Review: Korean Air Business Class 747-8 San Francisco To Seoul

Introduction: Journey To Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, And Kuwait
Review: Air France Lounge San Francisco Airport
Review: Korean Air Business Class 747-8 San Francisco To Seoul
Review: Korean Air Business Class 777 Seoul To Kathmandu
Review: Hyatt Regency Kathmandu
Review: Kathmandu Airport Lounge
Review: Drukair Business Class A319 Kathmandu To Paro
Review: Le Meridien Thimphu
Review: Le Meridien Paro
Hiking To The Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan
How We Spent Our Time In Bhutan
Review: Drukair Economy ATR42 Paro To Dhaka
Review: Presidential Suite At The Le Meridien Dhaka
Review: Dhaka Airport Lounge
Review: Kuwait Airways Business Class A330 Dhaka To Kuwait
Review: Sheraton Kuwait
Review: Kuwait Airways Lounge Kuwait Airport
Review: Kuwait Airways Business Class 777 Kuwait To Shannon
Review: Kuwait Airways Business Class 777 Shannon To New York


Given that I’ve flown Korean Air’s first class so many times before on the 747-8, 777, and A380 (thanks to the great value of converting Ultimate Rewards points into Korean Air SkyPass miles), I was curious to see how their business class product stacked up.

Korean Air 24
San Francisco (SFO) – Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Sunday, March 5
Depart: 11:30AM
Arrive: 5:30PM (+1 day)
Duration: 12hr
Aircraft: Boeing 747-8
Seat: 20A (Business/Prestige Class)

We boarded through door L1, where we turned right into the lower deck business class cabin. Korean Air has 26 business class seats on the 747-8 lower deck, spread across five rows in a 2-2-2 configuration (the last row only has two seats in the center).

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Korean Air 747-8 business class cabin — lower deck

This is an extremely spacious layout for the lower deck of the 747, and the aisles in this cabin must be among the widest in any business class cabin.

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Korean Air 747-8 business class cabin — lower deck

Just past the business class cabin and by door L2 were the stairs to the upper deck. While the 747-8 staircase isn’t quite as “grand” as the staircase on the A380, it is more spacious than the 747-400 staircase.

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Korean Air 747-8 upper deck staircase

I love the upper deck of the 747-8. While it’s not as spacious as the A380 upper deck, as an aviation geek it’s a beautiful place to be, given how iconic the 747 is. Korean Air has 22 business class seats on the upper deck, spread across six rows in a 2-2 configuration. The last row just has two seats on the right side.

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Korean Air 747-8 business class cabin — upper deck

While I don’t love Korean Air’s greenish/turquoise cabin finishes, the cabin layout as such is stunning.

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Korean Air 747-8 business class cabin — upper deck

Korean Air has Apex Suites in business class on the 747-8, which are the the same seats I’ve reviewed on Oman Air and Japan Airlines. The window seats in this configuration are probably my favorite business class seats out there.

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Korean Air Apex Suites

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Korean Air Apex Suites

I had assigned us seats 20A & 20B, which are the aisle and window seat in the last row of the upper deck on the left side.

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Korean Air’s new business class seats

The aisle seats in this configuration are solid. While the seats aren’t that wide, they have a lot of privacy, which I appreciate. There’s a shield on the aisle-side for extra privacy, which you often don’t see.

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Korean Air’s new business class aisle seat

There’s also plenty of legroom, and your feet won’t in any way feel constrained if you’re trying to sleep.

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Korean Air’s new business class aisle seat

The window seats have direct aisle access as well. There’s a narrow opening through which you enter the seat area.

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Korean Air’s new business class window seat

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Korean Air’s new business class window seat

What makes this seat so great is that it’s incredibly private. After takeoff you can raise the partition between seats, so that you have a private cocoon.

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Korean Air’s new business class window seat

There’s also so much personal space in these seats. There’s an ottoman big enough so you could store a full size carry-on underneath it, if you wanted to.

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Korean Air’s new business class window seat

What makes this seat extra super duper special is that the 747-8 upper deck has storage lockers along the side of the fuselage, which give you even more personal space and privacy. One complaint about Apex Suites is the lack of storage space, which is solved with this configuration. The upper deck window seats on the Korean Air 747-8 are the best business class hard product in the world, in my opinion.

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Korean Air business class seat storage

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Korean Air business class seat storage bins

In terms of other seat features, the tray table could be extended from the center console, and couldn’t be folded over — it was a single tray.

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Korean Air business class tray table

The power outlet was at the front right of the seat, so was conveniently placed whether you’re lounging or sleeping.

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Korean Air business class power outlet

Then along the right side of the seat were the seat and entertainment controls, both of which were easy to use. You could also control the shield between the seats at the push of a button using those controls.

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Korean Air business class entertainment & seat controls

Then behind that was a very small storage area, where I found a pair of slippers.

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Korean Air business class seat storage

The slippers were rather flimsy, though did the trick.

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Korean Air business class slippers

Also waiting at my seat on boarding was the menu for the flight.

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Korean Air business class menu

There was also a pillow along with a blanket. The pillow was really small (it looks bigger in the picture than I remember it), and I thought the fleece blanket was pretty cheap for what’s supposed to be a good business class product. Lots of airlines have proper duvets in business class, so I’m not sure why Korean Air doesn’t.

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Korean Air business class pillow & blanket

The crew was busy for about 10 minutes after we boarded, given the number of passengers who were boarding and needed help storing their things. The 747-8 upper deck has overhead bins, though they’re not huge, and can’t fit an expanded carry-on.

About 10 minutes after we boarded the crew distributed amenity kits. They were decent enough, with eyeshades, a comb, a shoehorn, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and some creams.

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Korean Air business class amenity kit contents

The crew then distributed noise canceling headphones. They were better than what most airlines offer in business class, though not as good as Bose headphones.

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Korean Air business class headphones

A few minutes later the crew came through the cabin with newspapers, which were displayed on a cart. That was followed by pre-departure beverages. The choice was between water, guava juice, and orange juice. I had the guava juice, which was served with honey roasted peanuts.

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Korean Air business class pre-departure drink & honey roasted peanuts

At 11:35AM it was announced that there was a small delay due to passenger boarding. When you only schedule a 747 to board 20 minutes before departure, I can see how that could happen. 😉

Finally at 11:40AM the door closed (with every seat taken in business class), and five minutes later we began our pushback, at which point the lead flight attendant announced our flight time of 12hr9min. She also made a weird announcement saying that we had a China based cabin crew onboard today. I found that to be odd, because I’m 99% sure they were all Korean. Maybe I misunderstand her…?

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View after pushback at SFO

As we taxied out to the runway, the cheesy safety video played. I think it’s time that Korean Air updates their safety video, because it’s way outdated.

We were departing from runway 28L, so we taxied past runway 1L and 1R, and then along the bay to the end of the runways.

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Crossing runway 1R at SFO

At 12:10PM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 28L.

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Taking off runway 28L at SFO

Our climb out was smooth, and I enjoyed the views after departure.

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View after takeoff from SFO

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View after takeoff from SFO

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View after takeoff from SFO

As we continued our climb out I browsed the entertainment selection.

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Korean Air entertainment system

Korean Air’s selection isn’t great. There are very few TV shows in the selection (in particular sitcoms).

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Korean Air entertainment selection

The selection of movies was better, but still far from great. Korean Air doesn’t have wifi, so in general I’d recommend bringing your own entertainment if you’re picky.

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Korean Air entertainment selection

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Korean Air entertainment selection

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Korean Air entertainment selection

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Korean Air entertainment selection

For most of the flight I kept the airshow on. I don’t love Korean Air’s version of the airshow, since you can’t choose from which perspective you want to view the map, and I generally don’t like the maps where the plane is the same size as California. 😉

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Korean Air airshow

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Korean Air airshow

The seatbelt sign was turned off 15 minutes after takeoff.

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Korean Air Prestige cabin after takeoff

I checked out the lavatories located at the front of the cabin. There were two of them, and they both featured the new Boeing design, though they were both really small. Do note that the toilet lid automatically closes when you hit the flush button.

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Korean Air business class lavatory

There were some basic amenities in the lavatory, though not much.

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Korean Air business class lavatory amenities

About 20 minutes after takeoff, the three excellent flight attendants came through the cabin to take meal orders. They took lunch and dinner orders immediately, and then collected menus. I always find that a bit annoying, since I tend to think part of the benefit of the menu is that you can remember what you’re eating, can look at the drink selection, etc. I also wish they’d take meal orders before each meal, rather than taking them at the beginning of the flight for both meals. Minor gripes, ultimately…

Shortly after taking orders they distributed warm towels.

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Korean Air business class warm towel

The lunch menu read as follows:

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The wine list read as follows:

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After orders were taken it took a while for service to start. About an hour after takeoff drinks were served. I had ordered a glass of champagne, and I was impressed that they poured it at my seat. Korean Air serves Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut in business class, which is solid.

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Korean Air business class champagne — Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut

I also ordered a glass of water, and was offered the amuse bouche, consisting of a roasted bell pepper roll with cream cheese.

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Korean Air business class lunch — amuse bouche and drinks

From hereon out the service felt a bit like an assembly line. Don’t get me wrong, the crew was incredibly charming, but Korean Air has structured the service in such a way that it felt robotic. For example, rather than offering me a refill when I was done with my champagne, the crew took the glass, and then brought me a tray with the appetizer and an empty glass.

The appetizer consisted of a seared prawn and scallop salad with tomato celery salsa. I quite enjoyed it.

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Korean Air business class lunch — appetizer and bread

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Korean Air business class lunch — seared prawn and scallop salad with tomato celery salsa

I was also offered a selection of bread. While the garlic bread was hard, the sesame loaf was tasty.

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Korean Air business class lunch — bread selection

Once all the appetizers were served, the crew brought around a carrier with four types of wine. I had a glass of the Kendall-Jackson sauvignon blanc.

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Korean Air business class wine selection

Next I was offered the green asparagus soup, which was flavorful.

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Korean Air business class lunch — green asparagus soup

For the main course I had the sautéed salmon with tomato sauce and vegetables. It wasn’t great — the fish was dry, and personally I can’t say I’m a big fan of salmon with spaghetti.

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Korean Air business class lunch — sautéed salmon with tomato sauce and vegetables

Ford had the bibimbap, which I usually have, but I figured I’d try something else. Korean Air’s bibimbap seems to just about be the same in business and first class, and there’s not much variance.

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Korean Air business class lunch — bibimbap

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Korean Air business class lunch — bibimbap accompaniments

It even comes with handy instructions about how to eat it.

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Korean Air business class lunch — bibimbap instructions

After the main courses were cleared, the crew came around with the dessert cart. Ford had Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, while I had the white almond cake.

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Korean Air business class lunch — Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert

The almond cake looked incredible, though ended up being pretty dry and tasteless.

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Korean Air business class lunch — white almond cake

We also had a cheese plate to share, just for the photo op, of course. 😉

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Korean Air business class lunch — cheese plate

The crew then came around with coffee, tea, bottled water, and landing cards for Korea.

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Bottled water and landing cards for Korea

The entire meal service was done about 2hr20min after takeoff. The crew was kind, charming, and precise. They did a great job, though I think Korean Air’s service procedures could feel less robotic. Again, it’s not the crew’s fault, because they were being charming individually, but it’s clear they were just following the service standards set forth by the company.

I worked during most of lunch, and then watched La La Land, which I had heard so much about, but hadn’t yet seen. I don’t usually watch movies on planes, but when I’m not quite tired and when the selection is limited, I sometimes cave. La La Land was… overrated?

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Korean Air entertainment selection

I worked for a couple more hours after the movie, and finally decided to rest about six hours before landing, thinking I’d get a solid four hours of rest before the pre-arrival meal. The window seat Apex Suite is such a lovely space to relax and rest.

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Korean Air business class fully flat bed

Well, I was surprised to be awoken five hours before landing for the dinner service. What the heck?! On a 12 hour flight, shouldn’t you serve one meal after takeoff and one before landing, to maximize passengers’ ability to sleep? Most of the passengers seemed to be asleep when they turned up the cabin lights for the meal.

Service began with warm towels.

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Korean Air business class service — hot towel

The crew then came through the cabin with cups of pineapple juice, orange juice, guava juice, and water.

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Korean Air business class juice service

The dinner menu read as follows:

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To start I was offered a salad, which was great. It was large and more interesting than the typical “seasonal salad” airlines serve.

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Korean Air business class meal — garden salad with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes

Then for the main course I had a shrimp dumpling noodle soup, which was also excellent. It was much better than the salmon served with the first meal.

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Korean Air business class meal — shrimp dumpling noodle soup

Lastly I was offered a fruit plate for dessert.

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Korean Air business class meal — fresh fruit for dessert

I also had a cup of coffee, since I was awake at this point, and got back to work.

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Korean Air business class meal — coffee to finish

I worked for the next few hours, and couldn’t help but notice the lack of snacks. Most airlines have packaged snacks in business class between meals, but Korean Air didn’t. The only thing they had were freshly baked cookies (which were delicious), though I’m not quite sure why they offered me savory breadsticks with them.

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Korean Air business class snack — warm cookies

One other slight frustration I had was how tough it was to stay hydrated. They only had one bottle of water per person, and Korean Air’s glasses are tiny, so I felt like I was drinking water one shot at a time.

Before landing I decided to watch a “Brain Games” show.

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Korean Air entertainment

About 30 minutes before landing the captain came on the PA to advise us that we would land at around 5:30PM local time. At this point Ford woke up (he slept almost the whole flight), and I was impressed that the crew proactively offered to serve him the meal then. They offered to serve the whole thing, but he said just the salad and fruit were fine.

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Korean Air business class — meal shortly before landing

The flight was smooth, including during the descent.

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View approaching Incheon

About 10 minutes before landing, all three flight attendants working the upper deck came around to each passenger to thank them for flying Korean Air, which was a very nice touch, I thought.

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View approaching Incheon

We touched down at Incheon Airport on runway 33R at 5:25PM, and from there had a 20 minute taxi to our arrival gate.

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Taxiing Incheon Airport

The taxi took forever, despite the fact that we were taxiing at a fairly high and consistent speed.

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Taxiing Incheon Airport

We eventually pulled in next to a Korean Air 737 and A380.

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Taxiing Incheon Airport

Immigration took a while, and within about 45 minutes we were on a shuttle to the Grand Hyatt Incheon, where we’d be spending the night.

Korean Air 747-8 business class bottom line

Korean Air offers a solid transpacific business class product, though with a bit of work, they could be one of the best. Their hard product is incredible, as the upper deck window seats in this configuration are the best business class seats out there, in my opinion. The flight attendants working our flight were also fantastic — they were friendly, professional, and charming.

However, some aspects of the soft product leave some room for improvement. Korean Air could improve their bedding, improve the food a bit, and not serve the pre-arrival meal five hours before landing, meaning that you can’t get more than four hours of interrupted rest on a transpacific flight.

Overall I’d highly recommend Korean Air business class, despite their (relatively minor) flaws.

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Comments

  1. I feel like we had very similar experiences, which is funny.

    I flew Prestige from ICN – JFK in January and also hated the early second meal. They woke us up 5 hours prior to landing, like you, and I was in the middle of just falling asleep, and wasn’t very hungry. I couldn’t fall asleep after that, which made the 13 hour redeye flight back not very fun.

    I also felt the service was a bit robotic, but it didn’t bother me until the second meal service. The hard product on the A380 isn’t as great as the 747 obviously, but I really enjoyed it. I also seem to remember the purser announcing the crew as Chinese, although I was traveling with my friend who is Korean, and he knew they weren’t Chinese. Very odd…

    Would love to try the 747-8 Apex suites, but I have to say I like Asiana much better all around based on my experiences. Thanks for the review, Ben.

  2. Lucky,

    Only you could have a selection of 3 of the 9 Best Picture nominees from 2016 (La La Land, Arrival, Manchester By the Sea), another featuring a Best Actress nominee (Jackie), and several of the Top 50 grossing movies for 2016 (Beasts – #12, La La Land – #19, Arrival – #29, Girl on the Train – #41) and call it a bad selection.

  3. Who gives a damn how nice the hard product is on a “business” seat if you can’t get more than 4 hours sleep? Utter failure.

  4. @ Ben — It’s not about the quality of the selection, but the quantity. Other airlines have hundreds of movies, including the ones Korean Air has.

  5. @ Luis — I redeemed Korean Air SkyPass miles. Availability was pretty good, though it’s definitely better for first class than business class (which is what I’d recommend redeeming for anyway). Korean Air SkyPass has more availability in business class than for members of other frequent flyer programs.

  6. I hated how little water was served on my recent J flight on Korean. I kept asking for bottled water and I probably drank five but still felt dehydrated. They are tiny!

  7. Thanks Lucky, great trip report as always. Did you find the cabin to be warm? Its been a few years since I have flown Korean, but have some trips coming soon. Also, do you think the storage bin next to the window can hold a backpack?

  8. @ Lee — Thanks! I actually remember thinking the cabin was cool, which is unusual. The storage bin should definitely be big enough to hold a backpack.

  9. They have no trouble boarding in 20 minutes in Asia. Americans are slow. I definitely admired their efficiency at seeing a sold-out 747 board in about 15 minutes in TPE. On the other hand, their c class VGML was seriously the most disappointing meal I’ve had on a foreign carrier in a long time.

  10. I’m surprised no one has gently chided you for the China-based comment. On a domestic flight, if the announcement said “On behalf of your San Francisco based flight crew…” you wouldn’t necessarily assumed they all lived in San Francisco or were native born San Franciscians (Francisc-ites? Francos? LOL…I’m not sure how to say this.) Just because an announcement said they were China-based does not preclude the fact that they may have all been Korean. Koreans based out of China. You don’t necessarily have to live in your base and you certainly don’t have to be a native-born citizen of wherever you are based out of.

  11. @Lucky, love your blog. Truly do – this is nit-picky, and I’m not being a hater – but I think you over-use the word “stunning” in your trip reviews. It feels like 80% of your reviews have something that is described as “stunning.”

    To me, something that’s “stunning” is truly top notch, cream of the crop – and the word should be reserved for the few times when you’ve experienced something where that’s actually the case. However, by using it so frequently, it loses it’s meaning – nothing is stunning if everything is described as stunning.

    Just my two cents, I’ve been meaning to say this for a while – again, not a big deal, but wanted to share, for what it’s worth (admittedly not much!).

    Great review otherwise, thanks for the great content as always!

  12. My partner and I traveled ATL-ICN (enroute to SIN) in Korean Air Prestige Class in December. They served the second meal between 5 and 6 hours before we landed; they wouldn’t give you more than one bottle of water on a 15 hour flight, and the service was quite robotic. The seat was awesome as you reported. After a month of touring 4 counties in Southeast Asia, we came home on Delta in Delta One. We liked that experience much better (even if the seat wasn’t quite as good).

  13. @Lucky – That’s fair. Didn’t realize the ones you showed were the only ones. Thanks for the clarification.

  14. CX has also been known to serve pre-arrival meals mid-way through the flight. I have had this happen on several occasions when flying from/to HKG to/from SYD, JFK, and ORD. On a couple occasions I asked the purser why they did this and they communicated that people did not want to wait long periods between meals. However, CX has great mini meals in business and first that can be ordered throughout the flight, and this logic certainly does not hold for their HKG-SYD route where I was served 4 hours after the departure meal.
    Not sure if this is a select Asian carrier trend, but it has resulted in me taking a subpar UA business class just to ensure I can get a full night’s (flight’s) sleep.

  15. I feel like Korean airlines in general have these really annoying quirks that make you scratch your head. Good service, questionable hard products, and bibimbap bibimbap bibimbap. Every damn flight. Every damn class.

    And how can ICN call itself no. 1 if it has 30+ minute lines for immigration? Don’t even get me started on their security lines. Yuck. I’d rather fly out of Gimpo, but the lines there suck too.

    I’m sorry. I used to live in Singapore.

  16. betterbub, lots of US airports have 30 minute immigration lines. It’s sometimes an hour at SFO if you have the misfortune to arrive just after a couple of Asian widebodies

  17. I flew Korean Air’s 747-8 from Seoul to JFK in Business Class back in Jan, and was very impressed by the experience overall. Following your advice in earlier posts, I reserved a window seat on the upper deck, and it was its own private little cocoon with loads of storage space. (I even reserved seat 18J which Seat Guru says has “slightly extra legroom due to the exit”, which it doesn’t, given the fixed space of the seat “pod”.) The bathrooms on the upper deck are telephone booth small, making changing into pj’s a bit of a challenge. My only point of note is that, while he upper deck does feel more exclusive and private, it is not as airy and spacious as the lower deck. With the single aisle, the upper deck feels more closed in that being in a double aisle part of the plane. If you prefer a more open, spacious, airy cabin, stick to the main deck which is wider and seems to have higher ceilings. (Not that the upper deck was in any way unpleasant!). Thanks for posting the review!

  18. Lucky,

    I’m about to book award travel to Korea using chase ultimate rewards points (I live in San Francisco, but don’t mind repositioning). Between Korean Air and Asiana and first and business class, what order should I try to get a seat? Korean 1st, asiana 1st, korean business, and then asiana business?

  19. Out of curiosity, do you ever read books on planes? And if so, do you read paper books or use an eReader instead? I’m in the market for a new one and have been shopping around, so was curious! I’ve seen the piece on eReaders on OMAAT, but noticed that your preference wasn’t listed.

  20. Lucky, I will also be staying at grand Hyatt incheon in near future. Can you do a quick write up on that hotel?

  21. “I worked during most of lunch”

    I assume you mean to say you worked after lunch? If not, kudos to be able to balance your laptop and the plates during the meal 😉

    “The only thing they had were freshly baked cookie”

    Did they run out of ramen noodles? They’re listed on the menu…

  22. @Martin

    I know lots of airports tend to have lines but ICN kisses its own ass by telling everybody “we’re globally number 1, 6 years in a row!” which is absurd, unrealistic, and stupid. Last time I went through SFO they weren’t nearly so pretentious with themselves.

  23. Wow. That’s crowded when you consider Delta has 1x2x1 in the lower deck of the 747 and 1×1 in the upper deck of business-class on the 747. I believe Virgin Atlantic is 1x2x1 on the lower deck.

  24. Thank you Ben, for yet another detailed review. Luv the passion you have towards the flights and airlines, as always.

  25. I just flew Korean’s first class product yesterday HAN-ICN-LAX. This was my second time in F on KE and certainly agree with most of your review. The movie selection is not just limited, but unless the movie is new (e.g. La La Land), it will come with Korean subtitles that cannot be turned off. (Only the brand new movies seem to provide a prompt to turn on/off subtitles, despite selecting English as your preferred language). You definitely need to bring your own entertainment on this flight.

    Also agree with some comments about water. Even in F, you just get these tiny glasses of water, which aren’t really proactively refilled. They finally gave me one bottle mid-flight, but it was small and never replaced. I ended up just asking them to keep refilling my tiny glass. Next time I’ll bring my own water.

    Service is generally pleasant but some FAs don’t have a solid grasp on English. I realize I’m flying a Korean airline but would have expected the crew to be more consistently able to communicate in English, especially in F.

  26. Having recently flown the Japan Airlines 787-9 in a business class window seat, I agree that these seats are a terrific business class hard product.

    I’ve had the bibimbap in coach and business class on the Korean Air A380. The meals are almost identical. Bibimbap is bibimbap!

  27. Hi,
    Booking flight soon on delta miles from DPS to SFO…should I fly 747 with Korean or Delta One? Thanks for any comments!

  28. Hi Lucky, love your blog!

    Re the China crew comment – I understand a lot of Chinese people travelling to the US would transit through Seoul. KE must have recognised this pattern and assigned their crew accordingly to accommodate the passenger demographics (I think China-based crew just means Chinese speaking crew). To be honest I’m surprised they haven’t assigned more than one Chinese speaking crew member…!

  29. Similar experience HNL-ICN, but the second meal was 2 hours out of ICN (shorter flight overall).

    My flight:
    – temperature comfortable to a little cool (ok with me)
    – ASKED for 3 water bottles when they brought them around (having heard about the “shortfall” in this area) and they happily obliged
    – didn’t take my champagne glass until after the first meal service done….. and did a pretty good job of keeping it topped off! (was VERY pleasantly surprised as it’s a champagne that I really enjoy)

  30. I flew on March 30-th from SFO to ICN and choose seat 16A on Upper deck of 744-8 and agree that a window seat is great choice. Service and food was excellent same as movie selection.
    I felt like I was in heaven.
    Thank you Korean Air for such great aircraft and the service

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