Flight Review: Korean Air (777-300ER) First Class from Singapore to Seoul
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TO THE POINT: For 45,000 Chase points each way, Korean Air's first class offers a pretty good value from Singapore to Seoul. The pros: exceptional award availability, fantastic flight attendants, a comfortable lie-flat bed, amenity kits and pajamas. The cons: lackluster catering, limited in-flight entertainment content and a Changi Airport experience that isn't quite "first class."
Last month, TPG and I headed to Toulouse, France for Airbus' 10,000th aircraft delivery event. After the ceremony, I had an opportunity to fly on a brand new Singapore Airlines A350 from TLS to Changi Airport, while TPG headed home to Miami on Lufthansa. Meanwhile, I still needed to get back to New York from Singapore. I had already tried United's nonstop, Singapore's new SFO flight had yet to launch and I had reviewed SQ's one-stop A380 service to JFK just a few months before.
First class on Asiana's A380 seemed like a great option, given that I was originally supposed to review that flight in February (before a blizzard made that impossible). But first I had to get to Seoul and at the time, Asiana only had economy award availability — which wouldn't have made for a very interesting review on a six-hour red-eye flight — so it was time to get creative.
Booking Korean Air First Class
It just so happened that Korean Air was operating a 777-300ER on the exact flight I needed, and that plane is configured with the airline's long-haul first-class product. Given how incredible Korean Air award availability tends to be, I had no problem booking the flight.
I called Korean Air in Los Angeles to put the award on hold, then ticketed the flight a few days before departure for 45,000 miles + $130 after instantly transferring points from Chase Ultimate Rewards. The cash fare was about $2,000, giving me a redemption value of 4.2 cents per point — that's double TPG's current valuation.
At check-in, it looked like I was the only passenger in the first-class cabin, but another passenger appeared shortly after I boarded. Still, with only two people in a cabin designed for eight, it was sure to be a very pleasant (and private) flight.
Airport and Lounge
Call me crazy, but I've been to Singapore a handful of times and decided not to stay the night this time around. Since our delivery flight arrived around 9:30am and my flight to Seoul was scheduled to depart at 1:10am the following morning, I got a room at the Crowne Plaza for the day. I went to the gym, caught up on emails, wrote up a post about my A350 experience, spent a few hours checking out the Night Safari, and by then it was time to check in for my flight to ICN.
I didn't see a first-class check-in queue so I ended up waiting in the regular economy line, given that there was only one passenger ahead of me.
Once I got to the counter, the agent suggested that I head over to the "Premier Check-In" area around the corner, but I decided to just finish up with the economy agent since I was already there.
He handed me my boarding pass and an invitation to the SATS Premier Lounge (Korean Air's contract lounge at Changi).
The SATS Premier Lounge contracts with a handful of airlines, and it's also accessible to Priority Pass members, so I could have gotten in even if I were flying economy thanks to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card's Priority Pass perk.
Despite how easy it is to get in, the lounge was fairly empty.
And the first-class section was entirely empty, though it wasn't much to speak of.
The most notable feature there was the universal power outlets available at nearly every seat — USB ports were available as well.
The lounge also had a buffet with a selection of hot and cold items.
The food wasn't much to write home about — it looked like it had been sitting out for quite a while.
There was also a small selection of wine and liquor.
And a refrigerator filled with Tiger beer.
I grabbed a beer and some do-it-yourself Laksa, which wasn't fantastic.
There's plenty to see and do at Changi Airport, so after a few minutes in the lounge I decided to head out and explore a bit.
There's also a fair amount of shopping options, though I didn't pick up anything on this trip.
I made my way to the gate about an hour before our scheduled departure time, since security is handled at each gate (or group of gates) at Changi Airport.
Unfortunately, our flight ended up departing an hour late, which meant an extended wait at an already crowded boarding area. The only available seat was next to a very loud family with a kid playing a smartphone game at maximum volume, which got old very quickly. We didn't even board until a bit after 1:30am, so I was beyond exhausted at this point.
The First-Class Cabin on Korean Air's 777-300ER
While you aren't very likely to come across a long-haul configured 777 traveling between Seoul and Singapore (a relatively short flight), you can find Korean's 777-300ER on flights to Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Seattle, Toronto and Vancouver, along with several European destinations, including London and Prague. Some of those routes now offer an updated version of the -300ER, including suites with closing doors in the first-class cabin.
This particular aircraft had a total of 291 seats, including eight in first class, 56 in business and 227 in coach.
The 777-300ER's first-class cabin consists of eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration.
First-class seats offer a fair amount of privacy, thanks to sliding partitions. Middle seats are ideal for couples, while solo travelers will be better off with a window seat.
I apologize in advance for the photography in this review — the cabin lighting was kept fairly dim throughout the flight and I wasn't able to get decent photos until we landed in Seoul, at which point I needed to race to my connecting flight thanks to the one-hour delay.
Just behind first class is a mini business-class cabin, with just 14 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. The business-class seats on Korean's updated 777-300ERs are far superior, so (hopefully) you'll end up with one of those, instead.
Moving back to first class, the cabin has just one lavatory, located in front of row 1. Given that there was only one other passenger, I never had to wait to use it.
It's a fairly basic first-class lavatory and the flight attendants kept it spotless throughout the flight.
My favorite feature is the cloth towels — a fairly standard amenity in long-haul first class (on non-US carriers, at least).
These particular first-class seats are 20.6 inches wide with 83 inches of pitch. The seats are similar in design to those on the A380, though those are a little bit wider.
There was a small pillow and blanket at each seat when we boarded. I had originally selected 1D, but I moved to 2A for a bit more privacy.
Each seat offers a decent amount of storage, with a large compartment on the left or right side.
Meanwhile, there's enough room to store a small carry-on underneath the ottoman.
Perhaps the most unusual in-seat amenity is this lamp, which closely resembles a faucet (especially when you position a water glass just beneath).
There's also a power outlet, and a USB port for charging smartphones, etc.
The seat and privacy partition controls are fairly straightforward.
You can fold the seat down into lie-flat bed mode with the push of a button. The flight attendant prepared the seat across the aisle for me, complete with a mattress pad and comforter.
With the center and aisle partitions raised it's actually fairly private, despite the lack of doors.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Korean Air offers not only an amenity kit, but also pajamas on this six-hour flight. The amenity kit included Davi cosmetics, a toothbrush, shoe horn, eye mask and earplugs, etc. The pajamas were soft and comfy, but the cabin was too warm to wear the long-sleeve top.
I was also offered a pair of excellent Bose noise-canceling headphones (which you need to leave behind after the flight).
A flight attendant later came by to offer newspapers and magazines.
Then, just before departure, I was offered a small water bottle along with another eye mask and set of earplugs, even though those also came in the amenity kit.
And, of course, there are slippers, as you would expect.
Each seat has a 23-inch monitor, which, while large, pales in comparison to the 32-inch screen Asiana offers (more on that in the next review).
There's a forward-facing camera available — this is a standard feature on newer planes like the Airbus A350, but I think this is the first time I've seen one on a 777.
Then there was a modest selection of films, including 14 new releases. Here's page 1:
And page 2:
And page 3:
There was also an entirely underwhelming selection of TV shows. If you're flying Korean Air's 777, you'll be better off bringing your own content, especially given that these planes do not offer Wi-Fi.
The handheld remote was fairly ancient, but it did the trick.
Food and Beverage
I'm not sure why I was expecting a full dinner service on a six-hour flight that departed at 1:10am — it was quite possibly the lightest first-class meal I've ever been served, but more on that in a bit. Before departure I ordered a sparkling water, which was served with macadamia nuts. Korean Air does not serve alcohol on the ground in Singapore, presumably to avoid taxes.
I did manage to get some Champagne after departure though — Korean serves Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé on this route, which retails for $70 or so on the ground. It was perfectly drinkable.
The "snack" was a spicy seafood puff pastry. It was tiny and tasted like something I'd expect to get at a convenience store.
For "dessert" I requested a Whisky tasting — Johnnie Walker Blue and Glenfiddich Cask Collection.
A few moments later the flight attendant appeared with more nuts.
After that I had another glass of sparkling water.
A few minutes after that, another flight attendant showed up with a gigantic soup. (I must have looked a little disappointed when she brought out the snack.) I believe this was the "Chinese style noodle soup with mixed seafood in chili broth" that was catered as the pre-arrival meal for the flight from Seoul to Singapore. It more than made up for the seafood pastry.
Then, later in the flight I had some tea. Just after that arrived, we experienced 30 minutes or so of significant turbulence, and the tea ended up spilling all over me and the seat — we were bouncing around so much that it even spilled out of the pot.
Breakfast was served roughly 90 minutes before landing, beginning with yogurt.
I was also offered fresh bread, including a croissant or cinnamon roll.
Then, for my entree, I opted for the cream cheese stuffed french toast, which was tasty. The other options included a Korean style seafood soup or an egg noodle soup.
Finally, I was served a small plate of fresh fruit.
This was easily the most luxurious six-hour flight I've ever had. The seat was comfortable, there was only one other first-class passenger and the service was outstanding. The catering and Changi experience left a bit to be desired, and the 30 minutes of turbulence wasn't ideal, but I can't fault the airline for that.
But was it worth the 45,000 Chase points? Given that business class will run you 35,000 miles on this route, it could be worth the splurge. And, if you're flying on to North America, you'll be redeeming 95,000 miles for the entire one-way journey (assuming you're traveling during an off-peak period), which isn't terrible.
I decided to stay awake for the entire flight so I could sleep most of the way to New York, but had I planned to sleep I think business class would have been just fine — especially considering there was only one passenger in that 14-seat mini-cabin just behind first class. On a six-hour red-eye flight, having a comfortable flat-bed seat is most important, and that's exactly what you'll get here.
Have you flown in Korean Air's 777-300ER? Tell us about your experience, below.
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