Oneworld carrier Japan Airlines (JAL) released a group update this week, in which the carrier has teased some details about its upcoming flagship Airbus A350-1000 aircraft, due to join the fleet later this year for use on long-haul international routes.
The airline has revealed that the new type will make its debut during the winter 2023/24 schedule, which starts on 29th October 2023, on JL6/JL5 flights between Tokyo Haneda and New York JFK, displacing the airline’s current flagship of the fleet, the Boeing 777-300ER.
A total of 13 factory-fresh A350-1000s will provide one-for-one replacement for these ageing Boeings, with JALs fleet including the oldest two 777-300ERs in the world.
In exciting news, JAL has confirmed that an inevitable cabin product revamp will debut on these A350-1000 jets later this year, ushering in a long-overdue upgrade for travellers on the carrier’s longest flights.
Farewell JAL Boeing 777s
Right in the middle of the pandemic back in May 2021, JAL revealed that it would be phasing out all its Boeing 777 aircraft, starting with the domestic fleet but eventually including a farewell for its 13 long-haul Boeing 777-300ERs, with Airbus A350-1000s replacing them between 2023 and 2028.
This will make Airbus A350-1000s the airline’s future flagship jets, on which it showcases its best cabin products to and from the USA and Europe.
Here’s how JAL’s Airbus A350-1000 fleet development looks:
- 2 aircraft by the end of 2023 (for New York flights)
- 9 aircraft by the end of 2025
- 13 aircraft by the end of 2028
In this sense, JAL’s strategy differs from that of All Nippon Airways (ANA), which launched its latest long-haul seats on brand new Boeing 777-300ERs back in 2019.
JAL, on the other hand, will replace the 777-300ER aircraft in its own fleet, some of which are nearly 20 years old, in a bid to tap the latest efficiency of the Airbus A350-1000, including 15-25% less fuel burn, lower emissions, and lower noise levels.
Unlike ANA, JAL currently operates the oldest two Boeing 777-300ERs in the world, including the original prototype aircraft, now registered JA732J, standing at nearly 20 years old.
That particular aircraft kicked off the test programme for the type, with its first flight on 24th February 2003, before being delivered to JAL the following year, so its replacement is no doubt a priority for an airline that prefers to have a younger fleet.
JAL’s commitment to newer and more environmentally-friendly aircraft with the A350 has put it on the back foot against its local rival ANA when it comes to cabin enhancements in recent years, but that’s all about to change…
“Unprecedented” new cabin products
It’s fair to say JAL has some catching up to do when it comes to its long-haul premium cabin products, with local rival ANA now boasting far superior seats on its latest Boeing 777-300ERs.
The good news is that the delivery of the A350-1000 from 2023 will be JAL’s opportunity to completely refresh its long-haul cabins, the first major update to its flagship products for 19 years.
It was back in 2004 that the carrier introduced its current First Class Suite on the Boeing 777-300ER, and it has changed little since then.
The soft product, in terms of service, food and beverages, remains excellent, including fine Japanese or Western cuisine, Cristal Champagne, and Zero Halliburton amenity kits.
The hard product, however, is well past its prime.
Business Class seats on these aircraft did get an upgrade starting in mid-2013 from ‘Shell Flat Neo’ to the ‘Sky Suite’ product, though even that is now approaching a decade old.
We are big fans of this spacious Collins Aerospace ‘Apex Suite’ product, which boasts a clever staggered arrangement to allow all passengers direct aisle access even in a 2-3-2 configuration, but it wasn’t popular with airlines.
Apart from JAL – only Korean Air, Gulf Air and Oman Air have ever used it.
Indeed the seat can probably be regarded as past its prime, in an age of closed-door Business Class products in a 1-2-1 layout that have quickly become the expectation in this cabin over recent years.
Luckily JAL has something far more exciting up its sleeves for the A350-1000 later this year.
Many of our readers redeem JAL First and Business Class award flights using Avios, Asia Miles or Alaska Miles, so the new seats will be eagerly anticipated.
JAL has yet to confirm its exact cabin layout on the type.
That said, these jets will replace 13 Boeing 777-300ERs one-for-one in the JAL fleet, and those ageing aircraft have a four-class configuration with the following seating layout:
- 8 First Class
- 49 Business Class
- 40 Premium Economy Class
- 147 Economy Class
The A350-1000 accommodates around 10% fewer passengers than the 777-300ER due to its smaller size, but we’d expect a similar cabin class distribution, and even though it hasn’t been confirmed it’s practically a ‘done deal’ that a First Class cabin will feature on the carrier’s future flagship fleet.
What could be in store?
JAL will almost certainly opt for a closed-door Suite arrangement in First Class on these aircraft, to keep up with the latest industry trends in this cabin from the likes of ANA and others (heck, even British Airways is now doing this!).
Given the smaller cabin footprint on the A350-1000 compared to the 777, we wouldn’t be surprised to see First Class drop to a single-row 4-seat cabin, which of course would be bad news for award availability.
Alternatively, a very luxurious 1-1-1 configuration could be planned, perhaps with two rows for a total of 6 First Class Suites, as the industry has moved to fewer – but more luxurious – closed-door suites in this cabin.
It remains to be seen just how enclosed that space will be, with Lufthansa soon rolling out its brand new First Class on the A350 with “nearly ceiling-high” walled partitions, and of course Emirates already offering floor-to-ceiling privacy in its newest Suites on selected Boeing 777s.
Taiwan’s Starlux has also recently introduced Airbus A350s with a First Class cabin (or more of a First Class ‘row’, if you ask us), with higher privacy walls and of course more space.
As for Business Class it’s anyone’s guess, with a wide range of products JAL could have chosen from for these aircraft, though again the closed-door privacy concept looks impossible ignore, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see a 1-2-1 configuration including this feature at every seat.
Rival ANA’s 2019 revamp of selected long-haul aircraft has one of the more impressive versions in the sky right now, with super-wide seats, closed-door privacy and large in-flight entertainment screens.
Recently Middle East carrier Etihad introduced new Collins Aerospace ‘Elements’ Business Class seats on its own A350-1000s in Business Class, with direct aisle access and closing privacy doors, but this is just one of many products JAL may have opted for.
We’re fascinated to see what the carrier has gone for in this cabin, so watch this space for the latest updates.
Which routes will see the new products?
As JAL progressively replaces its ageing Boeing 777-300ERs with the Airbus A350-1000 model between 2023 and 2028, more US and European cities should also see the latest cabin products.
Aside from launch route New York, the airline currently flies its Boeing 777-300ERs between Tokyo and:
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
All these routes should switch to the A350-1000 in due course.
JAL already has the Airbus A350
You may be thinking “doesn’t JAL already fly the A350?”.
The answer is yes, but it’s important not to confuse the carrier’s current fleet of 16 Airbus A350-900s (plus 2 orders) with these upcoming flagship A350-1000s.
The JAL A350-900s are domestic aircraft, with a very limited maximum certified takeoff weight of 217,000kg out of a possible 283,000kg (even SIA’s A350-900 Medium Haul aircraft can lift 250,000kg!).
That limits them to 5-6 hour legs, more than enough for their intended purpose.
Deployment of A350-900s has allowed JAL to retire several 777-200s that used to ply domestic flights, another ageing fleet for the carrier that’s firmly on the way out.
JAL’s A350-900s feature a high-density 369-seat or 391-seat three-class layout, which tops out at domestic First Class, a far cry from the cabin products we’re expecting inside the airline’s A350-1000s later this year.
By late 2023, the difference between ‘359’ and ‘351’ in the aircraft code on a JAL flight looks set to be a very important distinction indeed!
We’re very eager to see JAL’s latest “unprecedented” First and Business cabins for the long-haul fleet, particularly after local rival ANA launched such impressive products of its own back in 2019.
It will also be interesting to see how many seats the airline will install in these premium cabin classes on the A350-1000, since this will clearly have a direct bearing on likely future award space on the carrier’s longest routes.
Tokyo Haneda – New York flights will be the first to experience the Oneworld carrier’s new A350-1000 jets this winter, which could mean a launch as early as 29th October 2023.
Stay tuned for the latest details as soon as these new cabins are revealed.
(Cover Photo: Airbus)