All good things must come to an end, but not necessarily entirely, and not necessarily right away.
After two busy days in Seoul, I was up at 5:00 am to catch a very early Limousine Bus out to Seoul Incheon for a 9:00 am flight to Hong Kong with Asiana Airlines.
I was (pardon me if you’ve heard this line before) excited about this flight. I’ve flown with Asiana before, flying NRT-ICN-FRA in F on the 744 Combi last year, but this would be my first time in J with OZ. This flight is on also on 744 Combi, so I figured I’d get a chance to try the hard product upstairs. However, when I called in for seat selection, the agent asked if I’d prefer upstairs or downstairs, so clearly F was not being sold for this flight, and First Class hard product was being offered to Business Class passengers. For a moment, I debated it – is it better to be upstairs or in the nose on the 744? Should I try a new hard product, or go with a very good hard product that I’ve flown before? Well, pretty much any flight on a 744 is special in its own Queen of the Skies romantic kind of way, and ultimately “try out a new hard product” lost out to “sit in a First Class seat instead of a Business Class seat,” particularly since going downstairs means guaranteed 1x1 seating, whereas upstairs, there was always the chance of having a seatmate.
Unfortunately, 1A/K were not available, so I had to settle for slumming it in the second row in the nose, picking 2K for my seat.
The Limousine Bus did its job as usual, and I was out to ICN by about 7:00, in plenty of time for the 9:00 departure. Even at this early hour, ICN was – as it always is – crawling with travelers.
Check in at the Business Class counter was reasonable, although the line was short, it took longer than it should have because only about half the counters were open, and one couple were at one counter when I got in line, and still at that same counter when I was departing to for security.
The pre-security document check line was packed, but moved remarkably quickly, and created a bottleneck enough that there was no lineup for the security check itself. A quick stamp of the passport and boarding pass at border control, and I was loose airside at ICN.
I quickly made my way towards Gate 28, where the escalators up to the Asiana Business Class Lounge where well signed and easy to find. At the top of the escalator, this model reminded me of what awaits me tomorrow.
I love the aesthetics of Asiana’s lounges at ICN. With their comfy seating and “library” theme, it’s a very differentiated lounge and worth of the airline’s main hub. Despite the dark wooden details of the decor, the lounge is bright and airy thanks to the large windows, which make it a great place to do some spotting – although not necessarily a great place to do get pictures of what you spot.
I dropped my bags off at a table by the window and set off to see what’s at the buffet. Because of traffic around the buffet, I decided not to photograph it, but there were a few hot breakfast dishes out, a salad bar, some yogurt, cereals, breads, and all manner of drinks. Unlike early-morning in the Maple Leaf Lounge back home, the booze was out in case anyone felt the need to have a pre-flight drink. I settled on some scrambled eggs, some sautéed mushrooms with garlic, and a croissant. All were pretty good. Although the mushrooms weren’t hot enough for my preference, they did a great job of striking a perfect garlic mushrooms balance between “no flavor at all” and “overwhelmed by garlic.” Afterwards, I went back for a bowl of beef porridge, which I quite enjoyed to my surprise. It was a subtle dish, but a satisfying breakfast option.
After breakfast, I surfed for a little bit, and then it was time to head off to Gate 41 to check out my ride for this morning. There in all her glory was HL7423, and she was making it clear that she was, as advertised, a Combi.
The gate area was packed, and about a third of the area to the left of the centrally-located boarding doors was packed with a bunch of people who seemed to have far too many rollaboard bags and duty-free cigarettes. They seemed to be in the process of quickly getting said packs of cigarettes into the aforementioned luggage, and were taking over about three rows of seats to do so. An odd scene if I’ve ever seen one, but I felt it probably best not to photograph it in case I draw the ire of what I was now convinced was some sort of nefarious smuggling ring.
On my boarding pass, boarding time said 8:30, and sure enough, at 8:29, the gate staff lined up side-by-side in front of the gate doors, bowed deeply, and boarding was called. Down the ramp I went, turned left at door 1L, and found my way into the rarefied air of the nose of a 747 for just the fourth time in my life.
Upon arrival, the seat was already adorned with a blanket and pillow, as well as slippers and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, ready to go.
This is an older First Class seat product, and no longer looks state of the art, but it is very well kept and doesn’t look old at all. It’s also a very comfy seat, particularly when put into the “lounge” position part way between sitting bolt upright and lying down. I don’t particularly care for the beigey gold (or is it goldy beige?) colour scheme, but all in all, not a bad long haul First Class seat – and definitely a cut above for a three-hour flight in Business Class.
Asiana really differentiates itself on its service. While certainly Lufthansa and ANA are known for their service in First, my limited experience suggests that Asiana not only hold its own against those two, but actually outdoes them in terms of service. And I was delighted to discover on this flight that the First Class feel of the seat was accompanied by service quality that felt decidedly First Class, quite unlike LH, where I notice a big difference in service level between F and J.
Where Asiana excels are the little details. Sure, you expect your drink will be regularly topped up when you’re traveling in international – or even domestic – Business Class. And you expect a decent meals. But I was pleasantly surprised by the little detail of OZ presenting the Hong Kong arrival forms pre-departure, accompanied by a pen. Is it a huge gesture? No. But to me, it says “We thought enough about this experience to realize you might prefer to be given a pen to fill this out, rather than having to get your bag down. So here, have one. No need to ask.”
After the forms, pre-departure beverages were offered, and I grabbed some champagne, as I am wont to do.
Shortly after that, a hot towel was handed out.
Boarding was quickly concluded, and as we pushed back, the two flight attendants providing primary service in our little J/F cabin lined up beside each other at the front bulkhead, bowed deeply to all of us, and we went about the safety demonstrations. I’m far from a nervous flier, but it still surprises me that OZ’s safety video includes a cute computer-generated graphic of your plane floating in the water during the part of the video. While I chuckled at it, I know a few people who would be out of their seat and bolding for the door, demanding to be let off the plane immediately as a result of this little reminder of the unpleasant possibility of crashing into the ocean.
We pushed back right on time, and joined a short lineup to the active runway, 34, which was literally right behind our gate position. We were fourth in line behind an OZ A320, an SQ A330 bound for SIN and this CX 343, which apparently we would be racing to HKG this morning. ICN-HKG is a well-served route.
Once we’d given our competitor a head start, we lined up, quickly put the coals to ‘er, and off we went in hot pursuit.
The seatbelt sign was quickly turned off, and menus were distributed. I was surprised to see that this 9:00 departure was a “Brunch” menu that more resembled lunch, and not a breakfast menu. But, having had a breakfast in the lounge, I was good with that. Last year, I was surprised to learn that in F, you can only get the Korean dish if you order it ahead of time. This is not the case in the business, and the menu included both Western and Korean options.
Although in this case, I decided to go with the Western option, it was still kind of a Korean option, as the dish of the day was beef bulgogi. The table was almost immediately set, and the starter course followed shortly therafter, accompanied by a glass of water, a Spanish merlot/cab sauv, and the bread basket.
Apparently, prosciutto and melon is the new official appetizer of Star Alliance. I found this one to be a little bit better than the Air Canada version offered on YVR-ICN, the prosciutto tastier, and the melon fresher and juicier.
The bulgogi main course was good enough, though nothing terribly special. The beef was tasty, but the sauce was nothing too exciting until it got a little bit of help from the provided tube of Korean hot pepper paste. Service was fast and friendly, and we weren’t even as far as Jeju by the time the main course was presented.
The main was follows by a delightful cheese course. Although the cheese itself was a little bit smaller than some other airlines may provide, the plate more than made up for it with a variety of accouterments, particularly the delicious chutney. The offered port was fantastic – a little thinner than some, but wonderfully tasty and a great match to the cheese.
Dessert of Vanilla Choux with raspberry sauce was light, full of whipped cream, and tasty, and a great way to finish off lunch.
By the time lunch was over, we were out over Taipei, with about 1:20 left in our flight. I kicked back into relax mode, put a documentary on Istanbul on the IFE, and put some work into this trip report.
As mentioned before, the hard product is a little old, but holding up well. The IFE, however, is showing its age in comparison to the kind of next-generation IFE I enjoyed on the Air Canada 787. With this seat configuration, it’s too far forward to use as a touch screen, so you’re relegated to using the remote control, which operates on a frustrating “use the arrow buttons to move the cursor across the screen” basis that never seems to be sensitive enough, until you get close to your selection, at which point the cursor inevitably goes zooming across the screen and into oblivion. On some screens, the cursor “snaps” to the most likely selection, and on some screens, it does not. The IFE was also wanting in selection. I presume that like AC, OZ offers a reduced selection on shorter flights, although they seem to cut deeper than does AC. There were only four options under the Hollywood movies setting, for example. Other than that, the IFE was perfectly acceptable.
Soon enough, we were beginning our descent into a very cloudy Hong Kong. To my surprise, the security and immigration line at HKG was very short, and I was quickly on the loose at the airport, grabbing a local SIM and some Hong Kong dollars, and grabbing the Airport Express into town for a few quality hours in one of my favourite cities in the world. But in just a few short hours, I'd be right back here and starting my return trip with new experiences on Air India's 787, Asiana's A380, and a very familiar one on an Air Canda 767.
Asiana Airlines Business Lounge
Seoul - ICN
Hong Kong - HKG
Great service from Asiana and a First Class seat made this short hop in business class really enjoyable with Asiana.
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