BACKGROUND Korean Air, Northeast Asia’s first operator of the Airbus A380-800, saw its latest acquisition take to the skies twice on Friday, June 17, 2011 for the start of commercial services to Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong International Airport. Business Traveller was on the debut Seoul Incheon-Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok flight.
For Hong Kong, the aircraft will initially be used six times weekly on one of three daily return flights, then from July onwards, two daily flights will feature the A380. For a more detailed schedule, click here and for a video of the making of the aircraft, click here.
CHECK-IN Our press group checked in at 1550 in row C of the Incheon airport, somewhat early for the 2000 departure of KE607 for Hong Kong. The reason was that our Korean Air hosts wanted to show us the facilities of their award-winning First Class lounge as well conduct a quick tour of the Incheon hub.
I asked for a window seat and was assigned 19H in business class (Prestige Class). With all my belongings in my laptop trolley bag, I had nothing to check in. The security scan was swift, and so was immigration clearance where there were no queues. Our group was asked to turn left after the immigration counters, and as I looked up, I spotted the large KAL Lounge sign above a cosmetics and perfumes store. We took a nearby escalator to reach the area.
Both first class and business class lounges share this floor but occupy two different sections, accessed by walkways. I had used the business class lounge on a previous occasion, but this was my first time to enter the space reserved for Korean Air’s topmost customers. The room, which enjoyed a panoramic view of the runway, seemed to go on forever. It featured a variety of seating sections, stopping at what seemed to be a smoking nook. Alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows ran a work counter equipped with phones and power outlets (the only place to charge one’s gadgets, which I found inconvenient as I was sitting a distance from there).
Having inspected Incheon Airport several times before, I chose to stay put and use the free wifi while my companions went around. The hot meal selection at the Hyatt Regency Incheon-catered buffet, consisting of ginger lemon chicken, vegetable lasagna and a fish dish, was tempting, as was the sushi tray. But as we were still going to have dinner at one of the airport’s Korean restaurants as a group before boarding, I just went for a cold drink.
BOARDING Once through with dinner, I headed for gate 10 from where we were pushing off at 2000. I wanted to witness the A380 being towed from the hangar and into place, and take photos while the light was still good. I was too early, reaching there only to find the aircraft bound for Singapore still occupying that slot. An enormous poster above the gate, proclaiming “Where Dreams are Made – A380”, was the sole reminder that this was an important day for Korean Air.
The superjumbo arrived at about 1900, and thank goodness, there was still enough light to capture some clear images. Our journalists’ pack was allowed to board at 1915, fifteen minutes before regular boarding, to allow us a run of the aircraft for our photo opportunities (see here). There were two airbridges leading to the aircraft, one on the left for first class and economy on the main/lower deck, and one on the right for business class on the upper deck, which we took. For the seatplans of both decks, click here.
The duty-free boutique at the rear of the lower deck, which has still to be stocked, was not yet operating.
After we had done our work and were settling down, the immaculately groomed flight attendants began their rounds, serving drinks and distributing a raft of international dailies. We pulled back gently at 2010 and took off with the same ease that I remember so well from other past A380 flights. Once airborne, only a slight hum reminded passengers that we were indeed flying.
THE SEAT Korean Air celebrated in April the completion of a six-year project to upgrade the interiors of 49 mid- and large-size aircraft with Kosmo Sleeper Seats in first class, Prestige Sleepers in business class and wider seats in economy class. Other enhancements to the total of 14,441 enhanced seats included expanded AVOD offerings and power outlets.
Unlike other business class cabins, which boast aisle access for each passenger, such as Cathay Pacific's new business class cabin and Singapore Airlines's A380 business class, Korean Air did not opt for individual seats by the window, but went for seat pairs as found in its other aircraft like the A330-300. Still the legroom is spacious enough for the window-based passenger to easily access the aisle, provided his companion has not put the seat in total lie-flat position. In my 19H seat, controls were found on the right armrest (upright, recline and flat), while the left armrest served as a place to set drinks and peanuts. On the left side as well were a small reading light which can be adjusted to various intensities, the IFE remote and a crevice to store a water bottle or eyeglasses. Flimsy slippers and ear phones were inserted in a pouch under the 15.4-inch seatback TV, and magazines with the latest IFE offerings and duty-free items were found in a slot beside the monitor. Footwear can be stuffed in the compartment under the seat in front of the passenger but not during take off and landing.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Business class, which occupies the entire upper deck, is divided into three cabins, consisting of 94 seats. There are four rows of 22 seats in the first section; eight rows of 48 seats in the second section; and four rows of 24 seats in the third section. The configuration follows a 2(AB)-2(ED)-2(GH) design, except in the first section, whose last row follows a 2(AB)-2(GH) design with nothing in the middle. My seat 19H was in the middle cabin and located by four large oval windows. Beside it were three shallow sidebins for me and fellow occupant of 19G to store our personal stuff.
You’ll probably sense a bit more exclusivity choosing the first or third section on this deck, but I would avoid row 7 in the front, which is near the washrooms and front lounge and row 23 in the rear, which is near the second lounge, galley and washroom. Row 19, where I was seated, isn’t too bad and does not have a washroom directly behind it. Rows 7, 11 and especially 20, have the best legroom.
As mentioned, there are two lounges. The first one in the fore of the aicraft, alongside the staircase leading to first class, does not have a bar area of its own as does its companion facility in the rear. It occurred to us that this could be used to hold a quick meeting-in-the-air with colleagues, although we were not able to enquire if the space could be reserved for just one group for a certain amount of time. The Celestial Bar in the aft attracted a number of passengers who liked the idea of seeing their Absolut-based cocktails mixed before them. (Drink list sample: Absolut Raspberry Delight, Absolut Pear Deluxe, Absolut Asian ginger among others.) The only downside was that frequent bouts of turbulence kept guests scurrying back to their seats.
THE FLIGHT This three-hour flight went by very quickly, and the crew, which had to be retrained to operate efficiently on a much larger aircraft, achieved a good job of conducting the meal service without missing a beat, despite some nasty air pockets. Dinner kicked off with a bread basket and appetiser of marinated shrimp with roasted tomato served with sun-dried tomato dressing, followed by a broccoli cream soup. From the main course line up of Korean Bibimbap (minced beef and seasonal vegetables with hot pepper paste); Korean-style rice mixed with mushroom and side dishes; roasted cod fish with shallot sauce with mashed potato with herb and Mediterranean ratatouille; and stir-fried chicken with garlic chilli sauce served with egg fried rice and mixed vegetables, I chose the last, which I found a bit too soupy, although the accompanying rice was excellent. I demurred when offered dessert which consisted of fruits or ice cream and also passed on the coffee and tea.
While I do not consume wine or any alcohol, I took note of the wine list, which included Laurent-Perrier Champagne; white wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Kendall-Jackson 2009 and Burgundy, Pouilly Vinzelles Vielles Bignes 2009; and red wines – Bordeaux, Chateau Les trois Croix 2006 and Merlot, Robert Mondavi, Private Selection 2008. These were offered from a wicker basket.
After dinner and having completed the film, The Eagle – a rather disappointing effort by Kevin Macdonald of the brillant The Last King of Scotland – I decided to go for a short nap and try out the seat in its lie-flat position. It was comfortable enough although I wished the pillow was bigger. A privacy screen pulled out from the area above the armrest prevents any awkwardness when the time to sleep arrives and your companion is a total stranger. But with an unoccupied companion seat, I did not have any problem.
ARRIVAL During our descent, I glimpsed a magnificent full moon through one of the windows on the left side of the aircraft – an unforgettable sight that provided a unique ending to a journey on an aircraft that is in every traveller's future. We landed at 2236, and thanks to Hong Kong's seamless transport system, I was unlocking the door to my flat by midnight.
VERDICT There is nothing like a new plane, especially when that plane is an A380. It was a pity that we had only three hours to enjoy it. The crew provided brisk but attentive service.
Margie T Logarta
PLANE TYPE Airbus A380-800
SEAT TOTAL 407 seats with 12 in first class, 94 in business class and 301 in economy class
SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1 first, 2-2-2 business and 3-4-3 economy
SEAT WIDTH IN BUSINESS CLASS 21.6 inches
SEAT RECLINE IN BUSINESS CLASS 180 degrees