The flight to BOS, Japan Airlines (JAL) flight 8, was my first opportunity to fly internationally on a 787-9 and to experience Japan Airlines’ Sky Suite, which was named best business-class seat in the 2013 Skytrax Awards. This post is a longer than usual because this was a new experience and I enjoyed the flight immensely.
Other posts so far about this trip from the US to Phuket, Thailand and return are:
JAL Flight 008 NRT – BOS
JAL 008 — I get a bit of a kick out of flights with double 0 flight numbers. A double 0 flight number usually means that the flight is one of the oldest and most important flights an airline operates. Plus the flight number is easy to remember.
After leaving the Japan Airlines First Class Lounge, it was a short walk to Terminal 2 Gate 63 for departure. On the way, I got a look at my 787-9 for this ride.
I arrived at the gate just after 18:00. Boarding for the scheduled 18:30 departure was slightly delayed. There were no “gate lice” who often clog boarding gates in the U.S.. Boarding lanes were clearly identified. Agents made sure passengers were in the proper lane.
Boarding began shortly after my arrival.
Japan Airlines Sky Suite
Sky Suite Cabin
JAL 787-9s have 44 business-class suites in two cabins, 35 premium economy seats, and 116 economy seats. My seat, 2A, was a window seat in the forward business-class section. The suites are 25.5 inches wide. Seat pitch is 74 inches. On this aircraft, though, even the economy seats are roomy. They are arranged 2-4-2. Seat width is an incredible 18.9 inches, and pitch is 33 inches.
The Sky Suites are arranged 2-2-2. Six across seemed undesirable for business class, but Japan Airlines pulls it off magnificently.
Sky Suite Features
The Sky Suite is a version of the BE Aerospace Apex Suite. All seats face forward (not angled or rear facing), have direct aisle access, and convert to full-flat beds.
I was glad to have a window seat for the flight because (a) I like, correction, make that absolutely adore, the large, electronically dimmable 787 windows, and (b) the window seats on this plane afford amazing privacy. The dimming effect results from a gel sandwiched between two thin pieces of glass. Turning up an electric current darkens the gel. When the current is decreased, the gel lightens. Simple.
As is evident in the photo above, suite 2A includes three of these fantastic windows for one’s viewing pleasure. Plus the passageway to the suite has a ledge that can be handy for placing items before departure and during cruise.
The 2-2-2 seating gives passengers options. If you are traveling as a couple reserve side-by-side seats and leave the privacy screen down. It will be easy to converse with your partner next to you.
If you are a solo traveler, raise the screen and, in the window seat, you will be in your own private world completely isolated from traffic in the aisle and the activities of the passenger next door. I consider these window seats as more of a true suite than the business-class “suites” on Delta Airlines’ new A350-900.
The Sky Suite is fabulous although not as nice as Korean Air’s version of the Apex Suite (Prestige Suite) on the 777-300. The wider 777 gives the Prestige suites a little extra room and storage. Strangely, this seat on a Korean Air A330-300 did not leave a positive impression.
The 23-inch video monitor is positioned directly in front of the seat in a fixed position meaning it need not be stowed for taxi, takeoff and landing. The monitor is as large as those many airlines provide in first class. Viewing is available from boarding to disembarking.
The monitor table provides a convenient spot for personal items during cruise.
Video Controller, Ottoman and Tray Table
The audio/video controller is located at eye level on the wall next to the adjacent seat. It is angled slightly so it can be seen and manipulated without leaning forward. The controller can also be removed for hand-held operation.
A wide and comfortable ottoman is positioned under the video monitor. When reclined to the flat position, there is no squeezing your feet and lower body into a tube under the console of the seat in front as happens with many business-class seats. That extra room is a feature normally found only in first-class seats. The area under the ottoman can be used for a backpack or other items during flight.
The tray table is stored under the ledge beside the seat. It can be easily removed and positioned.
Privacy and Lighting Controls
Seat, lighting, and privacy screen controls are mounted by the armrest on the right.
On this flight, Japan Airlines supplied the usual amenities of international business class travel.
The slippers came with a nifty shoe horn that I now carry with me on all flights.
The amenity kit is packaged by Zero Halliburton, the company that made the case Armstrong and Aldrin used to haul moon rocks on Apollo 11.
The kit includes, eye mask, moist face mask, lip balm, dental kit, ear plugs and tissues. Outbound flights from Japan are equipped with soft-sided amenity kits while inbound flights get the semi-rigid ones.
(Side Note: Speaking of Apollo 11, about 20 years ago, as part of the duties of a job in Cincinnati, OH, I had the honor of working with Neil Armstrong from time to time! He was great to work with and a very humble and private person. Out of respect for his privacy, I never asked him how it felt to be the first human to set foot on a celestial object other than Earth. But I can state that he was a very unpretentious, and paradoxically, “down to earth” guy. For example, he told me the aircraft he enjoyed flying most was the Grumman F-8F Bearcat, the final version of the Wildcat/Hellcat line and a plane he flew in Navy flight training. That is damned high praise for a piston-powered aircraft from a sierra hotel (shit hot) test pilot and astronaut. Among other feats, he flew the X-15 to the edge of space at nearly 4,000 mph and avoided a boulder field and the ultimate “screw the pooch” moment to safely land the Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility with only about 25 seconds of fuel remaining. He performed that landing in front of a worldwide TV audience of over 600 million. Neil Armstrong was one cool customer and definitely had the “right stuff.” Here’s a report on my encounters with Neil Armstrong.)
Pajamas were not provided. Instead we were offered cardigan lounge wear that could be worn over clothes.
Taxi and Takeoff
From Terminal 2, getting to the main runway at NRT, two-mile plus runway 16R/34L, requires a long taxi. The runway designation 16R refers to the runway’s heading of approximately 160° magnetic and the fact that there is at least one other NRT runway to the left aligned on the same heading.
There was only one plane waiting for takeoff ahead of us.
As soon as ANA rotated, the tower directed JAL 008 to “position and hold, Runway One Six Right.”
A short time after positioning, we received takeoff clearance and began our roll. Waiting a bit creates the proper separation for air traffic control and allows turbulent wingtip vortices generated by the previous aircraft to dissipate.
After about 35 seconds of full power, we were airborne.
We continued on the runway heading roughly until going “feet wet” over the Kujukuri Sea.
Windows are great, and 787 windows are the best. With all seats having direct aisle access, for me there is no aisle or window debate. It mystifies me how some takeoff with the shades closed or windows dimmed in this case.
The service began with the pre-departure beverage and a moist towel.
These were the beverages available on the flight.
First Meal Service
Meals can be pre-ordered on the website. I ordered onboard. For the first meal service I chose the Japanese meal since the plane had been catered in Japan.
Sakizuke – Sesame tofu and wasabi & simmered egg and char-siu pork with Chivas Regal
Next was the Winter Calm bento box.
Dainomono – main course.
Although the food was unfamiliar, it tasted great and the presentation was impressive as was the grace of the FA who served it.
Second Meal Service
For the second meal service, I tried Fumiko’s Western Set Plate.
The western dish was good but not like the Japanese meal.
I’ve grown weary of the standard airline American breakfasts, so before landing I had noodles instead.
I’m not a big noodles fan, but can see how one could grow to like them a lot after acquiring the skill to eat them. This dish certainly looks healthier than eggs and sausage and such.
What’s there to do on a 12+hour flight most of which is spent at altitudes of 35,000 to 41,000 feet? Some work if there is good WiFi. Many sleep. When travelling for leisure, save sleeping for economy flights, if you can, and sleep as little as possible in business class and first class. These seats are expensive whether you’re talking dollars or points and miles. I have a finite supply of both and want to enjoy the premium experience as much as possible rather than disturb my neighbors (snoring).
I’d already seen all of the films that looked interesting but tried Dr. Strange. I couldn’t force myself to finish it however. Sometimes checking out one of the “classic” movies is good. On the second or third viewing, new incites or interpretations often appear.
Another option is flight following on the AV system. As a former pilot, this can be as good as a movie sometimes especially if there is a good heads-up display (HUD).
Another option is looking out the window. I won’t do that if it would disturb other passengers. I love 787s because the electronic dimming allows continuous exterior views without disturbing anyone. If I see something interesting I can reduce the dimming factor for a bit to get a better view.
I managed to sleep for a while also.
PJs and a mattress would have been nice although I admit I likely would have kept the pjs as a souvenir rather than wear them on the plane.
Descent and Landing
In preparation for landing the FAs distributed moist eye masks like the ones in the amenity kit.
Placing the cool, moist refresher on my eyes was instantly soothing, almost like the effect of taking a shower for the face.
The approach to BOS was from the northwest.
We initially flew north of Boston and then circled to the right to land from the south on Runway 33 Left.
There was a good view of the coast and Boston as we landed.
Japan Airlines Flight 008 landed at 18:12 three minutes ahead of schedule, and, due to the international dateline, almost 30 minutes before our departure from NRT!
Wow! Other business class seats are fancier and have wider seats like the Qatar A350-900 I flew from Philadelphia, PA to Doha, Qatar; however, the amount of privacy of the window seat on this Japan Airlines 787-9 and the legroom is unparalleled in business class in my experience. In terms of privacy, being so far from the aisle, the only seat I’ve experienced that tops it is the Etihad First Class Apartment on its A380s and it of course is a first class seat. Neither the Delta seat that it calls a “suite” not the Qatar Q Suite is as private.
The food and service on Japan Airlines is also among the best. The only improvements I would offer are adding a mattress and pjs. I can’t wait to fly this aircraft again.