80,000 points: Asiana 777 Chicago (ORD) to Seoul (ICN) Review OZ 235
Greetings from South Korea! I just spent the last several hours touring around Seoul compliments of a tour offered here at the ICN airport for transiting passengers. We arrived early this morning, and there were several free tour options throughout the day. We opted for the Changdeokgung Palace tour and then a stop for a traditional Korean lunch. Now, back at the airport I have a couple more hours before the connecting flight to Hanoi. While it was fun to spend a few hours in Seoul, I am looking forward to the next two weeks in Vietnam for Christmas.
Asiana Flight OZ235 ORD-ICN
While researching flights to Vietnam, I decided that I wanted to check out Asiana business class since it has a good solid reputation among the Asian carriers. The long flight from Chicago to Seoul would offer plenty of time to really settle in and check out the product–and there was award availability for 3 business class seats on the date I wanted!
I used 80,000 Chase Sapphire Points transferred to United Mileage Plus for each one-way ticket. Chase points are easy to get and easy to transfer to many different partners. United’s site allows me to book most Star Alliance carriers, which made it simple to book this Asiana flight online.
The flight’s scheduled departure is 11:55pm from Chicago, so most people were pretty tired during the boarding process, including myself. All passengers boarded through the same door, aft of the business class cabin but forward of all the economy seating. The flight attendants greeted me warmly with a big smile and provided directions to my seat, 3K. Asiana’s 777 business cabin has a 1-2-1 configuration with the window seats (A and K) offering single travelers a bit more separation and privacy. The middle seats alternate between having some separation and being quite close to each other—ideal if you are traveling with someone you like, but a bit awkward if your seatmate is a stranger.
I found my seat with no trouble and began to settle in. The seat itself was comfortable enough and there was easy access to power outlets and USB chargers. Basic amenity kits were at each seat. The kits were L’Occitane en Provence branded and included socks, earplugs, an eye mask, a pack of tissues, a small comb, a tooth brush kit, and a container of L’Occitane body lotion. Also at the seat in a small storage cubby were a flimsy pair of slippers and headphones.
After trying them briefly, I found that the headphones were not noise cancelling and were uncomfortable, so I put them back in their cubby and opted for my Bose headphones.
During the boarding process one of the flight attendants welcomed me on board and introduced herself. I am not sure whether she might have been tired, but it came off as a bit too rehearsed and mechanical and not very genuine. She also provided me with both the food menu and the wine list.
I was also offered water or orange juice. I did not see any champagne offered on the ground, which I found unusual—but I was thirsty and wanted the glass of water anyway.
The menu offered both a Western and a Korean selection. The Western menu included a smoked salmon appetizer, and a choice of either Beef tenderloin, Orange Roughy, or mushroom cannelloni. The Korean menu looked much more interesting to me with a beef vegetable roll and then Bibimap as a main course.
The menu also mentioned that sandwiches, fruit, and ramen noodles would be available throughout the flight.
The attendant took my order prior to taxi, while I perused the entertainment selection and tried to fit my feet into the small slippers.
The Asiana entertainment system is certainly not the newest out there, but it was decent. Navigation is accomplished through a remote that pops out of your seat and basically moves a cursor around the screen—which is a bit tedious. It is a touch screen though, so after getting frustrated with the cursor, I just leaned forward and navigated much easier with my finger. The selection included only 20 “Hollywood movies.” Many of these were not new releases, but I settled on Dunkirk since I had wanted to see that for a while. Other categories included “classic” movies, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese selections and then several television series. Overall the selection was fair—not overwhelming.
A few minutes after a smooth takeoff, while we were still in the climb the seat belt sign was turned off. One thing I have noticed with some of the foreign carriers is that they turn off the seat belt sign much earlier than the US domestic airlines. I used the opportunity to check out the bathrooms.
In the 777 configuration there is a larger bathroom forward of the business cabin next to the flight deck. This bathroom offers a bit more space than the typical airline bathroom and was stocked with more amenities including toothbrushing kits, mouthwash, razors, and L’Occitane lotion and face balm.
Meal service started shortly after we reached cruise. First everyone who had ordered the Western meal option was offered a selection of breads—including warm garlic bread. I was also offered bread since I guess I may have been eyeing up that garlic bread. I also opted to try the Laurent Perrier Brut prior to my meal. The champagne was ok, but I decided to switch to red wine with dinner. I asked for a glass of the Cordillera Syrah 2012 because the description said it was “a fine example of Chilean Syrah to pair with darker meat and Korean dishes.” The wine selection is shown below.
The presentation of my Bibimbap was impressive. It came out on a large tray with several bowls with lids and the flight attendant took the lids off as I watched presenting me with my meal. There was a big bowl of various types of vegetables and minced beef, a container of red pepper paste, “gochujang,” sesame oil, a bowl of rice, and a couple of side dishes and soup. Luckily the meal also came with directions. First I emptied the rice into the large bowl with beef and veggies and then added the red pepper paste and the sesame oil. Then I stirred it all up with my chopsticks. I have not had a ton of Bibimbap, so I don’t know how this one compares to something I could find on the ground…but it did taste pretty good. The kimchi on the side was spicy and I even tried a few of the small dried fish in the other bowl…crunchy and salty!
For desert I had the blackberry mouse which was just fair and a small plate with traditional Korean cookies. The cookies were really interesting—not sweet at all with a nice almond flavor. The bone china plate was a nice touch.
Pretty soon after dinner the cabin lights were dimmed and almost everyone tried to get some sleep. The Asiana business class seats are fully lie-flat and just barely accommodated me laying flat on my back with not an inch to spare. If you are over 6’1 you are likely going to be unable to lie completely flat, or try sleeping on your side. Asiana provides a very thin blanket and a small pillow which were both disappointing. The pillow is equivalent to what you would receive in coach on many international flights and didn’t provide much support or comfort. The blanket was acceptable, but only because the cabin was kept pretty warm. Bottom line is that with a better pillow and blanket, sleeping in the seat would have been much more comfortable. That being said I was able to get a decent 5-6 hours of sleep to prepare me for touring in Seoul.
Breakfast was served with just over 2 hours of flight time remaining. The first course was fruit, a bread selection, and coffee. For the second course I chose the cheese omelet which was dry and tasteless. The asparagus was overcooked and charred on the ends, and the potatoes were soggy. Not trying to complain, but breakfast was below average unfortunately.
Throughout the flight, service was very good, but not overly proactive. If I am awake, I prefer to be asked every once in a while if I am doing ok and if I would like anything else—just a personal preference.
As I said, I was looking forward to trying Asiana’s business class product. However, while an overall solid product, it definitely was less thrilling than expected and has some room for improvement. The biggest complaint that I had really was just the pillow and blanket. Asiana could greatly improve passenger comfort with a small upgrade in pillow/blanket size and quality. The food was good overall. The service was above average. But, there really wasn’t anything exceptional about the flight.
It could have just been an off night. In about an hour, I have another flight with Asiana in their A330 business class. While not a long-haul flight like ORD-ICN, I will get to see another crew and perhaps change my overall impression of Asiana which so far has been ho-hum.