Flight Review: Korean Airlines A380-800 First Class ICN to JFK

Introduction

This is part 2 of a 2-part review chronicling my return flight from Tokyo back to the U.S. this past April.

Between Seoul Incheon Airport (ICN) and North America, Korean Airlines flies to a whopping 12 destinations in North America. (ATL, DFW, IAD, IAH, LAS, LAX, JFK, ORD, SEA, SFO, YVR, YYZ). Most of the routes are on their Boeing 777-300ER, but Korean Airline flies their Airbus A380 to LAX and JFK. (Other airports may get the A380 too, but those two are the ones I’m sure of.) Since I’d never flown on the double decker A380 before, I picked the ICN-JFK flight on my way back to the U.S. from South Korea. (Although on hindsight, ATL may have been a better transit experience!)

For details on how I booked my flight, take a peek at my previous post:

Flight Review: Korean Airlines First Class NRT to ICN

The Ground Experience

Seoul Incheon Airport is a beautiful, modern airport. However, they do not have any sort of a VIP or expedited security line. So you should arrive at the airport expecting a 20~30 minute wait in security.

Once I cleared security, I took a peek at their duty free stores. However, I quickly noted that their prices on scotch whisky is not particularly competitive with the duty free liquor shops that I’ve been to in the Caribbean. So it was off to the Korean Airlines First Class lounge.

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The entrance to the first class lounge is on the second level of the concourse
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A large model of Korean Airline’s new Boeing 747-8
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Korean Airlines First Class Lounge

The selection of hot food and beverages were a bit lacking, but this may have been due to the hour of the day. (I was there from 8:30am-ish to 9:30am.) The lounge was spacious, comfy, and had both a decent wifi and a great view of the tarmac. Good enough I guess. And for those of you who love ice cream, they have a fridge full of Haagen Dazs ice cream cups. The front desk attendant can also make you a golden personalized Korean Airlines luggage tag for you free of charge, so be sure to ask for one before you leave for your flight!

The Aircraft

This flight was operated on one of Korean Airline’s Airbus A380. The first class section occupies the nose section of the lower deck, the entire upper deck is business class, and the remainder of the lower deck is economy class. You might notice on the photo below that there are 3 jet bridges to the aircraft. That’s right– the (up to) 12 passengers in first class get their own jet bridge!

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Korean Airlines Airbus A380

The first class section of Korean Airlines’s A380 features their Kosmo Suite seats set up in a 1-2-1 distribution across 3 rows for a total of 12 seats. This particular flight was pretty full– 10 out of the 12 seats were occupied. I had picked seat 1J, which is a window seat.

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Some other travel bloggers seem to really dislike the teal green color of the seats, but I personally didn’t mind it at all. What bothered me more, actually, was that the lighter colored trim pieces around the seat were starting to show a lot of wear and tear. This may have been specific to this particular aircraft, however.

Korean Airlines is also installing a more up-to-date Kosmo Suite 2.0 seats in select aircrafts. Currently, the only aircraft that’s confirmed to have the 2.0 upgrade is their Boeing 747-8 which flies to NY JFK and Vancouver. Korean Airlines is also in the process of retrofitting their Boeing 777-300ERs with Kosmo Suite 2.0. For what it’s worth, my parents are flying Korean Airline’s 777 in first class ICN-ORD in Apr 2017 and their flight confirmation says “Kosmo Suite 2.0” on it.

KE’s A380 is known for the Celestial Lounge at the back of the upper deck. This bar area is apparently in partner with Absolut Vodka, and they serve some signature cocktails back there. I was planning to go back there to check it out, but the small self-serve bar section of first class had a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Soooo I didn’t develop the urge to walk across the entire length of the aircraft to check out the Celestial Lounge. I’ll be flying this exact same route again with my wife next April, so I’ll try to check out the lounge next time!

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Please let me introduce you to my good friend, Mr. Walker. (He’s half empty because this photo is actually from halfway through the flight.)

Another cool thing that I found about the A380 is the spacious lavatory. It even has a window!

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Not quite as claustrophobic as your typical airplane lavatory.

The In-Flight Service

Once on board, I was greeted by the flight attendants and was served some water and macadamia nuts. They handed out pajamas, which I immediately changed into. I look silly in a PJ, I know, but it’s so comfortable! Comfort is of paramount importance for a 14 hr 20 min flight. Also waiting at the seat were a Davi amenity kit and a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones. Davi is nice, but I do wish that Korean Airlines would copy the other airline in South Korea (Asiana) and start giving out Salvatore Ferragamo kits!

I was given the in-flight wine and meal menu, and I perused through them as the flight departed Incheon on time. As I mentioned in my last review of the NRT-ICN leg, Korean Airlines uses the same drink menu for both the NRT-ICN and ICN-JFK leg. So the photos below of the drink menu are actually from my NRT-ICN leg.

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Korean Airlines First Class Meal Menu ICN-JFK

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Korean Airlines First Class Drink Menu

I did notice that the flight attendants on Korean Airlines were much more reserved and kept interactions to a minimum compared to my previous flight on Japan Airlines where the FA’s were routinely checking in on me. I initially thought that it was because I didn’t speak Korean, but on hindsight I think giving customers space is what’s more typical with Korean culture. That’s been my experience at Korean restaurants in the U.S. as well… So be sure to not hesitate and push the call button and ask if you need something! When I did push the call button, the flight attendants arrived quite promptly to offer service.

The meal service started with drinks served from a drink cart. The obvious star of this drink menu was the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2004. This champagne is exclusive to the Seoul-New York and Seoul-Paris routes and retails for well over $300/bottle on the ground! The champagne was served with a starter of seared scallop with mushroom.

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The starter was followed by bread, then a plate of foie-gras terrine, potage cultivateur soup, and seasonal greens salad. While I enjoyed the foie-gras, I recognize it to be a controversial dish that not everyone wants to eat. I wonder if they would allow someone to get a different dish in its place if desired. With the foie-gras, I also tried switching my drink over to Ghost Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. This wine retails for ~$60/bottle on the ground and was quite delicious. Probably better than the Bordeaux that I had on the flight to Seoul. As an aside, Ghost Block winery is located north of Yountville, CA in Napa Valley, only blocks away from the much more famous Opus One and Robert Mondavi wineries.

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I selected the ribeye steak for my main meal. It was tasty, and was pretty large for a steak served on an airliner. (I’m more used to petit filets on airlines, not a big honking ribeye steak!)

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I then followed up my steak with a small cheese plate, a small fruit plate, and a glass of Chateau Rieussec 2007 Sauternes wine. (sweet dessert wine.) I’ve had port wines before, but I’d never had a Sauternes wine despite being a fan of the Sauternes cask aged Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or scotch. So I had to try it! I thought it was basically a sweeter, more honey-like version of a port wine. That was followed up with coffee, lemon tart, and ice cream.

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Completely stuffed at this point, I requested that my bed be made. Like other top notch international first class products, the seats lie flat, with a mattress and bedding placed on top. I slept for 3-4 hours, which was more than I slept on Japan Airlines since Korean Airlines keeps the cabin a bit cooler.

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Upon waking up, I did a tasting of the two scotch whiskies available on board– Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Glenfiddich Select Cask single malt. Previously, Korean Airlines served the amazing Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve, which would have won the tasting hands down. Unfortunately, the Glenfiddich Select Cask wasn’t quite as good, handing the win to Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

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Blue Label with (almost) unlimited refill? Yes please!

While I did my fair share of movie watching on the large TV screen in front of me, I did spend a good amount of time looking at the tail cam as well. Such a cool concept to be able to see your aircraft in flight in real time!

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With about 4~5 hours left to go in the flight, one of the flight attendants asked if I’d like to have a meal. She suggested that I have their Grilled Jedong Beef Rib, which actually was basically slices of kalbi beef. (I love kalbi!) I also asked whether they had more of the Perrier-Jouet champagne, and yes they did. So I was pretty happy at this point. The beef was followed up with fruit.

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However, this was where the in-flight service went slightly wrong for me. The beef ribs, which I thought were my mid-flight snack… turned out to be the pre-arrival meal. So I ate >4 hours before arrival and didn’t get any food after that. On hindsight, I should have ordered the ramen dish midway through the flight and waited till later to have the beef ribs.

For the remainder of the flight, I just relaxed, watched movied, and sipped on some Blue Label. Not a bad way to live.

Upon arriving at JFK, I cleared immigrations & customs and moved terminals to check in and catch my flight on Delta back to my hometown of Columbus, OH. Since Delta is a SkyTeam partner with Korean Airlines, I technically could have booked this leg using points too… but adding a partner airline flight would have jacked up my mileage cost by more than 50%. And since Delta flies a regional jet without a first class for the flight that I needed between JFK-CMH, I would’ve paid tens of thousands of miles for a 1 hour flight in economy. Not worth it considering the one way flight in economy from JFK to CMH was only about $130.

Conclusion

Korean Airlines first class is really, really, really good compared to their American counterparts. They also have possibly one of the industry’s best award ticket availability. That in combination with how awesome Chase’s credit cards are for accruing transferable mileage makes Korean Airlines a compelling choice.

On the other hand, Korean Airline’s first class in terms of service and food presentation lags behind some of their other Asian competitors such as Asiana, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, JAL, and ANA.

I would fly them again in a heartbeat, especially over U.S. airlines like Delta or United. But would I go out of my way to fly Korean and connect in Incheon on my way to Tokyo when I could just fly JAL/ANA on a nonstop flight? I suppose that’ll depend on the cost differential!

 

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