[Click above for the video review.]
- Flight: JL746
- Route: MNL-NRT
- Equipment: Boeing 767-300ER
- Cabin: Business Class
- Seat: 2A
Some of you know that I was born in Manila, Philippines and it was nice to spend some time at home, even though this was an extremely short stay.
Metro Manila is one of the most densely populated (if not the most) cities in the world. It’s also a city of contrast. One side is a bustling metropolis with high-end malls and luxury high rises, while the other side is very poor. I’ve always found Filipinos to be well intentioned and are very warm and hospitable people (including yours truly ;-)), regardless of whether they’re rich, middle class, or poor.
Anyway, back to the trip, we found a good rate at The Peninsula Manila through American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts and decided to book there for our one night stay. We got an upgrade to a deluxe room at check-in. Also included in the rate was breakfast for 2, and a 50 minute massage for 2 guests. It was our first time staying at this property and we were pleasantly surprised.
For the few hours we were in Manila, we decided to go to one of their newest malls, The SM Aura in Global City. We just spent our time walking and people watching. We also ate at one of the restaurants in the mall, called Mesa as I was craving for authentic Filipino food. After the big meal, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel, so we could get our 50 minute massage.
The massage was so relaxing, that I fell asleep right after the session (no, it’s not that kind of a massage…lol). Sadly with the sound of my alarm, it was time to head back home. We had a very nice buffet breakfast at Escolta before checking out of the hotel around 7:30 AM.
We ordered an Uber black and it took about 10 minutes for our ride to arrive. We were departing from Manila’s NAIA Terminal 1 and the Uber ride took about 25 minutes, which isn’t bad considering we were in the midst of the early morning rush hour in Manila.
NAIA Terminal 1 was once dubbed as “The World’s Worst Airport”. The terminal is basically an old building from the 50’s with dim lights, antiquated check-in counters, long lines, and a failing A/C system. There were also cases where security staff would purposely drop live bullets into passengers’ bags and accuse them of bringing explosives through security. They would then ask the passengers for money, and those who didn’t pay up were detained and charged. We had a similarly bad experience (though not as severe as I mentioned above) at NAIA Terminal 1 back in 2013, where we stood in line at exit immigration for 2 hours with hundreds of people, and an almost non-existent air conditioning.
I’ve heard that things have gotten a lot better since the new President stepped-in, but I still wasn’t convinced. Needless to say, both my companion and I were already bracing ourselves for another bad experience before we even arrived at the airport.
Upon being dropped off at the front of the terminal by our Uber driver, we got in line for the initial passenger document checks. The line wasn’t that long, and is only supposed to be for passengers, but for some reason there were a lot of people congregating around the area (I assume most were dropping off their loved ones). It was crowded, but it took less than a minute to get through. Just make sure you have your itinerary printed including the date, flight, and passenger name, otherwise they won’t let you in.
Once inside, you need to go through a metal detector, and your bags will pass through an x-ray machine. This took about 2 minutes.
The Philippine government recently renovated the Terminal 1 building. It used to be that the terminal was so dimly lit and felt so cramped –it was depressing. Now, the departure level felt more open, and they finally updated the lighting to make the terminal brighter. I also noticed more seating, new check-in counters, an information counter, and a new electronic flight status board.
We saw the JAL check-in counters and there was no line at the Business Class check-in, so we were promptly assisted by a friendly agent. The agent gave us an option of going to the Club Manila lounge or the Qantas lounge which is the designated Oneworld Lounge at NAIA T1. We decided on the former, since it’s a little bit closer to the gate. The agent checked-us in and printed our boarding passes and lounge invites. The process took about 5 minutes, as I asked to be moved to a different seat.
Boarding passes in hand, we fearfully headed to exit immigration hall which was right next to the JAL counters thinking we would be in line for another 2 hours.
THERE. WAS. NO. LINE! We walked into the hall, and were promptly helped by an immigration officer. We were through in less than a minute!
Finally, after exit immigration was the actual security checkpoint. We had to remove our shoes, but at least the line was short. We were through in about 2 minutes.
After security, we walked through the duty free shops, and looked for The Club Manila lounge. The lounge is located up one floor from the departure level. You can take the elevator or walk up the stairs to the lounge.
The lounge is really nothing fancy. It’s old, dark, and because of the low ceilings, it felt really claustrophobic. There were plenty of seating though, and it had a decent hot and cold buffet spread and good beverage selection. The lounge also features a separate smoking room next door for those who want to take a last puff before the flight.
Upon arriving at the lounge, we were greeted by the attendant. We gave her our lounge invites and she welcomed us into the lounge. We took a seat and had a cold drink while waiting for our flight. We didn’t try any of the food offerings because we were still stuffed from the breakfast we had earlier.
Upon settling in, I was timing how long it took us to get through check-in and all the exit formalities at NAIA T1, and I’m very happy to report that it only took us 20 minutes from curbside to lounge. I must say, that’s pretty damn good! I was very impressed…
About an hour before departure, we made our way to the gate area. We were departing from gate 14, and it was about a 5 minute walk from the lounge.
There was another security check conducted by the airlines before the reaching boarding area. We basically had to open our bags and the security staff briefly went through the contents. It was painless and took less than 3 minutes.
We waited at the gate for about 15 minutes and then boarding commenced. People with disabilities went in first, and then business class and passengers with Oneworld status were called.
At the plane door, we were greeted by the purser, and were directed our seats.
In 2013, JAL started retrofitting some of their 767 fleet with flat bed seats with direct aisle access in business class, and a wider, more spacious economy class seat. The business class seats actually reminded me of American’s Business Class seats on their 767s. You can check out the 360-degree business class cabin view here (flash required).
There are a total of 24 seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration in business class, all of which has direct aisle access. Admittedly, because of the staggered configuration, I was eyeing one of the “real” window seats, with the seat next to the window and the side table next to the aisle as it is more private than the seat in-front or behind. I got lucky as I was seated in 2A, which was just that, while my companion was seated in 3D, a non-window aisle seat.
Waiting at our seats were a blanket, memory foam pillow, noise canceling headphones, and slippers (with shoe horn).
Upon settling in, I took a minute to get familiarized with the seat and its features. As I got one of the true window seats, my seat was right next to the window. To my right was a large side table, which also houses the seat controls, and hidden in the arm rest is the IFE remote. There is also a good size storage panel and reading light above the side table.
In front was the IFE monitor, AC power outlet, USB port, small storage cubby, and the folding tray table below. You can also find the literature pocket onto the right.
After a few minutes, a flight attendant came by with a basket of amenities. There were a few items available, but I only took a toothbrush. I was also offered a cardigan, which I declined since the cabin was already getting a bit too warm, and we haven’t even taken off yet.
Sadly, JAL doesn’t do a pre-departure beverage service in business class.
Boarding was completed within 20 minutes, and the boarding door was closed soon after. The Captain came on the PA to announce our departure and our flight time of 4 hours to Narita. He also reminded us to keep our seatbelts on, as there was a bit of bad weather on the way.
We soon pushed back from the gate, and began our taxi to the runway. MNL is actually home to Lufthansa Technik Philippines, so we were able to see a few interesting planes, including a Philippine Airlines Airbus A330, and a Qantas A380 in the hangar. It took about 15 minutes before we were at the end of the runway and were cleared for takeoff.
Our takeoff roll and initial ascent were both smooth. It was a relatively clear day in Manila, so we had some good views of the city on the way up.
Upon reaching cruising altitude, the captain switched off the seatbelt sign, and service began.
The purser came by and took our drink orders. I ordered a glass of champagne, which was promptly served and hand-poured in a flute at my seat. A small package of Kameda Japanese rice crackers was also served with my beverage.
Our meal orders were also taken. I opted for the Japanese Meal, which was served in one tray. I must say, this has got to be the most colorful, and beautifully presented airplane meal I’ve had…ever! My drink was also constantly refilled by the friendly flight attendant.
After the meal, there was only one selection for dessert, the green tea blanc manger, which is some sort of pudding. It was actually very good and not too sweet. I ordered it with a cup of hot green tea.
After the meal, I browsed through the IFE selection, which was fairly decent. JAL is using the Thales Magic V system, which was snappy and easy to navigate. They had about a dozen new movie releases, as well as classic movies available. There were also about a dozen games, and an extensive international music selection (including JPOP). The moving map was rather basic, but there were a few different views that you can cycle through. As always, I decided to ditch the IFE, and just left the moving map on for the rest of the flight.
At this point, we still had a couple of hours of flight time left, so I reclined my seat into a flat bed. The bed itself was pretty comfortable, albeit felt a bit narrow compared to other similar business class products. The memory foam pillow was a nice touch, and I used the blanket as a mattress pad of some sort. My only complaint is I just wished they would turn down the heat. The cabin was sweltering hot during the flight and I actually had to use the safety card to fan myself in order to cool down. I tossed and turned for about an hour and finally gave up on sleep, because it was way too hot!
About an hour left into the flight, I visited the lavatory, which is in front of the business class cabin, right next to door 1L. The lav was old and small, but kept clean and stocked with toothbrushes and mouthwash. Sadly, the toilets on the 767 don’t have the TOTO washlet bidets unlike the 777 and 787s.
With half an hour left into the flight, the Captain announced our initial descent into Narita. The cabin attendants then started their preparation for landing.
We hit a few patches of rough air on the way down, but that’s typical of Narita. The captain soon asked the flight attendants to take their seats for landing. The approach and landing was smooth and we landed at Narita Airport a little past 3:00 PM.
And yet another norm at Narita, we taxied for a good 15 minutes before reaching the gate at Terminal 2. The plane door was opened soon after, and we bid farewell to the friendly crew.
Overall, I thought this flight was very good. For a 4 hour flight, I thought the seat was quite comfortable, and so was the bed. The included amenities were also sufficient. Where I feel JAL really stands out from the rest is the food. The in-flight meal was absolutely delicious! The presentation and food quality were also very much en pointe. The beverage selection was also pretty extensive. The IFE selection was pretty good with plenty of content to keep you occupied. My only real complaint is the cabin temperature. It literally felt like we were in a flying sauna, and it was impossible to even take a short nap, because it was too hot! The other downside was the lack of a pre-departure beverage service, which may or may not be a problem to some passengers. I would give this flight a good 7 out of 10.