Flight Review: Asiana Airlines (A380) First Class from Seoul to New York
TO THE POINT: Asiana's A380 first class is a phenomenal award option to Asia. The pros: award availability for 4+ passengers, a fantastic crew, incredible food and drinks, a 32-inch monitor and sliding doors for ultimate privacy. The cons: a limited in-flight entertainment selection, only one first-class lavatory and no Wi-Fi.
On my way home from last month's Singapore A350 delivery flight, I decided to fly in first class on Korean Air's 777-300ER from Singapore to Seoul, and in first class on Asiana's A380 from Seoul to New York (JFK). I had originally planned to fly on this aircraft back in February before moving to Lufthansa due to a blizzard in NYC — so I was very eager to try it out.
Spoiler alert: Asiana's A380 did not disappoint — this ended up being one of the best flights of my life.
Booking Asiana First Class
Since Asiana is a member of Star Alliance, you have a few options for booking award travel. I opted to redeem 105,000 Aeroplan miles (plus about $40) for the one-way first-class flight, but you can use 120,000 United miles instead if you wish. Aeroplan is an Amex Membership Rewards transfer partner, and since we value MR points at a bit less than Chase Ultimate Rewards (which I would have needed to use if booking via United), Aeroplan seemed like the best bet.
Asiana first-class award availability is exceptional, with 4+ seats available on many dates from both JFK and LAX. Here's a sampling from next summer (note that some dates with premium-cabin availability only have 4+ seats open in business class):
If I had paid in cash, the one-way first-class flight would have cost about $4,600, giving me a redemption value of about 4.4 cents.
Looking at the seat map prior to check-in, I was a bit concerned that the flight would be nearly full. Fortunately, only five of the 12 first-class suites were occupied.
Asiana also allows you to pre-order a meal by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The process is a bit cumbersome, but I found the agent on the other end of that mailbox to be responsive during US business hours. Below are the pre-order options that were available for my flight:
I ended up ordering the Galbi Jjim (braised short ribs), which were exceptional, as you'll see below. Bibimbap is another good choice, but Asiana had loaded that for my flight so you may not need to order it in advance.
Airport and Lounge
After a quick transfer from my Korean Air flight, I headed into the departures terminal at Incheon Airport (ICN). Fortunately, I had been able to check in for this Asiana flight ahead of time online, and the PDF boarding pass on my phone was sufficient for passing through the security checkpoint — I was also able to get a printed version of my boarding pass in just a few seconds before entering the first-class lounge.
Asiana's first-class lounge is definitely a huge step up from its incredibly crowded business-class lounge, but it's still not worth arriving at the airport extra early just to visit.
The majority of the lounge consists of one large room, with dividers throughout breaking up the different seating areas.
There's more than enough seating — even though things look like they can get a bit cozy, there were only a dozen or so other passengers there during my visit.
There are plenty of different options, too, such as these single chairs positioned around a grand piano.
There's also a private relaxation room, with cushy leather chairs and ottomans.
You can work from the business center if you'd like, where you'll find a few laptops and a printer.
Finally, passengers can sit in the dining area — there are a handful of tables set up there, each with four chairs around them.
The lounge food wasn't anything to write home about — expect fresh fruit and salad items during breakfast hours, in addition to a couple of hot dishes.
There's also a decent (though limited) alcohol selection.
You'll find much better food and beverage on board a long-haul Asiana flight, though, so I'd save some room for that, instead.
The First-Class Cabin on Asiana's A380
After a few minutes in the lounge, I headed to the gate just a few feet away. Boarding had already begun so I was able to walk right onboard — there's even a jet bridge just for first class.
The first-class cabin consists of 12 suites spread between three rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The first-class section is at the forward section of the lower deck, which is considerably wider than Deck 2.
Suites are quite wide, with privacy partitions and sliding doors. If you're traveling with a companion, the center seats are a very good option — even with the suite doors closed you'll still be able to chat and enjoy each other's company.
The suites are very private — I had to raise my camera quite high to capture this overhead view.
There's a large lavatory at the front of the cabin. While it isn't as gigantic as the ones you'll typically find on the upper deck, it was certainly big enough. There aren't any special amenities on board, unfortunately, such as a shower or even a bar (which Korean Air does offer on its A380).
It was a bit tough to shoot, but the lav has a long seat covering the toilet. There's also an automated sink.
Asiana also offers a few amenities in the lavatory, including a facial mist, lotion and fragrances, among other items.
This lav also offers a window — don't forget to lower the shade when you're on the ground!
With only one lavatory, I did find that it was occupied a few times when I went to use it, even though we only had five passengers in the cabin. Instead of waiting around, I just walked upstairs to use the business-class lavs.
The final cabin feature is a very slick starry night mode, which the crew activated for much of the flight. I spent a few minutes staring at the stars from my bed.
As I mentioned, Asiana's A380s have a total of 12 seats. Each suite measures 25.2 inches wide and has 84 inches of pitch — in other words, they're relatively gigantic.
Each suite also has a 32-inch monitor, which is just about as large as they come on a commercial flight.
I selected 3A, a window seat in the last row. All seats are equally fantastic, though, with a sizable ledge and decent storage space — there's enough room for a carry-on bag underneath the ottoman.
There's also a large storage compartment to the side of the display.
And a smaller compartment to the side of the seat, which is also where you'll find the USB port and headphone jack.
Then, on the aisle side of the monitor is a slide-out clothing rack, and a small mirror.
Many of the seat features can be controlled using a wired touchscreen remote.
You can jump right into a reclined or bed mode, or make granular adjustments to each section of the seat.
As you'd expect, the seat goes completely flat. In lie-flat mode, it feels almost as wide as a twin-size bed.
Of course there's plenty of privacy when you're sleeping.
You can easily open and close the doors during the flight — they're fairly quiet, so you won't have to worry about waking your neighbor.
A pillow, comforter and slippers were already at my seat when I arrived, while a flight attendant appeared a few moments later with an amenity kit, pajamas and a duffel bag to carry everything home in (which I very much appreciated!).
The pajamas were very comfortable, high-quality and they fit perfectly.
The crew also provided Bose noise-canceling headphones (not yours to keep).
The Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit had an assortment of high-quality items, ranging from an eye mask and earplugs to a sizable hand cream.
And there's that 32-inch screen again. It's difficult to capture just how big the monitor is, but the Bose headphones should give you a clue.
I keep mentioning the 32-inch high-definition screen, so there must be a bunch of great content to go along with it, right? Wrong. This is one area where Asiana has really dropped the ball. I've had better options on just about every other long-haul flight I've ever taken.
Before we dig into the content, let's take a look at the gear. Since the screen is so far away from the seat, you'll need to control it with this touchscreen remote, which is hidden under a side panel.
The remote was fairly straightforward and responsive, and the touchscreen makes it easy to do things that you wouldn't be able to with a traditional controller, like browse content or skip to a specific spot in a video.
Speaking of content, there aren't many TV shows to speak of, so we'll focus on Hollywood flicks.
There are a total of 20 Hollywood films to choose from. Not specifically new releases (although the majority were recent films), but 20 movies in the entire Hollywood category. Here's page 1:
And page 4:
As I mentioned, there wasn't any notable TV content, though you could catch up on 30 minutes of CNN or other news programs if you wished.
The CNN option was a recent 30-minute clip. It wasn't particularly high-quality (in terms of content or resolution).
And, annoyingly, most of the videos had bright yellow subtitles below that I couldn't find a way to turn off.
At the very end of the flight, the crew activated an in-flight exercise video, so I tried some of those. While I'm not really sure whether or not they made any difference, I think the video would have been more effective if it was shown to us at the beginning of the flight instead of just before landing.
Finally, there's a forward-facing camera, which I really enjoyed watching as we approached JFK.
Food and Beverage
Now this is an area where Asiana really shines. If only every airline could offer catering this good...
After boarding, I was offered a warm towel.
And then some very slick-looking menus (which were later collected).
In first class, you can eat whatever you want whenever you want, though I decided to stick to the outlined order.
Asiana serves Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Champagne, which I enjoyed. It retails for about $150 a bottle on the ground.
The flight attendants present the bottle each time before pouring, which more than anything seemed to emphasize just how many pours I had :-) This was served with a small bowl of peanuts.
Just after takeoff, I was served a small amuse-bouche of various mushrooms rolled up and held together with a toothpick.
The menu included several cocktails, so I requested a Manhattan. It was delicious, but tiny. If that sword were to scale with a larger glass, it could do some serious damage.
A flight attendant then began to set my table for the main meal — note the rose!
I selected caviar for my appetizer, but it seemed like I could choose as many items from the menu as I wished. As you'll see, there was more than enough food anyway.
The caviar spread was very nice, with toasted bread and very thin blinis, along with a porcelain spoon and the usual accompaniments of chopped onions, egg and sour cream.
I was then served a second appetizer that I hadn't spotted on the menu. I'm not sure what this dish is called, but it was essentially a do-it-yourself Korean taco setup. Delicious.
Seriously — so much flavor in such a tiny package.
I then ordered some red wine — since I had spotted the Francis Ford Coppola winery during BottleRock a few months earlier, I was really excited to try the Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon. I was even more pleased to discover that it'll only run you $20 a bottle on the ground, so I'll likely be stocking up on this.
I then had another appetizer that I don't believe I actually ordered — a delicious sweet potato porridge.
Finally, it was time for the main event. As I mentioned, I had pre-ordered the Galbi Jjim (braised short ribs), but once on the flight I really wanted to try the bibimbap. The flight attendant suggested that she could prepare (what sounded like) a smaller version of both, which sounded fantastic.
Instead, I received what appeared to be full versions of both entrées on a gigantic tray, consisting of 11 bowls and two plates of food. Everything was insanely delicious. I managed to eat roughly a third of what was provided, and I was beyond stuffed.
But wait — there's more! After all of this, I was served a small plate of fruit, which was fresh and delicious.
I could have eaten again later in the flight, but as you can imagine, that absolutely wasn't necessary. So I waited for breakfast.
Breakfast was served roughly two hours before landing — the first course (below) consisted of pastries and more delicious fresh fruit. I also ordered a Bloody Mary, which was perfect.
The pastries were very good, but I'm not sure I would have been so impressed on the ground.
The fruit, of course, was of excellent quality.
I also ordered a cappuccino, which was perfect as well.
And then some strawberry yogurt. I didn't need this course, but I wanted to see if it would be served in a proper bowl (which of course it was).
For the entrée, I selected the omelet, which was served with sausage, bacon, smoked salmon, potatoes, veggies and sun-dried tomatoes. Also, given that Asiana can prepare fresh eggs on board, I asked for scrambled eggs with tomato instead of the omelet, which was a very good decision. Everything on this plate was outstanding.
I was so impressed with the catering, but the service was even better. The flight attendants were so incredibly polite and professional, but also managed to be a bit casual after picking up on my personality. There's not a single thing I could fault them for.
As much as I wanted to be home, I was sad to see this flight come to an end. I could probably spend the rest of my life flying Asiana first class, but I'd be very fat and a bit bored, having run out of appealing in-flight entertainment content about four hours in.
This was easily one of the best flights of my life — in terms of the overall experience, I'd say it's a tie with the Etihad Apartment. The food was far better on Asiana, and the bed was much more comfortable, but the Apartment is considerably larger, very unique and offers an in-flight shower. The service was comparable, too.
That said, at least four first-class award seats are very frequently available on Asiana's US A380 routes (New York and Los Angeles), so if you have the miles to spare, this is easily a product that the entire family can experience at once. Etihad's A380 Apartment, meanwhile, can be very challenging to book, though availability does pop up from time to time. If you're flying to Asia, though, there's no question that Asiana's A380 is the way to go.
Have you flown first class on Asiana's A380? Tell us about your experience, below.