At short notice an opportunity had opened to visit Japan for some days – something my wife and I had been planning for years and never got around to. Even though the trip was over easter, airfares were affordable so we grabbed the chance and eveb added flying with highly rated Japan Airlines on their brand new 787 Dreamliner to the experience.
After shopping around a few evenings, the JAL website offered the lowest fares so we started the booking process in high spirits. An hour later we were sitting on our couch as nervous wrecks. Our itinerary apparently streched the booking engine’s capabilities to the limit and it kept crashing, meaning we had to start over again and again. In the end we managed to secure our seats not without a final „go around“ when I wanted to read the terms & conditions sheet of our airfare which opened as a PDF and yet again crahed the system. After entering passport numbers, phone numbers residential and hotel adresses again we finaly received an impressive e-ticket with a bunch of booking codes that were to take us on three airlines, across two alliances and two reservation systems (amadeus and sabre).
As we had some nerdy requestes such as travelling on the 787 as well as a fixed return day we ended up with this rather interesting routing:
MUC-CDG on AF, CDG-NRT on JL
HND-NGO on JL, NGO-HEL and HEL-MUC on AY
We were never able to completely access our booking afterwards , so we could not change seats or check for available upgrades.
Check-in, Departure Airport
Naturally, neither online nor kiosk check-in in Munich worked. As our itinary seemed to completely confuse all IT involved, we had to see a check-in agent in Munich which took some 15 minutes. Once at the desk, the AF agent quickly sorted out our booking and check us through to NRT.
Munich’s Terminal 1 built in 1992 still is a great place to start a journey, as its halls are spacious and full of daylight. Walks from check-in to security and from there to the boarding gate are always short.
First Leg Inflight
The AF 320 was filled front to back which made the seating feel even more claustrophobic. The crew was friendly enough and did their best as hosts. Service on this short leg consisted of a rather pleasant ‚coffee hour‘ featuring two delicious mini-muffins.
Transfer at Paris CDG
A colleague had already warned us and indeed CDG must be one of the worst airports I have ever changed planes in. Confusing, unorganised and smelling of overused deep fryer fat and urinal blocks. It is apparently also made up of different climate zones, as you sweat or freeze to death alternately.
The passport inspections within the Schengen-Zone which had been introduced a few days earlier due to the European refugee crises, did not exactly help.
Our mood, however, rapidly brightened at the gate, when a pleasant young man informed us that we had been upgraded to Premium Economy, which with JAL also means lounge access!
The AF lounge in Terminal 2E was magnificent. Spacious, with lots of warm colors and woodwork, an impressive buffet and an even more impressive bar:
Second Leg Inflight
Upon boarding friendly flight attendant greeted us and showed us to our seats. Premium Economy on JAL is a ‚real‘ premium class in a dedicated cabin with extra wide seats and a generous pitch of 107 cm (42 inch). The seats itself are incredibly comfortable. A pair of slippers and a bottle of water waits at every seat. The „Magic VI IFE on this Boeing 787 Dreamliner beames an unlimited selection of content to brilliant 12 inch displays. The system also features a state of the art moving map.
Inflight service commenced with a round of hot towels (of the real cloth variety), menu cards and headsets. The drink menu is comprehensive and includes Western and Japanese beers and spirits as well as French champagne. The meals are the same as in regular economy, enhanced by mid-flight snacks such as cup noodles.
45 Minutes into the flight dinner came bento box style, carefully arranged and presented on a large tray. Delicious miso soup completed the meal.
The hot entrée was a classic choice of chicken or beef. The beef stew was OK, the vegetables it came with were rather bland.
After dinner the FAs came around with amenities for the night such as toothbrushes, razors, moisturizer etc. which was a nice touch. The washrooms were also well stocked with various cosmetics and amenities. Most passengers tried to get some sleep while some indulgeld in the unlimited movies and tv shows. The crew came around with drinks at regular intervals.
1 1/2 hours before landing the LED mood lighting (a little overrated, as far as I’m concerned) came on and the FAs once more passed out hot towels and started their breakfast service. No hot breakfast was offered, which I found somewhat strange on such a long flight. Furthermore, the continental breakfast was a piece of ham on a piece of French baguette, which does not travel well, served with cold vegetables, some fruits and yoghurt. OK, I guess, but not stellar.
After landing in Tokyo Narita the remainder of this trip proceeded without any problems. Immigration was conducted with utmost politeness and professionalism and out bags arrived promptly on the belt.
All in all, JAL deserves a lot of praise for this convincing version of a product between Economy and Business. As their Premium Economy is not half-way but very close to Business Class, I would not hesitate to pay their 220-250 Euro/sector upgrade charge on a future flight.