Flight Review: Korean Air Business Class 777 – Washington DC to Seoul Incheon

Unlike a lot of airlines these days, Korean Air offers great business and first class award availability at reasonable redemption rates. Further, the airline’s updated website makes award booking – a process that used to be incredibly arduous – easy. Coming back to Singapore after the holiday’s, I decided to take advantage of the generous award availability on Korean Air and book myself in business class. The trip included a very long flight from Washington DC to Seoul and then a shorter, but still irritatingly long flight from Seoul to Singapore.

Fortunately, the longer flight included Korean Air’s new business class suites product. Unfortunately, the second leg of the trip had Korean Air’s older business class hard product.

Booking

I booked my one way business class ticket from Washington DC to Singapore using just 75,000 Miles + $34. I had about 40,000 SkyPass miles in my Korean Air account from prior flights on the airline, and I was able to transfer the remaining 35,000 miles instantly from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account. This is one of the best Chase partners and one of the reasons the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card is so valuable.

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I consider 75,000 miles to be an incredible bargain, especially when paid tickets in regular economy on this flight can cost upwards of $1,000. Meanwhile, my exact ticket was selling for over $4,000. This was my itinerary:

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Flight 1 of 2
Korean Air KE094
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Boeing 777-300ER
Tuesday, 2 January 2018
Duration: 14 hours 42 minutes

I had selected a window seat near the back right of the business class compartment. If you are flying on a Korean Air 777, you can tell if you have the new or old business class product based on the seat layout. The new business class product is in a 2-2-2 layout, as shown here:

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New business class product layout 2-2-2

The layout for the old business class product is in a 2-3-2 setup as shown here:

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Old business class product layout 2-3-2

It’s worth noting that the difference between the two business class products is fairly substantial. The new suites feel more spacious and more comfortable then the old ones, and if you book the window seat, far more private.

Boarding

The flight was delayed about an hour as the incoming flight from Korea was late. Once boarding began, the process was fairly efficient. The business class section was only about a third full. As mentioned above, I had selected window seat 11J.

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Seat 11J
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With the tray table down

The new business class product has staggered window and aisle seats. This makes the window seat even more private – it kind of feels like a mini suite. These seats are great for solo travelers. Also, there is a separate walkway to the aisle for each window seat, that way you don’t have to deal with your neighbor when getting up to use the restroom. A remote controlled partition can also be raised after takeoff for additional privacy. You can see how the seats work a bit better from this Korean Air website picture:

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Prestige Suites

For comparison purposes, here are the old business class seats – which were on my second flight from Seoul to Singapore:

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Old business class product on my second flight

An electronic control to the left of the seat made it easy to quickly convert the seat into a bed without having to get up – something I appreciate.

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Seat controls
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The seat reclines into 180-degree fully flat bed

Unfortunately, the bed setting was not nearly as comfortable as the bed setting on my recent Singapore Air flight.

The entertainment monitor was large and placed directly in front of the seat. It was operated by a touch screen remote.

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Back to the Future
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Touch screen remote

The seat had lots of leg room and a ledge to rest your feet on.

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Lots of legroom

The seat also included lots of storage space and a large arm rest to store glasses on.

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Pre-departure drink and peanuts

The seat also included a multi-purpose outlet and a separate USB port.

Amenities

Once boarding was complete, the flight attendants stopped by to welcome each business class passenger onboard. Amenity kits were passed out and kids received a separate gift. The amenity kits included some nice items including a good quality eye mask, toothbrush, lip balm and face cream. For what it’s worth, the products were from Davi. There was also a hair brush and a shoe horn. Hooray!

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Korean Air amenity kit

Apparently the 2018 winter olympics will be held in Korea, as the branding was everywhere and each movie / TV show opened with an advertisement for the games. You can see the Olympics branding on the bottom right of the amenity kit bag.

Waiting at the seat upon boarding was a large blanket in plastic wrap, disposable slippers, and an incredibly small pillow. I appreciate the warm blanket but the small pillow made it difficult to sleep. I ended up taking a few pillows from some of the empty business class seats around me.

Take-off

We pushed back from the gate around 1:00pm, a little over an hour late. We had a long-takeoff roll and then the seat belt sign was turned off only a few minutes later. It was a cloudless day in Virginia and there were some good views of the cold ground below as we ascended.

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Clear day
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Leaving the cold

Shortly after takeoff, an announcement was made in Korean and then an American voice came on the intercom. He said he was the pilot and welcomed us onboard. He informed us of our flight time to Korea at 14 hours and 11 minutes. The second leg of my trip – Seoul to Singapore – included a British pilot as well. I wonder how that works in the cockpit language wise – do they all speak English during the flight, or does everyone speak Korean?

Entertainment

The entertainment options on the flight were the biggest disappointment of the trip. There were about 33 Hollywood “hit” movies and a few “classic” movies. There were a lot of movies I hadn’t heard of before and only a few that seemed worth watching. The classic movies included such timeless fare as Moulin Rouge and Back to the Future. The TV options were even more sparse, a few American sitcoms – Friends and the Big Bang Theory – with only two episodes each.

Even more surprisingly, there were only 3 Korean-language movies.

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Paltry Korean movie selection

I ended up watching every TV comedy option available – which only took about an hour and a half. After that I watched a few movies, the best of which was The Big Sick and the worst was the clunker Home Again – a painfully slow movie with no chemistry between the lively Reese Witherspoon and her not-at-all believable love interest.

Great entertainment options can make a long flight pass much faster. Unfortunately, I found the entertainment options on Korean Air to be extremely wanting, especially for business class on a 14-plus hour flight. Is it too much to ask for a few full seasons of popular TV shows à la Netflix? This seems to be standard practice on United long haul flights now, even in economy. It’s never a good thing when United Airlines makes you look bad.

The one other thing that bothered me about the entertainment was the arbitrary censorship of certain movies. For example, the Big Sick was edited for content and all swear words – including the word goddamn – were beeped. Apparently the general public can’t handle that kind of salty language. Who knows what other content was removed from the movie as well.

Food

Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant came by to take each passenger’s lunch and dinner order. I was informed that dinner would be served 30 minutes before landing in Seoul, which seemed to be cutting it really close – but it actually ended up being 3 hours before landing. I ordered a glass of champagne and Bibimbap for lunch. For dinner I ordered the beef bulgogi. The menus read as follows:

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Drinks menu
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Lunch menu
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Dinner menu

The lunch started with a small seared scallop in sauce.

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Seared scallop

Then a bit of duck and salad.

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Duck

After that the main course was served.

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Korean Bibimbap

I wasn’t a huge fan of the cold Bibimbap but that’s probably more of a personal taste thing.

For dinner I had the beef bulgogi which I normally really like. Unfortunately, I found the bulgogi on this flight to be really chewy, drenched in sauce, and not all that flavorful. The rice was also a bit mushy and oddly unappetizing. I didn’t eat much of either.

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Beef bulgogi

I skipped out on the dessert and the cheese tray which was wheeled around on a cart after lunch. I had some of the seasonal fresh fruit which was definitely not in-season or fresh.

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Fruit

Overall the service was good but the food left something to be desired.

Other observations

For about 13 hours of the 14 hour flight we hit almost no turbulence. I can’t remember ever being on such a smooth flight for that length of time. Unfortunately the last hour was a bit bumpy, but nothing too crazy.

Despite being in a fully flat bed, I did not sleep particularly well on the flight. As is common on larger airplanes, it was not possible to control your surrounding temperature as there were no air vents above the seat. I went from freezing cold to burning hot and then back again during the course of the flight. Although the blanket was large and warm, the pillows were insubstantial and not very comfortable.

The entertainment options also included a standard flight tracker and two outside cameras that could be monitored during the trip. I ended up watching the landing at Incheon via the front camera.

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View as we approached Incheon Airport through the front camera

There were also some nice views out the window as we approached Seoul.

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Our flight route took us almost directly over the North Pole, then down through Russia and China and then around North Korea.

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Flight path via the onboard tracker

Here is the flight time and path from FlightAware:

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FlightAware

As you can see, the flight ended up being just 18 minutes shy of 15 hours.

One last point to note, Incheon Airport is not a good place to transit if you have a short layover before your next flight. The security line – which all transiting passengers are required to go through – is a huge mess with passengers from all incoming flights ushered into one of two lines.

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First line – not even sure what this was for

I’ve waited in one of these lines for almost an hour before. The line when I arrived this time was even longer. Fortunately, as my flight to Singapore was supposed to be leaving in only a few minutes, I was permitted, with some pleading, to skip most of the security line. In my experience the airports in Japan and Hong Kong are much better at handling transiting passengers as they have more security checkpoints.

Summary

I found my business class seat to be reasonably comfortable with lots of room and privacy, and in my opinion that’s the most important criteria for judging a business class product. Further, for a mere 75,000 miles and $34, this itinerary was a veritable steal.

 

Trip Report: Singapore to Washington DC (Flight 3: Toronto to Washington DC)

Flight 3 – Economy:

  • Toronto Canada to Washington DC (Dulles)
  • Bombardier CRJ-200
  • Operated by Air Canada Express – Air Georgian

Despite sleeping for a considerable portion of the Tokyo to Toronto flight, I was exhausted and not feeling well when we finally disembarked from the 11+ hour flight. I was hoping to get some rest and a quick bite to eat before boarding our last flight to Washington D.C.

However, reaching our final gate proved more difficult than I expected. Passengers connecting through Toronto to the U.S., go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Toronto. That meant that as soon as we disembarked in Toronto, we were shepherded into the U.S. Customs line. This had one big advantage, in that we were able to use the downtime between flights to clear immigration – which ultimately saved us time when we reached Washington D.C.

That being said, the process of clearing U.S. Customs in Toronto was slow and painful (especially after 20 hours of travel already). To start, there were three separate screening processes that we had to complete. The first was a general security line which crept along at the usual glacial pace of such lines. After finally clearing security, we were herded into a new room that separated passengers based on some unknown criteria. Certain passengers were allowed to quickly pass through this room, while we were told to queue at an Air Canada counter to discuss our itinerary.

When it was our turn in line, we presented our boarding passes and were informed that we should return to the same line we had just exited. I was baffled by the process but in no mood to question what was going on. After a short wait, we were allowed to use one of the U.S. Customs, self-serve kiosks to submit our declaration forms. I assume these automated machines are designed to expedite the immigration process. But in my experience this has not been the case.

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Automated passport control kiosks at Toronto Pearson International Airport
After scanning our passports and taking the mandatory unflattering picture, we received our “receipt” and were directed into the last and longest line.

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This line was slow!
For much of the time we were in the above line, it was serviced by exactly one Customs officer. There were long stretches of time where the line simply did not move. The middle aged lady who was manning the Customs booth should be commended for her thoroughness – she seemed to be grilling every passenger in minute detail – but it really held up the line.

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Empty U.S. Customs booths
Luckily, after about 30 minutes of waiting, a second official was activated by the powers that be. In contrast to the first, this guy new the score – get through as many passengers as quickly as possible, with little to no fuss. He simply collected the Customs receipts and let everyone pass. He probably let in 20 passengers for every one the original Customs officer let in.

After clearing the line ourselves, we were free to head to our gate. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed by about 45 minutes. After a second delay, we were able to board the small Bombardier aircraft – we were relegated to an old portion of the terminal that let passengers walk directly onto the runway (although we had a covered walkway).

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Our aircraft after landing at Dulles
I usually do not like flying on smaller planes. But this final leg of our trip, at just 1 hour in length, was incredibly smooth. There was little to note about the flight. There was just one flight attendant who was friendly and attentive. As we flew into Dulles, and not DCA, we were not privy to any great views of Washington D.C. There were some nice views of Virginia though.

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Virginia from the sky
After landing in Washington D.C., it was a relief to avoid U.S. Customs and instead go directly to baggage claim. It was a long trip and I was exhausted, but I was also glad to be home.

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Obligatory picture of the White House taken the next morning