With limited award availability between Japan and Europe, I decided to start my most recent trip with a flight to New York. Considering that I had some Alaska Airlines miles to burn, wanted to try JAL’s international first class for a long time, and there was award availability on the day I wanted to travel, it felt like a no-brainer.
While there were some elements of the flight that could have been better, overall, it was a very enjoyable experience. Continue reading to see what JAL’s first class was like on the 12-hour flight from Tokyo Haneda to New York JFK.
Check-in, Lounge & Boarding at Tokyo Haneda Airport
While the flight was not scheduled to depart until 11:00AM, I arrived at the airport around 7:30AM as I wanted to have enough time to enjoy the lounge. I headed straight to the first class counters where there was no line. With the United States not requiring PCR tests from vaccinated passengers, checking in was a breeze.
In addition to receiving a boarding pass, I also got a luggage tag for my carry-on.
Interestingly, since the first class counters can also be used by status holders traveling in economy class, there was a document promoting upgrades into premium economy class. For the flight to New York, the price was 40,000 yen (~300 USD) which I thought was more than reasonable.
With there being no priority queue for passengers traveling in first class, it took a bit over ten minutes to clear security and immigration.
I found myself airside just before 8AM and headed straight into JAL First Class Lounge which was located across from gate 112. It wasn’t far from gate 111 where my flight was departing from either. With the lounge being large and having very few passengers inside, it provided a great place to relax in before the long flight.
I reviewed the lounge in detail here.
Boarding was scheduled to begin at 10:30AM and so I left the lounge around that time and headed to the departure gate. As I got there, an announcement was made that the plane was still being prepared and that boarding would be delayed by a few minutes.
It started at 10:37AM with preboarding of those traveling with children and those needing assistance, followed by passengers in group 1 (including first class passengers) a minute later.
JAL 777-300ER First Class Cabin & Seat
Just like other JAL 777-300ERs, the aircraft I flew on was equipped with 244 seats in four classes. Starting from the rear of the aircraft, there were 147 economy class seats in a generous 3-3-3 layout, 40 premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 layout, and 49 business class seats in a 2-3-2 layout. The seats in business class were the excellent Apex Suites which I had a chance to try on JAL’s 787 in the past.
Lastly, at the very front was the first class cabin equipped with 8 seats in two 1-2-1 rows. I was seated in 2A, the left side window seat in the second row.
Rather than being an enclosed suite, the seat was open, and, while it had some partitions shielding it from the aisle, it still lacked the level of privacy that more modern seats offer. That said, the brown leather seat was large (it spanned 3~4 windows) and comfortable to sit in. It was comfortable in lie-flat mode as well. More on that later, though.
Zooming in on the seat, along its left side was a narrow counter that I used throughout the flight as a place to keep my cameras, cellphone, etc. placed.
Across from the seat itself was a large ottoman which was equipped with a seatbelt and so could also be used as a companion seat. There was also plenty of space under the ottoman for a rather large piece of luggage.
Above the ottoman was a tray table that was very wide (although not too deep). The table slid toward the seat and would travel quite far – as such, it was easy to get it into an ideal place regardless of the position the seat was in. Because of the table’s design, it was easy to get out of the seat even during meal times.
On the counter along the seat’s side were a couple of different storage compartments. Next to the seat was a large one that could fit a set of pajamas or a laptop or similar. That compartment also housed one of the seat’s two in-flight entertainment controllers and a smaller storage space.
Further down was another compartment, this time a small one, that was also home to the main in-flight entertainment controller as well as a small mirror. Next to this compartment were a tray-like countertop storage space and the “seat pocket” with a safety card, in-flight wi-fi guide, and other documents.
Lastly, at the very front of the counter, next to the table in its stowed position, was a compartment with some storage space, a USB port, and a power outlet. The way the compartment was designed made it impossible to close perfectly when using a plug with a larger adapter attached directly to it (like the MacBook one).
Next to this, there was another document-sized open storage space.
On the side of the counter were the seat controls. There was both a control panel with presets (upright/relax/bed) as well as a panel with detailed controls allowing to move each part of the seat individually.
One last thing to note is that on either side of the panel surrounding the seat was a reading light. On the left side, there was also the audio output.
It was a bit unfortunate that the right side panel had pen marks on it – I am not sure how difficult it would have been to clean them – and some scratches. While nothing major, it certainly took away from how luxurious the seat felt.
All in all, while the seat was definitely showing its age, it still was a nice place to spend twelve hours in. At the same time, I am looking forward to seeing what new first class seat JAL comes up with for its A350-1000s since the current seat can definitely use an upgrade.
JAL First Class Pre-Flight Service & Departure
Upon boarding, there was a firm pillow on the seat. There were also a folder with menus and a complimentary wi-fi voucher, a pair of slippers, a noise-canceling headset, a sanitizing wipe, and a pair of amenity kits on the counter and tray table.
The main amenity kit came in a beautifully designed ETRO pouch which my wife was happy to get after I came home.
It included typical amenities like a dental kit, ear plugs, an eye mask, and a hair comb. It also included a pack of tissues – something that is not often a part of amenity kits but that was much appreciated. Lastly, it also included ETRO-branded perfume, lip balm, and body lotion.
The other amenity kit was a “skincare essentials kit” for men made by Shiseido. It included hydrating lotion, cleansing foam, and revitalizer cream.
Not long after I settled down in my seat, the chief purser came to introduce herself and offer me a welcome drink. Champagne and orange juice were available – I went with the latter.
Then, she went around the cabin handing out pajamas. The pajamas came in a pouch which was then wrapped in plastic. She also asked when I wanted to change so that the lavatory could be prepared.
A few minutes later, another flight attendant offered me a blanket which I gladly accepted.
At 11:09AM, the aircraft doors were closed. At that point, the first class cabin was, with 7 out of the 8 seats occupied, almost full. Around the same time, one of the flight attendants also welcomed everyone onboard via the PA, mentioning that it would take us about 12 hours to get to New York and wishing everyone an enjoyable flight.
We pushed back at 11:12AM, 12 minutes behind schedule, and a couple of minutes later, the safety video was played.
We started taxiing toward our departure runway at 11:18AM, and then finally took off from runway 34R at 11:31AM.
JAL Long-Haul First Class Lunch
Less than 10 minutes after take-off, the seatbelt signs were switched off. Another five minutes later, one of the flight attendants came to ask if I wanted to change into pajamas but I decided to do so after the meal. It wasn’t until more than 15 minutes after take-off that the flight attendant came to take my lunch order.
Two courses were available – Japanese and Western. I decided to go with the latter and asked if it would be possible to also get the Japanese dessert. That was not a problem. I also asked for some Coke Zero as usual.
Below is the full lunch menu.
In case you are wondering, below is the full drink menu.
A couple of minutes after noon, one of the flight attendants came to set my table, bringing a tablecloth, a can of Coke Zero, a wet tissue, and something akin to a pre-meal snack. The snack which I enjoyed included some mozzarella with a piece of tomato and a smoked salmon crepe.
Around the same time, the captain welcomed us onboard and mentioned that we would be flying for 12 hours and 10 minutes, arriving at JFK airport around 10:40AM.
It wasn’t until another 20 minutes later that the flight attendant brought butter/other condiments and bread, and that the actual meal service started. In fact, the meal service was very slow overall.
At that time, I also asked for a glass of Queen of Blue – high-end iced tea served in a wine glass that my friend suggested I try while I was chatting with him using the onboard wi-fi. While not anything groundbreaking, the tea tasted good. More than anything, though, as a non-drinker, I appreciated JAL putting in some effort to offer soft drinks other than the standard sodas and juices.
Not long after I was served the tea, I was also served the goat milk bavarois amuse-bouche.
About 15 minutes after the amuse-bouche, I got the first of the two appetizers – caviar d’aubergine (sea urchin & roasted eggplant caviar). It came with sakura shrimp chips. While presumably it was good, not being a fan of sea urchins, it was one of the parts of the meal that I did not necessarily enjoy the most. It was the same with the amuse, in fact.
I also found it a bit unfortunate that JAL doesn’t offer proper caviar service. It felt like something that should be offered on such a flagship route.
Hitting some fairly strong turbulence after the sea urchin was served, the seatbelt signs were switched on for some time. As such, it wasn’t until 25 minutes after that – or an hour after the tablecloth was brought – that the flight attendant brought the second appetizer.
The pike conger and fruity tomato salad were served in a bowl and came with pita bread into which it was meant to be stuffed. Unlike the first two items on the menu, I really enjoyed this course. Not only did it taste good but it was also very refreshing.
Soon after I was done with the second appetizer, one of the flight attendants came to clear the table and ask if I wanted some more tea. Then, the first main course – simmered whelk and abalone – was brought.
While the presentation was interesting to say the least (how many times did you get first class meals served in plastic wrap?) and the dish didn’t look very appetizing, it was, in fact, quite good.
Excluding the dessert, the second main course, which followed less than 20 minutes after the first one for change, was my favorite part of the meal.
The Wagyu beef fillet was tender and the sauce was flavorful. The only downside was that considering that there were two main courses, the steak was rather small. Personally, I would have preferred if JAL went with only serving one main course – the steak – but bigger.
At 1:55PM, the flight attendant came to clear the table and ask whether she can bring the Japanese and Western desserts together to which I, of course, replied yes.
By this time, we were flying over the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hokkaido.
From there, it took about fifteen minutes for the desserts to be served. Once again, things probably could have been a bit faster.
That said, all three of the desserts – the watermelon granité and coconut cream from the Western menu, as well as the yokan and mango sorbet, coconut mochi, and rum jelly from the Japanese menu – were excellent. They were the perfect choice for a mid-August flight and the perfect way to finish the meal.
I finished the dessert around 2:20PM and a couple of minutes later, one of the flight attendants came to clear the table and ask whether I enjoyed the meal (yes, I did!).
While I wasn’t a fan of some of the courses, the steak and the desserts more than made up for it. That said, it took almost two and a half hours from the time the table was set until the end of the meal service. Whether it was slow due to the cabin being nearly full or for some other reason, I felt like it could have been considerably faster.
Sleeping in JAL 777-300ER First Class Bed
After finishing lunch, I went to one of the lavatories to change into pajamas. Along the way, one of the flight attendants asked me whether she can make my bed. Responding positively, she then asked me whether I wanted her to use a soft or a hard mattress.
I requested the soft mattress which – while quite still firm – gave the seat a nice extra bit of padding and made it more comfortable to sleep on. Other bedding provided included an additional mattress and a duvet. As for the pajamas, they were comfortable and are definitely my favorite out of those that I got from airlines so far (although that sample only includes Qatar Airways business class and Cathay Pacific first class).
By the time I got back from the lavatory, the bed was made. While settling down, the flight attendant asked me whether I wanted her to store my clothes, but I decided to just put them in the overhead bin instead.
As for the lavatory, it was fairly small and only stocked with basic amenities including dental kits and mouthwash. It’s worth noting, though, that the toilet had a washlet function.
Back in my seat, I spent some time working on my laptop and exploring the in-flight entertainment system. In the meantime, one of the flight attendants went around the cabin handing out bottles of water.
While at this point it was still only around 3PM Japan time, it was 2AM New York time, and so I decided to try to get some sleep.
I managed to sleep for about two hours.
With the bed being comfortable and the privacy shield offering enough privacy in spite of the seat not being an enclosed suite, I assume I might have been able to sleep even longer. I was woken up by it being too hot in the cabin, though. Unfortunately, there were no individual air vents to remedy the situation either.
JAL 777-300ER In-Flight Entertainment System
The first class seats on the JAL 777-300ER were equipped with 23-inch touchscreen in-flight entertainment screens. Considering how far the screen was from the seat, I found it to be a bit too small. That said, considering the age of the seat, it was understandable.
On the other hand, the Panasonic noise-canceling headphones were perfectly fine.
In terms of content, there were dozens of movies, as well as some TV shows and news programs. There were also three games, some music (in the form of channels rather than an on-demand selection), and the obligatory in-flight map.
While each of the TV shows only had a couple of episodes and the amount of content was nowhere near what some other airlines like Emirates offer, it was still more than enough to keep one entertained on a long flight.
The one thing that I am not a big fan of with JAL’s IFE system is that some movies show up multiple times in the list and that rather than being nested under a specific TV show, each episode shows up as a single piece of content in a long list. That made it a bit hard to navigate around.
JAL 777-300ER In-Flight Wi-Fi
While on the topic of in-flight entertainment, as mentioned earlier, wi-fi was available onboard the aircraft. First class passengers had complimentary access throughout the flight using a voucher that could be found in the same folder as the menus. For those without complimentary access, the pricing was as follows:
- $10.15 for 1 hour
- $14.40 for 3 hours
- $18.80 for the entire flight
The wi-fi was reasonably fast (~4 Mbps download, ~0.35 Mbps upload) for not only messaging but also for getting some work done.
JAL First Class A La Carte Mid-Flight Menu
Going back to the flight itself, after waking up from my brief sleep, I ordered some herbal tea and water.
By this time, we were already cruising above Alaska. With the sun rising, the view out of the three windows that I had at my disposal was amazing and a great reminder of why I love flying. Not feeling like going back to sleep, in addition to enjoying the window views, I decided to watch Aladdin on the in-flight entertainment system.
I also went to check out whether there were any refreshments available in the galley. There was a pack of each dried seafood and nuts and dried fruits mix. There were a few bottles of water too.
Lastly, the mid-flight a la carte menu was displayed there to remind passengers that they could order off it.
While I would have loved to try more of the mid-flight menu items, a bit more than an hour after I woke up, I ordered three items: hummus, balsamic mushroom & colorful vegetable salad; assorted Japanese brochettes; and assorted seasonal fruits.
Below is the full menu for reference.
It took about fifteen minutes for the food to be served. The portions were decently sized (in fact, the total volume of the three items was more than I expected), and all of the dishes tasted good. I especially enjoyed the skewers which came with a piece of Japanese omelet.
After finishing the meal, I had one more pot of tea while continuing to watch the movie and stare out of the window.
JAL First Class Pre-Arrival Meal
Around 8:30AM New York time – two hours before landing – one of the flight attendants went around the cabin asking whether passengers wanted to order anything as it was “last order time.” Considering that the seatbelt signs weren’t switched on for the next hour and 45 minutes, it would have been nice if the service continued a bit longer.
While I wasn’t hungry yet – it was just over two hours since I had the mid-flight snack – I ordered the Japanese pre-arrival meal which I was looking forward to trying together with a glass of Queen of Blue.
The meal was served about ten minutes later and was excellent. The cutlass fish was great and the rice was cooked perfectly. While the portion was relatively modest, it was just the right size considering that I was not too hungry.
Just like during lunch, as you can see from the blurry miso soup in the photo below, the skies were fairly turbulent during this meal too.
After I finished the meal, a flight attendant passed the aisle multiple times but rather disappointingly never offered a refill of my empty glass. That said at one point, one of the flight attendants approached me to ask whether I wanted to buy anything from the duty-free catalog.
While I didn’t buy anything, I did ask for some more tea. It took fifteen minutes for it to be served.
Arrival at New York JFK Airport
Around 9:30AM, one of the cabin crew members made an announcement that we would be landing at JFK in about an hour. She also mentioned that the service would be ending as we were expecting some turbulence.
Not long after that, I went to the lavatory to change and by the time I got back to my seat, a wet tissue was placed on the seat’s counter.
Shortly before 10AM, we were already flying over New York State and the chief purser and two of the other flight attendants came to thank me for flying with JAL and to chat briefly. I was asked how long I was staying in New York and, after I mentioned that I would only be staying for nine hours before continuing on to Europe, the chief purser mentioned that I should try one of JAL’s routes to Europe too.
I was also handed a box of Jean-Paul Hevin macarons and a paprika-flavored biscuit. I gave the former to my sister who seemed to enjoy it. The latter tasted surprisingly good.
It was not long before we started descending and the seatbelt signs were switched on.
Then, at 10:33AM, the pilots lowered the landing gear, and at 10:36AM, we landed on runway 4R.
It took another twenty minutes of taxiing for us to reach our parking gate. There, we came to a full stop at 10:57AM – eight minutes ahead of schedule.
A few minutes later, deboarding started through L2 door and I stepped into an American airport for the first time in almost three years.
JAL 777-300ER First Class Summary
Overall, the flight was excellent. The seat was comfortable both as a seat and as a bed (although it could certainly use an update), the food was excellent (with the only downside being that some of the things were not to my taste but that’s, of course, not JAL’s fault), and the cabin crew was professional.
That said, the service seemed to be a bit too slow overall – two and a half hours for the lunch service to be finished felt too long and so did waiting fifteen minutes for a drink refill. It would also have been nice if the crew proactively offered refills when they saw an empty glass while passing through the aisle.
Since we are talking about a long-haul first class flight on a flagship route here, the one last thing worth mentioning is that for some reason while JAL offers proper caviar service on its US-Japan flights, it doesn’t appear to do so on Japan-US flights.