2022 and 2023 have seen a huge number of new aircraft cabins launched. It started with Finnair in early 2022 with its revolutionary ‘no-recline’ seat. Iberia followed, as did Air France, Qantas, Lufthansa, Etihad, American Airlines …. the list goes on. Cathay Pacific is due to follow in the coming weeks.
Japan Airlines, which has been teasing its new cabins for some time, is now ready to lift the veil. And unlike some of the airlines above (*cough* Lufthansa *cough*) these will be launching by the end of the year.
Japan Airlines is part of the oneworld alliance, which means you’ll be able to redeem Avios for these cabins via the British Airways, Qatar Airways or Iberia programmes.
Japan Airlines’ new flagship aircraft
The reason for the season, as they say, is the arrival of Japan Airlines’ first A350-1000 aircraft which will form the backbone of its flagship international fleet going forward.
JAL has 13 of these on order, which will replace the existing 15-year-old fleet of Boeing 777-300ERs.
The A350s should introduce significant fuel savings on long routes thanks to the lighter, carbon-fibre construction of the aircraft as well as the improved Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines. JAL will also benefit from commonality with its existing A350-900 fleet, which operate on high-capacity domestic routes.
There are also improvements in onboard comfort. The A350 features one of the quietest cabins in the sky, beaten only (I think) by the A380. It also has a lower cabin altitude, which reduces the effects of jet lag, and there are bigger windows.
The Japan Airlines A350-1000 layout
JAL will be operating its A350s in a very premium-heavy configuration. In total, there will be 239 seats comprising:
- 6 first class suites
- 54 business class suites
- 24 premium economy seats
- 155 economy seats
This is very similar to Qantas’ Project Sunrise A350-1000s, another exceptionally premium-heavy aircraft. For comparison, BA’s A350s have a capacity of 331 passengers, albeit with no first class.
The good news is that all cabins are getting brand new seats.
First Class on JAL’s A350-1000s
JAL will reduce its first class cabin from eight to six seats as it moves from a 1-2-1 layout to a 1-1-1 layout.
Each seat is a fully enclosed suite with 157cm/62″ wall height and a closing door:
As you can see, it looks incredibly spacious with a seat width of 123cm (48″) and a seat pitch of 211cm (83″). The maximimum bed length is slightly less than that, at 203cm/80″.
The seat is forward facing (no angle) and, intriguingly, features two movable parts that, at first glance, appear like a double seat pair. This allows the seat to operate in a number of functions, including sofa, single bed or double bed. I’m not quite sure how the double bed mode works given the large console table in front of the single seat bit.
According to Safran, the seat manufacturer, “The suite can accommodate up to three people in-flight with both the primary and side seat paired with the adjacent ottoman.”
Other features include a huge 43″ screen, wardrobe, ottoman and insulated drinks cooler, as well as wireless charging and, presumably, Bluetooth connectivity.
Both the first class and business class seats also feature a new technical innovation with the “Introduction of the world’s first headphone-free stereo with built-in headrest speakers, allowing customers to enjoy the inflight entertainment system without using headphones.”
This is based on Safran’s own Euphony technology, which allows it to “enables the system to adjust in real-time to the audio content and the ambient cabin noise to offer an optimum listening experience without affecting other passengers on board.”
Can it sufficiently cancel out ambient aircraft noise? How audible is it from outside the suite? Like Lufthansa’s new in-seat heating and cooling system, we’ll have to wait and see what this is like in person, but I’m intrigued. If it works well, it should allow more seamless communication with crew when watching content on the in-flight entertainment system.
Overall, it looks incredibly spacious and will go head-to-head with ANA’s own THE Room First Class, another super-wide first class product.
JAL’s new flagship business class seat
Behind first class, across 14 rows, you’ll find the business class cabin. These seats are like mini-versions of the first class seat. With 132cm (52″) high walls and doors, these seats aren’t quite as private as first but they’re not far off.
This is a staggered layout. All seats are fully forward facing in a 1-2-1 layout, but seats alternate between being aisle side or window side. This appears to be the Safran Unity seat unveiled last year; it seems JAL is the launch airline for this product, ahead of Qantas in 2025.
Seat pitch is 130cm (51″) whilst the maximum bed length is just under two metres, at 198cm / 78″. There is a movable privacy partition for centre pairs as well as a wardrobe and storage space within the suite.
The seat features a 24″ screen as well as the same Euphony private headphone-free sound system found in first class.
Premium economy is also getting a makeover, with fixed-shell seats in a 2-4-2 configuration avoiding the endless discussion about the ethics of reclining!
It is also, apparently, the first premium economy seat to launch with electrically operated recline function, although that sounds like overkill to me!
Seat pitch is an excellent 107cm (42″), significantly better than the industry standard of 96cm (38″). The maximum seat width is 48cm or 19″. You also get some very large retractable privacy screens between seats:
Screens are 16″.
The remaining seats – all 155 of them – are in economy in a typical 3-3-3 layout.
These sport a typical 84-86cm (33-34″) of pitch as well as a 46cm wide seat (18″) .
JAL has selected a 13″ 4K screen, which is, allegedly, industry leading.
Bar the economy cabin, JAL has opted for a full Safran makeover, with the first class seats even being manufactured in the UK.
Safran hasn’t always had the best reputation, particularly around build quality. You may remember some of the issues surrounding Virgin Atlantic’s new Upper Class seat on the A350s, which were a bit of a maintenance headache when they were first launched.
Hopefully Safran has learned from that experience and improved its latest generation seats. Certainly from a hard product perspective, these look impressive; spacious and fitted with the latest technology, with ground-breaking headphone free audio in first and business class as well as 4K screens and wireless technology throughout.
From a design perspective, this isn’t quite the slam dunk I was expecting. It’s hard to tell from the renders, some of which vary wildly, but something feels off to me. Business class, in particular, feels a bit dated and reminds me of a Thai sleeper train I tried a few years ago. The combination of cool-grey trim and plasticky-looking burgundy seats doesn’t look great. Let’s see what they look like in person.
If you’re keen to try the new cabins, they will launch by the end of the year. The first route to see the A350-1000 will be New York; JAL weren’t able to confirm to me when it might reach the UK, although I imagine it will be sometime next year.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (December 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
Crazy 100,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY) and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.