The Points Guy isn’t the only one who’s been to Korea recently. A lot of Koreans have also been there. Last week, we too got hungry for some authentic bulgogi and plastic surgery, so we had our assistants book an award flight from San Francisco to Seoul on Korean Air.
At SFO, Korean Air shares a lounge with SkyTeam partner Air France, a particularly perplexing mashup of cultures. It was no surprise, then, when this turned out to be possibly the worst “international” lounge we have ever visited. Service was nonexistent, there were no saunas, and the alcohol selection literally made us vomit. Still, we were more focused on the in-flight experience to come, and we kept our spirits up by continuously guzzling mediocre champagne.
When it came time to board, we made our way to the gate and stumbled down the jetway onto a noticeably-not-brand-new 777-200ER. A friendly flight attendant greeted us and directed us to our seat, which was oddly not at the very front of the plane. It was strange turning right upon boarding an international flight, but we glanced at our ticket and felt reassured by the clear “Prestige Class” designation.
We remember noting the hospital-during-Easter-esque atmosphere, with plasticky pastel-blue seats and matching flight attendant uniforms. And like our last hospital visit, there was a lot of champagne being imbibed. After a completely unoriginal taxi and takeoff, we were in the air and meal service began. We opted for the Korean-style bibimbap, which was tolerable, at least for airline bibimbap. However, something still seemed off in the cabin. Before we could figure it out, the cheese cart came around, and we indulged in some of Korea’s finest, accompanied by a red wine whose name slips our mind. Afterward, we quickly drifted off to sleep in the sterile lie-flat seat.
We were forcibly awakened shortly before landing in Seoul, and once the door opened we got up to deplane. But the flight attendant held us back, asking us to please wait while the first class passengers exited. Feelings of absolute terror and shame immediately set in as we looked past her to see what we now know to be Korean Air’s Kosmo Suites. It was like the end of The Sixth Sense, but worse: we had been flying business class the entire time!
Needless to say, we fired our assistants and are in the process of interviewing their replacements. We booked our return flight on Asiana, in a proper first class suite, and will never fly Korean again.
Back before the Avios devaluation in November of last year, we redeemed 100,000 British Airways miles for a roundtrip from New York to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific’s updated business class product. In musical terms, this flight should have been what Avril Lavigne’s version of “Imagine” was to John Lennon’s: a heavenly update of a boring and uninspired original. Instead, it quickly turned into sixteen hours of sheer terror.
We started off the trip with a visit to the British Airways Terraces Lounge at JFK, which proved incredibly uneventful. Although all the normal amenities were provided and the staff was friendly and attentive, we had hoped for something special, a man dressed in full butler attire perhaps. You can see from the image below that is was, disappointingly, just a very nice lounge.
Nice lounge, no butlers.
Once on board, we settled into our comfy lie-flat seat and felt at home. Service was impeccable and the food was also quite tasty. We opted first for the scallops course and had no complaints. In fact, our only real complaint about Cathay Pacific’s dining options would be that the beverage selection is lacking somewhat in the sparkling wine options.
Scallops, with fork and knife.
After the meal, we decided to watch Senna, a 2010 documentary about the life of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. The film was captivating and, in combination with the decent bubbly and hot pork buns, we were nearing a moment of pure bliss towards its end when, with no warning whatsoever, Senna crashes his car into a wall and dies. [Spoiler alert.] The entire flight was instantly ruined.
Why Cathay Pacific chose to include such a depressing film as part of its in-flight entertainment is beyond us. You would think they would want to maximize the happiness of their business class passengers, and instead they smack us directly in the face with a massive tragedy fish. Completely crushed from this experience, we did not take time to peruse the rest of the films available, but we can only assume they included Schindler’s List, Bambi, Titanic, and Star Wars: Episode I.
We spent the remaining eleven hours of the flight in a state of emotional shock, unable to do much of anything. After a few more drinks, we managed to mumble out a breakfast order, and the resulting omelette was delicious, albeit a little salty from our tears. We landed a couple hours later and, despite this rough introduction, our time in Hong Kong was wonderful. On the return flight, we made sure to avoid the in-flight entertainment entirely.
Would you like sadness with that?
Welcome to our first installment of a column we hope will keep you apprised of some of our less satisfying flying experiences. Our goal here is not to vent our frustrations or pick on any airline in particular, but simply to give you an idea of the variety of experiences you may encounter in your travels with various airlines.
Last Thursday I flew United from Washington to Los Angeles in first class, and there were a few noteworthy letdowns that I thought our readers should be aware of. First, the location of Dulles airport in relation to DC proper is simply unacceptable. My limousine journey took close to an hour with traffic, and United should address this situation immediately. Upon arriving at Dulles, I was even further delayed in getting to the terminal due to a bunch of other cars not dropping people off fast enough and my driver’s insistence on stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk. As a result of these holdups, I did not even have enough time to visit the United Club and had to head straight to the gate.
Once on board, I was greeted with my regular cocktail (I fly this route frequently and the flight attendants have become close friends) and then settled in to do some work. While the service and hard product were impeccable, there was a passenger in coach who was talking a little too loudly for the first eight or nine minutes of the flight, making it hard to concentrate on my work. More importantly, the cruising altitude of this flight has gotten to me recently; it is simply much too high. Many times I’ve informed the flight attendants that a lower altitude would provide a much better view of the landscape, but United has yet to act on my suggestion.
The rest of the journey was comfortable and largely uneventful, other than the fact that it takes an absolutely ridiculous six hours. It would be much more convenient if United could keep the flight time on this route under five hours, which never seems to be a problem coming the other way. All told, I will continue to voice my concerns to United and will keep you informed of any updates or improvements.