Korean Air’s Disappointing 787 First Class Layout: Incheon to Hong Kong KE607 review

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I recently enjoyed this flight from the other end of the plane to the one in which I recently reviewed economy class.

Ticketing

I booked this ticket the week before travel for 45,000 Skypass miles and IDR1,152,800 ($611). This was for Jakarta to Hong Kong via Seoul. I booked the ticket easily on Korean Air’s website and there was lots of availability.

Korean Air allows one-way redemptions at half the cost of a return, and with their regional awards this award represents excellent value in terms of the length of trip. I was happy to have some time in Seoul as part of this trip, but the routing is roundabout so others may prefer a direct Jakarta to Hong Kong flight.

At the Airport

I had been issued with the ticket for both legs at checkin at Jakarta. However I had some luggage to check in Seoul so went to the checkin counters there. First class check in is in aisle A of the cavernous (and poorly signposted) terminal two. It is a separate room.

I entered and a lady at a counter who had tags prewritten for passengers on first class flights that day (a great idea – I wish more hotels would prepare keys like this for expected guests) pointed me to a separate room within the checkin area. This was a sort of lounge, which could be useful if one was meeting other members of one’s travel group who had not yet arrived. This setup felt premium and considered.

The luggage was wrapped as is Korean Air’s standard for first class luggage, and I went to security and passport control. These are noticeably quicker now than in terminal one, which remains congested with Chinese tourists in my experience.

I used the Korean Air first class lounge then proceeded to gate 257 for boarding.

Equipment

The flight was operated by a Boeing 787-900 (registration number HL8083). I am not a big fan of the 787 although as it was night time I would not be bothered by one of my biggest bugbears, its lack of physical window shades. But the way in which Korean Air had kitted out first class felt like a big missed opportunity.

The plane was fresh and clean. However, the small first class cabin with its single aisle of 2-2-2 seats did not look like a proper first class cabin. I had read complaints from other commentators that Korean Air’s first class on the 787 (unlike the 777 I had taken from Jakarta to Seoul, which had its roomier “Kosmo Suites” seat) uses more or less the same seat as in its business class. This really compromised the flight comfort in my view, as well as not looking sufficiently premium for first class.

The chair was not wide, but I could sit in it without touching either side so in that sense it was wide enough for my purposes. What bothered me was the layout. There was nowhere to put, for example, a book, drink or other items beside me – just a very narrow ledge which would not support a drink, or a nook beside the seat which was behind me physically when seated and thus uncomfortable. There was a small table on the right hand side of my seat, where the entry from the aisle was. However, that was so far forward that when wearing a seatbelt I could not physically reach it. Leaning so far forward to put down a drink or so on is very impractical and not at all a first class design.

The fold out table was also problematic as it did not fold in half. So when it was out if, for example, one wished to go to the toilet, one would have to put the table away, rather than being able to step around it.

There was a large television screen, and there were Bose headphones although as they had sponge earpieces which I cannot stand I decided to forego the entertainment. I did look at the map, however. Korean Air makes great effort to demarcate boundaries, notably in areas where it and Japan dispute ownership (hence the border over the sea, something it also applied to Taiwanese islands xlose to Xiamen).

There was also a blanket and pillow at the seat and a plug and USB charger.

Flight

There were only two passengers in first class – I was in seat 1A and the other was in the other window seat. We were slightly delayed pushing back due to air traffic control. The pilot said that we may experience turbulence but there was not much and we landed at Hong Kong half an hour ahead of the schedule.

En route there were masses of fishing boats, south of Jeju and then later on down much of the Chinese coast. It is interesting to see the scale of the fishing fleet so clearly.

Food and Drink

The menu and drinks list was in the pocket beside and behind the seat upon boarding and was as below (minus some pages meant for other flights).

The menu was good and I felt the wine list was decent. I had the Branaire-ducru, its chewy tannins very pleasing.

I had had a cold during the day and already been thinking of having samgyetang chicken and ginseng soup, which is known for its curative properties. Barbecue won out so I was pleased to see the soup option on the flight. I was uncertain whether a soup as a main would be sufficiently filling.

The meal service started with a tasty starter. This is exactly as it was laid on my table – I would have expected the cutlery to be placed more elegantly.

Next up was a lentil soup which was basically pureed. It was fine. I skipped the salad, which on Korean Air tend not to be anything special.

The main course came and showed that the table in this seat and Korean’s first class meals are not a good match. As you can see, there was scarcely space on the table for all of the meal.

The samgyetang was simply luscious – a wonderful, hearty, tasty meal which surpassed most airline meals I have had. I was impressed.

After that I had no more appetite so skipped the fruit and had a tea then a digestif.

Service

There were two flight attendants serving the cabin and they served me alternately. They were professional and presentable though not especially friendly.

At the start and end of the flight, the purser came to introduce herself but apart from that I did not see her.

As a pre-meal beverage I chose the champagne. I was surprised that rose was the default champagne, decent though it was. It came with macadamia nuts. After takeoff, dinner service started and was paced exactly to my needs. Wine and water refills came regularly, although not with such perfect timing that I never sat with an empty glass.

The presentation was compromised by the insufficiently large table and also its design – as for example, when the tablecloth needs to be stuffed in at the side as shown.

Conclusion

Korean Air’s service is good in every class, including first. The meal here was excellent and made me very happy.

However, the seat design in the 787 is impractical and not as premium as one would expect. It is a missed opportunity on Korean Air’s part. If flying between Incheon and Hong Kong and there was 747, 777 or 380 availability – which there was not on my date of travel – I would rather plump for them in future.

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