minato ward, and is just around the corner from the US Embassy. One of the many entrances to the Tameike-Sanno metro station is conveniently located directly adjacent to the hotel, although it is a good five-minute walk underground until the gate line is reached.

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Presumably as it was approaching midnight, there were no bellboys outside the lobby, so we headed inside to the reception desk where we were met with a warm welcome by a fairly new member of staff; check-in lacked the usual polish for this reason but was well-intentioned. As everybody has to start somewhere, these things are easy to forgive. As a Platinum IHG member, I was offered a choice of a welcome drink or points; as usual I took the points as the welcome drink is somewhat pointless with Club access included in the rate. We weren’t offered any help with our bags, which again I put down to the new member of staff on the desk; I actually usually decline help anyway as there’s nothing worse than having to wait for them to be delivered to the room, particularly at a late hour.

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Thanks to my Ambassador status, we had been upgraded before arrival two categories from a Club InterContinental room to a Kaze InterContinental Club Corner Suite. Whilst the majority of the public areas around the lobby and non-Club rooms are looking somewhat dated, Club floors have been extensively and elegantly refurbished and are decidedly swish; it’s essentially a different hotel entirely on the upper floors.

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As we stepped through the door to our suite on the 33rd floor, the telephone rang; reception had forgotten to give us our pre-ordered (through the hotel concierge) Shinkansen bullet train tickets, and they were sending them up now. Once these arrived I was able to look around the suite a little more.

The suite itself was comprised of two principal rooms; the living room was spacious, with a large three-seater sofa, armchair and dining table with two chairs. Oddly there was no desk in the suite; instead, what appeared to be a side table housed one of several telephones and various other items more suited to a desk.

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The dining table was home to the Ambassador welcome fruit plate, and several welcome gifts of varying levels of interest and taste. The savoury snacks were replaced daily.

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To the right of the entryway, a walk-in closet provided a useful place to hide everything that is often unsightly in a hotel room, although the space could’ve benefited from better lighting and a mirror. The safe was also located in there.

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Backing onto the closet was the stylish tea, coffee and minibar station, which included a Nespresso machine. I always think it looks a bit stingy when only one bag of each tea (TWG in this case) is available in a room clearly intended for two people.

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Walls throughout the suite were exquisitely panelled or covered in subtle wallpaper, accented with art, whilst the floor was a sumptuous patterned carpet. The thoughtfully designed mood lighting and window coverings were controlled via switches, and of course there were plenty of power and USB sockets in all the right locations.

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The bedroom had an armchair and side table positioned adjacent to the angled window, with a small wardrobe housing robes and kimonos adjacent to the glass-panelled bathroom. Whether intended or not, although there was space for a sound bar below the TV in the bedroom, unlike in the living room there was no sound bar here. Both TVs stayed on their previous channel when switched back on; a minor point, but incredibly handy and frustration-avoiding and one which more hotels should follow.

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Whilst there was no complimentary Ambassador mineral water anywhere to be found, the normal branded IC bottled water was available and regularly replaced.

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Through a rather heavy self-closing door, the bathroom was spacious and beautifully designed. As is common with most Japanese hotels, the shower and bath were located within the same mini wet-room, the concept being that one should shower before a bath to ensure cleanliness. Whilst I can definitely get on board with this in theory, the proximity of the shower to the bath means that in reality the bath gets dirty from the shower somewhat defeating the point, as well as being unnecessarily complicated to clean. Amenities were by Salvatore Ferragamo, a nice change from the more usual Agraria products used in non-suites.

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The separate toilet room featured a bidet toilet; not technically a washlet, since it was a Lixil rather than a Toto, although I can assure you that the effect was the same. This mini room, more a cubicle, was on the small side and would’ve benefited from at least a shelf to improve its practicality.

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After a comfortable night’s sleep on a typically Japanese supportive but snug bed, breakfast was sought in the 35th floor Club InterContinental lounge, but not before taking a moment to admire the view from our suite.

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The lounge is arranged with a seating area directly behind reception and dining area in a long thin space to the right. The seating area offers numerous different options for relaxation, including a small library, but doesn’t immediately appear to be particularly well coordinated design-wise. ‘Cosy’ is not a word I’d use to describe this lounge what with its open layout and multiple mirrored or reflective wall surfaces, but it’s certainly not an uncomfortable or uninteresting space, particularly with its expansive views of the city from three aspects.

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The dining area is the nicest part of the lounge, with well-spaced elegantly-laid tables (many positioned to take advantage of the view) and two sumptuous buffets decorated with fresh flowers.

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For a club lounge, the à la carte menu is notably extensive, and includes a menu from Pierre Gagnaire, representing what is the only two Michelin star breakfast available in a hotel club lounge anywhere in the world. The breakfast waiting team were always professional and usually efficient and were happy to take customised orders.

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The first three images below show the Pierre Gagnaire breakfast (which incidentally was not available on the Saturday morning), followed by a selection of other à la carte options enjoyed over several mornings. Everything was of excellent quality, although I’m in no rush to demand all my breakfasts in future are made to Michelin star standards.

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We enjoyed afternoon tea in the lounge on a couple of occasions, although unlike in say the Singapore Club InterContinental, I actively had to seek out a member of staff for service when seated in the lounge area (as opposed to at one of the tables), and drinks were generally not poured at the table. Afternoon tea is entirely waiter-led, something I’m not a huge fan of as I’m more at ease just helping myself to a few items rather than being presented with an entire array of things I may or may not like (although admittedly the latter is usually better presented).

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My schedule only permitted one sampling of the evening canapés; this was yet another nicely presented buffet offering an excellent selection of both Japanese and Western items. Drinks were made to order at the tended bar (which doubles as the second buffet at breakfast time), and a daily rotating menu of hot canapés was offered table-side.

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I popped down to check out the gym and outdoor swimming pool that same evening; the gym looked nice enough, but the pool area was rather austere with 1980s tiling in abundance.

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I also looked around the ballroom and conference area one morning, which was decorated in much the same way as the lobby.

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When it came to check-out, the lounge team took care of all formalities and offered help with bags and onward travel. Although I might be tempted to try one of the other IC properties on my next visit to Tokyo, the ANA offered a great suite and solid lounge experience, with the added novelty factor of a two Michelin star lounge breakfast. With some further investment in refurbishing the non-Club floors, and perhaps some slightly more proactive service in the lounge, this would have been an even better stay.

Views from Tokyo

We had three days exploring Japan’s vibrant capital, starting with successfully navigating the metro to the tranquil Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens. We used the reloadable Pasmo smart card (equivalent to Oyster in London) throughout our stay, including in Osaka and Kyoto.

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From the Gardens, we strolled through the Fujimi district to the Imperial Palace Grounds. Whilst the grounds themselves are not immediately as attractive as you might imagine, the buildings that lie around the Imperial Palace (not itself normally open to the public) are impressive and historically notably significant.

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From there, we took the metro back from near Tokyo Station, something of an oddity, albeit an attractive one, amongst the skyscrapers of the modern city.

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Our second day started with a stroll through the political Nagatacho district (home to the National Diet Building and Kantei Prime Minister’s residence) to the famous and strikingly positioned Nijubashi Bridge, which somehow we’d missed on our initial walk around the Imperial Palace Grounds the previous day.

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A few stops away on the metro, Yanaka is a notably traditional district of the city that should be high on your list of places to experience. We spent an enjoyable hour or so strolling through the residential streets, pausing at a number of temples, shrines and the cemetery along the way to Ueno Park and the Toshogu Shrine within.

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We hopped back on the metro for our final stop of the day, Senso-ji Temple, the oldest temple site in the city. Although we were visiting on a national holiday, I was still able to capture a handful of crowd-free images at this architecturally significant site.

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That evening we headed to the flagship branch of Japan’s most famous department store, Mitsukoshi; the kimono department is quite something to behold. The bright lights of Ginza, including the striking Kabuki-za Theatre, provided a vibrant end to the evening.

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The Meiji Shrine was the undoubted highlight of our third and final full day in Tokyo. We were lucky enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding procession, which certainly added to the atmosphere and sense of occasion.

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The adjacent Iris Garden provided a great contrast to the more formal setting of the shrine itself, and although there were limited displays of irises at this time of year, queueing for 15 minutes within the garden to touch some ‘sacred’ water certainly made the visit memorable.

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Shibuya Crossing provided a hectic and typically Tokyo-esque location to end our visit to this memorable city.

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Shinkansen Bullet Train to Osaka

Riding a bullet train must surely be on most people’s bucket list, and so it was with a sense of excitement that we arrived at Tokyo Station for the Nozomi 227 train to Shin-Osaka Station. It was easy to find the right area of the platform to await the train’s arrival, thanks to clear carriage numbers marked on the floor and above each platform edge door.

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Bedecked in spotless (albeit non-diverse) blue and pink uniforms dependent on gender, it was fascinating to watch the servicing crew perform their duties with military precision and to an excellent standard. I’d come to expect nothing less in a country that prides itself on both cleanliness and politeness. (The photo of the front of our train below was taken on arrival at Shin-Osaka Station.)

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Whilst on paper the Green Car (the equivalent of first class) offers little in the way of extra amenities (save a wet towel upon departure) when compared to Standard, the configuration of Green Car carriages offers significantly more comfort. Arranged in a 2-2 configuration as opposed to 2-3, seats in the Green Car are akin to those found in international business class on aircraft in the 1980s and early 1990s and offer ample legroom with the added comfort of an adjustable footrest.

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Upholstered in comfortable fabric, the left-hand armrest of the seat features buttons to operate the heated seat and in-seat personal adjustable reading light, whilst the back of the seat in front houses a large tray table and seatback net pocket for storage.

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Power sockets are located below the centre console, and generous recline is available via a manual switch on the right armrest. This armrest also houses a cocktail table, although what you’d put on it is far from exciting, given catering is confined to a trolley run of minimal drinks and snacks (which are not complimentary).

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The overhead luggage racks take a medium-sized suitcase with minimal effort, although there are storage spaces on the floor for larger items at the rear of each carriage behind the last row of seats. A coat hook is available next to each of the large picture windows, which can be covered with a blind should you not wish to gaze at the stunning and varied scenery whizzing past at 186mph outside.

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The ride comfort of the N700 series rolling stock is superb, with smooth acceleration and deceleration, and hardly a bump to be felt. For all the speed and comfort of the Shinkansen, however, the highlight of the 2h22 ride was undoubtedly the unforgettable view it afforded of magnificent Mount Fuji, its perfectly curved slopes rising to a snow-capped peak brushing against the shimmering clouds.

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Next: InterContinental Osaka, views from Kyoto, Japan Airlines First Class to Haneda, a full tour of the Japan Airlines First Class lounge at Haneda, and Qatar Airways Business Class to Venice
 
User avatar
ClassicLover
Posts: 4477
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2004 12:27 pm

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Mon Oct 15, 2018 5:25 pm

Even to this point, this is an epic report!

Your photography is jaw droppingly brilliant, with fantastic picture choices! :)

I have never seen the Al Mourjan lounge in Doha so empty. I'm glad you took advantage of that and took photos all over it. The lounge for Emeralds certainly looks pretty basic by comparison.

Your QR experience in J mirrors mine. I like the seats you had on the A330 for the same reasons as you do - so much space. I really don't like the tight foot wells on some of the newer seats. When I fly to AKL on the QR 777, there is oodles of space for lounging around, so I much prefer it for sleeping than the newer seats. That being said, I've not tried the QSuite yet. Interesting you got an Armani amenity kit - I've always only received Brics on QR.

Really looking forward to the next parts, but thus far I'm loving it! Well done, one of the best reports I've seen on here in ages :)
I do enjoy a spot of flying, especially when it's not in economy!
 
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readytotaxi
Posts: 5783
Joined: Mon Dec 11, 2006 2:09 am

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Tue Oct 16, 2018 12:54 pm

I have to agree with ClassicLover, one of the best presented reports on here in a LONG while, makes me want to pck my bags and go. The pictures are very sharp, expensive camera? I so want to viisit Japan and you have made it even more attractive, bring on part 2 please.
you don't get a second chance to make a first impression!
Growing older, but not up.
 
Genius12
Topic Author
Posts: 242
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Sat Oct 20, 2018 4:22 pm

ClassicLover wrote:
Even to this point, this is an epic report!
Well done, one of the best reports I've seen on here in ages :)


Thanks so much for your comments ClassicLover and your detailed observations!

readytotaxi wrote:
I have to agree with ClassicLover, one of the best presented reports on here in a LONG while, makes me want to pck my bags and go. The pictures are very sharp, expensive camera? I so want to viisit Japan and you have made it even more attractive, bring on part 2 please.


Thanks readytotaxi! These photos are shot with a Canon PowerShot S120, so not expensive by any means. I prefer to shoot with a premium compact than a DSLR to remain relatively unobtrusive for lounge, onboard and street photography. The photos are uploaded (unedited) to Flickr.

I hope you get a chance to visit Japan soon.
 
Genius12
Topic Author
Posts: 242
Joined: Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:49 am

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Sat Oct 20, 2018 4:24 pm

InterContinental Osaka

As regular readers will know, InterContinental is more often than not my go-to hotel chain; their properties strike just the right balance between luxury and practicality. For our visit to Kyoto I had chosen to stay at the nearest InterContinental in Osaka, which although still reassuringly priced, was not quite as eye-wateringly expensive as the five-star properties in Kyoto itself. Staying at the IC also offered an excellent opportunity to use my yearly Ambassador complimentary weekend night certificate. Located in the Grand Front Osaka complex, the InterContinental was opened in 2013 and occupies the top floors of the third tower in a series of four.

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We arrived by taxi from Shin-Osaka Station, not to be confused with Osaka Station which is conveniently within the same complex as the IC and serves as the departure point for regular trains to Kyoto. We were warmly welcomed at the ground floor lobby where bags were taken quicker than I could say ‘don’t worry’ and we were escorted to the 20th floor main lobby and reception.

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A few taps on the keyboard had us being escorted up another eight floors to the Club InterContinental lounge, where we were invited to take a seat and enjoy afternoon tea whilst check-in formalities were completed. This was a pretty seamless welcome, although could’ve been improved by avoiding the stop at the main reception.

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The Club lounge is a relatively small simple rectangle, with a dining area directly behind reception, bar and buffet to the right and lounge seating beyond. A meeting room is available adjacent to the dining area.

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Towards the rear of the lounge and adjacent to the TV area, a small library provides a focal point to the otherwise somewhat bland design. Large picture windows provide a view across the Yodo river towards Itami Airport in the distance.

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Whilst it’s a comfortable space, the ambience was more upscale airport lounge than some other Club InterContinental lounges offer, an impression augmented by the regimented arrangement of seating and rather odd choice of at times loud background music. One of the washrooms within the lounge housed a shower, a useful feature for those arriving early in the morning with no room yet available.

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Afternoon tea was an entirely waiter-led affair and consisted of a good range of daily changing sandwiches, sweet and savoury pastries, all presented neatly and with the thoughtful addition of cold towels.

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Declining the offer of an escort, we headed around the corridor to our spacious Club InterContinental room.

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Whilst not a suite, the 50 square metres of space was more than adequate for a four-night stay, and offered sweeping views of Osaka, a skyline that is generally more pleasing the higher you look. The Umeda Sky Building is particularly ugly.

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Decorated in much the same style as the rest of the property, the only oddity was the lump of rock in the middle of the room, atop of which sat a Japanese tea set (with accompanying sweets replaced daily) and within which were the drawers for the adjacent desk. Certainly a unique feature, if not a little out of place.

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This sort of custom design was evident throughout the room, and certainly added to the practical yet stylish nature of the layout. For such a modern hotel (complete with the usual James Bond-style control panels for lighting and window coverings), the lack of any USB ports in the room is unforgiveable, although power sockets were thankfully plentiful.

To the left of the entryway, a modest walk-in closet housed most of the usual hotel paraphernalia, with the exception of a portable suitcase stand but with the addition of kimonos.

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Built into the side of the closet facing the room, a glass-fronted cabinet housed the minibar and Nespresso coffee machine. The was no Ambassador mineral water beyond the usual complimentary IC-branded bottles; I often find that properties skimp on this benefit, although I assume a branded bottle would be available if requested.

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The Ambassador fruit plate was waiting on the ledge adjacent to the TV, whilst an assortment of sweets and snacks were placed on the desk; I have no idea what these were as I couldn’t get past the eccentric packaging.

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As far as furnishings went, the single armchair (or should that be lounge chair, given it lacked any arms?), although in keeping with the interior design, did not offer much in the way of comfort; call me old fashioned but I’d have liked two proper armchairs with a table between them. The juxtaposition of the sprung wooden floor alongside the inlaid carpet was a swish design element.

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The marble-clad bathroom was the room’s strongest feature; a huge walk-in rain shower (in the same wet room as the free-standing bath) offered the same amount of force as I was hoping not to feel from an earthquake. The usual Agraria amenities were available in abundance, and a separate room to the side housed the obligatory Toto.

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Breakfast each morning was taken in the Club lounge and featured an extensive à la carte selection of both Japanese and Western options, along with a moderately sized but well-provisioned buffet.

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I found the size of the dining tables to be a bit skimpy, although it was generally better to eat in the dining area than at one of the tables in the lounge area; the bucket seats there (with round cushions) were impractically low and downright uncomfortable. Practicalities aside, the breakfast was of a very good quality, and the accompanying service was professional without being overly deferential.

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The lounge looked its best in the evening, when another buffet of fruit, cheeses, cold canapés, breads, savoury and sweet snacks was complemented by a rotating selection of hot canapés delivered table-side. The extensive drinks list included the pleasant Louis Roederer Brut Premier champagne.

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When it came time to check-out, all formalities were taken care of in the Club lounge. To ensure complete symmetry of the check-in and check-out experiences, we were reluctantly forced to indulge in afternoon tea just one final time before heading downstairs to a taxi to Itami Airport. InterContinental Osaka represented a solid choice as a base for exploring Kyoto, given its location just 30 minutes from the city via the JR Kyoto Line’s Special Rapid Train from Osaka Station. Whilst the property’s design is not necessarily to my personal taste, and the obligatory two lift journeys to reach the room a multi-use tower block necessitates gets wearisome, the overall experience was as comfortable as you could wish for.

Views from Kyoto

Day one of three exploring Japan’s ancient capital commenced with a visit to the architecturally impressive Nishi and Higashi Hongan-ji Temples. The founder’s hall dates from 1895 and is allegedly the largest wooden structure in the world.

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From there, we walked through a residential part of Shimogyo ward and climbed the cemetery-flanked hill to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Although the temple was under renovation externally so that we couldn’t see the famous nail-less veranda, the views from the complex of the city below were no less impressive.

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The afternoon was spent exploring Eastern Gion and the Higashiyama district, perhaps offering some of the most quintessential Japanese street scenes of our visit to the land of the rising sun.

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Perversely, a visit to Starbucks here is not to be missed.

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Our second day in Kyoto started with a transfer at Kyoto Station to the Sagano Line and a ride to Hanazono Station. At Myoshin-ji Temple, the heavens opened for the first time this trip, but not before we’d had a chance to explore the tranquil gardens of subtemple Taizo-in.

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By now it was really pouring, and after a drenching through the streets around quaint Toji-in tram stop, we called it quits and hailed a taxi to downtown Kyoto.

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Shoren-in Temple was the location to start day three, featuring beautifully landscaped gardens and some calmingly understated interiors that I preferred to the more ostentatious designs found in larger temples. The camphor trees at the front of the temple are an astounding 800 years old.

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Chion-in Temple features the largest Sanmon gate in Japan and multiple halls around the main temple, with some expansive views across the city from its gardens.

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Nanzen-ji Temple was next on the list; surrounded by pine trees, it had a completely different feel to many of the other temples we’d visited.

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The temple provided the perfect starting point to wander along the Philosopher’s Walk, a cherry tree-lined canal at the base of the Higashiyama Eastern Mountains, and so called because a Kyoto University professor was said to have used it for his daily walks in the early 1900s.

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The Philospher’s Walk, and indeed our visit to beguiling Kyoto, ended at Ginkaku-ji, otherwise known as the Silver Pavilion. What some consider to be the best example of traditional Japanese garden design surrounds the pavilion, which never received its intended silver covering.

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The morning of our flight back to Tokyo, we headed out to the 16th century Osaka Castle (rebuilt in the 1930s), one of the few interesting features in this nondescript city whose importance now as a transport and commercial hub has its roots in its past as a merchant city.

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ITM-HND

Itami Airport is unusual in that, whilst its official name is Osaka International Airport, it serves purely domestic destinations with just three airlines (plus a handful of subsidiaries). Arriving by taxi at the single terminal, we headed to the northern side of the building to check-in with JAL for our flight to Tokyo Haneda.

Three desks were open for First Class and oneworld Emerald passengers, clearly marked and segregated with a hold baggage screening machine just in front. I’m not sure why bags are screened here; perhaps there is no hold baggage screening once bags are within the conveyor system? Despite being on a completely separate ticket, the professional agents offered to check bags through to Venice on Qatar Airways, but as we would have to change terminals in Haneda, I opted to keep things under my own control and re-check when we arrived. Bags were tagged as First Class and sent on their way, whilst we were given directions to security.

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Despite these directions, I somehow completely missed the separate First Class security channel, and instead headed to the JAL Global Club (frequent flyer) lane, where there was no queue. JAL operate both a Diamond Premier lounge (for First Class and oneworld Emerald passengers) and Sakura lounge (for oneworld Sapphire members) at ITM. At the time of writing, the Sakura lounge is now in use as the Diamond Premier lounge, with the former Diamond Premier lounge described here now closed whilst a new lounge complex is constructed.

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The interior of the Diamond Premier lounge is something of a museum piece in itself; completely window-less, the first sign beyond reception of the lounge’s status as a heritage artefact is the two phone booths, beyond which a cloakroom and work area are tucked away within wood-panelled alcoves.

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Behind these initial facilities, a sort of galley seating area ends with massage chairs beyond a stained-glass partition, lit by chandeliers last in vogue in the 1970s.

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The washrooms within the lounge offered no special amenities, although as with the rest of the facility were spotlessly clean and well maintained.

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The main lounge seating area is divided into three rooms, the first offering a buffet with two smaller rooms featuring nothing but seats. I assume at one time in days gone by that at least one of these smaller rooms served as the smoking area. Reading material was unsurprisingly entirely Japanese. Despite being fairly busy, the lounge was quiet as most passengers were travelling alone and appeared to be commuters. I suspect the furniture and carpet has been replaced in recent years, as the style was slightly more updated than the fixtures and fittings.

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Drinks options included mineral water, tomato juice, a soft drinks machine, aojiru Japanese vegetable drink, three types of draft beer, whisky, tea and green tea, coffee and milk. To satisfy one’s hunger, it was a choice of salmon seaweed, minced chicken, French toast, ham mayonnaise pie, curry bread, miso soup, scallops and potatoes chowder, rice crackers and pocari sweet.

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If you’re travelling in First Class, my advice is to give most of the lounge offering a miss and save your appetite for the meal onboard. It’s important to note that Class J (JAL’s domestic business class cabin) does not offer catering (or lounge access without frequent flyer status), with complimentary beverages being the same as those offered in Economy Class. Class J is therefore essentially a longhaul premium economy seat on short domestic routes, with few other benefits, although if you credit to the British Airways Executive Club you will earn at business class rates for tier points and Avios.

The terminal at ITM is currently undergoing significant development and refurbishment. JL134 was this evening boarding from Gate 17, on the edge of the redevelopment but itself still firmly rooted in the 1970s.

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Two clear priority lanes were set up; one for First Class/oneworld Emerald and another for oneworld Sapphire (Class J passengers without frequent flyer status do not receive priority boarding). Boarding commenced with military precision and we headed through the self-boarding gates and down the airbridge to Door 1L of JA623J, one of the last 767-300ERs delivered new to JAL in 2009.

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JAL operate both 767s and 777s on the Osaka-Haneda route; the 767 offers a more intimate First Class experience with just a single row of five recliner seats arranged in a 2-1-2 configuration. This compares with three rows of seats in a 2-2-2 configuration on the 777. These seats are similar to those you would’ve found in international first class cabins of the late 1980s and early 1990s before the flat bed revolution, and offer an incredibly comfortable way to fly 251 miles in 53 minutes.

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At Seat 1K I found a pre-placed contoured cushion pad and blanket, with some good quality slippers (yes, slippers on a 53-minute flight!) in the bulkhead literature pocket. In the absence of any in-seat power, a battery power pack was provided in the pocket.

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The seat itself features manual recline and foot rest adjustments, with an adjustable reading light and fixed partition between the seats, below which is a storage space for headphones; those provided are cheap unbranded varieties wrapped in even cheaper looking plastic. Although there are overhead reading lights and mood lighting, there are no adjustable air vents.

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The sturdy and generously-sized table extends from the centre console just below the simple audio controls for the mainscreen IFE (which showed the moving map for the duration of the flight).

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Free wifi allows IFE content to be streamed to passengers’ own devices, although the wifi required signing up to before use, and the IFE required an app. With a 53-minute flight time, I didn’t get a chance to try out this functionality.

The single washroom at the front of the aircraft featured no special amenities but, as with the rest of the aircraft and continuing the theme set in the lounge, was spotless.

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The exceptionally professional and almost continuously bowing cabin crew, along with the CSD, welcomed each passenger individually, took drinks orders for after takeoff and stowed jackets before departure. As we pushed back precisely on time at 19:30, I perused the menu which had been pre-placed on the seat’s centre console.

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The crew swung into action barely a few seconds into our climb, closing the curtains to the rear of the cabin and at the front to separate the First Class cabin from Class J and the galley. Hot towels were distributed and tables deployed, with the CSD hand delivering the dinner tray from the galley with my pre-ordered drink of choice (the Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut) already poured.

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The menu stated that on short flights such as ITM-HND, the appetisers and main dish are not heated, although the steamed rice and miso soup was. I was astounded by both the quality and quantity of the dinner offered on such a short sector; I’ve rarely had a more satisfyingly flavoured meal in the sky.

Jackets were handed back just before landing, along with small bottles of water.

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We arrived at Gate 10 on time, with our bags amongst the first off the belt. From Haneda’s domestic Terminal 1, we took the monorail (free on production of onward boarding passes) to the International Terminal.

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Arriving at QR’s check-in area, a small queue was visible at the two Business Class check-in desks. It appeared as though both sets of passengers at the head of the line had some sort of issue as the line was unmoving, so we took a chance on the single Web Check-In Bag Drop desk; there was no queue at all here (despite a huge queue for Economy Class) and we were called over right after an agent had finished checking in another passenger. In a country as technologically advanced as Japan, it’s amazing how few passengers appeared to have checked in online. Our bags were tagged as First Class priority, presumably due to my oneworld Emerald status; quite impressive for an outstation with no QR F service.

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With an invitation to the Japan Airlines First Class lounge in hand, we headed straight through priority security. Once past immigration and customs declaration, a right turn brought us to the staircase to one of two JAL lounge complexes at Haneda’s International Terminal, and the only one with a First Class lounge.

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The Japan Airlines First Class and Sakura lounges share a single large reception area. We were welcomed and initially directed to the left to the Sakura lounge; I’m not sure why the lounge agent didn’t pick up on the oneworld Emerald status that was clearly printed on my boarding pass. Having parted with the invitation issued at check-in, we were directed to the right into the First Class lounge.

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JAL’s First Class lounge at Haneda is spacious and inviting, and although the décor is somewhat bland in the majority of the space, the design is elegant and modern. Once past reception, a cloak room, and a handful of mobile phone booths (a feature more lounges should have), passengers enter the main body of the lounge through an impressive Japanese screen-flanked corridor, accented by feature art at the end by Hasado Shuhei, a skilled Japanese plasterer.

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Off to the right are washrooms and a small, suitably uninviting smoking room, whilst to the left are the showers and a work area with individual pod seating that acts as an ante-room to the first of two principle seating areas.

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This seating area features what I guess is some sort of large bonsai tree, that although slightly bedraggled adds character to the space. Power sockets are plentiful, located both at the counter along the windows and in the dividers between each row of armchairs.

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Moving further into the lounge, ‘The Dining’ offers a decent if not spectacular buffet of both hot and cold items; everything was spotlessly presented and regularly replenished, particularly important when only a few dishes of any one item are on show at any given time.

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The highlight of the buffet was the live chef’s station, where that evening red sea bream poêle with tomato sauce was the dish of the day; this was very flavourful indeed, although the extraction system in the buffet area was completely inadequate in preventing a smell of fried fish from permeating the rest of the lounge. JAL’s excellent website provides a fully detailed menu and drinks list for the lounge here: https://www.jal.co.jp/en/inter/service/lounge/hnd/. I was slightly disappointed that there is no à la carte dining offered.

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Beyond the dining area, the second larger principle seating area spans the width of the lounge and offers the best views of the apron from a row of deep lounge armchairs. Each armchair has its own table; this is a small detail, but one which many airlines get wrong in their lounges, forcing passengers to awkwardly share table space (British Airways, I’m looking at you). The massage area off to the side of this space is sadly no longer operating as of last year and now features solely electronic massage chairs. Further mobile telephone booths are also located near this area; delightfully, mobile phone conversations are banned in the rest of the lounge.

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Beyond a small drinks station at the far end of the lounge, the RED Suite awaits. This unique and characterful space contains four different rooms; a bar room featuring Laurent-Perrier champagne and sake from the Hasegawa Liquor Store, a play room with chess boards and table football, a library room flanked with (unsurprisingly) books and offering a complimentary shoeshine service, and a gallery room showcasing a variety of travel and aviation artefacts. Whilst not a terribly comfortable place to relax in and lacking any view, credit is due to Japan Airlines for executing such an innovative concept in their lounge.

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The washrooms feature handy dental kits, and the showers are stocked with Shiseido amenities. As I didn’t want to actually use the shower, I asked at the showers reception desk whether I could take a photo of an empty one. I’m not sure they’ve ever had such a request before, as the agent wasn’t at all sure and summoned a manager; thankfully the manager didn’t have any issue, allowing me to bring you these exclusive images after a few minutes’ wait:

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I popped into the Sakura lounge next door; this space was much busier, presumably due to it being open to not only oneworld business class and Sapphire passengers, but JAL’s Premium Economy and flexible Economy Class passengers too.

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Level 4 (the same level as reception and the First Class lounge) is home to The Dining and a small seating area.

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Level 5 offers more space across two seating areas and includes a work area and individual pod seating. I was surprised how small the Sakura lounge was in comparison to the First Class lounge; presumably most passengers eligible for the Sakura lounge use the larger Sakura Sky View lounge further along the concourse. Sadly, I didn’t have time to visit this lounge or Cathay Pacific’s relatively new lounge.

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Boarding was just commencing as we arrived at Gate 114; we were paged at the gate where we were informed one of the window blinds adjacent to Seat 6A was stuck in the up position; this wasn’t a huge deal on a night flight, but it was great that Qatar Airways took the time to explain this before boarding; the crew apologised again once on board. Boarding our three-year-old A350-900 A7-ALE through Door 1L (with two airbridges in use), we were welcomed and pointed in the direction of our seats. QR crew normally escort Business Class passengers to their seats, but it can be variable if lots of passengers are boarding at the same time.

Waiting for me at 5A was a pillow and non-Qsuite blanket, with the usual unbranded noise-cancelling headphones in the armrest. The old Armani amenity kit was pre-placed on the ledge adjacent to the seat, with a bottle of Evian water in the holder adjacent to the literature pocket.

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It turns out Row 5 is about the worst possible row to pick in J on the A350-900; QR’s crew serve backwards from Row 1 to Row 5, with another set of crew picking up at Row 6 through to Row 9. For this reason, it took quite a while for me to be welcomed by the crew and offered a pre-departure drink and choice of hot or cold towel. My mint and lime arrived with a hot towel some time later, along with the menu and wine list for the flight and the offer of a newspaper. At no point were jackets offered to be taken by the somewhat flustered crew. The White Company PJ and slipper sets made an appearance just before pushback, which came 12 minutes behind schedule.

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Straight after takeoff I headed back to the washroom to change into PJs for this long 11h29 night flight, but not before a confused moment trying to open the door of a locked washroom whose indicator light wasn’t working properly. Menu orders were taken just as I arrived back at my seat, and the crew offered to hang my shirt as I requested the mattress topper to be fitted. The CSD also came around at this time individually welcoming passengers and talking them through the dine on demand concept. Here are the menus for this evening’s flight; the wine list was identical to that on the DOH-HND sector shown earlier in this report:

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As my apple cooler and warm nuts arrived I finished watching The Greatest Showman on the excellent IFE system; a great soundtrack spoilt by an overly-sentimental storyline that strays about as far from reality as you could get. In contrast, the massively-censored Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was superbly acted.

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Dinner commenced with an unspecified amuse-bouche comprising of a single bland prawn with some equally bland sauce.

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After a pause in service due to turbulence in which the crew were instructed to take their seats, the roasted red sweet pepper soup with herb crème fraiche arrived; this was fully-flavoured, although I think had been reheated in the galley a few times due to the delay between courses as it looked somewhat boiled.

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Next up was the roasted miso crust salmon with quinoa and beans salad, pickled ginger stick and yuzu dressing. This was quite a light dish, and I appreciated the maple leaf garnish.

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For my main course I’d opted for the grilled sage chicken breast stuffed with mushroom duxelles, served with chive potato wedge, asparagus, cherry tomato and Pommery mustard sauce. Creatively plated, this was a generous portion of perfectly cooked ingredients, although the whole dish could’ve been hotter; temperature is usually a casualty when dishes are plated individually in the galley rather than cooked in single serving plates.

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To conclude, the dark cherry crumble cake with mixed berry coulis was sublime. Dinner was completed with a hot chocolate, hot towel and (cold) Godiva chocolates.

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The cabin crew placed an ice bucket of champagne and bowls of whole fruit in the entrance area by Doors 2; this might be good practice on a day flight, but the champagne in particular could encourage passengers to congregate in an area that really isn’t partitioned at all from the two Business Class cabins, causing noise to travel whilst other passengers are trying to sleep. Luckily this wasn’t the case on this flight but had been a problem on the outbound sector.

The B/E Super Diamond seat is pretty comfortable for sleeping and is made all the more so by the mattress topper that QR provide on longer flights. I slept soundly for almost 6 hours, waking to dawn breaking with 2h44 to go to Doha. The flight crew were pretty reactive in triggering the seatbelt sign and seemed to leave it on for lengthy periods after the slightest turbulent moment had concluded, meaning I couldn’t freshen up in the washroom straight away. During breakfast I watched The Mountain Between Us, a pretty snooze-worthy film that couldn’t keep my interest between its prosaic plot and questionable acting performances.

Breakfast service got off to a much pacier start than dinner, with the seemingly re-energised crew noticing I was awake and swiftly delivering a hot towel and a strawberry and banana smoothie. Described as a ‘light breakfast’ on the menu, I was pleased to see a decent selection of items, including three hot options.

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The smoothie was followed by a fresh orange juice and the Greek yogurt, mango compote and toasted granola with nuts.

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Another nicely plated main course was presented next; a tomato omelette with grilled beef patty, potato Lyonnaise, herb tomato and button mushrooms with herbs.

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I rounded off a satisfying breakfast with the seasonal fresh fruit plate from the dinner menu and a coffee.

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Nobody can question how hard QR crews work (particularly in what can be demanding premium cabins); the almost-always spotlessly clean washrooms are a prime example of their great attention to detail. Towards the end of the flight, as I was changing back to prepare for landing, dental kits were thin on the ground but luckily I’d nabbed one earlier.

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After the usual multitude of pre-recorded arrival videos and announcements that landing into Doha on QR entails, we arrived into a hazy State of Qatar just a few minutes behind schedule – at yet another remote stand.

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The dedicated Business Class bus had us whizzing through a cursory transfer security check, and in no time at all we were heading up to the Al Mourjan lounge once again.

Aside from a few service niggles (the most annoying of which was the slow topping up of water glasses), this was a thoroughly solid flight on Qatar Airways’ excellent A350.

DOH-VCE

With a predictable 45-60 minute wait for a shower and a relatively short connection time, I opted to freshen up in one of the accessible changing rooms within the washrooms. As he unlocked the door for me, the washroom attendant was pretty emphatic that this was for changing only, but with a sink available it was pretty easy to shave between a change of clothes. QR really do need to re-think the number of shower suites they offer at the Al Mourjan lounge.

Gate B10 was set up with a dedicated priority lane both at the boarding pass check at the entrance to the gate room, and to get through the doors to the dual airbridges. Business Class boarded to Door 1L, where we were welcomed on board and escorted to our seats on A7-AED, a 13-year-old A330-300.

QR’s 13-strong fleet of A330-300 aircraft are configured with a single Business Class cabin comprising of five rows of B/E Diamond seats in a 2-2-2 configuration between Doors 1 and 2. The B/E Diamond seat is the higher density version of the Super Diamond product found on QR’s A350, A380 and 787 – but is nowhere near as good. Putting aside the lack of direct aisle access for window seats and associated privacy concerns, storage is severely lacking, and the footrest area is notably constrained by the shell of the seat in front in any row other than the first.

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Unlike American Airlines on their A321 transcontinental fleet in Flagship Business, QR have not specified the small ledge/shelf below the IFE screen, meaning storage is limited to a cumbersome array of narrow ledges to the sides of the seat.

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As with the footrest, not all seats are created equal in this configuration; window seats have a larger side ledge than aisle seats. The literature pockets are awkwardly placed at shoulder height. One of the few redeeming features of the A330-300, and in contrast to the A330-200 fleet, are the individual air vents in the overhead panel. Reading lights at this level are complemented by adjustable lights within the central divider.

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The usual large QR pillow and a rolled Qsuite blanket were waiting for me on arrival at 2K, with a bottle of Evian water and headphones to the side of the seat. The Bric’s amenity kit was sitting on the divider between the pair of seats; its contents are passable, but not overly interesting.

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Our South African captain announced a cruising altitude of 34,000ft for the 5h29 flight to Italy. One day I’m going to vary my choice of Qatar Airways welcome drink, but this morning wasn’t this day, and so the friendly crew delivered my mint and lime along with a hot towel, the menu, wine list and the offer of a newspaper.

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Orders for breakfast were taken before an on-time pushback, with the CSD also doing the rounds to welcome each passenger. After the relative quiet of the A350, the noise of the A330’s engines was pretty apparent as we taxied out for a takeoff from Runway 34L. Another difference to the A350 is the lack of exterior cameras on the A330, although I’m perfectly happy just looking out of the window during a flight.

As breakfast service began, I fired up the IFE to watch the spectacularly poor Geostorm. The reflectivity of the screen meant that it was at times hard to see what was going on; even the intermittent stops and starts from the buggy system couldn’t distract from the low-quality production values. The adjacent aisle seat’s IFE screen is pretty visible from the window seat, which would be less than ideal if trying to rest or when flying during a night flight where a dark cabin is preferred. QR’s A330-300 fleet is not wifi equipped.

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It is, of course, never too early for champagne, and so although it was only around 09:30 Doha time, I opted to start breakfast with a glass of Pommery Brut Royal. The somewhat nervous but pleasant cabin crew member brought this with a dish of warm nuts, a nice gesture that I’m sure wouldn’t normally be part of the breakfast service.

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It was clear at this point that this flight was catered with the new tableware gradually (at the time) being rolled out across Business and First Class sectors. This was confirmed with the arrival of the platter of seasonal cut fruits; the new plate was complemented by a red water glass, metal bread basket and new, rather smart, salt and pepper grinders.

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Greek yogurt, raspberry compote and toasted granola with nuts was next up, before my main course choice of steel-cut oats served with berries and cream. This was maybe a little too sweet for my taste for breakfast, but I was keen to try this dish that often features on QR’s breakfast menus. Breakfast concluded with a cappuccino (in a new-style mug) and a hot towel.

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In what is quite an unusual configuration for an A330, the forward washrooms feature windows and were, predictably, totally spotless. It seemed the starboard washroom hadn’t been stocked with cups which was slightly annoying.

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Mid-way through the flight I ordered a Ceylon spice chai tea, which was served on a new oval plate with biscuits. It would be nice to see QR offering premium plated biscuits rather than packaged, although I wasn’t actually hungry at the time and so packaged does reduce food waste.

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For the light meal to conclude the flight I opted for afternoon tea which comprised of ‘fresh’ finger sandwiches, warm scones, clotted cream and delicate pastries. This was overall an excellent meal and was nicely presented, although the sandwiches were slightly stale (a predictable result of storage for several hours at altitude). I’m also pretty sure that the sandwiches should not have been plated with their wrapper still on. A final hot towel was brought around along with chocolates to conclude service on this pleasant flight.

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We arrived into a bright Venice on time, parking next to a Delta 767 and disembarking via the single airbridge from Door 1L.

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With automated immigration for EU residents (long may that continue!), we were quickly in the baggage reclaim hall where our two bags were within the first four on the belt.

Despite variations in both their hard and soft product, Qatar Airways offer a generally consistent Business Class experience that, in attention to detail at least, is no doubt more closely aligned to the international first class experience of many other carriers. Flights on QR are invariably enjoyable, and I will continue to use them for hopefully many years to come when travelling East.

Thanks for following along on this long journey to and through Japan – a land of great beauty and culture that I look forward to returning to soon.

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767747
Posts: 2184
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:14 pm

Great report and photos. Looks like an incredible trip - I'd love to to go Japan sometime. Qatar Airways looks awesome, and great to see your experience on JAL on such a short flight.
I love to fly!
 
AtomicGarden
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Jun 04, 2017 10:57 pm

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Mon Oct 22, 2018 1:37 am

Amazing report. Makes me wanna travel - anywhere. Not in F/C or B/C unfortunately
 
lychemsa
Posts: 1838
Joined: Sun Oct 11, 2009 8:39 pm

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Wed Oct 24, 2018 9:14 am

I just flew Qatar Business from the Seychelles to New York. I thought the food / breads / service was better on Etihad; but the Qatar crew were friendlier. However loved the Airbus 350; quiet and flew at 40,000 feet; never been so high. You took better pictures than me! LOL. Liked the lounge in Doha. There were bad floods the day we arrived; lucky we had no problems.
 
Speedalive
Posts: 86
Joined: Sun Jan 17, 2016 7:09 pm

Re: A Five Star Journey Through Japan: Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines First Class

Sun Nov 04, 2018 1:33 am

Nice report! I must say, the lounge in Doha looks sterile and depressing. Maybe it was just the time of day, or it's just me. The JAL First Class lounge looks much warmer and inviting by comparison.
Aircraft flown:
i) in the front seat: Z42, C172, C182, C240, PA34, TBM9;
ii) as pax: BE20, LJ35, DH8A/C/D, DC93, E190, A319/20/21, B736/7/8, B762/3

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