~It was the best of lounges, it was the worst of lounges~
This is a tale of two lounges: the two Japan Airlines Sakura Lounges at Narita Airport, Tokyo.
The main Sakura Lounge is located in the main building at NRT and it is really nice. Really nice. It has two levels, great food and drinks. The second Sakura Lounge is located near gate 91 at NRT, and it basically sucks.
The main Sakura lounge makes you go ohhh when you see it. It brings back your faith in airport lounges. When you go there, you hope for an hour extra layover time so you can relax, have some sake or good whiskey or a beer from the cool tilting beer dispenser. You also croon at the fantastic display of foods at the buffet on the second floor, with ramen, shumai and that delicious beef in curry sauce (the beef with curry is so good you believe it must have crack in it and you must go back for a second helping of even though you know the curry will be repeating on you for hours to come).
I’ve been to main Sakura Lounge twice. The first time was in 2015, at the conclusion of an 8-day abbreviated around-the-world trip. I treated myself to an award ticket in Business Class for the flight home, so I was invited to use the lounge.
On my recent trip to Vietnam, we flew American Airlines and JAL (JFK-DFW-NRT-SGN). I was looking forward a 2-hour layover at NRT and a visit to this lounge before going on to SGN, but we were delayed at Dallas, so we only had a half hour at the Sakura Lounge.
I reassured Dave (aka Won’t Run) that we’d go to the Sakura Lounge again on our way home. So, a few days later, when we arrived back at Narita, we were anxious to return to the Sakura Lounge. We were informed that there was a second JAL Sakura Lounge at the airport and were directed to the other Sakura, since it was closer to the gate we would be departing out of.
Much to my chagrin, I soon learned that this satellite Sakura Lounge is the crappy little brother or sister of the main Sakura Lounge.
Other than the free wi-fi, the beef curry, the whiskey and the tilted beer machine, this lounge was nothing like the other. Although clean, neither the ambiance nor the seating at this club were inviting and the presentation and selection of food was abysmal. In short, this Sakura was everything the other was not. Or vice versa.
There was miso soup and the crack curry, but primarily there was just a bunch of pre-packaged snacks offered.
I was afraid to try the Grilled Chicken Pintxos because I was certain they forgot the Grilled part. I honestly think that the chicken was raw (chicken sashimi just doesn’t cut it).
Dave still managed to have a bowl of the beef curry.
The adult beverage selection was fine but it was still early in the day.
Well, I admit that I had to have a little taste of the Bowmore.
I’m not usually an ingrate. I have definitely been to airport lounges far more objectionable than this one. I think my reaction was based on expectation. Having been to the other Sakura lounge, I thought this one would be special too, and was disappointed to learn it was nothing like it. In defense of the lounge, perhaps it is better later in the day?
So, what’s the lesson here?
- If you’re flying JAL out of Narita, and you have time to spare, get over to the main Sakura Lounge and skip the satellite one.
- If you don’t have much time, and your gate is closer to the satellite lounge, go there but keep your expectations low. Sure, charge your phone and other devices, have a drink and a snack, but stay away from the chicken.