Review: Korean Air First Class Kosmo Suites Chicago – Seoul

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Earlier in the month I needed to be in Singapore. I booked Korean Air first class Houston – Seoul – Singapore for 95,000 points that I had transferred over from Chase (earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card).

For the return flight I had a bunch of different itineraries over time, the one I ultimately went with was Cathay Pacific first class Singapore – Hong Kong – Boston with a six hour layover in Hong Kong so that I could check out the new Hong Kong Centurion lounge with sit down dining for Black Card members as well as the Pier. (My flight home to Austin on American was included as well.)

Unfortunately Korean cancelled their Houston – Seoul flight. They were super accommodating though, and offered to buy me a flight out of Houston to connect to their Chicago flight. Even better I got them to buy me American Airlines first class Austin – Chicago.

This was the best possible itinerary for me, I could spend an extra night at home compared to nearly every other itinerary that would get me to Singapore in time, leave from my home airport on the award, and I even earned miles for the first segment.

After flying American to Chicago O’Hare I took the terminal 3 to terminal 5 connector and spent a short bit in the rather sad Air France lounge next to the Korean gate prior to boarding.

The lounge was crowded, and poorly provisioned with food. It did have alcohol though I didn’t really want to partake late morning before long travels. And it has great views, it’s a long narrow lounge along a window line.

It was soon enough time to board and I approached the gate to trade my American Airlines-issued Korean boarding pass for one from Korean, which they insist upon as they need to check your eligibility to enter your final destination country. I was on a one way ticket so they wanted to know how long I would be in Singapore and seemed surprised when I told them just two and a half days.

At this point the flight was boarding, and they walked me over to the front of the business class line so I wouldn’t have to wait to board. I wasn’t in any rush, and it was a bit awkward as the business passengers at the front of the line seemed annoyed. I was the first passenger in the first class cabin to board, which was ultimately booked 3 out of 8 seats.

When I boarded I was pleasantly surprised to find Korean’s new Kosmo Suites, which was similar to the setup of the old first class but with doors. I hadn’t paid close attention to the flight, but I assumed that the Boeing 777-300ER would feature the open first seats especially flying from Chicago.

I was in suite 1A.

There was storage in the seat, though not a ton, but you could place your rollaboard underneath the ottoman in front of you. There’s no closet in the suite, but flight attendants will hang up your clothes when you change.

There were slippers already at the seat as well as a blanket.

Noise cancelling headsets, menus, an amenity kit and pajamas were distributed while we were still on the ground.

Here’s the menu from the flight:

And the beverages:

We pushed back on time and after a long takeoff roll were at our cruising altitude when the captain came on to let us know we’d expect to be arriving into Seoul a bit early. I got up to change into pajamas.

When I returned a flight attendant quickly came around with a drink and packaged nuts and took my meal order. I had some omija fruit tea.

Oddly she didn’t just want to know what I wanted for my first meal. She wanted to know what I’d take for my second meal as well and when I would want it. She was most insistent, did I want it 2 hours before landing? 3 hours before landing?

I had a sleep strategy in mind. I would take a meal right away, it was just after noon and I was hungry. Then I would sleep as quickly as possible, since it was the middle of the night in Singapore. I’d wake up and force myself to stay up the rest of the way (allowing myself an hour’s nap at the start of my second flight).

I am pretty experienced dealing with jetlag. For Europe trips it’s easy, catch a bit of sleep on the overnight flight across the Atlantic, I allow myself a nap in the early afternoon on arrival then I go out to dinner. I’m acclimated by morning. Coming home to the States I don’t drag much, I just have to push through the night (I’ll start getting really tired around 7 p.m. or so). But it’s travel to Asia that’s hard, especially a midday transpacific flight since I’ll want to sleep right away to adjust to the time at my destination but I’m only but so tired yet.

For this trip I didn’t worry too much about being on local time, I was going to turn back around in two days, but I needed to be fresh on arrival. I’d land in Singapore around midnight and I had somewhere to be at 9 a.m.

For my meal first off was a cold starter, which was unremarkable.

Next up was a caviar service.

I couldn’t say no to the bibimbap. It makes total sense to me to order on a Korean airline. The Western meal options aren’t going to be as good as what I get on the group, but the bibimbap will be better than what I’m used to even if it’s a fairly mundane comfort dish for Korea itself. And the marinated beef was excellent.

With dessert I wanted to have a glass of wine. A nice sauternes sounded like a nice accompaniment. But when I asked for one the flight attendant seemed confused. So when I said “dessert wine” and she replied “sweet” I thought we had a meeting of the minds. She brought me port. The sauternes is available on their A380 flights only and I know that but I hadn’t seemed to remember that when I asked.

After lunch I had them make my bed but I kept myself slightly reclined rather than fully flat while I watched a couple of TV shows on my laptop.

I started drifting off so I moved myself to fully flat, but I was too flat with the one thin pillow I had been given. So I adjusted the seat up slightly to compensate while I fell asleep for an hour.

The cabin was super hot so I woke up uncomfortable after about an hour. The good news is that motivated me to get up and take a pillow from the unoccupied seat behind me. I also asked a flight attendant if she could adjust down the temperature. She appeared to agree, but ultimately didn’t do it. I went back to sleep where I dozed on and off for the next few hours.

I got up, watched some more tv for a couple of hours, and then decided to have a snack.

Back to my shows, then I had only a bit of the meal before landing since I had the noodles midflight. I ate just the salad and some udon noodles.

After changing back into my street clothes it was soon enough time to land in Seoul.

Overall the flight was serviceable. Korean Air availability is fantastic, even if it isn’t quite as good as it once was. There weren’t any fuel surcharges. And they bought my mileage-earning first class flight on American.

English is always tricky with Korean Air flight attendants. In one sense that’s fair, they aren’t employing native English speakers. On the other hand I feel like English should be better in first class on US routes, so that there aren’t service lapses like bringing the wrong wine (I should have pointed in the menu).

The cabin was too hot, they insisted I pick what time I’d eat at the end of the flight after we just took off, so all things equal I thought there was room for improvement. But for an award I could get with more or less the perfect schedule with my needs it was fantastic.

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. My sister and I were on KE12 from LAX-ICN last month, and it was arguably my worst flight ever. We had an equipment change – from a lovely A380 to and ancient 744. The seat and first class cabin may have been cutting edge 30 years ago, but sadly, well beyond it’s expiration date now. Service was equally poor.
    First world problem I know, but this experience has me re-thinking a return from South Africa in February. Glad yours was better.

  2. Obligatory comment about first world problems 🙂

    I’ve always wondered about the hot cabin problem. Is this cultural? It’s happened to me often on TPAC flights and it makes it impossible for me to sleep. Starting to think it’s more than just bad luck. Is this a trend?

  3. While I’m glad they’ve improved their safety record over time, I remain unimpressed with F on Korean. The service is well-intentioned but not polished. The food is mediocre, and the wines are never exciting. The lounge situation is also poor — particularly partner lounges are terrible. No special ground services for passengers in F. Also, what is it with Korean airlines and blergh-colored everything? That blue-green is a hospital ward color, and Asiana’s shades of oatmeal are also less than stylish. Give me NH or CX any day.

    At least you didn’t have to witness a nut rage incident.

  4. They never change the temp for you. I was on a red eye Delta flight that was sweltering and they just didn’t care even though people complained. I hit the service button at least 6 times asking for ice.

  5. The most common complaint 8 near about KE/OZ and many of the East Asian carriers is that they keep their cabins way too hot. Rest is by far the most valuable part of premium cabins, so what’s the point of paying for F/J when you won’t be able to sleep due to the heat? And I know Asians are generally used to warmer weather than northern hemisphere westerners, but that’s what quality blankets and pajamas are for. Studies show that comfortable sleeping temperature is between 65-72F (or 18-22C if you want to argue with the Asian cabin crew) with a bias toward the lower temperatures. I hope that you complain to Korean Air that their cabin is too hot for sleeping, because hot cabins are way too widespread on Asian carriers.

  6. I tried the bibimbap earlier this year on KE after it was recommended by a couple of people. It just doesn’t suit my tastes. Can’t beat the service though. I’m ready for my next trip to Seoul.

  7. “I hadn’t paid close attention to the flight, but I assumed that the Boeing 777-300ER would feature the open first seats especially flying from Chicago.”

    Why the assumption that inferior aircraft would be flying into Chicago? Do you consider O’Hare a 2nd class airport?

  8. No judgement as it affects me as well but the average east asian does carry less body fat (an insulator) than the average westerner, so perhaps that might have something to do with the general temperature preference.

  9. I absolutely agree that Asian careers, and in particular OZ and KE, keep the cabin too ridiculously hot for western taste. However, I’ve noticed while visiting my husband’s family, that they tend to turn the heat UP at night, and DOWN during the day, rather the opposite of what we are used to. Also, the heating is traditionally in the floor that you’re sleeping inches away from, so I definitely think it is just one of those cultural differences you have to be aware of when flying a foreign carrier.

  10. I just don’t get flight reviewers choosing what is essentially street food , when flying on Korean or Singapore based carriers. If 1st class Airlines can’t present quality fine dining options, going for the equivalent of a $2 meal at the Asian end of the flight just seems crazy to me. I’d rather save the calories and get the real deal in 10 hours.

  11. Your picture of the KE flight attendants reminds me of the time when my wife and I were spending some transit time at the old Seoul airport en route to Hong Kong. We saw several 747 flight crews walk past us on their way to their outbound flights. One group of female flight attendants stopped near us, and I commented to my wife that they were all the same height and that they must reject applicants who differ from that ideal. She then pointed out that the reason they were all the same height was that they all had different heights of heels on their shoes so as to make them appear to be identical in overall height. Conformity gone mad, we concluded.

  12. I’ve flown Korean Air for many years (usually in economy) and the cabins have always been warm. No air nozzles in economy. I use the blanket for extra seat padding. I will be flying IAD-ICN-BKK in first next month with the Kosmo Suites 2.0, though, and am looking forward to it. Thank you for the report.

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