In the past couple of years, the Jetstar group has collectively become my airline of choice when travelling to and from Japan. Attractive fares have played a key part in that rise, but a more important factor is the increase in the number of Japanese cities they now serve directly out of Manila, along with schedules that suit my preferences (morning arrivals in Japan and afternoon/evening departures for the return). Today, we’ll see what it’s like to travel with Jetstar Japan (IATA code: GK) on their Manila-Tōkyō route.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flights reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same routes and flight numbers.
OUTBOUND FLIGHT DETAILS
Airline and flight number : Jetstar Japan (GK) 40
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Tōkyō-Narita, Japan (IATA code: NRT)
Date : Saturday, 30 September 2017
Scheduled departure time : 0040
Scheduled arrival time : 0605
RETURN FLIGHT DETAILS
Airline and flight number : Jetstar Japan (GK) 41
Route : Tōkyō-Narita, Japan (IATA code: NRT) to Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Monday, 16 October 2017
Scheduled departure time : 1935
Scheduled arrival time : 2325
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : A320-200
Manufacturer : Airbus
Passenger capacity : 180 seats in a single-class, all-economy layout
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : SeatGuru
Travel class flown : Economy
I neglected to take note of the outbound actual departure/arrival times, but I recall entering NRT at about the expected hour. For the return, data from Flightradar24 (where my homebound leg was recent enough to still be visible at the time of writing) indicates that our actual departure from NRT was at 2000 and our MNL landing time was 2312, consistent with what I remember first-hand. On both legs, then, performance was good in terms of arrival punctuality.
At the moment, the Jetstar Japan fleet consists entirely of Airbus A320-200 aircraft. I wasn’t able to take a proper picture of either my outbound or return aeroplane, but here’s a snapshot of a sister vehicle parked next to the one I’d flown to NRT in.
PRICE AND FARE CLASS
The total amount I paid for the round-trip flight was PHP 9,737.63, broken down as follows:
Fare, including Starter Plus bundle upgrade = 7,996.00
Passenger service charge (MNL) = 550.00
Travel charge (NRT) = 691.63
Booking and service fee = 500.00
At the moment, only Economy seats are offered on Jetstar Japan flights between MNL and NRT. Two levels of fare upgrade are available: Starter Plus (an extra PHP 1,550.00 each way) and Starter Max (PHP 2,995.00 on top of the basic fare). I went with a Plus upgrade, which came with 20 kg of checked baggage, standard seat selection, a hot meal, frequent flyer rewards (either miles or a redeemable voucher at your election), and a change fee waiver (fare differences still apply). I’ll drill into some of these benefits in more detail below, and the fine print can be consulted on the Jetstar website.
All things considered, I’d rate this as a very good bargain. Sure, lower rates are possible if your timing is perfectly right and if you’re prepared to shave away optional extras. But any round-trip, all-inclusive budget airline fare under PHP 10,000.00 for the MNL-NRT-MNL route strikes me as an extremely tempting offer. Throw in baggage and seat assignments (the meal is just icing on the cake, really), and the deal is pretty much sealed.
The outbound leg departed from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL), more specifically Terminal 1. The smallest and oldest of MNL’s three main international terminal buildings, Terminal 1 is typical of the airport’s limited, ill-maintained, and increasingly overused infrastructure. That said, a major refurbishment has made the experience somewhat more pleasant – indeed, in my view, more so than at MNL’s much newer but depressingly bland Terminal 3.
Due to the near-midnight departure, I was in no condition to gather enough photographic material for a proper terminal report. Here’s one picture of the main check-in area just to give us a sense of place – you can also view some additional images in this earlier post.
Boarding at MNL 1 was done through a conventional aerobridge, which differed from the approach employed at the terminal on the other end of the route…
…metropolitan Tōkyō’s Narita International Airport (IATA code: NRT), more specifically the new Terminal 3. Designed from the ground up as a facility for low-cost carriers, the bare-bones nature of this operation is evident from the sterile architecture and reduced (though still quite adequate) options for shopping and dining. I won’t go into too much detail here; instead, I invite you to read this earlier report I wrote concerning the latest addition to NRT.
Forget aerobridges – this is a basic terminal with a merciless approach to cost-cutting. The boarding gate was like a cage at a maximum-security prison…
…equipped with a windowless, winding set of stairs instead of lifts, ramps, or escalators…
…leading down to a waiting bus, which shuttled us onward to the parked plane. There, we climbed aboard by means of old-fashioned airstairs, exposed briefly to the rain – note how wet the bus is – on the short, unsheltered hop between the bus door and the foot of the canopied steps.
All that said, I’d actually rate NRT 3 more highly than MNL 1. A bare-bones operation NRT 3 might be, but it’s a well-run, well-maintained bare-bones operation, unlike the supposedly full-service but ill-equipped MNL 1 that almost seems to be decaying right before one’s eyes. If (as I’d done on other occasions) I happened to be using either NRT 1 or NRT 2 or even Tōkyō’s other major air gateway, HND, the difference I’d present here would have been even more stark.
With the Starter Plus fare bundle, I was entitled to a checked luggage allowance of 20 kg each way. As for carry-on bags, the rules permitted me a total of 7 kg, maximum of two items. Bear in mind that Jetstar staff tend to strictly enforce these limits at the gate (in terms of both weight and quantity), so even if your carry-on luggage passes initial inspection at the counter, you may be forced to do some creative repacking should you choose to raid the duty-free shops just before boarding. For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on Jetstar’s website here.
Jetstar Japan’s A320-200 aircraft are configured in a standard all-economy layout, featuring 180 seats arranged six to a row (3 on either side of a single aisle). Standard seat pitch is rated at 29, width at 17.9 – perfectly adequate for my needs but possibly a tight squeeze for larger folk. If you’re looking for more space, consider investing in an extra-legroom seat along the exit rows or at the very front of the cabin.
One other thing to note is the interesting design of the seat pockets. Instead of the flexible pouches I’ve seen on most other flights (even on other members of the wider Jetstar group), these are more like compartments built straight into the hard-shell casing of the seat backs.
I remember the first time I flew on a Jetstar Japan aeroplane equipped with this type of seat pocket. I was quite pleased on that occasion, since I was using a folding tablet case and found that I could hang the device by means of its cover flap (inserted deep into the seat pocket), which positioned the screen at much closer to ideal eye level than, say, propping it up on the tray table would have done. Alas, I now use a slipcase for my tablet so the design was of no advantage to me this time around.
As noted earlier, my Starter Plus fare bundle came with the option to choose a standard seat at no additional cost (forward and extra-legroom rows are not included). I picked 7A for the outbound leg, which was as far forward as I could manage without having to pay extra for the premium rows closer to the front. As for the choice of a window seat … well, the views do tend to speak for themselves.
I’d also chosen 7A for the return flight, but the check-in staff offered me 13A on one of the exit rows, free of charge. Needless to say, I accepted.
Extra legroom and priority boarding were obvious advantages, but row 13 in particular had another desirable trait. There are two exit rows (12 and 13) above the wing on a Jetstar Japan A320-200, both of which feature more generous legroom than standard rows. Number 12’s disadvantage is that the seats do not recline, owing to the presence of the other exit row (13) just behind – naturally it wouldn’t do to have reclined backs potentially blocking the path in the event of an emergency. As for 13, the escape path is in front of the seats, so the backs are allowed to recline into the next non-exit row (14). More space, plus the ability to lean back and relax … tempting offer indeed.
There were drawbacks, of course. I was a bit farther aft (though not by a huge margin), so disembarking took a little longer. And as one would expect on the exit row, safety precautions meant that I couldn’t stow luggage under the seat in front, or even on my lap. Everything had to go into the overhead bin, well out of reach until permission to unbuckle was issued from the cockpit.
The views also suffered, given that the wing mostly intruded upon the landscape. Then again, it was already dark outside and all I wanted to do was sleep – not much point in having a view, really.
CATERING AND SERVICE
In addition to free checked baggage and standard seat assignments, Standard Plus bundles also come with a complimentary hot meal. On both flights, I was served chicken katsu curry with rice and vegetables.
Here’s the outbound meal as presented…
…and with the lid peeled off.
The portion size was small, but within my standards for a budget airline meal. In any case, I’ve got no complaints about the flavour: both the katsu itself and the rich, slightly sweet Japanese curry were right on point. The breading was lacking in crispness, sure, though one really can’t expect otherwise of a pre-made, refrigerated, reheated piece of fried food.
The meal was accompanied with a hot beverage of one’s choice. I didn’t want to deprive myself of what little sleep I could manage during the relatively short flight, so I skipped my beloved coffee and went with the jasmine tea instead.
Here’s the return meal, as served and with the cover removed. Not much difference in either presentation or taste (except for the use of another type of container), and my choice of beverage on that occasion was hot cocoa.
As with any budget airline flight, there really wasn’t much scope for the cabin crew to demonstrate excellent service on the one hand, and gross incompetence on the other. I’m a not a demanding passenger and I tend not to make any special requests, so I can’t say how efficiently any such requests would have been attended to. The cabin crew seemed polite and well-groomed, and the ones I’ve heard speaking appeared to be adequately proficient in English to serve the non-Japanese passengers on board.
That said, the English versions of the in-flight announcements were at times almost laughably incomprehensible. In any event, I was a frequent enough flyer on this type of aircraft (and knew just about enough Japanese) to be aware of the essential details regarding exit doors and electronic devices and so forth; the seat pocket safety card sufficed to fill in whatever gaps remained. Moreover, during the return leg, one of the attendants approached those of us seated in the exit rows and gave a more detailed briefing – in both Japanese and English, aided by an instruction card – regarding what to do in the unlikely event of an emergency. (A useful reminder that, legroom or comfort aside, a place in the exit row of any aircraft imposes some quite specific responsibilities that must be taken very seriously indeed.)
Non-existent (as per LCC standards), apart from the small in-house magazine. It’s just a four-hour flight, anyway; nap time and mealtime should more than suffice to keep one occupied.
The service may have been basic, the food limited, and the seats a bit cramped, but when one factors in the price there’s really nothing to complain about. And then there’s the excellent flight schedule: an early arrival in Tōkyō, coupled with an evening departure, which leaves plenty of time on both the first and last days for sightseeing or business. (Just bear in mind that both the departure from Manila and arrival in Manila are close to midnight, which might not be suitable for those who can’t do without a sleepless evening.) Punctuality is another advantage: I’ve flown with the Jetstar group several times, and every single flight was either bang on schedule or not too far off. Delays are known, true enough, but the records I’ve seen specifically for the MNL-NRT-MNL route are mostly green or yellow (rather than the red of a bad outlier), and I’ve been fortunate so far not to personally endure a substantial delay on this carrier.
All things considered, I’m happy to recommend Jetstar Japan for this route and will gladly fly with them again.