Review: Korean Air Business Class Lounge Seoul Incheon Airport ICN

Filed Under: Etihad, Korean Air

After an all too short night I took the hotel shuttle back to the airport shortly after 10AM.

Incheon Airport check-in hall

Etihad changed their check-in counters compared to the night before, so this time around check-in was at counters G30-36. Even though I arrived at them shortly before 10:30AM, there was already a long queue.

Etihad check-in Incheon Airport

The premium counters were on the left, and there was both a first and business class line. People seemed to treat it as a single line, though. When I asked the people waiting whether they were in the first or business class line, they said “one line.” Obviously not the case, though they were trying to work that in their favor.

Check-in opened at 10:30AM sharp, and I ended up being number two in the first class line. The person in front of me took 45 minutes to be processed, so it was 11:15AM before I was checked in. Much to my surprise my boarding pass was issued within 30 seconds, including on the later flight from Abu Dhabi to Cairo that I had proactively been rebooked on.

Etihad check-in Incheon Airport

After checking in I headed for departure security, which was an absolute $hit show. There are no priority queues at Incheon Airport, and the security line was backed up all the way to the ID checkpoint. Security took about 45 minutes.

I’m not going to lie, at this point I was getting a bit impatient. I don’t mind waiting in line, though I’m not as accustomed to it as I used to be. And over the past 15 hours I had collectively done more queuing than I’d otherwise do in a month.

After queuing for 45 minutes at security I queued for another 15 minutes at immigration.

Incheon Airport is rated as one of the top airports in the world, though architecturally it’s not all that remarkable. The departures hall isn’t as “grand” as those in Beijing. Hong Kong, or Singapore. That being said, once you clear immigration it is very well designed, with good shopping and lots of amenities.

Incheon Airport terminal

I followed the signage towards gates 101-132, which is where I’d be departing from.

Escalators to train Incheon Airport

I took the escalator down to the train, which is the only way to get between concourses.

Escalators to train Incheon Airport

The trains run frequently though tend to get really crowded, so sometimes you don’t have an “American” amount of personal space in them.

Train at Incheon Airport

On the other end I took the escalator up to the concourse and followed the signage towards the Korean Air Lounge.

Incheon Airport satellite concourse

It was located to the left and up a level from the main concourse.

Incheon Airport satellite concourse

Escalators to Korean Air Lounge at Incheon Airport satellite concourse

For what it’s worth, Etihad uses the Korean Air Business Lounge in the satellite terminal as their contract lounge for both first and business class passengers. It’s kind of disappointing that they don’t make special lounge arrangements for first class passengers, but I at least had fairly high hopes of the business class lounge.

I did lower my expectations somewhat when I also saw a Priority Pass sign at the entrance, so a credit card with lounge access could come in handy.

Korean Air Lounge entrance Incheon Airport

At the entrance I was welcomed in upon handing the friendly receptionist my invitation.

To the right of the reception desk was a Korean Air 787 on display — I do love airplane models!

Korean Air Lounge model airplane Incheon Airport

Boy, was the lounge underwhelming. The furniture not only felt cheap, but had a horrible color pattern and was incredibly uncomfortable, in my opinion.

Near the entrance were some tables with bar stool-style seating.

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Then further into the lounge were the most uncomfortable couches I’ve ever sat on. I’m pretty sure they were made of bricks.

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

On the plus side, the lounge wasn’t very crowded. There was tons of seating. Just none of it was comfortable, unfortunately.

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

At the far end of the lounge was a partitioned off area with dining tables, along with chairs facing a counter top.

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

Then there was a small TV room.

Korean Air Business Lounge media room Incheon Airport

Next to that were the restrooms and shower rooms.

Korean Air Business Lounge seating Incheon Airport

I took a quick look at the shower rooms, and they didn’t look especially nice.

Korean Air Business Lounge showers Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge showers Incheon Airport

The buffet was near the entrance, and there was prominent signage indicating that the lounge was catered by the Grand Hyatt Incheon Airport. Okay, you’d think that would mean they’d take some pride in the selection, since they’re putting their name on it.

Korean Air Business Lounge catered by Grand Hyatt Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Unfortunately not. It was an incredibly lackluster buffet.

First there were three bottles of liquor and then two bottles of wine (one red and one white) on display.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge booze Incheon Airport

There were chips, pretzels, and snack mix next to the wine.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Next to that were cups of instant ramen.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

In terms of the beverage selection, there was an espresso machine.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Then there was a fridge with milk and ration-style water.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Seriously, why on earth?

Korean Air Business Lounge water Incheon Airport

Then there were beer machines.

Korean Air Business Lounge beer Incheon Airport

And a soda machine, which had cups that I’m pretty sure were intended for mouthwash based on how small and cheap they were.

Korean Air Business Lounge soda fountain Incheon Airport

Then there juice machines, as if this were a middle school cafeteria.

Korean Air Business Lounge juice machine Incheon Airport

The food selection wasn’t much better, unfortunately.

There was cheese and crackers.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Then there were three types of cereals.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Then some disgusting looking sandwiches, kiwi, and milk (the display combination just seemed odd).

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

And then they had a few kinds of muffins, croissants, and danishes.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

Then they had a few cold dishes, which really didn’t look very appealing.

Korean Air Business Lounge buffet Incheon Airport

And then lastly some soup and three hot dishes. The hot dishes just all looked gross beyond words.

Korean Air Business Lounge soup Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge hot dishes Incheon Airport

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 12:40PM, for a 1:30PM departure.

I left the lounge at 12:40PM, knowing that boarding 50 minutes before departure seemed optimistic. That’s especially true since the plane just landed at noon, since we were taking the plane that was just arriving from Abu Dhabi (while the plane we were supposed to fly on the previous night was at a remote stand waiting for a replacement part).

Incheon Airport satellite concourse

The flight was departing from gate 110, so it was about a five minute walk from the lounge. I walked past a China Southern A321 with winglets, similar to what American has on their transcon A321s.

China Southern A321 Incheon Airport

When I arrived at the gate I was a bit surprised to see the entire crew — including the pilots — still sitting at the gate. That doesn’t bode well for an on-time (well, 14 hour late) departure.

Etihad A340-600 Incheon Airport

I went up to the gate agent to asked what the situation was, and she stared at me blankly. I asked if the flight would be delayed further. She said “mmmm… yes, further delay.” I asked her how much further the delay would be. She said “mmmm… I do not know.” I explained I wasn’t asking for an exact number, but was wondering whether we were talking five minutes, five hours, etc. Again, she said she’s not sure, but suggested I go back to the lounge.

Given how crappy the lounge was and the fact that there was wifi in the terminal, I decided just to sit down in the fairly empty gate area and get some work done.

Etihad A340-600 Incheon Airport

It ended up being a further 40 minute delay, and at 1:20PM boarding finally began, starting with first and business class. A collective cheer was let out as we were finally bound for Abu Dhabi.

Etihad departure gate Incheon Airport

Etihad departure gate Incheon Airport

Korean Air Business Lounge Incheon Airport

I’m not sure what was more disappointing — the fact that Etihad uses a Priority Pass lounge for their first class passengers or just how bad the lounge was. The seating in the terminal is more comfortable than in the lounge, so in the future I’d be sure not to arrive too early, or instead spend that time wandering around the terminal.

  1. @ choi — Nope, the invitation was specifically for their satellite business class lounge. I asked the Etihad check-in agent if they didn’t have a separate first class lounge, and she said no.

  2. To be honest if I am in a nice airport (Singapore, Hong Kong, etc..) and the lounge is underwhelming like this one I’d rather do a tour at the airport and check the duty free, stores and restaurants than sit in the lounge. Sometimes I just pass on the lounge.

  3. I agree the lounge is underwhelming. It felt like an Ikea store. Although I did like the bathrooms; they were at least more interesting than most lounge bathrooms.

    Lounge Club membership includes the MATINA lounge at ICN: Might that be a better alternative? Do you have any experience with the MATINA lounge?

    I’ll have four hours to kill in ICN in February. I will be traveling with four friends, but I could always leave them at the KE lounge : )

  4. Santastico has the right attitude. Once I saw the fridge with post-apocalyptic water and grade school milks, I would have bounced. Spend a few credits for something that evokes a more memorable Korea, rather than this mix of cultural dissolution.

  5. OMG…this just reinforces my determination, based on your prior trip reports with Etihad, to only fly with them if forced to so at gunpoint.

    They left a First Class passenger standing in line for 45 minutes, and kept checking in Business and Economy passengers? AA customer sevice may not be World Class, but if I was left standing in the First Class line for more than 3 or 4 minutes the agents in the Bus or Econ line would be certain to take me next.

    I can’t understand how ICN can be considered “one of the top airports in the world” when security and immigration take a full hour for a FC passenger. And my eagerness to fly Korean, after reading on VFTW how FC availability is wide open, really got delated by those pictures of the lounge. Food plates with 4 pieces of cheese and maybe 20 individual crackers. Dishes of potatoe chips and pretzels that seem to only hold the contents of a individual snack size bag. Water containers fit for a gerbil. Seating that wouldn’t be fit for a hospital emergency room.

    You have to get there hours in advance, since there is no telling how long it may take you to get from the door to the gate. Then as a FC passenger, you are “invited” wait in a lounge so dismal that sitting at the gate is truly better.

    ICN just landed on my list of “airports to avoid at all costs”. Thanks for the warning.

  6. Misread it. So Etihad FC doesn’t have a better lounge, but Korean FC does. So then it’s only that hour or so to get from check in to the “nice for Business Class quality” lounge. Not especially appealing, but much better than Abu Dhabi that’s for sure. I might consider Korean FC then, but Etihad out of ICN and AUH is still on my ‘wouldn’t fly them for free’ list.

  7. Ben, you missed the best feature of ICN airport, Spa on Air. For just 20,000 won, you can use their spas, steam rooms, hot tubs, or even get a sleeping room for 12,000 extra wons. If you’ve never been to a korean spa before, it’s a really unique experience but a much better way to kill time than sitting in those terrible lounges. They also serve food in the spa.

  8. Lucky,

    Are you aware of a site that has reliable reviews of airport bars and restaurants? I like a good lounge like anyone else but one of my favorite things about traveling is sitting at a restaurant bar, ordering a drink and meal and chatting with other travelers. I’ve made good friends this way. I imagine you would have had a better time finding a good restaurant in this airport and befriending people than sitting in this lackluster lounge.

  9. Ben, while that lounge was modest (‘lackluster’ was being complimentary, I believe) – it did have one pearl in there – the Remy XO. Very surprising to see a $150 bottle of cognac amongst an otherwise incredibly cheap offering.

  10. Shame about the poor quality of the lounge, but the Asiana concourse lounge is much worse, especially the catering!

    I guess since KE’s own passengers don’t use the lounge, they couldn’t care less…

    As for pre-check, it’s coming. Trials have already started from what I hear…

  11. I would have used the Asiana lounge if i were you because it’s way better assuming you got a priority pass

  12. It’s nice to peruse a cranky review now and then where not everything (or anything?) met expectations. Your reactions/wit made this fun to read. 😉

  13. errrm….the Korean Air FIRST lounge out of ICN isn’t anything to write home about.
    The food offering is quite underwhelming as well.
    Cheap chinese food, and few bakery items…
    Which is quite stark contrast to what Cathay pacific does in HKG…literally day and night difference.

  14. Korean generally doesn’t have flights out of ICN concourse A (ie the satellite terminal) so the lounge is basically just for contract.

    The seats, showers, etc all look very different to the KE business lounge in the main terminal. Food & beverages, however, is the same. Some of it is tastier than it looks.

    ICN is a great airport for its amenities (eg free showers for anyone, lots of comfortable loungers for sleeping on, live entertainment, etc), not for the lounges.

  15. Ben,

    Don’t you have access to Star Alliance Gold lounges? They have the Asiana Business class lounge and the Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Business and First Lounge. Sorry to hear that the KAL Lounge was a terrible disappointment. I would be upset, too if I had a C or F class ticket. You should do some major complaining at KAL customer support. Judging by the pictures, this doesn’t look like a business class lounge, it looks more like a start-up coffee shop.

  16. @ Ed — Nope, can’t access Star Gold lounges unless flying Star Alliance. Ultimately I think my complaint should be with Etihad and not Korean Air, since they select the lounge they use for their passengers.

  17. What’s ironic is that they have a $200+ bottle of cognac in this pretty lame lounge…Remy XO is legit

  18. Saltines and raisins. Now that’s says class. I generally have low expectations of airline lounges, but that’s worse than an American lounge.

  19. @Wanderingentrepreneur – That caught my eye too. They had Jack which is normal, Ballantines´17 y.o. is a FC lounge whisky and Remy XO is probably found in 3 or 4 of the best world FC lounges only.

    So I would just polish off a couple of those ! 🙂

  20. @ Lucky — at least you should’ve felt very safe in the lounge knowing there are fire extinguishers nearby (see photo about midway through the post) 😉

  21. This business class lounge is mainly for the use of other airlines who fly to ICN and that have agreements with KE.
    The KE lounge at the main terminal
    Building is much, much better and very comfortable seating and facilities
    Next time fly KEnto get in to thier real business class lounge

  22. Isn’t this lounge in the satellite terminal? I think they have a nicer lounge in the main terminal and it’s specifically called the “Korean Air Prestige Class Lounge”, whereas the lounge in this report is just the “KAL Lounge” in the satellite.

    Is it not?

  23. @ Bobby S. — Correct, this one is primarily contracted out to other carriers. I’ve heard the other one is nicer as well.

  24. I am mistaken – your report does in fact reflect the KAL Lounge in the satellite terminal. From other sources, I saw that their “Prestige Lounge” in the Main Terminal is much nicer, which I hope to visit when I fly to ICN in July.

  25. I am sitting at the prestige lounge and it is not “much nicer” — not nicer at all. i have a transit flight to bali but was told they don’t have F for the icn/dps segment. so here i am. food is just the same as what Ben had described. this is my first time flying KE. compared to asiana or jal or sg business class, this is really a 1.5 (those others are an 6.5 to 8): food-wise, equipment-wise (lack of massage chairs), restroom-wise (ugly-or-dirty looking toilets, while asiana has clean-looking bidets [that are fun to play with]), and even the receptionist lacked the usual extreme-korean-care-and-devotion, had no smile and cared less to answer questions.

    okay i just spotted one possible positive – free international call via skype to landlines in 42 countries worldwide (located in the small room at the back of the lounge) – and no you don’t need a computer to do that. they provide a phone-like device.

    now i only hope the upcoming flight will provide a decent meal.

  26. “The hot dishes just all looked gross beyond words.” -Ben Schlappig

    Interesting choice of words. I’ve been to that lounge and the food is fine. It may look “gross beyond words” to some culturally-ignorant European blogger, but I’m sure it’s edible to the thousands that pass through there.

  27. Flying to Houston on Kal from KLumpur.Am Sky pass member too. Have 3 hour layover at ICN. Can I use lounge? Thanx

  28. The Asiana Lounge at ICH is not much better. It’s a much nicer space but the food and drink options are very disappointing.

  29. What an arrogant little prick you are with an overwhelmingly immense sense of entitlement.

    Your drole desription was tenfold more painful than your actual experience.

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