Tag Archives: airlines

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: JAL Sakura Lounge Narita Review

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After landing in Narita, we had about a 9 hour layover until our JAL flight to Los Angeles.

The first order of business was going to the JAL check-in desks to make sure our luggage was transferred properly from MH88 to JL62. The counter staff checked our documentation, confirmed the transfer would be done and issued new boarding passes for the onwards journey.

With that done, the most logical thing next, of course, was to go Japanese fruit hunting.

There are numerous options to get to downtown Tokyo from Narita, but the most economical still remains the Tokyo Shuttle. Our round trip tickets cost JPY 1,900 each (S$23), about half of what it would have cost to take the Airport Limousine or Narita Express. Travel time is almost identical too at slightly over an hour.

I had read a lot about Sembikiya, which is supposed to be the Louis Vuitton of fruits. They have a flagship store near Tokyo station, about a 5-10 minute walk away.

I have to admit the place was smaller than I expected. For some reason, when I read “fruit emporium”, I sort of expected multiple levels of fruity goodness. But in reality the fruit section itself is a compact corner on the ground floor.

The fruits were beautiful, though, and the prices were eyewatering.

I finally settled on a bunch of $20 grapes. I mean, those who had tasted Japanese grapes told me fantastical things about them: about their texture, how they tasted like jelly in your mouth and carried you like Valkyries to Valhalla.

My mum will attest that I am something of a self-proclaimed grape connoisseur. I can tell by looking at grapes whether they will be crunchy or soft or sweet or sour. And my first impressions of these babies wasn’t great.

Then again, I told myself, I am but a philistine when it comes to Japanese fruits. Surely these transcend some other level such that my existing senses are ill-equipped to render pre-judgement.

So I popped one in my mouth and chewed. My colleague did likewise. We sat there chewing. And staring at the grapes. And chewing. Both of us glanced at each other.

I was the first to admit the emperor had no clothes,

She concurred.

By the time we polished off the batch, I had the feeling that either it wasn’t grape season or I’d just picked the wrong thing. Ah well.

The two of us really wanted to try another Japanese musk melon, but with the starting price at Sembikiya upwards of US$100 decided there was no way we were going to pay that. Fortunately, later on that day we went to a Takashimaya and found much more reasonably priced melons, as low as US$30

For lunch we stopped by Sushi Tsubaki.

You won’t find it on a lot of tourist lists but it’s up there with the best, and the lunch set is only JPY 5,400. Really, there’s no need to seek out “the best” sushi or the top rated things on Tripadvisor. You’re just setting yourself up for a lot of queues and disappointments. The baseline standard of sushi in Tokyo is so high it’s hard to go wrong.

Here’s our lunch. The courses are probably not in order.

 

Don’t feel obliged to “upsize” your set to one of the more pricey options- there was plenty of food and we were very satisfied.

It was just our luck that it started pouring and we didn’t have an umbrella. But the owner at Sushi Tsubaki was incredibly nice, he fished out one that someone else left behind and gave it to us. I shall return one day and give him back an umbrella. It would be more symbolic had I given him back the same umbrella, but as I write this AA has lost said umbrella. Sad.

We took the Tokyo Shuttle bus back to Narita and went directly to immigration.

If you’re looking for the JAL Business Class lounge you might be a bit confused when you see the exterior.

The signage outside says FIRST CLASS LOUNGE / SAKURA LOUNGE. It’s only if you know that JAL calls its business class lounge the Sakura lounge that you’ll know this is the right place. We eventually figured that out with some help from the information desk.

The lounge is divided into two segments. Business Class passengers turn to the right and head down the escalator to access Level 2, where the majority of the Sakura lounge is.

I say majority, because confusingly enough, the lounge has a completely separate dining area on Level 3 with a staircase and lift leading up. I said in my review of the MAS Golden Lounge in KUL that there didn’t seem to be any sort of segmentation within that lounge. Well, JAL had gone to the other extreme- the only food available in the lounge was on Level 3, with big signs asking people not to take food out of the dining area. The rest of the lounge on Level 2 was for seating, and although there were drink bars, there wasn’t any food areas.

Before I explored the dining area, however, I wanted to get a shower first.

The shower rooms are on the 2nd floor with the main lounge in the very minimalist “Relaxation Corner”

This area also had a spa, but the complimentary appointments were fully booked for the next 2 hours and we wouldn’t be able to get one before flying.

As was the case in the EVA Air lounge, the JAL showers work on a card basis. You’re issued a keycard that serves to open the door to a particular shower suite.

The suites are nice enough, nothing fancy but clean and dry. Note that you have to request items like a toothbrush and razor (unlike the ANA showers where everything you could possibly need is already waiting for you in the shower)

The bathroom amenities weren’t anything special, sadly. Or even if they were, they didn’t get any branding justice.

It was at this point I realised my waterproof shoes weren’t that waterproof, and my socks were soaking wet. I managed to dry them out somewhat by leaving them facing the hairdryer blowing full blast. I was quite proud of how domestic I was.

After my shower I went to explore the dining area. As mentioned, the dining enclave is separate from the rest of the lounge on the 3rd level.

This is a large-ish area (maybe 100+ seats) with both individual and communal tables.

All tables have power outlets and USB charging ports.

The ambiance of the dining area is nice enough, with full length windows overlooking the tarmac.

In one corner of the dining area was the buffet section, which had a solid selection of hot and cold items.

Hot items included Japanese hamburger patties

Dumplings of the pork and prawn variety

Simmered beef and onions

And amazing, amazing Japanese rice. I cannot emphasize enough how obsessive Japanese are about rice, and I for one am glad. Rice is at the heart of any dish, and I’m the kind who boycotts restaurants because they can’t get the rice to water ratio right. No worries here, as the rice was fluffy and spot on.

There were a few garnish stations as well

And one Japanese and one Western soup.

There was the usual assortment of European pastries that the Japanese seem to love

And the ubiquitous salad bar

Where drinks are concerned, there were juices, milk, isotonic drinks (for whatever reason), sodas

And a selection of white, red and sparkling wines. No champagne.

I got myself a seat at one of the communal tables.

The food was very high quality. However, the internet was not. It was even slower than the MAS lounge. For a country like Japan, this was totally unacceptable.

I wasn’t sure about what the policy in the States would be towards fresh fruit, so I decided it was better to split the melon we bought from Takashimaya now.

I approached the staff and asked if they could help us cut the melon, only to be politely rebuffed. I was confused at first, then realised that the lounge was probably subject to some sort of food hygiene licensing standard, and couldn’t serve any food they didn’t themselves prepare or source. Or maybe they just didn’t want everyone seeing it and wanting some.

So I got a butter knife from the buffet and did it myself. Sure enough, as soon as I sliced it, a Japanese man approached me and inquired where he could get a melon.

The melon itself, however, was disappointing. I suspect it wasn’t ripe enough, because the flesh wasn’t soft and sweet like the previous few melons I had.

Melon finished, I headed back down to explore the rest of the 2nd floor. It wasn’t unduly exciting- there was a lot of seating, some drinks counters and nothing much else.

If you need to get some work done, there’s a fully-equipped business centre with printing and fax facilities. Apparently faxes are still a thing in Japan. Who knew.

As mentioned, there isn’t any food on the 2nd floor, but there’s a good selection of drinks including everyone’s favourite automatic beer pouring machines.

I think the biggest question for me would be: how does this lounge measure up to the ANA lounge?

ANA has a slight edge over JAL in that it has a counter that does freshly prepared udon and rice bowls (I guess freshly-prepared might not be the right term to use insofar as all the food is probably already cooked, the chefs just portion it out for you), has fully-equipped shower rooms (vs JAL’s arrangement where you have to request for items) and much faster wifi.

However, JAL has complimentary spa treatments (if you can get a slot), and call me crazy, but I think their rice is better than ANA. And as we know, that’s all that matters.

I left the lounge and headed to the boarding gate early, eager to see JAL’s Skysuite product.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class KUL-NRT

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


After the double tragedies of MH17 and MH370, Malaysia Airlines tapped Christoph Muller to turn around the fortunes of the company. Muller, the then-CEO of Aer Lingus who had revived the struggling airline, was appointed CEO in May 2015.

Image result for christoph mueller

Muller went about initiating a raft of changes at MAS. He laid off 30% of the MAS workforce, retired their entire fleet of 777s, dissolved the parent company and transferred all assets to a new one and announced a new partnership with Emirates to tompang their long haul routes

Unfortunately, the changes he made weren’t too popular and led to his resignation (slash forcing out) in April 2016, barely a year after taking the helm.

But Muller’s legacy at the company lives on through its new business class product. In November 2015, Muller decided to replace the A330’s angled flat beds in favor of “a world-class leading lie-flat seat… positioned above the industry standard for business class.”

MAS Old A330 Business Class

Now, whether or not the new seat is truly world class is up for debate, but it’s undoubtedly better than the old one. And it made sense, given that with the retirements of the 777s and the A380s  (well, as soon as they can find a buyer that is) from MAS’s fleet, the A330s would now become the de facto flagships.

MAS New A330 Business Class

The first of these refurbished A330 aircraft was delivered in April 2016, with the other 14 refitted by September 2016, incredibly fast by any airline’s standards.

The press photos for these new seat look great, but how do they hold up in real life? And how good is the overall MAS inflight experience? After my extremely underwhelming lounge experience, I was hoping the onboard service could salvage things.

MAS’s new A330 business class cabin is a 1-2-1 configuration in some rows and a 2-2-2 configuration in others. Confused? You might be if you looked at the seatmap on MAS, which seems to show 1-2-2 in all rows

Seatguru’s map is more useful in this respect, as it shows exactly which rows are 1-2-1 and which are 2-2-2

You can see that the really desirable seats are 1K, 4K and 6K as these are throne style seats with double armrests and a lot of space. Failing which, any of the A seats are alright choices, with the ones in even rows offering more privacy as the armrest is on the aisle side. The seats you don’t want to get are the H and K ones in rows 2, 4 and 7 because you’ll not have a lot of private space from your neighbour.

I had snagged 4K a month or so ago, and when boarding was called rushed down the jetway to get shots of the empty cabin.

My seat 4K. Well actually this was 6K. In my giddy enthusiasm I overshot my seat by 2 rows. But you can see the throne configuration here, with ample space to your left and right. Also note the 2 seats together behind 6K, with the window seat lacking direct aisle access. Perhaps those seats are better for couples travelling together, but solo travellers beware.

Now here is 4K proper.

The seat is surprisingly narrow for a 1-2-1 configuration, but like I mentioned you have a lot of storage space.

Here’s a reverse shot of the 2 seats together. I’m glad the designers didn’t go with Lufthansa’s footsie style seating. Here your legs go firmly into their own compartment, as do your seatmate’s.

There is ample legroom, but do note that the throne seat gets narrow towards the front. You can see the tight squeeze here.

Seat controls were on the side panel and straightforward enough. There’s a massage function if you’re into that sort of thing.

There was also a second set of seat controls in your armrest.

Full view of the side panel, showing the reading light plus mesh storage space. Also note the USB charging port and the IFE remote.

Each seat has in-seat power

And numerous nooks and crannies to put your stuff. Unfortunately not all said nooks and crannies were clean. There was some gunk at the bottom of this one, for instance

There’s a side panel with more storage and a mirror.

A storage bin in the shoulder of your seat

And even a small one beneath the TV. What this one was for I have no idea.

MAS has a very nice amenities kit in business class, by Porsche Design.

The amenities kit has something that I think all amenities should have but very few do: hand sanitizer. The hypochondriac in me can’t stand to touch anything in the plane without cleaning my hands, and although I always bring a bottle with me it never hurts to have more.

Other treats include mouthwash, a toothbrush kit, socks, eye shades, lip balm and moisturizer. Surprisingly earplugs are not included, but these are available on request from the crew.

Although MAS has upgraded its amenities kit, it sadly has ignored the headphones. The plasticky set provided were woeful at best. You’re better off using your own.

The crew were generally friendly and addressed all passengers by name, which should be the standard in business class but unfortunately isn’t on a lot of airlines (SQ is by far the most consistent in getting their crews to memorize passenger names)

After takeoff they came around to distribute menus. There were separate ones for drinks and food.

MAS’s meal service on this flight made no sense to me. Satay would be served after take off, then before arrival breakfast would be served. Given the total flight time on this red-eye flight was about 6.5 hours, it seemed nonsensical to cut into passenger rest like this. Why not do a chop chop meal service after takeoff and leave the passengers undisturbed until descent? Or go lights off immediately after take off and wake passengers before arrival for breakfast? With this arrangement, you’d be disturbing passengers twice on what was already a short-ish flight.

The crew came around to serve drinks before satay. I had a glass of Duval Leroy, not my favourite brand of champagne (he said, like he could tell the difference). MAS used to serve Cattier champagne, but both these brands are generally low end. I believe I’ve seen Duval Leroy as low as $49 on sale in Singapore.

And the food? Well, having heard so much about the famous satay, I have to say I was disappointed.

The meat itself (beef and chicken) wasn’t bad. Nice char and tender still on the inside. The peanut sauce was watery beyond belief.

Since they weren’t serving the Before Landing meal until, well, before landing, they came around to offer items from the snack menu. I had a bowl of noodles, which is basically instant noodles with some garnishing.

It was well into the second hour of the flight before they finished everything, and I made a beeline for the loo to brush my teeth before sleeping.

The loo has Acca Kappa toiletries, for those of you who care about that kind of thing.

I returned to my seat and put it into bed mode for the night. The seat, as you’d expect, is full flat.

A passing crewmember helped me put the bedsheet on the seat, which made the bed look a bit nicer.

I slept just fine on the seat but people with big feet (and we all know what that means) may find the cubby hole a tight squeeze. I sleep on my back for what it’s worth, and although you definitely get aware of the confined space if you try to wriggle your feet, it didn’t bother me too much.

I was woken by the crew about an hour before landing. Before going to bed, the crew asked me if I wanted to be woken for breakfast and I told them as late as possible please. I’m glad they remembered my request, because sleep on this flight was already at a premium. I think the rest of the cabin was woken up 90 mins prior.

Fruit was served first.

Where the main course was concerned, Malaysia Airlines has their own version of Book the Cook that they call Chef on Call.

However, none of the options looked particularly attractive to me, so I didn’t bother pre-ordering. For what it’s worth, my colleague pre-ordered the cod and said it was terrible.

I went with the Japanese option of miso salmon, rice and veggies. It wasn’t good. The rice was mush (it is possible to do good rice on airplanes. When you read my JAL trip report you’ll understand how amazing rice can be) and the veggies were mush.

Before landing I got hit by one of my sneezing fits. I asked the crew for some tissues and they obliged by bringing me the whole box. Make all the kleenex jokes you want, but I appreciate the generosity. This is the equivalent of the flight attendant giving you the full can.

We landed slightly late in Narita and the crew thanked us for joining them today.

So- overall thoughts. MAS’s new hard product is definitely competitive, but not market leading (1-2-1 all aisle access is still the gold standard). These days, a flat bed in J is the bare minimum requirement for any red-eye flight, and at least MAS now has that across its A330 fleet (c/f SQ which is still going angled flat on regional routes).

The crew were great, friendly and knew their stuff, but unfortunately the standard of the catering left a lot to be desired.

Malaysia Airlines does frequent fare deals where you can get great business class fares (Tokyo for S$1,070 round trip J anyone?), so keep your eyes peeled for future sales.

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2017: MAS B737 Business Class SIN-KUL

Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330  Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
Sheraton Casablanca
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Westin Doha
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
W Doha
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN


It’s hard to imagine that up until 2008 the SIN-KUL route was effectively a duopoly, with MAS and SQ operating more than 85% of the 200 flights a week (the rest were provided by a hodgepodge of airlines exercising fifth freedom rights like Air India and JAL). Round trip fares were upwards of S$300.

Then Tony Fernandes and Air Asia lobbied hard to get the route liberalized to competition, and in Feb 2008, AK123 carried just over 200 passengers about 50 minutes from KL to Singapore. Tony Fernandes himself attended the media scrum wearing a red T-shirt with “Finally!” emblazoned on it. And why not? It had been a long time, too long, in the making. The original agreement which granted virtual exclusivity on the SIN-KUL route to SQ/MAS has been preserved since 1974.

Fast forward 9 years, and you can get a round trip ticket on Tigerair from SIN-KUL for as low as S$64. Nope, that’s not a typo.

The SIN-KUL route now carries 2.7 million passengers, most of them on budget flights. Looking back, it’s hard to believe that once upon a long time ago, SQ and MAS actually operated First Class on the SIN-KUL route. I wonder what the meal service on that would have looked like…

These days, the highest class of service available on the SIN-KUL route is business class, which I was booked on with MAS today. The inbound aircraft was delayed about 40 minutes, resulting in a similar delay in departure from Singapore.

Priority boarding was announced for oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members, MAS elite frequent flyers and business class passengers. In reality everyone just sort of streamed forth in a human scrum, frustrated with the delay

I boarded the aircraft and saw that I was flying on one of MAS’s new 737s. These have IFE and in seat power, along with cabin mood lighting and Boeing’s next generation interior. My colleague, who was on the later 9.15pm flight, got an old 737 which had none of these.

The four rows of seats in business class are plenty wide and are similar to domestic first class in the USA.

Each seat had a pillow and paper thin blanket.  Legroom was more than adequate.

I again lucked out in that the seat next to me was empty.

There was an IFE controller in each armrest, although the IFE screen was also touch sensitive.

Seat controls were basic, and manual. You could move the seat back up and down, or you could move the legrest up and down. Both required upper body strength, something I do not excel in.

As mentioned, each seat had a USB charging outlet and an EMpower plug.

The entertainment selection actually isn’t half bad. There were some first run movies with a solid back catalog. In any case, the flight time from Singapore to KL doesn’t even let you finish watching one movie.

There is one forward loo shared by all the business class passengers. It was kept clean and tidy throughout the (admittedly short) flight.

Shortly after takeoff, the drinks cart came around, but in addition to that they also offered a choice of meals. I was amazed that they served any refreshments on this flight, much less hot refreshments, much less something that could approximate a meal service on other airlines.

The chicken with rice dish that I had really wasn’t very appetizing (as you’ll see in the KUL-NRT leg, catering isn’t something that MAS excels at), but I was just marveling at how they managed to do a meal service in such a short time.

True enough, no sooner had I taken 4 bites of the meal than the captain came on the PA and announced the commencement of descent into KLIA.

I was now in MAS’s backyard, and quite eager to see what their flagship lounge would be like. That turned out to be, as you’ll see, somewhat of a disappointment.