Japan Airlines is raising the domestic business class bar with two of the world’s most advanced aircraft – the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 – to begin flights on key local routes before the year is out.
September marks the debut of JAL’s first Airbus A350-900, with seventeen more to come: all of which will be committed to domestic routes as replacements for the Oneworld member’s older Boeing 777-200 jets.
The first A350 flight is slated for September 1 from Tokyo/Haneda to Fukuoka, with future jets pencilled in for Sapporo, Okinawa and Osaka.
The A350-900s aircraft will offer a ‘first class’ cabin of 12 all-new design seats, arranged in two rows of 2-2-2, for the domestic business class market.
There will also 94 new ‘Class J’ seats – JAL’s domestic equivalent to premium economy – with a 2-4-2 layout, while the 263 economy seats will be ranked in a 3-3-3 grid.
JAL promises that every seat will have its own video screen plus AC and USB power sockets, with access to fast WiFi.
However, Japan Airlines is keeping details of the new seats under wraps until a media reveal to be held in Tokyo on June 20.
The A350s will be followed in October by four domestic Boeing 787-8s which could also sport new-design seats, with the first domestic Dreamliner slated for Tokyo/Haneda to Osaka.
JAL is unique in the world for using so many international-grade Airbus A350 and Boeing 787s on domestic routes, and plans to make the most of these workhorse jets as passenger-pleasing showponies for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, of which Japan Airlines is a major sponsor.
Japan Airlines Chairman Yoshiharu Ueki tells Executive Traveller that the nation's domestic market is not only "the third biggest in the world, but our domestic and international markets are about 50% each."
JAL also worked with Airbus to tweak the A350-900 for domestic flights.
"When JAL asked if we could make the A350 more suitable for high-frequency domestic flying we said 'but why'?", Airbus Chief Commercial Officer Christian Scherer laughingly admits to Executive Traveller.
It wasn't just that the A350 was "25% more efficient than the (Boeing 777) it replaces", Scherer says – it was also about introducing a world's-best experience to domestic travel.
Airbus reduced the weight of the made-for-JAL A350s, "which means you stress the airplane less because the engines have reduced take-off thrust (so in turn) you can fly higher cycles and have longer maintenance cycles."
David Flynn travelled to Airbus Toulouse as a guest of Airbus and Japan Airlines.