Recently, I visited Japan for the first time, and thanks to codesharing, my American Airlines ticket was for a flight operated by Japan Airlines. It’s always fun to try a new airline, and even better, I got an opportunity to fly in their Premium Economy cabin!
Prior to boarding, I visited the Sakura Lounge at SFO, which is available to those traveling in Premium Economy – a nice benefit. It was pretty small, plain, and crowded, but I did appreciate the chance to have a little something before my flight. It was just after midnight, so at that hour, they had a selection of Japanese and American snacks along with mini sandwiches and a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I had a glass of orange juice, a mini egg salad sandwich, and some rice crackers, which were all tasty, and then headed back to the gate.
The lounge was a bit of a walk from the gate, up an elevator, and down a hallway, but with my very short layover from Seattle, I didn’t want to hang around too long and miss my pre-arranged early boarding.
The Premium Economy cabin on JAL’s 777-300ER is configured 2-4-2, as compared to 3-3-3 in regular economy, so it’s definitely easier to get from the window seat to the aisle when you don’t have to climb over two seatmates. I also liked the wide center armrest between seats.
The seat was the type that slides forward, so there is also no chance of the passenger in front of you reclining into your space. I didn’t use the IFE, other than setting it to the flight map, but I thought that the screen was a nice size, if I had been watching a movie. I did take advantage of the in-seat power, though, charging my phone with the USB port beneath the screen. There was also a full power outlet on the seat itself, near the floor. The flight offered their SKY Wi-Fi by Panasonic, but I was too busy sleeping to give it a try.
Upon boarding, each seat was already furnished with a blanket, down pillow (definitely nicer than your standard coach pillow), headphones, menu, and small amenity kit in a plastic bag. The amenity kit included a toothbrush/toothpaste, earplugs, an eye mask, a face mask, and “eye refresher” (a moist towelette shaped like an eye mask). There were also a pair of slippers tucked in the seat pocket. This was the first time I’d ever worn slippers on a flight, so I thought that was a nice touch. As we were departing, the flight attendants came through the aisles and handed out small bottles of water, as well.
Shortly after departure, they offered a drink service along with what they termed the “late night snack.” Given that it was about 2:15 am, I certainly didn’t want much food. I was happy with a cold sandwich that I could eat quickly and I also appreciated that the drinks and snack were served together, to maximize my hours of uninterrupted sleep.
I thought the onboard service was quite good, although I didn’t interact with the flight attendants very much. During the time I was awake, I saw that they were frequently roaming the aisles offering refills on coffee or tea. They also made an announcement inviting passengers to visit the galley if they wanted snacks or anything during the flight.
When it came time to sleep, I was all for it! Fortunately, the flight was smooth and quiet, so I had the optimal environment. The seat was comfortable and I enjoyed the generous 42” seat pitch. I definitely find it easier to sleep in seats that slide forward, even when the seat doesn’t go fully flat. Realistically, part of that is because I never recline a seat, even on long-haul flights. But on this flight, I put up my footrest, slid the seat all the way forward, and fell right asleep!
The cabin lights came back on about 2 ½ hours before arrival, and I got up to use the lavatory before the breakfast carts came out.
I made it back to my seat in time to catch the second hot towel service and then it was time for food. Linguine and salad seemed odd, until I got to Japan and realized that it’s not odd at all, but the flight attendant was happy to bring me an extra snack sandwich from the night before.
I ate some of the pasta, but I’m not a fan of anything with cream sauce, so that was a little disappointing. I was also expecting that there would be some sort of choice on the entrée. In retrospect, I definitely should have called to order a vegetarian meal ahead of time. The other thing you can see on my tray is their special “SKY TIME Kiwi” drink. That was good, and of course no one can complain about ice cream with breakfast. In terms of food, it’s also worth noting that it’s exactly the same food as regular economy; they just print it on a menu to make it look classier.
The rest of the flight was uneventful, and I watched the flight map to see us get closer and closer to Haneda. As I was waiting to deplane at the end of the flight, staring at the bulkhead wall next to me, I noticed postcards among the brochures and grabbed a few. That was another fun touch – I wish I had a souvenir postcard from every airline I’ve flown with!
My flight arrived a bit early, so I got into Haneda about 4:15am local time. I prefer red-eye flights whenever possible, because they make it easier for me to sleep and also allow me to maximize my sightseeing time at my destination. The combination of an early morning arrival and getting a lot of sleep in Premium Economy was really nice. It was too early to leave the airport right away, so it also gave me a lot of time to explore Haneda, which I had never visited before. I especially loved the 6am planespotting from the outdoor observation deck!
When it was time to head into Tokyo, I also benefited from Haneda’s convenient location. By public transportation, it was about 30 minutes to my hotel, versus the hour or more it would have taken from Narita.
Overall, I really enjoyed my Premium Economy experience. There are definitely important distinctions from economy that make it worthwhile. I had a good experience flying economy on the way home, but I missed my slide-forward seat, slippers, down pillow, and bottled water. It’s a clear step up from economy, and I think it’s a good middle ground for those who aren’t able to fly in business class.
The only aspect of the flight that disappointed me was the food. Having previously flown on another Asian airline between Hong Kong and Narita in economy, I was expecting higher quality food and some choice of entrée, particularly on a long-haul flight. Still, I would fly JAL Premium Economy again, if I ever go back to Japan!
Note: I purchased my ticket in economy, but Japan Airlines upgraded me one-way to Premium Economy to experience their product. Opinions are my own.