OZ235 Chicago ORD – Seoul ICN
Monday 3 Dec 2012
STD-STA: 12:00-16:50 (+1)
Actual: 12:35-16:53 (+1)
Boeing 777-200ER HL8254
Seat 2K, moved to 2A due to electrical glitch
Once I arrived at Terminal 5 in O’Hare, I went on searching for the Asiana check-in counters and was greeted with a long queue. I thought it was for the Asiana flight but turns out it was for the TACA flight, and Asiana had someone to make sure no Asiana passengers were in the midst of the queue. Check in was efficient and fast, lady who checked me in was pleasant, and my my heart skipped a beat when she told me I was the only one in First Class today. 8 suites all to myself, how wonderful! The confusing part of the check in process was the depositing of my snowboard which I had to drop at the end of the terminal. However the vague instructions given by the agent left me a bit lost. When I asked another airport employee, I was given a wrong direction, so it was really some time lost.
Security had a long queue, but with the First Class boarding pass, there was no wait at the priority lane and I was through in 15 minutes. The first lounge I passed by was the Swiss lounge which is shared with Cathay Pacific. I was rejected entry into this lounge because I think it was occupied by guests on the Cathay Pacific flight and was directed to the SAS lounge beside gate M13, while my flight was departing from M12. Thus I was able to spot the beautiful Asiana 777 on the way to the lounge.
The lounge had pretty basic snacks, though they had Danish biscuits, which I particularly fancy. I had some potato chips as well to go with it. The lounge itself was pretty small but was not packed. In terms of decor, the Maple Leaf Lounge in YVR was better furnished as the SAS lounge feels like the cafeteria in Ikea. Wifi in the lounge was adequate but there was no English magazines, as all are in Swedish except for the SAS magazine. In the lounge, the check in agent came over and called for my name, as it turns out I had to move to seat 2A due to an electrical glitch in seat 2K. I was half expecting an escort into the plane though, maybe all this ‘First’ thing is just getting into my head…
Boarding was announced in the lounge around 11:30, and the boarding was nearly done when I exited at around 11:40. Only one entrance to the plane, and turning left at the jetway is always special for me! The first thing one notices is the 32 inch TV, largest in the skies I believe… Upon taking out my iPad and headphones, I was immediately helped by 2 flight attendants! All this attention is the drawback when you are the only passenger in First. The ambience is so quiet that it feels like I am ensconced in a private jet. The seat and the ottoman is so wide it takes a stretch to get the slippers, Bose headphones and the amenity kit already placed on the seat. Next up came one attendant who introduced herself as Ms Bang and the other being Ms Kim. She welcomed me to the flight. Next Kim got around to offer me magazines. All of them knelt when asking if I wanted something and it just feels awkward for me… I am pretty sure I was already red-faced at that stage… Then Ms. Bang came over with 2 sizes for pyjamas (large and medium), I think I should fit with medium. And then she came over again to ask me what drinks I would like. No alcohol is served on the ground, but they have ginseng tea with honey, and I would take that since its special! Ms Kim actually came over and poured honey to the tea while holding the tray! Amazing training! As Ms. Bang cleared my tea, I was offered another one but I declined.
After asking me about my destination, Ms. Bang came and prepared a customs and immigration form for me to fill. Great service so far as the two took care of all the details to make this flight as comfortable as possible. I checked out the rest of the plane and took more photos while waiting for the pullback. All the photo taking led to one of the stewardess volunteering to take a photo of myself in the suite, and who would say no to that? Long queues at O’Hare on a Monday afternoon meant a slow wait for take off and it wasn’t until 12:34 that we took off.
Take off was pretty quick and we were off above the clouds! The cloudy day in Chicago meant that there wasn’t much views to be had on take-off. Immediately after the seat belt sign was turned off, the senior purser came over to close all the windows, and the wonderful Ms. Bang came over to provide the menu and explain that first class passengers can order the meal at anytime and i went ahead for the meal to be prepared in half an hours time. I chose to mix and match the order taking the Korean course with an additional cheese cake dessert. Whilst waiting for the meal, i played around the seats and the senior purser spoke with pride of the new plane.
I also explored the first class lavatory a bit before meal service started. It was small like any other lavatory, and a far cry from the one in the 747 of Cathay’s First Class. There was ample amenities stocked inside including toiletries from L’Occitane and their Green Tea fragrance. It was an ample space to freshen up I guess, though they only had one lavatory for the whole cabin of 8 in First, with a separate lavatory for crew only.
One of the things I enjoy most flying is being able to watch movies while having the meal. And in Asiana Suites, this is done in full HD with their 32-inch screen. Thus I started watching The Bourne Legacy with the commencement of meal service.
Started the meal service with dates and pine nuts, and I had more ginseng tea with honey! Perfect combination ever! Next came the caviar service, and the generous portions with a mother of pearl spoon surpassed Cathay’s caviar offerings. I ordered champagne with the caviar and Ms. Bang actually proactively offered both the Taittinger and Pol Rogers, with my taste buds preferring the latter. After the amazing caviar, the prawn appetizer with pine nuts was somewhat disappointing!
However the next Korean starter of Pumpkin porridge is actually more like pumpkin bisque and it was delicious and served to warm the taste buds. This was a good soup to follow on to the next course of Bibimbap with Bulgogi short ribs, which was a very filling main course. The bibimbap is very tasty though the short ribs was somewhat tough and taste a bit like jerky. I’ve definitely had better short ribs in Vancouver!
The side dishes of kimchi, egg rolls, seaweed and sweet anchovies was a nice accompaniment as well. I even asked for more seaweed to snack on. I had both the Korean and western desserts and it comprised of three plates, namely fresh fruits, Korean traditional sweets and the cheesecake! Paired with the icewine, it was just heavenly!
Finally, Ms. Kim came over with truffles and offered me their whole selection of teas! That is what I call great service, though being the only passenger with 2 attendants definitely helped. The whole experience till this point was flawless, and definitely better than my Cathay Pacific First experience.
Finished watching The Bourne Legacy after the meal, and Ms. Bang offered to make up the bed if necessary, while I gave the idea of using 1A as the bed, so that left my seat as the lounge. After the meal, I walked around the aircraft as I felt so full, and took this opportunity to try out an empty business class seat. The business seat is definitely adequate though its quite narrow and loses out to the one by Cathay. Or maybe the First Suites just distorts my perception of reality… The flight is quite packed though there are still empty seats in certain rows. Economy is in 3-3-3 seating, and seems to be quite spacious, similar to Cathay’s new economy seats.
I changed into pyjamas after the meal and found medium a bit small, thus ended up with a ‘Large’ pair of pyjamas. The drawback if I could say any was the suite was just too spacious, and the seat was a bit firm. This meant trying out the various seat functions to get the optimum seat settings, which was easy enough with the touch screen pad. The seats and suites controls are accessed easily enough from the LCD screen, and the touch screen worked well, while the entertainment touch screen controller is separately found under the left armrest.
Just before I settled down in the other suite, I also asked for playing cards or postcards and Ms. Bang came back with an array of goodies including kids cutout boards too. There are lots of storage within the suites for all these goodies, and apparently there is also a pop-up minibar section beside the TV, but it wasn’t filled during this flight. Another thing I liked about the suite was the ambient lighting around the suite which does make a difference for reading, lounging, snacking and sleeping. On the right side was a light screen the size of a tablet and a reading light with an air nozzle. At the back of the chair there is also another light which can be controlled to brighten up the surrounding.
I took a nap in the prepared bed on seat 1A and had a nice 3 hours sleep. The new plane allowed Asiana to decorate the ceiling with LEDs to resemble a starry sky. Upon waking up, the flight was closing in on the international dateline and there was views of the ice shields near the North Pole. Wonderful scenery kept me awake.
Ms. Kim seems to be on duty now as I do not see Ms. Bang around, and Ms. Kim came over offering snacks but I requested for some chips, not something that Asiana puts on the first class menu, though she went out of the way to get me some from the business class cabin. It came with the chocolates that I chose during the order. With the snacks, I continued to watch another movie, this time round choosing Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3, which was funny. I guess the value of first class is the ability to be like being in your own home while travelling halfway across the globe. I went back to catch another hour of nap time after the end of the movie. It is really difficult to sleep much with the day departure, similar during my first class flight to SF from HK on Cathay.
There was more beautiful tundra scenery as I looked out. It should be said at this point that on flights headed to Seoul, the K seats offer much better views.
There’s still some time for a nap and I went back to the confines of my suite in 1A.
A short nap later, I awoke and returned to seat 2A before Ms. Kim enquired if I would like the second meal to be served. We are now approximately 3 hours away from Seoul. I decided to order a main course from the dinner menu as i was interested in the lobster. However Ms. Kim needed to check if she could do that, I guess she was the junior attendant in the cabin. The senior purser which is a male never did introduce himself though. He was just staying in the galley reading newspapers. After checking that she could serve me the lobster for breakfast, she proceeded to take the side orders. I decided also to have Shin Ramen as I am a big fan of the Korean spicy noodles! Since the ramen was meant to be a snack, I was served that first. I slurped it down heartily while watching another movie – The Expendables 2!
After the snack of noodles, it was time for the lobster. Maybe I was full from the snack or the dinner was just too damn good, but the lobster was a disappointment in comparison. I kind of regretted ordering the lobster for the snack. The white wine served was nice enough to go well with the lobster though! Another fruit plate followed at the end of the meal and I asked for more icewine to go along with it.
The second meal service ended with more beverage glasses as that befitting of a first class meal. It was just relaxing for the rest of the flight as we cruised past Northeastern China. The flight on Asiana also meant we needed to do a circuitous routing to bypass North Korean airspace. That must have added an hour or so to the flight time which meant more cabin time for me! I don’t mind it at all when I have all 8 suites to myself! The route also showed me another part of China I’ve yet to see before. Basically the route that the plane took was like watching Discovery when you look out of the windows! So this was another thing I do enjoy on long-haul transpacific flights, especially when going through the polar routes.
As we approached Incheon, the cabin windows were opened, letting in the warm glow of the sunset. The clear weather gave nice views of the islands around Incheon and was a fitting end to a great flight. But service have yet to end, as Ms. Bang came back to offer a pre-arrival beverage. Cathay First does not offer this except for a bottle of water, and I thought this was a mice touch in First Class. I got more ginseng tea as i watched the landing video showing how to relax the muscles and massage oneself after the long flight time. Another great touch by Asiana showing this video! The landing itself was one of the best I have experienced in a very long time, but then again, being upfront means landing is particularly smooth! The flight crew also made sure I was the first off the plane at the end of this long flight!
After disembarking, the queue for immigrations was not too bad, and it was actually quite fast. By the time I was out on the baggage claim, both my bags have been pre-loaded onto a baggage cart just waiting for me to roll it off. All in all a very pleasant experience on arrival, as it is to be expected in many Asian airports.
To recap, the flight is probably one of the best I had and I particularly enjoyed the huge TV and the attentive service by both stewardess during the flight. I would probably rate it a perfect 10 flight, and if I really want to be picky, I could probably say some parts of the meal was not that nice. But it is an airplane, you just don’t expect them to serve food as good as those on the ground right?