Review: Korean Air A380 First Class New York JFK To Seoul

by Stephen

We arrived at the gate shortly before boarding was announced, and as mentioned in my last post, we were greeted by the all-too familiar parade of Asian grandmas in wheelchairs. I used the last few minutes before boarding to snap some photos of the gorgeous A380 that would be taking us to Seoul.

Pre-boarding began with the elderly and those needing extra assistance. About ten minutes after, first class boarding was called. Evidently there was some sort of holdup on board, as we encountered this wheelchair traffic jam halfway down the jetbridge.

KE 82 JFK-ICN
February 4, 2018
Airbus A380-800
Dep: 12:15 PM EST
Arr: 4:33 PM KST
Duration: 14 hours, 30 minutes

Seat: 3A

First Impressions Of First Class On Korean Air’s A380 

We were greeted warmly upon boarding and shown to our seats. Korean Air’s first class cabin on the A380 is comprised of twelve seats, or Kosmo Suites, as the airline refers to them, on the lower deck. With no overhead bins over the middle seats, the cabin feels very spacious. The color scheme, as others have noted however, leaves a bit to be desired. A sterile 1980s hospital is what I’ve always called it, and it certainly won’t be winning awards for most attractive cabin.
Privacy, as well, is lacking, and while the lack of dividers or barriers between seats really enhances the feeling of openness in the cabin, it is not ideal for those who highly value privacy at their seat. There is, of course, a divider between middle seats that can be raised, and each seat itself is enclosed in a sort of “shell.”

Sitting in my seat in 3A, I was able to see the other passengers but wasn’t be able to do too much snooping otherwise. Of note, the Kosmo 2.0 Suite that Korean Air offers in first class on the Boeing 747-8i is much more private and includes a door.

Immediately behind first class is economy, which comprises the remainder of the lower deck of the plane, while business class occupies the entire top deck. I’m unsure if this was intentional or not, but the front door was also eventually opened up for coach boarding, resulting in about 30-50% of coach passengers ultimately boarding through the front door and walking back through first class to get to their seats. The first class flight attendants, to their credit, were able to continue their pre-departure service despite the disruption.

My initial impressions of the first class flight attendant service was that it was overwhelmingly (in a good way) friendly and courteous. Not long after I settled into my seat, the flight attendant who would be working my side of the aisle came by to introduce herself and offer a warm towel. Though fairly minor, the towel did have a noticeable scent of mildew, which I found off-putting and disappointing for first class.

The Seat 

When I asked for a glass of champagne, the flight attendant informed me that they no longer serve alcohol on the ground in the US, which seems to have been their policy for at least several years now. I settled for a glass of water and spent some time playing around with the seat. The seat is spacious and offers a generous 82 inches of pitch and about 26 inches of width, plenty of room for one person and maybe even one-and-a-half people to sit on. As with other seats of this style, there is an ottoman and foot rest that cannot be used as a buddy seat but does have open storage space underneath.

Storage space is not lacking, as there are multiple storage compartments along the side of seat by the window as well as the overhead bins over the aisle seats. The seat controls are located along the other side of the seat and are intuitive and simple.
The most notable feature of these seats of course is the fountain-looking reading light which I ultimately did not use but did manage to bump into several times throughout the flight.

Amenity Kit, Pajamas, And Headphones

Not long before the doors closed, the flight attendant came back with pajamas, slippers, and an amenity kit. The bag itself was an attractive yet simple brown canvas bag that was specially branded for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games (again, this post was long overdue). Inside were a number of creams and lotions by DAVI, a California-based luxury skincare brand. Additionally the kit also contained your standard items like a disposable toothbrush, toothpaste, and eyeshade mask.
The pajamas we were given are the same that Korean Air has offered for years, made by Gianfranco Ferre, complete with the bizarre, nonsensical quote about sleep. The slippers were fine if not a little flimsy.

Finally, I was offered a set of Bose QuietComfort nose-cancelling headphones, which I declined as I had my own.

Pushback And Takeoff 

The first class cabin had only six of twelve seats occupied, with four of those being us. Given the relative emptiness of the cabin, the entire boarding process was smooth and efficient and the service at least at this point in the flight was good.

We pushed back on time and after a relatively short (by JFK standards) taxi, we were promptly on our way. The weather was perfect that day and as we climbed my eyes were glued to the window. Despite the million or so miles I’ve flown, I never cease to be awed by the beauty of flying, and this flight was no exception.

First Class Meal Service: Lunch

The meal service started not long after the seat belt sign was turned off. While the flight attendants jumped into action fairly quickly, the pace of the service itself was quite slow.


The lunch service began with an asparagus and smoked salmon amuse bouche. For my beverage, I opted to have the Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Rose 2006, which was quite good.

Next came the bread, which included a roll and a soft piece of what I think was supposed to be garlic bread.

Sadly, on this flight, there was no caviar service and instead the appetizer was foie gras with fig compote, which was tasty but not presented in a particularly appetizing way.

While service during the meal was well-intentioned and friendly, it was slower than most meal services I can remember — we were still on the bread starter 75 mins after takeoff. In addition, there seemed to be some inconsistencies with the service. For instance, while my partner was given salt and pepper shakers with her bread and olive oil (photo below), I did not get salt/pepper at all during the meal service.

Next came the salad, which those familiar with Korean Air will remember is plated directly from a cart that the flight attendants push through the cabin.

For my main entree, I of course went with the famed bibimbap. Unlike in the past, the dish no longer comes with printed instructions on how to mix everything together, but the flight attendants took their time explaining how to put everything together to our friends who were bibimbap newbies. The dish was fine but unfortunately not quite as good as I remember it tasting in the past.

Feeling not very sated after the bibimbap and knowing I’d skip out on dessert, I asked if I could try another entree as well. The flight attendant happily obliged, and after about 15 minutes, she brought out the beef tenderloin entree that I ordered. Beef on an airplane is notoriously difficult to do well, yet despite this I can’t ever seem to help myself. I am pleased to report, however, that this tenderloin was actually not bad and not overcooked as most beef dishes in the air inevitably are.

Feeling full after my two entrees, I opted to pass on dessert and the fruit plate. Though service was fairly attentive throughout the meal service, one additional disappointing aspect was that while I received several refills of champagne throughout the service, each time any flight attendant came by, I was only given a half pour of champagne, with one pour being maybe 3/4 of the glass at most. I’m not sure if they were low on the rose champagne and trying to ration or if there was some other reason for this, but I found it strange that among all of the flight attendants, refill pours were consistently stingy.

Time For A Snooze…

After the meal service concluded, I decided to work on my computer for a while. Korean Air does not have internet on its A380s and so after about 90 minutes I decided to call it. I played around with the IFE a little, which is decent but not exceptional. There was nothing particularly interesting, so at this point I decided to take a nap.

I asked a flight attendant if it would be possible to make up a bed in seat 2A directly in front of me, and she pleasantly obliged. While the seat is comfortable and I had no trouble falling asleep (disclaimer: I rarely have trouble falling asleep on planes), I found the blanket that Korean Air offers to be disappointingly narrow. Even completely opened, the blanket wasn’t able to completely cover me. That said, the cabin was kept quite warm so the width of the blanket didn’t matter much.

I slept comfortably for 2-3 hours before waking up and was impressed to find a new bottle of water that had been placed at my seat while I was sleeping. The cabin was still very warm after I woke up, and I casually mentioned the temperature to a flight attendant who was passing by. The flight attendant, impressively, immediately perked up and more or less ran to the galley to adjust the temperature. She came back right after with a glass of ice water.

Korean Air’s Unique Bar Setup(s)

Around this time the rest of our group had either woken up from a nap or had just finished up watching something on the IFE, so we decided to make our way to the business class bar at the rear of the top deck.

Like a number of other A380 operators, Korean Air has attempted to make use of the otherwise “dead” space on the plane that cannot be used for passenger seating. At the front of the upper deck is a lounge area with a self-service bar. At the back of the upper deck is another lounge/bar that is the primary “social space” on board. Finally, the front of the lower deck has a third “bar” area that is self-service as well and only for first class passengers.

The First Class “Bar”

We first passed by the first class bar on the lower deck right in front of the first class cabin. The bar area is small and seems to be more for display purposes. In addition to nuts and some sort of lollipop-like candy, there were a couple bottles of self-service liquor with several more bottles and martini glasses tucked away behind glass display cases. There is no room to socialize in this area and it doesn’t offer much than a pretty display, given that flight attendants are easily accessible if a drink is desired.

The Forward Upper Deck Bar/Social Space

We then climbed the forward staircase, at the top of which is a lounge area with two couches and another alcohol display with some snacks. The alcohol here, like the bar downstairs, seemed to be self-serve, as no flight attendants passed through in the fifteen or so minutes that we spent in this area. Despite being a space that was presumably designed for socialization, the lounge was dimly light and empty the entire time we were up there. Without much to do, we headed back through the business class cabin to the rear business class lounge.

The Rear Upper Deck Bar And Social Space

The bar in the rear of the upper deck is easily the best of the lounging spaces on board. In addition to being the largest of the social spaces, there were more snacks and more people in this area. Partially due to the layout which felt a little cramped (due to the random TV screen/magazine display in the middle of the seating area), and partially because of the service culture of Korean Air flight attendants, the lounge was not even close to as fun as the Emirates A380 onboard lounge is.

Unlike on Emirates, which has a flight attendant dedicated to staffing the bar at all times, the Korean Air bar seemed to be staffed by whichever flight attendant happened to be around. While they were all polite and happy to prepare drinks, I didn’t get the same social, gregarious vibe from the Korean Air flight attendants as I’ve gotten in the past with Emirates flight attendants. I ended up chatting with one flight attendant for a bit but found it much harder to have a conversation with any of the Korean Air flight attendants than with Emirates flight attendants.

We spent several hours hanging out at the bar and struck up conversations with a number of people who stopped by. There were periodic waves of business class passengers who came by either for a snack or a drink, but there were no more than 3-4 at any given time. One of the members of our group had actually brought Cards Against Humanity on the trip solely with the intention of playing it together while on board. A few passengers from business class ended up joining us, and while it wasn’t the most exciting experience I’ve ever had a plane, it was pretty novel to be able to play Cards Against Humanity with friends (and a few strangers) while sipping drinks over the North Pole.

We were perhaps having too good of a time, as we were eventually told (nicely) to be quieter by one flight attendant. I didn’t think we were being particularly loud (I’ve certainly been involved in much more rowdy gatherings at the Emirates A380 bar with no issues), and it struck me as odd that an area designed for socializing has noise limits.

At one point after asking for another glass of champagne, I was told by a flight attendant that they were not able to serve champagne at the bar and that they were only allowed to serve cocktails with Absolut. Granted, there does seem to be some sort of partnership with Absolut and indeed there was even an Absolut-branded menu of cocktails, but I found this strange, as I had been served several glasses of champagne prior to this by another flight attendant with no mention of this policy.

Ultimate, I felt a bit conflicted about the service at the bar. On the one hand, the flight attendants were courteous and provided decent-to-good service. Indeed at one point, I saw a flight attendant hold a baby for about 15 minutes so the mother could eat her meal. Yet being shushed (albeit politely) by one flight attendant and the mixup with what beverages were and were not allowed to be served at the bar left me with a not-so-great impression.

After several hours at the bar, we returned to our seats, but not before passing through the duty free display at the back of coach on the lower level.

First Class Meal Service: Dinner

We were greeted warmly by the first class flight attendants upon our return and asked if we wanted our second meal. While I wasn’t particularly hungry given the two entrees I had eaten earlier, I decided to partake of the dinner service for the photos if nothing else.

For the dinner meal service, I opted for some bread, a salad, and the shrimp dumpling noodle soup dish.
Both were fine but nothing to write home about, and the pace of the meal service itself was more reasonable/less slow than the earlier lunch service. My partner had a bowl of ramen (which she found comparable to instant Ramen) and a cup of cold Omija (magnolia berry) tea. 

The captain announced that we’d be beginning our descent not long after my tray table was cleared, and the flight attendants began making their rounds to prep the cabin. It was early evening as we descended and the views of the sea and the islands around Incheon were breathtaking.

Our descent was uneventful and we touched down a few minutes after 4:00pm local time. After a 10-15 minute taxi, we arrived at the newly opened (at that time) Terminal 2 at Incheon International Airport. I was pretty excited to have caught a glimpse of the new (at that time) Delta A350-900 that had just made its way over from the Midwest.

Delta A350-900 at ICN

We bid our crew adieu as we deplaned and made our way through the terminal to get to the new first class lounge, which I will be reviewing next.

The Upshot

All in all, Korean Air offers a solid first class product on the A380. While the hard product isn’t industry-leading and likely wouldn’t even break most people’s Top 10 lists, the seat is comfortable enough. The hard product is more or less without frills, though the B747-8i and some B777-300ERs now have doors in first class and the A380 of course has the bar. The positive, of course, is that Korean Air is the only product on which one can reliably find 3-4 first class award seats.

That said, with no Wi-Fi, an average IFE system, and catering and service that were fine but not exceptional, I wouldn’t quite call Korean Air first class an aspirational product. Indeed, the 14 hours we spent in flight were enjoyable but when we landed I didn’t find myself wishing for more time in the air as I have with other carriers.

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4 comments
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4 comments

IKC May 8, 2019 - 10:58 am

I find Korean Air’s catering out of ICN significantly better than out of JFK. It’s plain awful out of JFK. It’s a toss up between A380 and 747-8 in terms of comfort – I actually prefer an open cabin on the A380, and there are more seats (most of them empty), so it feels more spacious, and you typically can snag one seat to lounge in, and another for sleeping. 747-8 is a sentimental favorite though!

Reply
Hal May 8, 2019 - 11:32 am

I was going to say, KE stopped using Davi a while back. Now they use atelier cologne in F. But they use the same in J, just with less stuff.

Reply
AdamR May 8, 2019 - 11:51 am

Flew a 777ER with Kosmo 2.0 ICN-SFO last year due to an equpment swap. And apart from the welcome surprise of doors on the suite, the flight was utterly underwhelming in every aspect, much like yours. Aside from BA F which is hardly F at all and should never be placed on any realistic F product ranking, I put KE at the #2 spot on my “Completely Underwhelming and Overly-Hyped by Bloggers” list…with #1 belonging to QF F. I had the same “meh” experience as you on nearly every single point. I, too, was annoyed by the stingy pours of champagne. On top of that, I had to call the FAs repeatedly to refill it, and that would occur after maybe 2 sips, if I was being “delicate” in my imbibing. Food was decent. Bed comfort good but not like CX F or even EK with a seemingly narrower bed. KE should follow OZ and just get rid of F and save themselves some cash and go J (or some silly J+ concept – which likely won’t last), Y+ and Y. Essentially, I’d never wast miles on KE F again. Maybe that’s why other bloggers push it so hard: to keep the good products away from the masses. 😉

Reply
Z Flyer December 15, 2019 - 8:56 pm

Champagne should be filled to about 2/3 in a flute. For taste/smell. On a plane, it helps against spills too.

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