We flew Korean Air (KAL) first class about a year after our first experience from San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN), and continuing on to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK). Apart from the crew members who were also great, the flight experience was technically the same; however, we enjoyed this flight more, because we knew where we wanted to focus our indulgence, instead of being bewildered by choices.
Our flight was mid-morning on December 26, which neither of us had anticipated SFO to be so busy, especially for international departures. We had flown up from southern California, and I must have jinxed us when we passed the domestic gates and said, “Good thing, we’re going to international.” Turns out the A gates had 2 lines each stretching at least 100 people deep. At check-in, our known traveler id were not attached to our tickets and the agent noted that it would be helpful. So we spent several minutes looking for the information. Luckily, those few minutes were worth it; there was a third line for TSA Pre-check and that had no wait at all. We were so happy that KAL had joined TSA Pre-check.
At the time, KAL was using the British Airways Lounge which is part of One World, not SkyTeam alliance. We had used it last year so Ryan wanted to try the China Airlines Dynasty Lounge. It’s suppose to be open to SkyTeam members and premium travelers, but we were turned away. We felt dejected and Ryan was annoyed, because he’s a stickler for alliance access rules. However, the Dynasty Lounge was not rated well anyway. (As of this article post date, British Airways Lounge is being remodeled so KAL uses the Air France / KLM Lounge which is okay though it would have been cool if they had arranged something with another One World alliance member like Cathay Pacific which has a very nice lounge.) The British Airways Lounge was divided into an enclosed first class section, and the larger business class area. We had the first class area mostly to ourselves, except for another couple who stayed in a little sectioned-off spot.
Food choices were basic sandwiches, soups and snacks; the drink options were more varied. Overall, nothing to complain about, but not much of a wow factor either. My favorite aspects of the lounge were the view onto the tarmac and the direct access to the jet bridge. My kooky side also has a thing for giant capers so I was fine.
We boarded through the lounge’s dedicated entry to the jet way and, as with the lounge, it was just us and the older couple occupying the middle seats the 4 window seats of the 8-seat cabin were empty. There were 2 main crew members plus an in-between cabin floater that took care of us. I really like the Kosmo Suites 2.0, and while I’ve read lots of complaints about the cabin temperature being too hot, that wasn’t the case on this nor the previous year’s flight. I also really like the soothing color scheme and the openness of the first class cabin. A side note which Ryan likes to tell people, is that the economy cabin is also one of the more spacious in terms of legroom.
Service is attentive and well-intentioned as noted by other reviewers; there’s a slight lack of refinement, but it’s only obvious if you are looking for flaws. The attendants were warm, polite and diligent which are attributes that I prefer over polished; sometimes I feel really uncomfortable when I can’t relate to client-facing representatives, because they are just too on-point.
In terms of food and drinks, I knew from last year that I was going for the bibimbap as my main, kimchi noodles for a snack at some point, and overdo it on Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Rose Champagne which retails for $200-$300/bottle. The flight attendants must have been amused, because Ryan and I went through about 2 bottles of the champagne switching between that, and the regular Perrier mineral water. One of the interesting things I learned is that Korean Air has its own organic farm on Jeju Island from which first/business class meals’ meats, produce and bottled mineral water are sourced.
The flight was pleasant, and I slept about 5-6 hours while Ryan pretty much stayed up the whole of the ~11hr flight. Hence, I really liked the automated partition between us. I also find their Gianfranco Ferré pajamas quite comfortable and use them at home, but their sheerness makes “things” quite apparent. . . so I didn’t use them on the flight. I was a tad disappointed that they gave us the business class amenity kit instead of the first class sack which I think is better designed. The bathroom was spacious and having cloth towels in the bathroom are always a nice touch; if only they were outfitted with smart toilets like on some ANA planes.
Overall, it was a really great experience. As always, my plan to limit my overall gluttony goes out the door. In addition to my late night kimchi ramen snack, I took full advantage of the pre-arrival meal. Should I see a therapist about my eat-it-if-it’s-in-front-of-you mentality?
We were bummed when Korean Air ended its participation with Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR). It reduces the opportunities to fly first class to Asia at a great value. KAL business and first class awards are easily booked, allow for family pooling of points, and a stopover in Korea even on 1-way awards.
For example, it is 95K miles SFO-ICN-BKK in first class via KAL’s Skypass (the transfer value from UR is 1:1). Unless, you fly KAL/SkyTeam a lot, you would not be able to easily accumulate enough points without credit card programs. If you have a Delta credit card, you could use their program, but Delta doesn’t have a set award chart and when I just looked, first class with 2 stops is 150K miles. Alaska is also possible, but is 120K to route via KAL. Alaska points are still very valuable, and would be better used on Cathay Pacific where first class awards is 70K, but the downside is that award seats on Cathay Pacific are generally available either almost a year out or just within a few weeks i.e. harder to book. Kudos to anyone with foresight to transfer some UR points to KAL before the expiration date.
Have you flown with KAL at all? If so, please share any thoughts or comments.