For the last 16 years, I took many different airlines in order to get to Japan and from Japan back to Europe. Thus I thought it´s about time to share those experiences and overall impressions with you in order to help you a bit with your choice for finding a good airline.
This is page is about airlines which operate from/to Europe, but many of them will certainly operate from all over the world.
If you ever tried to read through those airline rating portals, you will instantly be given thousands of reviews per airline, and after reading some of those reviews you may not even want to take an airplane ever again. That´s because people in general feel urged to leave a comment when having had a negative or horrible flight experience.
It may sound like a minor detail, but believe me, this can be quite essential, especially if you are taking heavy equipment (racing gear, scuba gear, etc.) with you or are planning to buy some souvenirs. In such a case, airlines may charge you a fortune for exceeded luggage. So please take care, no matter which airline you use, make sure you won´t exceed their baggage limit before booking.
In general, the free allowance for luggage is at around 23kg (50lb), if you own one of the respective airline´s silver/platinum/gold etc. mileage card, you may be allowed to take significantly more with you, e.g. Emirates will allow an additional 20kg for all of their Skywards Platinum members. Furthermore, Japanese and some Asian airlines are very generous, e.g. ANA and JAL both allow 2 x 23kg (=100lb) for you to take with you.
I will provide a link to each airline´s luggage rules for you to have a look as it´s always subect to change.
When you are bound to a seat for let´s say 10 to 15 hours, you will appreciate every single inch of legroom. Some airlines will grant you more than others in economy class. It also depends on the respective aircraft (e.g. Boeing or Airbus planes) and where exactly your seat is located at. After booking a flight, you should check:
where you can find the best or respectively most comfortable seats for your booked flight. Some seats have a restricted space (e.g. due to a door or technical equipment installed underneath your seat), so you should check it before finalizing your seat reservation.
ANA – ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS
Impression: GREAT !
This Japanese airline offers passengers an outstanding combination of comfort and service, including a great in-flight entertainment system for long distance flights which offers latest movies, TV series and music on a personal screen. The legroom is above average, the staff is very polite, there hasn´t been any problems on any of my flights with ANA so far, also the meals are very good. I can definitely recommend ANA.
There are currently two suitcases with 23kg each (2x50lb) allowed.
JAL – JAPAN AIRLINES
Impression: GREAT !
This second Japanese airline is another recommendation of mine. I honestly can´t find anything to complain about. They´ve got a decent in-flight entertainment program on personal screens, the legroom is also alright, the staff is very friendly and polite, several aircrafs also got snackbars where you can just help yourself if you happen to be still hungry, and just like ANA, JAL is quite generous when it comes to luggage (2x23kg).
More information about checked baggage:
I took JAL a couple of times for national flights within Japan. And those flights were all very comfortable, too.
KLM – ROYAL DUTCH AIRWAYS
Impression: Not Good
Unfortunately, my experience with KLM has been….not good at all. Stubborn as I am, I took them 8 to 10 times, always hoping it would be getting better. But it didn´t ;).
You will most likely have to change to your connection flight in Schiphol, Amsterdam. Whoever planned this one didn´t do a good job, the airport is a challenge. Especially as KLM tends to be placing connecting flights at the opposite ends of the airport, and if you are already late due to a delayed flight, it may require you to walk fast. Keep in mind that you´ll have to get past the passport check and bodyscanner once again, and the huge airport will most likely cause you to run to your gate.
The flight attendants are not really polite, rather “not motivated.” KLM once made me pay for overweight luggage, which was only 2kg over the limit and strangely just as much as I had with me when leaving Europe. On one flight, me and a lot of people in the back rows of the plane suffered from feeling nauseous after enjoying the food, but in between the quality of the meals improved a lot. At least something.
Short distance flights are quite alright, but when it comes to long distance flights I rather try to avoid KLM. However, KLM has a cooperation with Air France, it may happen that KLM flights are codeshare flights, and you´ll have to take Air France then. And Air France is even worse (see below).
Information about the baggage limits you can find here:
Impression: Not Good
I´m sorry, but it´s very difficult for me to come up with something positive about Air France.
There´s not much legroom, the seats in the airplanes are most hard and uncomfortable, space is something Air France won´t grant you unless you are paying for a Business or First Class ticket.
The flights to France were most uncomfortable due to such small seats. I´ve had some sort of Ryanair feeling on the flights to France, and the seats on the planes to Japan were not comfortable either.
Once my suitcase disappeared and had to be redelivered one day after my arrival.
To sum it up, I wouldn´t want to fly with Air France to/from Japan again unless there´s no other chance. Their codeshare partner KLM is slightly better. If you have to or can, I would rather recommend KLM than Air France.
The Air France bagge information link:
Impression : GREAT
In short, all the flights with Korean Air I´ve taken so far were all just great and upmost enjoyable. The entertainment program is very good, USB chargers are integrated in the seats, very kind and polite staff, smooth stopovers, no problem with connection flights either. The food is excellent, I really do like Korean Air a lot.
Korean Air baggage information:
Eindruck : AVERAGE
I really used to like Lufthansa, but somehow service went down a bit the last couple of years. Well, the meals are just about average. It´s nothing I do put emphasis on but compared to ANA, JAL, Emirates or Korean Air, these are the least delicious one in my eyes. Legroom is okay, the staff is also just okay, had some good and bad experience, it´s alright I´d say.
Baggage limitations @ Lufthansa:
No wonder this is one of the world´s best airlines (once more voted to be the world´s best airline in 2017). Their staff is always very friendly and polite, in every regard a role-model for other airlines.
For a year I´ve had one of their silver mileage cards, which included lounge access in Dubai, where a most delicious buffet was waiting for all transfer passengers. Even if you are not in possession of their Skywards silver or platinum card, I can recommend the lounge, which also can be accessed for money. The airport in Dubai is often just completely crowded and the lounge offers a nice and relaxing atmosphere including excellent food and internet access.
Well, Emirates in-flight entertainment system is outstanding as well. There are over a hundred movies waiting to be watched, including actual movies that were just running in the cinema, many TV series, interactive games against other passengers, outside cameras, all #1 radio hits from the 50´s on, and much more.
If you are a person like me who can rarely sleep on an airplane, you won´t get bored for sure. Some of their aircrafts had an artificial night sky, felt luxurious even in economy class. There´s absolutely nothing to complain about.
Two times I´ve been travelling in Emirate´s business class, which is similarily luxurious including the additional space, reclining chairs and also the meal that rather reminded me of a restaurant course.
Additional information about their baggage limits:
Impression : Great!
Perhaps it´s due to the rivalship with their neighbour UAE, but Qatar Air also has a great 5 star service when it comes to their airline. The entertainment system is great, it offers over a hundred movies for you to enjoy, big personal screens, polite crew, excellent meals, comfortable/spacious legroom.