Before this flight, Peterson and I had only flown Business Class internationally, so we had always been on the lookout for an opportunity to try International First Class for the very first time. As you can imagine, after ticketing this flight, we were both super excited.
We booked the award using 75,000 Alaska Miles each, flying out of San Francisco to Tokyo Haneda on JL1, paying $35.50 USD in tax. We thought this was a pretty good bargain, considering the itinerary also included our flight down from Vancouver to Seattle to San Francisco, as well as onwards from Tokyo to Bangkok in Business on a 77L.
We elected to fly down to SFO the night before, and spend the night somewhere near the airport, before boarding our JAL flight the next afternoon. We wanted to be well rested and in our best condition to fully enjoy the experience.
Since we had to check out of the hotel by 10am, we arrived at SFO the next morning with plenty of time to spare before the counters opened, so we took our time to walk around the terminal and grab breakfast at the food court. SFO’s International terminal is a very nice and airy spot, and I enjoyed walking around looking at the banners that displayed retro airline crew uniforms.
I even took a ride on the air train a couple of times to do some “planespotting.”
Since we were so early, we were among the first one’s to get checked in once the counters opened. The check-in process was effortless and quick.
After clearing security, we decided to check out a few lounges, including the British Airways Terrace Lounge and JAL’s Sakura Lounge. I won’t do a full on review of the lounges in this post, as I want to focus on the JAL First Class portion, but I’ll offer some quick thoughts and photos.
British Airways Terrace Lounge
The entrance to the British Airways Terrace Lounge is near gate A4, but the actual lounge is one level lower. To our surprise, we had the whole lounge to ourselves during our visit!
It was a good-sized lounge, with a lot of seating available everywhere, and plenty of natural lighting. There was a buffet station with some finger foods and snacks, but not much else. There are plenty of alcoholic beverages though. A business center is also available.
It’s not a bad lounge, but I thought it was a bit boring. I also thought that they tried to squeeze in a bit too many chairs. Even without any people in the lounge, the density of the seating made it feel not as comfortable.
JAL Sakura Lounge
Compared to the British Airways Terrace Lounge, the Sakura Lounge is much smaller. It didn’t help that the lounge got pretty busy during our stay. The arrangement of the seating was also very weird, and didn’t offer much privacy or comfort at all.
While the seating wasn’t very comfortable, the food choices were much more appealing. I really enjoyed the chicken Ochazuke noodles, as well as the sushi. I also really enjoyed the packs of mochi.
Boarding promptly began at 3:30pm at gate A5 for our 4:00pm departure. You can usually count on JAL to be quite timely with their departures.
Boarding for all passengers was through the second door, so I was directed left towards the first class cabin. JAL’s first class cabin on the 777-300ER consists of 8 seats, spread out in 2 rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. I had selected seat 2A, while Peterson was in 1A.
Usually, seats 1A and 1K are blocked off for seat selection online, as they are reserved for JAL elite members. However, those seats temporarily opened up for our flight, so Peterson was quick to snatch it up!
Seat Features & Amenities
JAL’s First Class seats are not fully enclosed, but still offer a superb sense of privacy. The legroom is absolutely enormous. In the seat’s upright position, my feet could not even reach the ottoman. In a lounge position, they could just reach, but barely. For reference my height is 5’7″.
The seat itself, which was upholstered in brown leather, felt more like a plush, personal sofa. The seat has a width of 58cm, not including the armrests.
There is an abundance of storage space throughout the seat, which I really appreciated. I had no trouble storing all my bulky photography equipment out of the way, so I could actually enjoy my personal space.
A large tray table sits above the ottoman, and can be easily unlatched to slide forward when you need it.
The seat controls are off to the side of the seat above the armrest, and provide the ability to adjust headrest, lumbar support, seat pitch and leg rest independently. There are also predefined seat configurations – Upright, Relax & Bed. It was very simple and easy to use.
An LED reading lamp is available on either side of the seat. You can turn it on and adjust the brightness by rotating the front. It can also swivel in place to adjust the light direction.
A JAL Suite seat guide is available which details all the features of the seat.
Waiting at my seat was an amenity kit designed by Porsche Design. There was also a Shiseido Men’s skincare kit.
A pair of comfortable JAL slippers are provided – the same ones you get in JAL business class.
A pair of noise-cancelling Bose QC25 headphones are provided. They were very comfortable and light, and they work extremely well at cancelling out noise. (I ended up buying a pair of my own after trying this!)
A blanket was provided, but it felt a bit scratchy, and generated a lot of static when I used it. As a result, I didn’t use it much, but it wasn’t really necessary anyways as the cabin temperature was on the warm side for the entirety of the flight.
As I settled in, the crew distributed hot towels on a tray, and served pre-departure beverages. I had an orange juice.
They also came around to introduce themselves to each passenger. The crew were exceedingly friendly and genuine, especially Sasuke, the in-flight manager.
JAL First Class passengers receive complimentary WiFi for international flights.
Without any delay, we pushed back next to an Emirates A380 sporting the Year of Zayed 2018 livery, and then proceeded to follow an Air France 777 to runway 28L for departure. We climbed our way through very puffy looking clouds into a beautiful sky.
Soon after we reached top of climb, it was time to enjoy our first meal. A unique experience that can be had in First Class is the option to dine together with your travelling companion in the same suite. (The ottoman can be used as a secondary seat, once the tray table is extended.) Since Peterson wanted the Western meal while I wanted the Japanese, it would be a perfect way to experience both meals. (See our YouTube trip report for a visual presentation of our meal)
Click on menu thumbnails to enlarge
To start off the meal, we were offered a choice of drinks. As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I decided to try a premium Japanese tea called Royal Blue Tea “Queen of Blue”. It had a very strong flavor which I liked, although I’m no tea expert.
Peterson started off with a Japanese sake called Hakurakusei.
The first course was an Amuse Bouche that was served for both the Japanese and Western meals. It consisted of smoked sturgeon on a slice of bread, and a prosciutto-wrapped cream cheese. It was a very light dish, but had a very appetizing flavor – a perfect way to start off the meal.
Next up was another Amuse Bouche for the Western meal – Celery Root & Pear Vichyssoise, with Foie Gras Terrine & Port Wine Gelée.
The Japanese meal starts with a 5-piece Kozara set. From the top going clockwise: Egg Cake topped with Caviar, Bamboo Shoots & Asparagus with Vinegar Miso, Sea-bream marinated with Sweet Soy Sauce, Shrimp Patty with Japanese Style Salad, and Jellied Foie Gras & Spinach. Part of the reason I always select Japanese sets when available, is for this. I love these small-sized sampler plates! I think my favorite out of these five was the marinated sea-bream.
The Western meal comes with an assortment breads, paired with butter, olive oil and salt.
Of course, it is not a First Class meal without a Caviar dish! The Caviar comes with Egg Yolk Mascarpone Cheese Cream, Smoked Sturgeon and Potato Blini. It was perfection.
While Peterson was being served the Caviar, I was served a refreshing and tasty Japanese Clear Soup, which was served chilled.
This was followed shortly by a beautiful and delicious Sashimi plate, consisting of Tuna, Sea Urchin and Abalone.
I also got an interesting dish consisting of a citrus soy jelly with pieces of smoked salmon and scallop.
For Peterson’s main course, he chose to have the Sauteed Sea-bass, which he really enjoyed, especially the truffle sauce. According to him, it was one of the best fish dishes he’s had on a flight, with the ANA Business Class sablefish coming in a close second. The other Western main course options included US Prime Beef Tenderloin and BBQ Oriental Lamp Chops.
At this point, following crew recommendations, Peterson also got another drink called Suntory Hibiki, a 17 year old whiskey, which he said was really good. The bottle actually retails for quite a bit, and he had about 2 or 3 glasses.
The Japanese main course was a beef steak with pepper sauce and seared tofu. It came with a side of bamboo rice, miso soup and Japanese pickles. The beef was not as tender as I’d like, but the taste was good.
After so many courses, it was finally time for dessert. Peterson’s Western dessert consisted of a raspberry crumble served with vanilla ice cream. The Japanese dessert was a Maccha Anmitsu (a popular Japanese dessert made of agar jelly cubes) and a Sennichi-mochi.
The meal service lasted for about two hours due to the number of courses, but I enjoyed every moment of it. It was an absolutely unique and incredible experience. The food was delicious, and the service from the crew was SO good.
After the meal, I browsed through the IFE and movie selection. There was a good variety of movie choices, but I found the controller a bit sluggish to use. Usually when this happens, I resort to simply tapping on the screen, but in this case, the screen was too far away to do so (first world problems!). The IFE controller wouldn’t register clicks until a half second later. (See the video to see what I mean) I also think that their menu and layout could be a bit improved. After browsing through the movie options, I ended up watching Murder on the Orient Express, an interesting detective movie.
The airshow is also a standard one that you find on most planes.
The JAL Suite seat guide also has instructions on how to use the IFE controller.
Given we were in first class, I thought the lavatories were pretty basic, with just a few amenities.
In the galley, there were some dried seafood snacks, chocolates and water. The seafood pack shocked me at first when I opened a pack and pulled out an entire dried prawn. However, it was quite tasty and went very well with a nice drink.
You can also request when you’d like to have the turndown service, where the crew turns your seat into a comfortable bed, along with all the proper mattresses, duvets and pillows. The service was certainly very thorough and impressive, and I’ve captured the entire process in our YouTube trip report here.
After napping for a short while, I decided to try out the A La Carte menu, which consisted of snacks and small plates that you can order at anytime. I was really curious to see the quality of the sushi we would get on a plane, so I ordered that first. It was actually not bad! I paired it with my new favorite tea, the “Queen of Blue” Royal Blue Tea, served in a fancy wine glass.
The Salmon & Salmon Roe Rice Bowl comes as a JAL recommendation, so of course I also had to try that. No regrets. It was amazing! The salmon and salmon roe both tasted very fresh. I also ordered a plate of Japanese delicacies, which are the three square trays in the picture below. From left to right: Soy marinated sea urchin, Whitebait with grated radish, and Chopped soy-marinated tuna.
Coffee was served in these awesome JAL First Class mugs with a crazy handle. I actually asked if these were for sale in the duty free or anything, because I wanted one for myself. Unfortunately they weren’t.
Peterson had a cheese plate, which was nicely presented along with some grapes and jam.
I make an effort to collect airline memorabilia whenever possible, so I asked a flight attendant whether they had any JAL goodies to give out. Sure enough, she came back with four JAL 787 post cards, a JAL writing pad and a ballpoint pen!
The meal prior to arrival was a much smaller endeavor than the first meal, but it was still delicious. I wouldn’t have been able to stomach another 5 course meal anyways, even though everything was mouth-wateringly good. The Japanese set consisted of simmered flounder, “mozuku” seaweed in vinegar sauce, white rice, miso soup and a side of Japanese pickles.
As we began our descent into Tokyo and the cabin was prepped for arrival, the entire first class cabin crew came by to each suite to thank every passenger for flying with JAL and asked us what was our favorite part of the flight. I said it was definitely the Japanese food and the amazing service!
Our first First Class experience on JAL was phenomenal! From the moment we stepped onto the plane we were treated so well by the professional and friendly cabin crew, which consisted of two flight attendants and the senior purser, Sasuke. We were always addressed by name, and the level of detail, attentiveness and care both in the meal service and turndown service was top-notch. It was the best service we’d ever received ever, on any flight.
Since this was the first and only international First Class seat I’ve flown in, it’s a bit unfair for me to compare it against other business class products. With that said, JAL offers a very competitive hard product in their First Class cabin, from the super comfortable seat, generous legroom and abundance of storage compartments. There could be some improvement with the IFE system. It felt sluggish and didn’t feel very intuitive to use with the controller. I much preferred the IFE system on airlines such as Cathay Pacific or Emirates. Also, perhaps something minor, but both Peterson and I thought the cabin temperature was a bit on the warm side for the entirety of the flight. Personally, I prefer a cooler cabin, as you can always wrap yourself in blankets or duvets, but if it’s too hot, you can’t really do much to strip down to anything less than a t-shirt.
Food. Oh my god… what can I say? I felt like I was dining in a fancy high-end restaurant the entire time. If you couldn’t already tell by the food photos, pretty much everything was delicious. The variety of the meal options as well as the A La Carte anytime snacks kept us busy and well-fed throughout the flight. Honestly, I wish I was hungry enough to try everything on the menu!
- Attentive, genuine and friendly service
- Extremely spacious seat and generous legroom
- Tons of storage compartments
- Good privacy
- Lie-flat bed with turndown service
- Top-notch food options + anytime A La Carte dining
- IFE system was sluggish, and could be more intuitive to use
- Cabin temperature a bit too warm
- Lavatory amenities a bit basic
As always, I’ve created a video trip report to go along with this review, and you can check it out here! I spent significantly more effort into making this one, so it’s definitely worth a watch 😉
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Alvin is an aviation geek, enthusiast photographer, and software developer with a goal of exploring the world. He uses mileage programs to redeem premium flight travel, and shares his experiences here on OneMoreWeekToGo.