Wednesday, April 9, 2014

CoachFlyer JC1227: HND - MSJ on JAL Express' Boeing 737.

Travel date: January 2014
Flight: JC1227 (marketed as JL1227)
Route: Tokyo/Haneda (HND/RJTT) - Misawa (MSJ/RJSM)
Carrier: JAL Express (JC/JEX) operating for Japan Airlines (JL/JAL)
Aircraft: Boeing 737-846(WL) JA319J
Class: Economy
Direct distance: 588 km (366 miles)
Flight time: 55 minutes
Sistership Boeing 737-846(WL) JA318J taxies at Haneda. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Check-in was smooth at Japan Airlines' (JL/JAL) electronic counters at Tokyo's Haneda Airport (HND/RJTT) Terminal 1, but passengers with check-in luggage had to go up to the line. Members of JAL's Mileage Bank (JMB) frequent-flyer program who don't have check-in baggage can simply go straight to the security lanes and swipe the JMB card over a machine that gives you a receipt and automatically checks in for you. You only need to swipe that card again when you board the aircraft. Terminal 1 is used by the JAL Group, Skymark Airlines (BC/SKY), and Star Flyer's (7G/SFJ) flights to Fukuoka (FUK/RJFF) and Kitakyushu (KKJ/RJFR).
Heading north, somewhere above Tochigi. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

We strolled our way to the bus gates at the northern end of Terminal 1, only to hear an announcement telling us that boarding wouldn't start until 1230, due to the late arrival of the inbound aircraft. Groups with handicapped persons, pregnant mothers, and children under two were called in, followed by JMB Diamond flyers, JAL Global Club (JGC) premier members, and Oneworld Emerald flyers. A bus took us to Spot 34, where Boeing 737-846(WL) JA319J was waiting for us. The aircraft was delivered new to JAL on April 15, 2009. At 1247, the doors were closed and push-back started at 1250, 10 minutes behind schedule. Most of JAL's domestic B737-800 flights are now operated by lower-cost subsidiary JAL Express (JC/JEX), or simply 'JEX'.
The domestic edition of JAL's Skyward magazine only has Japanese. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

After the ground personnel waved good-bye to us, a tradition with Japanese airlines, we taxied to Runway 34R and took off at 1302, local time. Banking sharply to the right with Tokyo's skyscrapers to the left almost right below us, and then banking left above Tokyo Disney Resort, we headed north towards Tochigi prefecture. At 1310, we reached 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) and Captain Mr. Kikuchi turned off the seat-belt signs. Many domestic flights which aren't carrying non-Japanese speakers often omit English announcements, but that wasn't the case as the Misawa route caters to the many Americans who work at the U.S. Air Force (USAF) base adjacent to Misawa Airport.
Flying over Miyagi prefecture. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Flight attendants started preparing in-flight service, which consists of just a complementary beverage selection. Like its parent, JEX offers hot coffee (branded as JAL Cafe Lines), apple juice, consommé soup, 'shiikwaasaa' (Citrus depressa) juice, hot and cold green tea, water, and coke. Whether busy or not, the relatively young JEX staff always serve with a genuine smile, which is sometimes absent on mainline JAL. As the cabin crew were working their way up and down the aisle, around 1324, First Officer Mr. Fukuzawa made a welcome announcement with the passengers, informing that we are cruising at 29,000 feet (8,800 meters) and that we would be expecting light snow on arrival. At 1334, descent was already started, and the flight attendants walked around to help those who wanted to purchase from the JAL Shop on-board catalogue.
JAL's domestic Boeing 737-800s seat 20 'Class J' and 145 economy. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Just about five minutes later, we started to encounter rough air, prompting the crew to turn on the seat-belt lights. After passing through the clouds, a snowy landscape greeted us from below. The aircraft flew south of Hachinohe city, out to the Pacific Ocean, and then banked to the left after passing the second largest city in Aomori prefecture for a final approach to Misawa. Gears were lowered at 1352, and we touched down on Runway 28 at 1357, concluding a 55-minute journey. Taxiing in front of the USAF Air Base, which is responsible for air traffic control at the airport, we arrived at the terminal and came to a stop at 1402 at Gate 1, only two minutes behind schedule. Misawa only has one jet-bridge. In two minutes, we were off the aircraft and our luggage was out on the baggage claim by 1410.
Descending over the mountains in northern Iwate. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Originally opened in 1941 as an Imperial Japanese Navy base, the airport now owned by the Japan Ministry of Defense has been operated by the USAF since 1945. It started accepting civilian flights in 1952, but were banned in 1965 for 'security concerns'. Commercial flights switched to nearby Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF)-controlled Hachinohe Airfield (HHE/RJSH). In 1975, these flights switched back to Misawa, and the current terminal was opened two years later. With a single 3,050-meter (10,000 feet) runway, Misawa serves as a military base for the 35th Fighter Wing of the USAF along with the JSDF, and for commercial flights as the gateway to eastern Aomori, including the cities of Hachinohe, Towada, and Misawa, as well as the Shimokita Peninsula. Other than the link to Haneda, the airport has non-stops to Osaka/Itami (ITM/RJOO), operated by JAL-subsidiary J-Air (XM/JLJ), and Sapporo/Okadama (OKD/RJCO) with Hokkaido Air System (HC/NTH).
Our Boeing 737-846(WL) JA319J after arrival at Misawa. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

JAL Express will be merged into parent Japan Airlines effective October 1st (JAL Express to be absorbed by JAL on October 1st.). It was originally set up on April 1st, 1997 and inaugurated service on July 1st, 1998 as a lower-cost subsidiary taking over some of its parent's regional domestic routes with Boeing 737-400s transferred from JAL. JEX formed the basis for the now lower-cost JAL. The carrier's flight attendants were originally called 'SkyCasts', where they were also responsible for cabin cleaning (mainline JAL hired outside firms just to clean the aircraft) and implemented quick turnaround times, increasing fleet utilization. Until the current uniforms were introduced in June 2013, 'SkyCasts' wore a red-based coat-style uniform, different from mainline JAL. It originally targeted a 20% reduction in overall costs compared to its parent.
Misawa Airport is the gateway to eastern Aomori. (Photo: Ryosuke Yano)

Now that JAL has shed a lot of costs, especially during its bankruptcy, JAL employees essentially carry out the same tasks and amount of work that JAL Express staff do, so presumably, it became unnecessary to keep JEX. Since the JAL Group offers a standardized product, customers will notice little difference if any when the merger is completed, but whenever you see a cheerful young female cabin crew, remember JEX.

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