If I had known there was going to be an aircraft change on the Hong Kong to Seoul leg, then I could have gone straight from Hong Kong to Beijing instead. After all, the only point of taking that flight to Seoul had been an attempt to hitch a ride on Asiana’s A380. But never mind. This is but a minor detour. Besides, like this I have a good excuse to make a further attempt with Asiana…
Getting to the Airport
Transport: Complimentary airport shuttle.
Frequency: Hourly shuttle at 45 minutes past the hour.
Journey time: Roughly fifteen minutes.
My flight will be leaving at around 11 o’clock in the morning, so I figure it is probably best to catch the 08h45 shuttle to the airport. The shuttle will drop you off at arrivals on the ground level. The stop for the hotel is at the far end of the terminal building, near exit 14.
Location: Korean Air checks in on rows A, B and C. First Class, Business Class and SkyPriority counters are located on row C.
Counters: There are four counters for First Class passengers, three of which are open when I arrive to check-in. There is a separate queue for First Class passengers.
I booked this ticket online. Apparently, at some point I should have contacted a Korean Air office somewhere to show them the credit card and provide evidence that I am in fact the holder of the credit card with which the ticket was paid. So I am required to show the check-in agent the card before she can issue my boarding pass. As soon as she is done, she calls one of her colleagues over to escort me through security and to make sure I make it safely to the lounge.
There is a separate channel for security for First and Business Class passengers, which is just to the right of the Economy Class entrance to security. Immigration is right behind the security check.
The Korean Air First Class Lounge
Location: After you exit immigration, turn left and then left again. Take the escalators one floor up to access the lounge.
Type of Lounge: Dedicated Korean Air First Class lounge.
Facilities: Dining area, toilets and showers, a buffet with hot and cold dishes.
Internet: Complimentary wifi available, no password required.
The lounge is nothing special really. The nice thing about it though, is that it is very big, rather empty and has excellent views of the apron. The food selection is good and the offerings change depending on the time of day. When I arrive just before ten in the morning, they are just starting to clear away the breakfast.
There is a separate queue for First Class and Business Class passengers, who also board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers use the L2.
Boarding is completed on time. The load in First Class and Business Class is light. In fact, there are just two of us sitting next to each other in First Class.
At some point, the captain comes on the loudspeaker to welcome all passengers to the flight. He announces that we have an ATC delay of sixty minutes. Two episodes of The Big Bang Theory later, he comes on the mike again to inform us that apparently there is a military exercise in progress in China and thus we should expect a further delay of another 45 minutes. Eventually we push back with a delay of 90 minutes.
Configuration: Korean Air operates the Boeing B 777-300 in two different configurations, both of which feature a First Class. While the -300ER, which serves long-haul routes, has a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, the -300 serves regional routes with a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. There is only one row of seats in First Class, so there are six seats in total.
Seat: I am sitting on 1B, an aisle seat on the port side of the aircraft. The seat is more or less identical to the Business Class seat, the difference being that there is no middle seat.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 21.1 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt power port and USB ports available, there is also a small privacy screen between each pair of seats.
Length as a bed: 78 inches.
Audio and Video: The aircraft has audio and video on demand.
The First Class cabin is served by three cabin crew, which gives an interesting ratio of passengers to crew, given that it is just the two of us. In short succession I receive a welcome drink with macadamia nuts, a scented hot towel and the menu for the flight. I am also offered a newspaper.
A pillow and slippers have already been placed at my seat. Once I am settled in, one of the crew offers me a blanket in case I might be feeling chilly.
During our wait on the ground the crew repeatedly come to ask if there was anything I needed and kept me in a constant supply of macadamias and water.
Welcome drink on the ground: Perrier with macadamia nuts.
Hot towel before the meal: Scented and served while still on the ground.
Choice: There is only one choice for the starter and dessert and two choices for the main, one Korean and one Chinese option.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Lunch.
The First Course
Lobster on a bed of ruccola and sun dried tomatoes.
The starter is very good, the ruccola is fragrant but without being bitter. The lobster is nice and chunky. The main dish is surprisingly spicy for airline food and really makes my nose run. The other passenger is having the Korean option, which is some kind of black sesame soup with noodles and two small dishes with pickles. Apparently, the soup is very bland.
The coffee is, quite simply, atrocious!
The Main Course
Spicy beef stir-fry with Chinese noodles and mixed vegetables.
Very soon we start our descent into Beijing. The cabin crew all come to say thanks and goodbye and wish me a safe continuation of my journey. As we land we glide past the impressive structure of Terminal 1, which is home to Air China, the SykTeam and a few others.
Korean Air uses the old Terminal 2, which receives all of the SkyTeam carriers.
Getting into Town
Transport: BMW sent from the hotel.
Journey time: 45 minutes with traffic.
As I exit into the arrivals hall, the representative from the Peninsula Beijing is already expecting me. The traffic in Beijing is quite simply atrocious. The journey to the hotel takes roughly 45 minutes to complete. The main issue appears to be that the Chinese do not abide by any rules when driving. Or rather, their modus operandi is to have one hand firmly on the horn and hope for the best. The traffic situation is further aggravated because there are so many accidents.
In comparison to my flight with Emirates from Bangkok to Hong Kong, the experience with Korean Air was much more polished, proving yet again that sometimes less really is more. The seat in nowhere near as garish or as flashy as the Emirates one, but on a flight of not even two hours, do you really need a lie flat anyway?
I really enjoyed the flight. It certainly helped that there were only two of us in First Class. Even so, I must say that quite frankly I really do not quite get it. I assume the flight was not full in Economy Class either. So why operate the massive B 777-300 on such a route when probably even a B 737-800 would have been perfectly sufficient?