REVIEW: Japan Airlines Economy Class Tokyo - Naha, Okinawa
As I noted in my review of the Hotel JAL City Haneda, I typically travel back to Japan about once or twice a year. Finding a cheap ticket to Tokyo is fairly easy, but I’m not exactly keen on spending every trip I take back to the homeland in Tokyo. With that in mind I poked around a bit before this trip looking for inexpensive tickets to Okinawa as an alternative to capital city. True to form, both oneworld member Japan Airlines (JL) and rival All Nippon Airways had tickets that were sky high. The recent entrance of low cost carriers such as Jetstar Japan and AirAsia Japan into the market offered me alternatives at a good cost, though the schedules weren’t working out for the dates and times I needed to fly. Faced with spending my time in Tokyo to save money or forking over some miles to get out of town, I made the decision to redeem some British Airways Avios on an economy roundtrip ticket to Naha, Okinawa on Japan Airlines.
This was in the middle of November so going to a tropical island sounded much better than hanging around the blustery environs of Tokyo.
Despite being a seasoned hand at the travel game, I’m not ashamed to say that my first time using Tokyo Haneda (HND) as a departure airport was a train wreck. My hotel shuttle dropped me off at Terminal 1, which is where Japan Airlines runs its domestic operation at this airport. The signage in the terminal was less than informative in my very humble opinion. I’m usually quite adept at finding my way around an airport and I had to walk up and down the check-in hallway twice before I finally located the check-in area for First class and oneworld Emerald passengers. At one point I had given up on finding the premium check-in counters and simply was looking for any chance to get my boarding pass, but the majority of the check-in desks were automated kiosks that didn’t seem to have an English language button.
Once I found the sliding glass doors that separated the main check-in corridor from the premium check-in area, it was a much smoother experience. The Japan Airlines check-in agents were polite and efficient, which is pretty much my standard description of everything in Japan. Since I booked the ticket with my British Airways Avios, my oneworld status through American Airlines wasn’t initially attached to the reservation. I simply pulled out my status card when I approached the agent and she took a few minutes to remove my BA account number and add my AA information with its associated status into the system.
My luggage was tagged for the short hop to Naha and I was sent along through a private security screening attached to the premium check-in area. I was the only person in the security line and was processed by the efficient Japanese version of the TSA in less than a minute. Once through the security screening, the escalators to the Japan Airlines lounges (both business and first class) were located immediately to the left. I did enjoy some time in the Japan Airlines First class lounge at HND but will likely cover that stay at a later date.
SEAT & IFE
My flight to OKA from HND was operated by a Japan Airlines Boeing 777 in a domestic lay out. The economy class cabin on this plane was in a 3-4-3 configuration. Due to the large size of the plane and my decision to head to OKA on a relatively light travel day, there was plenty of room on the plane to spread out. I’d estimate that the load in economy class was approximately 30%. I was assigned a window seat and had all three seats to myself. Both the row behind and in front of me were empty by the time the doors were closed at departure time.
Each seat featured a wrapped headset to use with the IFE. Sadly on this older plane that meant a few channels of audio featuring Japanese music and talk shows, a few monitors showing video programming, as well as a few seat back magazines.
The leg room was a bit tight for my liking, but certainly workable. However, should there have been a passenger in the seat in front of me and had they decided to recline, I would have been quite cramped. I’m not particularly tall to begin with, so I’m guessing your average Westerner might find this aspect of JL’s domestic product rather uncomfortable. Luckily the lack of additional seat mates meant I was able to fully utilize the under seat lateral space and overcome that issue.
Unlike my business and first class trips, the catering on this short leg in economy class didn’t have much expectation to live up to. JL’s FAs made a trip through the aisles offering folks their choice of beverage and a small snack.
I decided to create a bit of a buffet for myself, so I requested a yuzu flavored JAL SkyTime as well as a hot cup of consomme. For my snack I grabbed a SoyJoy from the cart and also snacked on a muffin I had brought with me from the lounge.
This short flight didn’t provide much time for FAs to wow us with service, but they did make the most if it. After the initial beverage/snack service, another group of FAs made their way down the aisle offering in-flight sales. Another group of FAs then made the rounds in the cabin to pick up trash and also to offer refills on beverages or additional snacks. I enjoyed the consomme quite a bit and asked for another cup and it was provided quickly and with a smile.
Japan Airlines in-flight service domestically doesn’t differ at all from my experience with international cabin crew. They’re friendly, efficient, and exceedingly polite. English language skills are still not that great when compared to other Asian carriers in the region, particularly oneworld partner Cathay Pacific.
RETURN FLIGHT OKA-HND
I took Japan Airlines on my return leg from OKA-HND, though on a smaller aircraft – a Boeing 767. The economy cabin is in a 2-3-2 configuration. This flight was a bit more packed than my flight down, but still had a few open seats. I had a seat mate for this leg but we managed to maintain enough personal space to enjoy our flight back to Tokyo. The general experience remained the same though. Good service from FAs, tight leg room, limited IFE.
One huge plus on the return flight though were the awesome views of Mt. Fuji just before landing at HND.
I’ve included pictures from the return flight below.
There isn’t much to say about this flight. Japan Airlines delivers the standard domestic economy class experience one would expect for a flight of this length. Service was great from the FAs, though the in-flight product left a bit to be desired. Older planes designed for high capacity meant there was little room for comfort, particularly if the flight was full.
JL’s Terminal 1 check-in was quite chaotic and featured poor signage
Older aircraft used on the route meant relatively poor IFE options
Seats are designed for smaller frames meaning less leg room and lateral space.
Standard FAs from Japan Airlines providing the standard high quality service I’ve grown to expect on this carrier.
Free food and beverages provided on the route high the spot, especially the surprisingly tasty consomme.