The Best Flight To South America Gets Downgraded

Filed Under: Korean Air

There are few things I love more than a good fifth freedom route, be it Cathay Pacific’s flight between New York and Vancouver, or Singapore Airlines’ flight between New York and Frankfurt. There’s something exciting about flying between two countries and experiencing the service of an airline from somewhere completely different.

Arguably the single best first class product between North and South America is Korean Air’s fifth freedom flight between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo. I flew Korean Air’s Los Angeles to Sao Paulo flight on a Boeing 777-300ER last March, and had a great flight.

Korean Air first class bibimbap

It also happens to be a fantastic use of Korean Air SkyPass miles, as they charge just 70,000 SkyPass miles one way for first class, and availability is generally good.

However, it unfortunately looks like this route will be undergoing a pretty serious downgrade.

Per, Korean Air will be operating an Airbus A330-200 on the Los Angeles to Sao Paulo route as of March 29, 2015. This replaces the Boeing 777-300ER currently operating the route.

Korean Air 777-300ER

The route operates on the following schedule:

KE61 Los Angeles to Sao Paulo departing 6:25PM arriving 10:40AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Fri]
KE62 Sao Paulo to Los Angeles departing 12:45PM arriving 9:40PM [Tue, Thu, Sat]

The catch is, Korean Air’s A330 features a completely different first class product. There are six seats per row, in a 2-2-2 configuration. That makes it more like a mediocre business class hard product than a competitive first class one.

Korean Air A330 first class

Compare that to Korean Air’s 777-300ER first class product, which is in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Korean Air 777 first class

Korean Air 777 first class

Ultimately Korean Air’s A330 is probably still one of the best ways to fly between North and South America, given the lack of alternatives (TAM had a pretty good first class product on the 777, though recently discontinued offering first class service).

TAM’s former 777 first class

Here’s to hoping this is just a seasonal downgrade for winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and not a permanent adjustment.

Have you flown Korean Air’s flight between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo yet?

  1. Doesn’t that mean the ICN-LAX route was also downgraded? Or is KE solely using this A330 product for the LAX-GRU route?

  2. AA started GRU-LAX about a year ago, but it’s one of the few routes they still use the old and terrible 777-200 with super old business class seats. Do you think is there a chance that they will upgrade this plane to the new 77W’s? They already fly the 77W’s to MIA, JFK and DFW, all from GRU. It would be amazing to have this plane to LAX as well!

  3. I was reading somewhere that they’re updating their A330 first and business class products, perhaps this is what they’re sending to Sao Paolo?

  4. I dont understand the logic with KA on another flight using the same A 330 -300 configuration between icn-syd. its a good ten hours flying and the seats does not give the same confort.

  5. The term you’re looking for is “downgauged” which refers to a change in schedule when a smaller aircraft is used.

  6. @ Lucas Guterres — In theory I suppose it’s possible, though American only has a few more 777s yet to be delivered, and my guess is that they’ll eventually put more of them on the London routes. Instead. I think LAX-GRU will just get a reconfigured 777-200 eventually.

  7. @ JC — While that’s another term, I intentionally chose downgraded. “Downgauged” doesn’t necessarily suggest that the quality has gotten worse. For example, if Qatar Airways changes a route from a 777-200ER to a 777-200LR that’s downgauging, but has no implications in terms of the product. This is truly a “downgrade,” in my opinion.

  8. So sad if they use the current A330-200 First seat on the route…. unacceptable for ICN-LAX-GRU runs… what if I buy the First ticket to be on KE17 ICN-LAX runs by A380 but my plane come in late and have to rebook on this A330-200 flight?, they should have been more consistent with the product at least on the same route!…. It is ok to use that different First class on a secondary market like St Petersburg or Prague flights but not on their flagship ICN-LAX flight.

    I flew LAX-GRU in First once… was nice indeed! though no shower or bar

  9. I would imagine many people would be happy just to be able to afford to fly to South America, regardless of which class it was!!

  10. @ Todd — Yes, quite a good hard product, though soft product is lacking. And it’s virtually impossible to score premium cabin award seats on that flight.

  11. @ w — Well and Emirates and Etihad fly there as well. Was talking about the best products between North and South America.

  12. Wow, what a lousy first class configuration. Not sure how they justify charging more for that product. On SeatGuru, it states that the F seats are actually an inch more narrow than the J seats..

  13. @lucky @turgutbey Ummm, no, they’re full flat seats. The only widebodies KE operates with the old angle flat (Prestige Plus, as opposed to the flat bed Prestige Sleeper) are the 747 and a sub-fleet of the 777-200ER fleet. (The ones with 261 seats. Look at the Y seat maps and compare to to figure out which seats are on any given route.) The fleet page at tells all. (So nice that we can finally directly link to pages on

  14. I can confirm with Mitch that these are full flat seats (well, 179 degrees). The J seats on this aircraft feel exactly the same as the J seats on the A380, except there’s no bar. Sad that they’re downgrading KE 61/62 to an A330 as well.

  15. Erndog
    “If that’s your point, why are you reading this blog?”

    … to get a perspective on how the elite lives, and to remind them of how they should be grateful for what they have, rather than whine about 5 degrees less angle on a seat.
    I believe we all owe it to ourselves to get different perspectives on the world. I hope you have gained a little something from my post.

    (And Lucky: thanks for not censoring me out, and for allowing me to express my thoughts)

  16. I have been traveling to Brazil at least 3 times a year for the last 5 years, EXCLUSIVELY on Korean air from LAX-GRU..I have flown both economy and business (using upgrades) and I am surprised.. Most flights I have flown in both directions are almost always at full capacity and the reason why I chose KE over AA (the only other airline that flies the LAX-GRU nonstop) …well we know what AA’S 772 is like. My question: do you fellow fliers think it will be a significant change for the worse if I choose to fly the economy class of the a330? KE does have less frequency than AA from LAX-GRU and is typically, in my research, more expensive.

  17. Has this downgrade remained? It looked like for flights at the end of the year it was showing 777’s, but perhaps that is incorrect.

  18. It’s SUCH a damn shame. I fly to Brazil at least 3 times a year and have flown KE exclusively for the last 6 years. Truly a great experience ..and I LOVE the day flight back. SO SO SO bummed. I remember when I was very young we had a choice of Varig, VASP, and JAL from LAX. Now the ONLY airline flying non stop Brazil (after Sept 23) from LAX is AA? Any rumors of another airline? I know there was some chatter about Philippine airlines…would love to see EVA.

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