Last month I finally crossed this off my bucket list: Flying from Seoul to Atlanta on a Korean Air A380. KAL’s big blue A380 is Atlanta’s one and only double decker and I’ve wanted to float into my old hometown on it since the service started in September 2013.
The first leg of that journey started in San Francisco where I boarded a KAL B777 for the trip to Seoul. I was a guest of Korean Air and wrote about that part of the trip here.
In the first post, I concluded that there was not much difference between business class on the two planes once you are in your seat. But the differences do become evident when you walk around and explore the enormity of the big A380 bird.
See Part 1
The key feature of Korean Air’s A380 is its dearth of seats. I know that sounds crazy, but did you know that there are fewer seats, just 407, on a KAL A380 than on any other commercial A380? On most other carriers, the number is closer to 500, or well over it in some cases. (Lufthansa, for example, squeezes in 526 seats on its A380.) This means that there is a lot more room for passengers…for onboard lounges (two of them)…for two staircases….and even for a duty free store.
Ninety-four (94) lie-flat business class seats configured 2-2-2 fill the entire upper deck of this bird. On the main deck there are 12 first class “suites” up front configured 1-2-1, and 301 economy class seats configured 3-4-3 with a generous pitch of 33-34 inches. Korean Air does not offer a premium economy section. See the KAL A380 on SeatGuru.
To me, the best business class seats on the A380 are window seats. That’s mostly because I really like looking out the window. But it’s also because of storage space. Due to the curvature of the plane, there is room for a good sized storage bin between the seat and the window. The bin is big enough to hold the contents of a briefcase, and that really comes in handy on a long flight (in this case about 14.5 hours). These bins are not available on the B777. The downside of the window seat is that you have to skirt around your neighbor to get to the aisle. Not a big deal to me but I know some folks don’t like that. All the other business class seats offer direct aisle access.
Roundtrip business class fares between Atlanta and Seoul run about $4,800. Economy class is about $2,100 in mid December. First class round trips? $18,000.
If you redeem Delta SkyMiles for the ATL-ICN roundtrip, you’ll pay a minimum of 70,000 in economy and 190,000 in business class. KAL first class is not available to SkyMiles members redeeming miles. (Based on a search for nonstops in mid January.)
Another feature that I noticed on Korean Air was the mood lighting which varied in brightness and color throughout the trip. I think flight attendants were trying to re-create morning and evening with the lights. Regrettably, I was on a different schedule and every time I opened my window shade for a peak out at the view, I was asked by flight attendants to close it. Nice: When window shades are up, business class seats enjoy quite a show out of two or three windows for each row.
Related Trip Report: British Airways A380 on the “Red Carpet Route”
Here’s a look at the “Celestial Lounge” at the rear of the upper deck business class cabin. There is room to sit down and strap in if it gets turbulent. Those high cushions you see are for leaning if it gets a little bumpy. On my flight, business class was only half full, so the lounge never attracted a big convivial crowd…on my two trips back there I smiled through my bleary eyes at a few other bleary-eyed travelers checking out the space like I was. Flight attendants were eager to take photos of passengers saddled up to the bar or on the sofa. There’s another smaller lounge with similar catering at the front of the business class section.
Here’s part of the spread offered in the Celestial Lounge. Korean Air has partnered with Absolut, so there’s a icy well full of various flavors of vodka, wine and Champagne (Perrier Jouet). Snacks (which few passengers ate) consisted of a plate of nice canapes, some nuts, a big bowl of kettle fried potato chips and these colorful Korean-style dessert lollipops or gosibol— fermented cookies made of sweet rice and various freeze-dried fruits and grains. Since this flight departed Seoul at around 9 a.m. and arrived in ATL at about 9 am, it felt like morning to me throughout the (mostly sleepless) 14.5-hour flight, so I never partook of the boozy bevs.
Here’s a view down the rear staircase– this one is spiral while the one up front is not. Both staircases were roped off during the flight to prevent mixing of the classes. But I noticed several other curious travelers (like me) ignoring the ropes and taking self-guided tours of the plane.
When I snuck downstairs to check out the first class section, I was surprised to find the the entire cabin empty. All that beautiful real estate just sitting there so lonely. Does this have something to do with Delta not allowing SkyMiles members to redeem miles for KAL first class? Probably. Especially on this route. But it made it much easier for me to take photos– which is usually something that first class passengers don’t appreciate. Korean Air calls its big seats “Kosmo Suites” and they are super spacious (79 inches long by 27 inches wide) and plush. Unlike a lot of carriers that wall off first class passengers into compartments, the KAL A380 open plan would be a lot more convivial if there had been more passengers. Korean Air is one of the few carriers that still serve caviar in first class.
Related Trip Report: Lufthansa’s inaugural A380 flight
KAL serves two meals (both lunch or dinnerish…no breakfast) on this 14-hour flight that departs Seoul at around 9 a.m. and arrives in Atlanta at about 9 a.m. on the same day. My jetlag counselor Bill Ashton (www.stopjetlag.com) suggests getting as much sleep as possible as early as possible in the flight, I postponed my first meal until later into the flight. Flight attendants were happy to oblige.
Americans are typically not big fans of duty free shopping. That’s because our government does not impose heavy excise taxes on luxury goods like booze, watches, cosmetics or cologne. But duty free is HUGE business in Asia. This is made very clear when you see the queue to get into the duty-free Louis Vuitton boutique at Seoul-Incheon airport. Korean extends similar discounts in its well stocked onboard duty-free store located at the rear of the main deck economy class section. From what I saw, Americans were there to gawk and pass the time….but the Asians were buying.
See Part 1 of this trip… my KAL flight from SFO to Seoul on a Boeing 777.
Disclosure: I was a guest of Korean Air on this trip
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