On October 29th, Japan Airlines increased their operations between London and Tokyo by adding a new direct, early morning flight. This time, however, it was utilising their state of the art B787-8 Dreamliner over the bigger, four class, Boeing 777.
LondonSpotter was lucky enough to be onboard this flight and be involved in the celebrations surrounding it. So here’s my story of the first ever JL42.
The ticket I flew on was a premium economy option. This was something I was really looking forward to as I had previously reviewed other premium economy products in the 787 and this was to be a nice comparison.
Japan Airlines have a fleet of 35 Boeing 787s with a further four on order. These Dreamliners are a mix of -8 variants and the slightly longer -9 variant. Only eight of the 25 -8 models are equipped with the premium economy cabin. It was decided that these models would operate the London route. I flew onboard JA837A, a two year old aircraft, in almost mint condition.
My day began nice and early as I rocked up for the opening of the check-in counter for the new flight. I was proudly told by the check-in agent that I was the first passenger to ever check in at the airport for JL42. How exciting! I headed up the stairs and through security at Terminal 3, which I hadn’t flown out of in quite a while, to head straight off for breakfast.
JAL make use of their OneWorld partner British Airways’ lounge in Terminal 3. The lounge resembles the galleries lounges at T5 and I have to say I quite like these lounges. The food and drink on offer is usually very good. I was lucky enough to get chatting to the chief B747 pilot at Carglux over breakfast which was a lovely surprise.
Gate 31 was the setting for the inaugural ceremony and JAL staff from both the UK and Japan were dressed up for the occasion. Two actors, dressed up as the Queen’s Guards, led the entertainment and people flocked to get a picture with them. After speeches from the captain, JAL Senior Vice President of Europe, Africa and the Middle East and an appearance from the Japanese Ambassador, the ribbon was cut and JL42 began preparing for its first ever LHR departure.
The mood on the flight was definitely one of excitement as we boarded the aircraft. Each passenger was handed a bag of JAL goodies and wished on their way by dressed up JAL employees. I thought it was great how the mood wasn’t too serious and everyone had an enjoyable time.
So, onto the flight (literally).
Once boarding and ground prep was complete, we pushed back and departed runway 27R at around 9.50am after a long taxi. This began our 11 hour and 22 minute journey.
The first thing that struck me was the amount of amenities we were given in the premium economy cabin. On my seat waiting for me were slippers, a moisture mask, toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs, a warm blanket and a cushion. This really impressed me.
Straight away after taking our seats the crew were round offering the daily papers. The first round was Japanese and the second was English. I took both before realizing I didn’t speak a word of Japanese. Oops. Once the crew had been round with the papers, they brought around the premium economy menu for the day. Although there wasn’t a whole range of choice, it was nice to see premium economy passengers being given a menu.
Hot towels were also delivered around the cabin which is where the crew slipped up. All other crews I have witnessed will deliver the hot towels then return straight to the front of the cabin where they will take them back. I ended up binning this one in my empty coke cup. No big deal.
One place JAL really pleased me was through the snack options. As soon as we were seated, newspapered and hot toweled we were given a small unbranded bag of nibbles. They were amazing! During the whole 11 hour flight they stocked up a basket of them behind the premium economy cabin and I have to admit I probably took the majority of them. The other snacks were all Japanese bags of small bites and they were all excellent. This, too, impressed me.
The premium economy seat is part of the ‘Sky Suite’ series cabin on the 787. The seat bears certain resemblances to the seat used by Air France on their 787 in that the seat itself is within a hard structure. What this means is that you can recline all you like but the person behind you doesn’t get a screen in their face. A great feature. I was at the front of the cabin which carries the obvious bonus of a having heaps of legroom. This was, I admit, a privilege. Being able to fully stretch my legs made the 11 hours a lot easier. While this was great, premium passengers behind me didn’t have it too bad off either with a very respectable 42” of pitch. You can tell JAL have put lots of work into improving this seat because of the little details they have added.
The seats are equipped with coat hangars, cup holders, AC power points, USB power points, centre dividers (which give better privacy) and finally my favourite feature of all – the reading light next to your head. This little light has far more power than that from over your head and while it lights up your keyboard or magazine perfectly, it doesn’t affect your neighbour if they are trying to sleep. I used this lamp a lot and loved it. The screens in premium don’t disappoint, either. With 12.1” of width they are more than sufficient.
Something that instantly struck me when I reached my seat was the interesting layout of the cabin. The rows don’t correspond at all and are, instead, in a staggered system. I’m not 100% sure as to the reason for this but it struck me as soon as I saw it. Nevertheless, the cabin is set up in a 2-3-2 configuration allowing plenty of aisle width. The seat is one of the best premium seats I have ever witnessed. The 42″ of pitch and 19.2″ of width provides all the comfort you’ll need for this flight. What really impressed me was the recline. When you push the little button on your seat, it rolls out into your bed. The seat doesn’t become lie-flat but it gives it a good shot by all means. This was something that surprised me but also one of my favourite things about the seat. The second button corresponds with the footrest. When held down, a footrest comes up which provides awesome comfort and is a great feature JAL have added.
The IFE was a choice between films, audio, games, news or flight map. I, obviously, went for the flight map and enjoyed the level of interaction the system offered. Toward the end of the flight I watched Top Gun and the beginning of Now You See Me 2. I thought the choice of films was a little disappointing and needed some updating. A huge win, however, when flying JAL is that onboard WiFi is available. While the cost may be considered a little high ($18 for the entire flight or $10 an hour) it makes a huge difference on such a long flight. I used the WiFi on my laptop to connect to my website and emails and on my phone to blog the flight live (which had tremendous feedback I was happy to hear). Having WiFi is a complete game changer for me as it meant I barely used my IFE and instead was connected for the whole flight.
Around 1.5 hours into our flight the food service began. Another perk of being at the front of the cabin is that you are served first! (I’ve learnt the hard way by being at the back on many occasions) The choice for our lunch was ‘Slow cooked Beef with Red Wine Sauce’ or ‘Chicken Curry’. I knew which one sounded more appealing, so went for it. “Number one for me, Arigato Gazaimas”
It was served instantly and was occupied by a lot of sides. For what is basically an economy meal, it was really impressive. The best part was probably the added miso soup which was amazing! The side wishes were a varied choice yet complimented the meal greatly. Overall, not a bad meal at all. Pudding was delivered quickly after with a choice of green tea or coffee and Hagen Dazs Vanilla ice-cream.
After lunch the light went down as the sun begun to set over Russia. I decided it was time to crack on with some work but couldn’t help feeling the urge to go to sleep, just as the sun was. I quickly remembered it was 2.30pm and ploughed on.
As I was working my lovely crew member, Asuza, came over with the routing chart and facts from our cruise that the pilot had filled out for me. This was a really nice touch as I wasn’t expecting it at all. During the remainder of the flight she brought me some lovely udon noodles and some model planes from the shop. It was really sweet how attentive she was.
Around two hours before landing, the lights came back up and another hot towel was delivered and not collected. Our final meal tasted fantastic but was an odd one. It was hard to know if I was in the time zone of Japan (around 4.30am) and if so why was I having breakfast? Or if in the time of the UK (8.30pm) why was I having an omelet for dinner? Nevertheless, I thought the omelet was fantastic, as was the sausage on top. The meal was accompanied by a mango and vanilla Yeo Valley, always a good choice, a croissant and some fruit (which I ate with my chopsticks to impress the Japanese woman next to me). While this service seemed a little strange because of timing, it was great meal service.
As we began our descent I filled in a landing card (worrying that the border guards wouldn’t like that I was only in the country for a day) and gazed into the distance at the tiny glow of light of the following day.
We packed away, cleared the floor and experienced one of the most amazing approaches I have ever witnessed including the sunrise, Mount Fuji, Tokyo, and the morning ships.
Once we had landed I stayed behind to thank the crew for their amazing service. It had been an incredible flight with JAL with almost no hiccups one would expect on an inaugural flight.
JAL outshone any competition in my eyes with almost flawless service, an overwhelmingly comfortable cabin, inflight WiFi, and good food.
The premium cabin had fantastic levels of comfort for such a long flight and I couldn’t recommend it more to you all. A fantastic cabin by a fantastic airline.
Well done and congratulations Japan Airlines!
A massive thank you to Andy Caterall for letting me use his pictures. He’s a photographer at LHR and you can check out more of his pictures on Instagram.
disclaimer: this trip was wholly provided by Japan Airlines