Review: JAL First Class Boeing 777-300ER NRT to LAX

Oh, JAL. I love JAL. I love Cathay too, but JAL invests so much in their food, and their first class catering is a step above any other airline’s in my opinion. JAL definitely has its shortcomings (and their special meals are terrible from my limited experience), but food is definitely the way into my heart.

My Cathay flight from HKG was delayed a bit, so my connection ended up being quite short. Luckily, there was a JAL representative waiting for me as I got off my Cathay flight, and she escorted me to my next flight. It was a bit comical as she kinda jogged in front of me while I walked as quickly as I could without running, and I couldn’t tell if she wanted me to run with her or not. She then helped me cut to the front of the transit security line, saving me about 20 minutes. Funnily enough, boarding was delayed 20 minutes for the JAL flight, so the flight hadn’t even started boarding by the time that I arrived at the gate, and I probably could’ve stopped by the JAL first class lounge, which is one of my favorite lounges.

JAL Boeing 777-300ER

JAL Boeing 777-300ER

The gate agents were actually enforcing priority boarding lines, which was pretty funny because one passenger in business class just couldn’t believe that he had to wait behind other people and kept trying to get into the first class line. One of the first class passengers also had a small entourage and a JAL agent personally carry a small shopping bag of his and escort him onto the plane.

When I boarded the plane, I was shown to my seat and welcomed warmly. I’d previously read of issues with English proficiency on JAL, but all of the flight attendants had super high English proficiency (although one was clearly more confident in speaking English than the other).

My first impressions of the cabin were positive. I liked the dark color palette, and the suite is large with a super wide seat. There were slippers already at the seat, and I love me some airplane slippers. I wear a size 9, and the slippers fit me well, so you might be out of luck if you have larger feet.

First class seat

First class seat

Lots of space

Lots of space

There’s both underseat storage that fits a normal carry on and overhead bins. There are also lots of side compartments for smaller items (or even larger items–I could fit my laptop with lots of room to spare in one of the side compartments). The only strange thing about the cabin was that there’s a large dead space between the suite and the window with an open grate, and I definitely saw some items had fallen through the grate.

So many compartments

So many compartments

Electrical outlet

Electrical outlet

Privacy divider

Privacy divider

First class cabin

First class cabin

One strange thing–open grate between seat and window

One strange thing–open grate between seat and window

I was offered a hot towel and a pre-departure beverage of champagne or orange juice. The bathroom had a standard Japanese toilet as well as cloth towels instead of normal paper towels.

Hot towel and pre-departure beverage

Hot towel and pre-departure beverage

I also took a moment to check out the business class cabin. JAL has a fully-flat business class product on their B777-300ERs in a 2-3-2 seating configuration. Even though it’s 2-3-2, each seat technically has direct aisle access. The seats looked perfectly comfortable (if a bit narrow).

Business class seat

Business class seat

More business class seat

More business class seat

Business class mini-cabin

Business class mini-cabin

The pillow and blanket already at my seat were pretty serious business–nice and sturdy. There was wifi and an extensive seat instructions guide available. I also enjoyed a number of smaller design elements–the reading light doubled as a headphone hook, and there was a small cutout under the ottoman storage for shoes. The ottoman can also be used for guest seating given that it has a seat belt, and it’s probably one of the nicer guest seats in the sky (e.g. Cathay’s guest seat is pretty tiny comparatively).

Lots of privacy

Lots of privacy

Pillow and blanket for sitting

Pillow and blanket for sitting

Details on JAL wifi

Details on JAL wifi

Seat and suite guide

Seat and suite guide

The IFE screen is 23 inches diagonally. Not as ridiculously large as Asiana’s first class IFE screen, but still a good size. I didn’t really use the IFE at all during the flight, but the movie selection looked decent. The non-movie selection, however, looked pretty bad for people who don’t speak Japanese.

IFE controller

IFE controller

I also liked the tray table design. First, the tray table is massive, so there’s plenty of space to spread out. Second, the tray table is adjustable so it moves back and forth. This means that it’s easy to get out of your seat even if the tray table is out, and you can move it super close to yourself so you don’t have to bend over while eating.

Another thing that I like about JAL is that they post their food and drink menus online prior to the flights. So if you’re obsessive like I can be, you can see what’s on offer and figure out exactly what you want to try before you’re even in the air.

Classy wine and drink menus

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Food menu

Food menu

Food menu

Food menu

First up was an amuse bouche. There was shrimp with roe, a ball of pate, and a vegetable rice roll with some seafood inside. These were probably the worst things I ate on the flight, and that was just because they were just fine and forgettable.

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

I decided to go the Japanese route for my main meal service. I started with the five seasonal delicacies. I don’t think I’d ever had soft cod roe, and it looked a bit like shirako to me. I really enjoyed the tofu preparation, and it had actual truffles on top! The egg cake was good, as was the kobashira (I believe this is a type of clam). The only one I didn’t finish was the deep-simmered conger eel, but that’s because I didn’t feel like eating the bones.

First course

First course

Love the chopsticks and holder

Love the chopsticks and holder

I skipped the soup course, but I indulged in the Salon 2002 champagne. This was the cleanest and clearest tasting champagne that I’ve had. I think I prefer it to the Dom Perignon and Krug that other airlines cater.

Salon 2002

Salon 2002

Up next was some squid and spiny lobster with caviar and a seafood egg custard. I really enjoyed the spiny lobster, and it was a novel way to eat caviar for me. The seafood custard had uni, shrimp, mushrooms, and something else on it. I’m normally a huge fan of uni, but this uni did not have the same uni goodness that I love.

Caviar and seafood custard

Caviar and seafood custard

Next was the sukiyaki of wagyu beef filet, served with tofu, an egg, miso soup, Japanese pickles, and rice. The beef was super tasty and tender, and the tofu was delicious. This was a great way to finish the savory foods. I also switched my beverage to the royal blue tea, and I don’t think I’ve ever had anything quite like it. The taste was very complex for tea, with multiple undertones and aftertastes.

Beef, tofu

Beef, tofu

For dessert, there was a yogurt ice cream with mandarin jelly, a pudding, and a black bean cake. The yogurt ice cream had something like pop rocks on it, and it reminded me of eating froyo. The pudding was Ryugin’s signature Roppongi pudding, and that was ridiculously good. The black bean cake was fine and made better with some wine.

I asked for a glass of Riesling to drink with dessert, and the flight attendant spilled a bit of wine when she poured me a taste. She was absolutely horrified at herself and acted as if she had kicked my puppy and insisted that she bring me a new glass and change my tablecloth. I told her that it was unnecessary, but they definitely care about presentation.

Trio of desserts

Trio of desserts

And since I’m a fatty, I tried the dessert off of the western menu as well. This was a Japanese inspired Mont Blanc. To me, it tasted extremely Asian, if that makes sense.

More dessert

More dessert

Overall, this was definitely the most ambitious meal I’ve eaten on a plane. It’s hard to serve seafood on a plane because it’s not going to be nearly as fresh as it can be on the ground, and it’s hard to heat properly given their limited equipment, but I appreciated the effort.

After dinner, I got ready for sleep. The pajamas are a bit on the thick side. The quality isn’t as nice as pajamas on Cathay or Singapore, but they have pockets. I normally wear a small in the US, and small was the appropriate size for me for the pajamas, even though the flight attendant recommended that I get a medium.

Amenity kits and pajamas

Amenity kits and pajamas

You can choose either a soft or hard mattress (really, they’re just two sides to the same mattress pad), and I went with soft. The cabin wasn’t that warm, but with the thick pajamas and blanket, I definitely overheated. They also handed out macarons at this point, and they were really quite good.

Bed mode

Bed mode

More bed

More bed

Hevin macarons

Hevin macarons

I was woken up exactly 90 minutes prior to landing. There’s not preset second meal service per se, so you’re not going to get fed unless you actively order something. I asked for the Japanese curry, the ruibe salmon, some fruit, and another Roppongi pudding.

The curry was super flavorful–it was like getting punched in the tongue with every bite. I’m still debating whether that’s good or bad. The ruibe salmon is a bit like eating salmon marinated in soy sauce. The texture is similar to balk salmon. The fruit plate was solid with ripe fruit. And the Roppongi pudding was again ridiculously delicious.

Japanese curry

Japanese curry

Straight shot across the Pacific

Straight shot across the Pacific

Fruit and more Roppongi pudding

Fruit and more Roppongi pudding

Overall, I really enjoyed my flight on JAL. The food was good and ambitious, the service was eager and friendly, and the hard product is solid with lots of small design touches that I appreciate. The service wasn’t as confident or as polished as I’ve experienced on other carriers, but I’m not complaining.

2 thoughts on “Review: JAL First Class Boeing 777-300ER NRT to LAX

  1. Steve

    Good review. I recently flew them F NRT-ORD, SFO-HND. Agree on NRT F lounge. Used AA miles (which is going to cost a lot more starting in March). Enjoyed the large cubicle, privacy, wide seat, large table and video screen as well as the amenities. It’s nice being able to order meals/drinks/dessert when I want to; press the call button and someone was there within 2 seconds. The Japanese cabin crew’s service, style and decorum was excellent: one was treated strictly professional, calm, no pushy matrons with an attitude. I fell asleep and awoke to find the attendant had put a blanket over me. The first time that’s ever happened in my decades of travel – otherwise it’s only seen in advertisements. As the flagship carrier, JAL has made and is still making a comeback from the last years, to include restarting long-haul routes. ANA’s F is also superb, comparable to JAL. I can’t overemphasize how truly enjoyable it is to fly these two Japanese airlines, and much of that is due to the Japanese crews making it a sky oasis. Happy travels.

    Reply
  2. Stephan

    Nice review! Can you or anyone comment on the JAL lounge at HND? WIll be passing through next spring on my return to SFO, but usually have gone via NRT. Timings aren’t very good with HND flights.

    Reply

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