On the way to the gate it finally sank in. The destination of this flight was Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Except for a brief trip to Athens, Greece in October 2021, for me international air travel had been off the table altogether for the last 19 months. Visiting a far off, exotic destination like The Kingdom of Thailand seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. Things changed.
Other posts from this Thailand trip:
Japan Airlines Flight JL707 Tokyo, Japan (NRT) – Bangkok, Thailand (BKK)
Flight Date: November 2, 2021
Equipment: Boeing 787-8
Great Circle Distance: 2,889mi (4,649km, 2,510nm)
Scheduled Flight Time: 7 hours and 15 minutes
Scheduled Departure: 18:20
Scheduled Arrival: 23:35
Class of Service: International Business Class
In July 2021, Japan Airlines and ANA (All Nippon Airways) began using uses facial recognition technology to speed up several parts of the airport experience at Tokyo Narita and Haneda Airports. The system is called Face Express. It can be used for originating and connecting passengers.
Originating passengers register a photo of their face and passport photo at one of the landside registration points in the airport such as a check-in kiosk or bag drop. Then, passengers proceed through the standard pre-flight procedure — checking in luggage, moving through a security checkpoint and boarding — just by having their face scanned and without needing to present a boarding pass or passport.
As a connecting passenger, on arrival at Narita I visited a Face Express kiosk just past the Satellite Building security checkpoint for connecting passengers. It was the first time, I’d seen Face Express and thought to give it a try. It saves time for passengers and airport staff at the landside security checkpoints and at boarding. Face Express also eliminates the hassle of having to produce your passport and boarding pass multiple times.
JL707 boarded at Gate 61, which is only a two-minute walk from the Japan Airlines First Class Lounge. This gate was also the Bangkok departure gate on a couple of other JAL flights from NRT over the years.
I arrived about 10 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin and took a seat. From the look of the boarding area, the flight appeared to be about half full. Also judging by appearances, the large majority of passengers were tourists. That was surprising because November 2 was only the second day of the Thailand Pass Test & Go program that is essentially a one-night quarantine for vaccinated travelers.
The gate agents had to verify that all passengers met the Thailand entry requirements: a Certificate of Entry or Thailand Pass, proof of vaccination, negative PCR test with 72 hours, medical insurance and one night’s accommodation at an approved hotel in Bangkok.
When boarding started with business class passengers at 17:50, I merely walked past the Face Express screen and it cleared me to board.
Japan Airlines 787-8
The Japan Airlines (JAL) fleet has three versions of the 787-8 Dreamliner. Two are outfitted with lie-flat, all-aisle access open suites. JAL flies the other version to Bangkok. It has side-by-side angle-flat business class seats.
Business class on this aircraft consists of 30 seats arranged 2-2-2 in the two forward cabins.
These are shell seats where the seat reclines by sliding forward in its own enclosure without impacting the space of the seat behind. At booking, I selected Seat 1K, a window seat in the first row on the starboard side because it was one of the few window seats with a vacant aisle seat.
This seat felt tiny and much less luxurious compared to the first class suite on the JAL 777-300ER. But having the aisle seat open and not having to step over anyone to reach the aisle made the flight comfortable and quiet.
The seat can be positioned in three preset configurations with the touch of a button, or the controls can be used to customize the position of the seat, foot rest and vibrating and massaging lumbar support.
Being in a bulkhead seat, the video monitor is stored in a compartment under the small console/armrest in the center.
The tray table is also stored in the compartment under the center armrest/console. In contrast to the video monitor, it deploys easily and without having to move items that are sitting on the armrest/console.
The amenities were more than sufficient for a seven-hour flight but not as lavish as in first class from Chicago. A blanket and pillow, bottled water, noise-cancelling headphones, slippers and shoe horn and a small amenity kit were at the seat at boarding. I had to rough it. There were no pajamas or mattress in business class. 😄
Additional amenities were available in the business class lavatories.
There was no pre-departure beverage service but the attendants in first class came by to introduce themselves and see if there were any requests. They distributed the standard Thailand arrival and departure forms and the new Covid questionnaire that the gate agents in Chicago had insisted on printing for me.
The Questionnaire is a new form. It is designed to obtain information that could reveal visits to countries not on the authorized list, identify passengers Covid-19 symptoms, and gather information to use for contact tracing if someone on the flight tests positive after arrival.
The flight attendants performed a bow at 18:17. JAL slipped on punctuality because pushback from the gate occurred at 18:19, one minute early.
Other Alcoholic Beverages
Anytime and Prior to Arrival
Menus were on the seat at boarding. During the climb to our cruising altitude, flight attendants confirmed meal requests made online and took beverage orders. I had requested a Japanese meal. That menu is below.
First Meal Service
Here are the rather poetic menus for the Japanese meal along with the dishes served.
Honami is presented just as described on the menu. That makes it easy for those, such as myself, who are unfamiliar with Japanese food to know the dishes they are eating.
As if the honami wasn’t enough, ti was followed by several more courses.
Dainomono, Steamed Rice, Miso Soup and Kounomono
The meal was exceptionally good. It was a symphony of flavors, textures, and colors. Presentation and the manner of service seemed to be the primary differences between this meal and the Japanese food on the flight from Chicago to Tokyo in first class.
The inflight entertainment system didn’t have much to offer; so I slept for much of the flight.
About two hours from landing I asked an attendant for udon noodles and ice cream.
Eating noodles with chopsticks without making a mess is a challenge. The secret for me is to forget about appearances, bring the cup of noodles close to my mouth and scoop and slurp.
On this version of the 787-8 there are three bathrooms for business class: one just behind the flight deck and two at the second boarding door between the business class cabins. The lavs were always clean when I visited. They have bidets just like the first class lav on the 777-300ER from Chicago to Tokyo.
A great circle route between Tokyo and Bangkok travels down the east coast of China. That is the shortest distance, but commercial flights seem to avoid that path. I assume that is because much of China’s airspace is closed to commercial aviation and possibly sensitivities around the the airspace over the Taiwan Strait.
Our actual flight path even avoided Taiwan and China’s Hainan Island.
Headwinds must have been lighter than usual because the flight landed ahead of schedule. We parked at the gate 25 minutes early at 23:10. Bangkok’s heat and humidity caused water to condense on the airplanes cold exterior.
One of the flight attendants created a JAL crane as an origami parting gift. This is a custom that many JAL flight attendants follow in business class and firs class.
The arrival procedures and verification of Covid-19 entry requirements will be covered in the next post in this series.
Despite the fact that business class on this version of the 787-8 has the least comfortable seat and seating arrangement. The seven hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok was very enjoyable. Comfort and the experience were definitely enhanced by having an empty seat on the aisle. The food was almost as good as in first class on the flight to Tokyo. Beverages, however, were a step down from that flight but still good for business class. The professionalism and “can do” attitude of the JAL cabin crew is something you can rely on. That always makes a Japan Airlines flight standout experience in every class of service.