Despite the plane for my inbound connection arriving into HKG quite late, a quick turn and some favourable winds put us right back on schedule, so I was in plenty of time for my connection back to North America, my first encounter with Asiana’s A380. In even better time than expected, in fact, because when I showed up at Asiana’s Business Class Lounge in the main concourse at ICN, I was informed that my flight was running about 45 minutes late.
Since I had a not-exactly-luxurious connection at LAX from the Tom Bradley International Terminal where OZ operates over to Terminal 2, where Air Canada operates, I started crunching the numbers. If we were on time, I had about 1:20 to make my flight to Toronto, so I had a chance, with Global Entry into the US and my Nexus card providing PreCheck at LAX. But I couldn’t say I was altogether optimistic. Still, you’ve just gotta go with it. When I first started traveling for business almost 20 years ago, my boss at the time provided a bit of advice that has ever since served me well: “Prepare to be inconvenienced.” There was no sense in worrying about it now, and it’s not like there’s a shortage of options for LAX-YYZ with AC.
So I plunked myself down in the lounge, and decided to see what was on offer as far as food goes. The answer? Not much. Asiana isn’t really known for its lounge food, but I thought this early-afternoon spread was a little bit ridiculously sparse. There was a bit of a salad bar, one hot dish of Beijing Fried Rice, some pretzels and nuts, and nachos, cheese and salsa. Not up to par by even Maple Leaf Lounge standards, really. That was a disappointment.
Even more disappointing was that the cheese for the nachos was stone cold. Oh well. I didn’t really need to eat at this point anyway. I wondered if maybe the buffet on this side of the lounge was being neglected – Asiana’s Business Lounge has two sides off a central entry point, each one with a bar and buffet area. But no, the buffet on the other side was identical. I talked a fair bit about the lounge in my report on OZ721 (see link above) so I’ll not comment on it here, other than to say it was otherwise pleasant, and while a little busy, not overrun. I settled in, enjoyed my draught beer, and did some work for a while. Once again, the TVs in the lounge were all tuned to CNN, which was on a nonstop loop about the Germanwings disaster. Not my monkeys, not my circus.
Before I knew it, it was getting near time for boarding, so I moseyed my way out of the lounge. One of the really cool things about ICN is that every so often, you find yourself in the middle of a parade of folks in traditional dress, and this would be one of those times for me.
Having enjoyed the show for a few minutes, I made my way down to the gate where my ride over to LAX, HL7625, was awaiting me. She was Asiana’s first 388, introduced to the fleet in May of last year, and she’s my third Star Alliance A380, after Lufthansa and Thai. The gate area was absolutely crawling with Asiana ground agents, and short cordons were set up for lines for First, Business and upper-deck economy to the right of the central podium, with a very long cordon for lower-deck economy to the left of the podium.
Before too long, the agents lined up, did their bow to their passengers, and boarding began – down the escalator and then up ramps to enter the whale on the upper deck, where I was greeted courteously and shown to my seat, midway through the larger of the two business class cabins on this plane.
Asiana uses a staggered business class product on the A380, and it suits the upper deck of the plane very well. I called in shortly after booking to get the type of seat I wanted – a “on the window” window seat, as opposed to an “on the aisle” window seat. The privacy of this seat was everything I could expect from a business class seat – with the side table between me and the aisle, I felt pleasantly secluded from my fellow travelers, although not walled in or claustrophobic.
Legroom was ample, and an amenity kit, noise-cancelling earphones, and a pair of slippers were awaiting me on the ottoman, along with the pillow and blanket kit waiting on the seat.
The IFE screen is large enough, and nicely, isn’t of the “must be stowed” variety, so it could theoretically be used gate-to-gate, if Asiana turned it on prior to takeoff. Alas, they do not.
The table is a bit of a different setup – it drops down from a panel in the back of the staggered seat in front of you, rather than a traditional slide-out or fold-out type of mechanism. Other than the fact that it prevents you from getting up while the table is out, it worked fine.
The aisle-side armrest provided simple sea controls, the touchscreen remote for the IFE, headphone and USB ports, and the power port was located immediately below.
As one would expect, pre-departure beverages were shortly offered with the usual swift and courteous Asiana service, and as one would expect, I grabbed a champagne. Since the design saw fit to give me these lovely large storage bins beside my seat, I saw fit to use them, and quickly tossed my laptop, AC adaptor, and other sundry items I may want during the course of the flight into them.
A hot towel was then offered, while still at the gate, and the in-charge flight attendant came by and introduced herself to every business class passenger and wished us all a pleasant flight. Considering that’s 60-odd seats in J and 12 downstairs in First that she needed to greet, that’s pretty much a fulltime job. The load upstairs in business was pretty full. I didn’t check out the forward mini-cabin, but the main cabin was easily 90 per cent capacity for this flight. So either they’re doing okay with it, or they offer very generous upgrades and/or reward availability. I’m betting on the former moreso than the latter.
I settled in to my seat, and thought that it looked like our monster A380 could eat its little sibling, the A321 parked next to us in Star Alliance colours, for a snack.
The pilot was hard to understand when making his introductions, but he seemed to suggest in his apology that the flight was late because of the late arrival of the aircraft into Seoul. Except that this plane was on the ground at a hardstand when were taxiing in from HKG four hours ago. (It as pretty simple to figure out it was this plane – OZ only has two 388s at the moment, and Flightradar24 had the other one still in the air at this moment.) So it would seem some minor maintenance quibble was the more likely excuse. Nevertheless, apologies and excuses made, we started our taxi out to the active runway.
And we quickly began the impressive A380 “Is this thing really going to get off the ground this time?” roll. And the answer, as it always has been thus far, was “yes.”
With the impressive climb begun, the seatbelt light was quickly turned off, menus were distributed, and drink orders taken. I decided to stick with champagne for the moment, since it would by me last shot at that particular indulgence on this trip.
I decided to go with the Korean option, because I’d been disappointed to learn that the Korean meal has to be special-ordered in F last year, and because I really like bibimbap. Meal service began very quickly with the appetizer, though perhaps amuse-bouche would be a more appropriate descriptor.
Tiny though it was, it was very tasty. The equally tiny (and almost equally tasty) ginseng salad was next, followed by the jejuk. Thus far, my North American appetite had not been exactly impressed by portion sizes, although everything was quite good. But I wasn’t too worried. Bibimbap is quite a substantial dish.
And Asiana’s interpretation did not disappoint, delivering a variety of tastes and textures in a very hearty dish. And while I wasn’t surprised to see a cabbage-based side dish, I was a bit surprised it wasn’t some sort of kimchi. Oh well. Given a good mix and a decent little dash of the hot pepper paste, this was a very satisfying main course.
Dessert of some fruit followed, and the Korean meal concluded with the delicate fuirt and nut brittle and dried apple candy, both of which were very good, though very small.
Bottles of water were distributed, US arrival forms handed out (with pen, of course!) and the lights were quickly dimmed for the rest period. I’d gotten a good bit of sleep on the flight up from Hong Kong, so I didn’t really expect to sleep. Particularly not after a coffee. So I put the seat in the lounge position – it was very comfortable – and put on a second movie. About 60 minutes into it, I decided that in the name of completeness of this report, I had to try the seat in flat-bed mode. I reclined, set up my pillow as I liked it, and noted that although the IFE screen doesn’t move, it’s still quite viewable while fully reclined.
And that was the last thing I noted until the lights were coming up and the pre-arrival breakfast was about to be served. I figure that, with some light tossing and turning, I must have had about six hours of solid sleep. So the bed was quite comfy, although I never got the blanket out – the cabin was too hot for that. And apparently, I suck at recognizing when I’m tired. Although before I drifted off, I wondered which of the mid-flight snack options I should try, but clearly I never got the opportunity. Nor did I need to – when I woke up, I still wasn’t entirely hungry.
Before we get into the next meal, a few words on the IFE. With the touchscreen remote and a good selection, this was clearly a modern-generation IFE experience. Controls were intuitive, responses snappy. Overall, a great experience.
Breakfast service began with juice (Take that, Air India!) and a hot towel, which were both quite welcome after a good sleep.
The fresh fruit appetizer was exactly as advertised, although not the greatest pineapple I’ve ever had, the generous slice of kiwi was delicious.
For the main, I decided to go with the Korean option, a rice porridge dish which had also been on offer on my ICN-HKG flight two mornings earlier. This was decent, but if I were to do it over again, I’d probably have gone with the eggs.
With breakfast over, our descent began, and I spent the rest of the flight gazing out the window at the dry southern California landscape unfolding below me. Soon enough, it was time to pack things up and get ready for landing into LAX.
We landed, and started the long taxi to the Tom Bradley, before holding short of the gate. Again, the captain’s English was a little bit hard to understand, but I believe he was saying we were waiting for our gate to be clear. I checked my watch and discovered that it was almost 11:00 am. My flight for Toronto was slated to depart at 11:45 am, so I figured my chances were slim and none.
This is a tangent, but an important part of the story of this trip. One of the best tangible benefits of being a Super Elite (AC’s oh-so-pretentious name for its top tier 100k mile fliers) is access to AC’s “Concierge” service, which stations top customer service people accessible only to SEs at Air Canada’s major airports in Canada and around the world. They’re there for exactly situations like this. As soon as we were cleared to do so, I called the concierge “central desk” in Toronto, and explained my situation. The concierge on the phone said he’d get in touch with the LAX concierge, who’d call me back in just a few minutes.
As it turned out, there were three other people all sitting right around me who were also on the same flight to Toronto, so I ended up playing a bit of go-between to try to get them some help too.
True to my first concierge’s word, the LAX concierge called me just a few minutes later. She said she was at the gate for AC792, which was starting to board. I had until 11:35 to make it there, or it would be off. In other words, I had two chances – slim and none. And slim had just left town. Nevertheless, my concierge urged me to try to book it over to Terminal 2, and we’d see if we couldn’t make the flight, especially, since she said she saw both cabins on the next LAX-YYZ flight as completely sold out, and didn’t think she’d be able to get me out until the Friday night red-eye.
After about a ten minute delay waiting for our gate, we pulled in, and were quickly on our way. At the top of the jetway, an Asiana employee was waiting with the names of people with tight connections. What was this? A break? Perhaps they’d arranged for a car to pick us up and whisk us our awaiting AC plane?
No such luck – we were all just handed a “get out of customs fast” express card, although Global Entry took care of that for me, and since I was traveling just with carry-on, I was quickly through US Immigration.
Would I make the tight connection to Toronto? Or would I need to call on the skills and influence of my concierge once more to get me home in a timely fashion? Find out, in the exciting conclusion of this epic journey, coming soon to a Flight-Report.com near you!
Asiana Airlines Business Lounge
Seoul - ICN
Los Angeles - LAX
I really enjoyed my first experience with Asiana's A380, which I saw as sort of the main event of this trip in terms of flights. The seat and service were exemplary, and OZ is a pleasure to fly, although I had to mark them down for OTP because of both the delay and the less-than-transparent reporting of the reason for said delay. Still, I'd very much like to fly Asiana's A380 again.
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