The morning departure and the long distance between Incheon and Seoul meant I had to wake up really early to catch one of the first airport bus to the airport. Upon reaching the airport, I head for the First Class check in counters, but one of the gate agents insisted the Narita service has no First cabin. That doesn’t seem right does it? I was half worried they changed the plane to a smaller jet which had no first class. But after being shown the Business counter to check in, it turns out the agent was wrong after all! Hmm frequent flyers or travellers who reads FlyerTalk are indeed more knowledgeable than some airline employees!
So I was checked in quickly and after that, the check in agent even escorted me past the queues in security via a discreet door to priority security. She proceeded past immigrations, which I cleared very quickly as well since the customs officer were generally very efficient. The benefits of an escort is how hassle free the whole process was, but it also meant I had no chance to explore the terminal and even forgot to refund my tax refunds as I was just taking it all in stride. The agent escorted me to the Asiana First Class lounge where I was able to obtain a locker to store my belongings. I always value lounges with lockers and this is considered essential for me.
The lounge is huge and had a separate dining area with lots of space. I doubt it will ever get crowded since there was really plenty of seating, though the restrooms are a bit small compared to the rest of the lounge. In terms of decor, it reminded me of an American library with the dark cherry wood panelling and it comes with a grand piano in the centre dividing the lounge from the dining area. Food selection was good with made to order noodles, and there was also Haagen Dazs ice cream as dessert. However, I have to say that Cathay Pacific does a better job with lounges at their home base. There was also a lack of Korean food choices for a Korean based airline I think. Personally, I would have liked more dining choices like Shin Ramyun or some Korean Pumpkin Porridge rather than that huge amount of unused space which wasn’t that private anyway. The morning also saw some crowds in the restrooms as travellers seems to wash up before boarding, and the small size of the restrooms relative to the lounge is indeed the failings of its design.
I would perhaps very much wanted to explore the airport but didn’t since I was too tired out from the early morning departure. For economy class passengers travelling through Incheon, I am pretty sure the airport offers much in terms of entertainment choices such as shopping. And yes the airport duty free shops are already bustling with shoppers early this morning! But I wasn’t in the mood to shop and was eagerly awaiting the flight on my second Asiana Airline First Class flight. I picked some newspapers and magazines from the lounge and made my way onto the gate for boarding as soon as my flight was ready for boarding.
OZ102 Seoul ICN – Tokyo NRT
Monday 10 Dec 2012
Boeing 747-400 HL7428
Seat 2K, moved to 2A before take off
First Class on the 747 is always special because of the conical shape of the cabin in the front and the fact that passengers get to sit even more upfront than the pilot. The private feel of the cabin is accentuated by me being the only one on First again. As soon as I showed my boarding pass, I was directed to my seat and helped with my jacket and luggage, similar to my First Suite Class flight on Asiana just a few days ago… While the cabin is old, the service remains one of the best! As I sat down in 2K, I looked around and decided to move myself to seat 2A by notifying the stewardess. Ah, the problems of flying in an empty First Class cabin – choosing where to sit.
Upon being seated, I noticed that the seat was far more comfortable in the default mode which is for take-off and landing compared to the First Suite class. Maybe due to the softer (due to being worn-out) padding or just the way the seat wraps around you more snugly than the wide and firm seat of the Suites but it just felt better to sit in. The suite controls were more similar to Cathay’s First Class, and thus no touch-screen controls.
Before being able to soak it all in, I was offered a choice of drinks and I chose the Ginseng tea once again and while waiting for the drink to be served, I took the time to snap some photos of the cabin, though this time the stewardess did not offer a photo of myself in the seat. No matter as the tea was soon served with the usual small jar of honey and hot towel came along with it. Like before, the stewardess also made sure I have magazines, newspapers and the immigration form that I would need for arrival into Japan. It is all these little details that makes me appreciate First Class.
Unlike the First Suites Class, the old First Class cabin onboard Asiana’s 747 does not feel as private, though it does feel more spacious without all the doors. The way the seats along the windows are angled, however ensures that most passengers on the sides faces the window and couples would perhaps be best suited to the middle seats which seems to be like the captain and co-captain’s chair. Having seen and sat in both products, Asiana’s new First Suite Class is definitely a leap forward from their old cabin and would place it amongst airlines with the best First Class Cabin.
Shortly after I settled into my seat and sip on my Ginseng tea, the plane started its pullback and I relaxed as we slowly taxied to the take-off position for another perk of flying upfront. That is to take photos after take-off from the vantage position with 3 windows. As luck would have it, I should have stayed put at my original seat in 2K for better views, but it didn’t matter as I was still able to take great photos of Seoul after the pilot deactivated the seat belt sign and I was able to freely change seats. The stewardess went about doing their business and left me to do mine, but it wasn’t long before they entered the cabin to hand me the menu for this short flight to Narita. Even for such as short flight, Asiana still bothered with full size menus and a 3 course meal in First Class, which is really impressive!
Since I was leaving Korea and this is probably my last flight with Asiana until some time in the future, I indulged in more Bibimbap. I asked politely to keep the menus for reference with the intention to look at what they had to offer in terms of beverages while asking for more Ginseng tea in the meantime. There wasn’t the Pol Roger Winston Churchill which I liked, and instead on this short flight, Taittinger 2002 and De Venoge 2004 was served. There was also a different variety of red and white wines offered, though they still did have Jackson Triggs Icewine as dessert wine, and this was my choice for the early morning flight.
As I waited for the meal, I fiddled with the entertainment system and browsed though the selection. As far as I can remember, the selection was more or less similar to the Suites Class, though the screen size was definitely smaller and not very useful for watching inflight movies, especially with the bright cabin in this morning flight. Before I had the time to firm up my selection of movie to accompany my meal, the stewardess came back and set the table, laying out the table cloth and a stalk of rose on the top. I also ordered the icewine after she finished laying the table set-up. She came back shortly with my appetizer of poached Dropwort with Abalone or ‘Minari Jeonbok Ganghoe’ which looked like some shellfish covered in beancurd skin, topped with radish and tied together with seaweed. The overall presentation of this dish is visually appetizing, though it tasted bland and was best eaten with the sauce that accompanied it. A glass of water that was frequently refilled and my Ginseng tea was also served at the start of the meal.
Just as I finished the chewy appetizer, the stewardess came back with the glass of icewine. I indulged in my seat and was really enjoying the whole First Class experience even on this short flight! Before long, the stewardess returned with a huge tray filled with a huge bowl of Bibimbap ingredients, a separate bowl of rice and all the side dishes. The major difference between this and the one I had on the ORD-ICN flight was the lack of beef short rib. The side dishes and soup was also different. In today’s flight, the side dishes and soup were less spectacular but still tasty. However, with the ramen and snacks I had in the lounge I barely finished half of the meal and the meal service ended with a plate of freshly cut fruits comprising of Korean pear which is one of my favourite fruit.
With the conclusion of the meal, it was time to try sit back and watch a movie. However the morning sunshine resulted in glare on the screen which made it difficult to watch a proper movie or anything. In the end, I decided to just convert the seat into the full lie-flat bed and get a short nap. It was still comfortable in the bed mode and should provide adequate space for sleeping on transpacific routes. Though I have to say it won’t beat Cathay’s First Class. This is because there was just too much wasted space around the cabin that could have been better utilized.
I managed to have a short nap of around half an hour before the pilot announced the plane’s descent into Narita Airport. With my immigration card filled, the stewardess made sure I was the first one off the plane and amazingly there was another escort holding a plaque with my name as I exited the jetbridge. This was a bit unexpected and thus I had only some time to take a shot of the plane before the escort walked with me to the immigration counter, and onwards to the baggage claim. Even with the short wait in the immigration as I had to rummage through my bag for my passport, my bags and all were already waiting for me in a trolley ready to be whisked away. The efficacy of the whole process was just incredible! And 20 minutes after disembarking, I was out with all my luggage into Japan where I waited in a nearly empty Arrival hall to wait for the next limousine bus to bring me to my hotel.
I was totally impressed with all my 4 flights on Asiana, comprising of 1 long haul First, 1 short haul First and 2 domestic Economy segments. I believe they truly deserve their 5 star airline rating (personally I would even give them a perfect 10) and I would not hesitate to fly with them again in the future!