Flight Review: Japan Airlines (JAL) Economy Class B767 NRT to BKK

To get from Tokyo to Bangkok, I flew Japan Airlines in economy class on a Boeing 767 plane. The first thing I noticed upon entering the plane was that the seats and cabin looked pretty old.

Economy class cabin

Economy class cabin

Economy class seats

Economy class seats

A nice thing was that it was only 2-3-2 seating in economy class, and the load was pretty light, so I was able to get two seats to myself. This flight is about 7 hours long, which is pretty darn long for an intra-Asia flight, but they at least had personal IFE at every seat. It was a little old and janky, but at least it was on demand entertainment, even if the selection was only mediocre.

IFE screen

IFE screen

The flight boarded late, and we ended up departing an hour late for an unknown reason. But what made the flight all the more interesting was that the two people sitting behind me were having a loooong argument about how much they hated each other. From what I gathered, they were traveling together, and one person was essentially crying about how the other was being so mean to her while the other was saying how she deserved being on the receiving end of so much hate. This conversation/crying lasted for the entire delay through the meal service, so about 2 hours of hating on each other.

Now, I’ve traveled a fair amount both by myself and with other people, and what I’ve learned is that I’d much rather travel by myself than travel with someone I dislike. When you’re traveling with another person–particularly when you’re traveling in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language–you’re going to be spending a ton of time with that person in potentially stressful situations. And you also have to navigate the other person’s likes and dislikes and quirks and idiosyncrasies, and it can be hard to find other people to blow off steam with since the people around you don’t speak your language. The moral of this story is make sure you’re compatible traveling with someone before you commit to a trip with them! Just because you’re good friends in daily life does not mean you’ll be good travel companions.

Anyway, onto the flight. I pre-ordered a VGML, and it was not good. The food wasn’t flavorful, the bread was terrible, the rice was mushy, the vegetables were overcooked, etc. This made me sad since JAL has such good food in first class and in their lounges. I also got some frozen fruit for dessert while everyone else got ice cream.

VGML

(Pretty bad) VGML

One nice touch was that there was a card posted in the bathroom, and they had toothbrushes available. Pretty good for economy class!

Card and amenities in bathroom

Card and amenities in bathroom

Special meal sticker

Special meal sticker

Given that it’s a 7-hour flight, there was a pre-arrival snack. The VGML snack was again really disappointing. This was a piece of bread with a slice of fruit and lettuce in it. I really don’t know what the JAL catering was thinking…

Pre-arrival snack

Pre-arrival snack

JAL First Class may be one of my favorite products in the sky, but this flight was a bit of a let-down. The seats were a bit old, the IFE wasn’t great, and the food (or at least my special VGML) was pretty bad. I’d rather fly Cathay Pacific or Dragonair within Asia.

Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge Tokyo Narita (NRT) Satellite Terminal

There are two oneworld lounges in the Satellite Terminal of NRT: the JAL lounges and the Qantas lounge, which I’m reviewing here. (For oneworld lounges at NRT, there’s also the JAL lounges in the main terminal, the AA Admirals Club, and a Cathay Pacific lounge).

Directions to the Qantas Lounge

Directions to the Qantas Lounge

Entrance to the Qantas lounge

Entrance to the Qantas lounge

The Qantas lounge at Narita is very spacious with tons of seating. When I visited, there weren’t any Qantas flights departing soon, so there were only two other passengers in the lounge. But that’s also perhaps because there’s very little reason to visit this lounge when the JAL lounge is just steps away.

Seating

Seating

Interesting light fixtures

Interesting light fixtures

Lots of seating

Lots of seating

More seating

More seating

In addition, because there were no Qantas flights departing imminently, the food selection was very sparse. There were just a couple of snacks available. But later, as more people arrived in the lounge due to an upcoming Qantas flight departure, they added more food, so there was eventually a soup, sushi, and some other random foods on offer.

Drinks and beer machines

Drinks and beer machines

Tea and muffins

Tea and muffins

Wines

Wines

Liquors

Liquors

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

Cold foods

Cold foods

More foods

Foods added for Qantas flight

Cheese and crackers

Cheese and crackers added for Qantas flight

There are four shower rooms in this lounge, although I didn’t use any of them. There was Australian beer on offer in the fridge, as well as some alcoholic drinks that I had never tried before. They also offer a variety of English-language newspapers, if you’re looking for those.

I’m a big fan of the Qantas lounges at Hong Kong and at LAX, but this lounge is pretty generic and uninteresting by comparison. Not much reason to visit unless you only have a Qantas Club membership or something, given that the JAL lounge is superior in most ways and is nearby.

Lounge Review: JAL First Class Lounge Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) Satellite Terminal

I’ve reviewed the JAL First Class Lounge in the Main Terminal of Tokyo Narita (NRT) airport before, but this trip (in November 2014) was my first time in the First Class Lounge in the Satellite terminal. I love Japan Airlines much more than many travel bloggers, mostly because I think they have great food (except for their special meals), both in the air and on the ground.

Entrance to the first class lounge

Entrance to the first class lounge

The lounge agents were super welcoming when I was checking in. JAL offers short massages to first class passengers, so you should see if they have open slots right when you enter the lounge because they can fill up quickly.

The lounge was pretty empty when I was there, so I was able to arrange a massage during my layover. The lounge features lots of different seating options with varying degrees of privacy and ample power outlets.

Seating

Seating

Seating areas

Seating areas

More seating

More seating

Beyond the massages given by people, they also have fancy massage chairs. I love these chairs! Too bad they’re thousands of dollars…

Massage chair

Massage chair

Apron views

Apron views

Since I had just gotten off a long-haul flight, I asked for a shower. The shower rooms are quite small and a bit too warm for my liking, but the room was clean and I enjoyed the shower amenities that they have.

Directing you to massage rooms, shower rooms, and bathrooms

Directing you to massage rooms, shower rooms, and bathrooms

Small shower room

Small shower room

After my shower, I was able to get a 10-minute massage. It wasn’t anything special (the massages that I’ve gotten in Cathay Pacific’s the Pier lounge and the Thai Airways Spa have been better), but it was still nice and appreciated after a long flight.

The lounge has drinks and snacks available, including Hokkaido milk, which is supposed to be some of the best milk anywhere, and the Sky Time drink that’s made specially for JAL.

Snack foods

Snack foods

Alcohol selection

Alcohol selection

Hokkaido milk and Sky Time drink

Hokkaido milk and Sky Time drink

In this lounge, there’s a separate dining area where they serve food (and you’re expected to keep the food in the dining room). The buffet featured salads, udon noodles, desserts, breads, soups, two hot entrees, curry, and rice. The food was all generally good, although I felt that it wasn’t quite up to the standard of the food at the lounge in the main terminal.

Dining room

Dining room

Cold food

Cold food

Make your own noodle bowls

Make your own noodle bowls

Japanese curry

Japanese curry

Fried rice

Fried rice

Pastries

Pastries

Desserts

Desserts

Self-serve towel warmers

Self-serve towel warmers

Seating in the dining room

Seating in the dining room

One thing that I’ll point out that the satellite lounge lacks is a sushi bar. They have a sushi bar with actual sushi chefs in the first class lounge in the main terminal. Like where they don’t serve the sushi with wasabi on the side because they already put wasabi on the sushi. And the rice is ridiculously delicious. A number of lounges around the world serve sushi (e.g. the United Club at HKG, the ANA Lounge at NRT, the Emirates First Class Lounge in Dubai), but this is by far the best sushi that I’ve had in a lounge, and it’s better than most of the sushi I’ve eaten at restaurants in the US. Granted, the sushi bar is not open the entire time the lounge is open–it’s only open for lunch and dinner (although I would happily eat sushi for breakfast).

Sushi bar!

Sushi bar in the main lounge!

Plate of sushi

A delicious plate of sushi

Anyway, I know people disagree, but I really like JAL’s first class lounges. The lounge in the main terminal is strictly superior to the lounge in the satellite terminal because of the sushi bar, but it was nice that I was able to get a massage in the satellite terminal lounge (which I’ve never been able to do in the main terminal lounge).

Flight Review: American Airlines Business Class on A321T Transcontinental JFK to SFO

As I’m preparing to embark on a trip to Southeast Asia that I’m super excited about, I went through some past photos and realized that I have several trips that I never wrote up. This one is from the end of 2014. I took a quick trip to Boston and flew back to SFO through JFK. Luckily for me, I got an upgrade to business class on one of American’s 3-class A320s that they use for transcontinental service for JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO.

I found the business class seat to be extremely comfortable. There was good cushioning, and the seat goes lie flat. The cabin itself felt spacious, and it feels relatively intimate because there just aren’t that many seats total on these flights (I feel like even economy class on these planes is more bearable because the cabin is so small).

Business class seat in 2x2 seating arrangement

Business class seat in 2×2 seating arrangement

I’m a big fan of the blanket and pillow that American has on their business class flights. The pillow is large and fluffy, and the blanket doesn’t make me run too hot or get staticky. There were also noise-canceling headphones and a bottle of water at the seat, and I was offered a pre-departure beverage.

Foothole cubby and IFE screen

Foothole cubby and IFE screen

AA’s in-flight entertainment on updated planes is quite good for a domestic carrier. Or perhaps I’m just used to the old US Airways planes that have no IFE to speak of. The screen was a good size, there was a touch screen controller, and I found the selection of movies to be good. It’s essentially the same selection they have on international flights (although again, AA actually still flies some old US Airways flights across the Atlantic that have no built-in IFE…). One thing that I didn’t like was that there were ads before movies.

Seat controls

Seat controls

Power ports

Power ports

View of business class cabin

View of business class cabin

For the meal service, there were three options, and I went with the gnocchi. The salad was fine; I didn’t eat the starter since I don’t usually eat meat. There was a choice of white bread and cheese bread to accompany the meal.

Food menu

Food menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

Business class starter

Business class starter

The gnocchi was fine. Given that this flight happened in November, I felt that the entree was appropriately fall tasting, if that makes sense. I skipped the sundae and cheese, which I know is blasphemous in some circles.

Gnocchi entree

Gnocchi entree

After the meal service, I tried to get some sleep. These seats go lie flat, which is great. They might feel a little narrow, but you can lower the arm rest to get more space. Length wise, there was plenty of space for me (I’m 5’9″). I also like that you can adjust it so it’s not completely lie-flat so you don’t feel like you’re sloping backward when you’re lying down.

My main complaint about the flight (which has been well documented elsewhere) is that the cabin got extremely warm. I’m not sure what it is about the design of these planes, but I woke up sweating.

Overall, these are a huge planes are a huge improvement over the old 767s that AA used to fly on these routes, and it’s a solid product for a transcontinental flight.

My Current Solution to Qatar’s Aircraft Swaps on BKK-DOH

A couple of days ago I wrote about how I was a bit annoyed that Qatar Airways had yet again swapped their aircraft on the BKK-DOH flight that I was planning to take. I specifically booked a flight to fly the A380 in first class, then switched to a more inconvenient flight to stay on the A380 after they did an aircraft swap on the original flight I had booked, and then found out that they’re not flying the A380 on any of their BKK-DOH flights  on the day that I’m traveling.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, but I realized that 1) Qatar said they’re going to start flying their A380 to Guangzhou starting on July 1, 2016; and 2) China is still part of Asia 2 for American Airlines’ award chart. This means that I can fly BKK-CAN-DOH on one award and still get the chance to fly Qatar’s A380 in first class.

Space in first class on this new Guangzhou route appears plentiful, and I was also able to find space on a fifth-freedom route from BKK to CAN operated by Royal Jordanian to position for the flight. This does mean that my total routing from BKK to SEA is now pushing close to 3 full days, but I’m excited to try out three new airline products and two new first class lounges. Transiting Guangzhou probably won’t be tons of fun, but I’ll also get to check out the lounge offerings there.

Fingers crossed that Qatar won’t swap aircraft on me any more…

How Much Trouble Should I Endure to Fly a Specific Product?

I’ve got a trip to Southeast Asia planned for later this summer, and I was planning on flying Qatar’s and Etihad’s A380s in first class on the way back. I’d fly BKK-DOH-AUH-JFK, giving me a chance to hit up Qatar’s and Etihad’s new first class lounges as well.

But Qatar keeps changing the aircraft for my BKK-DOH leg. They fly the A380 on the route, but not for all flights, and the other aircraft they use on this route (a Boeing 777-300ER) doesn’t have a first class cabin. I already switched flights once to chase the A380 (and now have a ridiculously long layover in DOH scheduled), but today I noticed that they’re not flying an A380 on that flight that day either. I’ve already flown Qatar in business class on the 777-300ER from DOH to BKK, so that wouldn’t be a new product for me.

So now I’m contemplating what to do. I’ve got some date flexibility, so I can potentially move things around and try to get back onto the A380 (flying from Southeast Asia to the US via the Middle East is two award for American, so I can potentially have an actual layover for a couple of days in Doha), but there are also no guarantees that Qatar won’t continue to switch aircraft. These awards were also booked pre-devaluation, so I imagine that I’m limited on how many changes I can make at the old rates. And of course, there’s not currently award space on either Etihad or Qatar for the dates that would be ideal…

How much trouble should I go to to fly Qatar’s A380 in first class? Should I just wait to see if they swap aircraft again? Should I start swapping things now, even though Qatar might change aircraft again? Should I just suck it up and fly business on a product I’ve already flown?

I enjoyed reading this post about traveling as a Muslim

From a fellow Prior2Boarding blogger: http://travelsummary.com/traveling-as-a-muslim-is-the-worst/

I’ve posted in the past about my (sillier) experiences traveling as an Asian American: #1, #2, #3, #4#5#6#7#8#9, and #10. I feel fortunate that most immigration officers just let me through, even when I have crazy one-way itineraries and am flights to nowhere.

Lounge Review: First Class Lounge No. 77 Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG)

I’ve previously reviewed the No. 69 and No. 68 (Cathay Pacific) lounges in Shanghai, but on my most recent layover in Shanghai, I decided to visit No. 77 because it had been recently renovated. I accessed this lounge via Priority Pass.

Entrance to the lounge

Entrance to the lounge

My first impressions were that this lounge is really quite nice. There’s tons and tons of seating (I don’t know why there’s so much since I can’t imagine it getting even close to full), and the furniture all seems pretty nice. Lots of outlets near chairs and a variety of seating areas (e.g. if you want a table to work on, couches, lounger to rest).

Seating

Lots of seating

Dining area

Dining area

Lots of seating

So much seating

Seating

Open to the rest of the airport

Lounge chairs

Lounge chairs

Lounger

Lounger

The food options in the lounge aren’t as nice as the decor, in my opinion. While they have a decent variety of food options (some hot dishes, dim sum, salads, fruits, pastries, sandwiches), the food was not particularly appetizing. Part of this is due to the lack of turnover of the food, as the lounge was really not very busy, so it seemed like a lot of the food had been sitting out for a while.

Drinks

Drinks

Pastries

Pastries

Salads and sandwiches

Salads and sandwiches

Hot food

Hot food

Also, strangely, the desserts were in a glass case, but you couldn’t access them yourself. If you wanted a dessert, you had to ask someone behind the bar to get one for you. I’m not sure why this is.

Desserts

Desserts

Physically, this is a great renovation, and I think that this lounge is nicer than the No. 68 and No. 69 lounges. But it’s still not a particularly noteworthy lounge, so I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit.

Dining Review: Joia, Milan, Italy

Joia in Milan is one of the very few vegetarian restaurants in the world that has a Michelin star. There are, of course, many Michelin-starred restaurants that serve vegetarian food, but I’m talking about restaurants that serve no meat. So when I found myself in Milan recently, I knew that I had to eat at this restaurant.

I made a reservation for 7:30pm, which is late for me to eat dinner, but this is Italy, so I was the only one in the restaurant for about half an hour when I arrived. Joia offers three different tasting menus, as well as ordering a la carte. I decided to go for the most extensive tasting menu which was named “Zenith”. I also asked for everything to be made vegan (rather than just vegetarian), and they were happy to oblige.

Dining room

Dining room

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Miscellaneous toys around the holidays

Zenith menu

Zenith menu

The first thing brought to me looked like a painter’s palette. It had a number of raw vegetables served with various things to dip them into. This was a bit playful and whimsical, but wasn’t much more than dipping raw vegetables into vinegar and oils.

Vegetables to start

Vegetables to start

The first cooked course was a fake cactus served with parboiled potatoes in a creamy, tart, acidic goodness. There was also a carrot at the bottom of the pot, which was a nice crunchy and sweet surprise. This offered up a good potato flavor and was again quite playful.

Fake cactus

Fake cactus

The first dish that was on the written menu was called travel notes. The cup contained almond milk foam, celeriac, artichokes, and olives. On the spoons were passionfruit and 25-year old aged balsamic vinegar. This course had a deep, meaty flavor (strange to say meaty when there’s no meat), and the flavor notes reminded me a lot of Chinese food until I got to the olives and balsamic vinegar.

Travel notes

Travel notes

The bread was served in a bamboo steamer, and one of the breads also reminded me a lot of mantou, which is a Chinese roll.

Bread service

Bread service

The next official course was the shape of life. This was a fake egg made out of beets and filled with almonds and other things. This was an incredible course, both in taste and execution. I’ve never eaten anything quite like it.

The shape of life

The shape of life

Up next was a vegan take on foie gras. I have no idea how they made this because it really did taste like foie gras. It was super savory and accompanied by apple, a crazy delicious tofu that was more like a savory mochi, and a kale chip. This was course was another winner.

Oh my dear planet

Oh my dear planet

The next course was a truffled cream with artichokes and cabbage. You were meant to take the herbs on the side and rub them in your hands to release the aromas (but not eat them). This was crazy delicious, although maybe a tad salty. The charred cabbage leaf on the bottom of the dish was some of the best cabbage I’ve ever had.

Let's singing the mountain

Let’s singing the mountain

The soup course was a curry that contained more delicious cabbage. The soup and its contents provided a nice mixture of textures. I am generally not a big fan of soup courses, but I thought that this was a great soup.

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Reflection about where I would like to be, here

Next was a miso cream on top of a rice cake with artichoke inside. The rice cake was executed perfectly with a slightly crispy outside but chewy inside. The miso cream was quite pungent, but it was worked well with the rice.

The navel of the world

The navel of the world

The next course was my least favorite of the night. This was a replacement course because I requested a vegan tasting menu, but it was a clear artichoke soup with a buckwheat disc, balls of carrot and turnip, different purees, and some balsamic vinegar. This course didn’t make much sense to me and was unwieldy to eat with just a spoon.

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

Serendipity in the garden of my dreams

I was then brought a nut ravioli with carrot puree, a tart sauce, and carrot, celery, and avocado. The ravioli and puree were really good, but I didn’t really understand why they needed the other things on the plate.

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Divertissement, thinking about winter and zen

Up next was a pea cake, tofu, mushrooms, and grapes. It was served table side from a cauldron, and the sauce was incredibly meaty and heavy. I did not realize that you could get these sorts of flavors only using vegetables.

A soothsayer told me

A soothsayer told me

The next course consisted of fried artichokes on top of cabbage. The cabbage was again delicious, but I think the batter of the artichoke was missing some salt.

Under a thin blanket

Under a thin blanket

The final savory course was similar to a cheese course with an almond cheese served with turnip, brussels sprout, and beet. This was a great course that was simultaneously simple in composition but complex in flavor.

Fallow

Fallow

The first dessert course had green tea cream, anise almond milk ice cream, orange, and hidden pomegranates. I’ll admit that this dessert was a little strange, as I didn’t think that the flavors melded that well.

Rainforest

Rainforest

Citrus fruits the Asian way contained orange, grapefruit, kumquat, and a tangerine sorbet. It was also served with a stick of incense for additional aroma. I feel like the most Asian part of this dish was the kumquat, but I’m not complaining because it was a tasty dessert.

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

Citrus fruits at the Asian way

The penultimate dessert was called “gong”. And it was served with an actual gong. When they serve you the dessert, they put a mini gong on your table and ring the gong before you eat. Part of the rationale is that the chef wants to make sure to involve all of your senses in the dining experience (hence the things like the incense stick and rubbing herbs with your hands).

Gong

Gong

The actual dessert was an almond milk foam and cream served with raspberry and chocolate. Absolutely delicious.

Gong

Gong

The final dessert was a raw chocolate and coconut mousse served with raspberry, mango, and guava. You really can’t go wrong.

Macon

Macondo

The service throughout the meal was very attentive. Everyone was on the ball, and my water glass never went empty (surprisingly hard for me since I drink a lot of water!). The service maybe wasn’t as formal as restaurants with more Michelin stars, but there were no miscues and the service was generally very competent.

This meal ended up taking about 2.5 hours and cost 110 euro (+3 euros per bottle of sparkling water). I think that this was extremely reasonable given the inventiveness and playfulness of the food, but I recognize that not everyone will be as amused as I was, and not everyone is looking for novelty in their food. But I heartily recommend this restaurant for any vegetarians or vegans looking for a fine dining experience or for those people who are looking for novelty and whimsy in their food.

 

Lounge Review: Le Anfore Lounge Rome Airport (FCO)

At Rome Fiumicino airport, the lounge options are relatively limited. Alitalia has a lounge, but most everyone else (i.e. not Skyteam) is sent to Le Anfore lounge, which is also accessible via Priority Pass. The lounges are right next to each other, and the entrance is near gate G11.

Entrance to the lounges

Entrance to the lounges

Airlines and access rules for the Anfore Lounge

Airlines and access rules for the Anfore Lounge

The lounge is a decent size with tons of seats. But there’s not a ton besides seats. There aren’t electrical outlets, and the things that look like windows are actually just illuminated wall panels to give you the impression that there’s natural light (the lounge is located below the main concourse).

Plenty of seating (note that those aren't actual windows)

Plenty of seating (note that those aren’t actual windows)

More seating

More seating

Work area

Work area

Magazines

Magazines

There’s a bar, and the bartender was super friendly. They also have a table of food, but the food was honestly pretty disgusting. I’d say that the savory food in this lounge is the worst lounge food I’ve ever encountered, which is kind of a slap in the face given how good food is in Italy. I can’t even imagine how they manage to make such bad food.

Pretty sad food options

Pretty sad food options

More sad food

More sad food

There is a shower in the lounge, although I did not use it. And the people working in the lounge were friendly, so there’s that. But otherwise, besides a place to sit and wifi, there’s not much that this lounge has to offer.