Following my flight on American’s 787 Business Class, I had nearly five hours to kill before my onward flight on jetBlue. So, I decided to start with a visit to the Korean Air (KAL) Lounge. The KAL Lounge receives not-so-great reviews in the blogosphere. Here at Travel Codex, both James and Kevin reviewed this lounge previously. Neither came away particularly impressed. You might say I had low expectations going in. But really, could it be as bad as some people say it is?
Note: this post is part of my trip report series about my weekend trip to try jetBlue Mint. Click here for the trip report index and introductory post.
Korean Air Lounge LAX
Tom Bradley International Terminal, Level 5, one level above the pavilion. Walkways connect TBIT to Terminals 4-8 airside; see James’ post for more information on the connectors. If arriving via the connector, follow the signs to the airline lounges to your left. The Korean Air lounge is on your left. If clearing security at TBIT, take the elevator or escalators to Level 5 and follow the signs to the lounges. However, you really shouldn’t clear security at TBIT, especially during the evening. Why? See for yourself:
Do yourself a favor. Clear at Terminal 4 or 5 and take the connector over. Anyway, look for this large SkyTeam banner.
The Korean Air Lounge LAX provides access to the following passengers:
- Korean Air first and business class passengers
- SkyTeam premium cabin passengers
- SkyTeam Elite Plus members flying in any class of service on a SkyTeam airline
- Priority Pass cardholders flying in any class of service on any airline
(If you want to know how to obtain a Priority Pass membership, I’m planning a post about that in the next month or so.)
Though the lounge is open from 8:30 am – 12:30 am, Priority Pass members may only visit the lounge from noon to 8 pm. For what it’s worth, I arrived around 7:15. Though I ended up staying until about 8:30, nobody came looking for me to kick me out. Obviously your mileage may vary. I left intending to also check out the Alaska Lounge – which didn’t work out. After walking all the way to Terminal 6, I found the dreaded sign locking out Priority Pass members due to overcrowding. I hung around T6 until almost 10, before finally giving up and going to the (not very pleasant) gate area in Terminal 5. Bummer.
As mentioned, I walked up to the desk about 7:15, where a reasonably friendly agent checked me in. She didn’t mention anything about the lounge closing to PP in 45 minutes.
Turn left, then immediately right, and the lounge opens up into a large, open seating area. About halfway down the hall is a TV area with a selection of newspapers. These chairs looked comfy for lounging, and I saw ample electrical outlets in this area. I liked the overall decor in this area. Simple, but avoiding the cold, cookie-cutter minimalism that plagues modern design.
At the end of this first hall is another large sitting area with a variety of seating options. First, you’ll see a large, communal work table to your left.
This then opens up into another large collection of lounge chairs. I decided to set up shop in this area. It’s hard to see here, but along the wall are a few chairs by the windows overlooking the pavilion. Those loungers are quite comfy, and power outlets are again plentiful. However, at night, I felt the combination of bright lights from the terminal and the mirror-like ceiling led to “sensory overload”.
Head through the doors at the end of this hall to find the best part of this lounge. In fact, possibly one of the best features in any lounge here in the US. That’s the outdoor patio overlooking the Villaraigosa Pavilion. This really is a fantastic spot for people watching and enjoying a drink. That’s especially true at night, when the terminal is especially busy. The only drawback – it gets noisy, especially when there’s live music at the food court.
The biggest issue with the lounge seating area is the lack of quiet spaces to work. Not even a cubicle or two shoved off in a corner. In addition, the open design of the lounge, while providing a lively vibe, also makes it a bit noisy. Since I almost always travel for pleasure, it’s not an issue for me. But if you need to work, don’t expect much peace and quiet. At least the WiFi is free and reasonably fast.
Food and Beverage Review
As for food and drink, across from the open TV room is a small food spread. As James and Kevin pointed out, it’s underwhelming. The buffet consists of a cold pasta dish with fruits and vegetables, finger sandwiches and sushi, chips and pretzels, and instant ramen noodles. No hot options are offered.
Before you diss the instant noodles, keep in mind that these are apparently a big thing in Korea. So, I can’t really blame Korean Air for catering to their main customers. Not to mention, I tried one of the red (spicy) ones, and – they’re actually pretty good.
Just beware that they’re serious when they say “spicy”. I have a high tolerance for spice, and I definitely felt the burn.
Just on the other side of the door leading to the patio is a small dining area.
Here, you can also find the lounge’s self-serve beverage selection. This consists of a refrigerator with soft drinks and beer, a few wines, and a few bottles of liquor with club soda and Bloody Mary mix for mixing. The liquor selection is small, though you do have a couple of decent choices like Johnnie Walker and Bombay Sapphire. Also available – juice, water, and an espresso machine.
In short, don’t expect anything close to a full meal, unless you fancy stuffing yourself on instant ramen. (Trust me, I’ve done it in my younger days. It’s a very, very bad idea. Especially before getting on a long flight.)
Korean Air Lounge LAX – Overall Thoughts
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this lounge. On the one hand, the open design creates a lively feeling inside. The seating is comfy throughout, the design simple and modern yet warm and welcoming, there are plenty of power ports, and the patio is one of the best features I’ve found anywhere. On the other hand, the food is mediocre, and the drink selection fair at best. And it’s a little loud, with no quiet spaces to work.
I think the final grade really depends on the purpose of your visit. As a Priority Pass lounge, it’s just fine. Objectively, it’s as good or better than the “Club” lounges at DFW, Atlanta, or Boston. I’d much rather be here than waiting for my American flight at the gate in Terminal 4. But as an international premium customer lounge, it’s a letdown. If I paid for SkyTeam Business Class, I’d be really disappointed to find myself in this lounge. Or for choosing to fly SkyTeam out of LAX for that matter. Especially since Star Alliance provides the fantastic looking Star Alliance Lounge down the hall. I agree with James, this lounge has great potential if they improve just a few things.