Sydney to Tokyo.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
JAL Mileage Bank.
UP THE BACK OR POINTY END?
Economy, aisle seat 24D (in a section of just three rows directly behind premium economy).
TIME IN THE AIR
Nine hours and 15 minutes; we land 25 minutes ahead of schedule.
THE SEAT STUFF
31 inches (78.8 centimetres) pitch, 17.5 inches wide.
A generous allowance: two pieces of checked luggage, each weighing up to 23 kilograms, one carry-on bag up to 10 kilograms and one personal item such as a handbag or laptop bag.
The grey-patterned seats are basic but comfortable with footrests and bendable headrests; blankets and pillows are provided. It's a 3-3-3 layout for 145 economy seats.
There are seat-back screens (they're not touchscreens; remote controls are in the armrests) and about 20 English-language movies, as well as movies with English subtitles, TV shows (two in English), games and 40 audio channels in English, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. All the programs are listed in the JAL entertainment network guide in the seat pocket.
This is where JAL shines: you don't feel as if you're slumming it in economy. There's no queue at check-in, even two hours before departure. A map of the aircraft at the end of the check-in counter shows where you're sitting; there are also photos of your flight's cabin crew, a nice touch. The Japanese air-bridge crew say "good morning" as we board (in English to me, in Japanese to Japanese passengers). The flight attendants are so efficient they hand out arrival cards for Japan, with a smile, even before take-off. As we approach Tokyo, the pilot points out Mount Fuji.
The meal service starts with hot towels handed out by the flight attendants in cute aprons adorned with hot air balloons. There are pre-lunch drinks with rice crackers, and the two meal options are presented on a photo card (to avoid descriptions getting lost in translation): beef curry or chicken tortellini. The tortellini is al dente and comes with fruit, salad, soba noodles, salami, a bread roll and a water bottle (the flight attendants are also happy to refill my own bottle during the flight). There are disposable wooden chopsticks and metal cutlery. Iced green tea and vanilla ice-cream in little tubs are served after the meal. Orange juice is offered halfway through the flight. Before landing, there's a light meal of quiche, yoghurt and a drink.
JAL's excellent service and professionalism, which begin at check-in and carry through until you arrive at your destination, are in a class of their own and make it a joy to fly with the airline.
JAL flies daily between Sydney and Tokyo. Economy class return airfares start at $1296 including taxes. See jal.com.au.
Tested by Louise Southerden, who flew courtesy of JAL.