Japan Airlines (JAL) announced last week that its newly-revamped Boeing 777-200ERs (772s) dubbed “JAL SKY SUITE 777” or “SS2” will debut on June 18 from Tokyo Haneda (HND) to Bangkok (BKK). Designated for regional flying, the SS2 will feature now-industry standard lie-flat seating in business class, a roomy premium economy section, and best-in-class nine-abreast seating in economy, going against the grain during a time when virtually every new refurbishment of 777s calls for ten-abreast seating.
What’s even more eye catching is JAL’s choice to go with an asymmetric 3-4-2 arrangement, while every other carrier uses 3-3-3 (well, when they do have nine across on their older planes). Where new premium seating is all the rage nowadays, JAL manages to remember the little people, and the economy cabin steals the spotlight…
While configuring only nine seats across in a new 777 cabin is unusual for the industry, it’s not so unusual for JAL, who put only eight seats across on its 787 Dreamliners, as Boeing engineers had originally intended and in spite of the rest of the 787 operators choosing to cram in nine across (Japanese competitor ANA also originally featured eight-abreast seating on their Dreamliners).
Not only is the seat wider than average at 18.5 inches, JAL also increases seat pitch to a generous 33-34 inches (previously 31 inches) on top of using a thinner seat than previously (though not “slimline”). The modern ergonomic sculpting of the seat back maximizes space right at the knees, and all together creates possibly the roomiest standard economy space in the sky today.
JAL completes the economy passenger experience with a 10.6-inch touchscreen with the company’s latest MAGIC-VI system, AC outlets and USB charging ports at every seat, thoughtful storage nets and pockets, and updated LED lighting throughout to improve perceived environment and ambiance. Also can’t forget the mention of in-flight internet access coming with the 772 refurbishment.
While the biggest improvement lies in the economy cabin, the new premium economy and business class seats deserve praise as well. The premium economy cabin is set up in a 2-4-2 configuration with 19-inch hardback shell seats. When reclining, the seat cushion slides forward while the seatback tilts. This keeps the seat in front from invading the passenger envelope to the rear, while also providing for a hard wall to grab for support without disturbing the passengers in front.
Screen size goes up to 12.1 inches, there’s a legitimate leg rest, and a privacy divider sits between passengers at head level.
And of course, we can’t ignore the new business class seats. While JAL uses an enclosed business suite on their long-haul aircraft, for this regional configuration the airline is using a more standard reverse herringbone 1-2-1 layout, which still gives all passengers aisle access (a vast improvement over the previous generation 2-3-2 arrangement, meaning passengers on a full flight won’t have to bother, or be bothered by, their neighbor).
The JAL SKY SUITE III has a 17-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled by remote. For those sitting in the middle section, a retractable privacy divider is available. The 20.5-inch wide seat lies flat into a 78-inch bed.
JAL has made huge strides since its financial bailout, improving its long-haul international service, cabins, and fleet. Now they are raising the bar on their regional product to match the long-haul effort. While the industry continues to cram in as many passengers as possible, JAL is trying to create a competitive advantage for itself in offering more space to economy passengers, as well as bringing their business and premium economy seats up to long-haul standards. Time will tell if this calculated risk pans out, but no doubt the new SS2 configuration is a winner for passengers.