JAPAN AIRLINES ‘SKY PREMIUM’ 787-800 TOKYO (NARITA) TO SYDNEY: REVIEW

Flight: JL771, Tokyo (Narita) to Sydney (11 June 2018)
Loyalty Scheme: JAL Mileage Bank/ Oneworld
Frequency: Daily
Duration: 7.25pm (+9) ATD: 7.35pm (+9) Delayed 10 mins; STA: 6:10am (+10) ATA: 6.23am (+10) Delayed 13mins

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Japan Airlines operates the lowest density 787 Dreamiliner in the world. In fact, the three class configuration of the JAL 787-8 has only 161 seats. That’s comparable to other airlines that have greater than 200 seats on their 787-8s. The seats are split between 38 business suites (Sky Suites), 35 premium economy (Sky Premium) and 88 economy seats (Sky Wider).

I had previously flown the JAL economy seats which frankly feel like premium economy compared to other airlines. Indeed JAL has a 2-4-2 layout in economy, with the only other airline to choose the more spacious configuration being it’s domestic competitor, All Nippon Airlines (ANA). Premium Economy is in a 2-3-2 layout. Business is 2-2-2 layout with each seat having a wall and direct aisle access for privacy. I booked last minute and as economy wasn’t available, I booked the last remaining seat in Premium Economy, hence I was stuck in the dreaded middle seat, 20E.

The Airport

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JAL operates out of Terminal 2 at Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT). Terminal 2 is the terminal used by JAL and its oneworld partners (ie. Qantas, Cathay, American, British Airways). Terminal 1 is split between Skyteam and Star Alliance (including home airline ANA) with Terminal 3 dedicated to low cost carriers like Jetstar and Vanilla Air.

Lounges in Terminal 2 include JAL First and Sakura Lounges as well as Cathay Pacific First and Business Lounge, Qantas Business Lounge, Admirals Club, China Airlines Dynasty Lounge and an Emirates Lounge. As a passenger in Premium Economy, I was entitled to use the Sakura Lounge. The lounge is located conveniently immediately after security, sharing the entrance with the First Lounge (to the left) and the Sakura entrance (to the right).

Down the stairs and inside, there is plenty of ample seating along windows, with nice views of the gates from almost anywhere in the lounge. The main floor of the lounge has drink stations and nibbles, with the main dining area one floor up. Here, there was a modest buffet, drinks, tables and plenty of seating for both groups and singles. Also in the lounge were shower rooms. Originally on arriving I was told that a shower would be an hour wait (which was really how long I had in the lounge. Luckily, my buzzer went off about half hour into my visit. This was perfect timing as I’d just finished eating and meant I could shower right before boarding my plane.

The Seat

 

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As I previously mentioned, I had booked this flight less than a week out and so by this time, all seats other than middle ones had been assigned. I consider myself lucky enough to even be able to score 20E. The seat itself was wide and offered ample legroom. The seat has a fixed shell meaning you don’t actually recline, but rather your seat slides down and the seat base moves forward. In this position, the seat was fairly comfortable though I did find myself sliding down throughout the night. Each seat has a privacy divider between other seats and this made a comfortable place to rest against with my pillow.

Waiting at my seat were slippers, a thin blanket, pillow and headphones. To be honest, everything was fairly economy grade and the cabin felt more like economy plus rather than business minus. Newspapers were offer prior to doors closing and flight attendants came around with immigration forms for Australia. The seat was comfortable, though having sat in a regular economy seat between New York and Tokyo, I have to say it’s an incremental improvement and I’d be happy in either (a testament to how comfortable their economy seat is).

Entertain me

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At the seat are reading lamps, remote or touchscreen controlled IFE screen and small storage spaces beside the seat as well as beside each screen. Power points and USB outlets were also available at each seat.  The screen was large and bright, with the content showing in fairly high definition (though not crystal clear).

Entertainment content was rather good, with a fair number of western films including some quite recent releases. There were a few TV series with a number of episodes of each series though the variety could have been better. In addition there was a decent selection of English music. While adequate, it was certainly not extensive.

Wifi was available on board this aircraft with prices starting at $10.95 USD for 1 hour to $18.96 USD for the entire flight.

The Bread and Butter (food and drink)

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Once in the air, flight attendants came around with hot towels which were then followed by drinks and a packet of rice snacks. I chose the JAL Signature Drink which is called ‘Skytime’. It’s a kiwifruit based cordial which was quite refreshing.

Menus had been handed out prior to take off and there were two meal choices available. On tonight’s flight between Japan and Australia, these were either a beef or chicken dish. The Gyudon was a beef bowl done in Sichuan style, accompanied with pumpkin. I chose the chicken dish which was Chicken Kuwayaki, soy-glazed and sautéed accented by yuzu-citrus flavoured chili paste. The main dishes were accompanied with chilled Winter Melon, savoury Okara Soy Pulp with anchovy, fresh salad with dressing, lychee pudding and finished off with Haagen Dazs ice cream (custard pudding flavour). Everything was served on one dish and would have been identical in economy. JAL catering is usually pretty good and this was no exception – basic food but done well.

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Roughly 90 minutes prior to landing, I awoke to find myself surrounded by those sitting next to me eating breakfast. One thing I love on JAL is that if you’ve missed a meal service, they’ll actually place a post-it note on your IFE screen which lets you know you’ve missed a meal. I wish more airlines did this! On request, I was given my meal promptly and this consisted of a seven vegetable quiche, pumpkin salad, yoghurt, bread and butter. It was again a solid meal, if not exceptional.

Verdict

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JAL’s 787-8 is the lowest density configuration out there in the world. As such it delivers a premium experience. Boarding commences 20-30 minutes prior to departure, which isn’t long for any international flight but it’s simply all part of the experience. No matter which seat you’re in, its comfort all the way. Premium economy had just that extra personal space compared to those found in economy. That said it was incremental rather than leaps and bounds ahead the economy product.

Japanese service as you’d expect is exceptional and polite, with nothing being too much or too difficult. The touches throughout the flight are thoughtful and considered like the rest of Japanese culture, and I found the entire experience relaxed and calm. What more could you ask for on a red-eye flight?


About the writer

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I’m a well travelled 30 something who blames it all on his father (though really, I’ve taken it to the next level). Travelling from a young age and continuing to do so independently from the end of high school, I am happy to step on a plane headed anywhere. Indeed my colleagues at work don’t ask me if I’m going away in holidays, but where I’ll be headed. They don’t even bat an eyelid when I pop down to Melbourne for the weeknight just to see some show that takes my fancy.

All of my travel is self funded. Through a mixture of great fares and frequent flyer points I’ve developed a penchant for sitting at the front of the plane. However let’s be honest; I’ll just about sit anywhere if it means I get to fly somewhere.

 

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