Business Irish

Friday 15 November 2019

Mark Evans: 'Can you feel big in Japan after a long-haul flight?'

Business travel

Mark Evans on the return leg from Japan
Mark Evans on the return leg from Japan

Mark Evans

While Ireland managed to commit the sporting equivalent of hara-kiri in the recent World Cup, it might just make more of an impression in Japan off the field. Typically Irish, the business community was busy networking on the back of the showcase, and is aiming to boost trade with the world's third-biggest economy.

Trade between the two countries is hardly insignificant as it is. Irish exports surged last year to $4.78bn (€4.3bn), according to Comtrade, to Japan, which hovers in and out of our top 10 trading partners, and is our major source of foreign direct investment from Asia.

Unlike China, there are no direct flights from Ireland, but there are plenty of one-stop options. I checked out Air France's option via Paris Charles De Gaulle to Osaka, Japan's second-biggest metropolitan area, in a region boasting a GDP slightly smaller than that of the Netherlands.

The time was short - just two nights in a city of 2.6 million that sprawls across more than 221 sq km - with a flight time of just under 14 hours from Ireland each way.

The big plus is that at least it's one of the French carrier's routes using its best-in-class business cabin onboard the Boeing 787-9.

As I've written before, the Dreamliner (along with the Airbus A350 series) seriously reduces jet lag, and I managed to make a mid-morning meeting in Osaka's central business district fresh off an overnight flight from Paris.

The selling point, though, is the Frenchness. The business cabin uses the reverse herringbone (because the layout looks like a filleted fish).

Set in a 1-2-1 configuration, each seat is in what's best described as a mini pod. The French touch is in the decor - the all-white styling is easy on the eye, with a fresh-looking cabin. Seats are the Cirrus model, which you may have encountered as it's one of the most popular, and in service on some aircraft operated by American Airlines, Delta, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic.

What's most likeable is the mass of storage space. The sidewall beside your seat has its own mini-locker, complete with vanity mirror, and strapping to keep items like passports in place.

It's also home to noise-cancelling headphones, a Clarins vanity products bag and hand-held TV controller.

Below the footrest, there's enough space for shoes, but if you're bringing a laptop, it's best left to your side or up in the bin until you need it.

The big jump in recent years is in-flight entertainment, and here there's a pop-out 16-inch HD screen.

Even on the French carrier, there's a wide range of English-language movies and programming, while the live map will keep any geek going for hours (it kept me busy checking the terrain as we flew alongside Mount Fuji).

Sleep-wise, I got six hours, which was pretty decent. The lie-flat bed is up there with any, but you might be tempted to forego a snooze to sample the food. Michelin-grabbing chef Guy Martin was the guest menu-maker on my trip, with the airline frequently changing around the big names of French (in the main) and world cuisine.

The La Cave wine cellar is typically French, i.e. well-stocked, with a lot of choice, from the mainstream Bordeaux and Burgundy regions to less well-known areas worth trying.

What was a surprise was the crew - attentive but uber-friendly, which is not a guarantee, even in business. And yes, two nights in Japan is doable, with time for four meetings and downtime.

If the travel policy doesn't stretch to business, it might to premium economy, which got a major makeover last year on Air France.

The seats are wider, with more legroom, the cabin is more intimate than standard economy, and the only big 'but' is the lack of recline to lie flat.

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