Ahead of Japan Airlines launch of its new business class seat, which will debut on JAL's long-distance Boeing 777-300ER flights next year, Australian Business Traveller was invited to visit JAL's Tokyo workshop in an industrial district near Haneda Airport to take a closer look -- and to snap some of our signature real-world shots.
No impossibly petite airline photoshoot models lounging on the seats, glowing PR lighting or fisheye lenses here: this is what you'll see when these showcase units start making it onto planes starting with a Tokyo-London service in January.
Tokyo-New York will follow, with other European and North American cities next on the list.
(JAL's lone Australia flight to Sydney uses smaller 777-200ER planes, but the airline's seat creators tell us they're looking at upgrading the current angled lie-flat seats on those planes, with a modified version of this new seat one of the options.)
JAL goes flat-out
Business travellers know that fully flat beds like these -- not the angled, lie-flat "wedgie slopers" you'll see on some planes -- are the seats to pick.
And the direct aisle access is also a real benefit, because it means that window and middle seat passengers don't have to leap like a gazelle (or hippo) across a sleeping aisle passenger's legs in the middle of the night.
JAL has pulled both out of the bag in this seat, which is a new implementation of the "staggered fully flat bed" layout.
The hardware is a development of B/E Aerospace's Super First Class seat, which you'll see arranged differently in the first class offerings on British Airways, Etihad, Swiss and Jet Airways, among others.
The seats are offset slightly, with window passengers scooting through the "gangway" between the aisle passengers' seats -- while those aisle passengers' feet are completely enclosed by the "foot box". No straddling required.
But a bonus for passengers is that the seats are extra-wide: up to 25 inches at the waist area in bed mode, compared with a more usual 20-22 inches for the competition.
The seat's armrests lower to match the height of the seat, giving several inches of extra space on either side when you're sleeping.
That headrest also inflates in case you're the sort of person who likes a lot of pillow underneath your noggin when you're trying to sleep.
The seat swings at three points: headrest, hip and knee, with three presets. The grey switches on the right control the motorised divider. (If you're familiar with those from the ones on, say, British Airways, don't worry -- the motors are pretty quiet.)
The seat's comfy at all points, and the legrest angles at a point that comfortably fits taller people like 6'3"/190 cm us (as well as shorter people like the JAL staffers we also asked to try it).
The seat is 6'2" -- 188 cm -- in length from fabric headboard to faux-wood footboard. If that strikes you as a little short for the average Australian frame, you're not alone: we agree.
JAL's people suggest that tall passengers lie diagonally, but anyone who's tried that in an airline seat knows what any geometry teacher will tell you: the extra width you require for your head and feet make that even more cramped.
Unlike other staggered seating we've seen, there's no extra space in the window or middle seats either. (In other staggered fully flat seats with direct aisle access, the window seats are longer than the aisle seats because the "gangway" through to the window seats is taken out of the aisle seat's length.)
Instead, the aisle passenger is given an extra side storage area -- which window and middle passengers don't get.
JAL's seat creators tell Australian Business Traveller that this is to make up for the fact that the window and middle seats are more private. Window passengers are left with this small netted storage area on top of the aisle person's storage nook:
Here's how deep the space is when the netting's off:
Overall, there's not a huge amount of storage space around the seat, especially given the amount of personal space you have. Unless you're an aisle passenger, you're left with a bit of netting and, if your bag is tiny, the space in the footrest.
There's a nice big table, though, which slides up and then folds down.
We reckon that the staggering of the seats is just too much to be able to hold a conversation or dine a deux if you're travelling in a pair.
But some consolation is the 23-inch entertainment monitor, which stretches wider than the actual seat!
Controlled by a hand-held touchscreen that feels like a smartphone, this is one of the largest screens in the sky -- not quite Asiana's new 32-inch OZ First Suite screen, but plenty big enough to get some serious movie-watching done on your flight.
A video input and USB socket are also available, though JAL's demonstrator seats didn't have the systems up and working to test how well it works.
You'll find a full 110V power point too, but an odd omission is that it's not fully universal since UK/Hong Kong/Singapore style plugs won't work. JAL's staffers tell us that a limited supply of adapters will be available for passengers whose electronics use this type of plug.
While aisle seat passengers have the power point and USB connection right next to them as part of their side storage space, the window/middle passengers' set of these are vertical with the wall -- meaning there's no little shelf to store your phone or other device while it's charging.
Overall, though, business travellers should be as contented as this bloke looks with the new seat. Privacy fans have the choice of the private window or extra-private middle seats, while people who prefer to be less closed in have the option of the aisle.
For more picture-laden AusBT photo tours:
- Thai Airways new Airbus A380
- ANA's new Boeing 787 Dreamliner
- Qatar Airways' Boeing 787 Dreamliner
- Business class on Airbus' A350, the Boeing 787 rival
- China Southern's Airbus A380
- Virgin Atlantic's new Upper Class Dream Suite business seat
- Lufthansa's super-luxury VIP private jet Airbus A380 cabins
- China's Beijing-Shanghai bullet train
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