When I was planning my summer trip to Asia, I knew that I wanted to try long-haul business class, and that I definitely wanted to fly on an Asian airline. I feel that flying on a foreign airline gets me ready for my destination on the way in and a last taste of the country on my way out.
I ended up booking myself on Japan Airlines flights JL69 and JL60 between Los Angeles and Kansai International Airport (serving the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe region). As I mentioned in a previous post, this cost me 100,000 American AAdvantage miles plus $48.50 in taxes and fees.
My flight reports are going to focus on the things that matter to me the most: food, entertainment, and cabin comfort. As a low-budget gourmand, a high-end meal in-flight is one of the main reasons why I would choose to fly business or first class over economy. The selection of films on demand is important because I don’t subscribe to Netflix and don’t go to the movies that often–flying lets me catch up on pop culture. Cabin comfort is a third consideration because sitting around for hours can be incredibly uncomfortable. I will consider service, but it isn’t a main consideration for me. I’m used to rude and inconsiderate treatment in coach on domestic USA flights, so any glimpse of humanity from a flight attendant is already a huge step up.
Departure airport and lounge
Japan Airlines business class passengers have access to the Oneworld lounge in LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. The lounge is right after security and is upstairs, overlooking the shopping area. There’s a wide selection of hot and cold food and beverage and plenty of seating.
Boarding was called on time, at the far end of the terminal. JL 61 to Tokyo Narita was departing from the next gate over.
There are separate lines for economy and business class. A Tumi amenity kit was waiting on each seat. The kit was green on the westbound and black on the eastbound.
Seat and cabin comfort
The Boeing 787s used on these flights have Japan Airlines’ Shell Flat Neo seats in business class. The name is misleading because the seat does not go fully flat–they’re actually angled towards the ground, which creates some potential for sliding downwards. In any case, I managed to get plenty of sleep on them. Since I’m used to coach, I did not mind that the seats were not angled away from each other. This would be great for people who are traveling with others.
My main issue with the cabin was that it was way too hot. I did not see the point of having blankets, because I could barely use it. This must be a cultural difference, since all the Japanese people in the cabin had blankets and even borrowed cardigans (an unusual business class amenity).
On longhaul routes, Japan Airlines serves one meal shortly after takeoff, and then there is on-demand service for the rest of the flight. There are Western and Japanese options for both the main meal and the on-demand service. I chose the Japanese meal both times, figuring that a Japanese airline would do Japanese food right.
The portions for the main meals were huge, and there were some dishes that I particularly liked, but overall I was not impressed. I was particularly appalled by their white rice, which had this unusual glue-like texture. The rice was the same for all of the meals on both flights.
The main Japanese meals were served in four courses:
- two Western amouse-bouches
- nine small dishes served in kobachi bowls arranged in beautiful square boxes
- a main protein with rice, miso soup, and pickles
- a Western dessert
On the way to KIX, the menu was as follows:
Amuse-bouche: Mexican shrimp cocktail and Mediterranean antipasto
Selection in kobachi bowls:
- Row 1: summer vegetables in savory jelly (夏野菜のゼリー寄せ), pork roll (豚肉の鳴門巻き), simmered Greenland halibut and burdock (烏鰈の八幡煮)
- Row 2: sea bass with sesame soy sauce and tapioca and bean salad (鱸の胡麻醤油 タピオカと 豆のサラダ), braised leek (ポロ葱の蒸し煮), grilled shrimp and squid with butter soy sauce (海老と烏賊の 醤油バター焼き)
- Row 3: sea bream and Welsh onion roll (鯛の葱巻き), vinegared eel and cucumber (鰻ざく), simmered taro (小芋煮)
I particularly enjoyed the summer vegetables in savory jelly (first of row 1) and the vinegared eel and cucumber (middle of row 3).
Dainomono: grilled Greenland halibut and prawn with kelp flavor (烏鰈と海老の松前焼き), steamed rice, miso soup, and Japanese pickles
Dessert: passionfruit cream with pineapple compote
I ordered the cold Chinese noodles, cucumber and tofu gazpacho, and cheese plate as my second meal.
The entertainment selection on Japan Airlines was awful. There was a very small selection of films and most of them were not that great. I was actually pretty bored because I ran out of things to watch! Much of the non-English programming did not have subtitles.
Service on Japan Airlines seemed a bit cold and robotic compared to the other airlines I took on this trip in business class. I’m not sure this is exclusively a cultural difference or language barrier–the flight attendants on All Nippon Airways were extremely warm and even insisted that they handle my bags for me.
This is where the experience really fell apart. The immigration line at KIX was inordinately long. We arrived on time and deplaned around 6pm. I did not get out of immigration and customs until 8:30pm. Passengers waiting in the line were getting extremely agitated. There were many lanes open for Japanese citizens and permanent residents, but only a handful for foreigners.
To make matters worse, KIX is extremely far away from the core areas of the cities that it serves (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe). I took the Haruka train to Kyoto at 8:45, and did not make it to my hostel (very close to Kyoto Station) until around 10:30.
The food was generally quite good, but the cabin temperature, entertainment selection, and service were a bit of a letdown. I’d fly Japan Airlines business class again, but it wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice, and definitely not through KIX.