Flight Review: Korean Air Airbus A380 (New York City-Seoul)

As I described in a previous blog post, Taryn and I managed to book a weeklong Bali vacation using credit card points.  Obviously, we were excited to visit Bali… but I may have been even more excited to experience business class onboard Korean Air’s A380 aircraft.  The bar onboard Emirates’ A380 was the highlight of our flight to Dubai, so we were looking forward to cocktails in Korean Air’s Celestial Bar.  But first, let’s start from the beginning.


Our trip started with an early morning train ride from Washington, DC to New York City. Korean Air flies to about a dozen different U.S. destinations, and Washington-Dulles airport is one of them.  However, Korean Air doesn’t fly the Airbus A380 to Washington, and since NYC is just a train ride away, I convinced Taryn that we should make the trek north if it meant to enjoy drinks at the Celestial Bar.  She’s learned not to get in the way of my credit card points obsession, so Taryn agreed to entertain my idea.

Airport Experience at JFK

We arrived in Manhattan early Saturday morning, hit up a quick spin class, then headed to JFK airport in Queens.  The Airbus A380 is a huge plane, so the check-in line for economy class was super long.  Luckily, the business class check-in line was empty, so after checking our bag, we headed straight to the terminal’s Korean Air lounge.

Check-in desk for the Korean Air lounge at JFK airport

As I’ve mentioned before, we never intend to spend much time in airport lounges, and this one was no different.  We arrived to the lounge about one hour before boarding time, which meant we could grab a quick coffee and check Facebook one last time before the 14+ hour flight to Seoul.  You’ll see that there are two sides to the lounge: one for first class passengers and another for business class (what Korean Air calls “Prestige Class”).

The attendant checked our boarding passes, and surprisingly directed us to the first class portion of the lounge.  I read lackluster reviews of the business class lounge (it’s also available to Priority Pass holders, so fairly easy to access), so I hoped the first class side would be different.  Sadly, it wasn’t.

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Korean Air’s lounge at JFK is definitely “meh,” so no rush getting to the airport

The Korean Air lounge was very mediocre.  It was crowded, small, and food offerings were sparse.  They had a small area for snacks and drinks, which was already picked over by other passengers.

But we knew we were going to be served lots of food on the plane, so no big deal.  We had some fruit and coffee, then headed to the boarding area after about 50 minutes in the lounge.

As we were lining up to board, I snapped a quick picture of our plane.  As you can see, the A380 is HUGE and has lower and upper decks.  The upper deck is reserved for the business class passengers, while the lower deck has first class and economy seats.  The A380 is literally the largest passenger airliner, which is also how it can squeeze in amenities such as an onboard bar.

Our chariot awaits!

The Prestige Class Seats

We were among the first to board and made our way to seats 19G and 19H.  Seats in business class were arranged in a 2x2x2 pattern, which meant passengers in the window seats don’t have direct access to an aisle.  That might be inconvenient for someone traveling alone, but no issue at all for Taryn and me.

The (very) teal seats came with a pillow and blanket.

Of course, first order of business was the credit-card-points-collector photo session in the business class seats.

“Jameson, you can spend your spare time looking up award flights if it means I can fly like this.”
“I’ve probably spent more time planning this trip than the actual flight time to Seoul.”

I then proceeded to explore the rest of the seat.  Unlike our previous flight to Chile, the seats were not at an angle.  But there was still plenty of legroom to stretch out and allow for the seat to lie flat.

Plenty of room to stretch your legs

I also looked over the business class dining menu.

Korean business class = Prestige Class
Drink Menu
The lunch menu.  You had me at “bibimbap.”
And the menu for the second/third meals.  Midnight ramen sounds perfect.

The menu was relatively simple but had more than enough options.

I also took a closer look at the business class amenity kit.

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Small toiletry bag holding the toiletries

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The amenity kit included a small bottle of “eye gel”, an even smaller bottle of lotion, lip balm, a dental kit, a shoehorn (do people actually use these?), eyeshades, and a collapsable comb.  Kinda random assortment of goodies, but apparently Davi face creams are super expensive.  Which is probably why the lotion bottle (in the brown box) is so small.

After being “that guy” taking pictures of the amenity kit, the flight attendant brought by pre-departure juices and nuts.

Pre-departure juices and nuts

Before we knew it, the plane was boarded and we took off from JFK.  Which meant it was time to eat and explore the in-flight entertainment system.

While American Airlines’ business class offered fancy Bose headphones, Korean Air offered their own generic version of noise cancellation headphones.

Not Bose, but still an upgrade from the freebie earbuds in economy class

I also kicked back into “lounge” mode using the seat controls.

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The seat controls.  Easy access to upright, lounge, and lie flat.

Meal Service

While we weren’t offered champagne before takeoff (since airlines often have to pay extra tax on alcohol served on the ground), the flight attendants quickly served rounds of Perrier Jouet before the meal service.

I hardly even like champagne, but twist my arm.

The champagne was followed with the first course: eggplant and zucchini with cream cheese.

Champagne and what we’ll call an amuse bouche (I only know what that means thanks to Top Chef)

Aside from the photo session in our business class seats, a picture clinking champagne glasses is also always required.

Cheers! (Or apparently geonbae in Korean)

Next they served the appetizer (seared tuna) and soup (cream of tomato).  Normally they don’t offer the tomato soup when someone orders the bibimbap, but they were more than happy to let me have both since I asked politely.  Props to the flight attendant for letting me indulge.

Korean Air’s business class appetizer and soup

The tuna and soup were fine… but ultimately they were just building my anticipation for the real star of the show: the Korean bibimbap.

My tray already included the pickled cucumbers and radishes (top left corner) as well as a tube of the gochujang hot pepper paste.  There’s a Korean restaurant near our house in DC, and I’ve fallen in love with this stuff.  As in I could seriously take this entire tube to the face.

The real deal gochujang paste.  Seriously love this stuff.

The flight attendant worked her way down the aisle with a cart full of bibimbap goodness.

Bibimbap was a popular choice that afternoon.

And the moment I had been waiting for:  onboard Korean bibimbap.

My meal in all of its glory

It doesn’t look like much.  And it doesn’t look fancy.  But this stuff is delicious.  I’ll take this over steak or lobster any day of the week.

For those unacquainted, bibimbap is essentially a rice bowl with a bunch of veggies. That’s really not doing it justice, but believe me… it’s amazing.  And it’s definitely something that translates well to airplane food, so both Taryn and I were more than satisfied with our meals.

Taryn chowing down on her bibimbap

After devouring our Korean rice bowls, the flight attendants carted over the cheese course  They arranged a cheese plate complete with crackers and grapes for our cheese course.  Because, business class.

This was definitely my first cheese course on a plane.
“I’ll take one of each”

The three cheeses available were camembert, stilton, and chaumes.   I could Google to find out which those cheeses are, but I’ll just say the cheese at the top of the plate was my favorite.

After the cheese course came dessert.  I opted for the coconut mousse cake, which was light and not too rich.

Korean Air business class dessert: coconut mousse cake.

Taryn and I were very happy with our meal, but once the flight attendant cleared our plates, I knew it was our chance to grab seats at the onboard Celestial Bar.

The Celestial Bar

We were able to score seats at one of the “couches” and waited a few minutes for the flight attendant/bartender to set everything up.  Since there was only one other couple in the lounge area, I figured it would be a good opportunity to snap a quick video of Korean Air’s bar in the sky.

The Celestial Bar was very well designed.  I loved the purple backlights, table lamps, simple benches for passengers, and the TV displaying the flight map.  The bar itself was a bit small; there was little room to “belly up” to the bar, and given the plates and food items on one side of the counter, it was clear that it was only meant to order drinks at and find a seat elsewhere.

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The Celestial Bar’s actual bar.  A bit small, but very well designed.

What’s also unique about Korean Air’s onboard bar is that isn’t advertised as a full bar.  Instead, Absolut vodka sponsors the Celestial Bar, and the menu consists entirely of Absolut vodka themed drinks.

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The bar menu at the Celestial Bar
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Explaining Absolut’s role in the Celestial Bar.

I’m always down for a good vodka cocktail.  But Taryn’s college experience with bottom shelf vodka has forever ruined her taste for the spirit.  So Absolut cocktails wouldn’t be in the cards for her.

No big deal, right?  I read the flight attendants/bartenders could make other kinds of drinks in the galley, and since there were plenty of other spirits on the plane, I figured Taryn could order a gin and tonic.

So I tell the bartender I’d like an Absolut Collins, and Taryn would take a G&T.  And the bartender says that we can only drink Absolut cocktails or champagne in the lounge, but that my wife could order a different drink at her seat if she wanted something else.  I tend to be a bit expressive with my nonverbals, so after pleading my case to no avail, I gave some serious side eye and said my wife would take a water.

Seriously?  You have a swanky onboard bar/lounge and you’ll ONLY serve vodka an champagne?  That’s a total buzzkill.  Luckily, the bartender semi-discreetly brought out a G&T for Taryn after delivering my Absolut collins.

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Taryn and her non-vodka cocktail

As we sat in the lounge and sipped our cocktails, we expected a steady flow of other passengers heading to the bar.  But nobody else joined us in the Celestial Bar.  We had the entire place to ourselves.  I seriously couldn’t believe it, especially compared to the raucous atmosphere at the Emirates onboard bar.

It was unique and fun to have free rein in the lounge, but at the same time, it was kind of boring.  You don’t usually seek out empty bars to hang out in.  But in any case, it made taking the requisite bar photos easier.

Taryn in the Celestial Bar
Enjoying my Absolut Collins in the Celestial Bar

Initially we were going to hang out in the bar for a couple drinks.  But because nobody else was there and the flight attendant made us feel guilty had for “sneaking” us a non-Absolut cocktail, we decide to head back to our seats and catch some shut-eye.

Bed Time

We purposely took the 3:30am train from DC to New York City so that we could more quickly readjust to Bali time.   And we hoped that the early wake up would also help us sleep on the long flight to Seoul.  With the push of a button, our seats transformed into a lie-flat bed.

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My bed in the sky.

Since most of the business class passengers were already snoozing and the cabin was pitch black, I refrained from another photo session with the lie-flat seats.

The seats had plenty of room for my six-foot frame, and since the the headrest was in a small cocoon-like enclosure, it felt decently private.  Obviously, Taryn’s window seat allowed for a little more privacy.  But since the seats faced directly forward, they weren’t nearly as private as our previous angled Emirates or American Airlines seats.  Angled seats = more privacy, but often less roomy.

Our strategy to readjust to “Bali time” with the early wake up made for a nice sleep on the plane.  We were tired enough and the seat was comfortable enough for restful sleep.

I woke up after about five hours of sleep and felt hungry enough for a midnight snack.  I recalled the menu mentioned ramen noodles, so I flagged down a flight attendant and ordered a bowl.

Ramen noodles midnight snack

I was half expecting a simple Cup O’ Noodles or something in a styrofoam cup.  But Korean Air made some delicious ramen noodles on demand and served it with business class dinnerware.  It hit the spot, and after slurping up my fair share, I dozed off for another hour or two.

Before I knew it, the flight attendants turned on the the cabin lights and announced dinner would be served prior to landing.  I really didn’t NEED to eat more, but if you put free food in front of me, I’m definitely going to eat it.

The dinner service was smaller and quicker than the meal served (technically “lunch”) after takeoff.  The meal started with a citrus salad and focaccia bread.  Once again, they served the pickled cucumbers and radishes to go along with the main dish.

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The salad course with dinner service

There were three options for the main course – chicken bulgogi, seafood tortellini, and beef wonton noodle soup.  I opted to have the chicken bulgogi.  Naturally, I requested more gochujang paste.  

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My dinner: chicken thighs with bulgogi sauce

The chicken bulgogi was fine, but seemed a bit sloppy.  I guess expected it to look and taste more appetizeing rather than just having big chunks of chicken and a thin “bulgogi” sauce.  In any case, it was tasty enough for me to eat the whole plate.  Maybe it was the gochujang paste?

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Taryn’s dinner: beef wonton noodle soup

Meanwhile, Taryn was more than happy with her wonton soup.  It looked similar to my ramen noodles, so I figured it would be hard to mess up noddle soup.

The dessert consisted of a fruit plate, which was a welcomed change rather than a rich pastry.  The fruit came in huge slices and was super fresh.  After all those carbs in the previous meals, it really hit the spot. 

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There’s something to be said about fresh fruit after eating carbs for 14 hours.

The flight attendants quickly cleaned up dishes from the meal service, and the pilot announce that we were about 30 minutes from Seoul.  This was just enough time for me to finish Mission: Impossible – Fallout before landing at the airport.

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One last pictures of the cabin before we landed in Seoul.

We had a relatively tight connection (1 hour and 35 minutes), so we were happy to see that our flight arrived on time.  It’s always a pain waiting for your turn to disembark the plane in economy class, but since there are literally 1/3 the number of seats in business class, we were off the plane within minutes.

Now on to Bali!


Final Thoughts

Overall, the trans-pacific flight in Korean Air business class was awesome.  The service was quick and friendly, the food was fantastic, and there was plenty of room in my lie-flat bed for a restful night’s sleep. 

The cabin itself was not as luxurious or updated as the Emirates A380 or American Airlines Boeing 777 that we flew earlier in the year.  But that was quite alright with us. The meals more than made up for the slightly tacky teal green upholstery, and having the onboard was obviously a cool feature. 

While the bar was the cherry on top and the main reason we flew out of NYC rather than DC, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.  It was super hip and swanky – even cooler than the Emirates A380 onboard bar.  

But it was decidedly more of a lounge than a bar.  There was no place for multiple people to “belly up” to the bar, instead offering benches and couches for passengers. Honestly, that’s probably a more appropriate feature for an aircraft.  But that also meant the area was less of a gathering place and more of a location on the plane for people to walk around and sit down.  Which is probably why we saw more toddlers climbing on the benches and couches in the lounge than vodka-drinking adults when we shuffled past the bar on the way to the bathroom throughout the flight.  

Was it worth taking the train to NYC for the Airbus A380 rather than flying out of DC with a smaller aircraft?  Probably not, but hindsight is 20/20.  Plus FOMO would have kicked in, and I would have always wondered what the Celestial Bar is like.  So in the end, I’m happy we made the trek. 

I’d definitely recommend Korean Air business class to others flying to Asia.  While Korean Air is no longer a transfer partner with Chase, they remain transfer partners with Marriott/SPG.  With free stopovers in Seoul and flexible cancellation and change fees, Korean Air can be a great option.  Not to mention they awesome bibimbap.


Interested in how we booked our flights? 

Wondering what business class in the Emirates A380 was like? 

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6 thoughts on “Flight Review: Korean Air Airbus A380 (New York City-Seoul)

  1. I was just kicked out of the “bar” for drinking a diet coke. Sitting beside me is a lady and a newborn and another guy eating chips. Yet, I am told they only serve “cocktails” and drink that at my seat.

    And honestly, the review is too nice….the food is subpar, menu selection is centered on beef, the towels always cold, the bread is cold, they never check on you for drink service, the layflat is uncomfortable, the tv screen is old-school, the dentist chair color was a bad choice back in 2008 as it is in 2019, peanuts in a bag (2014), and service in general is just one of the lowest. This is why Korean Air does not rank on Skytrax anymore. It is a pitiful airline that needs new management. Of course, this a380 is headed to the graveyard so no updates will be taken. But the biggest issue is their training. JFK itself is a horrible security line nightmare. The JFK lounge is also poor with that damn frig humming louder than a jet engine. Their lounge in Incheon is better but still without style – most airlines have amazing homebase lounges. I don’t think their is a lower airline except a few exceptions – China Southern or China Eastern. And amazingly Delta One is much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Max! Yeah, the onboard lounge was incredibly disappointing. Especially since we went out of our way to fly from JFK rather than Dulles just to fly the A380.

      Given the high expectations with Asian airlines, I agree that Korean Air’s customer service pales in comparison to their rivals. The whole “we we only serve the Absolut cocktails on the menu” in the Celestial Bar is pretty bogus, and the flight attendants were less than attentive after the meal service. But I could eat that bibimbap ALL. DAY. It’s not steak and lobster, but no complaints from me for offering Korean comfort food.

      I also agree with you on the lackluster lounge at JFK and the teal seats. The seats aren’t anything groundbreaking… but FWIW, I had some of the best sleep I’ve ever had on a plane. I’m the dude who can sleep on futons and through a hurricane, so I’m obviously not too demanding.

      I take the SkyTrax ratings with a grain of salt. I was impressed with American (3 star), a bit disappointed with ANA (5 star) and relatively neutral in Korean Air (4 star). It all depends on your specific plane, route, and crew.

      Feel free to let me know your thoughts on my other reviews. I’m hoping to put up my Singapore Airlines first class review in the coming weeks.

      Like

  2. Thanks for the review. But as a former Michelin waiter and now a fancy pants exec flying the skies regularly via ‘caviar and champagne’ …. Your complaint about no g and t in the bar reaks of entitlement and threw off the reciew. I mean do what you want and have an opinion, but just a heads up in case you didn’t want to present that tone.

    Like

    1. Thanks for reading! The point I was trying to drive home was that the bar didn’t offer choices for non vodka drinkers, which was a bit of a letdown since Taryn doesn’t drink vodka. The Celestial Bar is awesome, but we were surprised at the limited menu. Pales in comparison to the onboard bar with Emirates.

      Like

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