Asiana Airlines, Business Class – A 321: Naha to Seoul

Introduction

After spending four blissful days on Okinawa, the time has arrived for me to start on the long journey home. It will take me from Okinawa via Seoul to Frankfurt and then on to Basel. Today however, I will only travel as far as Seoul.

Date: 01 June 2012
From: Naha, Okinawa
To: Seoul Incheon
Airline: Asiana Airlines
Aircraft: Airbus A 321
Class: Business Class
Seat: 2F

Getting to the Airport

There is a Limousine Airport Shuttle bus – not sure where the limousine comes into it – that connects the major hotels in the greater Naha area with the airport. The journey takes about 90 minutes, mainly due to the fact that we keep stopping at various hotels. My flight leaves at 12h30. According to the bus schedule, the 08h13 bus should get me to the airport at 10h00. Not that many people seem to use the bus service and by the time we arrive at the airport the number of passengers has swelled to a mere six persons.

Check-in

The bus will drop you off at the departures level, on the third floor of the domestic terminal. To reach the international terminal, you first have to take the lift down to ground level, exit the building at the arrivals end, turn left and then walk about two minutes until you see a small, flat building. That is the international terminal.

The large departure hall of the domestic terminal.

It is about 10h05 when I arrive. Check-in for the Asiana flight to Seoul does not start until 10h40. So I settle down in a corner of the building and power up my Kindle until it is time for check-in for my flight. Most airlines seem to do their own handling here in Naha.

When eventually it is my turn to check in, the agent seems somewhat flustered. I suspect she may perhaps never before have laid eyes on a Maltese passport and does not quite know what to do with it. Eventually though, she manages and and checks me all the way through via Seoul and Frankfurt to Basel.

Airside

There is none. Instead I am given a voucher to get myself something from the snack bar at the arrivals end of the hall. With more than an hour to go before boarding starts, I decide to leave the international terminal and head over to the livelier domestic terminal.

On the fourth floor I find the lovely Royal Café, with the most godawful coffee I’ve ever had but. At lest the view of the ramp and runway is excellent. Eventually, after watching my flight arriving from Incheon, I head back to the international terminal and go through security.

My flight arriving on the inbound from Seoul.

Boarding

There is one gate in the international terminal, which has the very simple but appropriate title ‘gate’. There are only remote stands at the international terminal so we are bussed to the aircraft. Goody! I step off the bus and an ANA handling agent sees me with the camera in hand and encourages me to take some more pictures of the plane. How nice is that!

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is newer than the one of the aircraft I had on the flight from Seoul to Fukuoka. It also has slightly different seats and a newer IFE. Of the twelve seats, only five are occupied. I have all of row two to myself, so I can take as many pictures as I like completely unobserved.

The taxi to the runway is short, as the ramp for the international flights is right by the runway threshold. We wait for two aircraft to land before it is finally our turn to depart.

Service

Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. There is a choice of orange juice or water. After take-off, the cabin crew distribute immigration cards for South Korea and those lovely scented hot towels and shortly after that we are handed the menus. There are two choices for the main course.

The Crew

The crew on this flight are absolutely amazing. They are watchful, very considerate and pay a lot of attention to detail. One of the attendants sees me typing on my laptop, so before she sets my table, she opens the table of the empty seat next to me and offers to place my laptop on it while she prepares the table for lunch. Later on, once I had finished my meal she brings me a saucer to put the coffee cup on so she can remove the rest of the tray and give me more space.

The Meal

First the senior cabin attendant places a tablecloth of crisp linen on the tray table. She then asks each passenger for their choice of meal. Every passenger orders the chicken, which leads me to wonder if perhaps they have a full complement of each meal available in Business Class.

And here it is.

First Course

The salad with the shrimps. There is an Australian dressing with this.

The Main Course

Please note the ginger and the two somewhat substantial cloves of garlic. The guy as immigration will probably pass out when I give him my superstar smile…

Dessert

Very creamy, very tasty and very good.

And to drink I have a glass of Perrier.

Arrival

The meal trays are removed and I have some time to relax, enjoy the view and have a nap.

I arrive in Incheon at 14h35, slightly ahead of schedule.

After arrival I’m feeling a bit peckish again, so I head up to the mezzanine floor above departures for some soba noodles.

Getting to the Hotel

After that I take the hotel shuttle outside door 13 to the Hyatt Regency at Incheon. The drive takes maybe 5 minutes.

Asiana Airlines, Business Class – A 321: Seoul to Fukuoka

Introduction

I arrived in Seoul the previous afternoon on the Asiana Airlines flight from Frankfurt. For all practical purposes I might as well have stayed at a hotel close to the airport, seeing as Seoul’s international Incheon airport is rather far out of town. But then again, I always find airport hotels rather depressing, no matter how nice they may be.

Date: 27 May 2012
From: Seoul Incheon
To: Fukuoka
Airline: Asiana Airlines
Aircraft: Airbus A 321
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1B, aisle. Just before pushback I move to 3D, window.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport, I take the Metro line 1 from City Hall to Seoul Station and then from there the Airport Express to Incheon. The railway station of Lucerne inspired the original main building of Seoul Station. It is now closed for passengers and houses a museum instead.

The Airport Express station is on the second basement floor, the platform for the train is five floors further down on the seventh basement floor.

At Seoul Station some carriers, including Asiana Airlines, provide the possibility to do check-in and even immigration. I’ll have to try this some other time as I only have four minutes to spare before the train leaves.

Check-in

Once I arrive at the airport, I find the Asiana Airlines check-in counters to check if they will accept the SWISS branded boarding card I was issued in Basel two days previously. The agent looks at my passport, tells me everything is fine and writes the number of the gate on the boarding card for me.

After that I head for security, which, although very busy, is also highly efficient. After security and emigration I head for the Asiana lounge one floor up.

The Lounge

The receptionist welcomes me to the lounge and tells me that I need to exchange my SWISS boarding pass for an Asiana Airlines branded one first. Fortunately the transfer counter is right opposite the entrance to the lounge. So I do that, no idea what the point of all this is though, and then return.

The lounge is elegantly appointed, but there are a few odd items: a piano that does not make a sound and shelves of faux books – covers with empty pages.

The lounge is not too full and I manage to secure a comfortable seat by the window. I pass my time watching the action on the ramp.

Boarding

When I arrive at the gate I find my bird standing there with a bunch of engineers peering into the left engine. The cowling is open. It is only when I take a closer look that I realise they are doing an engine test. Standing so close to it the noise must be deafening. The gate attendant announces that there will be a delay for technical reasons. Indeed!

Eventually boarding commences some thirty minutes behind schedule. But the flight time is calculated at just under one hour, so we are able to make up time en route. By the time we arrive in Fukuoka we are only 15 minutes behind schedule.

The Cabin

Asiana Airlines has a dedicated Business Class on its Airbus narrow-bodies. There are three rows with four seats on each row, for a total of twelve seats. The colours and patterns are the same as in First Class on the B 747-400. The seat is incredibly wide, has amazingly soft cushions, a footrest and is tremendously comfortable.

Amenities

I arrive at my seat to find earphones, the menu and a pair of slippers placed in the seat pocket.

Take-off is to the north and as soon as we get airborne we experience some heavy turbulence which lasts for about 20 minutes during the climb. We bank to the right, making sure to avoid getting even remotely close North Korean airspace.

The Crew

There are two flight attendants working the Business Class section on this flight. Again the crew seem friendly enough. Service begins with one of the flight attendants passing through the cabin with the customs and immigration forms for Japan.

While we’re still on the ground and once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant passes through the cabin offering either water or orange juice for a welcome drink. This is followed by a hot towel.

The Meal

When eventually the fasten seat belt sign goes off, my table is set with a crisp linen tablecloth.

Every passenger is served a tray individually from the galley, not from a trolley. And here’s what we get:

Miso soup

I have a Perrier to drink and then later on a coffee. During the meal the crew serve green tea.

Arrival

The approach into Fukuoka is pretty spectacular. First we fly in over the sea, along the cost. Then we bank right and fly right over the city towards the hills in the background. The hills begin to close in around the aircraft and you begin to wonder where on earth you are actually going. I hear the sound of the autopilot being disengaged and shortly thereafter we bank sharply to the left to execute a 180 degree turn at an interestingly low altitude. It reminds me a bit of the approach to Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport. Eventually we come out of the turn, the wings are levelled again and we gracefully glide down onto the runway. Nice one captain!

Getting into Town

Fukuoka has an international terminal and a domestic terminal, which are located on either side of the runway. There is the metro into town from the domestic terminal. To get there I take the free shuttle across the airfield, the route of which actually takes you airside again. It is an interesting route and runs between the masts of the approach light markings as you round the runway threshold. Once you reach the other side, the bus passes another  gate and you find yourself landside once again.

The only problem on this particular occasion is that the bus is stifling. It is so hot and muggy that it takes your breath away. But luckily the journey does not take too long to complete.

The domestic terminal is divided into sections, although I am not exactly sure according to what criteria. One would expect there to be separate sections for ANA and for JAL, but that does not seem to be the case.

The trip into town only takes 5 minutes by metro. I get out at the second stop, which is Hakata main station. From where there are connections onto the JR Shinkansen mainline routes. My hotel is in a shopping mall complex known as Canal City and is some 10 minutes away from the station on foot.

Conclusion

On this flight Asiana Airlines certainly showed consistency in its service in that the flight, although a very short one, was equally pleasant as my trip from Frankfurt to Seoul with them the previous day. The Business Class seat is positively enormous and the crew were pleasant, professional and charming. The food is possibly a matter of taste. Asiana Airlines are certainly catering for the Japanese market here. I like Japanese food, so I don’t mind. But I can imagine there may be people who would not have enjoyed this meal so much.