Tried & Tested

Asiana Airlines A330-300 Business Class

31 Jan 2014 by GrahamSmith

CHECK-IN

I arrived at Hong Kong's Terminal 1 at 1100 for the 1250 departure on flight OZ722 from Hong Kong to Seoul Incheon, which was estimated to take three hours and 45 minutes.

Asiana offers an option for online check-in on their website, but after several unsuccessful attempts I gave up on selecting my seat and printing the boarding pass.

I went to Zone J at Terminal 1 where there was no queue at the desk and dropped off my bags. The check-in agent was helpful and intuitive and informed me that the flight was not full that day and that she would block out the seat next to me for more comfort if that was alright with me. It most certainly was.

The airport was busy at that time of day and it took a good 15 minutes to clear security and immigration. There are no fast track lanes for first and business class passengers at Hong Kong International Airport.

THE LOUNGE

Asiana does not operate its own lounge in Hong Kong. Business Class and Star Gold passengers may choose from a selection of available Star Alliance partner lounges – Thai's Royal Orchid lounge, United's Club Lounge or Singapore Airlines' SilverKris Lounge. I chose the Singapore Airlines lounge because it is closest to Asiana's departure gates.

The lounge is only a two-minute walk and escalator down from immigration. The lounge itself feels dated and could use refurbishment, there is no natural daylight and the dark fittings add to the sense of gloominess. However, it is a vast lounge with plenty of seating space that I have visited at different times of the day (including the Singapore Airlines A380 departure period) and it has never felt crowded.

There's free wifi and a decent choice of food and beverages on display. During this lunchtime hour, there was a selection of three hot dishes (goulash soup, Chinese fried noodles and an Asian beef stir-fry). There are no options for order.

BOARDING

I arrived at boarding gate 17 at 1220 when the flight was just opening and was the first to board.

I thought it a great touch that the entire Asiana gate staff lined up and bowed ceremoniously to the waiting passengers before they started the boarding process. A memorable experience indeed.

Upon boarding the aircraft, I was escorted to my seat and offered a choice of water, juice or champagne. My coat was hung and my carry-on luggage stowed away by a very enthusiastic crew member while another came around with a large selection of international newspapers and magazines.

THE SEAT

This midday flight to Seoul Incheon was operated by an A330-300 wide body aircraft in a two-class configuration – business and economy. The business class cabin spans the first five rows and is fitted out in a 2-2-2 configuration. I was in seat 2K, a window seat, with slippers already waiting for me. For a seat plan of this aircraft, click here.

Asiana A330-300

The seat is a fully-flat recliner that converts into a bed at the press of a button. There is ample storage space in the lower compartments left and right of the seat, as well as in the compartments lining the lower cabin walls.

The cocktail table was large enough to hold a glass of champagne, a glass of water and a small snack bowl all at once, making for a relaxed pre-departure atmosphere.

All the controls for the seat and the IFE are in a convenient position to one side, along with a reading light. The in-seat power (US plug) and iPod USB jacks are here as well.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE

There really is no single one seat that stands out on this aircraft. Even with your neighbour's seat fully reclined, you can still access the aisle without having to climb over other passengers.

All seats feature 15.4-inch personal televisions (PTVs) with AVOD installed in the back of the seat in front of you. The only exception is in row 1 where the PTVs are attached to the cabin wall.

Drinks and food are served starting from the front row, but with only five rows this is not all that important. You won't wait long either way.

There is one washroom at the front of the cabin and two in the back. I noticed that the ones in the back were shared with passengers travelling in economy, though.

Do note, however, that there might be some noise emanating from the front galley and washrooms. So if you are planning for some shut-eye, you may want to avoid the first row.

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back almost 20 minutes behind schedule. The animated safety demonstration was fun to watch and gracefully re-enacted by the cabin crew. We didn't take off until 1330, 40 minutes past scheduled departure time.

The business cabin was about 80 per cent full that day, leaving only a few seats unoccupied.

There was a rather dull-looking amenity kit waiting for me at my seat. Not so dull after all, I thought, when I opened it to see it contained a great range of L'Occitaine onboard products, including a 100ml facial toner and moisture spray which was much appreciated while steeling myself for the announced -15C in Seoul that day.

The cabin manager came to greet me personally, acknowledging my Asiana Club Platinum status, and thanked me for choosing Asiana for today's flight. I thought this to be a nice touch that I often find lacking when travelling on other Star Alliance carriers, like Thai or Singapore Airlines.

The IFE selection is decent, but not great. The Hollywood films were mostly outdated and there weren't many all-time favourites to pick from. However, if you are into Asian cinema, like me, you won't be disappointed. The screens were crystal clear and the noise-cancelling earphones effective.

The real treat of the journey was the selection of food and beverages onboard and the charm and professionalism with which they were delivered.

Lunch service started about 20 minutes into the flight when one of the cabin crew towered above me holding a table cloth. A strange way of introducing the service, I thought. It would make more sense to me if they came around with the menus once again to signal to the passengers that the meal service is about to commence instead of just waving a white cloth at you.

There was a Korean menu and a Western menu. I opted for the latter, which was accompanied by a wide array of bakery products, and the selection was as follows:

Appetiser

  • Grilled Shrimp with Herb Couscous Salad and Harissa Sauce
  • Mixed Greens with Mustard Cream Dressing

Main Courses

  • Beef Tenderloin Steak served with Port Wine Sauce, Cauliflower, Red Onion and Potato
  • Grilled Chicken Breast served with Tomato Sauce, Vegetables and Linguine

Cheese

  • Brie, Danish Blue, Cheddar

Dessert

  • Lemon Meringue Tart
  • Fresh Fruit

The shrimps turned out to be an excellent choice. The crustaceans were plentiful and grilled to perfection. The cabin manager suggested a 2011 Chardonnay to go with the shrimps – a great recommendation.

The salad was very fresh and exquisitely topped up with freshly grated truffle. I opted for the Beef Tenderloin Steak which came cooked a perfect "medium" and went very well with the port wine sauce. The cabin crew also made rounds with an impressive array of condiments, featuring five different varieties of mustard, XO sauce and various spices.

The cheeses were nicely presented but not memorable and tasteless when compared to the previous three courses.

Both the meringue tart and the fresh fruit were delicious. The tart had just about the right amount of acidity to it and felt like it'd just come fresh out the bakehouse.

The trays were cleared quickly after each course and it never took longer than five minutes for the next course to arrive.

ARRIVAL

The captain came on some 30 minutes before arrival into Korea and informed us that we had made up time inflight and were still scheduled for an on-time arrival at Incheon Airport. This turned out to be true and we disembarked the plane at 1630, as scheduled.

VERDICT

Asiana remains an outstanding choice for travel in and out of Korea. While as a frequent traveler in Asia you might not find the actual hard product onboard to be much different from most regional competition, because most of them offer similar seating (fully-flat) nowadays, it is the soft product – the people – that make all the difference.

Every single encounter with an Asiana staff member, on the ground and in the air, was pleasant. The service is spot on, but not intrusive, and delivered with an air of elegance and politeness.
The food and beverages onboard are all of great quantity and quality.

With up to four daily flights out of Hong Kong, Asiana might want to consider opening their own lounge at Hong Kong Airport, though. It would almost certainly be an improvement over the shared lounge spaces they use now. All in all, a top-notch experience.


FACT FILE

  • PLANE TYPE A330-300
  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
  • SEAT WIDTH 21in/53cm
  • SEAT LENGTH 78in/200cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees
  • CONTACT flyasiana.com

Dominic Lalk

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