Asiana First Class, Seoul – Los Angeles

4:30 pm Seoul, South Korea (ICN) to Los Angeles, CA (LAX)
Asiana Flight 202 First Class Seats 4E, 4F
Duration: 11h Boeing 747 5,999 miles traveled

The last time I flew Asiana first class, in July 2007, we were escorted onto the plane skipping the planeside security check. This time we were subjected to it, but it was certainly polite.

On boarding a flight attendant offered to assist with our bags, and to put them in the closet, but I prefer them in the overhead for easier access during flight. The cabin was full 4/10 including the two of us, and we had had no difficulty securing the two seats together in the cabin. Others have had much greater difficulty, Asiana seems to block much of their assignable seat inventory for some reason (perhaps because of the potential for an aircraft swap with the old configuration 747? But that would seem strange because the old configuration plane has more seats and those are all in pairs).

We were given amenity kits which were lovely as usual, though no pajamas were distributed. As noted many times elsewhere, the headphones provided are of low quality, and not noise canceling. Only a modest step above the tiny disposable ones given out (or sold) on US airlines, and those have the advantage in my book that they’re in-ear and less bulky.

Shortly after boarding I was offered a drink and opted for champagne. While some carriers see Dom or Krug as a marquis offering, I really enjoy the ’98 Taittinger Comptes de Champagne – absolutely excellent, and I gladly accepted a top off before it was time to push back.

The seat itself was nice, the cabin much refreshed over the old drab offering on the earlier version of first class. But the seat doesn’t go 100% flat, despite advertising to the contrary. Rather, the headrest remains slightly elevated. In addition the seat is somewhat lumpy, so I used both the mattress pad and the duvet that the flight attendant laid out when making my bed after the meal in order to soften and flatten out the seat, and then just covered myself with a blanket

Other things I noticed about the seat were the lack of storage, and also that the foot space is too narrow when in bed mode, I had to keep my feet together when I was stretched out. I did like, though, that the tray swivels so you aren’t locked into the seat during meal service. (And speaking of tray setup, the dinner rose remains a nice touch.)

I assumed that since pajamas hadn’t been handed out on boarding that they would be offered after the meal or at least prior to the flight attendant making up my bed, but none were. I asked, and the flight attendant scurried away. They came back and explained that no pajamas were boarded for the flight (!!) but they would look for some. They apparently had a large stash in the front closet, and went around offering PJs to the cabin.

The entertainment system, was excellent. I was generally impressed by the AVOD on the 767 between Hong Kong to Seoul, but the longhaul 747 had many many more choices. Navigation is a bit strange as it’s basically a mouse with a cursor that you use to click your selections. But it’s easy to navigate, and there was an array of movie options, and also a significant library of music. I especially liked being able to scroll through the music options and create a playlist, which could be played in order or randomized. It’s not the same as having your own music in your iPod of course, but at the same time I decided to listen to plenty of things I wouldn’t otherwise have downloaded which was nice.

There’s been much commentary on cutbacks in meal service. And indeed it appears as though caviar is served ex-USA but not ex-Korea. (Friends who flew OZ both JFK – Seoul and Seoul – JFK reported the same thing, caviar departing New York but not on the return). Still, the meals were of exceptionally high quality and portions more than enough.

I had pre-ordered the Chinese meal and my wife went with the onboard Western options. There was a break between my courses where the flight attendant apologized that there would be a 10 minute wait for my next item, and that they had prepared for me the truffle risotto in the interim. Since I had already seen my wife’s risotto I decided to take them up on the offer, I have a hard time calling Asiana out for meal cutbacks when they’re offering sliced black truffles.

The only negative about morning breakfast was that the orange juice could have been far better, it tasted like it was from concentrate. On a long-haul first class breakfast I expect something much more approximating fresh squeezed.

The only snafus in service, rather than seat or amenities, was the limited English skills of the flight attendants. While this is a Korean airline, and I don’t have especially high expectations given my prior flights with them, I do wish that they would assign flight attendants with better English for the USA flights. I realize it’s crew dependant, it was much easier to communicate on my short-haul business flight o Seoul. The difficulties manifested themselves when I asked if I could have a cup of coffee prior to beginning my meal, and this just wasn’t something she could comprehend, she brought it to me with dessert.

And when asking my wife about her menu preferences, she would clearly be reading the Korean side of the menu and translating in English, not realizing she was pointing at the wrong item on the English side. On the whole Asiana’s English proficiency is far below Singapore, ANA, and Thai for sure.

On the whole Asiana’s new first class is much improved, both in terms of seat and AVOD. That much is obvious, which is why everyone fears getting the one old-style 747. Even though there are complaints about cutbacks in food, the offerings were still outstanding and more than sufficient. The amenities are high-quality. The service is good, but in part because of limited English skills compared to most Asian carriers they aren’t really able to understand and adapt to requests. Moreover, the ‘new’ seat is really a generation behind. So I would never pick Asiana over ANA or Singapore for first class.

Shortly before landing we were offered our deplaning gifts. Two years ago I received the Wedgewood wine bottle stoppers, which were quite attractive. I had expected the Ferragamo tea cups, but instead in addition to the concert and golf video they were offering a Ferragamo mug. We both took one of those, but decided that it wasn’t especially handsome. The deplaning gift is an incredibly nice touch, and totally old school. I hope there aren’t further cuts in this area, because it’s something to do very nicely (which doesn’t always mean expensively) or not at all….

We landed on time and faced a zoo in the customs hall., the extended backup stemming from veryslow customs bureaucrats who were stopping and engaging in long detailed conversations with folks. Not everyone had their documents out or the proper documents, there were questions about who was entitled to what or where they’d been, and ithis slowed the lines down tremendously. A couple of folks were sent off to the side to have their bags unpacked and repacked, but for the most part the full interrogation treatment was done while slowing everyone else from passing. This was just cutting into my planned shower time is all…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Geez, no wonder people are always raving about the int’l F on non-US carriers! Great trip report.

  2. Great report. How often does the old 747 get used on the ICN-LAX route? How many 747s does Asiana have? And do you have any idea when the plane is to be reconfigured?

  3. Disappointed to see that they are not serving caviar both ways. Less can do it, of course, but considering the price of First Class travel, I would like to see it on the table.

  4. I just love it when unilingual Euro-Americans complain about the “lack” of English exhibited by multilingual flight attendants. Quite arrogant.

  5. @Jason

    I don’t think expecting at least one flight attendant to speak the predominant language of the origin or destination countries in a F cabin is really arrogant. I would expect F class to have someone who spoke Russian on a flight from Seoul to Moscow or Hindi from Seoul to Mumbai.

    I speak 3 (well really 2.75) of the 6 official UN languages: English and French fluently and Spanish moderately well, and I most likely would’ve been equally unable to communicate with the FIRST CLASS staff on this flight–a flight which serves a majority-English country. That’s not arrogant, that’s poor service and should be noted in a TR.

    Thanks for the TR. I found some OZ F availability for the dates I wanted, it doesn’t look worth the much longer trip duration vs the TG/SQ F award I have now.

  6. I realize this is an older TR, but I have this same trip OZ202, in April.
    How do I go about pre-ordering a meal? Is there a published menu closer to the departure date? Does the airline email me a week before with choices?

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