Korean Air First Class Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

As I hinted at about a week ago, I’m in the middle of a quick trip to Sao Paulo whereby I’m sampling Korean Air’s first class product between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, and then TAM’s first class product between Sao Paulo and New York.

After my incredible Korean Air A380 flight from Seoul to Los Angeles last month, I was super excited to see if their service to Sao Paulo was equally good. Admittedly there’s a lot less competition between the US and South America than between the US and Asia when it comes to airline quality.

Korean Air 777-300ER at LAX

So I figured I’d share my thoughts about the Los Angeles to Sao Paulo flight first, with a full trip report to follow as usual.

Korean Air 777-300ER first class cabin Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

The 777-300ER first class cabin consists of eight seats spread across two rows in a 1-2-1 configuration. The seat itself is almost identical to the first class seat on the A380. The only differences were that there was one less row (only a total of eight seats, as opposed to twelve on the A380) and that the plane didn’t have as many amenities (bar, duty free shopping area, lounge, etc.).

Korean Air 777-300ER first class cabin

Korean Air 777-300ER first class cabin

Korean Air 777-300ER first class food Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

The champagne served aboard was Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2006, which I think is hands down the best champagne served by any airline between the US and South America. It was phenomenal, and the same one I had on my Korean Air flight last month.

Korean Air first class champagne Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

The dinner service was a treat as well. The amuse bouche was a lobster salad with dill yogurt dip.

Korean Air first class amuse bouche Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

The starter consisted of bluefin tuna noodle with pineapple and prosciutto.

Korean Air first class starter Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

One of my favorite aspects of the meal service on Korean Air are the “tableside salads,” which are assembled at your seats. This flight was no exception.

Korean Air first class salad Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

And while there were western main course options, I selected the bibimbap. Now that’s a rare treat for a meal when traveling between the US and South America! The last time I had bibimbap was on Korean Air on a 90 minute flight from Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon, and this one was definitely better.

Korean Air first class bibimbap Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Next a fruit and cheese cart was rolled around.

Korean Air first class cheese and fruit Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

And then lastly dessert was offered, which consisted of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and red currant with which chocolate cake.

Korean Air first class dessert Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

I thought the meal service was fantastic. I’d say my only constructive criticism is that the dessert didn’t seem very “first class.” Compare that to the beautifully presented and delicious tiramisu with ice cream I had on my flight from Seoul to Los Angeles.

Korean Air 777-300ER first class service Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

On my last Korean Air flight the service was among the best I’ve ever received. Not only was there only one other passenger, but the flight attendant working the cabin just couldn’t have across as more interested or passionate in what she was doing. She assembled my salad with the same care I’d expect a surgeon to use with open heart surgery.

This crew was very good. Not quite to the level of my last Korean Air crew, but still excellent. My glass was never more than half empty, they were constantly smiling, and they were generally attentive.

During the meal service, between serving courses, one of the flight attendants would station herself “behind” row two so she could keep an eye on the pace at which people were eating and make sure nothing was overlooked.

The most impressive part of the service must have been the call button response time. I wanted some water midflight so pressed the call button. The response time was literally a second. And to clarify, it wasn’t a second from the time the call button was pushed to when I saw the flight attendant emerging from behind the curtain, but rather she was at my seat in a second.

Okay, I figured maybe she just happened to be walking by and I pushed it at exactly the right time. So 30 minutes later I wanted some more water and pushed the call button again. I kid you not, she was at my seat again in less than a second. I’m convinced they have a flight attendant stationed immediately on the other side of the curtain just waiting anxiously for someone to push the call button.

Kudos to the crew!

Korean Air 777-300ER first class bed and amenities Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Korean Air’s bedding is definitely one of the better ones in the sky, though my only complaint is that they do keep the cabins uncomfortably warm, as I find to be the case on many non-US carriers. Why most non-US carriers don’t at least have air vents is beyond me.

Korean Air 777-300ER first class bed Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

The amenities were also excellent. There were Bose headphones, comfy pajamas, and a high quality amenity kit.

Korean Air first pajamas, headphones, and spray Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Korean Air first amenity kit Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Would the real Korean Air captain please stand up?

Not to go Slim Shady on you guys, but I was really puzzled by the cockpit crew. And don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing. Growing up I always wanted to be a pilot, and my dream was to work for a foreign carrier with a “mixed” cockpit crew, which I always found so intriguing.

First of all, this was my third Korean Air flight — on my first flight I had an American captain, on my second a Korean captain, and on this one I had… an international man of mystery.

I saw him during the flight and he was Caucasian, but was fluent in Korean, English, and Portuguese — damn!

But I was really puzzled by the number of captains aboard. There were at least two “four stripers” in the cockpit (first officers generally have three stripes and captains generally have four stripes), and then two guys seated in the first class cabin also deplaned with the same jackets — interesting!

Korean Air 777-300ER at GRU

How to book Korean Air first class on miles between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo

Not only is this probably the highest quality product flying between the US and South America, but equally exciting is that it’s also one of the most easily attainable on miles. Korean Air consistently releases 2-3 first class award seats per flight, and if booking through their own mileage program it’s just 70,000 SkyPass miles one-way.

And SkyPass is transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase Ultimate Rewards points are one of the easiest credit card points currencies for US based members to rack up.

Bottom line

This fifth freedom route is a real gem, between the service, food, seat, and excellent award availability. Can’t wait to try TAM to compare!

Filed Under: Korean Air, Travel
  1. Is there a list of great fifth freedom routes like this and the CX YVR-JFK. If not, I think you should make one. 🙂

  2. i have never flight on first class on long trips, so the amenities are just a joke. How they sanitized the Bose Headphones? i supposed they are not a gift?

  3. Very nice review! I myself have been on Korean Air quite a few times. I mainly fly them as a connection to India and I have got to say that your claims of excellent service is very true! From their 744s, A380s, 777s, and A330s, I have been on all of them and I have got to say the service is unprecedented.
    Great review, hope to see more with Korean!

  4. Hi Lucky! I am an avid fan of your blog and read you daily but I wanted to ask if you could PLEASE post a pic of both the Food Menu and the Wine Menu for each of your airline reviews! I work in the wine industry in Napa and I share all of this info with my colleagues and we love knowing whats being “served” in the sky on the different carriers!!!! Its so fascinating to us :-)))

  5. I know Ben, you love LH service but I have to say after flying them several times, I personally don’t like them. I think asian airlines do it best. LH service seemed “fake and cold”, meals felt rushed (my recent flight they took my dishes without ever asking), and every passanger onboard always seems snobby.
    Asian airlines number 1 in my eyes.

  6. Would love to see you spend more than a quick overnight in Sao Paulo so you can really get to know this great city’s restaurant scene and nightlife.
    And after a few recent international flights on US carriers in which the cabin was uncomfortably cold the whole time, not sure what you mean about too warm. Never experienced that myself on a flight.

  7. The captain was from the Caucasus? Do you happen to know if he was from the modern-day Georgia or perhaps Armenia or another state?

  8. I think Asians in general prefer the cabin to be bit warmer because the likes of NH, TG, SQ, CA, KE, OZ all seem to keep their cabins really warm. And on 1 NH flight, when I felt the cabin was really warm, I saw a Japanese passenger huddled up in a blanket.

  9. @ Andy — Thanks for reading! I always include the menus with the full trip reports, so stay tuned – glad you’re enjoying them!

  10. Very interesting review! I would never have thought of Korean bwtween LA and GRU. As it happens, I just bouht a revenue ticket SFO to GRU this morning. For work so not first class for me. this time next year. I’ll be back again and likely on my own dime so I’ll use miles. That will give me a chance to try this route and service. How far in advance do. I need to book to get first class? Cheers. LF.

  11. @Hyacinthe thanks for posting this list. I noticed SQ from Sao Paulo to Barcelona. That looks like a fun route to take. Nice to end up somewhere thst is not a typical hub.

  12. @ Levy Flight — They release TONS of first class award seats, so you should have no trouble finding space whether booking far in advance or close to departure.

  13. Hi Lucky! Based in my experience and time in Asia, I can tell you that the level of service and careful, attentive style of both ground and flight crews is just something Asian carriers do. The level of service is so bad in the US, that any smile or genuine flight crew response is perceived to be five-star service.
    If you go to Tokyo, any customer service worker will show you a level of courtesy and politeness, not unlike the service you received on the Korean Air flights. I feel Singapore and Thai’s crews to pawn over you too much, and that their service concept is too heavily based on calling you by name and helping you to do absolutely everything. Korean Air and Asiana are both style over meaningful substance, where their service concept is far too embedded in appearing like you are trying hard to help customers. The method by which the flight attendant served your salad is a service style that is present on all five-star Asian airlines, and is their take on premium service. I would much rather prefer a subtle style with flight crew out of sight, rather than a “butler and maids” service. (Don’t get me started on Emirates.)
    As a seasoned traveller, what is your take on the above?

  14. @ Laurel

    Warm cabin temperatures are common among European carriers as well. British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France all have very warm cabins. In fact, according to my experience as a German immigrant living and traveling in and out of the US, I am inclined to think that it’s US carriers that keep the cabin too cold.

  15. @Lucky Well if you are going to live in hotels it sure seems like a no brainer to do it at the end of a Fifth Freedom flight…….what am I missing?

  16. @ JustSaying — You mean in terms of staying at the destination longer? In this case I didn’t since I’m actually moving in a few weeks and have a lot of loose ends to wrap up prior to doing so.

  17. It was probably an evaluation flight of the flight crew. Just like on Qantas 32, there were 3 captains (2 of them were evaulating the crew) + 1 first officer on board. (if I recall correctly)

  18. I’ve been tempted to book a quick trip to Sao Paulo recently but the visa requirements are preventing me from doing such a trip. Seems like a chore for a quick flight like this one you just did. Is there something I’m not aware of like do they permit short stops without a visa?

  19. @ DaninSTL — Nope, if you’re on a US passport and leave the airport you need a visa unfortunately. I have a German passport, so don’t need a visa.

  20. Are there fuel charges/taxes to be paid with the award ticket ? If yes how much did you have to pay for your first class redemption ? thanks

  21. @ Emilie — There’s a $100 fuel surcharges, to the total taxes and fees were about $120 for a one-way.

  22. @ lucky – Korean Air’s “All” B777-300ER Biz class has full-flat(180degree) bed seats. not angled

  23. I have traveled six or seven times using the LAX to Sao Paulo route offered by Korean Air. I have also been permanently spoiled by the professionalism, courtesy, and service I’ve encountered on each of these flights – and that’s in the economy section. It makes flying domestic in the US an impossible chore. With in excess of 100,000 Skypass miles, I’m looking forward to moving up the ladder toward first class – until then, this school teacher can be spoiled in the economy section. Thanks for the report and to Korean Air.

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