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Touring Korean Air's First Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

March 03, 2017
7 min read
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Last week, TPG and I were invited to attend the delivery of Korean Air's first 787-9 Dreamliner at Boeing's plant in Charleston, South Carolina — which, with the rollout of the extended-length 787-10, has been thrust into the spotlight as the company's latest and greatest assembly (and, now, aircraft delivery) facility.

I'm a big fan of the Dreamliner myself — I actually flew more than 10,000 miles on three 787-9s on my way to this event, traveling on Scoot from Taipei to Singapore, then on United from Singapore to San Francisco and SFO to Houston (and finally on to CHS on an Embraer 145). Miraculously, I felt great when I finally arrived late last Monday night, despite all those miles. That's due in no small part to the Dreamliner's passenger comfort enhancements, including higher humidity and a lower altitude pressurization. I would expect the same after a flight on Korean Air's latest plane.

Following a short delivery ceremony (during which Korean Air literally took possession of the "key" to the plane), we were invited on board for a Q&A and tour.

Cockpit and Galleys

First, starting way up front is the cockpit — the 787's is one of the roomiest in the biz.

Boeing's 787 has one of the most advanced flight decks to date, with numerous electronic instrument monitors and a heads-up display for both the pilot and co-pilot.

Just behind the cockpit is a pilot crew rest, complete with a chair...

...and two spacious bunks. Note that this crew rest occupies space that would otherwise be used for some of the first-class overhead bins, so the ceiling's a bit lower there. There's a second (larger) crew rest for flight attendants at the back of the plane, but unfortunately it wasn't accessible during our visit.

The 787-9 has four galleys, the largest of which is at the far back of the aft cabin.

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I've noticed that flight attendants (on US airlines, at least) tend to gather in the rear galley between meal services, so keep that in mind when choosing an economy seat.

Business and First Class Cabins

I already did a deep dive into the business- and first- class cabins — which, oddly, are nearly identical on this plane — so if you're looking for more detail there, please see this post.

Economy Cabin

Korean Air's 787-9 economy cabin is one of the most comfortable in the industry, thanks primarily to the generous pitch for standard seats (up to 34 inches). Some airlines charge extra for that kind of legroom, but everyone gets it here. To give you an idea of how roomy this plane is, American Airlines has 285 seats on its 787-9s (including 30 flat-bed premium seats) and United has 252 (including a whopping 48 lie-flat seats). Korean Air has 269 total seats, but only 24 in the premium cabins — so while the airline could easily add more economy passengers, it's elected to maximize legroom instead.

Each economy seat has its own 10.6-inch touchscreen entertainment system.

Unfortunately, just as we've discovered on recent flights, the movie selection can be incredibly limited. The IFE was responsive though, and appears to be Android-based (which should help with performance).

Now, back to the star of the show — that incredible legroom. These are ordinary economy seats in the middle of the rear cabin.

Here's 6-foot-7-inch TPG in the center economy section — there's enough space to be comfortable even with the seat in front reclined.

Of course, if you're looking for even more legroom, you have a few options there — including 44H and J, and 45G behind (which is missing a seat in front). Additionally, the same arrangement is available on the port side, making 44A and B, and 45C great picks there. Oddly, Korean Air's seat map for this aircraft is inaccurate, since it shows seats in front of 45C and 45G.

Where you won't have much space is in the rear economy lavatories — they're adequate, but a bit on the tight side.

Some of the other lavs offer much more space, however — this one behind Door 2 is especially spacious, so that's probably your best pick for... extended stays.

And wait... what's going on here? Are those two toilets right next to each other? No, not quite... the center partition can be removed in two of the lavs between the economy cabins, so that the airline can offer a handicapped-accessible lavatory with a smaller footprint.

Flying Korean Air's Dreamliner

Korean Air's first 787-9 will initially enter service with 3x daily domestic flights between Seoul (ICN) and Jeju (CJU). A flight to Tokyo will follow before Korean Air later adds the plane to its Seoul-Toronto (YYZ) nonstop route on June 1. Eventually, the aircraft will also operate a third daily flight to Los Angeles (LAX), and will enable daily service between Seoul and Seattle (SEA), with increased frequency scheduled to begin in May (with a 777 for the time being).

We dug into the carrier's paid and award rates in this post, but to recap, here's what you can expect to pay for round-trip flights from the US to Korea (note that rates may be higher on certain dates):

  • Economy: 70,000 miles + $245
  • Business Class: 125,000 miles + $245
  • First Class: 160,000 miles + $245

Award availability tends to be excellent on most routes, with two or more seats open in all cabins on many dates. Fortunately, Korean Air is an instant transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can transfer points earned with cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and book these seats instantly.

Additionally, the airline will let you put award seats on hold until a few days before departure, so if you’re planning a trip far in advance, you'll have plenty of time to earn the required points before the hold expires. Korean Air awards can be a bit complicated to book, though, as outlined in our post, How To Book Award Flights with Korean Air SkyPass. You can also book business-class awards (but not first-class awards) using Delta miles, though availability is usually much more limited.

Bottom Line

Korean Air's 787-9 Dreamliner is a fantastic pick — as long as you're flying in economy or business class. Given that biz and first class both have APEX seats, customers paying a huge premium for the forward-most cabin will surely be disappointed as soon as they notice that passengers one cabin behind are just as comfortable.

That said, the plane offers a (relatively) comfortable ride for everyone on board, and with Korean Air's historically fantastic award availability, there's a very good chance you'll find at least two seats to book on many 787-9 flights.

Are you planning to fly Korean Air's 787-9 Dreamliner?