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. 

video
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 :)

No comments:

Post a Comment