Friday, April 24, 2015

Trip Report: Asiana Fukuoka to Seoul Incheon

Pro:
- Helpful during crash
- Great food, especially for a 1 hour flight!
- Friendly staff

Cons:
- Well, the fact that my original plane crashed... 


This should have been a trip report for Asiana A320 HIJ Hiroshima to Seoul, but then this happened. The entire airport was closed and all flights canceled. We called into Asiana's Japan call center to check on our flight and they told us they were awaiting a decision from the Hiroshima airport (HIJ) to see if the airport would reopen the next day for our early morning flight. She took my number and called me back around 6pm to let us know that the airport would remain closed and that she could rebook us out of Fukuoka (FUK) to Seoul and that Asiana would pay for our bullet train ticket to get there.

FUK boasts that their airport is the only one in Japan that's five minutes from the main train station. While true, what they don't tell you is that there's a long, meandering bus ride to get from the airport subway station to the international terminal – 60 minutes for us from the Shinkansen to gate...








The flight out of FUK was on a 777-200. We were in the not-so-smart-sounding "Business Smartium" class. One thing I noticed about both Asiana and Korean Airlines is that the ticket agent always presented us a seat map with all of their plane types on it during the check in process – "you'll be on the 777 today in seat 4A, is that ok?"

No, really. It's actually called that



The lounge is post-security and given how small the airport is, I wasn't surprised at how small and generally uninviting it was. No windows, very sparse food and beverage offerings, but it was early and the coffee machine worked so it was fine. Fukuoka is famous for its tonkotsu ramen, so if you have extra time, I'd recommend getting ramen at the shop on the street level of the International terminal and skip the prepackaged "almost a croissant" lump they had in the lounge, just keep in mind that there is no priority lane at security when planning your dining. 

The seats are lie-flat and come with headphones and cabin slippers even though the flight is just over one hour. The purser greeted us by name, thanked us for flying Asiana, and hung up my coat for me. 

We took off on time and we both chose the Korean meal. The meal on this short flight was a fancy Korean Eki-ben with miso soup. This is my third time flying with Asiana and I still think they have the tastiest food in the skies

After brunch they handed out landing cards and pens and we landed on time at ICN. 












Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trip Report: ANA New York JFK to Tokyo Narita Business Class flight 1009

Pros:
Awesome food (Ippudo Ramen!)
Toto Washlet in the lavatory

Neutrals:
Wifi available but it was expensive and buggy
Nice lie-flat seat but it was oddly lumpy even with the sleeping mat

Cons:
No personal air vents


Boarding
We started in the British Airways Galleries lounge. Seems like no matter who I fly with (Iceland Air, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, and now ANA) this is their lounge of choice. It's decent. There's a dining room within the lounge but only One World top tier or people flying on BA First get to use it. 

The 777 has ANA's new "staggered Business Class" seats and was configured similarly to the Cathay Pacific 777 I took back in January – Business Class is split in two by a galley area and a door. We sat in the larger rear section. One advantage to sitting in the forward part of Business Class is that you don't have lots of people walking past you during boarding. Headphones, slippers, blanket, pillows, and an amenity kit were waiting for us at our seats.







Toto Washlet!


Dining

The flight leaves at 6pm and dinner was served as soon as we were aboard. We both chose the Japanese meal. Everything was fantastic. 











Green tea and chocolates

Sleeping

The FA offers you a sleeping mat to go on top of the seat. It's helpful, but I still found the seat hard and oddly lumpy. Despite that, I managed to get a good deal of rest. I'd brought my BA First pajamas with me and changed into those first -- I hate sleeping in my street clothes. 

They had a fairly extensive midnight snack menu and I'd heard that Ippudo was doing ANA's onboard ramen so I got a bowl of that. It was so tasty I had another bowl for breakfast :)



Wifi / Entertainment

Onboard Wifi for transoceanic flights is still somewhat rare. ANA's works for about 50% of the trip since it doesn't have coverage over the poles (and sadly the Wifi isn't smart enough to tell you when it's out of coverage area, it just silently fails). The Wifi is on a per-megabyte basis and is very expensive compared to domestic US Wifi pricing. Complicating matters is the fact that mobile phones have lots of options to limit data usage while on cellular networks, but very few to throttle usage while on Wifi. If I had to do it again, I would have my task in mind, buy the $6/5MB plan, complete my task, and then browse until my 5MB was out. Also, I would turn off all automatic app updating and FB video auto-play before purchase. I'm also not 100% sure that the Wifi is even smart enough to let you resume a session even if you've not used up all of your data credits (again, the iPhone will meticulously meter cellular usage, but not Wifi so I couldn't track this). 

The in-flight entertainment actually had some great travel shows about Japan and I ended up doing two of the things I saw while onboard. It also has seat-to-seat chat which was nice given how enclosed and private the seats are. 




Breakfast

I had more ramen and Dr. K has the traditional Japanese breakfast. Both were tasty. We landed on time around 9pm. Japan has several different railway companies and we rode Keisei's Sky Access line because it comes right into Ueno station near our hotel.

Ramen so tasty I had it twice!

Japanese breakfast

Keisei Sky Access

Final Thoughts

I love ANA – the food and service are tough to beat. I just wish reward seats with them were easier to come by. Finding two seats together on Aeroplan felt like finding a unicorn, honestly. What's odd is that the Business Class cabin was half-empty, which makes me wonder if ANA made more seats available as the date approached. A quick spot-check just now confirms: several dates this week and next with Aeroplan seats on the direct flight. This is good to know if I ever need a last-minute trip to Japan! (Aeroplan is an Amex transfer partner). 

Here's a link to how I did it

Monday, April 20, 2015

trip report: Korean Airlines A380 Seoul Incheon to New York JFK in First Class

Pros:
Best seat/bed ever
Service was the perfect mix of efficient and doting
Great award availability (how I did it)
The onboard bars are an awesome throwback to the "glory days" of flying

Cons:
The food was just ok
No priority line through security in Seoul

Arrival

Incheon airport (ICN) is basically a science fiction movie set. If you're from North America it's almost like taking a trip to the future.  It's connected to downtown Seoul station by a 40 minute express train ($8; $7 if you show the ticket agent your Korean Air or Asiana boarding pass). The local train is slightly cheaper and takes just under an hour. Keep in mind that ICN doesn't have priority lines for security and they also have exit immigration: it took us 45 minutes from exiting the airport train to reach our gate. 



The lounge is post-security, across from gate 26. It's got a great view of the Korean Air gates, so there's lots of pretty blue planes to look at. The lounge is fairly standard otherwise — espresso machine, showers, bathrooms, wifi, hot and cold food options. The standouts: lousy hard liquor selection (no gin!?), no kimchi (!!), amazing massage chairs, large and airy space, great view, highly-filtered smoking room. 

After two weeks of walking 10km a day, the massage chairs in the lounge were an awesome treat…

Boarding involves the usual crazy gate scrum, but Korean Airlines does have a first and business line at the gate if you can push you way past everyone to reach it. The jetway splits in two for economy and bus/first so no endless parade of people walking past you during boarding. First Class is downstairs, along with Economy. The upstairs is all Business Class. We were greeted by name by the purser and she personally handed us each of our amenities and explained them: Bose noise-canceling headphones, pajamas, slippers, amenity kit, and a of bottle facial misting water. We finished boarding and during takeoff (7:30pm) I was reminded again how quiet the cabin is on an A380. While pre-departure drinks were offered, the infamous nuts weren't. 

A380 model in the lounge
A380 Kosmo Suites
Amenity kit

Dinner

We had a wine list, an espresso menu, and a multilingual dining menu. I chose the Korean menu and some champagne. Sadly, the espresso machine was out of order. The food was just ok. To be clear, I usually fly in Business Class, not international first, so I really only have Lufthansa and BA as true apples-to-apples comparisons here. I feel like Korean food is really well suited to airplanes and yet I'd happily trade my Asiana Business Class Boolgogi from a few years back for what we had onboard. Or the ANA Business Class meal we had at the beginning of our trip.

only a subset of the wine menu was available...
Click to see full size





The amuse was perfect and went well with the Perrier Jouët.
The foie gras terrine was cold and the toast was barely warm so it felt like I was eating cold lard. Neither of us finished it. 

I love Korean food but their love for unsalted soup baffles me. The crab meat was perfect, though. 


Salads were prepped seat-side. Very tasty. Anchovies and potatoes and nuts on mine.


The bimbimbap was decent (it even had 독활 in it!) but without the hot bowl to burn the rice and the egg to make it creamy and saucy, it was a bit disappointing. 

Cheese and fruit were next. Can I just say how much I love how Japan and Korea obsess over perfect fruit? Also, there was a gorgeous Sauternes to go with the cheese. Cake and ice cream was on offer afterward but we both decided to skip it. 

Bars

We told the FA that we wanted to check out the bar and she escorted us upstairs, past the velvet cord and onto the back of the Business Class section. While I'm on the topic – their Business Class seat looks a lot like the lie-flat one we had on the A318 to London City last year. I thought about booking in Business but it was only a tiny bit more miles for first so we decided to splurge. Plus, the Business Class service on Singapore's A380 just felt very... busy. It's a huge cabin and it just felt like someone was tromping past my seat every 12 seconds for the whole flight. 

There are self-service bars at the front of First and Business Class, as well as a full-service bar at the back of the upstairs cabin. I think they were pushing the idea that you let them make you a drink and then bring it to the forward bar if the back bar is full. 

Business Class

front bar

front bar
Back bar sponsored by Absolut with custom cocktail menu and bartender. 

A little movie of the back bar.

Downstairs First Class bar... self-serve Johnnie Walker Blue and giant CrunchBerries on a stick!


Sleeping

After a nightcap we decided to sleep a bit. The flight leaves at 730pm and lands at JFK at 9pm the same day, so we wanted to still be tired enough to have a full night's sleep when we got home. The FA's offer to store your street clothes and make up your bed when you head off to the lav to change into your pajamas. There is ONE First Class bathroom. One. And it's relatively small and has no Washlet (nicer Korean hotels usually have Washlet). That said, the FA's clean the bathroom after each person uses it, and they happily opened up the forward crew toilet for people when the main one is occupied. They were very stern about people trying to come forward from Economy to use the First Class lav. You have to walk through a big galley to get from Economy to First so it's pretty easy for them to spot you. 

The seat is amazing. And once it's got the mattress pad and bedding it's unquestionably the most comfortable bed in the sky that I've experienced. And Korean is upgrading these seats further by adding closing doors to them, making them into proper suites. Thankfully the crew didn't crank the heat up so the soft pajamas and the comforter were actually nice things to have. (Their A380s don't have "gasper" air vents to provide personal control over your temperature). They give you waking preference stickers so you can maximize your sleeping time if you'd like. The FA noticed immediately that I'd gotten up and brought me a glass of water and offered to bring me tea and my street clothes for changing. I opted to eat in my jammies. 




Breakfast

As with dinner, the breakfast was forgettable. The Korean breakfast was some kind of rice soup, and since I find most Korean soup to be bland and under-salted I opted for french toast. Dr. K had the omelet and both were "meh". The Omija punch prior to landing was awesome. 

French toast with grilled apple. No protein offered.

Again, lots of perfect fruit offered. I had apples and pears.

Omija punch

Final thoughts

While I'd never pay cash for this flight, I'd probably do this again if I were coming back from Korea and had the miles to pay for it. The small mileage premium for this versus Business Class was very much worth it.

I'm a little gun-shy about Asiana given that the plane we were taking crashed in Hiroshima the night before we were supposed to get on it... also the burnt fuselage of their plane laying on the tarmac at SFO when I landed a few years ago is very much burned into my memory.  

At some point I'd love to try either the Singapore Suites or the new China Eastern 777 so we could sleep next to each other :)