A non stop flight to Japan from LAX is at minimum 10 hours, and the longest flight we had been on previously was 5 hours to Maui. 5 hours was a long, long time to be stuck in an airplane, and here we were looking at being on a plane for twice as long. Regardless of the cost, we wanted to make sure we were as comfortable as possible.
I've always been a bit curious about how the quality and comfort levels between different airlines. Most of our flights have been under 5 hours, and we have almost always picked which airline to go with based on the cheapest ticket. The majority of the time this puts us on airlines such as United or America Airlines. United clocks in at #60 on the ranking of all airlines in terms of quality and American Airlines is at #79. After flying both these airlines on multiple trips, I’ll be honest when I say I am a bit surprised they are even in the top 100. Having said that, we don’t have much else to compare it to.
For an economy ticket United to Japan at the time of our search (roughly 6 month before our trip) was $906 and American Airlines $911. The cheapest ticket in a quick search from LAX to Tokyo was $554 from China Eastern Air which ranked #85.
I was a bit curious as to the price comparison between those airlines and a high ranking airline. So the research began. Overall, the overwhelming majority of reviewers for different airlines stated that when it came to service and quality there was no comparison between a US airline and Asian airline, Asian airlines reigned supreme. One of the biggest airlines in Japan, JAL Airlines, clocked in at #23 on the airline ranking list and was cheaper than the US options at $818.
So what if we went higher on the quality ranking list? Googling “World’s best airlines” brings up a bunch of results, that all seem to pull their info from the same source. Here is the price of an economy ticket from the top 3 airlines in the world.
The ranking and price as of October 2015 for economy class from LAX to Japan round trip.
- #1 Qatar Airways $1,454
- #2 Singapore Airlines $862
- #3 Cathay Pacific $1,439
- #60 United $906
- #79 American Airlines $911
It was pretty obvious that Singapore airlines was going to be the way to go.
For a flight as long as the one we would be taking to from LAX to Tokyo, we sprang for non-stop, which cut our flight time from 20 hours to 11 hours. Even flying non-stop, however, was a lot of time to spend cooped up in a plane regardless of how great the service is and how comfortable the seats are.
The 5 hour flight to Maui stuck in the economy seat made me swear that the next time we flew more than 2 hours we would be springing for first class. Which we did when we went to New Orleans. And fell in love with first class flying. For only $200 bucks (LAX to MSY) it seemed like a cheap price for the comfort.
So, more research! First class on the high ranked airlines was something to behold. Cubicle seats that gave you complete privacy from other passengers. Seats that turned into beds, food worthy of a 5 star restaurant. lounges, and some even had showers. Wow!
A first class ticket on United Airlines was $6,866. Steep, but if the top ranking Airlines were cheaper for their economy options, then maybe...
Haha. You see where I was going with that. Yeah, wishful thinking.
First class tickets from LAX to Japan (as of October 2015)
- #1 Qatar Airways (no first class options to Tokyo)
- #2 Singapore Airlines $11,611
- #3 Cathay Pacific $19,882
- #60 United $6,866
- #79 American Airlines $5,217
A ticket for two, the first class option was the price of small car and in some cases (Cathay Pacific) the price of a much larger nicer car. That was no longer an option.
For our last option we took a look at the business class. Most of the time when dealing with business class you are paying for just a touch better service and seats, with a slightly lower price than first class, however, with such a huge price difference between economy and first class maybe there would be an actual middle ground. Let's check.
Business class ticket from LAX to Japan (as of May 2016 estimation)
- #1 Qatar Airways $6,037
- #2 Singapore Airlines $3,632
- #3 Cathay Pacific $5,589
- #60 United $3,363
- #79 American Airlines $3,363
Business class was definintly a middle ground. It was still expensive, but a bit more reasonable.
After a lot of research, we decided on springing for business class, which many stated that on business class on Singapore Airlines was the equivalent of first class option on many other Airlines and a fraction of the price for first class, and if it turned out to be everything our research mentioned, it would be well worth it.
And it really was.
The seats are big and spacious, one seat would be easily capable of sitting two people. While the economy class held 9 people per row, the business class only held 4.
There is a foot rest in front of the seat, with a TV that held a wide range of selections. On every flight we have taken previously we have never had control of the tv, however, for this flight we had a wide selection of movies, music, and television programs to choose from. To our surprise a lot of the movies and television shows had subtitles as well. We watched Everest, The Danish Girl, The Hateful 8, The 5th Wave, and The Good Dinosaur during our flights. There is also a cubby next to the tv that had power ports for charging your electric devices. The power supply was probably the nicest part of the flight as it allowed us to use our laptops and phones for entertainment without worrying about draining the batteries.
The part we were most curious about was the food. Would there be a noticable difference between economy class food, which we rarely if ever ate, and business class? All information we had found in our research indicated we would be having multi course high class dining.
The menus we found at our seats certiantly were extensive.
We forgot to take pictures of the menu on our flight back, but the menu was just as extensive, with small changes to the main course.
Dinner for our flight to Tokyo.
Dinner for our flight to Los Angeles.
Dinner for our flight to Los Angeles and dessert for both trips.
How was the food though? Despite the fact that it was an extensive selection, it was still airplane food. We highly recommend eating as little as possible before and during your flight, as you will be much more comfortable. With a flight so long, every single passenger will eventually need to use the restroom, and air travel can make things very uncomfortable when combined with a full stomach. If you do decide that the free meal is just too good to pass up, stick with beef. The chicken and seafood options were dry and overcooked.
It is also worth noting that for our flight back home from Narita Airport in Japan, we were invited into the ANA airlines Lounge. We had never been into an airport lounge before and it was kind of amazing. They offered free food and alcohol (self-serve buffet style), and even had ammeneities for showers. It was pretty crowded, with barely enough seats for everyone, but still a nice treat while we waited for our flight home.
The self-serve sake bar in the ANA Airport Lounge.
A couple quick comments on the airports in regards to customs and security. LAX security was a breeze when we left. We got through in about 30 minutes. Narita airport customs and security were also very quick, we got them in about 30 minutes each. The awesome thing about Japan is their amazing transportation, they have trains that go directly to the airport (you unload right inside the airport). We can't comment on our arrival at Narita because our hotel picked us up at the airport, but we have heard you can use the JR pass for the trains at the airport. When we departed Narita we booked a spot on the express train to Narita airport and go there from Tokyo in about an hour.
LAX customs to reenter the United States is a joke. We spent about 2 and a half hours getting through LAX customs. Make sure you plan your time correctly when you are coming back home.
In conclusion, if you are going to be flying to Japan:
- Spring for direct flights. It will greatly reduce your hours in the air.
- Avoid eating too much food a few hours before your flight.
- Stick to beef when you can for your in flight meal.
- If you can afford it, take a night time flight and spring for a seat that turns into a bed. There is only so much you can do for ten hours (minumum) while on a plane and sleeping will make the time go much faster.
- Leaving America and arriving/departing Japan is pretty easy and straight forward. Arriving in America is much more time consuming.
Next up - Tokyo!