Review: Japan Airlines 777 First Class Chicago – Tokyo

Sasidhar and I flew Japan Airlines when US Airways was doing the 120,000 mile first class roundtrip tickets. I actually finished this trip report a while back, but lost all of my data when we switched servers a little more than a year ago.This review is still very relevant today since the product has seen very little change since that time. Anyway I’ll roll through this pretty quick.

Our journey began at Chicago-O’Hare where I always love walking through the and taking a picture of the hall of flags. It sort of reminds me of my childhood where I watched Home Alone 2 a bit too much.

Boarding began promptly at 11:25 am with First Class going well before the rest. We were the first to board the aircraft so got a chance to tour the cabin before everyone arrived. On this flight the gate agent insisted that my cousin and I sit together in the middle with seats 2D and 2G (I originally had the window) and switched me over rather involuntarily. I guess it was our mistake for asking if my cousin could have a seat behind me or the aisle seat right next to me.

Japan Airlines has extremely spacious first class seats with a good amount of storage under the entertainment console and the hand rests. The layout isn’t the most private with the exposure to the aisle, but the design is well thought out and the seats strike a fine balance of firmness. The storage area under the hand rest is not only big enough to hold the laptop, but also has a 120V charging port for charging your electronics while they are stored. Japan Airlines offers Bose headphones for its passengers, and the remote control for the IFE is in the hand rest.

Since we were the first on board, I got a chance to take a quick peek at the miniature business class cabin (in front of the second entry door) right behind us. The Rockwell Collins Apex Suites looked more private than the first class cabin especiall the window seats). It really is a great cabin configuration with direct aisle access and more privacy.

We were just getting settled in when the FA came by to offer us champagne or orange juice. My cousin tried a sip of the champagne, which is a $400 bottle of Salon de Blanc (since been downgraded).

We were next brought out slippers, pajamas and Shiseido amenity kits:

I really liked the bags at the time because they are great for protecting and carrying your camera lenses. Oh and did I mention that JAL has HUGE tray tables, where you can lay out a lot of stuff?

By the time we finished up taking pictures and getting settled, it was time to leave the gate. I noticed that every seat in first class was taken by the time of departure. I felt a little out of place in my polo and golfer’s pants because everyone in the cabin around me was a businessman and dressed to the nine.

The seat belt sign was turned off 15 minutes after take off at which point we starting smelling some awful odors coming from the front of the cabin. There was some rough turbulence out of Chicago (despite it being a seemingly beautiful day) and it caused what I assume the lavatory door to open and shut. We had to bear this incredibly unpleasant odor for a good half hour before the FA managed to take care of the situation. One of the other interesting things about Japan Airlines was that despite some extremely rough turbulence, the seat belt sign was never turned off. I guess it’s because they would have to apologize for turning it on 🙂

Let me start off by saying that service was fantastic throughout our flight. The in-flight team were some of the kindest I’ve ever met and would not stop bowing every time they presented something. However, the meal service was a bit of joke because the FAs thought that everything was non-vegetarian (I’m thinking she didn’t know the difference bw vegan and vegetarian).  As I mentioned before this was our first in-flight meal where we were served 5 courses of vegetables. We had to beg to get the dessert off the menu because they weren’t sure it was vegetarian. Come on JAL, vegetarians aren’t rabbits!

The good part about Japan Airlines is that they have Wi-Fi, which was fairly fast and again the tray table was so big that you could work and eat at the same time. The entertainment selection was average at best.


After the meal service was completed (which took a little more than an hour), the cabin lights were dimmed and surprisingly most people went to bed. I watched Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, while getting some work done. My cousin and I hung out for a good amount of time afterwards because it was far too warm in the cabin to get any sleep whatsoever. We tried to sleep and requested that our bed be made. Japan Airlines has a very comfortable mattress pad and bedding that they arrange upon request. However the cabin temperature was way too warm to go to sleep. Even after the FA turned down the thermostat from our request, it was still too warm to sleep comfortably. I wish I could say this was an anomaly. but Japan Airlines and certain other carriers tend to keep their cabin too warm.

At this very same point, the Wi-Fi on the aircraft stopped working as well. So we just sort of lounged in the seat chatting while staring at the flight map, hoping we could somehow get to Tokyo faster.

Luckily we were able to land in Tokyo almost an hour early at which point we made our way to the Japan Airlines Lounge for a very cold shower and well needed R&R.

Bottom Line:

Japan Airlines has a fantastic hard product on its 777s both in First and Business Class. I absolutely loved the design of the seat, storage, and the incredibly large tray tables. Furthermore, having Wi-Fi for most of this flight, at a very good 3Mb/s, is an added bonus that helps time fly. Service on board was also prompt and ridiculously courteous (I always find that to be the case with anything related to Japan). Unfortunately the pleasantries stop there and everything from cabin temperature to in-flight vegetarian catering could use a lot of help. Airlines truly need to realize that vegetarians aren’t rabbits ready to spring for first class when they throw carrots. In addition, the FAs need to be trained or told to know the difference between a vegan and vegetarian. Lastly, JAL’s entertainment screen is terrific in size and quality, but the selection is pretty darn poor even when compared to the likes of Lufthansa or British Airways. Would I fly them again? Absolutely, but I very much prefer any other airline over them because it is so ridiculously hard to fall asleep with the cabin being so ridiculously warm!

How do you feel about Japan Airlines? Was cabin temperature a problem for you?