Back in 1954, Japan Airlines launched trans-ocean international service by connecting SFO to Tokyo Haneda International Airport. Those first turbo-prop flights, carrying 18 passengers, stopped at Wake Island and Honolulu for fuel to complete the journey.
The trip’s a bit faster now: 10.5 hours nonstop to Japan and 8.5 hours nonstop to SFO. And it’s way more comfortable, especially in JAL’s new Sky Suite 777 introduced on Tokyo-San Francisco flights late last year.
Earlier this year, JAL invited TravelSkills on a round trip flight between San Francisco and Tokyo-Haneda to check out the new Sky Suite. We sent correspondent Richard Pelton on the trip and here’s his report:
I flew to Japan in premium economy in a reclining easy-chair seat onboard JAL flight 001 and returned in business class on flight 002. I don’t usually sleep well on airplanes. But thanks to flight 001’s scheduled 1:45 a.m. departure from SFO, I grabbed some zzzzzs shortly after sampling the good-to-really-good fare on offer. (Details on JAL’s premium economy fare.)
The plane landed on-time at the crack of dawn: 5:00 a.m. Tokyo time. The early arrival is designed to help road warriors connect at Haneda to destinations elsewhere in Asia. That early arrival could be awkward, but wasn’t for me. The formalities in nearly empty Haneda International were a breeze, and my Tokyo hotel room was ready even before sunrise.
On the return flight, I flew in business class- seat 7D on the aisle in the center-cabin section. This is one of 49 business class seats on the four-class, 244-seat aircraft. There are 147 seats in economy, 40 in premium economy and eight in first class. See configuration on SeatGuru.)
Settling in, I used my biz-class coupon for complimentary high-speed Internet service, web-surfing on my iPhone, and using the seat-side AC power outlet to recharge.
The Sky Suite 777 business class cabin has a staggered 2-3-2 seat configuration. I gazed with envy at the three windows gracing each window seat across the aisle. The overhead bins appeared larger above the windows, too. They are the best seats in business class, no question.
That said, my carry-on suitcase fit neatly into my overhead, and I easily stashed a briefcase under the seat in front of me. This area accommodates the end of the flat-bed seat when it’s fully extended. The flat-bed, 25.5 inches wide, is comfortable, but at 74 inches long, it’s tight for tall travelers.
Related: New Tokyo Haneda Option
Shortly after the scheduled 12:05 a.m. take-off from Tokyo, I ordered an apparently bottomless flute of Delamotte Blanc de Blanc Champagne, and grazed on turnip pottage, a tasty crabmeat canapé and sliced sections of chicken and pickled plum burrito. A premium Kaku Rei Junmai Daiginjo sake served chilled rounded off the light, late-night meal.
Slipping on provided slippers and a seat-side headset, instead of sleeping I sampled snatches of Hollywood and Japanese movies on a humongous, 23-inch, high-def seatback screen. I dipped into bouncy J-Pop followed by rock, classical and jazz. Suggestion: JAL could provide more complete albums in place of themed compilations.
Midway through, I scanned the Anytime You Wish menu and ordered Tokyo Curry Lab’s onion and chicken curry with fluffy white steamed rice and a robust 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve from Terra Mater Vineyard, in Chile. This curry, meaty and mild, is better than many I’ve had on the ground.
This culinary highlight surprised me: It’s the nine-dish Japanese breakfast served before landing. Beautifully presented moist chicken teriyaki and soft sesame tofu with shrimp are delights, but the topper is steamed savory egg custard with mild icefish (lower left in photo above). It provided a winning, lingering taste of Japan as the plane began its slow descent toward SFO, touching down at 4:45 p.m. Pacific, the day before we left Tokyo.
More: JAL’s new Sky Suite 777
— Richard Pelton
Disclosure: Pelton was a guest of Japan Airlines on this round trip flight.
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: First class summer fare sale + Bumped out of first class by air marshall? + Newest Centurion Lounge + My favorite travel pants