If I had to describe my experience with JAL First Class on this flight, one word springs to mind “incredible.” This can be described as the perfect flight and is in my top two flights of 2022. The other top flight was an Air France flight from CDG to JFK in March 2022. So I can definitely say Sugoi! (Japanese for utterly awesome) about JAL’s first-class experience on an 11:30 flight.
Booking a JAL First Class Ticket
I booked this ticket in October 2022 using Alaska miles, arguably one of the best redemption options for Alaska miles. I’d been looking to use these points for this purpose for well over two years, and with Japan reopening, the opportunity finally presented itself.
In terms of award space, my options were from Tokyo Haneda to either JFK on December 9, or to Chicago ORD on December 12. The awards were priced at 60,000 points in Business Class or 70,000 points in First Class. Needless to say, First Class was the obvious choice, and I elected the later date to give me time to catch the Soccer World Cup Quarter Finals while still in Tokyo.
Tokyo Haneda HND Ground Experience
Japan Air Lines international flights operate out of Terminal 3 at Haneda, and getting there was relatively easy using Tokyo’s T-CAT. I arrived with a couple of minutes to spare at the Airport Transfer bus terminal in the Hamacho / Nihonbashi neighborhood Southeast of Central Tokyo.
Conveniently the ticket machines show the remaining capacity – my bus only had 5 seats remaining at 7:28 for the 7:30 am bus.
Luggage can be checked in below the bus, with porters collecting tickets and tagging luggage. This is returned to the rider once arriving at Haneda airport.
The journey took around 30 minutes and stopped first at Terminals 2, 1, and finally, Terminal 3, where my journey began.
Japan Airlines First Class Check In
Checking in felt like entering the VIP area of an event. The first class cabin has a completely different section for check-in than Economy and Business. The dedicated area features a red carpet and rope cordon.
Entering the red velvet zone, two counter agents bowed – slowly and very deliberately! Overall, the experience was very classy; once I handed over my credentials. The process was professional and felt seamless.
One very interesting part of check in process is that JAL offered to check my 3x bags on to my connecting flight. First I was asked about my connecting flights, and even though it was on a completely different carrier and network, the agent offered to check my bags all the way.
Unfortunately, after attempting it, the booking agent said I would still need to pick up my bags in Chicago before my onward Delta flight from ORD to LGA (one convenient aspect of DAL moving to T5 at ORD is the ease of international connections in T5).
However, she tagged my bags to be checked to LGA on the same Delta flight, which I thought was very helpful. At that point, the agent also attached “Fragile” stickers to my bags, and I also got tagged for my carry-on.
I was informed that my boarding time was 10:10 (for a 10:40 flight, this seemed late), and that the lounge is by Gate 112, near my departure at Gate 111.
Security & Immigration
Proceeding onwards thru Security and Immigration took only fifteen minutes or so and brought you right into the main terminal concourse.
The whole experience, from walking up to the check-in desk to leaving, was classy, polished, and what you would expect from a premium experience in Japan. From the thoroughly professional, helpful attitude and smile on arrival to the last deep bow as I headed to the lounge!
The JAL Lounge & Boarding
I will keep the lounge section short since you can find our full review of the JAL First Class Lounge At Tokyo Haneda T3 here. However, I can emphatically say the lounge more than lived up to my expectations.
Although it is worth mentioning that if you get the chance, you should try the JAL Salon on the third level if it is open and available.
Boarding was delayed about 5 minutes; the announcement was made in the JAL First Class Lounge at 10:00 am, and the actual boarding began for First Class at 10:15 am. Note that this was probably after it had already started for other passengers.
First Class uses a completely different jetbridge than Business and Economy. This led me to the forward portion of the aircraft where Japan Airlines staff await – I was warmly welcomed and greeted, onto the flight.
On the Jetbridge itself were three additional agents to assist with boarding issues.
In no time, I was at the entrance to the first-class cabin, which had beautifully placed JAL decorations- and the experience began!
JAL First Class Cabin & Seat
The JAL First Class Cabin is spectacular, and I took my time taking photos of the spacious suite – with tons of space, more than I’ve experienced previously.
The crew was incredibly welcoming, and within the next ten minutes, no less than THREE flight attendants came over to greet me and introduce themselves.
The first was the secondary flight attendant that would be serving my row, followed by the lead FA, and finally, the service flight attendant who would be preparing our food for the flight.
They asked if I was a photographer, what I did in Japan, and if I’d like to be served in Japanese or English. I also took the opportunity to show one of my panorama images to the FAs. Throughout the entire flight, they were extremely friendly and hospitable.
It was a nice touch, and I really appreciated that the chef/food prep flight attendant came and personally greeted me. I was also offered the choice between Champagne and Orange Juice as the pre-departure beverage.
This is an awesome seat with four huge B777 windows, and you get an excellent view of the engine outside. To cap it off, the suite is exceptionally spacious, with lots of storage room to boot.
Although the hard product is older than other airlines, it worked perfectly for this flight, and I would certainly choose it again in a heartbeat.
There are three different storage bins – one at the top right with a power and USB connection, as well as a Video-S Cable Jack.
The second bin in the middle included a small light, a small mirror, a tiny niche for pens and other straight-narrow items (I placed a toothbrush and comb here), and a set of controls. This remote control is the only way to control the TV.
Finally, a large storage cubby also included its own light and control as well.
The suite’s seat was also very wide and spacious, making it an ideal spot to catch up on some work.
I ended up having two different laptops going simultaneously as I worked on photography transfers and writing at the same time.
JAL First Class Amenity Kit
The JAL first Class amenity kit is what you would expect with and has a classy touch. The kit included a set of Panasonic Headphones, a Shiseido Mens Skincare essentials kit containing Cleansing Foam, Hydrating Lotion, and a Total Revitalizer – and a set of foam slippers.
While many airlines just offer a generic amenity kit, JAL goes the extra mile to distinguish between “Shiseido Men” and Shiseido Woman”. That just shows the level of attention to detail that JAL executes for their product and clientele.
The goodies don’t end there, however, and JAL first class dishes out a classy “Zero” amenity Kit filled with lots of useful items.
This is one of the better amenity kits I’ve seen, and I do use many of these items even today.
Itemizing the contents of the amenity kit are as follows:
- Lip Balm
- Hand Cream Moisturizer
- Eye Mask
- Ear Plugs
- Moisture Mask
JAL First Class Inflight Entertainment & WiFi
My experience of the IFE on JAL first class is limited. Since I was busy working and on, I tried the IFE system only briefly, so this will be brief.
JAL provides a hard set of headphones at the seat upon boarding. The Panasonic Noise Cancelling headphones performed well – and came these come with their own set of individual wires, very neatly wrapped up. However, you have to connect them to operate the IFE unit.
Unfortunately, the movie selection on the flight was limited. However, it was extremely entertaining to watch movies on such a large screen. I watched Dune, which was quite the visual experience on this screen.
One thing to note is that the controls for the IFE at these seats are difficult to use, and I do not think the screen was a touchscreen. Therefore you had to do all the navigation through the side control system.
JAL First Class WiFi
JAL first class passengers get free WiFi, and before take-off I was also given a WiFi code.
I found the connection very stable during this entire flight, as the connection was virtually uninterrupted, which allowed me to get lots of work done.
In terms of speed, it was excellent. However, it tended to be slow at times over the Pacific and Alaska.
We pushed back from the gate at 10:50 and wound our way over to the East Side departure runway. Approximately 25 minutes later, we took off with stunning views of East Tokyo and, eventually, Mount Fuji and Narita Airport.
Announcements were minimal during the flight.
Immediately after takeoff, I was offered an opportunity to change into custom pajamas and could do this before or after meal service.
Each first-class passenger receives a dedicated leather booklet, whose contents include:
- On the left side: a US Customs Declaration form, an Eye Mask in a pouch, and a JAL shopping brochure.
- On the right side are two different menus – one for the wine and drinks and another for the food. Both items were available in Japanese (front) and English (rear).
I also noted that each menu was specifically referenced to a specific flight. In this case, written in gold at the back of each menu is JAL 010 / 8010.
The presentation was refined and beautiful, with lots of details about the food, origins, and information.
If I try this product again, I hope to try the Western-style menu next time.
In-Flight Meal Service
I must admit, this was one of my toughest reviews to complete. The experience was so full and sequential, with so many different stages – it felt challenging to keep up; however, it was delicious and a culinary treat.
For the meal service, I chose the Japanese-style meal. To Kick things off, the lead FA came to my seat and asked if I wanted sticky rice or regular rice. After that, they set up the table, including chopsticks.
I was offered a drink, and I chose straight whiskey. The whiskey is served directly at your seat, and done properly, as you would expect at any upmarket restaurant.
As I was finishing my main course- how many courses are there? The secondary FA came back for a *fourth time* to offer me a drink. However, this time, I changed things up, switched to wine, and asked her for red wine recommendations.
JAL First Class Meal Service Impression
I would run out of words to describe the meal service, although exceptional does spring to mind. When all is said and done, the meal service lasted a full *two hours*, which I have never experienced on any flight! That being said, it was awe-inspiring and very tasty.
During the service, All three Flight Attendants in the forward cabin rotated positions. This ensured a smooth service and that we were well looked after.
We transitioned through the courses seamlessly. I was asked if I needed extra wine and whiskey, at least four times.
I can honestly say I loved the personalized services and all the different options – the entire flight felt like an epic Japanese culinary journey.
If I were to be critical, I would say the single dish that I felt a bit underwhelmed by was the Duck main course. It felt a little tough and not as tasty as the other courses. However, I understand that duck is *extremely* hard to cook and serve. So kudos to JAL for taking the bold move of offering to duck on a flight.
That being said I still support JAL’s design to go with duck as a main, and I devoured my whole main course happily.
Dessert and Coffee
Following the incredible meal service came a cheese platter, which perfectly matched the red wine selection.
And following that, the dessert was a Japanese-style Matcha cream cake and an Alcoholic Ice Cream dessert.
I fully appreciate JAL’s attention to detail here and its delicate touches, including the toothpick provided with the dessert.
Yet again, the Flight attendants, The FAs, returned, offering me a second round of coffee. However, this time served in a JAL First Class cup. Alongside the coffee, there was a special Jean-Paul Hevin-themed chocolate.
Sleep & Rest Rooms
About 2h30m into the flight, the cabin lighting changed from red and orange to a dull purple and finally blue color. This was another nice touch by JAL, as the colors reflect both time for dessert and color code with the sun setting outside.
About 40 minutes later, the lighting dimmed to a very light yellow. As we were flying East, sunset and dusk flew by in the space of ten minutes.
Interestingly, I was not asked to lower my window shades. I prefer to keep them up on all flights. Even at night time, I prefer seeing out the window and seeing the lights wherever they may be.
4h30m into the flight, it was time for some shut-eye! I elected to change into the offered PJs. The lead flight attendant came to check on me, and advised me the bathroom is ready for me to change.
She also asked me how I’d like my bedding prepared “Firm or Soft”. Although she helpfully recommended that I choose firm bedding if I had any muscle soreness.
JAL First Class Seat 2G
However, I had two laptops out for work at this time. One to write my review and another to transfer photography from my trip. She suggested setting up seat 2G as my bed instead of my seat 2K.
Due to our First Class cabin being only half full, every passenger had a sitting seat and a bedding seat. This incredible convenience really helped me maximize my efficiency on the flight. However, I did notice that every other passenger in the cabin had the same setup.
The bed was so comfortable that I slept a bit longer than I intended and missed the morning meal service.
JAL First Class Rest Room
As you would expect from JAL’s first class, the restroom was spacious and spotless. Clearly, it was being cleaned after each and every single visit, which is a fantastic level of service. Once inside, I found to the left of the sink, a set of PJs plus a bag for clothes.
On the right-hand side of the washbasin were 2x sets of amenities, including toothbrushes, mouthwash, wipes, and actual towels.
One thing that caught my eye was the lack of paper hand towels. JAL first class only has linen towels in its restrooms. The automatic Bidet at the toilet was a very nice quintessential Japanese feature.
Leaving the restroom the flight attendant offered to hang my Shirt and Jeans for me, for when I was ready to change back into later in the flight.
Outside the restroom, some bottles of wine and snacks were available for any passenger to use. I chose a tasty Cheese and Almond Snack.
At this point, the lead flight attendant came over and engaged me in conversation. This time we talked about sights around Tokyo and watching the recent World Cup matches. Unsurprisingly I was offered more wine and another wet towel, the third one so far!
Wake Up & Breakfast Services
I managed to catch a solid 3 hours of sleep and woke up to a much brighter cabin with purple lights. At this point, there was about 1h40m left to land. As soon as they spotted that I was awake, the flight attendant Immediately, and I mean immediately, came over to offer me another drink. This time around, I chose both coffee and tea.
Feeling the need for a bite to eat, I asked for a ramen and a beef curry for a meal. The food arrived promptly and was served nicely warm within 10 minutes.
I will soon be running out of words to describe food. However, I can say the curry was delicious, reminding me of many I’ve had in Japan during my stay.
One thing to remember is if you want a warm breakfast a little later, now is the time to order it. Unfortunately, because I didn’t ask for it at this moment, I missed the service!
I must say I was disappointed to miss the hot breakfast. The head flight attendant came to tell me they had already closed the hot kitchen. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t get to try the right side of the menu, which I had been craving. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, and this means another trip on JAL First will be due one day just to try those menu items!
The flight attendant did offer me a choice of cold plates. And I chose the fruit plate with minutes to spare before we had to close up shop. The plate was beautiful with immaculate garnishing and beautifully cut peach, apple, strawberry, pineapple, and melon.
By now, It was 6:40 am CST, and I could already feel our descent beginning. So ultimately, I only have myself to blame for sleeping too long. We were due to arrive at around 7:20 am or so.
Landing In Chicago
Bout an hour or so before landing; the crew announced that the in-flight shopping would be ending soon. I got the chance to browse through the catalog. It contained a variety of high-end shopping items from brands such as Bulgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, and more. About 20 minutes before landing, all services finally came to an end.
I was then offered the oportunity to change back into my regular clothes. The flight attendant advised me that the bathroom was ready for me. I went and changed back into my clothes to find an absolutely spotless restroom once again, and my clothes and bags were handed to me as I went in.
The flight attendant also asked if I would like to keep my set of PJs after the flight. Absolutely I replied! I handed them over; they were neatly wrapped and handed back to me at my seat.
Arrival At Chicago ORD
Landing in Chicago was uneventful, although once, through the low clouds on approach, the views of the city were cool. Once we landed, the secondary and food prep flight attendants came over one final time, and I learned the crew would be in Chicago for two days. After a brief chat, I thanked all three for their excellent service. I can honestly say the crew was very friendly and highly professional throughout the flight, and I felt incredibly taken care of.
JAL has First Class passengers disembark first through the middle door between the two Business Class sections. This meant I was the fourth person to leave the aircraft, and entering the US was extremely fast.
Fortunately, I found the immigration area empty and had my pick of any desk to use. Amazingly, and I am not exaggerating, there was zero line! This made my transfer to Delta Airlines at ORD quick and easy.
My bags turned up in no time, with my checked bags turning up in the first 5 minutes. The bags were pre-tagged for my Delta flight, which made checking in at Delta incredibly easy later. However, I had to declare some electronics I purchased in Tokyo, which delayed my transit through customs. But all in all, I breezed through immigration and customs.
If I was honest, a 12-hour flight time is too short to enjoy all the amenities on this flight, which is saying something. My JAL first class flight was a genuinely incredible flying experience. The experience was made even sweeter by how long I had to wait for this flight! I waited approximately 5 years to try this product. After I first acquired all of my Alaska Airlines points (~180k miles!) in 2017-2018. I then had to sit on them due to a global pandemic before finally using them in 2022. Without a shadow of a doubt, this was tied as my 2022 Flight of the Year.
Interestingly, I briefly spoke with another JAL frequent flyer, who also flies ANA first class regularly. He mentioned that JAL is more classic and traditional in its features, whereas ANA is perhaps more modern and contemporary in its offering. I am definitely interested in trying ANA one day. Still, in the meantime, I found the JAL experience to be entirely fulfilling and one I would do again in a heartbeat.