Flight Review: Japan Airlines (787-8) Premium Economy From Hanoi to Tokyo
After bouncing around Asia for two weeks — we started with a first class flight on Cathay Pacific from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG) and a stay at the Renaissance Hong Kong Harbour View, followed by an HK Express flight to Siem Reap and a week at the Park Hyatt, then a Vietnam Airlines flight to Hanoi and four nights at the Hilton Hanoi Opera — it was time to head home. But not before a quick trip to Tokyo.
We booked this flight in a roundabout way. We knew we wanted to fly Japan Airlines' First Class and found availability on the 11:00am Saturday departure from Tokyo. We also knew that we'd want the day in Tokyo to explore (and stay at one of our favorite hotels ever, the Conrad Tokyo). Unfortunately, American AAdvantage doesn't allow stopovers, which meant that if we were to stay in Tokyo for roughly 28 hours, our two segments would be charged as separate awards.
We settled on the JAL flight departing Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) at 12:05am and landing at Narita International Airport (NRT) at 7:10am. Knowing that we were going to book the JAL flight as a separate award, we found a perfect compromise between cost and comfort. Rather than using 30,000 American AAdvantage miles per person for Business Class (valued at 1.4 cents), we decided to use 25,000 British Airways Avios (valued at 1.5 cents) to try JAL Premium Economy for the first time. (British Airways Avios are easier to accumulate because you can transfer them from Chase, SPG or American Express.)
Check-In and Lounge
As premium economy passengers, we were able to use the business class check-in, which made the process that much faster. Once at security, we noticed a priority lane and walked up to the front. Though our boarding passes weren’t labeled "priority," they did say Premium Economy, so we rolled the dice. The agent showed some hesitation but ultimately let us through.
We then headed straight to the NIA Business Lounge, located directly after security, which is a benefit of flying Premium Economy.
There were two showers, which were dated but spacious.
And the lounge had a sleeping area, massage chairs and plenty of seating.
The sleeping area looked cozy.
We even had time for a quick massage.
There was a full bar, two hot buffets and plenty of snacks, plus a large business center.
Cabin and Seat
Though Premium Economy passengers check in with Business passengers, they board with the Economy group.
Boarding for all cabins was through door one, which meant we walked through the whole Business cabin to get to the Premium Economy cabin. The 2-3-2 configuration made our two seats feel private and comfy. Regular economy on JAL 787s is in 2-4-2, like on its Japanese rival All Nippon Airways, as opposed to the more cramped 3-3-3 found on other 787s in coach.
The seat was already prepped with an amenity kit, a blanket, a pillow and headphones.
The seats had a comfortable, adjustable headrest and a padded seatbelt.
Not everybody likes "airbag style" padded seatbelts, but I do.
There was also a cubbyhole to stow water and a good amount of space for under-seat storage.
The seat controls were tucked into the armrest. This was my least favorite part of the JAL setup. When reclining, you push the bottom to kick out a small footrest and then kind of slide the seat down to extend. At 5 feet tall, I had a hard time getting enough leverage to push the seat down.
However, because the seat is a shell and you’re not actually reclining, you’ll never actually lower your seat into your rear neighbor — and it won’t happen to you either. Tucked behind the privacy divider was a reading lamp.
The dividers don’t look like much, but they did provide a fair amount of privacy. Even though we were among the last to board in our group, there was still plenty of overhead storage. This was my first time on the Dreamliner, and I absolutely loved the mood lighting in the cabin. During boarding and throughout the flight, the lights were kept at a serene blue.
In the morning, the lights simulated a sunrise.
I also loved the 787's famously shade-less windows, with electrically controlled dimming, which doesn't actually make the cabin as dark. Since it was dark when we boarded — and for most of the flight — and there was no conventional shade to pull down, most passengers forgot to darken their windows.
Here’s the same view with the windows totally clear.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
The amenity kit was great for a short red-eye flight. It came with an eye mask and earplugs, an eye refresher and a moisture mask.
We also got slippers and a shoehorn.
Wi-Fi was also available on the flight, though we didn’t use it and didn’t see anyone else use it either. I loved the IFE in Premium Economy, even more so than the entertainment experience in JAL First Class on the 777-300ER, actually — I found that remote hard to use and the IFE slow to respond. It had plenty of options, and the remote was easy to use.
The selection was up to date and had Western and Asian options.
Food and Beverage
Given that this was a red-eye that took off after midnight and was scheduled to land around 7:00am, we knew that the meals would be served at odd times and that we’d probably forgo them in order to get a bit more sleep.
In fact, there was no after-takeoff meal, just a service of snacks and water, though there was an à la carte menu with drink options and Late Night Snack options (that we didn’t see anyone order).
Despite it being an overnight flight, the crew was attentive and walked through multiple times during the flight, each time bringing me a cup of tea, which is what I had ordered upon initially boarding.
About an hour and a half before landing, the crew came through with breakfast.
I found the food (quiche Lorraine, salad, potato carbonara, Vietnamese coffee mousse and bread) to be pretty unappetizing, and since it was still quite early, most people slept through the service.
JAL Premium Economy was a great deal for this route at 25,000 Avios, especially as a short red-eye, where you’re not looking to stay awake to enjoy the service. For a non-premium class, the shell seat is at least decent for sleeping, with enough privacy and space to lounge comfortably; the seat-back screen size is generous, and the IFE selection is big.
While the food wasn’t great, there wasn’t much we really needed overnight. And the crew was attentive and friendly, offering to bring me anything anytime they saw me up and about. We arrived in Tokyo ready to explore, and we would fly JAL Premium Economy again.