Japan Airlines ‘Super Economy’ Flight Review

As you read last week, I was onboard the first JAL 787 Service from London to Tokyo in Premium Economy and wrote how impressed I was with that. Well, I wanted to know what went on further back in the aircraft. I knew JAL had incredible reviews in business class so wasn’t too fussed about adding to them. What interested me was what flying from London to Tokyo in economy class was like.

The economy cabin

For my return journey I was onboard JA841J, another three class 787 just like my outbound leg.

Japan Airlines have focused on the launch of JL41 for a while now and as part of their sales push, have added some immense extras. When buying an economy ticket, you aren’t simply treated to a ticket from A to B, but a range of pre-flight activities to get you in the mood for your flight.  For that reason, I have named this review ‘Super Economy’. Let me take you through my experience of JL41 by beginning with the first perk:

1. Complimentary Heiwajima Spa access to all passengers

Picture by Heiwajima Onsen

The flight times (2.45am takeoff and 6.25am landing) of JL41 may look controversial and horrible at first sight to lots of travelers but this slot has, in fact, been chosen for a reason. The early takeoff means that passengers can and probably will fall asleep almost as soon as the aircraft hits the skies. To help passengers do this, passengers are able to use the spa any time after 6pm on the night of travel. To better the experience, they are also treated to a free bus ride to Haneda once they’re finished.

When I first saw that the spa was on offer, I booked my ticket and thought nothing much of it. It wasn’t until I arrived at the spa that I understood how big a place this was and how out of place I, initially, felt. My first observations of the area were not great, I have to admit. I got off the Tokyo Monorail at around 5.45pm, got the 15-minute walk up on Google Maps and walked through the area of Heiwajima which is basically a huge lorry and cargo terminal. I found the place in good time but couldn’t seem to find the actual spa for a while. It was on floor 2F which wasn’t fantastically signposted until I reached floor 3.

Nevertheless, I walked in, had my name checked off the list and got handed my bag which included soft clothes and two towels. Now call me naive for not fully knowing what to expect but I was amazed by the size of the place. Once I had undressed and entered the spa room I went around looking at the different options. There were around 10 different types of hot tub/baths, a sauna, shower stations and many other points of use. I experienced all of the features of the spa before getting out, and to tell the honest truth, in a state of complete relaxation. I got changed into the clothes they provided, shaved and went to lie down to relax even more. The experience was just fantastic. I was SO impressed. Once I was ready to leave there was still a lot of time to kill before the buses back to Haneda (00.20 and 1.20) so I headed back through the lorry terminal to Haneda feeling very refreshed.

This photo sums up why the spa was a perfect choice before my flight

 

2. Complimentary JAL Sakura Lounge access

The upstairs of the JAL Sakura Lounge

I arrived back at Haneda with plenty of time to spare and headed for the lounge to crack on with some work. Unfortunately, once I arrived at the lounge it became clear that economy passengers were only welcome after 11.30pm. I later realised I should have known this as we were handed a note at check-in letting us know. Oops. With that in mind, I headed back to the terminal and found a quiet spot to work at.

Haneda International Terminal is a long terminal but very simple in its design, which I like. It’s not hard to find your gate with this easy system and there is one food court for all restaurants. At 11.30pm I headed back to the lounge and found the next catch. Economy passengers were only welcome to use floor 5. A quiet area upstairs from the lounge with its own food selection. I am really impressed, however, that JAL have been able to offer economy passengers the lounge experience while keeping their prices competitive. The lounge was a very comfortable experience and it looked as if passengers were in good spirits as we went to board the flight.

Boarding began smoothly at 2.25am and we pushed back for takeoff as soon as we could. Our takeoff time was 2.50, 5 minutes late. We took off to the Northwest but banked right straight afterwards and flew down south before banking again and heading up the left of Yokohama. Lights went out straight after takeoff and the cabin, for the most part, fell into deep sleep. I woke up over central Russia, four and a half hours later, feeling very rested. We were cruising at 40,000ft and were around five hours into the journey. It wasn’t until this point that I realized how important perk number three was.

3. An updated and more spacious configuration

The updated configuration

There is only one economy cabin as the aircraft is premium heavy (lots of business class seats). The cabin has 11 rows of economy seats and is unique from other airlines by offering a 2-4-2 configuration rather than your standard 3-3-3. They are one of the only airlines I have ever experienced to do so and on research, the only airline that operates this cabin on the 787. This dramatically changes the feel of the cabin and helps passengers to feel like they have a lot more space than they normally would. By going eight abreast instead of nine, JAL have managed to increase seat width to 18.9” and seat pitch (gap between seats) to 33”.

More spacious than other economy cabins I have flown

As this is the case, JAL only offer 88 economy seats on the whole aircraft. I did a bit of research into other economy products to see how this compared. ANA, JAL’s major competitor on the Tokyo-London route, operate the B777 to London Heathrow. Their economy cabin is setup in a 3-3-3 layout and the seats offer 31” of pitch and only 16.5” of width. A huge difference for this mammoth flight.

Only 88 seats in the whole cabin!

JAL have promoted this new night flight saying that you arrive in London feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. To confidently say this, JAL needed to ensure passenger comfort to all passengers, not just those in upper cabins. I can confirm that, after flying both economy and premium economy, JAL’s evident policy of ensuring comfort over cash has worked.

But increasing seat space isn’t all that JAL have done. The new Sky Suite product is unique from other economy class products in other ways, too. New earphone plugs have been fitted to allow passengers to listen to the IFE using their own headphones instead of the double plugged airline ones, AC power plants have been fitted underneath every seat, accessory holders have been added to the seat back pocket, screens have been updated and now carry 10.6” of width and space under each seat has been completely cleared to allow unobstructed space to place your briefcase or backpack.

My screen was slightly smaller than the others as I was at the front of the cabin – still sufficient

The JAL seat is hands down the best economy seat I have ever sat in. JAL have boasted that they ‘strived to create the world’s largest class of space and comfort in economy class’ and, in my opinion, they must have come close or even done so. The Sky Suite economy seat was amazing.

Around six and a half hours after taking off, still somewhere over Russia, the crew began the days inflight meal. To be totally honest, I was a little disappointed with the choice of meal the crew gave. Seeing as it was around midnight UK time and 8am Japanese time, what was offered was very strange. The choice was between ‘Hamburg Steak and Fettuccine’ and ‘Stir-fried shrimp in Chilli Sauce with Rice’. This struck me as a choice I would be offered for dinner and not breakfast. I went for the steak and fettuccine and have to say I was more impressed with the sides and pudding than I was with the main course. My favourite side dish was an octopus and potato salad which was presented fantastically and tasted great. Other sides included a basic salad, bread roll, miso soup and a chicken dish which was stone cold. For pudding was a coconut mange with apple compote. The octopus dish and pudding were both very impressive offerings for an economy product and something I would highlight. That, however, didn’t take away from the strange choice of ‘breakfast’ that I assumed would be offered.

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After meal service, an ice-cream was served and the cabin lights were slowly re-dimmed for the cabin to fall back asleep. Service was then halted, snacks were laid out at the front of the cabin and people slept until the next cabin service one hour and ten minutes before landing. The final service offered a chocolate brownie and any final drinks requests. 

The final service

We then cleared the floor, were offered hot towels and descended into London Heathrow where we landed bang on time with a beautiful nighttime approach over London Heathrow.

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I have to say I was extremely surprised and impressed with what JAL’s economy class had to offer. Before getting onboard I wasn’t expecting the levels of comfort or space that I had. I knew that JAL had striven to better their economy product but I can now confidently say that they succeeded. JAL’s economy class isthe best long-haul offering I have ever used and would highly recommend it to all of you.

When travelling from Tokyo to London it seems to me that JL41 and JAL are the obvious choice. With spa access, lounge access, flight times that encourage rest and one of the world’s best cabins, why would you not choose to fly Japan Airlines?

I would like to thank Eva who looked after me during the flight really well. One of the sweetest and nicest cabin crew I have ever encountered. Thank you Eva.

disclaimer: this trip was provided was wholly provided by Japan Airlines