This is the second part of a two-leg journey from London to Manila. The legs involved in this journey are listed below. Click on the other leg for more details about it.
As disappointed as I was that my seven-year stay in Britain was drawing to a close, one parting gift was I would get a chance to fly home using business class yet again on another airline. It took me over a week to decide which airline I would ride. Initially I was leaning towards Asiana because I would be on a 5-star carrier and its new A350. Also, the price of £2,500 one-way for that was not so bad given that flights to Manila were pricey for obvious reasons. It also would allow me to go lounge-binging again since it was Star Alliance and there were two lounges to enjoy: Lufthansa and Singapore Air. However due to factors beyond my control I was unable to book on time. There were flights left earlier in the week but due to other matters, those were a few days too early for me. Turkish Airlines was an alternative but due to it being a 3-star airline, it left me with some doubts. Etihad was also a possibility but it was a bit too pricey. Don't get me started with Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Other than the fact that they cost twice as much, the extremely short layover time meant it was not worth it. Yes, for business class flights, I value the quality time spent at the hub and soaking up a carrier's signature lounge at that hub.
At the last minute however, a seat opened up with Korean Air. Prices were more or less similar to Asiana. Plus, one gets to stop by Seoul-Incheon, which I know has an excellent airport. I would be getting about 3 hours and 45 minutes worth of stopover time, plenty of time to enjoy the airport and/or the lounge. As soon as I got the payment method sorted out, we booked it. I felt too that Korean Air would make for an interesting experience since it would be my first time in 34 years to fly with this carrier. Korean Air was in fact the very first carrier that I ever flew with, so there was some sentimental value.
As I was doing my research on whether Korean Air was a reasonable alternative to Asiana, one thing that I stumbled upon was the fact that Korean Air is in the process of considering whether to acquire Asiana. It is fascinating in that it is a case of a 4-star carrier acquiring a 5-star carrier. But as the process is unlikely to materialise until at least 2024, we will cross the bridge when we get there. It will be business as usual for both carriers until then, at least in terms of their distinct identities, service offerings, amenities, alliances, etc.
I was quite lucky that the flight was assigned to a gate immediately next to a transfer point. I forgot my coat which had my passport and boarding card in it (it would not be the last time this would happen on this journey!). Luckily the staff was helpful in helping me retrieve it. In less than two minutes, I got the coat back intact.
Security was quite efficient. Despite the staff referring my bag for a further search, they were professional in how to return my stuff to how they found them.
Once it was done, I was on my way to enter the transit area. Incheon was a real ghost town. Only a dozen-ish flights were slated to depart for the rest of the day.
Around the terminal, one can find some robots that can assist passengers. Many shops were also closed.
The Korean Air Prestige class lounge had plenty of seating. But first, I needed to take a shower - the facilities to do that were open, available, clean, and complete with what was needed. Luckily I could store my other stuff in one of the lockers provided right after the reception desk.
TIP: Although Korean Air has two Prestige class lounges, only one of them is currently operational due to the pandemic.
It had an adequate variety of refreshments. I had to be careful not to eat too much though as dinner will be served for my next flight. I had some muffins and some braised chicken.
I spent most of my time reading stuff and watching a video or two on my devices. The seat I was on featured a charging station. The wifi at the lounge was fast for public standards, about 50 Mbps.
Later on, I spent about 20 minutes in the relaxation area getting an automated massage. That room is much quieter and good for those who need time away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the lounge. I took a few more pictures of the lounge, then watched a few minutes of TV in a semi-private room.
The plane used for my second flight was indeed the same one that flew us from London. You can read the report from the first leg for more details of the seat/seating area's features. I was seated at the very front of the aircraft this time. But once I was on board, I was immediately reminded that I was taking a regional flight. For one, there were no paper menus and they replaced the noise cancelling headsets with ones that economy class passengers would normally use. But slippers were also provided (though not a full amenity kit). The flight attendants would verbally tell us what is on offer and take our orders.
Also, one difference between seat 1A and 2A is the former has one fewer window than the latter.
In no time, we were already pushing back from the gate and making our way towards the runway.
The captain has switched off the seatbelt sign five minutes after takeoff.
The cabin crew immediately began meal service. I chose the beef bulgogi meal. From the presentation of the meal, one can also tell the difference between a regional and long-haul Korean Air business class flight: they used plastic dinnerware on us and served everything in one go. Luckily for Korean Air, I am not Youtuber Nonstop Dan, who tends to be overly critical about F&B presentation (see his video review below to know what I am talking about). Salmon was served as part of the appetisers. I enjoyed eating the beef bulgogi meal I requested.
After the meal service, I made a quick walk around of the rest of the aircraft. I observed from economy class that it was a light flight, i.e. few passengers.
Whilst there, I grabbed a second pillow from an empty seat, settled in, closed the door of my "suite", and put the seat in the all-to familiar bed mode. I spent most of the time either taking a nap or listening and reading with something on my iPad. The crew tried to make be feel more comfortable by putting the table back in the stowed position.
The contents of the IFE were similar to the first flight so I didn't bother with it very much.
Shortly before descent, the crew told us that only one door will be operational and that meant business and economy class passengers would share the same door to leave the plane.
This flight ran in to more turbulence than the first flight. For the better part of the final half hour, the seatbelt sign remained on. Like on my first flight, I played Kpop songs whilst the plane was descending and making a final approach. I also took the opportunity to turn on the camera mode to see a front view of the aircraft.
Before we knew it, we were on the ground. I requested a final photo of me sitting on what was normally a first class seat. Then I realised I forgot my coat again. Luckily I spotted it on the jet bridge and a member of staff promptly found it for me. It meant though that I was further back in the queue.
TIP: If you are seated in Cosmo 2.0 seats, the first thing you should do after the seat belt sign switches off is to check the closet!!! It can be easy to miss that there's a closet.
It was a really long wait. All passengers had to stay at a holding room. There was a flight from the Middle East that needed to be processed first and unlike my flight from Seoul, that one had many passengers. We waited for more than an hour before it was our turn to get processed. The protocol was to reduce mixing with passengers from other flights (mixing of passengers from other flights could increase the risk of COVID).
TIP: At the moment, passengers bound for the Philippines should fill register for a one health pass QR code before arriving at the airport (but no earlier than 24 hours before flight). Be sure you have your RT-PCR test and vaccination records from the government health authorities ready - where possible it should be digital (i.e. with a QR code that states the vaccine lot numbers). Make sure you book your hotel arrangements at a government-approved accommodation before your flight.
Also, if you have a booked flight to the Philippines, please be sure to check for updates every day as entry restrictions can change at anytime. At the time this was written, the quarantine period was shortened to three days but at around the time I left the UK, there was buzz about the new Omicron variant and shortly after returning, many countries, including the Philippines, tightened restrictions.
We had to queue up to present our code and go to another holding area to get our accommodations confirmed.
Then we had to go through passport control, claim our bags. One new procedure though was that at customs, almost all passengers needed to have their bags screened. At the exit, we had to queue at designated lanes and I told them I was not an OFW (since I was not one anyway). This meant we had to tell the coast guard on duty where our hotel was and when our transport arrived, we were on our way.
These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score. Also, please note that given the COVID-19 pandemic, expectations have been adjusted accordingly. This covers aspects of the flight experience that Korean Air and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Business Class.
- Lounge (9/10): This was certainly a step up from the contracted lounge that I used at Heathrow. The shower facilities were online. The variety of food was more plentiful. And one can use the massage chairs.
- Boarding Process (10/10): I was one of the last to board so the queues were not an issue
- Seat Comfort (10/10): Luckily for me, I got to sit in a seat that was otherwise marketed as first class. It had doors that closed, a wide seat that reclines to become a full-flat bed. Massive storage compared to a "standard" business class! I don't think I have a right to complain one bit with this.
- Food (8/10): I enjoyed the food. The main course was served warm and was delicious. My main criticism though goes to its presentation. Even Cathay Pacific and Philippine Airlines serve meals in full "business class style" on tighter timetables for flights between Manila and Hong Kong. It was nothing like the long-haul sector.
- Cabin Crew (9/10): The crew was pretty professional. I appreciated that they approached each of us to tell us where to exit. It would have helped if they asked me though whether I wanted the tray table down but it was a fairly minor issue.
Punctuality (10/10): Flight was on time all throughout.
- In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (6/10): The IFE firmware was pretty responsive. There was one USB power port and one standard AC outlet for those who want to use their laptops or charge their tablets. Contents were not as massive as Cathay Pacific or Emirates. Also, they gave us the headsets that were reserved for economy class. But the real let down was a lack of in-flight wifi.