Renovated, but viewless: A review of Japan Airlines’ First Class Lounge at Tokyo Narita
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Throughout 2019, Japan Airlines (JAL) worked on renovating and expanding its lounge space in Tokyo Narita’s (NRT) Main Building. The First Class Lounge, which was one of my favorite lounges in the world before the renovations, now has two distinct sections: the fourth-floor First Class Lounge that opened in April 2019 and the third-floor First Class Lounge JAL SALON that opened in October 2019. Here’s my take on both of JAL’s renovated first class lounge spaces in the Main Building of Terminal 2.
The JAL First Class Lounge is in Tokyo Narita’s (NRT) Terminal 2 Main Building. If you’re originating at NRT, go right after exiting immigration and you’ll see the lounge on your left shortly before the departure gates begin. The lounge is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
If you’re connecting from JAL or most Oneworld partners, you’ll likely arrive in Terminal 2. So, clear transfer security and take the escalator up one level. You’ll need to determine if you arrived in the Main Building or Satellite Building. You can do so by considering your arrival gate number: Gates under 80 are in the Main Building while gates over 80 are in the Satellite building. If you arrived in the Satellite Building, you’ll need to walk to the Main Building using the connecting corridor. The connecting corridor remains within the secure area and even includes some cultural exhibits.
There’s also a JAL First Class Lounge in the Satellite Building that is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. But, unless your connection is tight, I recommend visiting the larger primary lounge in the Main Building.
Personally, I can access the JAL First Class Lounge as a Oneworld Emerald flying on a Oneworld airline. According to JAL’s website, the following passengers have access to the First Class Lounge:
- First Class passengers on a Oneworld airline + one guest on the same flight
- Oneworld Emerald passengers + one guest, both on a Oneworld marketed and operated flight
The JAL Sakura Lounge for Business Class passengers and the JAL First Class Lounge share an entrance and desk in the Main Building. I simply presented my boarding pass, which showed my Oneworld Emerald status, and was shown to a secondary First Class Lounge entrance desk on the left-hand side of the main desk.
The newly renovated Japan Airlines First Class Lounge has two distinct sections: the fourth floor First Class Lounge that opened in April 2019 and the third floor First Class Lounge JAL SALON that opened in October 2019. These two lounge sections each have their own entrance but are connected inside the lounge by an elevator.
Lounge (Fourth floor)
Once past the fourth-floor entrance desks (or when leaving the elevator from the third floor JAL SALON), you’ll reach a hallway that leads to the dining area.
The dining area has ample seating at two-person tables, four-person tables and long shared tables that generally have seating for about ten people. Most seats have an outlet that will fit a two-prong ungrounded U.S. plug nearby, but you may need to look carefully under your seat or table counter. I feel like the outlets could have been better placed, but I understand the designer was likely trying to place them conveniently yet discreetly.
Seating wraps around an enclosed kitchen. There’s a counter where you can order from a menu on one side of the kitchen, and the sushi bar is on the other side. This design allows the lounge to sit many passengers at once without making the dining area feel too large.
Different sections of the dining area have different decor. Although part of the dining area has windows, sheer shades remained down. Guests weren’t missing much, though — the view from the windows was simply of a wall.
Most of the fourth-floor lounge space is dedicated to dining space. However, there is a medium-sized room near the elevator to the third floor that provides more relaxing seating. There are also two-prong ungrounded outlets that will fit U.S.-style plugs accessible from most seats, although the location of each outlet may not be immediately obvious.
This room features the best place to work on a laptop that’s not in the dining room: a work counter along the windows.
There are also phone rooms, a few small seating areas and restrooms located just off the main hallway on this floor of the lounge.
JAL SALON (Third floor)
Once past the third-floor entrance desks (or when leaving the elevator from the fourth-floor lounge), you’ll walk down a hallway into the JAL SALON. As you walk down the hallway you’ll see a desk for booking private shower rooms as well as a self-service luggage room. Keep walking and you’ll reach the main lounge room.
Most, but not all, chairs have access to an outlet that will fit a two-prong ungrounded U.S. plug. This lounge area is relatively dark and doesn’t feature the apron views that many AvGeeks loved in the pre-renovation space. Only two tables are next to a window in the JAL SALON.
If you turn to the left, you’ll see a hallway to the left. This hallway leads to phone rooms and restrooms.
The women’s restroom has two individual rooms with Toto toilets, sinks and cotton hand towels. There’s also a sink and make-up counter available outside the individual toilet rooms.
Walking onward in the lounge you’ll see a snack and beverage area, as well as a staffed bar area. More on these later.
After the bar, you’ll see a hall on the left that leads to a staffed shoe polishing desk that’s operated in collaboration with British shoemaker John Lobb.
After the shoe polishing desk, you’ll find yourself at the far end of the lounge. There’s an enclosed smoking room here, so if you sit in this area you might occasionally catch a whiff of smoke.
There are multiple shower rooms on the third floor that are allocated by an attendant. When I asked for a shower room around 4 p.m., I was told six people were ahead of me and that a shower room would be ready in 30 to 60 minutes. About 40 minutes later, the buzzer I was given went off indicating that a shower room was ready. I was given Shower Room 5, which has a toilet, sink and shower.
On the counter is a hairdryer. No other amenities are automatically provided, but you can obtain various items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, razor and shower cap from the shower attendant. There’s a small closet with two hangers and plenty of places to put your luggage that aren’t the floor.
There’s shampoo, conditioner and soap in the shower. The floor of the shower is made of anti-slip material, so there’s no fear of falling.
There are two electronic massaging chairs on the fourth floor that passengers can use.
Various English and Japanese magazines are available on shelves in the fourth-floor hallway leading from the elevator to the dining area. There’s also a small selection available on the third floor near the windows.
The lounge’s Wi-Fi is easy to access and reasonably fast. A speed test mid-day showed 43 Mbps download and 52 Mbps upload.
Related reading: Second cities: Destinations to add onto a trip to Tokyo
Food and beverage
My favorite part of the JAL First Class Lounge is the staffed sushi bar that’s open from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. The sushi is served as a three-piece set and the menu — which is available online — rotates weekly.
During my most recent visit, the menu consisted of Maguro (Tenmi) Tuna, Squid and Rolled Egg. I’d recommend trying the three-piece set as it is served initially. But, know that you can get three pieces of your favorite sushi if you ask.
You can also order various dishes from a staff member behind the counter. The current options are shown on two electronic screens, with breakfast served from 7:30 a.m to 11 a.m., all-day options served from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and additional choices served in the afternoon and evening. You can see all of these online if you want to plan ahead.
There are three types of soup available, as well as rice, from a self-service counter.
You can also select various types of small bites from a few different areas in the lounge.
There are three self-service beverage areas in the lounge — two on the fourth floor and one on the third floor. Each area has sake, wine, liquor and beer pouring machines available on the counter. And, there are sodas, fruit juices and cold beer glasses available in a refrigerator near each beverage area.
The JAL SALON also features a bartender that will provide Japanese premier whiskey, craft whiskey, craft gin, craft vodka, Japanese tea and Japanese sweets to passengers upon request. There are boxes with menu cards on each table in the JAL SALON.
When should I visit the Sakura Business Class Lounge instead?
Yes, there are situations where you may prefer to visit the Sakura Business Class Lounge instead of the First Class Lounge. For example, you may be happier in the Sakura Business Class Lounge if you want:
- Apron views or significant natural lighting
- Buffet dining or a wider selection of food
- Sleeping rooms (there are none in the First Class Lounge and three in the Business Class Lounge)
- Massage chairs without a wait (there are two in the First Class Lounge and at least eight in the Business Class Lounge)
The Business Class Lounge — which you can even access as a Premium Economy passenger on JAL — is a very solid lounge option. If you have access to the First Class Lounge, you’ll likely want to mostly spend your time there and simply visit the Business Class Lounge for specific aspects that aren’t provided by the First Class Lounge.
When I reviewed the JAL First Class Lounge in December 2018 before the renovations began, I wrote the following to summarize my experience:
The lounge doesn’t offer some of the aspects you’d expect from a First Class Lounge, like seated dining from a menu, spa services, nap rooms and personalized attention — and it does get very crowded at points. Although it’s not the most posh lounge around, I always enjoy a visit to the JAL First Class Lounge due to its comfortable working space, fresh handmade sushi, great tasting miso soup and well-equipped shower rooms.
Japan Airlines has improved its First Class Lounge in some of these areas by replacing the buffet with options that you can order from a menu and expanding lounge space to reduce crowding. However, I miss the apron views that could previously be enjoyed from near the sushi bar. And, the lounge feels less exclusive now, likely as a result of additional seating and better lighting. This being said, the lounge renovations are positive for most travelers.
Featured photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.