You probably have noticed that a lot of people are going to Japan right now. But paired with the long distance and the fact that it costs a pretty penny to get there, it's definitely something you have to plan carefully. If you're on social media, you may have seen a new airline called Zipair buzzing around recently. While many are skeptical, Zipair is Japan Airline (JAL)'s all new low cost international carrier. While it's true that you really do have to pay for everything, it's certainly not the Spirit Air of Japan (sorry, Spirit). While I had heard of JAL creating a cheaper airfare flight earlier, I only started hearing more about Zipair at the beginning of this year.
When my husband and I decided we would go to Japan in September, I started researching more about it and what the big deal was about. Since it was relatively new (at least at the time I was researching), there were a lot of questions I couldn't figure out with a quick Google search. Even after scouring Reddit pages, YouTube videos, and Japanese review sites, there were a few things I was able to confirm only after I rode it myself. I did the homework for you! If you're considering Zipair, let this be your go-to guide!
The review and flight below is my flight from Sept/Oct 2023 from San Jose to Narita on the standard seats.
Buying a Ticket
Zipair currently only flies into Narita, which if you've ever traveled to Tokyo, you know that compared to Haneda, it's a bit away from the city center of Tokyo and not as convenient. The positive for me though, was that it flew out of San Jose and I didn't have to make the trek to San Francisco, especially since all other Japanese airlines shut down their operations in and out of San Jose when COVID hit.
The best thing about Zipair are the prices. While they can get upwards to $500-$1000 one way during peak seasons (but also note that this probably means other airlines are more expensive), that's a rarity, and most of their one way flights settle at around $340. We paid around $800 round trip each for our tickets. It was a steal considering similar flights on ANA or JAL were coming up around $1.5k.
While thankfully we didn't have to, the negative is that changing flights on Zipair seems to be close to impossible and reaching customer service seems to be a nightmare. Again, I have no first hand experience but from what I read online this seems to be one of the more common negatives people talk about. If you have kids (or even if you) who easily get sick and often have to switch flights, this may be something to think about. In this day and age of COVID, this was definitely a risk and I was really worried until the day-of. Zipair offers insurance for those living in Japan only, but apparently the only way they "verify" that you live in Japan is not by residency but that you buy through the Japanese version of the website. So if you're worried you can always purchase your tickets through there...?
When you buy your ticket, they have several different ticketing options. You can buy your seat only, or you can add things on as a bundle, such as luggage allowance, seat selection, meals, and even an amenity kit, and it's slightly cheaper than buying it separately. We went for the 23kg check-in luggage allowance, seat selection, and one meal per flight option.
Speaking of luggage...
You can bring two carry-ons, up to a combined weight of 7kg. However, and don't quote me as this was my experience, they didn't weigh our carry-ons at San Jose but only at Narita on our way back.
All check-in luggages costs something. The great thing is that you can purchase per weight allowance so you don't have to pay a higher fee if you're not carrying much. Even if you don't purchase your luggage allowance at the time of ticketing, do purchase it before you check-in at the airport. At the airport, it'll be more expensive. I brought two suitcases, and put the smaller one into my big one on the way there. On the way back, I separated it and paid for an extra bag for about $37.
Choosing Your Seats
Zipair has two types of seats, standard and full-flat. Standard is your regular economy seats, and full-flats are what they sound like; seats that go all the way down, much like many business and first classes on other airlines. The only difference is the seats. The full-flats don't get any amenities either.
We chose the standard seats, but the full-flats are also very popular because the price of the full-flats are similar to economy in other airlines. There were differing opinions from what I read about the standard seats. Some people complained that the seats were too cramped and some said they were completely average legroom. I'm five feet, so I wasn't too worried. I basically fit anywhere. But I was a bit worried for my husband who's 5' 9". However the seats were standard economy legroom. Nothing spacious, but nothing terrible. I would worry if you're nearing six feet, but I guess you'd already probably be used to that.
🔥 Hot Tip 🔥
Towards the very back of the plane, there are two seaters at row 56. These have extra space to the side and you won't have anyone sitting next to you. Row 57 also offers this, but I'm not too sure about the seat reclining.
If you have kids...
I don't have kids, but for those travelling with kids, one of the positives I read often was the kid-friendly fares. Zipair has a policy called U6, that lets kids under six years old fly for a cheaper fare. Everyone gets a seat, including infants, as they get a free baby safety seat to sit in. The seat selection fee also gets waived for the child and adults so they can sit together.
Got your tickets? Great! Time to go!
Inside the plane
1. The seats do not have a TV screen.
Bring your own device and make sure you download shows beforehand. They do have an online movie portal (like Southwest), however when I checked it out it was maybe four or five Blockbuster movies and the rest were informational JAL videos. They have a nifty device holder that's at eye level so you're not straining your neck looking down. I recommend a tablet because it still fits on the device holder but has a bigger screen than your phone.
2. They have free WiFi! But don't rely on it.
It's inconsistent and not that fast. Download anything you know you want to watch or bring something to do. I wasn't able to really load anything on Instagram, but I was able to use Line and text my friends and family without a problem.
3. Charge your devices on the go!
It's fairly common on international flights now, but Zipair seats also come equipped with a plug. This was nice to have since using your own devices to watch things does eat up a lot of battery.
5. Remember, they won't provide you with anything.
No water, no food, no blankets, no pillows. However, they do have an online store where you can buy stuff, including food and amenities. There are some Japanese snacks, ice cream, cup ramen, and even alcoholic drinks for a pretty fair price.
6. The toilets come equipped with washlets!
I didn't use it so I can't attest to how nice they are, but I know some of you would love that feature.
7. By the way, they have a strict no switching seats policy.
This is mainly because your seat is tied to your online ordering. When you order, you plug in your name and seat number, and when the cabin crew comes by with your ordered items, they check your boarding pass. I assume it's not a problem if you're just moving a seat over or using empty seats to lie down. But don't go switching rows if you plan to order anything.
8. Since we bought food with our ticket plan, we got to try out the in-flight meal (the in-flight meals can only be pre-purchased).
On the way to Japan, the options were pretty limited, with only five meal options, but on the way back there were 12 options. I felt the taste was just okay for both meals. The portions are also on the smaller side. We mainly got the meals since the bundle deal was cheaper, but if it were just up to the taste, I wouldn't get this again and would just opt to bring food on board with me (and buy snacks on the plane).
I would definitely fly Zipair again! If you're someone who wants to save money on transportation and use it more at the destination, this is a great deal. The planes were just as clean as any other Japanese airline and although they use past JAL planes (the one we flew was a JAL plane from 2012 to 2019), they are "remodeled" into Zipair so the interior feels new. I can save anywhere from $700-$800 per trip that I can use for some good food and shopping in Japan.
How do you feel about Zipair now? Would you try it out?