Review: Japan Airlines First Class A350 (HND-CTS)

Jyaga loves (5/5)

Japan Airlines First Class Flight

Airline : Japan Airlines (JAL)
Flight No : JL517
Departure City : Tokyo Haneda (HND)
Arrival City : Sapporo New Chitose (CTS)
Equipment : A350-900 (JA05XJ)
Blocked Time : 1h35m
Seat No: 1D


Japan Airlines (JAL), the flag carrier of Japan, is undoubtedly one of the world’s premier carriers. Founded in 1951, the airline had at one point grown into Asia’s largest airline by revenue. Today, JAL operates a much more modest fleet of Boeing 737s, 767s, 777s, and 787s, in addition to Airbus A350s.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I took this trip intending to fly to Okinawa (and hence also try JAL’s A350). Yet, since that was not meant to be, a JAL A350 flight to Hokkaido will have to make do. 🙂 In any case, their A350-900s are special in the sense that they are the first Airbus jets to be ordered new by the airline and the only A350 fleet in the world dedicated to domestic flights.

Booking Japan Airlines Domestic

Like any other Japanese carrier, Japan Airlines maintains a separate booking system dedicated to domestic flights. I booked my flights just under a month prior to departure, just in time to book one of JAL’s many advance purchase fares. Specifically, I managed to get a Sakitoku Type A fare just before the widely-reported JAL website crash. In total, I paid JPY15,480 for a return itinerary in Economy Class from Haneda to New Chitose. I thought this was an absolute steal, especially since it was lower than the fares being charged even by low-cost carriers. And when it came to upgrading this ticket… there’s no better deal for air travel within Japan in my opinion!


Most Japan Airlines domestic flights depart out of the conveniently-located Haneda Airport in Ota City, Tokyo. Specifically, the airline is based in Terminal 1, which it shares with Japan Transocean Air (JTA), Skymark Airlines, and StarFlyer. I arrived at 10.30 after a short ride from Yokohama on the Keikyu Line for this 13.30 departure. That’s definitely very early for a Japan domestic flight… but I did have my reasons (erhm… lounge hopping). 😉

Haneda Airport Terminal 1

Thanks to the oneworld Emerald status I have with my Cathay Diamond membership, I had access to the Japan Airlines First Class check-in counters. As such I went straight to the First Class check-in counters on the North Wing of Haneda Airport, where Hokkaido-bound flights are meant to depart from. At the desk, the friendly check-in agent reconfirmed my Emerald status before checking me in. Interestingly, she had a hard time communicating with me in English, so I had to resort to speaking my embarrassingly bad Japanese. 😛

Upgrading to First Class

As I had initially been booked in Economy Class, I enquired if any upgrades were available. Whilst plenty of First Class seats were available a week before my flight, the cabin suddenly filled up completely on the day before. But as my luck would have it, a single seat became available! I didn’t think twice and paid the JPY 10,000 (£60) upgrade fee, which I think is truly incredible.

After receiving my boarding pass, I proceeded straight to the private First Class security checkpoint right behind the check-in counters. How very convenient!


Japan Airlines operates four lounges at Haneda Airport Terminal 1 – two in each wing. Specifically, there are two Diamond Premier Lounges for First Class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers. In addition, there are two Sakura Lounges for passengers connecting from international Business Class and oneworld Sapphire-equivalent frequent flyers and above. I have reviewed all four in previous installments:

Sakura Lounge South Wing


As is standard practice on JAL domestic flights, boarding is commenced 15 minutes before departure. Passengers are advised to proceed past security 20 minutes before departure and to be at the boarding gate 10 minutes before departure. I made my way out of the lounge 35 minutes before, just so I could also browse around the airport shops.

Departure gate at Tokyo Haneda

I waited at the gate 20 minutes before departure, watching as the earlier Boeing 787 departure to Sapporo completes boarding. Whilst many people lambast JAL’s livery to be too plain, I actually really like it. It’s very simple yet elegant and reflects the hinomaru very well.

Japan Airlines Boeing 787 at Haneda

Unbeknownst to me, the flight gate has been changed due to the late departure of the aircraft at our original gate. As I was waiting at the listed departure gate, I got an email notification saying that the gate has been changed to one in the South Wing. How ironic, since I had just walked from the lounges there!

Our revised boarding gate at Haneda

A 15-minute delay

I got to the gate 10 minutes before departure, although it turned out that our flight was delayed by 15 minutes as well. Regardless, I decided to just remain in the line for boarding, since the queue for Group 1 was slowly building up anyways. On domestic flights, JAL has 5 boarding groups in addition to preboarding for passengers requiring special assistance. Groups 1 and 2 have priority boarding, in which the former includes JAL First Class and oneworld Emerald-equivalent status holders; Group 2 is reserved for oneworld Sapphire-equivalent status holders. Interestingly, Class J does not have its own dedicated boarding group, and typically boards last.

JA05XJ, the A350-900 taking us to Sapporo

Preboarding started at 13.26, and Group 1 started boarding at 13.30, as expected. Upon a quick look at my boarding pass, the friendly flight attendant at the door showed me to my seat.

Both First Class and Class J boarded via door 1L, thus making the ambiance in First Class feel busy during boarding. Thankfully, they played JAL’s David Foster-composed boarding song, ‘I Will Be There with You‘, which I absolutely love. Hearing it always gives me sweet memories of the flights to Japan as my younger self.

Japan Airlines A350 Cabin

The First Class cabin on the Japan Airlines A350 is composed of 12 recliner seats, each equipped with personal televisions. The seats themselves are in a fixed shell, meaning that nobody will have the ability to intrude into your personal space. Provided at each seat is a small memory foam pillow, slippers, and a pair of headphones equivalent to the ones provided on international JAL Business Class flights.

JAL A350 First Class Cabin
JAL First Class seatbacks
Inflight entertainment screen

Separating each seat is a centre console, which also features a semi-translucent sliding privacy screen. Built in behind the privacy screen is a small yet adjustable reading lamp. In addition, the menu for the flight was already waiting on the centre console, in addition to packaged sanitising towels.

JAL First Class seats

The tray table comes out of the centre console and could be folded in half. I was impressed with how sturdy it is, making it ideal to use when working on a laptop or otherwise.

In-seat tray table

By the side of the centre console are also the remote control and seat recline control buttons. The reclining feature is quite intuitive and easy to use. Separately, in the headphone storage compartment behind the remote control is the seat’s power outlet.

Seat recline buttons and remote control

The seat does not convert into a fully-flat bed, though bear in mind that these planes only fly as far as 3 hours away on flights to Okinawa. In any case, the recline position was really nice and comfortable regardless. Overall, I really liked the very thoughtful design that went into the seat… and the premium of JPY10,000 only made it better!

First Class seat in recline mode

Departure from Haneda

Boarding was completed at around 13.45 and the doors were closed 6 minutes after that. As expected, all 12 seats in First Class were occupied. The flight attendant in charge of my aisle came to introduce herself (in Japanese) and offered to hang my jacket. Afterwards, she came back to ask if I wanted a blanket and whether I will be taking the lunch meal service.

The purser made her welcome announcement, completely in Japanese, detailing our flight time of 1 hour and 10 minutes. By this time, the crew stood on both aisles and bowed no less than four times. A short automated announcement in English soon followed before the safety video was screened.

JAL Safety Video

We pushed back at 13.57, 27 minutes past our scheduled time of departure. We then had a long taxi, going around the airport, before finally taking off at 14.12. During boarding, I switched on the A350’s excellent tail camera to watch the takeoff, since I had no window views. Interestingly, however, the camera was disabled after the safety video was screened.

Inflight Entertainment

I really have to hand it out to Japan Airlines when it comes to domestic inflight entertainment. Whilst most flights are under 1.5 hours, each seat in all classes is equipped with a dedicated inflight entertainment screen. Whilst the movie selection was quite limited, it featured a mix of old and new releases. In any case, this was already more than enough, especially considering that most movies exceed the average flight time on domestic flights! Hah!

Movie selection

Given our short flight time and since I wasn’t interested in any of the movies, I decided to watch the feed from the tail camera, which has since been reactivated. As you can see in the camera feed, the weather wasn’t in our favour on this flight 🙁

Japan Airlines A350 tail camera

In addition to the inflight entertainment screen, also provisioned is JAL’s Skywards Inflight Magazine, as well as a limited inflight shopping catalogue. For the average English-only speaker, however, the magazine wouldn’t be of much use since about 95% of its content is (understandably) in Japanese.

Seatback pocket contents

Free WiFi Service

As if the magazine and the on-demand entertainment system weren’t enough, JAL also offers free WiFi on its domestic service. Of the three, I thought this is the most useful provision, and one I appreciate very much. Logging-in initially seemed quite complicated, but a nifty informative sheet is provided in the seat pocket. I was connected for most of the flight, although the speeds were more suited for messaging than anything else.

Japan Airlines domestic WiFi service
‘Please enjoy the internet!’

Lunch Service

The seatbelt signs were switched off at 14.23, a full 11 minutes after we took off. As soon as the sign’s lights went off, the crew quickly got prepared for the meal service. Within 5 minutes of that, JAL First Class-branded moist towels were distributed to the passengers. Whilst disposable, the oshibori was very thick and high-quality.

First Class Menu

As communicated at check-in, one of the unique amenities offered in First Class is the meal service, which is otherwise not served on domestic flights. Our flight was catered out of Haneda and we were catered for lunch. For my flight, the menu read as the following:

JAL domestic First Class menu

The beverage selection looked identical to the offering in other classes, although it did include special options like Champagne, wines, rice sake, and the coveted Moriizo sochu. I decided to try the Champagne offering, which was indeed the Mansard Carte Blanche.

JAL domestic First Class meal

As indicated by the menu, there are no meal options – which could be an issue if you have a certain allergy or a dietary restriction. But in any case, the JAL First Class meal service is definitely a treat, for the food onboard was anything but ordinary. For the lunch service, the main dish featured was a Grilled Kagoshima Wagyu Steak with wasabi sauce. And yes, it tasted as great as it sounds!

JAL First Class lunch

Between the exceptional quality and the incredible taste, this was easily one of the best meals I’ve had on a plane, let alone on a sub-2-hour flight. Whereas other airlines serve a sloppy casserole dish, Japan Airlines blows everyone out of the water with the meal, which was easily restaurant-quality. Whilst I’m not ordinarily one to choose to eat beef, this one was just superb. It melted in my mouth and was seasoned perfectly! The side dishes were similarly exceptional, all of which tasted fresh and high-quality. As such, everything on the tray was downright delicious, and you can bet that all the dishes were empty when the tray was picked up. 😛

JAL First Class lunch

Whilst a matter of personal taste, I thought that this was even miles ahead of the food you’d get on a short Singapore Airlines or Qatar Airways Business Class flight. Confusingly enough, I thought this was even nicer than the international JAL Business Class meals catered out of Narita!


After the meal, I decided to check out the lavatory – First Class has one dedicated lavatory at the front of the cabin. Whilst it was clean and spotless, there were no special amenities provided in the lavatory.

JAL A350 First Class lavatory


Despite my embarrassingly bad Japanese, the service I received was nothing less than spectacular. The two wonderful flight attendants stationed in First Class each made sure that we had everything we needed. Drink top-ups were plentiful, and when I refused another pour of Champagne, I was proactively offered a bottle of water that I could take with me! Similarly, my seatmate ordered a coffee as we were descending and received one it a JAL First Class-branded takeout cup. For a sub-1.5-hour flight, I don’t think inflight service could get any better than this!!

Bottle of water

Arrival in New Chitose

Up to this point, the weather hasn’t been great and we’ve encountered some light to mild turbulence throughout. About 30 minutes to landing, the captain made his first announcement, as standard on JAL. At this time, we were to start descending and were expected to land at 15.15 local time – 10 minutes past our scheduled arrival time. Around 13 minutes before our estimated landing time, the seat belt signs were switched on and the cabin was prepared for arrival. Yet again, the tail camera was interestingly turned off for landing. I wonder if this was a security thing or…?

JA05XJ at Sapporo New Chitose

Anyways, we encountered even more turbulence as we approached New Chitose and finally had a rough landing at 15.18. After a short taxi to the terminal, we pulled into our parking spot and the doors opened about 5 minutes later. I thanked the lovely crew and bid farewell to our beautiful A350-900 (for now, at least!).


Overall, I had an exceptional flight on Japan Airlines’ domestic First Class. From the phenomenal food and service to the incredible value, there was nothing that I could conceivably complain about. Granted, whilst we indeed had a late arrival, it was reasonable due to the poor weather along the route throughout that day. Coming off this flight, all I could think of was to repeat this experience as soon as possible, since it was just that great. Ah, never change JAL!

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