Review: JAL 787 Business Class


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My JAL 787 Business Class flight was scheduled to depart from gate D5 at Frankfurt airport’s terminal 2 and because of where the JAL lounges are positioned I had to pass through security to get to the gate.

There’s even a warning sign posted outside the entrance to the JAL lounges letting passengers know that, unlike most other airports, there’s no lounge past airport security.

Having said that, the JAL lounges are remarkably well positioned as the walk from the lounge doors to security can’t be more than 100 yards….and on this occasion security was nearly empty.

Frankfurt Airport D-gates security

Boarding started at 18:40, 30 minutes before our scheduled push back time and exactly at the time printed on my boarding pass….I’m not sure that’s ever happened before! 🙂

The JAL 787-9 doesn’t offer a First Class cabin and the Business class cabin is split into two distinct cabins – I had selected seat 2K.

JAL 787-9 Business Class Cabin Layout

Although the seat map would appear to show the cabin in a basic 2-2-2 layout as you would find on, for example, a Qatar Airways 777-300ER, the JAL Dreamliner’s cabin is actually cleverer than that.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The seats in the middle of the cabin both have direct aisle access (as you would expect)…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…and, by staggering the seats by the windows, JAL has managed to give the remained of the cabin all-aisle access seating too:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

Because the aisle seat is set back a little further than window seat, the airline has found room to create a small corridor from the window seat to the aisle which is completely free of obstructions.

Around 10 minutes after I boarded one of the flight attendants introduced herself with a big smile, asked if I would care for a glass of orange juice or champagne (I ordered champagne) and encouraged me to call her if there was anything I needed.

As I waited for my drink to arrive I started looking around the cabin.

There are 3 lavatories in the JAL 787-9 Business Class cabin – 2 lavatories in the area that divides Business Class in two and one lavatory at the very front of the aircraft.

On the balance of things I would say that the window seat would the best seat to go for if you’re a solo traveler (it’s the most private)….but some may have issues. The gap which allows passengers out into the aisle from the window seats isn’t the widest, so the more portly among us may find it a little bit tight.

From where I was looking the aisle seats looked a bit exposed…. but not as exposed as the aisle seats in Etihad’s or British Airways’s Business Class cabins can feel.

The Business Class aisle seats on the JAL 787-9 are a bit exposed compared to the window seats

As I was about to begin exploring the area around my seat the smiling flight attendant returned with my champagne…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…which was served in a plastic glass.

In my review of its 777-300ER I criticised American Airlines for serving pre-departure drinks in a plastic glass so it’s only fair that I criticise JAL for the same thing too – it cheapens the experience and when the likes of Qatar Airways and Delta can serve pre-departure drinks in glass vessels there’s no reason other airlines cannot follow suit.

Anyway…plasticware aside the champagne wasn’t bad 🙂

My seat felt comfortable and private but it felt more confined than the reverse herringbone seat you’ll find on the likes of Cathay Pacific and American Airlines.

There are some similarities between how the JAL window seat feels and how the British Airways Club World window seats feel….but the JAL seat feels wider and not as claustrophobic.

There was a noticeable lack of storage space at the window seat. The aisle seats have a have a useful storage area (behind the window seat) which the window seats don’t have…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…so if you like to keep a lot of your belongings around you during a flight that may influence which seat is best for you.

I stored my smaller carry on (which had everything I needed for the flight) under the ottoman in front of me despite being pretty sure that this wasn’t an approved storage space…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

….but the guide to the Sky Suite proved me wrong:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

That surprised me as I’m pretty sure all other Business Class cabins which provide ottomans specifically say not to store anything under them.

A pair of slippers, an amenity kit and a set of headphones had been placed on my seat before boarding had commenced….

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

….as had been the most substantial pillow I’ve had on a plane together with a pretty thin blanket.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The airweave pillow was fantastically comfortable and was easily the best pillow I’ve ever had on an airline….nothing else has come close so far – if this is what Business Class gets I can’t wait to see what First Class gets on my return flight! 🙂

The headphones were standard issue JAL noise-cancelling headphones….

…and the slippers came with a shoe horn and were a nice bonus as so many airlines seem to have stopped supplying slippers in Business Class nowadays.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The amenity kit came in a very modern looking Halliburton branded case….

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The contents included:

  • moisture mask
  • tissues
  • ear plugs
  • dental kit
  • eye shade

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

Seat 2K, in which I was sitting, had 2.5 windows out of which I could gaze and the seat was positioned very well for looking out of the Dreamliner’s huge windows.

The Dreamliner’s windows give things a blue hue under electronic dimming

The button used to electronically dim the Dreamliner’s windows 

The headphone socket was positioned just behind me (on the left) as was a small reading light…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…while the seat and divider controls were right next to the seat and just behind the easily accessible universal power port and a USB port:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The seat controls were similar to ones you’ll find in most modern Business Class cabins and were conveniently located just ahead of the left armrest:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

The remote control for the entertainment screen was just ahead of me at shoulder height….

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…and the entertainment screen was enormous for a Business Class cabin:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

I really wished I had my tape measure with me on this trip but, if I was to guess, I’d say the screen was 19″ – 20″ in size.

Between the seats there’s a movable divider (which needs to be down for take off and landing) but because both seats face the same way and because they’re staggered there’s no point at which you’re staring at the person in the seat next to you (unlike what happens with ying/yang layout you get on British Airways)

If you take a look a the picture below and visualise how the passengers would be seated you should hopefully see what I mean.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

We had pushed back 3 minutes early (boarding had started 30 minutes before scheduled departure so it took just 27 minutes for JAL to board and secure the 787-9) but, in the midst of looking around at everything around me and desperately trying to find a setting on my camera that would take pictures in what very low light, I completely missed all the cabin announcements.

Before I knew it the engines were powering up and we were rolling down the runway.

At 19:23 (boarding + 43 mins) we were up in the air.

As we climbed we were told that the meal would be served after seatbelt sign was off and that we each had an”airwave” mattress in the overhead bin.

I remembered wondering what the big white thing was as I stowed my rollaboard, so now I knew.

Take off + 6 minutes: The seat belt sign was switched (no waiting around on JAL!) and cabin lights, which had been dimmed for take-off, came back up.

Take off  + 10 minutes: The crew handed out pajamas to the Business Class cabin but, as I had brought my Cathay Pacific 1st Class pajamas with me, I took this opportunity to change into those.

Tip: on flights like these it’s often a good idea to change into pajamas before the meal service as, after the meal is done, there can be a sudden rush to get changed. 44 seats with 3 lavatories….you do the math 🙂

Take off + 20 minutes: A flight attendant handed me the food and drinks menus.

JAL Business Class Food & Drinks menu:

Take off  + 24 minutes: A flight attendant came around to take my meal order and, despite having only had 4 minutes to choose, I knew what I wanted – I ordered a Japanese wine because I had no idea Japan had major wineries and the Japanese meal because….when in Rome….

With my food and drink order in I turned my attention to the inflight entertainment system.

Unless I was doing something very wrong (I don’t think I was) you have to choose what to watch from the controller and then it appears on the large monitor ahead of you.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

I didn’t like that.

Qatar Airways’ IFE is very similar….and I don’t like that either.

The selection on offer wasn’t great but it was probably just enough to keep you going if you hadn’t brought your own entertainment. It’s a shame the selection wasn’t better as the screen deserved better – it was definitely one of the better screens I’ve had onboard.

The JAL 787-9 Dreamliner also offers wi-fi and at a very reasonable rate.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Wi-Fi

$18.80 for access to wi-fi for the entire flight is, marginally, the cheapest package I’ve seen. I didn’t get the opportunity to try out the wi-fi speed myself but, talking to a few fellow passengers at the end of the flight, I was told that speeds were consistent and “pretty good”.

Take off + 37 mins: Yet another smiling flight attendant poured me a glass of Japanese wine (a first for me)…..

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class 

…and an amuse bouche was served:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Amuse bouche

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Amuse bouche

The goose liver mousse and mushrooms was very nice and the crispness of the Japanese wine (which was nice while well chilled but less so when it got warmer) helped cut through the richness of the mousse….which helped to cleanse the palette for an altogether different yet still very nice salmon and potato salad.

It was after I had finished the amuse bouche and was getting ready for the next course that I noticed a small but slightly irritating design flaw with the seat area – unless you have a particularly long headphone lead there’s nowhere in the seat area where you can place an iPad/laptop and watch your own entertainment while eating.

The ledge you can place your laptop on is just out of reach of a regular length headphone lead

Take off + 59 mins: After a bit of a break drinks were topped up and the cold course of my Japanese meal was served….

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese meal cold course

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese meal cold course

Very cleverly the cold course is served in the order shown on the menu:

The menu is like a map so people like me (who have little idea of what the various sections of the plate include) know what we’re eating! 

Thoughts:

  • The Beef roll with green onion was exactly as it sounds and perfectly nice
  • Marinated herring roe was not really my thing
  • The fried cod in vinegar sauce was quite nice
  • Grilled salmon in turnip sauce was ok…. but nothing special

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese meal cold course

The remainder was ok (except for the pink stick which was horrible….it may have been pickled asparagus?).

Take off  + 1 hour 22 mins: The hot course of my Japanese meal was served:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese meal hot course

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese meal hot course

The whole combination of “grilled Patagonian Toothfish, miso flavored egg cake with spinach shiitake mushroom stuffed with scallop” was absolutely delicious – I loved it.

Take off + 1 hr 42 mins: Desert was served:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese dessert & green tea

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Japanese dessert & green tea

The hazelnut cream was nice and didn’t come in an overwhelming quantity (which I appreciated). The green tea was very nice and just what I needed at the end of the meal.

Take off + 1 hr 52 mins: Hot towels were brought around and the remaining dinner plates were removed.

Meal service took 1 hour and 15 minutes and, more importantly it was finished in under 2 hours from take off. JAL appears to appreciate that, with an evening take off, passengers want to eat reasonably quickly to allow time for sleep…that’s very good.

Once meal service was done I decided to try to get some sleep – I removed the mattress pad out of overhead locker and made up my bed.

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class

In fully flat mode the bed is only just long enough for someone of my height (6ft) and the mattress pad could do with being a bit longer than it is as it only went down to my calves.

But I did manage to sleep…for quite some time.

At around 03:25 Frankfurt time (take off + 8 hrs 2 mins) I woke up and, a few minutes later when one of the flight attendants saw I wasn’t asleep, my breakfast order was taken.

Take off + 8 hrs 17 mins: My breakfast was delivered:

JAL 787-9 Dreamliner Business Class – Western breakfast

I had ordered the western breakfast of:

  • Cheese omelette with beef sausage
  • Natural yoghurt with forest berry sauce
  • A roll and croissant

The omelet wasn’t bad but the single beef sausage did look a bit lonely on the plate – it wasn’t exactly a large breakfast plate.

Overall it was fine but forgettable.

Take off + 8 hrs 42 mins: A flight attendant came around to see if there was anything else I wanted from the menu as the crew were not going to be serving any more food on the flight…..with still 2 hours to go before we landed.

I wasn’t really hungry so it didn’t bother me…but I did think it kind of strange that a crew would stop serving any kind of food with two hours of flight still to go.

The rest of the flight was uneventful…although I did get to see some fantastic frozen scenery as we flew over north eastern Russia:

The frozen city of Khabarovsk near the Russia/China border

Coming in to Tokyo Narita there wasn’t that much to see and photograph….but I did enjoy watching our silhouette as we came into land.

Take off + 10 hrs 42 mins:  Our wheels touched down at Tokyo’s Narita airport.

Thoughts

Positives:

  • The cabin crew were great. Polite, smiling and very personable.
  • The seat was comfortable and despite the limited storage space, I like how JAL managed to give all Business Class passengers access to an aisle while still offering a 2-2-2 cabin layout – that’s clever.
  • The pillow was the best I’ve had on any airline – it was incredibly comfortable
  • Because the Business Class cabin is set out with, essentially, 6-across seating there’s a very high risk that it could feel like a dormitory – but it doesn’t…and that’s probably because the cabin is divided in two.
  • Hot portion of the Japanese meal was excellent.

Negatives:

  • While the hot portion of the Japanese meal was excellent the rest of the food offering was average.
  • The mattress was comfortable and very welcome…but it really needs to be longer to fit the bed properly.
  • I don’t like the way the IFE system works (but that could just be me)

Overall this was a pretty good flight. I got some sleep, the seat was comfortable and private, the crew were very nice and at least part of the meal was really good.

I wouldn’t say that this was one of the best Business Class flights I’ve had (Qatar and Etihad are better) but it was noticeably better than my Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class flight last year and, unsurprisingly much better than anything I’ve been offered in Business Class by any of the US carriers.

JAL’s 787-9 is a very solid if unspectacular Business Class offering.

Up Next: A review of the Hyatt Regency in Tokyo 

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