On the Ground: JAL appeals to business travelers through its well-served Executive Class tier, also known as Seasons. The airline’s efficient service, as well as its use of representative Japanese design and cuisine, begins after boarding passes are issued at JFK’s Terminal 1 with an invitation to visit the Sakura Lounge, a large, quiet room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the runways. There are six lounge laptops available to guests, along with several desktop PCs attached to free printers. Free WiFi is available for passengers with personal computers. A mid-day buffet is stocked with Asian snacks, including Japanese noodles, kelp wraps and various gourmet hot and cold teas, along with the standard American cookies, peanuts and finger sandwiches. I was comfortable in the soft, black leather chairs that faced the bank of windows. (28/30)
Pre-flight: JAL’s female flight attendants— exquisite-looking young women attired in impeccable, gray, no-nonsense uniforms with crisp collars and interesting-looking, wing-like hairpins that somehow remained in place during the 13-hour flight — offered Champagne and other beverages while the aircraft remained at the gate for about 30 minutes past the 1 p.m. departure time as a summer thunderstorm battered the airport. By the time skies cleared, JAL005 took its place in the long line awaiting take-off; it was 2:42 p.m. before we were wheels up. JAL’s novel Bird’s Eye Cameras, mounted on the front of and underneath the fuselage, provided a wonderful view of take-off and also were available throughout the flight on one of the personal video channels. (29/30)
In-flight: Although in-flight Internet access is not yet available on JAL’s Boeing 777-300ER aircraft currently flying the JFK–NRT route, I was perfectly happy being off-line for half a day and choosing among the 50 available videos, dozens of audio channels, the self-service Executive Class cabin beverage and snack bar (called Sky Gallery) and the Japanese or Western meals served during the flight. My kobachi lunch appetizer consisted of eight small dishes, including deep-simmered octopus and taro, eel teriyaki and cucumber, tuna sashimi and pike conger oshi sushi. Miso soup accompanied the freshly steamed koshihikari rice with deep-simmered beef cheek and soy sauce. Vanilla panna cotta and fruit cocktail followed. During the flight, I ordered a bowl of udon noodle soup and a Dean & Deluca ice cream sundae from the Anytime You Wish à la carte menu. Japanese sho–chu– beer and saké were also available. A full Japanese or Western-style breakfast was served before landing. The Bird’s Eye Camera offered excellent cockpit-view images of green rice fields and coastal fishing villages as we made the approach into Narita. (39/40)
The Experience: New Panasonic headphones, a 14-inch entertainment monitor, JAL’s comfortable Shell Flat Neo seats (about 58-inch pitch, 22-inch width) and an attentive flight crew make JAL’s 777-300ER Executive Class service to Tokyo a pleasant experience. Tip: Because of the 2-3-2 seating configuration, the airline tries to keep the middle seats free; reserve aisle or window seats as early as possible, as the 63-seat business-class cabin is often full.
Total Score: 96/100
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