GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
In Tokyo I spend my last night in Japan at the Century Southern Tower Hotel in Shinjuku, which is in walking distance of the railway station and actually overlooks the railway tracks.
Shinjuku is a convenient location because it is one of the few stations in central Tokyo with a direct Narita Express service to the airport (the other stations are Tokyo Station, Shibuya and Shinagawa). Trains from Shinjuku are, however, less frequent than they are from Tokyo Station. The journey from Shinjuku to Narita takes approximately one hour and 25 minutes and costs 3110 Yen, including a seat reservation. There are also standing tickets available for when the Narita Express is fully booked, which cost 510 Yen less. Note though, that even if the train leaves with empty seats after all, holders of a standing ticket may not avail themselves of the empty seats. And the staff actually enforce this policy.
The booking for this flight was made through the British Airways website, the flight was booked as a code-share service with a BA flight number. Subsequently I receive a notification on my BA app once check-in opens 23 hours prior to departure. All things considered though, this is rather pointless. Being only a BA code-share flight operated by JAL, I cannot check-in with my iPhone. Fortunately, I figured this might happen and made a quick phone call to BA once the ticket had been issued to select a seat.
JAL and their Oneworld partners call Narita’s Terminal 2 home. The check-in counters for JAL Business Class are on row K.
Oneworld status card holders may also check-in at the JAL Global Club counters on row L. The queue there is shorter…
There is a dedicated Fast Track for Business Class passengers.
The southern JAL Sakura lounge is situated near gate 61 and spreads over two floors. Access to the lounge is on the upper level. This is also where JAL has a ‘dining bar’ with restaurant style seating that serves hot and cold dishes. The lounging area is one floor down.
The lower floor is spacious, with comfortable seats and some really excellent views of the ramp and traffic arriving on runway 34 Right.
By the way, since my last visit to Tokyo in August the monorail connecting the main terminal with the satellite has been replaced with a covered moving walkway.
As far as food and drinks are concerned though, all you get on the lower level are Japanese crackers, sweet biscuits and drinks.
All in all it’s a nice lounge, but strangely it has the feel and vibe of a hotel lobby…
Boarding is scheduled to start at 11:15 for the 11:45 departure. But there appears to be some hold up today while they finish preparing the cabin, so the gate agent makes an announcement to apologize for the ensuing delay.
Eventually, at 11:18 – I check the time – boarding begins with a staggering, unforgivable delay of three minutes. As one of the gate agents makes his announcement that boarding has commenced, the others (yes, there is a total of four agents processing this flight) bow politely.
We push back more or less on time. Once the tug has been disconnected and the gear pin removed, the three ground staff who pushed us back give us a nice send off – first the bow and then the wave. It’ just so sophisticated.
There’s quite a queue for departure today, but it moves quickly and once the Thai Airbus A340-600 ahead of us has finally, miraculously managed to get off the ground, it’s our turn.
The main Business Class cabin on the JAL Boeing B 777-300ER is located right behind the L2 door. There is a further, single row of Business Class located forward of the L2 door, right behind the First Class cabin. The total number of seats in Business Class is 49 on this bird, with seven seats in the forward cabin and 42 in the main cabin.
The seat is very comfortable and spacious. JAL has obviously also put a lot of effort into making the seat as private as possible:
- The partitions between seats are quite high. In fact, if you’re sitting by the window you are barely visible from the aisle.
- There is a divider between seats as well. Although to be honest I’m not quite sure about the etiquette and protocol regarding this matter. Do I just raise the divider? Should I ask the lady on the aisle seat first? Should I wait for her to make the first move? Fortunately, the lady on the aisle seat is Japanese, so I figure any affront committed on my part could easily be put down to a cultural misunderstanding. So I push the divider to raise the divider, to which the lady nods and says ‘origato’, thank you.
- The seats are also slightly staggered.
One thing worth noting is that there is slightly less storage space on the window seats. All the other seats have a small alcove in the side of the seat in which to place small items like a book or a Mac Book Air during the flight. However, this is not the case on the window seats. Personally though, this is just a minor issue. The seat’s strong selling points really are the privacy and direct access to the aisle for every passenger.
To navigate your way through the IFE, there is a remote control with a large touch screen, which also functions as a track pad to move the arrow around the big screen. Tapping once on the respective icon selects the medium of choice. Theoretically you can also use the remote control to order food throughout the flight, once the main meal service has been completed. On both the outbound and the inbound though, this feature was inoperative.
The selection of films is somewhat limited and dated (The Devil Wears Prada, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – need I say more?).
JAL provides every passenger with a thin duvet style blanket and a Tempur pillow, which adjusts to the shape of the head to support the neck. It’s an extremely comfortable pillow. There is also a futon available for every passenger. Slippers are also provided.
JAL does not provide vanity kits in Business Class. But the crew pass through the cabin with a selection of eye shades, ear plugs, dental kits and facial masks during the flight.
A peculiarity of Japanese carriers is the provision of cardigans in Business Class, which are normally distributed before departure. JAL will even allow you to keep the cardigan, whereas ANA actually asks for it back at the end of the flight. In case you were wondering, last year I ‘accidentally’ forgot to give my ANA cardigan back at the end of the flight. Once I got home and realised the mistake, I figured I might as well keep it and give it a good wash before using it again. If you chance to end up with an ANA cardigan too, whatever you do, just don’t wash it! By the time I took it out of the washing machine I think it would probably have been a tight fit even for a four-year old kid with a tremendously slender build! I have yet to experimented with the behaviour of the JAL cardigan in warm water.
No drinks are served while the aircraft is on the ground. The welcome drink – orange juice or champagne – is served after take-off. This strikes me a bit odd, as shortly after the welcome drinks service, the meal service begins with an amuse bouche and a further drinks service.
I go for the plum wine.
There is a choice between a Japanese meal and a Western menu with two choices for the main course. Perhaps just a word of warning at this point: the Japanese food we get on flights to Japan originating in Europe is not quite the same as the Japanese food loaded on flight from Japan back to Europe. The European variety of Japanese is a bit less hardcore, shall we say. Furthermore, Japan Airlines’ take on Western cuisine places the emphasis on using delicacies with a decidedly French flavour. So all things considered, you may end up – like me on today’s flight – in a bit of a quandary. The idea of steamed anglerfish liver, more cod roe or more sashimi – all of which are part of the Japanese meal – isn’t that appealing to me.
Similarly, I’ve never been very fond of foie gras or duck confit – which are on the Western menu – either. Fortunately, JAL has an extensive selection of other meals on offer that you can order throughout the flight, once the main meal service is over, so as not to cause too much of a disruption.
And this is what I do on today’s flight. I just want something simple, so I go for the pasta in tomato sauce and a selection of Japanese cheese with bread. Both dishes are very tasty and hit the spot nicely.
For dessert I have a delectable creation which is advertised on the menu as ‘Espuma of Coffee & Jean-Paul Hévin’s Macaron Miel‘in. And this really is absolutely divine! Essentially it’s a coffee flan with a base of crunchy biscuit and nuts. Inside the flan are hollow balls of chocolate filled with liquid coffee. On top of the flan is the macaron, which is filled with honey that oozes all over the place the moment you take a bite. And on top of the macaron is a thin sheet of chocolate. Heaven!
I leave it here for the time being. I’m posting this just under three hours out of London. I shall upload the rest and finish this report after we land.