Let me take you briefly, if I may, on a trip down memory lane. In December of 2002 I travelled to Japan for the very first time. I flew in Swiss International Air Lines Business Class on the mighty MD-11. The company had only just started operations earlier that same year in the wake of Swissair’s collapse; and even though Swiss International Air Lines promised and hoped to be an entirely different animal, traces of its predecessor remained. There was the aircraft’s livery for one – a somewhat slipshod and cheap affair that served its purpose rather badly. In fact the only thing that belied the aircraft’s previous operator was a decal with ‘SWISS’ titles which had been hurriedly plastered over those of the airline that lay in ruins by then, and which had a tendency to come undone after only a few flights.
And then there was also the cabin and the table linen, which still proudly bore the logo of what had once been the ‘world’s most refreshing airline’.
You cannot step in the same river twice – I know. But for reasons I have never been fully able to understand myself, I have kept returning to Japan ever since that first visit. My yearly trip at the end of the year to the Land of the Rising Sun has become something of a ritual that needs to be adhered to meticulously, almost religiously.
And so I bring to a trip report covering my sixteenth journey to Japan.
Airline: Japan Airlines
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300ER
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 9K, window
From: London Heathrow’s T5
To: Tokyo’s Narita
Date: 27 December 2013
Transfer in London Heathrow
The shuttle bus for Terminal 3 is just arriving as I get off the escalators. It’s not very full. The journey time from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 is indicated as 10 minutes. But that’s about as far as my luck goes. I get off the bus at T3 and head upstairs for security. Now I’m standing in the queue behind some guy transferring from an Air Canada flight, apparently. Some people really should not be allowed to travel, honestly. It takes him an eternity to get his act together and finally place all his necessary items on the conveyor belt for the x-ray machine. Why on earth put your hair gel in one bag and your toothpaste in another in a different piece of luggage?
The Cathay Pacific Lounge
In Terminal 3 I have two lounges to choose from. Three actually, but one is the American Airlines lounge but from what I’ve heard that must be such a sad place that I don’t think I’ll even bother. Which leaves me, of course, with the British Airways lounge and the Cathay Pacific. I decide to give the latter a try.
Cathay Pacific has quite an operation here in London, with five daily departures to Hong Kong. Consequently, the lounge is rather large and also quite busy when I arrive. But about an hour later there are two flights to Hong Kong leaving in close succession and the place empties nearly completely.
This here is the noodle bar…
…where you can get one of these:
But they also have…
With forty minutes left until departure, I venture out of the lounge and head for gate 5, from where my flight will be boarding this evening. Unfortunately it’s already dark by this time, so I only manage to grab a photo of the vertical stabiliser.
Boarding begins with an invitation for First and Business Class passengers and passengers with kids. The load on tonight’s flight is quite light and boarding is soon completed. In Business Class it would appear that every passenger has a window seat.
The JAL Business Class seat is really fantastic. Not only does it offer a tremendous level of privacy, comfort and space, but with the staggered seating every passenger has direct access to the aisle, without having to endure the indignity of having to climb over his fellow passenger on the aisle.
There is also internet access available for 21 US Dollars for 24 hours, which really isn’t bad.
A pillow, blanket, earphones and slippers have already been placed at my seat. Like ANA, JAL does not offer amenity kits. Shortly before departure though, one of the flight attendants comes by with a basket full of goodies. I take the eye shades, earplugs and a toothbrush. All you need for a few hours sleep on a plane.
Departure is to the west and very powerful. As we climb out and the lights of the grand old city of London slowly vanish below, I can’t help but be amazed by the sheer size and power of those engines. To be honest I think I find it quite arousing…
The service is typically Japanese. There are also two westerners working in the Business Class cabin, an English male and a female of eastern European descent who speaks excellent English – just with a bit of an accent. Both are very friendly and obliging and go out of their way to make passengers feel comfortable. I also notice that they both appear to be fluent in Japanese.
No drinks are served while the aircraft is on the ground in Heathrow. However, once we’re airborne and the crew is released, service begins with the distribution of hot towels and a welcome drink, with a choice of either orange juice or champagne.
The meal service begins with an aperitif. I have a sherry which is served with a small bowl of warm nuts and dried berries.
Then comes the amuse bouche which is a shrimp dumpling with boiled turnip and Japanese dressing.
I decide to have the Japanese meal to get me in the right holiday spirit. The first course is a selection of nine Japanese seasonal dishes. The presentation of the food is simply amazing.
The First Course
I have, starting from top left to bottom right:
Vegetables in Japanese jelly with a sesame vinegar sauce.
Salt-steamed sea-bream with seaweed sauce.
Olive flounder sashimi.
Simmered salmon with Japanese pepper and simmered burdock.
Simmered butterfish with radish.
Lobster with sea urchin, soy sauce and miso marinated mozzarella.
Grilled sablefish with egg cake and mashed yam ball.
Taro and yuba with glutinous rice sauce.
Savoury steamed egg custard with crab meat and prawn.
The Main Course
For the main dish I have the stewed pork in soybean milk sauce, which is served with gohan (rice), Japanese pickles and miso soup.
I give the black forest mousse a miss and finish the meal with a cup of coffee and some excellent, rich cookies and chocolates.
Now let’s just see if I can upload the pictures and post this first part of the report, from 39’000 feet…