Arguably, very few (if any) airlines can rival Japan’s ANA and JAL when it comes to special liveries. While the former is famous for the Pokemon jets it used to fly until 2016 and the Star Wars jets that it flies to this day, the latter has partnered with Disney. In addition to sponsoring a number of Tokyo Disney Resort attractions since the 1980s, JAL has also operated several aircraft in Disney-themed liveries over the years.
The latest of those, and the only one currently in service, is the JAL Dream Express Fantasia 80 designed to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Fantasia, Disney’s third animated feature film which premiered in 1940. Recently, I had a chance to fly on the aircraft from Tokyo to Sapporo.
In this article, I’ll share my, to put it in Disney’s words, magical experience onboard the aircraft. Before that, let’s take a look at the history of JAL’s Disney-themed aircraft, though.
History of Dream Express and Other JAL Disney Jets
Roughly speaking, JAL’s Disney-themed aircraft can be split into two groups: those promoting Disney in general and those promoting Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea, the two theme parks in the Tokyo Disney Resort.
JAL’s very first Disney livery was the original JAL Dream Express livery which could be seen on domestic flights around Japan between 1994 and 1995. The livery featuring many classic Disney characters including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald Duck was released to coincide with the United Nations’ International Year of the Family. It was worn by a total of five aircraft including two 747-100s (JA8142, JA8170) and three 767-300s (JA8397, JA8398, JA8399).
Six years later, the second generation of JAL’s Disney jets, the JAL Dream Express 21 series of liveries was released. This time, instead of just one design worn by multiple aircraft, there were four different ones titled FRIENDS (JA8908), SWEET (JA8904), FAMILY (JA8083), and Dream Story (JA8084). The last of those was created based on a winning submission from the general public. Besides featuring colorful designs and a small sticker saying “100 Years of Magic” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth, the four aircraft also featured a “JAL 50th Anniversary” title on their tails.
In addition to the four Dream Express 21 jets, two JAL aircraft (JA8905, JA8912) were painted in a Tokyo DisneySea-themed livery to promote the 2001 opening of Disney’s second theme park in Japan. These two aircraft sported the same “JAL 50th Anniversary” titles on their tail as the other four.
Five of the Disney jets that operated between 2001 and 2002 were wingletless Boeing 747-400Ds used on domestic flights. The sixth was a standard 747-400 which was also JAL’s only Disney jet to have been used on international flights.
Once the six 747s were painted back into JAL’s regular livery in 2002, there were no JAL Disney jets for over a decade. In fact, the Dream Express 21 and DisneySea were the last “full-scale” Disney special liveries. All of the Disney jets that followed have been, to an extent, based on JAL’s regular white livery.
The first of those was the Happiness Express, a series of six aircraft featuring three different designs celebrating the 30th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Resort. Having first flown in March 2013, the two 777-200s and four 737-800s could be seen on domestic routes around Japan for about a year.
The two 777s (JA8985, JA772J) featured Mickey and Minnie Mouse on one side and Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto on the other. Two of the 737-800s (JA329J, JA339J) sported decals with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the other two (JA330J, JA332J) with Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck.
In 2015, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Duffy, a DisneySea character, JAL added “Journeys with Duffy” decals to four of its 737-800s (JA318J, JA327J, JA341J, JA314J). Three years later, in 2018, Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters returned to JAL’s widebody aircraft in the form of the Celebration Express. This livery, worn by a 767-300ER (JA612J) was designed to commemorate Tokyo Disney Resort’s 35th anniversary.
As of today, the Celebration Express, which operated until early 2019, was the last Tokyo Disney Resort-themed aircraft. With the 40th anniversary of the theme park coming up in two years, it would be great to see JAL introduce another commemorative livery.
In 2018, Dream Express made a return with the Dream Express 90, a Boeing 767-300ER (JA602J) decorated with a livery celebrating the 90th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s debut. Interestingly, Mickey’s 1928 debut happened to be in a short animated film titled Plane Crazy.
This livery was the first one to only feature Mickey Mouse without any of the other Disney characters. Instead, it featured ten different facial expressions of Mickey, five on each side.
Dream Express 90 could be seen on Japanese domestic flights until early 2020. The same year, JAL also introduced its last Disney jet to date, Dream Express Fantasia 80. Once again, JAL decided to use a 767-300ER (JA622J) for the special livery. The livery, as mentioned in the introduction, commemorates the 80th anniversary of Fantasia, one of Disney’s best-known films starring Mickey Mouse, and is still in service.
While it is expected to remain in the livery until around March 2022, I decided to fly on the aircraft last month to see what the thematic onboard service is like. Luckily, JAL publishes Dream Express Fantasia 80’s and other special liveries’ schedules a day in advance.
Flying on JAL’s Dream Express Fantasia 80 from Tokyo to Sapporo
The trip started with an unexpected hick-up. Instead of leaving home at 6:15AM as I should have, I left an hour later. Realizing that I was way behind schedule about halfway to the airport, I decided to grab a taxi. With that, I was luckily able to get to the airport at 8:30AM, exactly 30 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure time.
After one of the friendly staff members checked me in (self-check-in was not possible as I was flying using a British Airways award ticket), I headed through security. With only 20 minutes left until departure, I headed straight to my flight’s departure gate, gate 16, where Dream Express Fantasia 80 was being prepared for JAL flight 507 to Sapporo.
Cabin and Seats
JAL operates domestic 767-300ERs in two configurations – with and without first class. The aircraft wearing the Dream Express Fantasia 80 livery is in a three-class configuration. It is equipped with 5 first class seats in 2-1-2 layout, 42 Class J seats in 2-2-2 layout, and 205 economy class seats in 2-3-2 layout spread across two cabins. During check-in, I inquired about an upgrade to Class J (at about $10, it is a steal). However, with no window Class J seats being available, I decided to stay in economy.
One thing worth noting is that Class J and economy class seats had Fantasia-themed headrest covers. The covers came in three designs – two with Mickey Mouse and one with Magic Broom.
As for the seat itself, it was a standard economy class seat – nothing to write home about but more than good enough for the short domestic hop. It is worth noting, though, that each seat was equipped with a pair of USB ports – a regular one and a Type C one.
Once the seatbelt signs were switched off about ten minutes after take-off, the in-flight service started. This being a domestic flight in economy class, the service consisted of a single soft drink run.
Like nearly every time I fly with JAL, I decided to get Skytime, JAL’s signature juice. The drink has a nearly 30-year history and has gone through multiple modifications throughout the years. It started in 1992 with kiwi flavor, followed by yuzu flavor in 2004 and Okinawa lime in 2011. In 2014, the kiwi flavor returned before being replaced by the current peach and grape flavor at the end of 2020.
As I was onboard the Disney jet, the drink came in a Mickey Mouse-themed cup. In fact, there are six versions of the cup, each with Mickey Mouse with a slightly different pose, exclusive to the Dream Express Fantasia 80 aircraft. I got three of those after asking one of the flight attendants if I could get a couple of empty cups.
Considering that JAL’s domestic 767s fly mostly on sub-two-hour flights, they offer plenty of in-flight entertainment. In addition to free onboard wi-fi (which would have been more than enough for me), there was also a selection of TV programs including a few episodes of Western TV shows available to stream.
For those looking for something more analog, there was an in-flight magazine in the seat pocket.
Arrival in Sapporo
At 10:08AM, the cockpit crew requested the cabin crew to prepare for landing and about 20 minutes later, at 10:29AM, we landed on Sapporo New Chitose airport’s runway 19L. A few minutes of taxiing later, at 10:35AM, we came to a full stop at gate 12.
With that, my flight on Dream Express Fantasia 80 came to an end. I waited for everyone to disembark to take some cabin photos, asked the cabin crew for a couple of spare headrest covers which they kindly provided, and then disembarked the aircraft to spend a day in Sapporo before flying back on another aircraft in a special livery. But more on that in another article.
While not as exciting as flying on the 747 or on other rarer aircraft types, flying on the Disney jet made for a nice experience. Especially so considering the fact that it is not only the livery that is special but also some aspects of the onboard service.
As for JAL’s Disney jets overall, it is great to see the airline’s partnership with Disney and Tokyo Disney Resort going strong even decades after it first started. Even though it is unlikely we will ever see Disney jets as good-looking as the first two generations of Dream Express, even the simpler, more recent Disney liveries provide for a nice change from the regular white JAL livery.
To finish things off, here is a list of the Disney jets that JAL operated throughout the years:
- Dream Express (1994 – 1995): The original Disney livery worn by two 747-100s (JA8142, JA8170) and three 767-300s (JA8397, JA8398, JA8399).
- Dream Express 21 (2001 – 2002): A series of four liveries worn by 747-400Ds including FRIENDS (JA8908), SWEET (JA8904), FAMILY (JA8083), and Dream Story (JA8084).
- Tokyo DisneySea (2001 – 2002): A 747-400D (JA8905) and a 747-400 (JA8912) painted to commemorate the opening of Tokyo DisneySea theme park. The latter was the only international JAL Disney jet.
- Happiness Express (2013 – 2014): Two 777s (JA8985, JA772J) and four 737-800s (JA329J, JA330J, JA332J, JA339J) featuring three types of decals celebrating the 30th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Resort.
- Happy Journey Express (2015 – 2016): Four 737-800s (JA318J, JA327J, JA341J, JA314J) featuring Duffy-themed (one of DisneySea characters) decals.
- Celebration Express (2018 – 2019): A 767-300ER (JA612J) commemorating the 35th anniversary of Tokyo Disney Resort.
- Dream Express 90 (2018 – 2020): A 767-300ER (JA602J) wearing a livery celebrating Mickey Mouse’s screen debut’s 90th anniversary.
- Dream Express Fantasia 80 (2020 – exp. 2023): A 767-300ER (JA622J) in a livery commemorating the 80th anniversary of the release of Fantasia.
With that, I hope the airline and Disney have something special coming up for Tokyo Disney Resort’s 40th anniversary which is coming up in a couple of years!