Does Japan Airlines Fly The Most Comfortable 787s?

Few aircraft types took to the skies with more fanfare and higher expectations than Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The plane was going to turn the travel experience on its head. Instead, most passengers were left lamenting the end of the roomy 747 while they were squeezed into tighter seats on the 787. But one airline bucked that trend. Japan Airlines has always had a good reputation. Unlike most airlines, Japan Airlines’ reputation has increased on the back of what it has done with its Dreamliners.

Japan Airlines has arguably the best Dreamliner economy class product in the skies. Photo: Valentin Hintikka via Flickr.

Before it suspended production, Boeing had produced about 1,000 Dreamliners. The aircraft is flown by around 65 airlines. Japan Airlines operates 47 Dreamliners, a mix of Boeing 787-8s and 787-9s.

Regardless of who you fly, life is pretty sweet up the front of a Dreamliner. Whether you’re on Japan Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Avianca or Oman Air, the flight will be a nice one.

Japan Airlines bucks the trend with a roomy Dreamliner economy class

But the majority of passengers are down the back, where lie-flat beds and space to stretch are rarer than a reasonably priced coffee in a Parisian tourist zone.

Since the Dreamliners first started flying, word got around about Japan Airlines’ economy class product. It was good, people were saying. The food was good, the service good, and there was room to stretch out. The killer decision by Japan Airlines was to install a 2-4-2 economy class layout across its Dreamliner fleet.



Source: Japan Airlines.

With different types of Dreamliners operated by different airlines, making comparisons becomes complex. But let’s take a random sample. Let’s look at Boeing 787-9s operated by high profile airlines on medium to long-haul routes. After all, it’s on long sectors that passengers feel the most pain from cramped space.

The table below is a sample of long haul 787-9 operators. It is not exhaustive. Several operators, including Japan Airlines, have more than one type of 787-9 layout. The number of seats in economy class cabins will vary depending on the number of premium class seats on the aircraft. The information is sourced from SeatGuru.

AirlineEconomy Class ConfigurationNo of SeatsSeat Pitch "Seat Width "
All Nippon Airlines (layout one)3-3-31463417.3
All Nippon Airlines (Layout Two)3-3-31923417.5
American Airlines3-3-31983116.2 - 17.2
Air Canada3-3-324730-3417
British Airways3-3-31263117.5
Emirates (Layout One)3-3-319531-3217.2
Emirates (Layout Two)3-3-327131-3217.1
Etihad (Layout One)3-3-327131-3217.1
Etihad (Layout Two)3-3-319531-3217.2
Hainan Airlines3-3-325831-3217
Japan Airlines (Layout One)2-4-21163318.9
Japan Airlines (Layout Two)2-4-211632-3318
Japan Airlines (Layout Three)2-4-219032-3318
Turkish Airlines3-3-32703017
United Airlines (Layout One)3-3-31163217.3
United Airlines (layout Two)3-3-31493117.3

Judging by the hard data in the table, there’s a reason why people like Japan Airlines’ Dreamliner economy class. Their seats are wider and the pitch more generous than on competitor airlines operating the same aircraft type. Flying to London on a 787-9, would you rather be on Japan Airlines or say, Turkish Airlines?

Perception matters for most passengers

It’s not just about hard data. Perception matters. That 2-4-2 on Japan Airlines makes the aircraft feel roomier. Of course, on a premium seat heavy Japan Airlines 787-9, the economy class cabin may be considerably smaller than on say, Air Canada’s 787-9 economy class cabin. But if both cabins were full, I know which one would feel more spacious and less crowded.

There are a few more points that work in Japan Airlines’ favor. The airline has a long-standing record for excellent catering and customer service. The Japanese have always done customer service well, so it isn’t surprizing that’s the norm on Japan Airlines.

Japan Airlines has always had a good reputation for its food, even in economy. Photo: bfishadow via Flickr.

On the food front, Japan Airlines’ in-flight standards of sushi and other tasty fishy bites travel really well. Most airlines try to promote their home cuisines in-flight but a lot of those dishes don’t really translate well into airline food. Sushi, on the other hand, rocks at 35,000 feet.

Finally, besides having a superb hard and soft product, Japan Airlines usually doubles down and offer pretty competitive fares. This makes their economy class product one of the best in the skies – a tip top product and decent fares.

While this article is about the economy class product, it would be remiss of me not to point out that Japan Airlines’ premium economy product is also industry-leading and often available at bargain prices. It’s the subject for another article but certainly worth looking at if you are considering long haul travel down the track.