Japan Airlines (JAL), Boeing 787 Dreamliner business class, Melbourne to Tokyo

THE PLANE

Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, a wide-body long-haul aircraft said to be more comfortable for passengers due to its carbon-composite body which allows for a lower cabin pressure. JAL has 25 of these in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

JAL774 Melbourne to Tokyo (Narita)

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

JAL Mileage Bank. As a oneworld alliance member, so you can earn Qantas Frequent Flyer miles when you fly with JAL.

CLASS

Business, seat 9A

DURATION

Scheduled for 10 hours, with a departure time of 35 minutes past midnight, arriving in Tokyo at 8.35am – allowing for a full day of business meetings or sightseeing on the ground. Our push off from Melbourne is 20 minutes late, which is apologised for profusely even as we disembark the plane, despite us landing dead on time.

FREQUENCY

JAL flies return between Melbourne and Tokyo daily.

THE SEAT

A lie-flat “Sky Suite”, which is 188 centimetres long and 65 wide, in a 2-2-2 layout.

The suite has plenty of space for baggage under my foot ottoman and all the bells and whistles you’d expect – USB charger, AC power port (provided you have a Japanese adapter), and a generous swivel table.

BAGGAGE

Three checked bags of up to 32kg each, plus one carry on of up to 10kg.

COMFORT

The business cabin seats are in a 2-2-2 layout, which has become something of an anachronism as airlines install seats in 1-2-1 layouts that save window-seat passengers from having to climb over their neighbour en route to the toilet.

But JAL has found a clever way around this: boxing off each suite (there’s a retractable partition if you do want to talk to the person next to you) and putting a personal corridor at the end of the window suite, giving each passenger direct aisle access.

My window seat feels very private and cosy. There isn’t anyone in the seat next to mine, but I doubt it would have made a difference if there was.

The access passage is quite narrow, however, so girthier passengers might want to just choose an aisle seat.

JAL has installed newer business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration on some of its jets (777s and 787-9s) and it will have to do the same on its 787-8s unless it wants to be left behind its peers.

No pyjamas, but I am given a very comfy and fetching JAL cardigan to wear for the duration.

ENTERTAINMENT

The 23-inch touch screen monitor is bright and responsive, but the selection is limited.

There were about a dozen recent-ish Hollywood blockbusters (Jurassic Park, Star Wars), and then a selection of films from Japan (the rom-com When I Get Home, My Wife Always Pretends To Be Dead kept me amused for a short time) and elsewhere in Asia.

No HBO series to gorge on, but some lighter western material (Brooklyn 99, Mr Bean) plus many Japanese variety shows.

The noise-cancelling headphones are good quality.

SERVICE

The all-female cabin crew were unfailingly polite, friendly and attentive, but not to the point where it became exhausting. In Melbourne, business class passengers have access to the private Marhaba Lounge – which more closely resembles a budget hotel’s lobby than any of the terminal’s airline lounges.

FOOD

Probably the best food I’ve ever eaten at altitude. There’s a late-night snack of chicken teriyaki and egg tofu offered not long after take-off, but I opt for the JAL Original Healthy Ramen from the  Anytime You Wish  a la carte menu, which is light and delicious.

But breakfast, served about 2.5 hours before we land, is the star of this flight – a traditional Japanese offering of a bento box filled with delectable treats (salmon, egg cake, simmered scallop, a steamed prawn, fish cake, and fresh fruit); a deep-fried barramundi fillet with mushroom sauce; steamed rice, and a steaming bowl of umami-packed miso soup.

ONE MORE THING

As anyone who has travelled there will know, the Japanese have a real thing for packaging, and JAL is no exception. Everything in my suite (the headphones, each item in the washbag, the blanket) is individually wrapped. By the end of the flight there’s a pile of soft-plastic trash at my feet large enough to shame any environmentally conscious passenger.

THE VERDICT

An excellent and all-round impressive flight – and an ideal way to enjoy some of the best things Japan has to offer before you hit the ground.

Our rating out of five

★★★★

Patrick Hatch is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s aviation reporter. He flew as a guest of JAL.

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