KarryOn’s Matt Castell was lucky enough to experience the business class suite on Japan Airlines’ (JAL) inaugural Dreamliner 787 flight from Tokyo Narita to Sydney on March 27th. Here’s what he discovered.

Business Class has changed so much and so fast over the past five or so years. I remember the first time I got a sniff up the pointy end, roughly ten years ago on an oversold Kenyan Airlines flight from Nairobi to Bangkok.

Whilst that was a fantastic experience, you could not compare to the products being offered today, like JAL’s epic new sky suite.

With three full-service airlines now competing on the popular direct Sydney-Tokyo route it’s easy to see why JAL has allocated a superior newer aircraft to give themselves an edge over their competitors.

 

CHECK IN AND THE LOUNGE

JAL Business Class Lounge at NRT

JAL departs from Terminal 2 at Narita International Airport.

There was no wait whatsoever at the check-in counter and I had a boarding pass in my hands within minutes. After breezing through immigration and security I found myself in front of two huge sliding doors, the entrance to their Sakura Lounge.

The Sakura Lounge, which is operated by JAL is split over two levels and sprawls into a multitude of nooks to find peace in, including specific napping pods with comfortable bedding. There are two self serve bars which offer the standard business class lounge drinks plus a nifty draft beer machine.

Upstairs there is a restaurant with more tables and another bar with the same selection of drinks as downstairs. The choice of buffet style food was basic, but tasty, I opted for a beef bowl and a garden salad, washed down with a crisp Australian Riesling.

After my meal I headed back downstairs for a whiskey and sat on a comfy couch in front of a TV showing a Sumo tournament before boarding. There was a bit of fanfare at the gate for the inaugural Dreamliner flight and JAL staff handed out gifts to passengers as we boarded via a priority business class queue.

 

THE SEAT

JAL Business Class Seats

JAL’s business (Sky Suite) class on the new B787 (788) is split across two cabins. Occupying rows 1-10 the seats are in a 2-2-2 configuration with the middle seats in line, which is great for travelling with a companion, otherwise a privacy screen can be raised giving you the idea you’re in a suite.

The window and aisle seats on the side are offset which means passengers on the window have direct aisle access via a little corridor.

I happily took my seat (9G) and was immediately offered a (plastic) glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne. I explored my Sky Suite and found a large pillow, folded mattress, noise cancelling headphones and a basic amenity kit with eye mask, dental kit, chap stick, a shoehorn and tissues in a trendy red Halliburton case.

The seat itself was really easy to operate, with three main settings (upright, relax and flat). I started with relax mode shortly after take off and made a couple adjustments to find my perfect position.

There was plenty of room to store my phone and laptop and a built in ottoman to rest my feet on (great for tall travellers). Each suite comes equipped with a power point and USB input.

Button up cardigans were handed out after take off, I went to the toilet to change but found that it didn’t fit (large size) and if I went back to my seat showing that much skin I might not be invited back again.

Converting the seat to a bed was easy, after putting into flat mode I unfolded the Airwave mattress/futon and laid it on top. The blanket was large enough and quite soft and provided for an excellent sleep on my overnight flight.

Before dozing off I was asked if I’d like to be woken up for breakfast 90 minutes before arrival.

 

FOOD AND WINE

JAL Business Class Meal

I absolutely LOVE Japanese food, so I was quite looking forward to what JAL would be serving up at 40,000 feet.

“BEDD” Sky Auberge – for bed, dining, delicious and dream – menus were provided, with seven pages of options (in English). Five well renowned Chefs have contributed to JAL’s culinary offerings and all have biographies on the last page of the menu. The menu is easy on the eye and explains the dishes thoroughly.

My order was taken roughly an hour into the flight. I chose the “Japanese” menu, the other option being “Western”.

It arrived over seven courses – Sakizuke, Spring Haze (five small dishes almost like a fancy Bento box), Dainomono (steak and grilled salmon), Steamed Rice, Miso Soup, Japanese Pickles and Kanmi (black sesame starch cake).

JAL definitely pushed my palette to the extreme. There were a few things that I hadn’t eaten before and flavour combos that I didn’t know to exist. I enjoyed the meal, however I would probably opt for the Western version next time as I feel that my meal was just a little too bold for an airline caterer to pull off with perfection.

The wine list was good, leading with the Hiedsieck bubbles, three whites and two reds. I opted for the Riesling, a Cave de Turckheim 2014 from Alsace which was delicious.

I was delighted to find out there were two Sake choices, I tried both after dinner, which were dry, crisp and balanced. When my dishes were cleared it was time for a movie, so I ordered a neat Suntory single malt whisky to settle in with.

I was reminded by my attentive flight attendant that I could order further snacks from their “Anytime you wish” section, which included a beef curry, ramen or udon noodles, fruit and a cheese plate.

As promised, I was woken for breakfast service an hour and a half from Sydney.

This time I went for the Western option – a Grapefruit and Anchovy Salad, Cheese Royale (a thin cheesy crepe) and warm ciabatta bread washed down with a Panamanian “Alto Luna” coffee of the month and orange juice.

 

ENTERTAINMENT

JAL Business Class Meal

JAL’s Sky Suite MAGIC VI entertainment system is hard to beat, leading with a huge 23-inch screen – one of the largest in class – and an easy to use remote system, I was impressed.

I had a hard time choosing which new-release Hollywood movie to watch first, which is rare.

The movie started via a short advertisement, which is increasingly common these days, but it wasn’t as painful as some other airlines’ ads – which can take 5-10 minutes before getting to what you want to actually watch.

The remote is located at eye level on the sidewall of the Sky Suite and is operated in smartphone style using a swipe screen. I had it mastered in seconds and found it easy to play, pause and control the volume and brightness.

JAL is also the first airline in the world to introduce Manga (Japanese comics) to their onboard entertainment system. The entertainment was one of the highlights of my Sky Suite experience.

 

THE VERDICT

Japan Airlines

Refined style, attentive service and just the right amount of Japanese quirkiness made for a fantastic experience.

Business and leisure travellers will both love what JAL has to offer on their B787 Dreamliner. It’s the little things that you won’t notice right away that all add up to make this flight an easy choice.

From Boeing’s eye-friendly LED lighting, wide windows and super quiet cabin to Manga in the sky and a truly Japanese toilet complete with warm water bidet.

I wouldn’t hesitate to travel with JAL on their brand new B787 again and will recommend them to friends and clients heading to Japan or further.

 

THE DEETS

Flight: JL771 from Tokyo, Narita to Sydney
Seat: 9G – Business Class, aisle, forward facing
Flight time: 9h45m
Dep: 19:25 Arr: 06:10 (next day)

Timing: The flight departed and arrived on time. I managed to beat the morning rush at Sydney on arrival and swanned through Customs after waiting fifteen minutes for baggage to arrive.

For more information, head over to Japan Airlines.

Have you flown with JAL before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.