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New Japan Airlines premium economy review


Quick take: JAL’s new premium economy seats aboard the Airbus A350-1000 combine next-generation technology with good old-fashioned comfort.



  • Seats have stylish finishes and impressive legroom.
  • The entertainment screens are huge, and charging options abound.
  • The cabin’s intimate size makes for personalized service.


  • Inflight Wi-Fi can be hit or miss.
  • The entertainment options are not as varied as on some other airlines.
  • Meals don’t feel much differentiated from economy.

Late last year, Japan Airlines took delivery of the first of 13 Airbus A350-1000s it plans to add to its fleet. Although the carrier already operated A350-900s, this new (to the airline) variant features JAL’s latest seats and cabins, including understated but stunning first-class compartments and business-class suites with closing doors.

The airline has now deployed the first two of its A350-1000s on its route between its hub at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), and I was on board the Jan. 24 inaugural New York-to-Tokyo flight to try out the airline’s all-new business-class suites.

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For my return flight to New York, I got to try out Japan Airlines’ new premium economy seats, which are pretty swanky in their own right, not to mention a leap forward for the airline design- and comfort-wise.

Here’s what my experience was like flying Japan Airlines’ A350-1000 premium economy from Tokyo to New York, and what passengers can expect on board.


How to book premium economy on Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines offers premium economy on a substantial portion of its long-haul aircraft, including the Airbus A350-1000, the Boeing 777-300ER and the 787-9 Dreamliner.

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If you’re just paying for airfare, be sure to use one of the best credit cards for airline tickets.

If, on the other hand, you are hoping to book award tickets, Japan Airlines is part of Oneworld, so you can use American Airlines AAdvantage miles or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, among others.

Japan Airlines’ own Mileage Bank miles are a bit harder to come by since the program is not a partner of any of the major transferable credit card points programs. However, you can convert Marriott Bonvoy points to JAL Mileage Bank miles at a 3:1 ratio and get an extra 5,000 JAL miles per 60,000 Marriott points transferred.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the range of airfares and mileage redemption rates for round-trip tickets from JFK to Haneda on Japan Airlines in the coming months.

Class Economy Premium economy Business class
Airfare $1,434-$2,674 $2,884-$5,062 $7,962-$23,200
American Airlines AAdvantage miles 70,000 miles plus $50 taxes/fees 100,000 miles plus $50 taxes/fees 120,000 miles plus $50 taxes/fees
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles 75,000-90,000 miles plus $77 taxes/fees 100,000-110,000 miles plus $77 taxes/fees 150,000-170,000 miles plus $77 taxes/fees
Japan Airlines Mileage Bank 50,000 miles plus $735 taxes/fees 65,000 miles plus $735 taxes/fees 100,000 miles plus $735 taxes/fees

Just beware that when you’re trying to book these particular flights that JAL currently has two daily frequencies in each direction between New York-JFK and Tokyo Haneda, but only one is operated by the A350-1000 while the other is flown with a Boeing 777-300ER.

Specifically, for the seat and plane in this review, you’ll want to look for these flight numbers and schedules:

  • JL 5 departs New York JFK at 12:40 p.m. (this will become 1:40 p.m. starting March 10) and arrives at Tokyo Haneda the following day at 5:15 p.m.
  • JL 6 departs Tokyo Haneda at 11:05 a.m. and arrives at New York JFK the same day at 10 a.m. (this will become 11 a.m. starting March 10).

Other Japan Airlines flights with premium economy cabins from the U.S. to Japan will feature the airline’s older seats. The airline also plans to deploy the A350-1000 on its route from Haneda to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) once it takes delivery of two further jets, but that has yet to take place.

Checking in to premium economy on Japan Airlines 

Japan Airlines operates domestic flights out of Tokyo Haneda Terminal 1 and international flights out of Terminal 3. My taxi dropped me off curbside at Terminal 3 and I took a set of elevators up into the main check-in area, where I located the airline’s counters.

Passengers who checked in online could print their bag tags then get in a line to drop their bags off, delineated by class of service. Premium economy passengers can check two bags of up to 50 pounds each for free and take a carry-on and personal item totaling up to 22 pounds on board with them (though no one was weighing these bags at the gate that I saw).


Premium economy passengers can utilize a dedicated check-in line, which had just one couple in it, compared with about a dozen or so passengers in the economy line. However, I waited about 10 minutes while that couple kept packing and unpacking their two checked suitcases at the counter trying to redistribute the weight. At that point, the economy line was moving faster, so I hopped over to it instead but an agent noticed I had Oneworld Emerald status (thanks to my AAdvantage Platinum status) and directed me to the next aisle of counters for elite customers.


There, an agent saw me immediately, checked my bag, handed me my boarding pass and pointed me to security. She also noted that my premium economy ticket entitled me to access the airline’s Sakura Lounge about a three-minute walk from my gate, which was a nice surprise. Premium economy passengers’ lounge access can vary by airport, and my Oneworld Emerald status would probably do me more good on most other JAL flights around the world.


After security and immigration, I walked to the shared entrance of various lounges including JAL’s Sakura Lounge and Sakura Lounge Sky View (for business- and first-class passengers) as well as the ANA Lounge, the Delta Sky Club and the Cathay Pacific Lounge.

The portion of the Sakura Lounge I was given access to was one level up (on floor 4) from the main concourse and could be accessed via either elevator or escalator.

An agent checked my boarding pass then welcomed me to explore the lounge. It consisted of several different seating areas and multiple self-serve bars and buffets.

To the right of the entrance was a corridor that led to one of those buffets, where breakfast items and cold cuts were on offer (this being a morning flight). There was also a set of bathrooms and a quiet area with reclining armchairs set off from the main space.

In the main area, meanwhile, various seating areas including long counters that functioned as work desks, living room-style vignettes and restaurant-style tables abounded, all bathed in natural light from a wall of windows.

Walking through another dining room-style area, there was another buffet with even more items including a station for make-your-own udon noodles. Farther along was a quieter section with low-slung chairs and a self-serve bar with espresso drinks, beer, wine and spirits.

There was also a set of restrooms here along with shower suites, though I did not check those out … nor did I duck into the smoking room.

Despite the busy time of day and the number of passengers who could access it, the lounge did not feel overcrowded, and plenty of attendants were on hand to keep everything tidy and make sure the food presentations always looked neat.


After munching on some fresh fruit and downing a cappuccino, I made my way down to the gate to await boarding.


How comfortable was premium economy on Japan Airlines?

With an 11:05 a.m. departure time, boarding was supposed to begin at 10:35 a.m., but as 10:30 rolled around, an agent made an announcement that boarding would begin at 10:40 a.m. instead and apologized for the inconvenience.

I was among the first to board so I could get a few photos of the cabin without disturbing other passengers. Here’s a snapshot of the entire layout of all four cabins and 239 seats aboard Japan Airlines’ A350-1000.

Class Economy Premium economy Business class First class
Total seats 155 24 54 6
Seat layout 3-3-3 2-4-2 1-2-1 1-1-1
Seat pitch 33-34 inches 42 inches 51 inches 83 inches
Seat recline 4 inches Hard shell Fully flat Fully flat
Seat width 18 inches 19 inches 22 inches 48 inches
Screen size 13 inches 16 inches 24 inches 43 inches

Premium economy has three rows of eight seats each laid out in a 2-4-2 pattern where the middle rows are slightly set back from the corresponding side rows.


Each seat is a roomy 19 inches wide between armrests with 42 inches of pitch, which is among the most legroom of any premium economy seats in the industry. The bulkhead seats in row 17 have even more legroom, which can come in handy when you want to fully deploy the leg rest (more on that below).


The two-seat sections on the sides of the cabin have sliding privacy screens between them with bamboo-like patterning, and slide out about 6 inches. That doesn’t sound like much, but it provides a modicum of personal space if you’re sitting next to a stranger.

The two-seat blocks within the four-seat middle sections also have these, though between the very center seats, there are larger, fixed privacy screens, so even if you’re stuck in one of the middle seats, you can feel a little cocooned. That said, the translucent nature of these dividers won’t block out light from a neighbor’s screen, so if you’re a light sleeper, you’ll want to use an eye mask.


Speaking of unwelcome light, this cabin on JAL’s A350 has manual window shades, which I personally prefer because they can block out all light. However, it also means fellow passengers can raise them at any time, flooding the cabin with light.


The seats themselves, which are manufactured by Safran, have a few interesting features and characteristics that set them apart from many others in the airline industry.

First, they are contained within so-called Fixback hard shells. That means they do not recline back into the space of the seat behind, but rather, they slide forward within their shells at an angle. So no need to worry about your laptops here!


Some folks prefer seatbacks that actually recline, but given the pitch of these and how far down the seatback slides, it makes for a comfortable ride nonetheless. Their headrests have wings you can use to cradle your head for a more restful sleep. There are also privacy wings on the shell of the seat that extend about 6 inches from the headrest, so you don’t have to awkwardly avoid making eye contact with neighbors.


In what JAL claims as an industry first for premium economy, these seats have motorized rather than mechanical parts controlled by buttons located on the central armrest between pairs of seats. One button makes the seatback rise or recline while another can navigate the leg rest into a 90-degree angle. The third is to put the seat into the upright position for takeoff and landing.


There is also a footrest that drops down from the preceding seat bottom for more ergonomic comfort, though you cannot use that with the leg rest portion fully raised.

With most premium economy seats, you have to push and pull your way into upright or recline, but these motorized seats felt more like business-class fixtures. That said, it was interesting to experience the 90-degree leg rest. I’m 5 feet, 8 inches and was able to scrunch up my knees so I could fit in my seat with it raised the whole way and the seatback lowered. In that position, I got a solid nap. But for the most part, I saw other passengers just raise the leg rest to about a 45-degree angle so they could use the footrest as well (which I also did and napped that way).

Passengers in the bulkhead row probably got the most use out of the 90-degree leg rest since they could raise it all the way and, if they weren’t too tall, just let their feet hang over like sitting in a reclining lounge chair. Next time I’ll know to select a seat in row 17 to take advantage of the extra foot space.


While I could have fit my backpack in the space under the seat in front of me, the seatback pocket was large enough to stow my laptop, which was really all I needed, so I placed my bag in the overhead.


Among the seat’s other features, the central armrest cubby, which is just large enough for small items like a mobile phone or glasses, contains USB-A and -C ports to the rear and a universal power plug and headphone jack at its front. Unfortunately, there are no wireless charging pads on these seats.

There is a corded remote for the entertainment system with a touchpad that you can use to control it and make selections as well as illuminating your personal overhead light or calling the flight attendant.

Between side seats and pairs of seats in the middle section there are wider armrests with larger trays for drinks or small items, as well as small trays that popped out to hold drinks.

I found the line running down the middle rather amusing – no sharing elbow space here!


Directly in front of the armrest, at knee level and attached to the preceding seatbacks, there is a cubby for each seat that’s just the right size for a water bottle or to stow the amenity kit.


The tray tables are solid at nearly an inch thick and about 20 inches wide and 16 inches deep (no problem fitting my Macbook Pro on this one). They slide back and forth about 3 inches so you can adjust them to where they are most comfortable for working or dining.

Affixed to the tray table, which lowers from the preceding seatbacks, there is also a drink tray with a cupholder if you have a beverage but don’t want to have the whole table out. This can also serve as a tablet holder if you want to watch content on your own device.

Although it’s a safety feature, the seat belt was large and padded, which restricted how much you could maneuver in the seat, but that didn’t detract from the experience for me.

One final thing to note: There are no personal air nozzles, so you’re at the mercy of the crew when it comes to cabin temperature, though the one on my flight kept the climate cool but not cold.


Here are the specific seats to look out for depending on the type of experience you hope to have.

Best seats overall Row 17 bulkhead thanks to even more legroom
Best seats for solo travelers The A or K seats along the windows
Best seats for couples Any A/C or H/K pairs along the sides
Seats to avoid 19C and 19H because of proximity to the galley and lavatories

Premium economy passengers can access two lavatories, including an extra-spacious accessible one, at the back of the cabin in the galley area between premium economy and economy. That said, passengers snuck up to the two aft business-class lavatories, too. Since one of the dedicated lavatories was directly behind my seat, I was worried about the noise level, but it was separate enough that foot traffic and flushing noises didn’t disturb me.


Although you had to manually lift the toilet seat and lid, there were touchless flushing and sink functions, which made the experience more hygienic. The toilet had bidet functions in addition to flushing, though you won’t catch me using those in an airplane bathroom.

Amenities in Japan Airlines premium economy

When I boarded, I found a bevy of amenities waiting on my premium economy seat. First, there was a plastic-wrapped lightweight fleece blanket. I didn’t actually end up using it because the cabin never got too cold, but it was nice to have on hand just in case.

There was also a pair of plastic-wrapped slippers with a shoehorn and an amenity pouch that contained a dental kit with toothbrush and toothpaste, foam earplugs, an eye mask and a moisture mask that’s kind of like a medical mask with a cloth-like layer that you can dampen and use the mask to hold to your face to prevent your nose and mouth from drying out on the flight.

Finally, there was a thin, arched pillow with ridges that was surprisingly comfortable. It could be folded or rolled to create a solid lumbar support for your lower back and its shape meant it cradled your head if you lay back on it, while the ridges made it extra breathable. It beat the usual small pillow you find in economy and premium economy.


The airline provides basic Sony noise-canceling headphones, and these worked pretty well, though the entertainment system also has Bluetooth pairing capability if you want to use your own. Eventually, passengers will be able to create entertainment profiles for themselves through the airline app so they can watch personalized content lists and carry on from one flight to another.

The 4K Panasonic Avionics screens are 16 inches across diagonally — the size you’d find in business class on many other airlines.

The system contained new releases like “The Marvels” and “The Haunted Mansion,” television series including several from Japan and “Britain’s Got Talent,” a selection of music and podcasts, audiobooks and more, though the selection in each genre is a bit limited.

The map function worked well for about half the flight, but the plane icon stopped moving over Alaska — making it appear as though we stopped or got stuck halfway there. That said, there are tail and front cameras so you could still admire the scenery during the flight.

Japan Airlines offers inflight Wi-Fi, but unfortunately, it would not work on either my laptop or my iPhone on this flight. It costs the following with slight discounts for JAL Mileage Bank members (so have your account information handy):

  • 1 hour: $10.15
  • Three hours: $14.10
  • Full flight: $18.80

How was the food in Japan Airlines premium economy?

Although there were no predeparture beverages, drink service commenced about 20 minutes into the flight after we’d banked north and east above Tokyo and headed out over the Pacific.


The flight attendants rolled a trolley up from economy and served premium economy first before heading back to coach. There was a choice of water, juice, soda, beer, wine, sake and spirits. I selected sparkling water and Double O white wine, which is a special blend made in Spain and created for the airline by master of wine Kenchi Ohashi and sommelier Motohiro Okoshi. It was tart and tangy, just right for the airplane environment, and was accompanied by a pouch of salty rice crackers.

About 30 minutes later, the flight attendants came back through serving the main meal. In the meantime, I had discovered the menu in my seatback. It was the same lunch being served in economy, with dishes created by chef Naoto Ohno from a restaurant called Syn in Fukuoka.


It included small dishes of:

  • Catalonian tomato toast, kind of like pan con tomate
  • Grated lotus root dumpling
  • Squid and spicy cod roe
  • A small salad with dressing
  • A cup of miso soup

The choice of mains consisted of:

  • Dry ground beef and chicken curry over rice with cheese
  • Yakitori grilled pork rib with a chicken meatball and green pepper over rice

Finally, for dessert, there was Haagen-Dazs caramel ice cream.


Everything was served in covered dishes on a single tray (the main plate had an artistic paper sleeve designed by Tohoku-based art and lifestyle brand Heralbony) along with metal cutlery, wooden chopsticks and plastic glasses.


Overall the meal was satisfying but not too memorable. The starters included a nice variety of tastes and textures, but felt a bit overprocessed while the main course tasted fresher and was not oversalted. I washed it all down with the red version of Double O, which was fruity with some background tannins.

The flight attendants gave us about 30 minutes to eat then passed through the cabin at regular intervals to remove trays as well as offering coffee and tea. A short while later, they darkened the cabin so folks could sleep or watch entertainment. During this time, passengers could request snacks including savory crackers and instant udon noodles. They responded to call buttons within about 20 seconds, without fail (though the ding of the call buttons did reverberate throughout the whole cabin, so if you’re a light sleeper, use those earplugs).

About five hours before landing, flight attendants turned on the lights to half brightness and came through handing out Hattendo cream buns. I’m not normally a sweets person, but this was a delicious, fluffy little snack, and I had a glass of the airline’s signature “Sky Time” peach-grape juice. It was just the sugar high I needed at the time.

Two hours before landing, the lights came back on again for the second meal service. This was a rather interesting affair since it’s a special offering in partnership with Japanese design store Muji served in a cute little takeaway-style box.

The tray included shrimp chop suey with vegetables over barley rice, a vinegary vermicelli salad and a creamy almond jelly with a goji berry on top. The flavors were all nice and light, and though it wasn’t a huge meal, it was a good, solid snack to have before landing midmorning in New York.


Overall, the airline could do more to differentiate the offerings in premium economy from those in coach. But the food presentation of both meals was attractive and tidy.

Was Japan Airlines premium economy worth it? 

Japan Airlines’ newest premium economy seats aboard the A350-1000 feel like game changers not just for the airline, but for premium economy in general. Not only do they offer expansive legroom and next-generation features like motorized leg rests that raise to 90 degrees, but their entertainment screens are a whopping 16 inches wide. Soft amenities like ergonomic pillows and noise-canceling headphones are comfortable if not overawing perks.


Because they are currently only available on a single route and their rollout is going to be a gradual affair on future jets from the airline’s A350-1000 order, these premium economy seats will — true to their name — come at a premium. For the moment, airfare for them costs about twice the amount of coach tickets and award prices, no matter which type of frequent flyer miles you redeem, are significantly higher than those for economy seats.


That said, passengers do get some value-added perks, including dedicated check-in counters, lounge access at Tokyo Haneda, and more dedicated onboard service than economy flyers might expect.

At the moment, business- and first-class award availability on JAL is sparse-to-nonexistent, so premium economy might be the next best option for flyers who want to redeem miles for a trip to Asia, especially because availability on flights with these new seats seems to be abundant.

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