Airline: Japan Airlines | Aircraft: 777-200ER | Class: Business | Flight: JL31 (HND-BKK)
On my latest trip to Bangkok, I took a non-conventional route (at least for us Singaporeans) from Haneda Airport (HND) to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) via Japan Airlines. During this same trip, I checked out the amazing Cathay Pacific Lounge at Haneda Airport since I was traveling in Business Class and therefore had access to it.
Now this is the second time that I am flying Japan Airlines' newest Business Class product (SKY SUITE III) and the last flight from Singapore to Haneda was fairly unimpressive - the product is good but it pales in comparison to Singapore Airlines in terms of food and service (or maybe I am just biased). However, as I have mentioned in my previous trip report, the experience onboard a sleeper service should never be used as a yardstick for measuring excellence. Therefore, I was actually looking forward to the flight from HND to BKK since it was a daytime flight and it was going to be approximately an hour longer than my previous flight from Singapore itself (in terms of flight time).
I got to the boarding gate ahead of time and noticed that a line has already started to form. As you may know, the 777-200ER flights that are operated intra-Asia have a three cabin class configuration (Business, Premium Economy and Economy) and they should already be fitted with the latest SKY SUITE III product in Business Class. Boarding announcements were soon made and even though this particular flight did not have a First Class cabin, I noticed that a line has been formed but it was quickly made clear that these were in fact passengers who held top-tier status with the JAL Mileage Bank (or oneworld equivalent) programme. Therefore, it did not matter whether you were traveling in Economy - having top-tier meant that you are going to be amongst the first to board.
In any case, I was not particularly anxious to board the flight since the seats in Business Class were configured in a 1-2-1 layout (and that typically meant having a dedicated overhead compartment space for each passenger). After checking out Seat 2K on my previous flight, I decided to try one of the bulkhead seats instead on this flight (unlike Singapore Airlines, these seats are not reserved for elite passengers and they are open for selection as long as you have a valid Business Class ticket). With all that being said, the bulkhead seats on the SKY SUITE III product does not have extra legroom (even though you actually do not need it) but they are slightly more private - you are however fairly close to the galley though so if you plan on sleeping, this may be slightly annoying.
Similar to my previous flight, I noticed that a red plastic bag was left on my seat but I now know that this is in fact the pair of headphones provided for the flight. Honestly, I would have preferred it if they had just left the pair of headphones on the table without that unsightly (and cheap-looking) red plastic bag. There is also a small amenity kit that was exactly the same one that I have gotten on my previous flight from Singapore Changi Airport to Haneda Airport - it consisted of a moisture mask, a toothbrush, an eye mask as well as a pair of ear plugs.
A pair of slippers is also provided for the flight - you will also find a small plastic shoehorn in the packaging in case you require them. The open toe slippers are actually quite comfortable and I had almost forgotten to change back into my shoes after the flight. As I settled into my seat, the flight purser came around to introduce herself (which was strange since such a privilege is usually reserved for top-tier passengers only) but it was a nice gesture. Following that, a very nice lady who was in-charge of my row came by to introduce herself as well.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 11:20AM but it only took off officially at 11:49AM (almost a 30-minute delay) but it still managed to arrive on time (only four minutes behind schedule). If you are departing Haneda Airport, chances are that you will see the elusive Mt. Fuji on your way out - I did not manage to take a photo of it using my camera but I managed to snap a few shots on my mobile phone that you can see it on my Instagram Story Highlight for Tokyo.
Since my previous trip report on Japan AIrline's Business Class happened during the night, taking photos of the product (well, just anything really) was challenging. Therefore, please bear with me if I am repeating certain things since I want this to be more comprehensive than the first. There is plenty of legroom here and in comparison to the legroom on Singapore Airlines A350 or A380, this is truly a whole lot more. With that being said, there is no stowage space under the seat so if you are so inclined to hold on to your laptop, you may have to chuck it in this space for take-off and landing.
Shortly after the seatbelt sign has been turned off, the cabin crew on this flight went about to set the table for meal service. I really like the tables here on the SKY SUITE III product - it flips down easily and you can easily pull it towards you or push it away from you in the event that you need to leave your seat during the meal service. While the design of the table may be simple, it is efficient and straightforward.
I requested for a glass of Champagne when my drink orders were taken and a glass was quickly brought to my table before a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reservé N.V. was brought out. The temperature of the Champagne was just right (unlike the slightly-warm version that Air China served on my flight back from Beijing) and I was also handed a packet of rice crackers to munch on before the meal service officially started. When asked whether I wanted to have the Japanese or Western meal for this flight, I opted for the former because well, it is a Japanese airline after all and honestly, the Japanese food from Singapore to Haneda on JAL was actually pretty decent.
As part of the Japanese meal service, the first course was an appetiser of 'seasonal colourful delicacies'. In fact, the official name for this appetiser is actually 'Winter Calm' and it comes with five distinct sections (from top-left in a clock-wise order):
- Simmered Chicken & Vegetables with Soy Sauce
- Crabmeat with Soy Starch Sauce
- Poached Potherb Mustard, Garland Chrysanthemum & Mushroom in Japanese Broth with Herring Roe & Abalone
- Soy-simmered Beef Ginger Flavour; Burdock seasoned with Sesame; Broiled Sardine Sweet Soy Sauce Flavour; Slow Cooked Egg; Vinegared Turnip wrapped with Smoked Salmon; 'Namafu'
- Seared Yellowtail with Grated Radish
Now, I have got to say that some of these descriptions sound rather dubious but the food was stunning - every single component was executed well but my favourites were that seared yellowtail, the slow-cooked egg, the crabmeat in soy starch sauce as well as the herring roe & abalone. Seriously, because it was so beautifully presented to me, I felt almost obliged to leave it the way it was (when it was first served to me) after I was done.
As if the box of appetisers were not enough, I was served a Dainomono of Japanese-style Stewed Beef Tongue and Broiled Eel Sweet Soy Sauce Flavour with a bowl of delicious Japanese steamed rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles for the second course. Now the unagi is nothing to shout about especially since I have had a famous one from Hitsumabushi approximately 24 hours prior to boarding this flight but that gyutan was delicious (as long as you look past the fact that it is actually the tongue of a cow).
As you would imagine, rice served on Japan Airlines' Business Class is in fact from Japan and the rice chosen for this flight is a Koshihikari rice from 雪蔵今摺り米. The miso soup served during the lunch service is also a lot more like what I expect - the one that I had for breakfast on the previous flight was completely covered with vegetables (which was very odd in my opinion).
For dessert, I was served a Japanese Sponge Cake 'Castella' with Citrus Hyuganatsu Jam on the side. Hot Japanese green tea was also served on the side but coffee can be requested if you prefer to have your dose of caffeine in a different way - I opted for both. If you were still hungry after the meal service, you can opt for a range of assorted cheese or a cup of the JAL Original Snack Noodle (essentially instant noodles) that come in three versions: CHAMPON de SKY, UDON de SKY and SOBA de SKY. Alternatively, you may also choose to walk to the galley for some snacks - they had rice crackers, chocolates and bottled water placed in the galley for Business Class passengers.
After lunch, I decided to check out what the In-flight Entertainment (IFE) System has to offer but was quite baffled to find the same movie showing up a couple of times - Thor:Ragnarok shows up three times on the IFE? I ended up watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle and finally found out what the Kingsman branded apparels on Mr Porter were.
Controlling the IFE is simple with the remote located on the side of your seat but if you prefer, the IFE monitor itself is touchscreen-enabled and therefore you can easily navigate through the different sections effortlessly with the touch of a finger.
The back of the IFE Remote comes with a keyboard, gamepad and even a joystick. I did not check out the games selection on the IFE since I do not want anyone second-guessing my eligibility on Champagne consumption but it was a pretty neat-looking remote - I believe these are utilised on British Airways as well on long-haul flights.
Since it was a daytime flight and I have been fiddling with my iPhone for most parts of the flight, I wanted to keep it juiced while I worked on some of my article on the flight. I had no issues with using my 15" MacBook Pro on the huge table - I even managed to charge it back to 100% battery during the flight so I could use it as soon as I got to my hotel in Bangkok.
Prior to arrival, passengers in Business Class were also offered a selection of small snacks - I opted for a Salmon Onigiri and politely declined the ice-cream that the cabin crew offered. Bottled water is also provided during the flight and you can easily get more in the galley if you require extra (I drink a lot of water so this is a huge plus in my book).
The daytime flight on Japan Airlines' Business Class was infinitely better than the overnight flight from Singapore. If anything, Fern (who was the cabin crew in-charge of my row) did an amazing job in leading me to believe that the service rendered on the sleeper service was an anomaly. The only thing that I thought that Japan Airlines could have improved on was in regards to the distribution of arrival forms - these only happen towards the end of the flight and I am actually one of those travellers who prefer to get everything done the moment I board the plane so I will not forget about it later. Unlike Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines seem to distribute these forms only an hour before landing but once again this is a personal preference. In any case, you could always request for them from a cabin crew or find them in the galley. Otherwise, this flight has been spectacular and I have already made plans to return to Tokyo in a few months on the very same airline.