Review: Korean Air First Class 787 Incheon To San Francisco

Filed Under: Korean Air

Korean Air 25
Seoul Incheon (ICN) – San Francisco (SFO)
Tuesday, July 3
Depart: 8:00PM
Arrive: 3:00PM
Duration: 11hr
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 1A (First Class)

I boarded through door L2, where I was greeted by the cabin manager and escorted by one of the flight attendants to the first class cabin. Korean Air’s 787-9 is in a pretty premium-light configuration. Business class consists of a total of just 18 seats, all of which are Apex Suites (some of my favorite business class seats) spread across three rows in a 2-2-2 configuration.

Korean Air 787 business class cabin

Korean Air business class cabin 787

Korean Air business class seats 787

Then there’s the first class cabin, which has just one row of seats, in a 2-2-2 configuration. The bizarre thing? First class also consists of Apex Suites, meaning the hard products are identical in first and business class. This makes the second flight in a row where first and business class seats were the same, which is strange.

Korean Air 787 first class seats

Korean Air first class cabin 787

So while it’s underwhelming that first and business class hard products are the same, at least the window seats in the Apex Suites configuration are among my favorite business class seats out there, so it’s not all bad.

The two center seats in the cabin don’t have the same benefit of privacy that the window seats have, though if traveling with someone you have the benefit of the seats being exactly aligned, which some will probably appreciate.

Korean Air first class seats 787

Then there are two aisle seats on the window sides. If traveling alone and I couldn’t get one of the window seats, I’d probably select one of these, since they’re at least staggered a bit, so feel a bit more private.

Korean Air first class aisle seat 787

And then there are the window seats, which are what make me like this configuration so much. The window seats feature direct aisle access, as there’s a small walkway leading to them.

Korean Air first class seats 787

The window seat itself isn’t that wide, though it feels cozy.

Korean Air first class window seat 787

The seat might not be wide, but there’s a ton of personal space. The large personal television is mounted to the bulkhead, and there’s a huge ottoman on which you can place your feet, which also becomes part of the bed when reclining your seat.

Korean Air first class window seat 787

There’s also a lot of space under the ottoman, so if you wanted to you could place a full size carry-on underneath the seat.

Korean Air first class ottoman 787

Along the right side of the seat are the seat controls, which are easy to use.

Korean Air first class seat controls

This allows you to control the privacy partition, which is what makes me like this seat so much, since it’s as private as any first class seat out there.

Korean Air first class privacy partition

Then underneath the partition is the power outlet.

Korean Air first class power outlet

The large, faux-wood tray table folds out from above that.

Korean Air first class tray table

My biggest complaint about the seats is the lack of individual air nozzles, which I find to be annoying, given how hot cabins are often kept (though fortunately it wasn’t an issue on this flight).

When I boarded there was just one other first class passenger, who was seated in the window seat on the opposite side of the cabin. That guy slept the entire flight, and there were no other passengers. So I really sort of felt like I had a private cabin, because I had two flight attendants taking care of just me.

As soon as I settled in, both of the first class flight attendants came by to introduce themselves and welcome me onboard, informing me of the flight time of 10hr15min.

Already at my seat upon boarding was a large pillow as well as a basic blanket. There’s additional bedding provided with turndown service.

Korean Air first class pillow & blanket

I was first offered some Bose headphones for the flight.

Korean Air first class Bose headphones

Moments later I was presented with a set of pajamas from Gianfranco Ferre. The pajamas are pretty nice, though do feel quite warm to me.

Korean Air first class pajamas

Korean Air first class pajamas

There was also an amenity kit with products from Davi. Amenity kit contents included a toothbrush and toothpaste, a shoehorn, eyeshades, face cream, hand and body cream, eye gel, after shave lotion, and lip balm.

Korean Air first class amenity kit

I was also presented with the menu and wine list for the flight.

Korean Air first class menu & wine list

I was asked if I wanted anything to drink, and decided to just order a still water. I was also offered some macadamia nuts to go along with it.

Korean Air first class pre-departure drink and nuts

While boarding was efficient, it took a while for the main cabin door to close. The captain made an announcement at around 8PM apologizing for the delay, explaining that they had to offload bags due to passengers that no showed. The doors finally closed at 8:15PM, and at 8:20PM we pushed back.

We had a very quick taxi to our departure runway, and by 8:35PM were cleared for takeoff.

I was really tired at this point, given that I had taken an overnight flight the evening before. So I appreciated just how quickly they started the meal service.

Just 25 minutes after takeoff I was presented with a tablecloth in preparation for the dinner service.

Airshow enroute to San Francisco

The dinner menu read as follows:

The drink menu read as follows:

Service began with warm towels.

Korean Air first class warm towel

Next up I was offered a drink. I ordered a glass of the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2008 champagne, which is just lovely.

Korean Air first class Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2008

As you’d expect given that I had two flight attendants taking care of just me, service was perfectly paced. First up was crabmeat on grapefruit jelly to accompany my drink.

Korean Air first class dinner — amuse bouche

At that point my table was fully set, including being offered some bread from the breadbasket.

Korean Air first class dinner — table setting

I was surprised to see a caviar course. While Korean Air consistently has excellent catering, I don’t think I’ve ever been served caviar on Korean Air before, so that was a nice treat. They were serving Italian osetra caviar, and I loved the presentation, including the mother of pearl spoon, the little display in which the tin of caviar came, and even how the onions and egg were presented.

Korean Air first class dinner — caviar

Korean Air first class dinner — caviar

Next up was a tomato cream soup.

Korean Air first class dinner — soup

One of my favorite aspects of Korean Air’s first class meal service is their salad cart, which you don’t see on many airlines. It’s great to be able to customize your salad. This worked out great since I had an empty seat next to me, though I do wonder how the trolley presentation would work if there had been someone seated in the aisle seat.

Korean Air first class dinner — salad cart

I ordered a salad with everything except the bacon, and had the soy bean paste dressing to go along with it.

Korean Air first class dinner — salad

For the main course I ordered the roasted chicken breast with tomato shallot vinaigrette served with sautéed potatoes and vegetables. It was pretty good, though I’d say it was probably the weak point of the meal, given how excellent everything else was (I know I should have probably gone with the Korean option).

Korean Air first class dinner — main course

Next up the flight attendant rolled a cart down the aisle with cheese and fruit. I was so full at this point that I passed (besides, I had already gotten my picture of the food).

Korean Air first class dinner — fruit & cheese cart

I did, however, order the dessert, which consisted of raspberry white chocolate mousse cake with ice cream. I had a few bites of it.

Korean Air first class dinner — dessert

Around the same time a cart was rolled down the aisle with liqueurs, coffee, and tea. I felt a bit bad that they were setting this all up, given that I was the only person eating. Now that I look at the cart, I can’t help but feel like they should do better than Lipton tea.

Korean Air first class dinner — tea trolley

The meal was phenomenal, and service couldn’t have been better. I find flight attendants on Korean Air to consistently be excellent and eager to please, and this crew was no exception. The meal service was done within 90 minutes of departure, which is very impressive when you consider how extensive it was.

After dinner I asked to have my bed made. An interesting note regarding the cabin configuration. The lavatory for first class passengers is on the right side of the cabin, so some might prefer to sit on the right side to be closer to it, while others may prefer to sit on the left side to be further from it. Regardless, there’s a small pathway in front of the center seats in row one, so you don’t have to walk through the galley to get to the lavatory.

Korean Air first class aisle 787

The lavatory itself was pretty standard for a 787, and had a few amenities.

Korean Air first class lavatory 787

By the time I was back at my seat the turndown service had been completed, with a great mattress pad and thick blanket. Obviously the bed was a bit narrow for international first class, though I found it to be cozy.

Korean Air first class bed 787

Korean Air first class bed 787

By the time I got in bed we had about 8hr30min remaining to San Francisco, as we were already East of Japan.

Airshow enroute to San Francisco

I slept so well, though in fairness I was already really tired. I slept for almost seven hours straight, which is almost unheard of for me on a plane. I guess this was thanks to a combination of the empty cabin (and therefore lack of sound, smell, etc.), the smooth ride, and the fact that the cabin was kept pretty cool. I woke up just about 90 minutes from our landing in San Francisco.

Airshow enroute to San Francisco

I hadn’t even taken a look at the entertainment system prior to this, so decided to check it out. Korean Air’s entertainment system is called “Beyond,” which is an odd name for what can only be described as a subpar system.

Korean Air entertainment selection

There were just a few dozen movies and just four sitcoms. So while it’s not the worst selection out there, it’s also far from the best.

Korean Air entertainment selection

Korean Air entertainment selection

Unfortunately Korean Air doesn’t have Wi-Fi on any of their planes.

I had skipped the refreshment menu (I can’t imagine wanting a mid-flight snack on a flight like this), but at that point it was time for breakfast (which is an odd meal to serve if you’re trying to adjust to California time, though logical in terms of Korea time). The pre-landing menu read as follows:

Within a couple of minutes of waking up a flight attendant was at my seat to ask what she could get me. I ordered a cappuccino to start.

Korean Air first class breakfast — cappuccino

Then about 20 minutes later I asked to have breakfast. I ordered a coffee with some milk, as well as some fruit yogurt with raisins.

Korean Air first class breakfast — yogurt & coffee

Then for the main course I had the omelet with button mushroom stew served with sautéed cherry tomato, grilled pork sausage, and boiled potato in parmesan cheese basket. It was quite good, and different than the typical airplane omelet!

Korean Air first class breakfast

After that I was offered a selection of fruit from the cart, with the choice of watermelon, kiwi, and pear, and I asked for the kiwi and pear.

Korean Air first class breakfast — fruit plate

Without prompting, I was also offered omija punch, which I’ve never really developed a taste for, though I’m generally not a fan of sour things, so that might explain it.

Korean Air first class breakfast — omija punch

At 2:10PM Pacific time the captain announced that we’d be starting our descent shortly, and that we’d be landing at 2:50PM, meaning we’d arrive at the gate on schedule. Moments later we began our descent. While the crew prepared the cabin for landing, they also came by my seat to thank me for flying with Korean Air.

Airshow enroute to SFO

I love descending into California (either LAX or SFO) after a Pacific crossing, as the coastline views are consistently breathtaking.

California coastline

On this particular flight we were even treated to a view of the city of San Francisco.

View of San Francisco

We then passed Oakland Airport.

View approaching SFO

View approaching SFO

We touched down at SFO on runway 28R at 2:55PM.

Final approach to SFO

Unfortunately we then had to wait about 10 minutes before we could cross runway 28L.

Taxiing SFO

We finally arrived at our gate at 3:15PM, where we parked next to a China Southern 777.

Virgin Atlantic 787 SFO

China Southern 777 SFO

They were only using door L2 to deplane people, though the first class flight attendant insisted I be the first to deplane, so she escorted me out ahead of everyone else, which I always find to be awkward, given that there’s not really room in the aisle to pass people.

From there I was through immigration within a matter of minutes thanks to Global Entry.

Korean Air first class 787 bottom line

Let’s start with the negative. It’s underwhelming (and lazy) that Korean Air uses a business class seat for their first class cabin. However, I really did even enjoy the hard product on this flight. Having the cabin nearly to myself is tough to beat, and the window seat in this configuration is extremely comfortable. I got one of the best nights of sleep I’ve had on a plane in a long time.

Beyond that, everything else about the experience impressed me, from the excellent champagne, to the incredible meal service, to the impeccable service. Korean Air has the soft product down, so they deserve a lot of credit for that.

I still find the 787 first class seat weird, given the first class seats they have on their A380s and 747-8s.

  1. Maybe they do that to have more flexibility and sell the F class as J in case there aren’t any bookings? (I know they could sell the nicer F seats as J too, but I assume that’s a bigger loss of revenue)

  2. I had a very similar experience on KE from ICN to IAD in F this February. Granted, it was a 777 with the new seats, so it was great. That said, they are top notch, service wise, and I would fly with them again.

  3. Can we have an Asian reviewer to review these Asian airlines? Lucky not ordering Asian meals, which really is where these Asian carriers shine, is not helping and I really wanna see what they have for the Asian traditional meal. Order the noodles for breakfast, order the Ginseng chicken soup, order the Korean course. Had enough of stupid boring chicken breast and stupid omelette already. You can make one at home everyday yourself….anyone?

  4. It is disappointing that with all of the high-end Korean teas available, they chose those options. I’m honestly not sure who would pay a $4000 premium simply for first class service, so their seat strategy here confuses me.

  5. @Matt Maybe, but he only flies One World affiliated airlines in first class and paid tickets. He has a need to stress it every time, because of his insecurity. He lacks friends, so he needs to buy them.

  6. I feel that having the Apex suite in first is slightly more acceptable than your previous flight, where it was just the old standard 2-2-2 with no direct aisle access for window seats. First is mostly about the soft product I think, and it seems that KE gets it right here, and if you’re going to have a business class seat in First, than the Apex is not a bad one to choose. It still is a bizarre choice though, especially when it comes to the Korean culture where in my experience it seems that they are very conscious of things like that. Maybe, as someone noted above, its for fleet flexibility. It seems like the premium routes get the A380, 748, and 777 with a true first class hard product, while the 787 is sent to smaller markets where the yields are probably lower to begin with.

  7. It’s very hard to imagine “normals” paying for F over J.

    Same hard product, somewhat upgraded privacy/meal? Sure if you have a pile of miles, are indifferent to using them well, are a blogger who is reviewing first! All that is reasonable.

    But using $$$ or even slightly scarce miles. Why buy first? It really makes no sense.

  8. Surprised by your point that F and J are identical, I looked up the seat config on seatguru. Same width for F and J seats but more pitches in F (82 vs. 75)?

  9. @ Eddie – He’s flown Korean Air a billion times, and orders the Korean meal half the time, so he can mix these reviews up. For example, HKG-ICN he had the bibimbap (and looking at the menu, isn’t the Asian option a Chinese dish?).

  10. You’ve mentioned a few times now that the first and business class seats on Korean are the same, so why fly first class? Seems like a waste of money for the sake of a review and repeating the same thing over and over again about the seats.

  11. @Eddie Agreed. Plus everyone only orders the bibimbap. Order something else, be different. Bibimbap isn’t the only native dish that Korea has.

  12. @ Alonzo — Often I review flights because I find them interesting, and not necessarily because they’re always the bet value. I’ve reviewed Korean Air’s Apex Suites on the 747-8 before. But to your point, I actually don’t think this was a waste of points. The cost is only an extra 17,500 miles in each direction, which I value at ~$250. I’d say that is probably worth it for the much better soft product. Furthermore, these flights didn’t actually have any business class award space, as Korean Air is often better about making first class award seats available than business class award seats.

  13. @ Terence — In my experience SeatGuru often isn’t accurate for that. The seats looked identical to me, so I don’t think that’s correct.

  14. The reason Korean Air offers First Class, even if the seat is identical to J, is because its targeted to the highest level executives at Korean chaebols (conglomerates) or government officials who per company policy can fly First. Hence KE has the most First Class footprint of any carrier in the world, because companies will actually pay the super high price tag for it.

  15. Their B777-300 first class is very nice, and it is different from the 747-8s and quiet similar to the A380s that they refreshed I think 2 years ago. The suite is enclosed and has tons of space.

  16. The points premium required may be worth it if it means more chance of getting open seats.

    So do they use the food/presentation carts at all for business class?

  17. Seats are virtually identical but there’s a slight difference between the size of the monitors/screen between first and biz class I think. It’s ever so slight, maybe just an extra inch or two.

  18. @Eddie- you do realise you don’t have yo be an “Asian reviewer” to order the asian food, right?
    While I don’t disagree with what you say, you probably know by now that Lucky is, ahem, pretty conservative and definitely a man of habit when it comes to catering.
    You don’t really get much information about wine either. It’s usually champagne and cappuccinos all the way, which is just fine and makes him who he is. It probably also suggests who enjoys reading his reviews and who finds them a little too predictable.

  19. “Let’s start with the negative. It’s underwhelming (and lazy) that Korean Air uses a business class seat for their first class cabin”.

    How many times do we have to read about this?? It’s not a negative, since you did not need to fly on that flight/aircraft. It’s also not lazy on KE’s part either and its wrong to say that!.

    There is a very obvious and valid reason why KE has this configuration. This route or at least flight (if a second frequency) probably cannot support a larger aircraft so this is a compromise to offer FIRST CLASS SERVICE!…and the aircraft can also be operated on non FC routes where that cabin can be offered to either Highest FF’s or Highest fare paid. OR perhaps they cannot sell FC in $, but can in FFP’s.

    Sometimes the “first world” whining becomes too much, instead of being grateful that the carrier offers a FC Service….otherwise why did you just not book J and call it a day?.

  20. @Jordan-
    Lucky writes it because that’s his job, and that’s a detail his readership is interested in. For some people it will be the deciding factor of whether to fly Korean or use a different airline.
    A critical statement in a review piece is not “whining”. It’s just providing the full picture.

  21. It is absolutely astounding that KE would install the exact same seat in F as they do in J. No matter the soft product, it’s shameful to be rorted like that. People joke about BA’s F seat being the world’s best J but this literally is next level.

  22. Shappling, why you never eat pork man, because of your religion? It doesn’t not matter, GREAT review !
    KAL, offers an excellent Inflight product, service is always impeccable. Onboard You only drink champagne and cappuccino, but I always see the wine menu on the reviews, Excellent! !!!

  23. I get the sense that the next gen First will be categorized by SQ/EK on their A380’s and then this type of arrangement on 787/A350/777X. Less emphasis on space but more on soft product, which also allows the cabin to be sold as Business if First demand isn’t there or required.

  24. Great use of points to get the extra First class service but not sure anyone would pay real $$ for the same seat and a nice serving of caviar ( even if they do give you a mother of pearl spoon )

  25. Text + photo reviews are pretty old-fashioned these days. Increasingly, I use YouTube if I want a review for a specific airline or hotel.

    How can the old-fashioned text + photo format remain relevant and interesting? That’s where @Eddie and others are saying something important in their comments, I think about the repetitive food and drink choices.

    If @Lucky is travelling for pleasure by all means keep ordering the champagne, chicken and omlette for breakfast. But if this is a job, then there ought to be wine reviews. The champagne will be opened fresh and in good condition, but is the wine fresh? If ordering a Western dinner, then surely it should be an Asian breakfast – or vice versa.

    It is up to you, Lucky, but the reduction in trip reports is already noticeable and IMO the site starting to look a bit dull.

  26. Dumbest first class ever. How entitled do you have to feel to fly this and feel special for yourself and yet you get the same exact seat.

  27. Are we going to see a Kosmo 2.0 Suite review soon? I think they’re only on certain 777 flights, though. Would be curious as to the thoughts/opinions on those vs. the old Kosmo seats on say, the A380

  28. @ Ben — SQ basically uses the same seat for J and F as well. All you really get in F over J is better service, PJs, amenity kit, caviar, better champagne, and less passengers per lav. Those things are nice I suppose, but not really not worth the price difference, especially when SQ J is so awesome already. I have never flown Korean, so I can’t say if the difference between J and F is minor, but I am guessing that ultimately it isn’t worth the higher price without a better seat.

  29. @chub
    Thank you very much. I guess I didn’t find/see it because I kept searching for: kosmo 2.0 suite and I don’t think that was ever used anywhere in the review. In fact “kosmo” isn’t used at all. But again, thank you for the link, it was very useful.

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