#TBT: Review: Korean Air A380 First Class Seoul to Los Angeles

Throwback Thursday Series!

This is the second in a series of “Throwback Thursday” #TBT posts that I will release.  These will feature flights and other elements of trip reports from the past.  For now, these will all be flights, hotels or cities that I’ve taken, stayed at, or been to over the last few years.   For all of these trips, I took notes and/or wrote a review, took pictures, but never published the entry on my blog… until now.


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Korean Air First Class Lounge – Seoul Incheon

I arrived with two friends at Seoul’s Incheon Airport on an Asiana flight from Bangkok.  We had previously planned on spending some time in the city during our layover in Seoul, but a five-hour delay on Asiana put a spike through the heart of those plans.  Instead of a nine-hour layover, we were left with about four hours until our flight to Los Angeles, so we headed to the Korean First Class Lounge.

But first, some background:

This flight was smack, dab in the middle of a five-day stretch during which I felt as sick as I have in my entire life.  I’d just finished up spending a week in Thailand, where I must have eaten something bad.  Because I was sick.  Let’s just leave it there — really, really sick.

The day prior to this, I was in Myanmar.

Now, of all countries in the world where you don’t want to be in the condition that I was, Myanmar has got to be near the top of the list.  I trudged through two flights from Yangon to Bangkok and then to Seoul – most of which time I spent in the lav (TMI, I know).

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Korean Air First Class Lounge at ICN

So as I arrived in Seoul, I was feeling absolutely awful.  My goal as I entered the Korean First Class Lounge was to shower and to just start feeling better.

Well, I accomplished the first goal with a nice shower.  Unfortunately, goal number two didn’t go as well. I rested a bit, and as a result really didn’t take too many notes on the lounge.  I do specifically remember it being quite unremarkable for a First Class Lounge.  I also remember the rows of blue Korean Air planes lined up in the driving snow.

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A snowy, December day in Seoul with two B777-200s, a B777-300ER and  B747-400

Even though I felt completely awful, I was still extremely excited for my first trip on an Airbus A380.  As such, we went to the gate early to get some good pictures of the behemoth that would fly us to Los Angeles.

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Our chariot awaits! A Korean Air A380 bound for LAX!

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The massive A380

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Our Korean Air A380 with a B77W in the background at ICN

The three of us boarded first since we were seated in First Class.

Korean Air (KE) 17
Seoul-Incheon (ICN) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Aircraft:  Airbus A380-800
Seat:  2A (First)
Wednesday, December 7, 2012
3:10PM – 10:20AM (+1 day)
Duration:  11:10

There was a separate, dedicated jetway for First Class at door 1L.  I turned right and was escorted to the second seat by the window – seat 2A.  The Korean Air First Class cabin is on the main (first) deck of the double-decker A380.  There are three rows of these First Class, “Kosmo Suites” in a 1-2-1 configuration, providing an incredible amount of room.  Considering many airlines put their first class cabins on the narrower upper deck, this extra space was noticeable in comparison.

Five of the twelve First Class seats were occupied on this flight — the three of us in 1A, 2A and 3A — and a pair of younger girls in the middle two seats in row 2.

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Seat 2A in Korean Air First Class on the A380

A very nice amenity kit by Davi greeted my at my seat along with Bose QuietComfort headphones, a pair of pajamas and slippers.  As I took my seat, the wonderful flight attendant welcomed me onboard and offered me a larger size of pajamas.  She then offered me a glass of champagne.

Even though I felt like crap, who am I to turn down a glass of fancy champagne?   The champagne on this flight was Perrier-Joulet Belle Epoque 2006, which I’m told is really great.  I just sipped at it, as the last thing I felt like doing at that point was drinking alcohol.

Most importantly, a dish of macadamian nuts accompanied the champagne — so it appears protocol was followed on this flight!

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Enjoying a pre-departure glass of champagne on the Korean Air A380 First Class

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A pre-departure glass of champagne and macadamian nuts

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The Davi, First Class amenity kit

We talked to the flight attendants for a bit as they got a feel for us.  They were extremely friendly and spoke pretty good English.  I asked for a Ginger Ale in hopes to settle my stomach, and the flight attendant immediately recognized that I wasn’t feeling great.  From that point, she made it a point to take care of me and check up on me to make sure I was feeling okay.  The service throughout the flight was pretty stellar.

Boarding was completed relatively quickly for such a large plane, but we then took a 55-minute delay to de-ice the airplane since it was really, really cold outside and was snowing.  During this delay, the flight attendant offered me some facial spray mist.  Now, this must be a big thing in Korea, because the girls sitting next to me probably went through 15 bottle each during the flight.  Seriously — they sprayed themselves in the face with this mist every five minutes for the duration of the flight.  It really got obnoxious after a while.

In their defense, I must admit that the mist was downright refreshing.

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Waiting on the plane to be de-iced in Seoul

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The Korean Air First Class cabin onboard the A380

Anyways, we eventually finished up de-icing and began our journey across the Pacific as we left snowy Seoul.  When menus were distributed, the flight attendant spend a few minutes to explain it to me.  Though I wanted to try the famous Bibimbap, I didn’t think my stomach would allow it.  Instead I went with another entree — the prawns.

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The extensive Dinner Menu

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Snack and Breakfast Menu

I opted to start with a ginger ale.  Along with the drink came a “pre-drink service” of marinated apple in pomegranate with garlic cream cheese stuffed prosciutto ham.  It was presented just beautifully.  It was s shame to eat it, but it did taste pretty great.  I only had a bite or two though.  Not a bad start.

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The pre-dinner appetizer:  Marinated apple in pomegranate with garlic cream cheese stuffed prosciutto ham

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A beautiful dish– marinated apple in pomegranate with garlic cream cheese stuffed prosciutto ham

After this “pre-drink service” the flight attendant came by to meticulously set the table.  Great care was taken to place every piece of silverware in its proper place with precision.  The table setting without food looked fantastic, so I zapped a picture.

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Table Setting in First Class

I opted to decline the foie-gras for the appetizer.  Because of this, the flight attendant decided to bring me another option that seemed quite Japanese to me.  I have no idea what it was other than a type of caviar or roe and a piece of crab meat, but it was beautiful.  It was a shame to eat it, as it was once again just presented beautifully.

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The beautiful appetizer: Caviar and crab and a whole bunch of other stuff

The next course, I could eat — the soup!  I was presented with a lovely yellow bell pepper puree.  It tasted delicious, and was again presented beautifully in a large bowl.

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Yellow Bell Pepper Puree Soup

After the soup course, the flight attendants came by with the salad cart.  This was one of my favorite parts of the dinner service, as it was amazing to see just how professional and precise that the service was.  The flight attendant asked me which of the five or six toppings that I would like on my salad.  She then very carefully selected multiple pieces of lettuce and then deliberately selected the best toppings and gently placed them on my salad.  Finally, she dolluped a bit of dressing on the salad.

The salad tasted as good as it looked, and was extremely fresh.

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The salad cart — I loved this touch

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Seasonal garden greens served with a black sesame dressing

After the salad, I was pretty full and wasn’t really feeling well.  Again, I’d wished that I ordered the bibimbap, but instead went with the prawns and noodles.  I had a few bites of the entree, and it was indeed delicious.  Unfortunately, it was a bit too spicy for me to finish with my stomach being in the state that it was in.  No worries though — I really didn’t feel like eating much anyways.

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Stir-fried prawn with black bean sauce served with samlock noodle and mixed vegetable

After the entree, I did opt for some fresh fruit en lieu of the elaborate cheese tray.

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Fresh Fruit

Of course, I also chose to have dessert — and in this case it was the tiramisu.  And it was awesome.

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Tiramisu served with ice cream

After dinner, I finished up watching a movie on the large IFE screen at my seat.  The in flight entertainment system had a very nice selection of material with an intuitive remote control.  I was exhausted and decided to try to sleep for a bit.  The First Class seat reclines down into a very large bed.  I went to change into my pajamas and my bed was fully turned down upon my return.  At 6’4″, I had more than enough room to stretch out and sleep very comfortably.

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Seat 2A folded down into a bed on the Korean Air A380

As I awoke, we were approaching the coast of California, and I could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my window as we turned South as we neared San Francisco.

The flight attendant noticed that I’d woken up and immediately offered me refreshments and breakfast service.  I ordered the scrambled eggs and bacon — and they were just delicious!

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Chive scrambled egg with mushroom cream sauce served with cherry tomato, button mushroom, crispy bacon and toasted black brioche

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Chive scrambled egg with mushroom cream sauce served with cherry tomato, button mushroom, crispy bacon and toasted black brioche

After breakfast, I figured it was time to tour this airplane, as I was running out of time to do so.  After all, it was my first time on an A380 — a full, two-deck plane — and I hadn’t yet left the First Class cabin.  I started by checking out something other than the bathroom.  Apparently the First Class cabin had its own bar and lounge!  Who knew?

I’m not really sure who would use this space since the actual seats were pretty fantastic.

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The First Class Bar

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First Class Lounge and Seating Area

I then went upstairs and walked all the way to the back of business class (it stretches the entire second deck) to the Celestial Bar.  Now this is a pretty cool space where I could hangout.  The Celestial Bar is a full service bar complete with seating and a television where you can mingle with friends and/or fellow passengers.  If I felt better on this flight, I likely would have ventured back here for a drink at some point.

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The Celestial Bar for Business and First Class passengers

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The Celestial Bar

Before heading downstairs via the rear staircase (there is a forward and rear staircase on the A380), I snapped a shot of business class.  The Prestige Business Class looked very comfortable, as the seats were quite spacious and in a 2-2-2 configuration.

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Business Class Cabin on the Korean Air A380

I then went down the rear staircase to see the unique onboard duty free shop.

Yes, there is a full duty free shop onboard.

Now this seems like a gratuitous waste of space to me, but it’s a feature that Korean Air seems very proud of.  From a revenue management perspective, this just doesn’t make sense, but as a passenger it’s great.  This Korean Air configuration of the A380 is the most spacious in the industry.  Carrying just over 400 passengers, this particular configuration of the plane is much more spacious than other airlines offer, with many airlines holding upwards of 575 or more passengers on this massive airplane.

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The Onboard Duty Free Shop… I know.

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On-board Duty Free Shop Display

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Duty Free Shop Display

Finally, I walked through the Economy Class main cabin on the first deck back towards the comfort of the First Class cabin.  Economy actually didn’t look too bad.  The seats had large IFE displays and appeared to have a very nice amount of legroom (34″ of pitch, actually — which is very generous).

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The back of the bus

Without the DOT honoring mistake fares, I never would have Flown this flight!  Korean Air A380 First Class

Korean Air A380 First Class cabin

When I got back to my seat, our descent into LAX was well underway.  The flight attendants started preparing the cabin for arrival as I enjoyed watching us descend into Los Angeles on a clear and crisp December morning.

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Approaching Los Angeles

The clear, crisp day turned into a thick blanket of marine layer fog as we landed at LAX.  I enjoyed the onboard camera from the comfort of my seat.

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Landing at LAX from the onboard camera

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Approaching the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on the onboard camera

And just like that, we were back in Los Angeles.  

Of course, I wish I’d felt better on this flight.  This would have allowed me to sample more of the delicious and expertly-presented catering.  I also could have enjoyed the plane more — it was a beauty.  Instead, I had several hours of broken sleep and trips to the lav.

Being sick is no way to fly, and sadly I didn’t enjoy my experience nearly as much because I was under the weather.

The Verdict…

First of all, the plane is spacious, quiet and beautiful.  I loved the First Class “Kosmo Suite” though it lacks the privacy of some other carriers’ first class products since it has more of an open feel.  With that said, the seat was still wonderful, the IFE was fantastic, and it was a clean, good looking seat.

The service was wonderful.  As I previously mentioned, they really did take care of me and showed genuine concern that I wasn’t well.

And finally, the catering was excellent.  The presentation alone was probably the most impressive part.  The dishes that I was able to eat were really, really good.  Hopefully I’ll get to fly with Korean Air again to try the food when I’m feeling better!

All in all, Korean Air First Class is an outstanding product.  It completely surpassed my expectations.  The hard and soft product are very good and are very competitive with the best of the Asian airlines.  It blows away most US and European competition.

How I Booked It…

I booked this flight as part of the infamous Yangon mistake fare of 2012.  This particular mistake fare was  a one-way ticket from Yangon, Myanmar (RGN) to Los Angeles in First Class for $247.

Yes, $247.

On my itinerary, I flew from Yangon to Bangkok in Thai Economy Class, then from Bangkok to Seoul in Asiana Business Class (though I was upgraded to First).  Finally, the Seoul to Los Angeles segment was this flight on Korean Air in First Class.

Despite this, Korean Air was truly a first class operation, and at no point was the fact that it was a mistake fare ever mentioned.

Previous #TBT Installments:

5 Thoughts on “#TBT: Review: Korean Air A380 First Class Seoul to Los Angeles

  1. pointie on May 14, 2015 at 11:29 am said:

    Glad you made it through….I felt the exact opposite..I thought the hard product wasn’t nice at all, the IFE wasn’t great, the flat bed really wasn’t flat (the head area was elevated, which made sleeping impossible) and I thought the food was mediocre. Yes, I was in first class on the A380…..just didn’t find it impressive at all. I think what really set that into motion is that their first class lunch at ICN was very unimpressive. Doubt I’ll take that flight again – maybe when they re-vamp their first class, I’ll consider it…..but doubtful…ANA/JAL are leap years ahead of them…..

    • Sean on May 14, 2015 at 12:49 pm said:

      I think I was most impressed with the service since they really took care of me. But I will agree that ANA is heads and shoulders above KE. ANA has been my favorite first class experience to date:

  2. Dave on May 14, 2015 at 1:42 pm said:

    Your trip was 2 1/2 years ago. Is the quality of service the same today?

  3. Joey on May 14, 2015 at 2:57 pm said:

    thx for sharing with us your experience. i’ve flown a good number of A380s since 2008 mostly in economy and one thing i noticed is it is only full/overbooked during the peak season (dec-jan and a few summer months.) i actually think it was smart of KE to only have up to 400 passengersjn the plane so even those in economy will have a pleasant experience.

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