Japan Airlines Business Class Sky Suite I on the 787 from Tokyo Narita to Vancouver

Boarding has already commenced when I reached the gate. Group 1, 2 and 3 were boarded simultaneously and there was a long queue for the Economy class when I descended into the holding area as it is one floor below the departure concourse.

Boarding gate at Narita

Seated upfront, I was able to use the left lane for boarding, bypassing the queue. However the evening departure and the setup of the jet bridge makes it tough to take good photos of the plane. By the time I entered the cabin at 6:30pm, the Business Class section has already filled up.

Japan Airlines 787 at NRT
JL18 Tokyo Narita NRT - Vancouver YVR 
Scheduled: 1840-1055 
Actual: 1850-0950 
Boeing 787-8 JA845J 
Gate 75 Seat 1A 

Japan Airlines has several different kinds of Business Class and I had flown with their Sky Suite II on the 777, Sky Suite III on the 767 and the regional Shell Flat NEO on the 787. Normally Japan Airlines flies the 767 or the 787 with angled flat Shell Flat NEO seats to Vancouver but they have used these 787-8 which flies the premium routes, and that was why I looked forward to flying onboard this cabin.

JAL Sky Suite on the 787

The 2-2-2 configuration with partitions means it is a forward facing full flat suite for every passenger in Business class. A few days before this flight I was able to choose seat 1A which tends to be reserved for elite JAL Mileage Club and oneworld members. The light loads onboard Business class meant no one was seated on 1C and in total, less than half the seats in the front cabin was occupied.

Bulkhead Sky Suite I middle seats

On each suite there was a Beams amenity kit, blanket, airweave pillow, headphones and menu. The cabin provided plenty of privacy and around my seat, only 2C was occupied. However the cabin felt claustrophobic especially in the evening with no daylight. Immediately upon being seated, the drawback of this seat was evident – it is the lack of enclosed storage space. There was no space to place my cameras or the amenity kit to prevent it from moving all over the place during take off for those on the window seat (A and K columns).

Amenities on the seat

On the right side of the seat, there was a divider which is lowered down during boarding and could not be operated until after take-off. There is a small ledge where a sanitizing wipe was placed as part of Covid measures, and a bottle of water was originally placed on the ledge by the personal monitor. The ledge has a spherical protrusion for stowing pre-departure beverage and is larger above the power outlet so passengers can place their mobile phone or gadgets safely. Underneath the ledge there was space to place magazines and maybe a tablet but it is not easily accessible so I would consider it practically useless. Even the inflight magazines and flight literature are placed on a shelf beside the personal monitor.

Ledge by the seat

Beneath the ledge, facing the passenger, there is a fixed seat controller with buttons to operate the divider and lighting around the cabin.

Seat controller

Speaking of lighting there was a reading light on the left side of the seat and the design of the light also allows it to be a stowage for the headphones, which is a Sony branded noise cancelling headphones that are the same in my previous JAL flight from Jakarta to Tokyo.

Headphone storage and reading light

Boarding was completed by 6:40pm which was quick since boarding commenced only around 6:10pm and we started heading for the runway at 8:45pm as the safety video was shown. The large personal monitor was very good to use and that was a plus point of this cabin. Cabin light was dimmed for take off and we were second in line at the runway. Take off was quick and smooth but it took a while for the seat belts sign to be turned on and there is no power during this time.

Safety video shown on the large personal monitor

Light in the cabin was turned on for service after reaching cruising altitude. I switched to the aisle seat 1C after take off since ingress/egress out of the seat was much easier. And the quiet cabin meant the open part of the seat to the aisle did not bother me at all regarding privacy.

Aisle in Business Class

A more important factor though was that the aisle seats C and H have the benefit of a large storage space that is easily accessible from the seat. The storage cubicle is segmented with a section for the inflight magazines. Headphones can be stored inside as well and the deep storage allows passengers to store plenty of stuff including the amenity kit and bottled water inside.

Storage cubicle on seat 1C

Located on the partition between seats, passengers can find the touch screen panel that can be detached. This is one of those modern controllers with a separate screen with a touch screen interface making it possible for the remote to show the inflight information including flight map separately while watching a movie on the main screen.

Mini screen on remote

I liked that the controller has buttons as well for most used inflight functions like calling an attendant for assistance and to switch on the suite lighting. The touch screen was alright but still not as tactile as real buttons so that is why the buttons is convenient especially when passengers just wake up from a long flight – they do not want to fiddle with a touch screen to get assistance or to switch on their light to check the time or get water.

Inflight entertainment controller

Packet towel was distributed before refreshments orders were taken by the crew. Sake served on this flight was similar to my last flight and the champagne served was Ayala again (I was hoping for the Delamotte). Eventually I went with champagne and cold hojicha for drinks before dinner. Below was their menu for this flight.

The meal order would normally be taken on the ground but as I have made a pre-order online for a Japanese meal, the crew did not need to take my meal order. Inflight menu is below:

A packet of rice crackers were served with the beverage. I thought of enjoying the snack first while watching the movie Dune which I did not manage to finish watching in my last flight, but turns out the service on this flight has other plans.

Rice crackers with champagne

Shortly afterward, the appetizer was served, with its presentation in a Japanese bento box, with a layer of plastic film as a covering like always. Because the meal service started, I started having dinner and this box was probably one of the best food I had in the air. Even though the dishes are cold, they comprise of all my favourite ingredients. From savoury duck meatballs, sweet and flaky Miso black cod, refreshing vegetable and sakura shrimp and satisfying prawn cakes, I enjoyed every bit of it. The highlight though, has got to be the simmered abalone and sea urchin!

Clockwise from top left: Grilled black cod ‘Saikyo Miso’ with yuba roll, duck meatball, butterbur stem, carrot, bamboo shoots, and pepper buds; Simmered abalone & sea urchin in abalone broth; Simmered sakura shrimp, bracken, potherb mustard, red konjac & deep-fried tofu; Omelette with crab & vegetables; Prawn cake

Once I finished the bento, the crew cleared the tray and it was time for the main course. Main course is covered in foil while the rice was wrapped in a bamboo paper. Dish comprises of braised beef with garland chrysanthemum, salmon and Ren special curry. The curry and salmon was tasty when paired with the rice. On the tray, there was also pickles and kelp and a bowl of miso soup.

Main course of braised beef with garland chrysanthemum, Udo mountain vegetable and burdock; Deep fried salmon with asparagus and Ren’s special curry

After the filling main course, the dessert of green tea mousse with red bean paste and strawberries was served. Sadly there was no ice cream on this flight. A top up of beverage was offered with the dessert and I enjoyed the mousse. Another packet of wet towels was provided with the dessert marking the end of the meal service. As the stewardess came to clear the table and collect the tablecloth, I asked if I could keep the small JAL spoon as a keepsake, but she declined.

Green tea mousse with red bean paste

After the meal, I continued watching Dune for a bit before refreshing myself in the washroom. The lavatories on this 787 is the same like in many other 787s, in size or fittings. The biggest difference is the built it bidets in JAL’s 787 as it is a common feature in Japanese toilets. On the long haul service, there was upgraded Miller Harris face mist and lotion along with the air freshener, dental kits and mouthwash.

Inside the 787 lavatory
Miller Harris amenities

Returning to my seat, I noticed the crew coming over to hand me some nicer mementos including a postcard of the 787, a pen, a small travel mug and an airplane plush that doubles as a kid’s bag. I thought the crew was very accommodating to my request for a memento, even going a step further while maintaining operational procedures.

Back at seat 1A where I have reclined the seat to a bed, the stewardess offered the airweave mattress pad which would add a layer of support. The additional padding was comfortable but the warm cabin as usual meant I have no use for the blanket which I used to add an extra layer of softness for my bed. I was also able to pilfer some more pillows from the plenty of empty seats in the cabin. Since I was actually wearing comfortable lounge pants after my shower in the lounge, I just hopped onto seat 1A to get some rest.

Time for bed

For some reason, I didn’t really have a deep sleep as I awoke occasionally. Could be due to the occasional bumps we had as we crossed the Pacific. As such I just chose to wake up since trying to get back to sleep was futile. Upon waking up, I noticed the inflight map on seat 1A has some bugs as the information remained at 4 hours till landing, which was definitely not the case. So it was nice to be able to move to seat 1C as the ‘living’ and set it into the recline mode as I left the bed on seat 1A intact.

Seat 1C in relaxed mode

As I checked with the stewardess on the flight status I was informed of our expected arrival time of 9:45am which was an hour earlier than scheduled. The very friendly attendant also offered me the snack basket and there was more varieties than just the basic rice crackers. This includes the Yoku Moku cigare which instantly caught my eye, as it is one of my favourite snacks out of Japan!

Snacks presentation in the galley

With most passengers still resting, I took the opportunity to change to my jeans. Breakfast was to be served at 8am Vancouver time and this coincided with the magnificent sunrise. I took the chance to walk around the cabin and take some photos from the wing, using one of the unoccupied seats on the other side of the aircraft.

Sunrise over the Pacific

As the crew served the pre-arrival meal, she also asked me what I would like to drink with the meal. I asked for a glass of orange juice with a cup of green tea, since the meal is somewhat like a breakfast.

Green tea with the meal

At 8:15am, the crew made an announcement on our scheduled arrival at 90 minutes. The Japanese breakfast consisted of pickles, simmered vegetables, another bowl of miso soup and the main course of Shio salmon with rice. It was definitely several notches better than just omelettes for breakfast and I always enjoy Asian breakfasts for its variety of dishes.

Japanese pre-arrival meal of salt-grilled salmon and simmered taro with meat sauce; with side dish of boiled canola flower with mustard soy sauce and dried bonito flakes, served with pickles, fresh fruits and miso soup

During the meal, I continued watching Dune where I left it and still had time to finish the whole movie. I had a top up of the hot green tea and the crew asked if I would like another cup after she cleared the tray. I took this opportunity to ask for a cup of coffee as I went to the lavatory to freshen up.

Joy of a Trans-Pacific flight with a meal in the sunrise

As I enjoyed the coffee, the crew asked if she could clear the bedding in 1A, and I allowed her to do that since we are due to start our descent not long after.

Coffee after the meal

Half an hour before scheduled landing, the crew handed out gentle steam eye mask and thanked me for the flight. Wonderful service on this flight as well from the lead purser Ms. Nakazato. I also noticed the purser on this flight seems to be much more competent in the English language so it was easier to get into conversations with the lead purser.

Gentle steam eye mask

At 9:31am Vancouver time, the Captain asked the cabin crew to prepare for landing. Flight took on a direct approach into Vancouver from the West. There was some nice views at Vancouver Island as the weather was clear there. From the snow-capped peaks to the alpine lakes, the flight continued on to Comox valley.

Flight routing over Vancouver Island
Peaks of Vancouver Island
Flying past Comox valley

Past Comox valley, the flight continued south past the coastal town of Parksville before heading east just before Nanaimo around Dolphin Beach.

Comox valley from the air
Flying past the town of Parksville
Nanoose bay
Town of Dolphin Beach

From there it was a direct easterly route into Richmond where Vancouver International Airport is located at. Upon approaching the straits into Vancouver, it was a mass of clouds and we landed into Vancouver on a cloudy day with little visibility.

Landing at Vancouver

Our plane was parked quite far at the end of the terminal. One would have thought given the lack of planes, there should have been a spot closer to the immigration. Surprisingly Vancouver airport was deserted in the morning. I would have thought the loosening of restrictions would encourage more travellers. There was no queue either in immigration and the officer just made a mark and asked a few questions, way less than pre-Covid.

Plane parked at gate 62

A border officer did approach me as I waited in the baggage claim and asked me questions on what I am bringing, the amount of currency and where I would be staying. Other than that, the experience of arriving at Vancouver for the first time since Covid was surreal. The lack of passengers at the airport meant I was through by 10:30am and I was on the Uber in no time. This was very fast indeed for an international arrival since my scheduled arrival time was 10:50am.

Final Word

Japan Airlines once again shows its strength in the food & beverage department, as the Japanese cuisine served on this flight is probably one of the most memorable meal I had on the skies. The appetizer has got to be the best I had on a flight. The service onboard is also stellar with the crew ensuring passengers get comfortable with a quick and efficient service. A personal touch is present onboard with small origami notes by the crew along with selected snacks from Japan like Yoku Moku cookies, and these little touches makes this an excellent flight.

Row 3 Business class seats

Surprisingly, I actually found the aisle seats on this seat configuration better for the extra storage cubicle and I was lucky to be able to occupy the window seat for take-off and landing, affording me the views while using the aisle seat for dining and watching movies. These forward facing Business class seats on Japan Airlines certainly is one of the most private cabins and those seated in the window seats does feel like they are cocooned in a suite of their own, which certainly makes it one of the best Business class seats serving Vancouver.

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