Monday, September 17, 2012

Sapporo to Tokyo Narita on Japan Airlines "J" class

I flew to Tokyo Narita (NRT) on Japan Airlines this past weekend for Japan's "Keirō no Hi" holiday.  Although Sapporo (CTS) to Tokyo Haneda is the busiest air route in the world, CTS to NRT undergoes exponentially less fanfare due to NRT's hefty distance from Tokyo's city center.  Most flyers traveling to NRT have onward connecting international flights.  So instead of operating 17 jumbo Boeing 777s per day between CTS and HND, JAL only flies 3 narrow-body 737's daily between CTS and NRT.

CTS airport
This is where Japan Airlines exhibits the epitome of airport efficiency for elite travelers.  As a top-tier Oneworld Emerald member, I am given the privilege of checking in at the first class counter.  As usual, there was no line and check-in took all but a minute.
The Sakura Lounge is located adjacent to the left of the first class check-in counter.  But what's truly amazing is that the lounge has its own security checkpoint.  As usual, there was no line for the security checkpoint, which took all but another minute.
The Sakura Lounge, itself, was subpar.  The only snack offerings were small crackers.  Soft drinks and juices were plentiful, but only beer off the tap was offered.  In other words, no premium alcohol or snacks to fill your stomach.  If anything, the lounge is more of a place to relax and check your email with free WiFi before your short flight.  The lounge's exit is neatly positioned right in front of the boarding gates, so you leave right into your gates.

Because the flight was full and I wasn't able to secure an emergency exit seat, I paid 1,000 Japanese yen (~$12.72 USD) to upgrade to J class, which is JAL's domestic business class product.  J class offers wider, more comfortable seats with expanded pitch space.  The pitch space and seat recline is in line with U.S. domestic carrier first class seats.  However, no food or alcohol is offered, so you're paying up exclusively for the hard product.
As a Oneworld Emerald, I was amongst the first to board the plane, which makes a significant difference in terms of locating overhead storage space.  However, it also means getting repeatedly smacked in the head by boarding passengers' bags as they make their way to the end of the cabin.

NRT arrival
On landing, you feel like a mouse amongst giants.  As Asia's busiest international hub, NRT is stockpiled with widebody and jumbojets like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.  In fact, NRT domestic flights don't even have actual boarding gate causeways, so you're taken to/fro your plane via bus.
The poor old lady needs an escalator
JAL @CTS has got to be one of the most efficient airport experiences for elite travelers.  A 3-minute check-in to boarding gate progression is far from being a pipe dream.  JAL has this process down to a science, and it works miracles for their elite travelers.  A 30-minute check-in to boarding gate progression is wishful thinking even for elite U.S. domestic travelers at major hubs.  A 1,000 yen seat upgrade is reasonable for a 1 1/2 hour flight.  It'd actually be more justifiable for longer 2+ hour domestic flights such as CTS to Fukuoka since JAL charges the same regardless of the domestic destination.  NRT is definitely not a prime domestic traveler's destination as it's tailored towards connecting passengers.  I can't imagine what it would be like disembarking the plane on a rainy or snowy day.  So unless you're visiting your friend in Narita, which was my case, HND is, by far, the better and more convenient option for passengers wishing to travel to Tokyo.
View from the wing


  1. your experience @CTS would likely have been much different if you were flying during the week during biz commute hours.

  2. Perhaps. Although this was an early Saturday morning flight at the start of a long weekend and the train and the plane were all full.