Japan Airlines has been on a mission to improve its premium cabin hard product in recent years after the airline had fallen noticeably behind its closest Japanese competitor ANA. Up until 2014 the JAL Business Class cabin featured what the airline calls its “Shell Flat Neo” product which, while passable, is nowhere near what an airline with premium aspirations should be offering.
The Shell Flat Neo seat (which still exists on a good number of JAL routes, including some operated by new 787 Dreamliners) is an angle-flat Business Class seat and, regardless of which aircraft type you’re in, does not offer aisle access to every passenger.
Since 2014 JAL has been introducing a new and vastly improved Business Class seat on to a variety of aircraft on select international routes. The new seats are called “Sky Suites” and are found on some of JAL’s 777-300s, 787 Dreamliners and, rather surprisingly, some of their Boeing 767 aircraft.
The Sky Suites vary slightly between aircraft types but they all offer aisle access to all Business Class passengers and they are true lie-flat seat (as opposed to angle-flat seats). The reports I’ve had from those who’ve tried the suites have all been very positive and that’s partly why I used some of my AAdvantage Miles to book a JAL Business Class flight a few weeks ago.
If you’re thinking of booking a JAL Business Class flight you should consult this JAL webpage to see which routes are offering the improved products.
A New JAL Sky Suite
JAL has now announced that it will be upgrading some of its Boeing 777-200 aircraft with a new Sky Suite product which the airline is calling “Sky Suite III”.
These are the images the airline has released and, to my eyes, the new product looks a lot like the Business Class seat found on the American Airlines Dreamliner.
JAL Sky Suite III – Image JAL
The new JAL Business Class cabin on the Boeing 777-200 will be set out in a 1-2-1 layout (which is excellent) and the seat will extend to form a flat-bed measuring 78 inches (198cm).
The airline has announced that the first refurbished 777-200 will enter service on the Tokyo (Haneda) to Bangkok route from July 2016 and will then be introduced on to routes to Singapore and Honolulu by the end of 2016.
A look at ExpertFlyer shows the new refurbished aircraft flying the following schedule from 16 July 2016…but this is definitely subject to change.
JL31 HND 11:20 – 15:40 BKK (Mon, Wed, Thur, Sat, Sun)
JL34 BKK 21:55 – 06:05+1 day HND (Mon, Wed, Thur, Sat, Sun)
JAL Refurbished 777-200 Business Class Seat Map – ExpertFlyer
JAL Refurbishing Other Cabins Too
Per Japan Airlines press release:
In addition to further expansion of fully flat seat service on JAL’s medium-haul international routes, well-received JAL SKY PREMIUM seat will be introduced in the Premium Economy Class., and the seat in the Economy Class will be replaced by awarded JAL SKY WIDER, which offers increased seat pitch of max. 10cm more than the current seat, resulting from the improved pitch and slim-style seatback design. Together with the expansion of “New Spacious Economy” service, seating configuration will become 3-4-2, which offers the qualified combination of seat capacity and accessible aisle in response to customers’ needs.
The good news out of all of that is that JAL has resisted the temptation to join American, United, Qatar and a host of other airlines in squeezing in an extra seat per row giving customers a truly horrendous 10-across seating experience.
The new Premium Economy seat will come with 42″ of seat pitch and 19″ of seat width and, if the picture is to be believed, a pretty good padded foot rest.
The JAL Premium Economy seat has a fixed back which means that, even when a passenger seated in front reclines, your personal space isn’t disturbed.
It’s probably pretty obvious from this blog that I’m not exactly a fan of flying at the back of the aircraft….but that doesn’t mean that that’s not where I end up some of the time. That’s why I still pay attention to what airlines offers what options – and this one looks ok.
Things I like:
- 33″ of seat pitch – excellent by any airline’s standards
- 18.5″ seat width – excellent by any airline’s standards
- The two seats on the starboard side are great for a couple traveling together.
- Four seats in the middle still good for a family traveling together
- AC power outlet and USB ports at every seat
- 9-across seating
While the headline-grabbing upgrades to the 777-200’s are in the Business Class cabin, it’s what JAL has chosen to do in the Economy Class cabin that I think is most impressive.
A large number of prominent airlines are upgrading their premium cabins while, at the same time, downgrading the experience for those in Economy Class and making long-haul journeys an exercise in endurance (I’m looking at you American and United) – JAL hasn’t gone down that route and has actually improved the Economy Class cabin considerably.
I know that the day will come when my premium cabin travel days are behind me (mostly) so it always pleases me to see some airlines still trying to offer a bit of quality at the back of the aircraft. Kudos to JAL for not going with the flow.
Featured image: BriYZZ via Flickr