Sometimes it’s hard to beat a classic. Japan Airlines’ 777-300ERs are the heavy lifter of their long-haul fleet. And although the current premium cabins have been flying for around ten years, they’re still a fan favorite.
I had my first chance to fly JAL’s Sky Suite business class on a flagship route from New York JFK to Tokyo Haneda – now I completely understand why it’s so popular. As an added bonus the window seat views were pretty amazing, since it was nothing but daylight for the full 15 hours from boarding to deplaning.
Read on for more photos, videos, and highlights from this classic long-haul route.
Kicking things off in JFK Terminal 1
After a quick ride on the AirTrain I started at JFK Terminal 1, which hosts a hodgepodge of international airlines including JAL.
The current terminal building is nearing the end of its lifespan, as the airport recently broke ground on a bigger and better New Terminal One. But JAL won’t set up shop in the new terminal, because later this year it will move to Terminal 8, home of its oneworld alliance partner American Airlines.
One cool feature on the JAL app: an airport map that clearly lays out the check-in location, lounges, and gate locations.
I killed some time at Terminal 1’s Primeclass lounge. It’s not the one that JAL contracts with, but it’s a Priority Pass lounge and from its position at the end of the terminal’s pier, I figured it might have the best views. While I was there, a Korean Airlines 747-8 that was parked right outside filled up most of the vista. For the record, that was 100% fine with me.
On the way to the gate I got a great view of the JAL 77W operating my flight. It’s a beautiful plane, but am I crazy for liking JAL’s previous livery better?
Boarding = smooth. Manu = excited.
Meet the seat
The 777-300ER has plenty of real estate onboard, and so the business class cabin is a big one. There’s also a business class mini-cabin ahead of the main one, though seats there can only be reserved by JAL elite frequent flyers until a couple days before departure.
Seats are 2-3-2 across. Some other 2-3-2 layouts make middle and window seat passengers climb over someone else to get to the aisle. But one big win for JAL’s Sky Suites is that middle and window seats have a direct unobstructed path to the aisle. Another factor that mitigates the usual middle-seat misery: there are dividers between the seats that can be raised after takeoff.
FYI things look a little rose-colored in these photos because the boarding light scheme was pink. The seats themselves are more neutral colored.
Some pictures of this cabin make it look deceptively cramped. Probably because the seat occupies the full width of each passenger’s space. But in person it felt very roomy; the seats themselves feel wider than average.
I had booked a window seat on the left side.
As opposed to reverse herringbone seats that get narrower towards the footwell, JAL’s seats give you as much space for your feet as your shoulders get in the seat. The TV screens were impressively large. They sort of had to be, since they’re pretty far away from your seat.
Storage is the one area where this seat isn’t as competitive. There was a small bin awkwardly placed behind the seat’s headrest, and that was it.
A look at the seat controls:
During boarding and takeoff/landing you can see straight across the row while the dividers are down. In the picture below, at the far end of the row, you can see what the dividers look like when they’re up.
Hitting the skies
An ANA 777-300ER left just ahead of us, so we were traveling transpacific to Tokyo as a twosome.
Don’t you love that feeling when the plane turns to line up on the active runway?
Taxiing around JFK always makes for some great window-seat planespotting. And the climb out from JFK was gorgeous — especially once we broke through the main cloud layer. By the way, if you like videos like these, show our YouTube channel some love.
With the wing and massive GE90 engine shining in the cruise-altitude sun, it was time for lunch.
Starting the inflight service
The crew jumped into action quickly after takeoff, and the pace of service was impressive from the start. It definitely helped that the cabin was less than half full.
With some snacks and Delamotte Brut champagne in hand, I took a look at the menu.
Both the Japanese lineup and the Western menu looked great. But it was my first JAL flight and there was no way I was missing out on the Japanese “selection of seasonal colorful delicacies.”
As we flew over upstate New York, the main course arrived. Both the grilled salmon and simmered beef sukiyaki were excellent.
The flight attendants were total pros during the meal service, and had fun showing off the unique drink options like JAL’s sake selection.
Strawberry panna cotta was a great way to end the meal.
Settling in for the long haul
After lunch the cabin switched to deep purple mood lighting.
The Sky Suite seat really shines in flatbed mode. It’s one of the wider business class beds out there, especially if you want plenty of space for your feet.
The bedding was simple but very comfy. After so many years of service, the seats were soft enough that there was no need for a mattress pad.
Everyone got a set of slippers too.
But why sleep when there were views like this outside?
The crew kept the lavs in pristine shape for the full flight.
There were some useful amenities by the sink.
But the lav highlight was definitely this
I did take a quick nap, and woke up as we were crossing over the international date line.
It was still bright and sunny outside.
During the second half of the flight I test-drove the “anytime” menu. There was no scheduled second meal, so you could just snack whenever you wanted.
JAL puts thought into its coffee selection through the JAL Cafe Lines program.
The “special healthy ramen noodle” tasted rich and complex even though it’s a meatless recipe. It went pretty well with JAL’s “Sky Time” peach and grape juice mix.
Before landing I wanted something heavier and picked the pork cutlet sandwich and vegetable curry.
The entertainment selection, headphones, and TV screen clarity were all good. But honestly I was having so much fun with the snacks and window seat views that I didn’t even watch a full movie.
Arrival in Tokyo
Fourteen hours after we pulled away from the gate at JFK, it was time to start down towards Tokyo Haneda.
We passed near Narita on the way in.
We took a twisting path to line up with runway 34L.
The views on approach were gorgeous.
Tokyo Haneda is such an amazing venue for planespotting, with a sky-high percentage of widebody aircraft operations. A Delta A350 landed just after us.
What a way to cross the Pacific! JAL’s Sky Suite business class made good on its reputation as a proven quality product. Between the comfortable seat, great food, and polished service, I had an amazing time and noticed zero major drawbacks.
JAL can’t rest on their laurels for too long, though, because the transpacific market is ultra-competitive. True suites with sliding doors are making their way into more and more airlines’ business class cabins. JAL’s closest competitor ANA recently launched one of the most impressive business class suites out there, called The Room, and it’s already flying on their NYC-Tokyo route.
Still, I can’t wait until my next chance to get back onboard a JAL 77W. We’ll be back later with a story about the fun we had at Haneda, including a stay at one of the world’s best hotels for planespotting.