Recall that this entire journey started because I wanted to redeem some American systemwide upgrades on their new LAX-HND route. Even though I spent most of my time in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok I still need to return to Tokyo for my trip home.
As I mentioned in my review of the outbound flight, American’s schedule is horrible if you hope to connect onward from Tokyo Haneda. I considered myself fortunate that I found one option (on Thai Airways) that would get me back in time for my 1 AM departure and still have a comfortable margin for error. Fortunately I landed on time and had plenty of opportunity to visit the JAL first class lounge. There is also a Cathay Pacific business class lounge that I reviewed during the outbound journey. Both are open late, although the Cathay Pacific lounge closes temporarily between 5 and 10 PM.
American Airlines didn’t have a transfer desk, and because it was still three hours before departure there was no one at the gate, either. Instead I went to the lounge with a copy of my itinerary to gain access. (Always carry copies of your reservation receipts when abroad; I cannot emphasize how many times this has saved me from uncomfortable conversations.) The JAL staff waived me through after a quick phone call, and because of my American Airlines Executive Platinum status I was able to use the first class lounge.
The JAL first class lounge was easily the most crowded that I experienced during my trip. That said, the staff seemed to be handling it well. I think it had more to do with people stopping in before a bank of late-night international departures than anything else, and it began to empty quickly around midnight.
This lounge is actually large and complex enough that it has its own map. The RED lounge in the back was particularly interesting, but we’ll get to it later.
There was art throughout the lounge, either on the walls or incorporated into the construction like the screens in this hallway at the entrance. But after arriving from hot and humid Bangkok with an overnight journey ahead of me, I was more interested in a stop at the shower rooms.
An agent gave me a pager to wait my turn, which took only 10 minutes. Outside, the hallways were incredibly stark. Pale walls and sliding doors gave it a very aseptic feeling, but inside the shower rooms were covered in dark tile. Towels and a few amenities were waiting for me. If you need a toothbrush, razor, or other items you should ask the agent before going inside.
Feeling more refreshed I walked out into the main lounge. There are several sitting areas, which helps break up the space so you don’t feel like it’s one monstrous room. Several work stations and a shared printer were even walled off to make them quieter. In the back were several massage chairs. Private massage treatments appeared to be available behind the curtains, but the staff had already gone home for the night.
In the middle of the lounge is a large buffet, several beer dispensers, and a chef who appeared to be preparing hamburgers. I wasn’t especially hungry when I arrived. However, the chef station closed a couple hours before the lounge. Keep this in mind if you might be hungry later. I had to make do with scraps from the buffet when I returned just before my 1 AM departure. The miso soup, at least, was very good.
But what about the RED lounge? This was by far the best part of the lounge. Otherwise I might have preferred to go back to the Cathay Pacific lounge, which seemed a little more comfortable and homey. (JAL’s lounge is nice but too open and too brightly lit for my taste.)
Fortunately, the RED lounge is an avgeek paradise. Display cabinets are full of aviation memorabilia, and there are books on travel, drinking, and mid-century literature. There was a definite sense of Ernest Hemingway meets the jet age. The lounge itself has several individual spaces, one of which is completely covered with air traffic sectional maps from around the world.
It was surprisingly empty back here, so don’t let the foosball table let you think it’s going to be loud and obnoxious. A few people wandered in to grab a glass of sake. Otherwise it was just me and the shoeshine attendant.
This was the first trip that I took after my father passed away, and it was one of two that I originally planned to take with him. I pitched it to him as an opportunity to try several different new airlines and visit new lounges. He was never very impressed by airport lounges, so maybe that was the wrong approach. I think, however, he would have liked this one.