Review: Japan Airlines Economy Class Experience

a large jetliner sitting on top of an airport tarmac.

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I recently flew with Japan Airlines (JAL) from Los Angeles to Bangkok, with a stopover in Tokyo. However, my journey didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped.

Originally, I was booked to fly with Zip Air, JAL’s low-cost airline. Unfortunately, upon arrival at LAX, the check-in staff refused to let me check in because I didn’t have a visa to enter Japan. Despite the fact that I was only transiting in the same terminal, they wouldn’t budge. This was quite frustrating since I had purchased the tickets directly from their website and had checked all the travel requirements beforehand. It was around the time of COVID restrictions, which only added to my annoyance.

an airport check in area with electronic counters.

To make matters worse, even though the Zip Air PR team had given me permission to take photos and videos during my trip, the check-in staff seemed unaware of this and simply refused me entry.

Left with no choice, I had to wander around LAX trying to find an alternative flight for the same day. Thankfully, ANA and JAL were willing to accommodate me, albeit at an additional cost for a brand-new ticket. Needless to say, I vowed never to fly with Zip Air again.

What disappoints me even more is that it has been almost 9 months since that incident, and I still haven’t received a refund for my original booking. Despite sending numerous messages and emails, all my attempts to reach out have fallen on deaf ears. It seems that while Zip Air is quick to take your money, they are reluctant to provide any form of customer support when things go wrong. This entire experience has left me with no desire to ever fly with them again.

JAL ECONOMY CLASS 2014

On a brighter note, let’s shift our focus to Japan Airlines (JAL). I’ve had the pleasure of flying with them multiple times since 2014, and I must say, their consistency has always impressed me.

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KFC & JAL

Indeed, one of JAL’s masterstrokes has been its strategic partnerships with renowned brands to create unique dining experiences onboard.

Back in the day, JAL collaborated with Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan (KFC) to offer KFC meals on select international flights. These special meals came in a unique box and tray designed jointly by KFC and JAL.

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The collaboration between KFC and JAL was particularly significant in Japan, where KFC had gained popularity as a Christmas meal option due to a marketing campaign launched in 1974. The idea originated when a foreign customer visited a KFC restaurant on Christmas Day and requested turkey. Although turkey was not a traditional Christmas food in Japan, the customer decided to try KFC instead and was so delighted with the chicken that he spread the word to his friends and family

In 2014, I flew all the way to Japan specifically to experience this inflight collaboration meal, and it remains a memorable part of my trip. It truly set the tone for my Japanese holiday and immersed me in the festive spirit.

Apart from the special KFC meals, JAL consistently offers generous portions and a wide variety of food options on their inflight meal trays. Even during the COVID era, they have managed to maintain their high standards. Let’s take a look at some regular inflight meals from 2014 on routes between Europe and Japan.

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LOS ANGELES TO TOKYO

a large airplane with people sitting in it.

During my 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo, JAL provided two meal services along with snacks available in the galley. The journey started with hot towels being offered, followed by the first meal service shortly after takeoff.

a white cloth sitting on top of a black table.

For this first meal, passengers could choose between chicken or beef. I opted for the chicken with rice, although it wasn’t particularly outstanding, so I ended up picking around the chicken itself. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the side dishes of Soba noodles, fresh fruit, and turkey.

A tray with a variety of food in Cathay Pacific economy class.

During the meal collection, the cabin attendant noticed I didn’t touch my meal and apologised, and offered me snacks a little later on. JAL’s economy class service can be exceptional, it’s not every day that a crew member goes out of their way for you.

a couple of bags of food sitting on top of a table.
a red tray topped with lots of food.
a tray with rice, meat, vegetables, and fruit.
a couple of forks and spoons sitting on top of a plastic bag.
a couple of trays of food on a table.

During a visit to the galley, I had a chance to explore the available snacks, which were quite varied.

a couple of boxes of food sitting on top of a counter.

About two hours before landing, the second meal was served. However, unlike the first service, there was no choice offered. Everyone received eggs with meat and rice, complemented by fresh fruit, yogurt, and cheese spread with crackers. I found this meal much more enjoyable than the previous one.

a tray with a towel and some food on it.
a tray of food with rice, meat and vegetables.

TOKYO TO BANGKOK

Following a quick transit at Narita Airport, it was time to continue from Tokyo to Bangkok. For this leg of the journey, I had booked into premium economy to experience the differences in service and meals. As an added bonus, JAL Premium Economy Class passengers are treated to champagne and a variety of snacks not available in economy class.

On this five-hour sector, JAL introduced their “Red à table” service, which aims to create a warm and homely dining experience. This service is available in both premium economy and economy class. There was an option of two main courses – a Japanese-style beef curry or a chicken teriyaki with rice. I opted for the latter, which was accompanied by a refreshing salad and a choice of bread rolls. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and the portion size was more than sufficient.

a tray of food on a plane with a cup of coffee.

However, the crew on this sector were disappointing. I believe some of them were from the airline’s Bangkok base. They rushed the service, kept communication to a minimum, and literally threw the second service meal (a piece of corn mayo bread) at us just after collecting our meal trays.

a bag of bread sitting on top of a table.

The lights went out and a few hours later we landed in Bangkok. It was quite unfortunate as this was the only disappointing experience I’ve ever had with JAL throughout all my travels with them. Despite this hiccup, JAL remains one of my favorite airlines to fly with. The delectable food they serve and the consistently amazing service they provide make every journey memorable.

 

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