Tried & Tested

Asiana Airlines B747-400 Combi Business Class

18 Feb 2014 by GrahamSmith

CHECK-IN

I arrived at Seoul Incheon's departure zone at 1100 for the 1250 departure on flight OZ541 from Seoul to Frankfurt, a flight of eleven hours and 45 minutes.

Asiana offers an option for online check-in, but just like on previous occasions this did not work for me "due to technical problems" with their website.

I went to Zone A, where Asiana operates an exclusive check-in area for First and Business passengers, as well as Star Alliance Gold Card holders. There was no queue and I was checked in and directed to the Business class lounge within two minutes.

Asiana Airlines B747-400

The airport was busy at that time of day and it took a frustrating 30 minutes to clear security and immigration. There are no fast track lanes for First and Business class passengers at Incheon International Airport.

THE LOUNGE

Once airside, the Asiana lounges are a leisurely five-minute walk to the right of the terminal, near gate 40, and unmistakably marked as such.

I had not visited Asiana’s flagship lounge in over a year but had heard from colleagues and the check-in agent that it had recently been refurbished and expanded so my expectations were up.

Walking into the lounge reception area I immediately noticed the expansion. The lounge now occupies about double its original space. The decor and general feel of the lounge seemed to not have changed though – dark wood panels and brown leather chairs dominate the space - and there are nice views of the air field from almost anywhere.

There is a large selection of Korean and Chinese newspapers and periodicals to choose from, but the selection of English-language publications was limited. At the time of my visit the only newspaper available in English was the International New York Times.

The selection of food and beverages was disappointing given the time of day (lunch time) and Asiana's five-star airline rating. Chicken noodle soup and small finger sandwiches summarise the food selection.

The beverages were the standard choices one will find in most business class lounges — coffee, tea, juices, canned soft drinks, beer, red and white wine and an assortment of standard liquors, but no champagne. There are no options for order.

BOARDING

After a quick three-minute walk from the lounge I arrived at boarding gate 42 at 1230, where boarding was already in progress. There were no queues for Business class and I was able to board immediately.

Upon boarding the aircraft, I was escorted to my seat and offered a choice of water, juice or champagne. My coat was hung-up and my carry-on luggage stowed away by a very enthusiastic crew member.

Another then came around with a large selection of international newspapers and magazines, including a wide array of German publications. I thought this was a great way to engage the target audience on this Frankfurt-bound flight and is something I have often wished other airlines would do.

THE SEAT

This midday flight to Seoul Incheon was operated by a B747-400 wide-body aircraft. It is known as a Combi, because where rows 48-64 normally are in the economy section there is a space behind a bulkhead that is used for additional freight.

The flight is operated in a three-class configuration – First, Business and Economy. The six rows of Business occupy the entire upper-deck of the aircraft. I was in window seat 10A, with slippers and amenity kit already waiting for me.

For a seat plan of this aircraft, click here.

The seat was the older generation of Business class seat that would not fully recline and therefore did not feel very comfortable for an almost 12-hour journey. The cushioning was not that plush either so I ended up using several pillows and blankets to give more support to my back and neck.

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, and the in-seat power (US plug) and iPod USB jacks are here as well.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE

Being seated in 10A was both advantageous and disadvantageous at the same time.

As row 10 is an emergency seat row you will not have any passengers immediately in front of you, which provides you with more space. However, these seats also feel a lot more "exposed" than the other seats in the cabin, reducing the private cozy feel you might be looking for in an overnight long-haul flight.

However, if your aim is to work throughout the flight, then row 10 might just be what you are looking for. Even with the neighbouring seat occupied, you will hardly ever feel physically restricted.

The spacing between rows is wide enough for you to still be able to access the aisle even when your neighbour's seat is in fully-reclined position.

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

There is one washroom at the rear of the short upper-deck cabin, next to the kitchen. There might be some noise emanating from the kitchen and bathroom, so if you are planning for some shut-eye, you may want to avoid the last row (row 12).

THE FLIGHT

We pushed back on-time, at 1250 exactly. The animated safety demonstration was fun to watch and gracefully re-enacted by the cabin crew.

We took-off before 1300 and the seatbelt sign was off just five minutes later while the cabin crew was already preparing the lunch service.

Business class was full that day. Just as on my flight the previous day from Hong Kong to Seoul, the cabin manager came to greet me personally, acknowledging my Asiana Club Platinum status, and thanking me for choosing Asiana. I found this a nice touch that I often find lacking when travelling on other Star Alliance airlines, like Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines.

As with previous flights on Asiana, the IFE selection was decent, but not great. The Hollywood films were mostly outdated and there weren't many all-time favourites or TV shows 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.

Asiana excelled in creating a premium onboard dining experience on this flight. The food and beverage offerings were superb and made me want to come back for more.

Lunch service commenced a short ten minutes after take-off when a member of cabin crew unfolded my dining tray and placed a white table cloth, all relevant cutlery, condiments and a fresh-cut rose on it.

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:

Canape

  • Fried Eggplant stuffed with Couscous and Cheese, Pimento Coulis

Appetizer

  • Marinated King Crab Salad with Baby Leaves and Asparagus

Soup

  • Sweet Pumpkin Veloute with Ginger Compote and Basil Pesto Sauce

Main Courses

  • Porcini Crusted N.Y. Strip with Pepper Sauce, Mushroom and Sun-Dried Tomato
  • Baked Crumbled Cod with Asparagus, Wilted Carrot and Tarragon Sauce
  • Rubbed Spice Lamb Loin with Chick Peas and Olive Stew

Cheese

  • Castello Blue, Saint Andre, Camembert 

Dessert

  • Gateau Chocolate with Cherry Coulis and Vanilla Chantilly

The canape was a welcome way to introduce the lunch service. The eggplant, despite being fried, was not soaked in oil and maintained a nice crunch. It was also a smart way to allow the cabin crew more time to prepare the following courses without having the passenger sit in front of his already set-up but foodless tray with nothing to do.

Asiana Airlines crab salad

Asiana Airlines food

The King Crab Salad was full of fresh king crab meat that was firm and fragrant. The pumpkin soup was rich with a great creamy texture that countered the spiciness of the ginger compote nicely. It arrived at my seat still steaming, something I consider important when dining out or dining on a plane and that I have often seen go wrong on other flights.

The rubbed spice lamb loin was cooked to a perfect "medium" and was almost fat-free, which I personally prefer. Topped with a bit of mint sauce, it was a simply divine dish to have, especially on an airplane. The side dishes were tasty but the lamb itself was so good I ended up eating all of it and leaving most of the side dishes behind.

The meal had already been very filling so I skipped the cheese and dessert courses.

With each course the members of cabin crew recommended a different wine. There were three red wines, three white wines, two Champagnes and a port wine to choose from.

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

Throughout the flight the cabin crew made regular rounds and answered to passengers pressing the call button within seconds. The chief cabin purser came up to the upper-deck twice in the flight and enquired if anybody required anything extra, such as blankets, pillows, snacks or toiletries.

About 90 minutes before we were due to land in Frankfurt, what was described as a snack was served. The so-called "snack" turned out to be another three-course meal:

Appetizer

  • Grain Salad with Dried Fruit and Almond Vinaigrette

Main Courses

  • Coriander-Crusted Halibut, Braised Scallions, Turnip Puree, Wilted Spinach and Brown Sauce
  • Sous-Vide Chicken with Roasted Pumpkin Wedges and Beef Jus
  • Korean Rice Porridge with Assorted Seafood

Dessert

  • Chestnut Loaf with Caramel Rum Sauce

The prospect of another full meal after ten hours of sitting on an aircraft and working was not ideal, so I only ordered the halibut and skipped both the appetizer and dessert.

The fish was tasty and again a generous helping. The sauce was actually a shitake mushroom sauce (as the cabin crew explained) so I do not understand why it was so oddly referred to as "brown sauce" on the menu.

ARRIVAL

The captain came on some 30 minutes before arrival into Germany and informed us that we were scheduled for an early arrival. We touched down at 1620, 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

As I was connecting to another flight I cannot comment on baggage delivery.

VERDICT

A flight I will remember for some time. Similar to the first section of the flight from Hong Kong to Seoul, Asiana again impressed with its on the ground and onboard service.

The food and beverage selection on this flight was of such quality and quantity that I dare say it rivals other airlines' first class offerings. It felt like the cabin crew was present at any given minute throughout the 11 hour 45-minute flight, and the service provided was consistent among all five cabin crew members I met.

The actual onboard product, i.e. the seat and IFE, could surely do with an upgrade. If I was booking the flight ticket purely based on seat comfort, Asiana would not get my business. So there is work to be done there.

But, for me, the service is still the most important element of a flight and this made up for the outdated recliner seats.


FACT FILE

  • PLANE TYPE B747-400M
  • CONFIGURATION 2-2
  • SEAT WIDTH 20.5in
  • SEAT LENGTH 195cm
  • SEAT RECLINE 165 degrees
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Seoul to Frankfurt in March start from £2,305
  • CONTACT flyasiana.com

Dominic Lalk
 
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