After departing the Andaz Xintiandi in Shanghai, we left for Pudong Airport for our flight to Tokyo. The primary goal of this trip had always been to visit Kyoto and Osaka in Japan, but my wife was determined to travel on the shinkasen and get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, hence Tokyo.
If I have one recommendation it’s that you should probably just fly into Osaka and travel north to Tokyo, departing from Haneda. That airport is wonderful. I’m consistently unimpressed by the experience at Tokyo’s larger, more distant airport at Narita. But I’m skipping ahead! First we had to leave Shanghai.
And sadly this flight was really not much to write home about. About the only positive is that we were able to book these tickets for just 15,000 Avios and $22.51 per person, which is a great deal in business class.
Check-in for JAL at Shanghai was pretty quick. I’m also a little disappointed that I did not review the lounge. Most lounges in Shanghai have not impressed me in the past, and after immigration I just wasn’t in the mood. But JAL’s contract lounge turned out better than expected — the manager frequently stopped by to ask if he could be of assistance. It’s one thing to be stuck with poor facilities; this guy was doing his best to make it work.
Once onboard I saw that our Boeing 787 featured the JAL Shell Flat Neo business class seat, a recliner that does not lie flat but which was fine for the short flight to Tokyo. Despite originally being seated in the front row, we realized that the majority of the seats were empty and so moved back to find a more comfortable spot with more privacy and seat-back televisions.
The front row seats had televisions that retracted into the arm rest, which I try to avoid because they are both awkward and unusable during takeoff and landing. I much prefer the seat-back option because it’s more stable and often lets me watch a movie from gate to gate. Fortunately legroom was more than sufficient regardless of where we sate.
As I said, these seats do not lie flat, and I would not recommend these seats for any kind of extended journey. They were still adequate and moderately comfortable. Similarly, the food was adequate but not really what I had hoped for from a carrier with JAL’s reputation. It seemed we were on one of those less profitable flights that often see features get cut. Our preceding flight from Seoul on Asiana was more impressive and had more attentive service.
The brief menu provided a choice of Japanese or Western meals, and as usual my wife took the Asian option while I went for something more traditional. My pan-fried beef filet was served with a red wine demi-glace, a small salad, and a mixed appetizer plate with scallop, smoked salmon, and a slice of beef tenderloin with salsa verde. Presentation was actually impressive, though the choice of a plastic-wrapped croissant was puzzling. Her grilled salmon and rice included a bento box of boiled shrimp, fried bean curd ball with crabmeat, and Japanese pickles.
Despite the small portions the food tasted good. The beverage list, however, was limited (the only spirits were vodka, gin, and cognac). We both had wine, and after tasting that decided not to order a second round. Fortunately no one can say no to Haagen-Dazs ice cream!
I enjoyed re-watching Edge of Tomorrow on JAL’s MAGIC-V entertainment system. They get my approval for their IFE selection, at the very least, but the cheap headsets were disappointing. As soon as that finished we were beginning our descent into Tokyo.
Overall, JAL is still a carrier I recommend, but this flight demonstrated to me that the quality of the experience can vary widely. It was probably the least impressive part of our vacation. Granted, we were departing from Shanghai, which is already an airport I dislike, and I try to put great care into choosing our flights, so the bar was high. Still, I find myself frustrated by the huge variety of experiences on JAL, which seem to vary by route and service class more than I expect from most carriers.