Sunday, March 31, 2013

JAL's marginal domestic improvements for elites

Few airlines exhibit vast chasmic differences between their international and domestic soft products.  Either they're consistently spot on or consistently lousy (aka United).  As I mentioned last year, Japan Airlines is a notable exception with domestic lounges that fade even in comparison to United Clubs.  I flew the CTS-HND route for the third time this past week, and was surprised to see some marginal enhancements to their service for elites:

1. CTS Sakura Lounge doubled in size
The CTS Sakura Lounge was the worst lounge I've ever been to until I visited the Nagoya lounge, which doesn't even offer WiFi.  I was surprised to see the recent additions, which included mood lighting with bar-styled seating.  Charging adapters for <iPhone 4S, Android devices, and most Japanese dumbphones were ample.  I was disappointed to see no enhancements in consumable offerings, and an utter lack of iPhone 5+ adapters was laughable.

Instead of just adding a room with enhanced fixtures, what JAL should have done was build a separate domestic first class lounge.  The CTS-HND segment is the busiest air route in the world, supporting a behemoth of business travelers, many who are oneworld Emeralds and first class passengers.

2. On-board greetings
Before takeoff, I was greeted by my last name and personally thanked by a flight attendant on the CTS-HND segment.  I figured that this was an isolated incident since no one else was greeted and it's never happened before.  But the same exact procedure happened on my return segment, which likely makes this an enhancement for elite flyers.  The flight attendant apparently had my name on the list.  This is a practice American Airlines performs for their Executive Platinums who aren't upgraded on a domestic flight as they're eligible to receive a complimentary snack and alcoholic beverage.  A personal greeting with JAL was welcoming, but it would have helped if it came with a free snack and beer, which is exclusive to the first class cabin.

3. HND Diamond Premier Lounges
The Diamond Premier Lounge is JAL's first class domestic lounge product, which is exclusive to their busiest hub at HND.  Upon landing at HND, I noticed on the airport map that there were now two Diamond Premier Lounges and two Sakura lounges.  Normally, JAL doesn't grant lounge access to arriving passengers, so I made an excuse to the lounge angels and was granted access.  The lone enhancement: seaweed and salmon onigiris, which is actually a decent addition since JAL lounges have virtually zero food.

Bottom line
Always good to see improvements, albeit marginal.  CTS dropped the ball on their golden opportunity to up their game with their lone lounge.  And JAL should offer more than just a personal greeting of appreciation for your business.  JAL domestic travel is still a pumpkin, though I'll take it over United on their best day.


  1. For the 96th time, domestic lounges do not exist to serve penurious grad student mileage-runners who can't afford to shell out 800 yen for a decent meal in the terminal. You are the utter opposite of their target demographic. #eatyourseaweedonigiriandquitwhining

  2. Their target demographic is biz travelers, who require much more than beer, low-end spirits, onigiri, and priority boarding.