TRAVEL | Japan Airlines (“JAL”) operates daily flights between Melbourne and Tokyo. The Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner (“788”) is currently used on the route, and travellers can choose between Economy, Premium Economy, and Business Class. JAL’s Premium Economy offering is highly regarded, and considered by many to be the best Premium Economy cabin in the world. Given that I had a lot of work to get done on this flight, and some frequent flyer points to spare, I decided to give JAL’s Premium Economy class a go on a flight from Tokyo to Melbourne.
Check in at Narita International Airport was efficient. The line wasn’t too long and service at the counter was friendly. You can check in online, but if you have any luggage you’ll still need to head to the check in counters at the airport. Premium Economy also gets you access to JAL’s Sakura Lounge. It’s not a fancy top end lounge but you get a comfy seat, WiFi, and your choice of some self service food and drinks, including a rather tasty beef katsu curry. No complaints about that.
Checked luggage is included with all JAL Premium Economy tickets when flying international. You can check-in two bags up to 23kg, and on carry-on bag up to 10kg, plus a small item that can fit under your seat.
The high quality level of service and friendliness that Japan as a country is renowned for is on display here. Staff are polite, professional, and always happy to help if you need anything.
The JAL Premium Economy cabin on the 788 that flies from Tokyo to Melbourne features 35 seats, in a 2-3-2 layout. With only 35 seats in the cabin, getting the attention of a flight attendant is not an issue. Colour wise it’s black, white and red – in line with JAL’s branding. As you’d expect, the cabin is very clean.
The cushioned fabric seat has dimensions of about 107cm x 49cm, which is larger than most Premium Economy seats. Like any economy seat, it doesn’t recline that far back (15cm in this case). There’s a 3-step adjustable footrest and a large cushioned legrest. In fact there’s so much legroom that if you’re seated next to the window and need to get up to go to the toilet you can do so without the person next to you needing to get up.
A centre divider provides added privacy and the seat reclines a fair bit back, so much so that it’s almost lie flat which is great if you want to get some sleep. Impressively, reclining doesn’t impact the person sitting behind you at all. The non-intrusive recline and space also means that you can comfortably set a laptop up on your tray and get some work done. Regarding ports and outlets, each seat has a USB port, video input, and AC power outlet. Do be aware that the power provided is at USA power standards of 110V AC 60 cycles (Hz), not Australian power standards of 220V AC 50 cycles (Hz).
On the back of the seat there’s a coat hanger, mesh bottle holder, and pull down drinks holder, along with the tray and a spacious holder for magazines and other belongings.
The back of each JAL Premium Economy seat has a 30.7cm screen, which is a very decent size. “MAGIC” is the name of JAL’s in flight entertainment system and on it you’ll find new release and classic Hollywood and Asian movies, along with documentaries, games, and music from a variety countries. Content rotates regularly to ensure that the content remains fresh and current.
One area where MAGIC falls down compared to the competition is when it comes to TV shows. There aren’t really any on there, as opposed to the full box sets that most competitors offer. What MAGIC does have that the others don’t is a decent selection of manga and other digital books.
Provided headphones are SONY background noise-cancelling headphones. They’re much better than the usual headphones you get on a plane but the noise cancelling isn’t really that effective. For me it’s my trusty, also SONY WH-1000XM3 noise cancelling headphones with an adaptor for the headphone socket.
Meals are included with all JAL Premium Economy tickets. The flight to Melbourne departs at 10:30 am and gets into Melbourne at 8:55 pm so it’s lunch and dinner that you’re looking at here.
The lunch menu is designed by six young chefs from RED U-35, Japan’s largest culinary competition aimed at discovering the next generation of chefs. The meal on my flight was a choice between one created by Fuma Saki, from Kyoto’s Kitcho Arashiyama, and So Otowa from Tokyo’s Ciel Et Sol. It’s the same as the menu offered in Economy class.
I opted for Saki’s tri-colored chicken & “negi” scallion rice bowl. The other option was Otowa’s vegetable keema curry & rice. Both mains were served with lightly fried autumn vegetables in jade green gelle, pumpkin and raisin salad, and salad with French dressing. For dessert it was an orange tarte au citron and Häagen-Dazs ice-cream. It was all quite tasty.
Come dinner, it was time to sample one of the collaborations that JAL does with various Japanese food chains. On this flight it was a collaboration with rice bowl specialists Yoshinoya. Rice, beef, pickled daikon (radish), sauce, raw egg, and seasoning all come out in their own packets and you mix it all together. It’s a pretty good representation of what you get on the ground at Yoshinoya and I really enjoyed it.
For drinks it’s wine, champagne, shochu, umeshu, sake, beer, and a selection of spirits. There’s also water, juice, soft drink, coffee and tea (iced and hot).
Flight attendants walk around every hour or so offering chocolate, potato snacks, rice crackers, other snacks, non-alcoholic cocktails, juice and water. If you’re ever hungry at any other time you can just ask one of the flight attendants and they’ll bring happily bring you some food or drink.
The provided amenities kit includes a toothbrush set, moisture mask, earplugs, and eye mask. Also on the seat when you first board is a blanket, a pillow, and a bottle of water. Slippers are also provided.
I knew that JAL’s Premium Economy offering was considered one of the best in the world before I flew, and when I landed in Melbourne I understood exactly why. Service is exceptional, food, despite being the same as regular economy, is better than usual and, most importantly, the seat is a big step up from economy. Lots of space and leg room, comfortable for working on the laptop or having a sleep. I’ve always questioned whether spending extra on Premium Economy was worth it, but with JAL it’s hard to argue no.