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Last month, new TPG Contributor Jason Kane flew a new nonstop route from Los Angeles to Osaka in business class aboard one of Japan Airlines’ 787 Dreamliners — and the following is his review of the experience. (All photos by the author, except where noted.)
Until recently, the fact that I work for a small firm based out of Osaka, Japan meant that I had no nonstop flight options from my home in Los Angeles. I could either connect via Honolulu International Airport (HNL), or endure a lengthy and tiring stopover at one of Tokyo’s two international airports: Tokyo-Narita (NRT) or Tokyo-Haneda (HND). However, when Japan Airlines (JAL) introduced a nonstop service between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Osaka-Kansai International Airport (KIX) in March of this year, I was elated that my travel prayers had been answered — and I was eager to try this new route served exclusively by JAL’s 787s.
This round-trip cost $4,742 (including taxes and fuel surcharges), and was paid for by my employer as part of a business trip. While I didn’t have to use any of my own miles, just for fun I phoned an agent at American Airlines’ AAdvantage call center and learned there were several days in September with availability for 50,000 miles. So, it’s good to know that awards can be found.
This particular itinerary was booked directly through JAL’s site, so I considered using my American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card to earn three American Express Membership Rewards points per dollar spent, but I was a little shy on the minimum spend on my new Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard so I used this trip to get me to my sign-up bonus of 75,000 miles. In addition, I earned 12,920 AAdvantage miles each way since Japan Airlines is a oneworld alliance member and I earn a 100% bonus as an AA Platinum, plus 3,500 bonus AAdvantage miles and 8,613 elite-qualifying points each way due to my Platinum status with American Airlines.
Airport, Security and Lounge
Ordinarily, if you’re flying on Japan Airlines from LAX with a business class ticket, the snazzy Oneworld lounge is available to you prior to boarding. However, Japan Airlines is served by LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT or Terminal B), which doesn’t offer TSA Precheck and is presently under an immense amount of construction. In general, I encounter no problems when arriving at LAX two hours prior to departure, but on my particular travel day, the Departures level was completely shut off to all traffic, making my arrival far too rushed for a lounge visit. Even though first and business class passengers get access to dedicated security lanes, it still took me a solid 20 minutes to get through security.
Cabin and Seat
After a pretty hectic sprint to my gate, I was relieved to finally be on board, and to take my seat. Although I was originally seated in 2H, the attendants let me know that I could head to the entirely empty seventh row, instead.
The Boeing 787-800 that operates on this route is a two-class aircraft: The front half is all business class, with 42 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, and the second half is economy class with 144 seats arranged 2-4-2. Business class seats have 60 inches of pitch and are 22.3 inches wide, while economy class seats have 31 inches of pitch and are 17.5 inches wide.
The business class seats installed on this route were the biggest disappointment of the whole experience. While the plane is new, the seats are what Japan Airlines calls “Shell Flat Neo,” an older angle-flat seat that was phased out on the carrier’s long-haul routes aboard 777s in favor of the newer, more private and luxurious “Sky Suite” seats. I’ve flown on Sky Suite-equipped planes that fly LAX-NRT, and they’re leaps and bounds more comfortable and private than this 787’s setup.
The IFE consists of a 15.4-inch screen on the seatback of the seat in front of you, which you can control via remote or by touching the screen. USB port and 110V plugs are available by your leg rest. Unlike on JAL flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo, this one didn’t have any sort of Wi-Fi service available.
Although not officially part of the in-flight entertainment, I did get a kick out of the electric toilets in the lavatories. With sprayers for “front” and “rear” areas, one can only imagine the confusion for those unfamiliar with seeing these options in an airplane bathroom. For the Japanese however, this is a very, um, comforting feature.
The usual blanket and pillow were waiting for me at my seat. The amenity kit was packaged in a Tumi pouch and contained a Tumi sleep mask, but otherwise consisted only of generic earplugs, tissues and JAL’s own dental kit and moisture mask.
The happy surprise of the kit was one of Japan’s most popular lip balms, made by Omi Brotherhood.
Food, Drinks and Service
Unlike most business class experiences, drinks were not served prior to departure from the gate. All the flight attendants were otherwise busy helping passengers to their seats, regardless of the class of service to which each attendant was assigned.
The first round of drinks finally came when we reached cruising altitude; flight attendants walked down the aisles with trays of Champagne, juice and water. Not wanting to wait until they were done with this first service to order a beer or a cocktail, I instead took one of the Champagne glasses from them. It might be a small detail, but I couldn’t help wishing an attendant had asked for me for my drink order before loading up trays of Champagne, which I felt should have been a pre-departure service, instead.
With drink in hand, I opened the menu to check out the wine list, which included five varietals from five different regions, as well as Champagne:
Delamotte Brut N.V. — Champagne, France ($40/bottle on ground)
Grayson Cellars Chardonnay 2013 — California, USA ($11/bottle on ground)
Symphonie Sauvignon Blanc 2013 — Pfalz, Germany ($25/bottle on ground)
Fronsac Château Hauchat La Rose 2012 — Fronsac, France ($65/bottle on ground)
Terra Mater Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir N.V. — Valle de Leyda, Chile ($22/bottle on ground)
Fox Creek “Red Baron” Shiraz 2013 — Mclaren Vale, Australia ($12/bottle on ground)
The meal service started about an hour after take off. Being Japan’s flagship airline, Japan Airlines generally has delicious sake options on board. I opted for the “Masuizumi” (a Junmai-Daiginjo style from the Toyama Prefecture) to kick off my relaxation. This sake was very well-rounded without being too fruity.
The appetizer was seared tuna atop pesto-flavored orzo pasta and a duck-breast crostini, paired with a soy-sauce reduction that tasted great with the tuna. I did notice the menu items listed and the actual items served were slightly different, but at least the proteins were correct. Asahi beer is always refreshing, and due to the slightly warm cabin, a cold beer was just what I needed to go with this portion of the meal.
For the main course, I ordered the filet mignon and steamed vegetables. (Although this is usually served with bread, if you ask the friendly cabin attendants for rice and miso soup with your meal, they’re happy to oblige.) The steak — cooked to a medium temperature at the kitchen’s discretion rather than my request — was moist and flavorful, and the wasabi-soy infused steak sauce was delicious, as well. To pair with my beef, I tried both the Fronsac Château Hatchet La Rose and the Fox Creek “Red Baron” Shiraz, and I was more impressed with the Fox Creek. I often find Shiraz to be the better-tasting wine at 35,000 feet — but that’s purely subjective, of course.
Dessert was a passion fruit mousse and pineapple compote. Although I’m not much of a dessert person, I was pleasantly surprised by how light and not-too-sweet the dessert was. Rather than opting for coffee and not sleeping the whole flight, the Japanese green tea seemed like a smarter choice.
A wonderful part about the traveling experience on Japan Airlines is the choice of snacks you get to choose from between the main meal services called “Anytime You Wish.” I’ve had the Udon on a previous Japan Airlines flight, and it’s delicious.
For this flight, I decided to get the cheese plate because I still wanted a little bit more wine before it was time to sleep.
Also, the galley was stocked with snacks and beverages to which you could help yourself. However, no matter what I requested from the flight attendants, they never seemed bothered or put out. The service was impeccable — every five minutes it seemed as though an FA was walking down the aisles to either refill my drink or see if I needed anything. Once the first meal serviced commenced, I went neither hungry nor thirsty.
Unfortunately for the sake of this review, I was so comfortable that I slept right through the pre-landing meal. When I finally awoke, I was offered anything off the “Anytime You Wish” menu, but I still declined, as I had a sushi dinner planned upon landing in Osaka.
The convenience of this route and the service of the attendants outweigh my gripes about the seats on board this 787 Dreamliner. In most areas, the flight earned marks between “good” and “excellent.” The attendant call button was always answered with a smile, the flight was punctual, the food was tasty and the cabin was always kept tidy.
Since this route is far less busy and less competitive than flights to Tokyo, the configuration of this 787 makes sense. Travelers looking to visit Osaka or Kyoto — a mere 45 minutes away from downtown Osaka by train — should definitely consider this route, as you save a lot of time by not having to connect in Tokyo.
Have you flown on JAL’s 787 business class? Share your experience in the comments below!
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