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Waking up early we packed a few last minute things before heading out to wait for our car to the airport and the beginning of our Asian adventure. Departing for Logan at 6:45am meant dealing with the morning rush-hour traffic, but it was still light and we made good time. Check-in at the airport was a breeze, and we quickly made our way thorough security and on to the food court for breakfast. After our food, we hopped to the Admirals Club to relax in style while waiting for our flight. The Boston Admirals Club isn’t much to write home about (so I won’t), but has some comfy chairs and is quieter than the rest of the terminal. Soon it was time to make our way to the gate to board our first of three flights that on our way to Hanoi.AA1039 BOS-JFK
Even though this was by far the shortest of our upcoming flights, I was still very happy that no last minute equipment substitutions had taken the 321T off of the route, so we’d still be able to enjoy the fully lie-flat 1-1 seating. After a very quick boarding process (mostly due to the very low density layout of the plane) and a (plastic) glass of OJ, we pushed back on time and with a short taxi were quickly banking away from downtown, and on our way south. The service on the flight is not the same as the other 321T services (but those are all cross country, so that’s to be expected), but we still got to choose a second drink and some items from the snack basket while adjusting our seats into the lounge mode. K made the most of the seat and reclined almost 180 degrees, mostly just because she could. It wasn’t long until we heard from the flight deck that we were beginning our descent, which was followed quickly by the FA announcement to stow our belongings and move our seats back into the upright configuration. The downside to the 321T first class seat (and the 77W J seat) is that since the TV swings out, it has to be stowed as well, meaning that you can watch anything for while taxiing or during takeoff/landing. The weather at JFK was beautiful as we touched down, and I spotted JL’s earlier flight (a 787) waiting to takeoff as we taxied off the runway.JFK
The downside to transferring at JFK (and it actually was frustrating enough that I’ll strongly consider other airports in the future) is that you cannot stay airside while moving from terminal to terminal. That meant that we had to leave the terminal and take the air-train from American Airlines’ terminal 8 to terminal 1 where our Japan Airlines flight would be departing from. The walk was a bit long, but not unwelcome as we would be spending a lot of time seated over the next hours, and the train was pretty quick. Once at the Japan Airlines first class check-in desk we were greeted by a smiling agent who quickly checked us in again, and gave us JL boarding passes as well as first class tags for our carry-on luggage (and doubled checked that K’s unusual last name was spelled correctly, something that I’d already confirmed over the phone every time I’d made a change to our itinerary). We were directed to the first class security line (no TSA PreCheck here
), which was faster than the economy lane, but was not organized well. All of the priority lanes (first/business/elites/other priority) led to the same two TSA agents and an apathetic airport employee who seemed less interested in directing traffic and more interested in just standing around doing nothing. Finally we made it through security (I’ve forgotten how much I hate the non-PreCheck TSA experience), and made our way to the Air France lounge (JAL no longer has their own JFK lounge, which makes sense given they only have two daily flights, so they contract with Air France).
Since we were flying first class, we were directed to the upper level of the Air France lounge. The lounge was very bright and looked out over the tarmac with floor to ceiling windows. We settled at a couple of chairs by the window and I set out to survey the offerings. While considerably better than the Admirals Club we’d come from, it was a far cry from JL’s Narita lounges. We started with some champagne (of course) served somewhat tackily in plastic flutes. There were a few food options, but not too many looked very appealing. I chose some smoked salmon with capers and K grabbed a few of the other offerings. A few glasses of champagne later it was time to head down to the gate (which was very conveniently located right opposite the lounge. We were the first in the first class line, and eagerly awaited our turn to board, which came shortly after the scheduled time.JL 5 JFK-NRT
Japan Airlines outfits their 77Ws with two rows in a 1-2-1 first class configuration, and we were seated in the center of the first row. The seat is a very sharp looking, an imposing mocha brown leather chair, with ample space between it and the large TV which sat above the sliding table and guest seat. After having our picture taken by the senior cabin attendant Ms. K. Sato (who was amazingly friendly and attentive), we each had a glass of champagne (Salon 2004, the good stuff) while settling into our seats.
Takeoff was smooth, but it was a little strange to be so far away from the window and not being able to make out much that was happening outside. However our side-by-side seats meant that with the privacy divider down we could pretty easily hold a conversation or each others hand. Once airborne our first and main meal of the trip was served. Another great perk of the JL (and many other F seats) is the guest seat, which allows you to dine face to face with your traveling partner. K came over to my seat, and very quickly a tablecloth and champagne were brought out. I had pre ordered our meals, as I wanted to make sure that I’d be able to get the Japanese meal (K chose the western menu). With our champagne we were served an amuse bouche of a mushroom cap filled with mascarpone cheese and smoked sturgeon on a blini with caviar.
Our meal continued with a trio of “Japanese Delicacies”, which included wasabi flavored octopus, spicy scallop, and simmered stem lettuce. I really liked the octopus, which had a great wasabi heat, and a satisfying crunch.
Next came the real food. K’s first course was surprisingly chilled white asparagus velouté with sweetbreads and a side dish of smoked tuna with a wasabi mayo. The unexpected temperature of the soup made it much thicker than one expects, and muted the flavors. After about 2-3 bites, K decided to give up on that and focus on the tuna instead. While not classically western it was much better than the “soup.”
I started with a selection of 5 small dishes, some sea-bream (fish), conger eel & eggplant roll, bamboo shoots, abalone & sea urchin, and mushroom & asparagus with tofu. The three fish dishes were the best, followed by the bamboo shoots and then the mushrooms and asparagus.
When we’d confirmed our pre-ordered selection, I’d asked for the caviar from the western menu instead of the Japanese soup, and after a quick explanation that I didn’t want both, was told that the substitution would be no problem. The caviar was served with blinis and dish of garnishes (egg white, egg yolk, red onion, and chives) as well as some sour cream. (I forgot to take a picture before digging in, so apologies for the carnage)
K’s next course was a pot-au-feu of lamb sausage and spring vegetables, which was much better than the first soup. The broth wasn’t anything too special, but the veggies were fresh and vibrant, and the sausage was mildly spiced.
My next two dishes came at once, a skewer of shrimp and mullet roe with some egg coated yam, and a combination of two other dishes (the scrambled egg/grilled squid/ and mashed potato, and the smoked salmon and sea bream with radish) served in a glass bowl. Both were tasty, though the apparent melding of the two courses left me slightly puzzled at first. The shrimp was slightly overcooked and a little rubbery, but everything else was done very well.
K’s final savory course was duck breast with eggplant puree and two cherry sauces. In addition to what was listed on the menu it was also served with a wild and regular rice mixture, and a duck glace. The duck was very well cooked, and though it continued the trend of being less than aggressively seasoned, it was tasty.
I was faced with the decision of plain or chicken rice, and at the suggestion of Ms. Sato chose the chicken rice (which was definitely the right way to go). The rice was surprisingly well cooked, and the chicken was still juicy. At the same time, my sea bass also appeared, which was good, but outdone by the delicious rice (seriously, the rice was really, really, good).
While K was still eating her duck, my next course arrived, a bowl of miso soup and a dish of pickles. The soup was fine, but nothing special, and I decided to pass on most of it since there was still more food ahead. The pickles on the other hand, were crisp and had a great sweet/sour balance, and made a nice palate cleanser.
Before dessert, Ms. Sato asked if we would like a cheese course. Now, I’m not one to turn down cheese, and a moment later was delivered an overflowing plate of cheese and different accouterment. The garlic goat cheese and olives seemed a bit too savory at this point, so I stuck with the blue, brie, cheddar, and fruits/jam.
For dessert, K had a green tea mousse with diced mango and a raspberry sauce while I enjoyed a delicious black sesame pudding topped with a coconut cream and red bean puree.
Over the course of the meal, we had stayed with drinking Salon Champagne for the entire meal until reaching dessert when we decided to try the “Queen of Blue” Royal Blue Tea, which is served cold in a wine glass out of a wine bottle. The tea was amazingly complex with a great depth of aroma and flavor, and paired very well with my slightly savory pudding. I thought that this would be interesting to try and then switch to something else, but instead decided to stick with another glass.
As lunch (dinner?) wound down, K asked for her seat to be converted into a bed (the flight attendants put down either a soft or firm mattress pad, some blankets, and some pillows), which was quickly taken care of by the senior cabin attendant. Not long after that, finished with our desserts, the table was quickly cleared and after finishing our drinks K went back to her seat to lie down. I took the opportunity and asked for my seat to be turned down while I changed into the supplied PJ bottoms, but chose to keep my sweatshirt instead of the provided pullover. Not feeling tired I instead chose to browse the movie selection and found a few titles that I wanted to see. Occasionally the flight attendants would stop by and ask if I needed anything, and I took the opportunity to sample some delicious Japanese whiskey before trying to turn in a get some sleep.
I awoke a few hours later, and decided it was time to sample one of the snack options on the menu and ordered some soba noodles. The cabin was pretty dark, so I didn’t get a great picture, but it was very tasty. The noodles had a nice texture, and the dipping sauce was extremely flavorful. I also ordered a side of Japanese pickles, which were also delicious. I also took the opportunity to try a Japanese wine (something that I didn’t know existed), it was a light and floral white that was well balanced and very technically sound (I would expect nothing less based on my experiences with the precision and focus of the Japanese culture).
K woke up a little later, while I was watching my third or fourth movie of the flight, and decided it was time for a snack. After perusing the menu she chose the tortellini with a creamy leek sauce and a glass of wine. Very quickly the table was set with a white cloth an silverware, moments later the flight attendant returned with a class of wine, and returned rapidly with a piping dish of pasta.
By the time she finished, we were a little more than an hour from Narita, and it was time to turn our beds back into seats and change back into our real clothes. We browsed the rest of the entertainment menu for a little while, and before we knew it, we were preparing for landing. Right before they had to sit down, the cabin crew gave us another wine list they had decorated congratulating us on our wedding and honeymoon, and telling us to visit Japan (since we’d told them we were just passing through). The most impressive part were the two origami cranes that were pasted onto the last page (I imagine that they don’t carry them around, and must have made them for us). It was a very touching gesture that really shows just how much the Japan Airlines employees really care about providing the best service they can (something that is far rarer to find here in the US).NRT
After landing and the typical long Narita taxi, we quickly made it off of the plane and through the transit security area. Now I’d originally planned for a longer layover in Tokyo to take full advantage of the JAL first class lounge, but it had been trimmed down to about 2 hours. This left us with enough time to take a shower and change before heading over the seating area for some green tea and sushi. I had also heard great things about the beef curry that they serve in the lounge, and was very excited to give it a try. It took me much longer than it should have to locate the clearly marked in-counter soup warmer, but the wait was very much worth it. While not what I would typically think of when talking curry (first thoughts are to south-east Asia and India) this was a very luscious and rich brown sauce with tender pieces of beef. Just thinking about it now is making me want to take a trip over to Japan to get another bowl (luckily we’ll be in Tokyo over the winter, so I’ll make sure to take care of that fix).
As it neared time for our second flight to board, we left the lounge and headed for the satellite terminal. By this point we were both pretty tired, and we weren’t hustling quite as much as usual. We made our way to the gate and down the jetway to a brand new 787 that would be taking us down to Hanoi. Having been spoiled by the F seats on our previous flight, our business class seats on this flight seemed cramped and confined (even though they are one of the better J products on the market. JL has a staggered cabin so the seats are really next to each other, which makes solo traveling easier (all seats have direct aisle access), but means that its a little harder for people traveling together to really spend any time together (one person has to lean forward, or the other leans through the divider).JL751 NRT-HAN
Originally we’d planned on trying to stay awake during this flight with the intention of trying to get a little more on Hanoi time. However, we failed, and failed hard. Within minutes after take off we were both fighting a losing battle with our eyelids, and the next thing I knew it was almost 5 hours later. The flight attendant quickly came over and asked us if we wanted dinner since we’d slept though the meal service. By that time they were also out of the Japanese option, so we both had to settle for the western menu. The starter of beef tongue was “meh” and I don’t think that either of us took more than two bites. The entree was a beef fillet, which was decent though slightly overdone and somewhat bland. Luckily for us, having stopped for food at the lounge we weren’t overly hungry and didn’t clear our plates.
I wish I had stayed awake to better appreciate the new 787 we were on, and better review the seat and such, but my brief impression is that it’s better than the old JL 787 2x2x2 non-aisle access, and also a step up from the 767 seat (which it kinda looks like), and would be perfect for the solo traveler who wants a private full-flat seat. The service was the same as I’ve received on every JL flight (prompt, attentive, and very friendly), and while I was a little sad when we started our descent, I was also really looking forward to sleeping in a bed that wasn’t traveling at 500mph 35k feet in the air.
Our arrival into Hanoi was extremely uneventful. We had applied and received visas for our stay (decided not to risk the visa on arrival with the letter of invitation) and we quickly made our way through immigration. Having been plastered with “First Class” tags in JFK, our bags were in the first few to appear on the belt, and we made our way outside where we waited for our driver. After wandering around for a little (we weren’t 100% sure where to meet him), I spotted our names on a sign, and led us to the curb and then ran to get his car. The drive to the hotel was lengthened slightly due to some heavy rain, so by the time we arrived we were both really ready to head to bed start fresh in the morning for the first day in Hanoi, and the first real day of the honeymoon.