Tag Archives: asiana

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2016: Asiana B744 Business Class ICN-NRT Review

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2016: Trip Planning
Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air B77W Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air B77W Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United A319 First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United A319 First Class Mexico City to Houston
United B767 Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Airways A330  Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines A330 Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines A319 Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines A319 Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa A330 First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India B77W Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA B787 Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana A330 Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Chosun Seoul
W Walkerhill Seoul
Asiana B744 Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA B787 Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


The 747 always holds a special place in my heart because of its links to my childhood. When I was young my father was posted to Silicon Valley to work. Whenever we shuttled back and forth between the USA and Singapore, we’d take one of SQ’s many 747s. Sometimes it’d be the Big Top (-300). Sometimes it’d be the Mega Top (-400). Sometimes we’d be seated in business class on the upper deck (companies were way more generous with expatriate packages back in the day) and sometimes we’d be cramped in the rear, but all the time the stewardesses would fuss over me (My career as a charmer started early) and bring me model aircraft, games and other distractions.

I’d get to go to the cockpit and meet the pilots, who would sign my Young Explorer booklet. For the uninitiated among you, Krisflyer used to have a special Young Explorer program just for kids. It even had various tiers (good to get them started on the status race early in life) which gave better benefits that I can’t quite remember. There was definitely a requalification gift and once I got tickets to watch Space Jam. It was a different time.

So being on a 747 definitely brings back a lot of memories for me. Unfortunately,  the heyday of the 747 is long over, as the former queen of the long haul skies gets replaced by more fuel-efficient A380s and 77Ws. And although the A380 is certainly a formidable replacement, you don’t get that same feeling of privacy by having a small mini-cabin at the top of the jet.

SQ’s upper deck on the 747. This version has the angled flat Spacebed seats, but I’m old enough to remember when they used the reclining Ultimo series | photo credit: ashutterbugslife.wordpress.com

As of January 2016 there were about 220 747-400s left in passenger service, and over a third of them were with three airlines (BA, UA and KLM). This aircraft used to account for almost 50% of Asia-Europe and Asia-North America flights in the first half of 2006, but 10 years later it now accounts to less than 10%. Take up of the 747-400’s spiritual successor, the 747-8, has been poor, with only three passenger operators. So it’s likely that within the next 5-10 years we’re likely to see the familiar shape of the 747 disappear from airports altogether (or confined to the cargo terminals).

Asiana too, is in the process of gradually phasing out its 747 fleet. It has four left in commercial services, flying short distance/high traffic routes like ICN-NRT.

The best thing is that even though Asiana’s 747s have three cabins, they only sell business and economy seats on this route. Therefore, if you book business, you can use the manage booking function to select a first class seat in the nose of the 747 (the service level on offer however will still be business).

In other words, if you’re booked in business you can either pick one of the 10 first class seats in the nose of the plane

Or one of the 24 business class seats in the upper deck

Although the upper deck is always an amazing experience, no prizes for guessing which section I took.

I departed from the W Walkerhill very early anticipating a minimum 90 minute journey to the airport, but because it was early on a Sunday morning (and the driver ignored all stop signs speed limits and traffic lights) we were there in just over 45 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to explore ICN airport.

Check-in was really silly. Even though I already had an e-boarding pass on my phone, the security people insisted I go back to the counter and get a physical one. Because physical is so much more legit. There were crazy lines at the counter, even for business class, but I just wandered up to a vacant first class station and asked if they could print out my pass for me, which they happily obliged.

Asiana’s flagship lounge in ICN was functional but not outstanding. It’s located up an escalator from the main concourse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Up the escalator you’ll find reception, but access control isn’t very good and during busy times when every counter staff is preoccupied I can see it being very easy for someone to come up the escalator and automatically turn left to enter the lounge (the lounge is split into two halves with the reception counter in the middle)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I scanned my boarding pass and went into the far end of the lounge (away from the escalators). This is the larger lounge area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is plenty of seating in the lounge and a sit down dining area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The buffet selection was actually really poor, with only two hot items, cereal, bread and the curious option of a salad bar. 5 o’ clock somewhere, I guess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The alcohol selection was already out even though it was 8 in the morning. Nothing sparkling on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Behind the dining area was a TV area with sports on mute.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Elsewhere in the lounge you could find a selection of Englisha nd Korean reading materials

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some workstations (note the privacy glass separating each workstation from its neighbor)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And a random grand piano. Mostly for ambiance, not for music.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ultimately the lounge didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I actually thought it was slightly poorer than SQ’s SilverKris business class section in Singapore, given that SQ has a much wider variety of hot dishes and alcohol on offer.  It only struck me later that I could have gone to find SQ’s much better SilverKris ICN lounge instead of waiting here. Then again it might not have been open so early in hte morning.

When the time came to board I headed down to Gate 30 to prepare to meet an old friend. I was excited to see that it was a 747 Combi, which takes both passengers and cargo. You can see in the photo below that a large flap towards the rear of the aircraft is open. This is where they load the cargo pallets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boarding started exactly on time. The ICN-NRT route, as you might expect, is very popular among business travellers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had never been in the nose section of the 747 before, only on the upper deck. There are 10 seats in the nose section of Asiana’s 747

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had seat 3K, on the starboard side of the aircraft.  I could imagine this seat being quite the luxury 10 years ago, but products have changed and innovated so much since then that the seat just looked very old and tired. More than sufficient for a 2 hour 10 minute flight of course.

IMG_20160619_093725

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s interesting how the seat design speaks volumes about how design priorities have changed over the years. You can see that the seat is really not very private. I could look across the entire cabin from where I was seated. That would be unthinkable on modern-day first class cabins where you’d get high walls and movable partitions to give privacy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The most private seats in this cabin are probably those towards the front, 1A and K, simply because your blocked by the large rear of your own seat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That said, I suppose if you sit at the correct angle you could still be seen (as this view of 1A from 3K shows)

IMG_20160619_093714

The wear was visible on the seat controls especially around the edges

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As well as around the tray table slot, presumably from suffering many bangs over the years by frustrated individuals trying to get the trays back in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some other minor cosmetic defects could be seen on the leather.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fortunately, the IFE controller worked just fine (and I think is the same model used on SQ’s A330s)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And despite being an old aircraft, Empower plugs and USB outlets were still available.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got the same amenities I got on the NRT-ICN leg on the A330, given that the service standards would be business class despite first class seating.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The service was alright but not spectacular. The chief stewardess came over to introduce herself, but subsequently disappeared and passengers were not addressed by name.

We pushed back on time and I heard those four majestic engines spooling up to get this ~400,000kg beast into the air. The aircraft made a very loud, groaning noise on takeoff, which was always very reassuring. I could hear the rattling and the creaking coming from the front and from the seats, parts presumably loosened after more than a decade of service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Shortly after takeoff the crew started to serve lunch on this short flight. I can’t remember whether a menu was presented, I’m quite sure it must have but I didn’t get a photo. In any case it was your typical Asian vs Western option. I went with the Asian which was beef with rice. It was pleasant but I was saving my stomach for a little adventure I’ll touch on in a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bathroom was adequately stocked for a small flight. The standard L’Occitane amenities were on offer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The seat reclines full flat, as you would expect from a first class seat from 10 years ago. It’s not going to win any awards today of course, and I couldn’t help but feel the entire fabric hadn’t been cleaned in eternity, but a flat seat on a 2 hour 10 min flight is already more than anyone can ask for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We started our descent before I knew it and were flying over the farms near Narita.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everything else was without drama. An on time landing gave me a  four hour layover and I wasn’t about to spend it at the very average ANA lounge.

I had made plans beforehand to leave the airport and explore Narita City. I didn’t fancy being able to squeeze in Tokyo in that four hours, given I was at Narita not Haneda. Most people think of Narita as an airport not a city, but I had two objectives: have sushi and visit a Japanese supermarket. Both could be fulfilled at Narita City…

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2016: Asiana A330 Business Class NRT-ICN Review

The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2016: Trip Planning
Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air B77W Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air B77W Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Silvercar LAX
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United A319 First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United A319 First Class Mexico City to Houston
United B767 Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Airways A330  Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Hilton Sandton
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines A330 Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines A319 Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Westin Zagreb
Croatia Airlines A319 Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa A330 First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India B77W Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA B787 Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana A330 Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Chosun Seoul
W Walkerhill Seoul
Asiana B744 Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA B787 Business Class Tokyo to Singapore


I knew beforehand that getting to Seoul via Tokyo and ANA instead of directly via Asiana would involve a 4.5 hour layover in Narita. I rationalised this saying I’d rather have a proper night’s sleep on a full flat bed than to go with Asiana’s angled flat product on their A330. But as I hauled my groggy, 3 hours sleep torso from the 787 and headed towards the transit area I started wondering if that was the right call. A 4.5 hour layover in a lounge with no real sleep facilities was probably inferior to the possibility of being in a taxi right now headed for my hotel in Seoul.

I realised just as I landed that I didn’t actually have my boarding pass for OZ101 that would take me onwards from NRT-ICN. I was so flustered about my crashed SD card that I forgot to tell the staff at BOM check-in about it (I had purchased a separate roundtrip ticket from NRT-ICN and back because I was over the 39,000 mile limit on my RTW fare). Fortunately, I was able to do an online check-in from my phone as the plane was taxing to the gate and got my boarding pass instantly. This allowed me to go through the transit security straight away instead of having to leave the secure area and check in again.

img_578d9adf30a56

As you might expect, ANA operates numerous lounge facilities in Narita. I had visited all of them before and found them to be uniformly average. Even ANA’s Suite Lounge, its flagship in its home base, didn’t quite make the cut. ANA is sort of like SQ in that respect- excellent hard product in the sky but decidedly middling product on the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As a business class passenger (and Star Gold member) I had access to the ANA Lounge on the 2nd floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ANA has some sort of marketing tie-up with Star Wars and they’re certainly getting the most out of it. They’ve painted several of their aircraft in Star Wars livery for one

And they’ve installed this totally badass game machine in their lounge. More on that anon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ANA has 2 business class/ Star Gold facilities at Narita, on opposite ends of the terminal. The catering and amenities are similar so there’s really no reason to venture to one over the other. The lounge was pretty empty when we got in but progressively filled up towards late morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

20160409_073141

The food selection is surprisingly small in the lounge though. They had some Japanese pastries (?)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some maki and beancurd wraps

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some remnants of a salad and sandwiches

20160409_064424

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were a few food warmers with a mix of fried rice and some sort of tofu

20160409_064352

And two types of soup which I didn’t bother to investigate

20160409_064405

Fortunately there was a separate dining area with made-to-order hot items. Ramen, udon and Japanese chicken curry were available. You would order you food, get a little plastic tag with a number on it and come back to collect it later. Waiting time was never more than 5 minutes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My ramen was the epitome of average. Noodles were overdone, soup was way too salty and egg was overcooked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My colleague had the Japanese curry, which looked, well.

20160409_065539

In terms of drinks they had soft drink dispensers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The usual range of libations (alas no champagne).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And one heck of a sake bar. It’s a shame I don’t drink sake because I can imagine the sake connoisseur  having quite the fun time here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

20160409_064553

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I decided a post breakfast shower would shake off those cobwebs. ANA has individual shower suites in its business class lounge with toilets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The loo has your essential Japanese bidet function (and heated seat too, classy)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The toiletries are by Shiseido and come in small single use packets (if I recall correctly passengers in the First class lounge get small Shiseido toiletries kits instead)

20160409_070341

I know from past experience that waits for showers can get very long during peak periods but I was pleasantly surprised to get a shower straight away.

Elsewhere around the lounge is a business center is located at the back of the lounge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Complimentary printing is provided through some complicated system I couldn’t quite figure out

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are numerous individual work cubicles too

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I went back to the lobby to check out the Star Wars game.

This is the Star Wars Battle Pod, described in the PR materials as

Star Wars™: Battle Pod™ is a experiential arcade game that features a dome-shaped screen, transporting players into heated battles in a galaxy far, far away. In iconic locations like the Death Star, players will be able to take control of some of the most memorable vehicles and moments in the Star Wars universe and pilot them to victory.

The Battle Pod features

air blust. very good.

I’m amused that the PR on ANA’s website includes additional little tidbits like this but it’s still helpful to know how much you’d pay if you broke it.

Width: 1,880 mm / Depth: 1,700 mm / Height: 2,400 mm
Weight : 365 kg
Price: 4,650,000 JPY (Approx 60,000 SGD)

Here’s the trailer for the game

You need to get a token from the front desk to play each time, which makes sense because it limits the ability of one player to hog the machine.

20160409_090031

There are different missions you can select, each with variable difficulty

I played the Hoth mission, took down a few AT-ATs and became a hero of the rebellion.

20160409_090451

Well sort of. In my defence, medium difficulty is pretty high.

20160409_090918

It was still three hours from boarding and that shower hadn’t helped at all. I was feeling really sleepy, so I retired to the darkened rest area at the back of the lounge. There are several lounge chairs here which can recline. It’s not overnight friendly, but it should be good enough for a quick shut eye.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That is, unless there’s some loudmouth using his phone in the rest area. 5 cubicles down was a man with an obnoxious American accent talking at the top of his voice with some other idiot (not prejudiced, some of my best friends etc etc).

I did not discount the possibility that this man was in deep discussions with a potential organ donor who would provide the transplant that would save his wife who works in rural Ghana driving orphaned kids to school through warlord-controlled areas in the hope that one of them would one day rise above his own estate and be the change that he wanted to see in the world and unlock the potential of his homeland and usher in a period of unprecedented economic growth and spiritual happiness. But I did question his need to hold such a conversation in the rest area of the lounge.

I then thought about whether I should confront him. Maybe he would see reason. Maybe he would understand that although little Dembélé needed to get home from school before the bad men came back to his village to steal what was left of his goats, there were more appropriate places to conduct a full volume conversation.

With great justice on my side, I got up to walk over to his cubicle. Then noticed he was ripped. Then bravely turned around quickly and walked back.

It was apparent that the original course of action was no longer tenable. “If only I had big muscles,” I marveled. “I would use them in a socially responsible way to make this situation right. I would never abuse them for frivolous purposes like bodybuilding contests, courtship, and carrying shopping for women.” The more I thought about it, the more I decided I was indeed worthy of wielding such power. Dembélé would approve.

So I closed my eyes and wished for big muscles, the type that would make men weep and women swoon.  I promised that I would use this gift in a noble manner, that great responsibility would accompany this great power, that I would be a defender of the one and true path. I opened my eyes and was decidedly still scrawny.

After this revelation I decided to leave the lounge and pay a visit to the other big Star Alliance lounge in Narita- United’s. Narita is a huge hub for United and important enough for them to operate a lounge of their own.

For a United-operated lounge it’s surprisingly not terrible. There’s a fair amount of seating

20160409_063026

20160409_063023

20160409_062915

20160409_062842

A limited selection of wines and sake. Free of charge, which needs to be mentioned because United charges for alcohol in their domestic lounges.

20160409_063009

20160409_062758

There was as selection of cold cuts and stale bread

20160409_063000

Maki and more cold cuts

20160409_062811

Fruit and salad

20160409_062954

Beans

20160409_062813

Miso soup

20160409_062746

Soft drink dispensers

20160409_062823

Some token Japanese art

20160409_062909

I concluded that the ANA lounge probably edged the United lounge because it had made to order items. Neither lounge had anything sparkling, although in the case of the United lounge that might just be because of time of day (I’ve been to the ANA lounge in the afternoon and evening and the alcohol options don’t change).

It was time to board. Everyone was surprisingly well-behaved at the boarding gate. After seeing the absolute scrum that is US-style boarding (to be fair, the equation is a lot different on a wide-bodied aircraft where there’s plenty of overhead storage space and no bag fees) this was a relief.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Out the window I could see the Asiana A330 that would take us to ICN.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Priority boarding was called and my colleague and I were the first onboard.

Asiana has a 2-2-2 configuration on its A330 aircraft with tired, angled flat seats. I realise that SQ has a similar arrangement on its A330s, but those are only used for regional flights of at most 5-6 hours. Asiana uses this same seat on many of its long haul routes, which is quite unacceptable for a supposedly 5 star airline

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Its much superior Smartium seat is only available on 2 aircraft types- the A380 and the B777-200ER. That said, I don’t even think its anywhere near the best business class seat out there. This is the same product that Thai has, and if you’re travelling by yourself best to hope you don’t get those awkward 2 seats in the middle which are almost next to each other.

But for a 2 hour hop to ICN an angled flat seat was more than sufficient. The seats have clearly seen better days as the fabric is faded and stained in some parts (nowhere as bad as Air India’s angled flat seats though)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I had seat 1A, the bulkhead. The cabin was more than half empty so everyone had an empty seat next to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One of my first concerns when I saw the cabin was how much of a lack of privacy there was. I think this is a universal problem with many angled flat configurations. Fortunately there was a privacy divider that you could extend between the seats.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seat controls were on the side panel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seats had the usual power and USB charging outlets. The placement of the power plug was really inconvenient- if you have to use an adapter for whatever reason (the plug is universal but it didn’t fit my India-issued charger) good luck getting the whole thing to fit in there. Fortunately the stewardess seemed to know this was a common issue and provided me with a much smaller adapter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was hoping that the safety briefing might be in the form of a Korean music video but was sorely disappointed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pilot came on the PA to announce the flight time to Incheon. He had a reassuring ABK accent, the likes of which you could imagine hearing at many a west coast university.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After takeoff, menus were distributed. Lunch would be served on this short flight to Tokyo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The champagne on offer was Cattier Brut. I amazingly did not partake, preferring a clear mind to clear my backlog of emails.

When the time came to order I went for the bibimbap, described poetically as

Mixing and Harmonizing

A famous Korean cuisine Bibimbap

Steamed rice, various kinds of vegetables and minced beef, mixed with red pepper paste “Gochujang”, sesame oil, accompanied by assorted side dishes and soup

I said before that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Korean food, but I found this bibimbap to be pretty good. I think the Koreans can give the Japanese a run for their money when it comes to high quality rice too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bathroom had a window (which I thought only 787s had) and L’occitane toiletries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After lunch I went ahead and reclined the seat all the way. Then took a step back to look at it. Yeah, probably not the best choice for a red eye flight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No blankets were provided by default but you could ask for them. I got a one and took a nap and found the seat to be surprisingly serviceable. I didn’t find myself sliding towards the floor, if that counts for anything. Still not my ideal choice for a redeye though.

We landed on a rainy afternoon at ICN. As we taxied I got the chance to do some airplane spotting, including this Korean and Asiana A380

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

IMG_20160615_151107

Overall the flight was unmemorable- I certainly do not think Asiana is anywhere near the 5 Star rating that it boasts from Skytrax. In fact, on the Skytrax list the only truly world class carriers I’d consider would be Cathay ,SQ, ANA and possibly EVA. Asiana is, at best a 4, 4.5 star operation.

I had finally reached Seoul and now it was time to head over to the Westin Chosun.