Japan Airlines is making a big push to win back the hearts and wallets of frequent travelers, and in the US it is deploying its slick new Sky Suite 777 to do so.
Just this week, it added the newly configured aircraft to the busy San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda run, replacing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the route. JAL also flies the newly configured B777-300ER Sky Suite to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
When I first heard that JAL’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner being pulled off SFO-HND, I thought a downgrade was in store. But in fact, JAL’s new four-class, 232-seat Sky Suite 777 offers much, much more on this lucrative transpac route. JAL’s 186-seat B787 only offered only two seats: an unpopular angled lie-flat seat business class and a standard economy seat.
I learned all about this when JAL threw an elegant reception last month to introduce the new plane to San Francisco business travelers. Under a big tent at the Hyatt Regency near the airport, JAL had seats from all four classes on display.
Here’s what I saw:
The best part about this new service is JAL’s business class Sky Suite. The 2-3-2 configuration is staggered allowing direct aisle access from each of the 49 seats. This means that the middle seat is now probably the BEST seat on the plane– it has two access points to either aisle, lots of space to spread out and work in near total privacy. (These are the E seats in rows 5-12) Business class seats have big 23-inch entertainment screens and Panasonic noise canceling headsets. There is also On-Air wi-fi throughout the plane. Business class fares between SFO and Tokyo are currently at about $6,000 round trip for December trips.
If $6,000 is too much for your travel budget, you can now opt for Sky Premium economy class. This new class offers an extra four inches of seat pitch, plus seats have fixed backs and slide forward to recline, so you don’t have anyone reclining into your space. (My photos of this seat at the event did not turn out well, so here are JAL’s photos.) Sky Premium economy passengers get airport lounge access (nice!) and priority check-in lines. There are 40 premium economy seats that are selling for about $2,500 round trip on SFO-HND for mid-January trips.
I was very impressed with JAL’s economy class– the new Sky Wider seats feel a lot better than they look in this photo– they are wider than average at 18.5 inches, and offer 34 inches of pitch– roomy by current standards. I’m six feet tall and you can see how much room there is between my knees and the seat ahead in the photo at the top of this post. Entertainment screens are 10.6 inches across (12.1 in premium economy) and there are USB ports for charging mobile devices. Economy roundtrip fares for mid-January trips SFO-HND are currently about $1,200.
With the up-gauging of aircraft, JAL brings back a nice first class product on the route. From what I saw at the event, the JAL Suite is a nice wide, leather and wood trimmed sanctuary– one of the largest I’ve seen and with a humongous entertainment screen and Bose noise canceling headsets. But you’ll pay dearly for these seats: On JAL’s website, first class roundtrip fares on SFO-HND are about $20,000 for mid-January trips.
In addition to the new plane on SFO-HND, the schedule has changed. Now, flights depart both San Francisco and Haneda at around midnight– which is great for those hoping to get a good night’s sleep on the flight.
JAL 001 departs SFO at 12:35 a.m. and arrives at Tokyo Haneda at 5 a.m. the following day. What’s nice about this is that flyers can now easily connect to a bank of JAL flights headed to other Japanese or Asian destinations. Plus, if you can get a good night of sleep in on the overnight flight, you’ll be good to go for business meetings in Tokyo on the day you arrive.
JAL 002 departs Haneda at 12:05 am and arrives SFO at 4:15 pm a day earlier– just in time for an early dinner and bed if you don’t get a chance to sleep well on the flight. Or if you are like me and you’d rather stay awake on the flight, enjoy the service and enjoy all the bells and whistles of the plane.
Have you flown Japan Airlines recently? Would you choose the new Sky Suite 777 over nonstop service from other airlines? What’s your preferred airline when flying to Japan? Please leave your comments below.
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