Review: Korean Air First Class Lounge New York JFK Airport

Filed Under: Korean Air

My flight from New York to Riyadh was departing at 5PM, so I arrived at JFK’s Terminal 1 at around 2PM. Saudia’s check-in counter was in Zone A, at the very right of the terminal, near Air France’s first class check-in counter. There was quite a crowd waiting in the economy line, though the First Suite counter was empty.

Saudia check-in JFK

Saudia seems to use contract workers at JFK, and the lady checking me in was very friendly, and issued my boarding passes all the way to Dubai within a minute.

Saudia First Suite check-in JFK

She also put some beautiful “First Suite” cabin baggage tags on my carry-ons (without weighing them, fortunately). Those are some of the cooler cabin baggage tags I’ve seen.

Saudia First Suite luggage tag

She gave me an invitation to the Korean Air Lounge, which Saudia uses for their premium passengers at JFK. JFK’s Terminal 1 is an absolute zoo in the afternoons, given that it’s where most international airlines depart from. So not only do you have huge lines, but you have a lot of foreigners not familiar with TSA screening policies.

The queues at security were massive. There’s also a priority lane, though in the past it usually hasn’t moved faster than the others, in my experience. That wasn’t the case this time around, however, and I was through within maybe 15 minutes.

While this is nothing new, the TSA’s disrespect for passengers never ceases to amaze me. The lady working the lane I was using was literally throwing peoples’ stuff around. If people put their shoes in bins, she’d take them out and throw them on the belt. Not place them on the belt, but literally drop them from a couple of feet up with force. The same was true when people put laptops in bins with other things. It’s not often I’m tempted to file a complaint with the TSA (since I’ve become use to this kind of stuff), but her behavior was ridiculous.

Once airside I decided to first check out the Saudia departure gate, which was Gate 6.

JFK Airport Terminal 1

Saudia departure gate JFK

Sure enough, the Saudia 777-300ER had already arrived a couple of hours prior.

Saudia 777-300ER JFK Airport

I then headed to the Korean Air Lounge, located in the other wing, near Gate 1.

Korean Air Lounge JFK entrance

The lounge is on the second level, so can be accessed either by stairs or elevator. As you can see, in addition to handling Korean Air passengers, the lounge is also open to Aeroflot and Saudia customers, as well as Priority Pass members. This is one of several options at JFK for those with a credit card with lounge access.

Korean Air Lounge JFK stairs

At the reception desk I presented my lounge invitation and was welcomed into the lounge. The associate didn’t indicate which side of the lounge I could use, so I said “I can use the first class lounge, right?” She said yes, so I turned left to the first class section. I’ve reviewed the Korean Air business class lounge before (which is pretty disappointing), when I flew LOT Polish from New York to Warsaw a few years back, so I won’t be reviewing that this time around.

The Korean Air first class lounge is just a decent size room with maybe a couple of dozen seats.

Korean Air First Class Lounge JFK seating

Korean Air First Class Lounge JFK seating

On the plus side, the lounge has floor to ceiling windows, so there’s lots of natural light in the lounge. There are also some nice views of the tarmac, though they’re a bit obstructed by the terminal.

View from the Korean Air First Class Lounge New York

Near the entrance to the lounge was a rack with some magazines and newspapers, and next to that was a Korean Air A380 model airplane.

Korean Air First Class Lounge JFK magazines & newspapers

Korean Air A380 model airplane

The buffet was located along the interior wall of the lounge, and was pretty sad for an international first class lounge.

Korean Air First Class Lounge JFK buffet

In terms of food there was snack mix, whole fruit, baklava, muffins, pastries, packaged cookies, chips, and instant noodles.

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York snack selection

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York snack selection

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York snack selection

On top of that there was a fridge with packaged cheese, yogurt, fresh fruit, and sandwiches.

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York snack & drink selection

Then there were soft drinks, juice, beer, coffee, an espresso machine, a very basic selection of liquor, and a single bottle of white wine.

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York drink selection

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York coffee & tea

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York coffee machine

Korean Air First Class Lounge New York liquor & wine selection

I’ve never quite understood why all Korean Air lounges have packaged water to drink out of, rather than bottles. I can get how that might be practical sometimes, but in an international first class lounge? Really?

Water in an international first class lounge, really?

I spent most of the time in the lounge getting caught up on work (the Wi-Fi was fast, at least), and then had a bathroom incident in the lounge, which I’ve already written about. I can’t seem to go into this lounge without having issues, since I also had problems the last time I was here.

One interesting thing is that I believe Saudia uses the Korean Air first class lounge for all their premium passengers. At least I assume that’s the case, since there were about a dozen people using the lounge, while there was only one other passenger in first class. That’s not exactly a huge expense, given that the spread in the first class lounge isn’t much better than in the business class section.

Boarding was scheduled to start at 4PM, so I headed to the gate at around 3:45PM, and once again snapped a couple of pictures of the plane.

Saudia 777 at JFK departure gate

It’s not often you see “God Bless You” written near the nose of a plane.

Saudia 777 at JFK departure gate

Finally at 4:10PM priority boarding started. I couldn’t wait to see what the onboard experience would be like!

Saudia boarding at JFK

Korean Air First Lounge JFK bottom line

The Korean Air First Class Lounge JFK is reasonably comfortable and has lots of natural light, but that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. While Korean Air has a fantastic onboard product, their lounges across the world are among the worst out there. Absolutely embarrassing, in my opinion.

  1. Lucky,

    Off the top of your head, what are the 10 best lounges in the continental US? I’m guessing Virgin Atlantic’s lounges would make your list, along with most of the Centurion lounges. What else stands out?

  2. Yeah, I’m not sure what the deal is with Korean Air lounges. Definitely not commensurate with their on board experiences. The first class lounge in Incheon is nice though. I think you were there in 2014? But last time I was there they boarded first and business class passengers together, so by the time I left the lounge for the gate, there were 10 people in front of me despite only 2 people in the first class cabin.

  3. Yeah, the KAL lounge at JFK is pretty woeful on both sides (business and first).

    Just in case anyone was wondering, there are no security cameras in the first class lounge, so if the model A380 “fell” into someone’s carry-on “by accident” there’d be no digital record of that happening.

    I’m not suggesting anyone do that, I’m merely observing… 🙂

    In all seriousness, those models are expensive; when the Thai Airways International office in Chicago was closing down in the early aughts, they called me to let me know. I asked where the (very large) model 747-400 was going to go, and they told me it was for sale for US $1,000. Yikes! I didn’t purchase it, and I wonder where it ended up.

  4. Fun fact:

    The “God Bless You” you see on Saudia planes is a nod to the late King Abdullah (the most popular in the kingdom’s history) who wrote it on an F15s after it was delivered back in 1998.

    As a tribute to him, all Royal air forces and Saudia aircraft have it on them.

  5. Ben, if memory serves, you should still have access to the Air France Lounge. That is what we did when we flew Saudia since that Lounge is so terrible.

  6. Just for your information, the water you mentioned here is manufactured by one of the company of owned by Korean Air. And it is regarded as a quite genuine water in Korea.
    I also don’t think this water really fits for first class, but from Korean company perspective, they might have reasons to put that water there.

  7. “It’s not often I’m tempted to file a complaint with the TSA (since I’ve become use to this kind of stuff), but her behavior was ridiculous.”

    You really showed her.

  8. At JFK Saudia gives SkyTeam Elite Plus passengers flying in business first class lounge access. Not sure if that also extends to ST Elite or elite passengers in coach. Business class passengers without status are given access to the KE Business lounge. But I’m not really sure why they bother since both sides are nearly the same and both pretty terrible, and they don’t seem to give First class lounge access based on elite status at other outstations, at least not as a general rule.

  9. In my experience, when a lounge agent doesn’t care which side you go (First or Business), it tells you straight away that there is no real difference between the sections.

    If there’s any substantive difference, lounge staff will police it like it’s the DMZ.

  10. @Kieran. Agreed. Fortunately, at least for KAL’s 2 pm departure, one can make use of the Air France lounge if you have Priority Pass.

    TSA at JFK is among the worst out there. While to some extent it may be a NYC thing, I find that TSA at LGA is among the best, so there is something else at play.

  11. @ Lucky claims: “While Korean Air has a fantastic onboard product, their lounges across the world are among the worst out there. Absolutely embarrassing, in my opinion.”

    I have been to this Korean Air lounge at JFK, as I have been to their lounges at ICN and NRT. The notion that “their lounges across the world are among the worst out there. Absolutely embarrassing, in my opinion” is simply ridiculous, except for the “in my opinion” part. The objectivity of this report should be judged by taking into account the fact that the writer was incensed by an altercation he had with an agent manning this lounge.

    He should have refrained from writing this review because of the clear “conflict of interest.”

  12. @ DCS — I have been to their lounges at NRT and ICN as well, and I stand by my statement.

  13. @Lucky, is it possible to access this lounge on an international arrival?

    1. is there airside connection from intl. arrival to departure
    2. priority pass site said everyone needs to have a boarding pass departing from T1 to access this lounge. would the agent allow arrival passengers?

  14. Well, you can stand by your statement, but we are free to view it in the light of your recent altercation and utterly negative response to it. The claim that KAL lounges are among “the worst out” there is so over the top — I’ve been many much worse lounges — it reflects an emotional response, and not an objective analysis…


  15. @DCS. Having been to the locations discussed above as well as others, I also believe that KAL’s lounges are among the worst out there, especially compared to other international first class lounges. Take a second look at the photos from JFK. It’s baffling given how nice their onboard first class experience is.

  16. @SINJim — We are all free claim anything that we wish to claim. In the end it is YMMV, so let’s just stop making the claims, which are neither credible nor provable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with how the KAL lounge at JKF looks. It is neither the best, nor is it the “worst out there.” It just there in case someone needs it while waiting.

    There is no point to be made here other than that the host of this site had a bad experience, which could have been avoided if handled differently, and I already said how I had and would have handled it if I had been is his shoes.

    ‘Nuff said.

  17. I am flying first on the 12:50AM KE flight to ICN later this year. Is there another lounge that we can use instead of this one? I have no status with Sky Team but do have PP. This lounge almost looks as bad as the BA First lounge at ORD.

  18. It’s a wretched, dismal lounge, even by the low standards of the terminal it takes up space in, but is it any worse than the Wingtips Lounge in T4? I guess the issue was that’s an F lounge though…

  19. And that it’s run by an actual airline. The only worse lounges I can think of are all contract lounges.

  20. @DCS. Just to be clear, Ben is a professional critic so his eview is subjective by design unless there is a claim to statistical research to support a point. A critic is defined as, “a person who judges the merits of literary or artistic works, restaurants, etc, especially one who does so professionally.”

  21. I agree with Anthony- would love to see a top 10 best airports and airport lounges post with lots of pictures and info, Lucky!

  22. I agree that KE lounges are underwhelming for a major Asian carrier. And Incheon is their home base, it should be a flagship lounge for them.

  23. I was offered the FE F lounge as an F pax on TK at JFK a few years ago. It was a colossal disappointment in all the ways discussed herein. It was worse than a United Club. I went straight to the Senator lounge. TK no longer has F, but why they arranged for their F pax to use that janky-ass KE “F” lounge is beyond me when they had Senator Lounge access.

  24. Hi,

    Do agree with Lucky aka Ben about KE lounges. They are indeed in my opinion among the worst lounges. Been to their lounge in ICN, LAX, JFK and NRT and all of them are the same dull, boring and horrible food/drinks offerings.
    I don’t understand why for such a reputable Asian airline, that they can have such a lounge…even compared to today’s US based airlines lounges which is much better than the KE lounges. The only ones worst than KE would be those based in North Africa, i.e CAI, TUN, etc – which is understandable as their on-board product is as mediocre as ground service.

  25. This isnt a first class lounge, but a lounge for first class passengers. While the first is a lie, at least the latter is technically correct.

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