Posts tagged Trip Report
Korean Air, First Class – Seoul to Hong Kong – Trip Report

I have a habit of grabbing one of those tiny jars of Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream whenever I'm passing by a lounge, and this time is no exception. I’m spending a few more minutes at the Korean Air First Class lounge munching away on my cold treat along with a plate of fruits, checking my phone to make sure I head off in time to gate 17 and my Hong Kong flight.

This lounge is not all that different form Asiana’s nearby first class offering and quite far from what you would expect at Lufthansa’s first class terminal and lounges. Still, it’s perfectly decent and trying out the shower facilities was great having had a bit of a non-optimized journey from Seoul to the Incheon airport. Time flies and I should get going, the font desk lady promptly rises from her seat, bows, smiles and says good bye when I pass by, as per Korean customer service protocol, and I manage to almost send myself tumbling down the escalator as I bump into a steel structure on my way down. Manage to stay stabilized, though.

A few more minutes of walking and I'm at the gate, making my way through the priority boarding lane, I turn left into the beloved first class jetway and at the very moment I step onto the aircraft I'm greeted by a flight attendant and escorted to seat number 3J. Korean Air has opted to have their A380 first class cabins on the main deck, providing a slightly less intimate feel than what you would get on a typical A380 with the first class cabin positioned on the upper deck. Adding to the lack of intimacy is the the somewhat clinical interior with its white, grey and trademark turquoise shades, but still, it's a new, fresh and perfectly decent first class cabin and the seats are comfortable with no blocked windows. Love that. This pic gives you an idea of what the first class seats look like.

As I settle down and put my stuff in the various compartments, a flight attendant walks by offering a pair of headphones, but they're similar to my own and we agree that I'll stick with the Bose set I already have. Then, a few minutes before pushback, the purser in charge and the first class cabin’s senior flight attendant both stop by to introduce themselves in a very polished, slightly formal way. It's done a notch above the first class experiences I've had in the past where the purser is the only one to do the pre-flight greeting. A few moments later we're clear of the jet bridge and this being an A380, I can’t resist bringing up the tail camera on the 23 inch flatscreen I have in front of me, watching as we move towards the runway. Love that camera.

The KE607 flight to Hong Kong only lasts about 3.5 hours and the meal service kicks in as soon as we've reached our cruising altitude, the schedule being a bit tight for a proper first class dinner service. I ask for some pink bubbly, yep, awesome, and ask to have the bibimbap main course option. By now I have had a bazillion different bibimbaps in the air but I simply can’t resist having the Korean signature dish one more time.

A younger flight attendant starts setting up my table and Korean Air has, by far, the most elaborate way of doing this, ever. All items are carried on a small silver tray and placed in front of me with immaculate precision and care. She spends a few minutes making sure everything is laid out perfectly, it feels like forever and I start getting a bit uncomfortable not knowing what to say or do while she executes her table setup procedure, I end up going with a cheerful »thanks!«.

First up is the appetizer, »Garlic cream cheese and yam terrine with crabmeat and persimmon jelly on goat cheese«. Nice looks, nice taste. I stay on the pink bubbly throughout the meal.

A »Carrot cream soup« is up next and seriously, this is one of the best soups I've ever had, be it on the ground or up in the air. Fantastic.

Once I'm done with the delicious soup, a salad with mixed greens arrives with a choice of yoghurt or korean dressing. Good crunch, decent taste.

And then, the bibimbap. Not quite as big of a meal as the one served in Asiana's first class, but it's still a lot of food. It tastes good, fresh and ends up being a solid bibimbap, though my favorite in-air version is still the one I got on a Lufthansa flight out of Seoul in business class a few years back. 

What happens next is a bit interesting. They remove all traces of the main dish, make sure I'm comfortable, and after a while the dessert tray comes out, manned by both the senior flight attendant who presented herself right before pushback, and her younger colleague. I ask to have the green tea ice cream and some fresh fruit and the junior flight attendant is just about to put the ice cream in front of me when the senior woman intercepts mid-air, says something in Korean, and in a split second she rearranges the entire table setup – cloth, glasses, cutlery, everything – into absolute perfection. And then proceeds to serve the ice cream and fruit herself. I have no clue what just happened, but it was stunningly amazing. What a professional. The perfectionist in me gets all warm and fuzzy as I dig into the green thing. Lovely.

The ice cream has a somewhat funny taste to it, this being the first time ever I try the green tea variety. Still, a good experience and I love that they put a few cherries on the fruit platter. Good stuff.

By now I'm all full and our giant Airbus will soon start descending towards Hong Kong, so I jump out of my seat to explore the aircraft. I know the Korean Air configuration has a few extra surprises up its sleeve and I'm eager to check them out. There should be two bars and a tax free shop. Slightly insane, I know. I miss out on getting a drink as they are packing down things in preparation for landing, but I make sure to walk through both bars, located on each end of the all-business class upper deck. I skip the tax free shop and head back to my seat, strap myself in, and bring the tail camera back up. And whoa.

What a sight. 

It's pitch black outside, but as we pass through a layer of scattered clouds the landing lights get switched on, and the tail camera captures everything perfectly as we're swooshing through the clouds, lit by the light beams, and the sensation is so hard to wrap up in words but it looks incredibly awesome, like an action scene straight out of a playstation game, with an insane sense of speed and kinetics as brightly lit clouds appear out of nowhere with our fuselage cutting straight through them like a rocket. The clouds soon disappear as the plane gets closer to HKG, strobing runway lights in sight, we touch down pretty hard, roll out, taxi, gate, disembark, bye, and boom, I'm in Hong Kong. And everyone in economy stayed calm, no fistfight this time around.

By now it's 11pm and I'm crazy tired, I pick up my bags, go grab a burger and then walk over to the Regal Airport Hotel. Can't wait to get some sleep.

I'm glad I got to try a first class product outside the good old Star Alliance network, and despite being a short trip, Korean Air did deliver a pretty great experience with a few touches I haven't seen elsewhere – such as the insane attention to detail during meal service, and some of the formalized passenger interactions. And of course, the two bars and the tax free shop add to the experience. Good stuff.

As always, if you're looking for a ton of pics, check out the trip reports over at The Australian Frequent Flyerairliners.net (a business class trip report, but with a ton of good photos of the cabin, bars, tax free shop and more) and Life According to Kai (yet another business class one with a ton of photos).

Lufthansa, First Class – Frankfurt to Houston – Trip Report

It's a nice summer morning and I'm in the back seat of a Mercedes with a German business guy next to me, looking out the window as we pass an endless stream of planes crossing the tarmac. The car comes to a halt right next to »München«, the Lufthansa A380 we are about to board. The business guy turns out to be a cheerful one and asks the driver to take a few pics of him in front of the plane, even offering to take a photo of me in the same way. I decline politely (but end up regretting it) and walk around for half a minute or so while they do their photo shoot. And man, that aircraft. It's big. Insanely big. You never really get a sense of the size of these things when boarding straight into the plane through a jet bridge. From up close it's all a bit overwhelming, the scale, the wings, everything. I totally screw up my chance of getting a few great pictures, but I do get two of the engines… 

We jump into the elevator, push the »A380 level 2« button, exit right into the upper deck bridge and make our way past the poor business class people lining up to have their credentials checked at the door. A few moments later my bag goes into the locker and I'm settled and good to go in 2K. A flight attendant comes by asking if she may offer me some champagne and ah, yes of course, and boom, I find myself sipping away on a glass of Tattinger, watching the world outside. Lufhansa's first class setup gets you three unobstructed windows and a pretty decent view of what's happening.

After a while we line up for take off, engines kicks in, the journey along the runway is smooth and quiet, our A380 rotates and we're off, passing through a layer of scattered clouds and quite a bit of turbulence. The aircraft levels off and the purser comes by, greeting everyone by name and handing out menus. He says »welcome back« and manages to produce a flawless pronunciation of my last name, something that pretty much never happens. And I'm a bit surprised that they keep track of my previous first class adventures with Lufthansa and adjust their greeting accordingly. Nice work.

I ask to have the meal service right away and go with the lamb as my choice of main course. Now, things are a bit different these days as Lufthansa recently changed the first class dining concept and it seems there are a few glitches yet to be fixed. The flight attendant asks if I would prefer the soup or the sorbet as part of the multi-course set menu, I opt for the soup, but she returns a few minutes later apologizing and letting me know no soup has been loaded. I ask for the sorbet instead, but it turns out they have run out of that option too, only having loaded four units. No big deal though.

Everything kicks off with the usual caviar service followed by a selection of starters. The vertical étagère setup of the old days has gone horizontal and each starter plate is placed on a larger, rectangular plate. But you're still free to choose any combination of what's available and I end up choosing the crab, the veal and a salad. Everything is fairly tasty but not too spectacular. And, surprisingly, they mange to get me a sorbet after all, though it suffers from the exact same ice crystallization issue as the ANA chocolate sorbet a few months ago. Despite the icy texture it turns out to be quite tasty. 

The lamb is decent but again, not spectacular. Next up is the dreaded dessert tray, capable of eroding a ton of hours at the gym in a few short minutes. I try to stay semi-healthy and ask only to have the white chocolate dessert with curry crumbles and pickled pineapple, along with cup of green tea. They wrap everything up with chocolate pralines and the flight attendant insists I try at least three, resistance is futile, and I end up munching my way through a bunch.

Time to get a bit of sleep. No need to become all acrobatic with the two giant lavatories providing ample space to change into the Lufthansa PJ pants with ease. My seat has magically been transformed while I was away, and it may sound a bit weird but I love being in horizontal mode 30,000 feet up in the air in a fully made bed, with decent Korean pop music pumping through my headphones. Gets my brain into some sort of hyper creative slash relaxing zone. Good stuff, really. 

After a while I do manage to get what seems to be a few hours worth of sleep. I wake up and a flight attendant comes by offering a decent range of midnight snacks and I go with a few small sandwiches, some grilled vegetables and a macaron cookie. Ahh, those macarons. They'll kill me eventually, I'm sure. Just too good to resist.

The first class seat on the Lufthansa A380 is really quite good. Easy to relax in, pretty great in bed mode and there's a couple of decently sized storage spaces. It does lack a bit of privacy compared to the first class suites offered on other airlines but with the privacy screen raised (pic below) it's not too bad. And I do like the rose with its tiny, dedicated mini spotlight.

A bit more sleep, I wake up in a haze, jump into the lav to change back out of the PJ pants just before the second serving kicks in two hours before touchdown. They run a Mexican themed lunch this time around with a couple of different options served from the trolley, again it's all fairly decent but nothing too amazing. Touch down, taxi and we're just about to get off when the jet bridge breaks down and all upper deck passengers have to go down the cabin stairs and exit from the lower deck. They do hold the remaining economy passengers until everyone in first class is off, but the race to immigration is lost. Still, it's not too bad and within an hour or so I'm re-checking my luggage and head over to my connecting flight.

✈ 

Lufthansa really knows how to run proper ground service and the First Class Terminal setup works exceptionally well in Frankfurt. The A380 first class cabin is nice and airy but comes at the slight cost of privacy, though the seat is really good, especially in bed mode. As usual the in-flight service with Lufthansa is friendly, efficient and slightly informal. The only slightly disappointing thing this time around was the food – perfectly decent but nothing special, and quite far from what I've had on previous Lufthansa flights in first. If you're looking for a trip report with tons of pics of the cabin, head over to One mile at a time

Update
I had another unplanned segment with Lufthansa in first class a week later, going from Chicago to Munich on an A340 with the refitted cabin, and the food they served was excellent. It seems the less-than-stellar catering of my flight to Houston was more of a temporary dip in quality. The pic below is from the Munich flight, showing the new horizontal starter plate setup (apologies for the random focus, I'm apparently still not able to handle my new camera in a proper way).

ANA, First Class – Tokyo to London – Trip Report

I’m way beyond my comfort zone being up and awake despite the early hour. There’s a bit of a breeze in the Tokyo Saturday morning air, a few birds are doing their thing while the Park Hyatt people get a cab to come pick me up. Shinjuku Station, Narita Express, and boom, end station, Terminal 1. I get my bags and head up to departures.

ANA runs a separate first class check-in area in the south wing, discreetly tucked away in the east end corner. The glass door slides open and I get a hot towel while the ultra-efficient agent sends me and my bags off to Heathrow. It’s by no means a Lufthansa First Class Terminal equivalent but it’s certainly friendly, efficient, and very Japanese. In a good way. Security, immigration, a quick walk, escalators, a brief visit to the Suite Lounge and I get myself a tiny, tiny breakfast before heading down to the gate. Don’t want to disrupt the upcoming and slightly insane in-flight meal. Boarding is swift and I make yet another lovely left turn when the jet bridge splits in two, I'm greeted by a few flight attendants and settle down in 2K. I opt for a pre-departure serving of chilled green tea, the purser introduces herself and I kick back to relax.

I quite like the ANA Square first class product on the 777. It’s a classic 1-2-1 setup over two rows, with large seats in a mix of light wood and dark blue fabrics. Lights and vanity mirrors are everywhere as, naturally, you do want to make sure you look stunning after having downed a healthy amount of champagne and caviar. And multiple storage spaces allow for easy handling of all your devices, magazines, shoes and what other stuff you may have. There are only two drawbacks, none of which are big – you might miss having a sliding door to create your own little upscale travel cocoon, and most of the nearby windows are blocked by the seat wall, effectively disrupting the panoramic mega view you might be used to when traveling in first class on long haul.

 

Two flight attendants are working the first class cabin, one is young and a tiny bit nervous at times, yet sharp and professional and we end up having a nice conversation about onsen bathing. She seems rather amused when I explain my ventures into remote corners of Kyushu, hunting for onsen awesomeness. The second and more senior one of the two runs the overall show and has an impressively relaxed command of every detail. Great timing, just the right bit of attention and perfect second-guessing of what's needed. When asked I opt for the Krug variety of bubbles and request to have caviar service and the full kaiseki meal, not a problem at all, and the food service springs into action soon after.

Ahh, yes, the food.

It’s insane.

I have absolutely no clue what magic ANA is up to but pretty much everything tastes as if it was made right before serving. It’s all prepared and served with perfect pacing, and yes, having an incredibly tasty Japanese dinner, a glass of equally tasty Krug and a stunning view of a few fluffy, scattered clouds at 30,000 feet is… really something. Love it.

The kaiseki serving wraps up and the young flight attendant asks if, perhaps, I might be interested in any of the desserts from the western menu and why yes indeed, of course I might. A brief look at the options, the »Tarte Yu chaude au chocolat, sorbet au chocolat« one looks good, a cup of green tea would be perfect too, thank you, and a few minutes later it's all delivered along with a small plate of petit fours – one of which turns out to be a lemon macaron. Fantastic.

As it happens, the chocolate sherbet part of the dessert is the only thing across the entire meal service not being absolutely top notch – the scoop is a bit too frozen with ice particles scattered across the surface. But by now I'm insanely happy with just about every detail of the flight and a few ice crystallization issues won't derail any of the overall satisfaction.

Being four passengers in an eight-seat cabin is a perfect setup. We're all in window seats and the four empty mid section seats are turned into beds towards the end of the meal service, allowing each of us to transition between a bed and a seat whenever we may wish to do so. I change into a blue pair of ANA PJ pants, move my plate of petit fours over to the bed seat to have them on midnight snack standby and settle down for a movie and some subsequent sleep. I notice the flight attendants discreetly checking on each of us every 10 minutes or so throughout the night, should we be in need of service. As always, it takes a few hours of trying until I'm finally drifting into dreamland.  

ANA First Class, Square seat in bed mode

I do manage to get a few hours worth of sleep before they wake me up in time for the second serving. The range of food options available at any time during the flight is pretty impressive:

  • Hot Japanese udon noodles garnished with deep-fried various ingredients
  • Bowl of rice topped with soy sauce-cured sea bream
  • Tea-and-rice with simmered Murakami beef
  • Chinese ramen noodles with Welsh onion in miso-based soup
  • Beef and vegetable soup Hungarian style with cheese crouton
  • Croque-monsieur
  • Chicken and mushroom curry

In addition to these alternatives, two separate full courses, one Japanese and one European, are available during the second serving and they invite you to select whatever combination you may want. I go with the udon noodles and a plate of fresh fruit. Delicious.

Even though I would have wanted the second serving to continue for a few hours more, it wraps up eventually, London peeks through a layer of scattered clouds, Heathrow in sight, touchdown, a bit of taxiing all over the tarmac, jet bridge connects, and the lovely ANA experience comes to an end. In a haze of sleep deprived confusion I then try to enter UK through immigration, totally forgetting about my connecting flight, but I'm intercepted and sent off towards Terminal 4 instead.

Thank you, random official airport person.

Lufthansa is up next.

The flight with ANA in first class was a pretty amazing thing. Ground services did lack the sophistication offered by some other airlines, but the in-flight experience – and especially the food part – was pretty insane. Can't wait to get back on board. If you're looking for trip reports with a ton of pics, head over to FlyertalkAirways and Travels or Flight-Report (this one has great photos).

Asiana, First Class – Frankfurt to Seoul – Trip Report

Frankfurt Airport, not too long ago. I'm walking down the good old maze of stairs leading down to the underground walkway connecting the A gates with the B ones. Relaxed. Walking, not running. Can't remember last time that happened, I usually bet on someone inventing the art of teleportation just prior to my flight leaving a B gate, realize it probably won't happen after all and end up running like crazy to make it before they close up the gate, and I always get there just in time, being halfway dead when they blip my boarding pass and wave me through.

But not this time. A nice stroll along the walkway, up the stairs, through passport control, and I'm at the gate. No rush. A few minutes later I make a left when the jet bridge splits in two, three flight attendants thank me for flying Asiana today and one of them escorts me to 3A. The first class cabin on Asiana's 747 fleet has been around for some time and it shows – plastics are in various shades of beige and and the hardware is certainly not on par with more recent first class cabins, but it's not bad by any means. And being in the nose of a jumbo jet is a pretty good thing, regardless. Views are great, the cabin is spacious and there is no through traffic. A perfect place to be when cruising along at 30.000 feet.

We get going, take off, nose wheel comes up with a thud and we're flying through a never ending layer of dense, milk white clouds, it takes forever and I'm gazing into a thick soup of nothingness and boom, in a split second we break through into clear skies, still climbing. Soft, fluffy clouds spread out underneath us, into infinity, draped in pink by a sun just about to dip beneath the horizon. It's the most stunning sky I have ever seen and before I know it my brain jolts into sensory beauty overload mode and my jaw drops, unconsciously, literally. Never had that happen before, ever. My camera is stuck in the overhead bin but then again, no pic would come anywhere close to representing the real-life experience, so let's leave it at that.

After a while the 747 levels off and the brilliant in-flight service kicks in. Anything to drink? Certainly. I opt for a glass of the »1999 Pol Roger, Cuvée Winston Churchill«. Seems like a decent choice. Deep, yellow, tasty. I look through the menu and having tried a range of bibimbaps at 30.000+ feet over the last few years I'm eager to see what this one may be like. Thus, when prompted, I ask to have the western starters and Korean main course, not realizing i'll be pushing the volumetric limits of my stomach right into a nearby galaxy. They proceed to set my table and add a rose to the setup, yellow rather than Lufthansa's red.

The caviar setup kicks off the meal service. Tasty, as always. I ask for way too much bread but manage to shove it all down and start to get rather full with most of the starters yet to come. Clearly I should not have grabbed those German wursts in the lounge before the flight. Bad, bad planning. The rest of the starters are served at a steady pace and they are all pretty decent and not too big, but I'm still going from full to mega full. And then comes the bibimbap.

About two full main courses spread across a metric ton of china. Not bad. And it's tasty. But by now there is no room left for more food. That won't stop me, of course, and I somehow manage to consume pretty much everything save for the big fish thingy. I decline dessert but opt for green tea, the cheese platter and some fruit. A bit insane at this point, sure, but it works out fine, save for the fact that I'm pretty much unable to move. Not much of a problem though since I'm spending the next hour watching what remains of »Zero Dark Thirty« on my laptop.

Once the movie wraps it's sleep time and I head off to the lavatory to change into the PJ pants. A flight attendant intercepts, asking me to hold for a few seconds while she makes sure everything is top notch inside. And while I'm doing some acrobatics getting out of my skinny black jeans and into the Asiana branded pants in a lavatory the size of a tin can, they perform the in-flight equivalent of turndown service – when I'm back my seat has been magically turned into a bed, duvet and all. Again, the age of the hardware is rather apparent and the bed mode is not on par with more modern offerings. I keep hitting my legs on what seems to be a wooden bar folded into the leg rest part of the bed but still, it's fine and I won't blame my chronic inability to get in-flight sleep on the seat.

In the end I do manage to get 30 minutes or so of sleep before they wake me up. I really don't need breakfast given the insane amounts of food I had earlier but hey, breakfast sounds good and I go with the western option, running through granola, yoghurt, fruits and tea and we break through the clouds, Korean islands in sight, touching down at Incheon a few moments later. As per usual they hold up the business passengers until every one of us in first has deplaned, bye bye, and I'm in the jet bridge. Hello Korea.

All in all, a lovely trip in the sky. And even though they managed to miss a few drink orders – not something you'd expect with Asiana – the service was still amazing. Trip reports with tons of pics are available over at Frequently FlyingOne Mile at a Time and Flyertalk.

(Oh, and apologies for the crappy focus in some of the photos. Just got myself a new camera and it seems I shouldn't be entrusted with it just yet…)