After a nice couple of hours in the Concourse F Sky Club, the time for the real fun began. I headed to the gate to begin my first experience in First Class on an Asian carrier. And the winner of this personal first? Korean Air First Class on a beautiful Boeing 747-8. James and Kevin both reported positive on-board experiences overall. So would this flight live up to those high standards?
As a reminder, I booked this flight using 80,000 Korean SkyPass points, transferred from Chase; I completed the transfer just before Chase and Korean Air terminated their relationship. Why travel via Atlanta, rather than on the nonstop Korean Air flight from DFW? I’m trying to fly as many remaining 747s as possible before they head off to the boneyard.
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my long weekend to Japan in July. Click here for the introduction and trip report index.
Korean Air (KE) Flight 36
- Saturday, July 13, 2019
- Depart: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL), Concourse F, 12:26, 4m early
- Arrive: Seoul Incheon International Airport (ICN), Terminal 2, Gate 233, 16:14, 6m early
- Duration: 14 hours 48 minutes
- Seat: 1J
- Equipment: Boeing 747-8
Korean Air B747-8 First Class – Check-In and Boarding
Before I begin the full review, I think it’s worth talking about the check-in experience. Although Korean Air allows online check-in, they do NOT issue boarding passes online or through the app. You must present yourself to the check-in counter to receive an actual boarding pass. Keep this in mind if traveling on separate tickets. I suppose I could have tried my luck at the gate, since I had no checked bags. But I wanted to test the First Class check-in experience, anyway.
Unfortunately, Korean Air provides nothing special for their First Class passengers, apart from a separate check-in counter. No escort through security, no dedicated lounge, nothing. So count that as disappointing. The agent was friendly and efficient, at least, and had me on my way in a couple of minutes.
Shortly before scheduled boarding, I headed to the gate to hopefully snap a photo of our beautiful bird. Window glare made the task difficult, but I managed one OK shot. Then again, the Queen of the Skies looks incredible from any angle, in any light.
I once again found myself somewhat disappointed as I lined up for boarding. First Class passengers simply join the same Sky Priority line with Business Class and Sky Team elites. That’s a stark contrast to Air France and Lufthansa, who set the standard for ground handling in my opinion. Anyway, soon enough, I turned left to settle in to my home for the next 15 hours.
Korean Air B747-8 First Class – Seating and Interior
The Korean Air B747-8 First Class cabin certainly is spacious, yet private. It features just six seats in a 1-1 configuration. And there’s just something really cool about sitting in the nose of a 747. However, I do share James’ opinion that the cabin finishes seem rather – sterile? Aside from the seats themselves, there are no design cues or colors to add personality to the cabin. It’s not ugly, but feels rather cold and uninspired.
The Korean Air B747-8 First Class cabin has no overhead bins, adding to the spacious feeling. Instead, passengers receive access to storage lockers at the front of the cabin. The First Class flight attendant kindly stored my bag for me upon boarding, and returned it upon landing.
Finally, the First Class cabin includes no bar or communal area. Frankly I don’t care about that, but if that’s important to you, keep that in mind.
The Kosmo 2.0 Suites themselves are quite nice. Each suite features a seat with 83 inches of pitch, with 20.1 inches of width. I found these seats supremely comfortable in both upright and relaxing mode, with generous padding and multiple seatback adjustments available. It really did feel like relaxing in a lounger at home. Also, unlike the sterile cabin, the seats themselves look quite elegant in their blue upholstery. Just a few splashes of this color throughout the cabin would make a huge difference.
These seats feature a large amount of personal storage, starting with the oversized table on the window side. This provides plenty of room to keep a laptop and/or phone safely out of the way during meal service.
Each seat also includes an ottoman with a storage area underneath. This storage space is plenty large enough for a laptop case or small backpack.
The armrest area also contains a useful storage cubby next to the IFE controller. You can easily store passports/wallets/phones here while sleeping, maybe even an iPad.
But wait, there’s more! Close the armrest, and there’s yet another storage compartment behind the controller.
One of my bigger complaints about newer seat designs is lack of storage space. That’s definitely not a problem in these seats.
Seat controls are in front of the the IFE controller. As mentioned, there’s plenty of ways to adjust the seatback, and the controls are easy to use. You can even push a button to lock your favorite settings in place.
Korean Air also provides plenty of in-seat lighting if you need to work. First, a large lamp is behind the seat. Then, there’s another smaller spotlight on the side wall. Next to the spotlight is an air vent, something I didn’t actually figure out until late in the flight.
Waiting at each seat was an amenity kit. The good news is the kits were nicely equipped with Atelier Cologne products. Though best known for their perfumes, these are pretty good quality toiletries. with a nice scent. But come on, seriously – Korean Air couldn’t do better than this flimsy blue plastic bag? I’ve received better in premium economy, let alone First Class.
Korean Air also provided pajamas, but looks like I forgot to take a photo.
Meanwhile, when it’s time for bed, a nice, comfy bed awaits you. While the pillow is kind of meh, the excellent bedding provides an inviting sleeping space. (James indicated he received a memory foam mattress pad on his flight. I’m not sure if this one was memory foam or not, but it was really comfortable.) In addition, with the door shut, the suite provides exceptional privacy. Combined with the quietness of the cabin this far forward, it’s a near ideal setup for rest. I slept like a log for a full 5 hours. I actually would have slept longer, but with the clock already showing 10 am Japan time, I decided to go ahead and wake up.
Speaking of privacy, even with the door open, there’s pretty much no chance of seeing your neighbor, or vice versa. The seat shell keeps you well isolated from the outside world.
Korean Air B747-8 First Class In-Flight Entertainment
Each Korean Air First Class seat comes equipped with an oversized TV monitor with excellent resolution.
The IFE system contained a fair selection of TV shows, movies, and games. The movie selection in particular featured an interesting mix of Hollywood, Korean, Asian, and European titles.
There are also a couple of nice AvGeek toys, like a nose and tail camera.
IFE screen controls reside on a handheld controller. Though the controller itself is easy to use, unfortunately you can’t watch different programs on the screen and controller.
Korean Air provides a pair of excellent Bose noise-cancelling headphones to use with the IFE system. Just do yourself a favor – shut them off before going to sleep so the battery isn’t dead when you wake up.
The Kosmo 2.0 Suite contains two power options for passengers. The first is a USB port next to the IFE controller – conveniently placed to charge a phone during flight.
There is also a 110v power port underneath the ottoman. This was one of the few complaints I had about the Kosmo 2.0 suite’s design. The outlet is difficult to reach when seated, requiring you to completely unbuckle and then bend down to fiddle with the plug. And as James noted, you can forget about reaching it with the (immovable) tray table extended.
If WiFi is important to you, Korean Air does not offer WiFi aboard this aircraft. Personally, I welcomed the chance to unplug and catch up on fixing my iPhone music playlists at long last.
Korean Air B747-8 First Class – Food & Beverage
The Korean Air food & beverage fest began after boarding, with an offer of almonds and a beverage. Korean Air does not serve alcohol on the ground, so I asked for apple juice. It was fresh squeezed, and quite good. And like on James’ flight, thankfully no nut rage from the employees.
Also shortly after boarding, the flight attendant handed out menus, with two main meals scheduled on this long flight.
Though it looks extensive, I found the available wine list on this flight surprisingly limited. (Annoyingly, the list included wines not available on this routing.) It consisted of one white, one rose, and two reds. The wines were of good quality at least, but it did seem a little scant for First Class.
Also available are a selection of espresso drinks.
Approximately 50 minutes after take-off, the main meal service began. (Korean Air offers dine-on-demand in First Class, but I asked for a “traditional” service after take-off.) The Kosmo 2.0 Suite features an oversized tray table, large enough to eat with a companion. However, the tray table is annoyingly fixed in place. Rather than move it towards or away from you, you have to adjust your seat towards or away from the table. Its fixed position also makes it difficult to leave your seat during meal service.
On the other hand, the faux wood is nicely done, and makes for an elegant setting.
The meal began with an amuse bouche of crabmeat salad with cucumber. It was alright, though nothing special.
For my choice of beverage, I started with a glass of the chablis. This is a pretty good chablis, a slightly dry/slightly fruity combination that works, especially with seafood. The Albert Bichot Chablis Premier Cru series generally retails for $30-40 a bottle, so I’d consider it a good, moderately priced wine.
Next, before the appetizer came out, flight attendants offered a choice of breads. I took two pieces, a baguette and some garlic bread. I enjoyed the baguette, but I’ve had better garlic bread. It came out under toasted, not allowing the garlic butter to fully render.
Shortly thereafter, the feast continued with the appetizer, a “salmon rose” with cream cheese and garlic toast.
This course was both beautifully presented and delicious. I almost felt bad taking apart the rose, but the delicious smoked salmon dictated otherwise. One thing to note: it appears that Korean Air recently removed caviar service in First Class. On James’ flight, passengers could choose between caviar and an appetizer, but no more it seems. Consider yourself warned if you look forward to caviar in the forward cabin.
At this point, I remembered that I never did my obligatory champagne selfie. So, I ordered a glass of champagne after the appetizer. Korean Air currently serves Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2011 in First Class. This is a pricey champagne, retailing for north of $150 a bottle. I just wish I was enough of a champagne snob to tell you how much better a $150 champagne selfie is than a cheap one…
Next up was the soup course, a cauliflower and truffle chowder. I enjoyed the soup, which was flavorful but not overpowered by truffle.
Next up, a mixed green salad with “roasted red pepper” dressing. I put roasted red pepper in quotes, because it seemed more like thousand island to me. Either way, I appreciated the robust variety of vegetables, which were fresh and tasty. The flight attendant prepares the salad at your seat, so you can pick and choose which veggies you want.
By this point, you’ve already eaten a lot of food, but the party’s just getting started. It’s main course time, and I chose the bibimbap. If you’ve flown Korean Air in either First or Prestige, this undoubtedly looks familiar. The difference in First? A side of bulgogi beef to go with it. (And yes, I dumped the whole tube of Gochujang in the bowl. I take my heat seriously.)
Also on the menu, the fanciest pair of chopsticks I’ve ever seen.
My goodness, talk about delicious overload. Korean Air serves a very tasty bibimbap, though I probably savored the sweet, flavorful bulgogi even more. The only problem? With four courses already under my belt, finishing everything proved impossible. I finished the bibimbap, but had to admit defeat after about half the bulgogi.
Finally, I finished up with a fruit and cheese plate. I found the watermelon especially sweet, and particularly enjoyed the blue castello (though I love blue cheese generally).
And with that, I headed off to sleep for the next five hours. The entire meal service, even at my leisurely pace, took just under 2 1/2 hours to complete. You can ask to step up the pace if desired, but for a daytime, 14 1/2 hour flight, I took my time to savor the meal.
Upon waking up, I ordered a flat white. It looks meh presentation wise, but it actually was a good, strong coffee.
I then asked for a glass of porto, which the flight attendant served with more almonds.
I perhaps secretly wished for an old tawny, but this ruby did just fine. A touch of tartness partnered well with the overall sweetness to make for a nice sipping treat. Like the chablis, Sandeman Founders Reserve represents a good value for the price; you can find it for about $18 a bottle.
Finally, about 2 hours before landing, the flight attendants served dinner. This time, I started with a cheese roll, a much better choice than the garlic bread.
For the main course, I selected the pork and shrimp wonton soup. Simplistic, perhaps, but once again, delicious. And frankly, just what the doctor ordered at the end of a long flight.
This time, I finished up with a Glenfiddich Select Cask single malt. I found it – just OK. It was fine, maybe a little on the sweet side, but just not very complex.
Just before landing, the flight attendant offered a cup of omija-cha, a traditional Korean tea made from magnolia berries. I don’t often drink fruit teas, but I liked this one. The “five flavor berry” had a distinct sweet-sour thing going on that I found quite refreshing.
Overall, I remain conflicted with the food service – does this count as “First Class”? On the one hand, I found everything delicious, and they offer several traditional Korean options, which I appreciate. But is it overly simplistic? Should Korean Air offer more innovative or upscale Korean cuisine on board? At least something different from what they serve in Business Class? Honestly, I tend to fall on the side of “the taste is what’s important”. But I can see the argument of naysayers here.
Korean Air B747-8 First Class Service
I found the service on this flight very good, though perhaps not quite what I expected. I’ve of course heard the stereotype of the “proactive to the point of overbearing” service on Asian carriers, complete with things like kneeling to take off your shoes. I didn’t find that here, much to my relief actually, as I’d find that awkward. Instead, I found the First Class flight attendant kind and professional, always at your call but never overbearing. For example, within a few minutes of waking up, the flight attendant came by to ask if I needed anything. But at the same time, she wasn’t interrupting every 10 minutes to offer something else. I think Korean Air struck the right balance between responsiveness and just letting the passengers enjoy the flight.
The purser also personally welcomed all First Class passengers on board, and provided a brief overview of the route. Finally, both the flight attendant and purser came by to personally thank each passenger for flying. Overall, I had no complaints at all.
Just as with check-in and boarding, Korean Air provides no assistance of any kind with connections, immigration, or baggage claim. As soon as you step off the plane, you’re on your own.
Though most of this flight remained overwater, I did enjoy some window seat scenery at the beginning and end. While taxing at Hartsfield, we passed the iconic “Fly Delta Jets” sign as we headed to the runway.
After lifting off, some cloudporn made for a bit of chop until we reached cruising altitude.
On approach to Incheon, the haze and smog of midsummer made photography difficult, though I did get a few shots of the landscape on final approach.
And finally, the long taxi at Incheon showed off some interesting Korean Air planeporn, including an A380 and a 787.
Korean Air B747-8 Final Thoughts
As alluded to in my “first thoughts” post, Korean Air First Class presents something of a conundrum. It has elements of a world class product, including plenty of delicious food, great onboard service, and a great hard product. On the other hand, other aspects fail to measure up. For example, Korean Air provides no special ground handling and lackluster lounges. And while I enjoyed the food and beverage, I can’t help but feel that they should be more innovative.
So did I enjoy my Korean Air B747-8 First Class experience? Absolutely yes. But is it a “top” First Class experience? Not really, because of the lack of “pizazz”. Of course, Korean Air First Class represents one of the best values in the points & miles game, at just 80,000 miles each way off-peak with no surcharges. And Korean Air makes at least 2 award seats available on every flight, easily making this one of the most accessible F products. Or at least, it was, until Chase dropped Skypass as a transfer partner. Now you’ll have to pick up the points the hard way, either with a Korean Air credit card (which isn’t great), or crediting BIS miles on Sky Team partners to Skypass (not always great). I’d say it’s not worth jumping through those hoops with other options available.