Review: Korean Air First Class 777-300ER Los Angeles to Sao Paulo

Filed Under: Korean Air, Travel

Korean Air 61
Los Angeles (LAX) – Sao Paulo (GRU)
Friday, March 21
Depart: 6:40PM
Arrive: 11:25AM (+1 day)
Duration: 11hr45min
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 2A (First Class)

In February I flew Korean Air A380 first class from Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles, and was blown away between the top notch food and service.

This route is operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, featuring just eight first class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. It’s actually almost exactly the same first class product available on the A380, except there are two rows instead of three.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER cabin

Here’s the first class seatmap, per SeatGuru:


While the seat wasn’t fully enclosed, it was really private thanks to the “shield” you can extend around your seat.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER, seat 2A

Korean Air first class 777-300ER, seat 2A

Waiting at my seat were a pillow and blanket.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER, seat 2A pillow and blanket

Korean Air first class 777-300ER, seat 2A

The seat also had ample storage, though slightly less than on the A380. To the back left of the seat was a storage compartment perfect for glasses, a wallet, passport, etc.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER storage compartment

Right in front of that was another storage compartment, along with the headphone jack and USB outlet. Below that were the entertainment controls.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER storage compartment

Korean Air first class 777-300ER entertainment control

In front of that was the bizarre champagne fountain reading light.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER reading light

Then in front of that was the tray table.

Korean Air first class tray table

To the right of the seat were the seat controls, reading materials, and a place to store headphones.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER storage compartment

Korean Air first class 777-300ER seat controls

Korean Air first class 777-300ER, seat 2A view

Moments after settling in one of the first class flight attendants came by to offer me Bose noise canceling headphones, pajamas, and facial mist.

Korean Air first class pajamas and headphones

Korean Air first class pajamas

Korean Air does have really high quality pajamas, though I’ll never quite get the odd phrases on them.

My cradle in the clouds… Sweet dreams?!

Korean Air first class Bose headphones

There were also slippers waiting at my seat. Oddly there was no amenity kit.

Korean Air first class pajamas slippers

Korean Air first class slippers

Shortly thereafter I was offered a pre-departure beverage and requested a glass of champagne. I was informed that unfortunately Korean Air apparently doesn’t offer alcohol on the ground in the US, so I instead ordered some water, which was served with macadamia nuts.

Korean Air first class pre-departure water and nuts

I was then given a landing form for Brazil, along with a Korean Air branded pen.

Brazil landing form

One thing that’s interesting is that even though I was the first passenger to board when boarding was called, there were already five other first class passengers in the cabin, in seats 1D, 1K, 2D, 2G, and 2K.

Maybe they were all connecting from Seoul Incheon? I was under the impression you’d have to get off the plane in the US, so I’m not sure? I later figured out who 1K and 2K were, but it seems that the passenger in 1D and the couple in 2D & 2G were indeed connecting.

Shortly before our scheduled departure time the inflight manager came by to introduce himself and ask if it was my first time on Korean Air. When I explained I had flown the A380 he asked how I thought the two planes compared.

Shortly before pushback the captain came on the PA to make a welcome aboard announcement, which he did in Korean, Portuguese, and English. I saw him later in the flight and he was actually Brazilian. Interesting how many ex-pat pilots Korean Air seems to have, since on my Tokyo Narita to Seoul Incheon flight in February I had an American captain (a friend mentioned after the fact that Korean Air actually has a pilot base in Sao Paulo that exclusively fly the route to Los Angeles).

Anyway, he informed us of our flight time of 11hr16min, anticipating an arrival in Sao Paulo at 10:10AM.

Gate on pushback

Gate on pushback

As we pushed back the safety video began to play.

Pushing back

Our taxi to runway 24L was really short, and less than five minutes after pushing back we were airborne on what was a gorgeous California evening, at 6:50PM sharp.

Taxiing to runway

Holding short of runway 24L

Taking off runway 24L

Taking off runway 24L

Taking off runway 24L

Taking off runway 24L

View on climb out

As we climbed out I browsed the entertainment selection. I eventually just decided to catch up on some shows on my iPad. Can’t fall too far behind on The Real Housewives of Atlanta or my ability to throw shade might suffer. I think I’m starting to transition from Team Phaedra to Team Kenya, which is concerning because I really don’t want to like Kenya. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Back to the flight…

Korean Air first class entertainment system

Korean Air airshow

View at cruise altitude

Korean Air first class cabin 777-300ER after takeoff

About 10 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off and menus were distributed.

Korean Air first class menu and wine list

Shortly thereafter dinner orders were taken. The dinner menu read as follows:


It included a bibimbap directions pamphlet:


And the wine list read as follows:


Champagne menu

Champagne list

Sweet white wine menu

White wines list

White wines menu

Red wines menu

Red wine list

Red wines menu

Service began with hot towels being distributed.

Korean Air first class hot towel

That was followed by drinks and the amuse bouche. I ordered a Diet Coke with lemon and a glass of the lovely Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2006.

Korean Air first class Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2006

That was accompanied by the amuse bouche (on the menu described as pre-drink service, which doesn’t seem right), consisting of lobster salad with dill yogurt dip.

Korean Air first class amuse bouche

After that a cart was rolled around with the table setting and bread.

Korean Air first class table setting

The garlic rolls were really, really good.

Korean Air first class bread

The appetizer was then served, which consisted of blufin tuna noodle with pineapple and prosciutto. Yum!

Korean Air first class appetizer

Korean Air first class appetizer

After that the salad cart was rolled around. As I noted in my Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles trip report, I think Korean Air does the best salad service of any airline. You can’t beat a “tableside” salad made from scratch.

Korean Air first class salad cart

Korean Air first class salad

For the main course I selected the bibimbap, which was phenomenal.

Korean Air first class bibimbap

Korean Air first class bibimbap

Then I was offered cheese and fruit off a cart.

Korean Air first class cheese and fruit cart

I ate the fruit and a tiny sample of each cheese, as I was already stuffed.

Korean Air first class cheese and fruit

Then dessert was served, which consisted of Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and red currant with white chocolate cake.

Korean Air first class dessert

The meal service was really good. It wasn’t quite as amazing as on the Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles sector, though US to South America has to be one of the least competitive markets in terms of airline quality (perhaps ranking only slightly above Addis Ababa to… well… anywhere). But on the whole it was great, I thought.

As far as the service goes, the flight attendant on my Seoul Incheon to Los Angeles flight set the bar really high. Admittedly there was only one other passenger in the cabin, but she took such pride in her job that I couldn’t help but smile.

This crew was objectively very good. They were friendly and extremely attentive. Like, ridiculously so. I don’t think my glass was ever more than half empty, and one of the flight attendants actually positioned herself behind row two between serving courses so she could “monitor” the entire cabin and see who might need something.

So the crew was attentive and friendly without being over the top. But they didn’t quite have the “passion” that the flight attendant on my last Korean Air sector had.

Airshow upon finishing dinner

Airshow upon finishing dinner

After dinner I requested turndown service, and while they made my bed I checked out the business class cabin, which was extremely empty, with fewer than a dozen passengers.

Korean Air business class 777-300ER

Korean Air business class 777-300ER

Korean Air business class 777-300ER

On my way back to my seat I quickly stopped by the lav, which is located in front of the first class cabin in the center of the aircraft. It’s fairly spacious for a 777, though can’t compete with the Emirates or Lufthansa A380 first class lavatories, for example.

Korean Air 777-300ER first class lavatory

I slept really well for a few hours, but then woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep for whatever reason.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER turndown service

Korean Air first class 777-300ER turndown service

I wanted some more water 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 less than 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 a cappuccino and pushed the call button again. I kid you not, she was at my seat again in a second. I’ve had some amazing call button response times in my life, but never anything this fast.

Korean Air first class cappuccino

It was just ridiculous. I pushed the call button a handful of times throughout the flight (I prefer that to disturbing flight attendants in the galley).

But I really started to feel as if there was literally a flight attendant standing on the other side of the curtain the entire flight just waiting for someone to push the call button.

I’ve written a lot in the past about the Singapore Airlines vs. Cathay Pacific approach to first class service, and I appreciate them both. The major difference between the two is that between meal services you’ll see a Singapore Airlines flight attendant through the cabin every 10 minutes or so, while on Cathy Pacific you probably won’t see a flight attendant once… unless you push the call button.

And the Cathay Pacific approach is great once you understand it. I know the first time I flew Cathay Pacific I couldn’t help but feel like they were inattentive, but once you realize it’s so you have as much privacy as possible you appreciate it. What I’m trying to say is that the crew on this flight had more of the reactive Cathay Pacific approach than the proactive Singapore Airlines approach, but they executed it perfectly.

Anyway, back to the actual flight rather than the subtle differences between first class on different airlines. I decided to watch a couple of TV shows on the entertainment system. I started with a show called “Brain Games 2—Focus Pocus.” And then I watched a show called “Mighty Ships – Oasis of The Seas,” which almost made me want to take a cruise again… almost.

Korean Air first class entertainment selection

Korean Air first class entertainment selection

The couple seated across from me ordered ramen at this point, which looked and smelled delicious, so I ordered some as well. It was great.

Korean Air first class ramen noodles

Korean Air first class ramen noodles

Oddly shortly after serving me ramen the flight attendant came by to bring me an amenity kit, having realized she forgot to bring it to me earlier. She apologized profusely.

Korean Air first class amenity kit

Korean Air first class amenity kit contents

I watched a couple of episodes of “Hotel Impossible” on my iPad, and then about 90 minutes prior to arrival the breakfast service began.

Korean Air first class 777-300ER mood lighting

The breakfast menu read as follows:


The way the flight attendant took the breakfast order must have been one of the most mind-numbingly complex questionings I’ve ever faced… it rivaled Canadian immigration!

“Would you like to have breakfast with us?”
“Yes please.”
“When would you like breakfast?”
“Now is fine.”
“What kind of yogurt would you like? Strawberry or plain?
“Strawberry, please.”
“Would you like nuts and raisins in there?”
“What kind of bread would you like?
“A croissant please.”
“And would you like butter or jam with that?”
“Jam please.”
“What kind of jam? Strawberry, grape, or peach?”
“Strawberry please.”
“Would you like cereal?”
“Yes please.”
“What kind of cereal? We have Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Apple Jacks, Special K, Cheerios, or Muesli.”
“Apple Jacks please.”
“And what kind of milk? Fat free or 2%?”
“Fat free, please.”
“And what would you like to drink?”
“Black tea please.”
“And would you like sugar and milk with that?”
“Just milk, please.”
“And how about for your main course? “
“The scrambled eggs please.”
“Okay, and then would you like some fruit to finish your meal?”

Breakfast began with the yogurt, which was tasty and nicely presented, along with a croissant.

Korean Air first class breakfast — yogurt

Korean Air first class breakfast — yogurt

Korean Air first class breakfast — tea and orange juice

Korean Air first class breakfast — croissant

That was followed by Apple Jacks. The novelty of eating 110% sugary cereal on an airplane hasn’t worn off yet, and don’t think it will for a while… almost as exciting as an onboard shower!

Korean Air first class breakfast — cereal

The scrambled egg course was tasty and beautifully presented.

Korean Air first class breakfast — scrambled eggs

And the fruit to finish the meal was good as well.

Korean Air first class breakfast — fruit

The only thing I find disappointing about the service is that Korean only has Lipton tea. I mean, seriously, it’s bad enough not to have a huge selection of tea in first class on an Asian airline, but to have the one option be Lipton? Really?!

After breakfast I napped a bit longer, and then 30 minutes prior to landing I headed to the lavatory to change out of my pajamas.

Airshow after breakfast

Interestingly the guys seated in 1K and 2K were up there and had also just changed, and they were both Korean Air captains as well (they had four stripes). They both seemed to be American. Between them and the two other Korean Air captains in the flight deck (along with a first officer), that’s four captains. Yowzers.

Our descent into Sao Paulo was smooth, and we touched down on runway 27L at 10:15AM.

Descent into Sao Paulo

Descent into Sao Paulo

Final descent into Sao Paulo

Touchdown Sao Paulo

Touchdown Sao Paulo

In my eight previous flights to and from Sao Paulo I always had a gate, so I was kind of surprised to see we were taxiing to a remote stand. In fairness, Sao Paulo Airport during the day is the ultimate place for plane porn, given the number of longhaul aircraft parked out on remote stands just “posing.”

There was an Alitalia 777.

Alitalia 777 Sao Paulo Airport

And two Lufthansa aircraft – a 747-400 from Frankfurt and an A340-600 from Munich.

Lufthansa 747 Sao Paulo Airport

Lufthansa 747 and A340 Sao Paulo Airport

Then an Iberia A340-300 and British Airways 747.

Iberia A340 and British Airways 747 Sao Paulo Airport

And we ended up parking next to a Delta 767.

Delta 767 Sao Paulo Airport

As soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off the inflight manager came by to collect me and walk me to door 2L, which is located behind the forward business class cabin.

Okay, I figured maybe they had a special car or something for first class passengers?

Nope, guess he just wanted to make sure I was first on the bus. Gee, thanks. 😉

As much as remote stands are a pain in the ass, I’m still like a five year old when I get to walk on the tarmac and marvel at the beast that just flew me 6,000+ miles.

Korean Air 777 upon arrival in Sao Paulo

Korean Air 777 upon arrival in Sao Paulo

Korean Air 777 upon arrival in Sao Paulo

The drive to the terminal took about five minutes, and once there the immigration queue only took about 10 minutes. For an airport that’s generally an ugly-as-could-be clusterf&*k, the security and immigration queues here are fairly consistently reasonable.

Sao Paulo traffic

Bottom line

Korean Air offers a ridiculously good first class product between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, and I find it to just be such a cool fifth freedom route. After three flights in Korean Air first class they definitely rank among my favorite first class products in the world.

How you can redeem miles for Korean Air first class

The best way to book Korean Air first class is through their own SkyPass program. For more information on doing that see these posts:

Korean Air SkyPass allows one way awards if traveling on Korean Air metal. Travel between North America and South America costs 70,000 SkyPass miles one-way for first class, assuming you’re traveling for off-peak dates. Award availability on the route is amazingly good.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that while Delta partners with Korean Air, you can’t redeem Delta SkyMiles for international first class on Korean Air. Rather, business class is the highest cabin you can redeem for.

  1. “Maybe they were all connecting from Sao Paulo?” I thought you went to São Paulo…did you mean Incheon, which once in the passage you spelt “Incehon”?

    Can you please do a comparison as you did with CX’s 747 and 777 (service, lavs, etc.)?

  2. As always, thank you for sharing the great review.

    And, it’s fun to read your obsession of Real Housewives 🙂

  3. ” (a friend mentioned after the fact that Korean Air actually has a pilot base in Sao Paulo that exclusively fly the route to Los Angeles).”

    How does ALPA feel about this?

    What is the difference between what Korean is doing here and what Norwegian is trying to do establishing their pilot bases in low cost countries?

  4. Nice review Lucky!

    Same wine list as your A380 flight. According to where they are “available” (per the menu), there was only a single red wine. I assume there was more than one red offered?

    Can you compare the seat for sleeping purposes to CX or SQ F? Also for in flight entertainment selections?

  5. @ hkairlinenews — Whoops, thanks, fixed the typos. And thanks for the comparison post idea, I like it. Will plan that for this week.

  6. @ beachfan — Good question about sleeping. I still find Cathay’s seat to probably be the best for sleeping, between the excellent bedding and very private yet not confined seat. I’d probably rank Korean second, and then Singapore last (I don’t love their bedding).

    I think more than one red was offering, though all my alcohol consumption involved bubbles, so I’m not positive.

  7. I find it entertaining when the superlatives come out of your trip reports, some of them probably just for the heck of word count? 😉

    Like “extremely empty” cabin, then immediately adding that there were actually people there, with pictures to prove it.

  8. @ Danny — Hah, fair enough. Though at over 3,000 words I don’t think there was much need to boost the word count. 😉

  9. “The way the flight attendant took the breakfast order must have been one of the most mind-numbingly complex questionings I’ve ever faced”

    Lucky, break the thesaurus…it may have been mind-numbingly tedious, but complex? If that’s complex, I wonder how you are able to plan these award ticket trips 😉

    With regards to Singapore vs Cathay flight attendance style in first class…Singapore is better for daytime flights, Cathay for nighttime?

  10. @ wwk5d — You write a 3,000+ word trip report and I’m sure I’ll find a phrase or two to nitpick as well. 😉

    As far as daytime vs. nighttime, in general agree.

  11. Sao Paulo GRU does get very busy with incoming flights in the mid-to-late morning, but it is still a bit embarassing in my opinion — and poor logistics — to have such a big international flight offload onto buses at a remote gate.
    You should try and return to GRU again this year after June, when the brand new Terminal 3 should open there. It’ll be a state-of-the-art terminal and will likely receive the large international planes that come and go.

  12. US CBP requires passengers disembark at LAX for NZ’s AKL-LAX-LHR (and reverse flights), so I cannot imagine this is any different.

  13. @ Lucky – Other than Ultimate Rewards, what would be the next best choice for redeeming Korean first? Any Skyteam with a good chart or some partner with reasonable price to buy points?

  14. I flew Korean Air from LA to Bangkok coach a few years ago. Even in coach service was amazing. I would choose them again in a heartbeat.

  15. @ Dave — All depends on the circumstances. If they’re well behaved I really don’t care. If I ran an airline I’d probably generally not include unlimited first class travel for all employees as a perk, but under certain circumstances I’m not opposed to it.

  16. Who were the passengers you recognized? Can’t leave us hanging!

    Also, I can’t help to think about how bland that first class cabin looks…very sterile, almost like a doctors office.

  17. As far as plane porn goes, LAX itself is pretty good in the afternoon. Landing just after 4 yesterday, I saw 2 Qantas A380s and a 747; BA, AF, EK, and KE A380s; LH 747; NZ and Transaero (?!?!) 777s; and an Aeroflot A330.

  18. “I later figured out who 1K and 2K were, but it seems that the passenger in 1D and the couple in 2D & 2G were indeed connecting.”

    if 1K and 2K were the pilots, why didn’t the others have to off-load for customs?

  19. @ Abe — No clue. Maybe they did and were just boarded before everyone else? Good question…

  20. Thanks Ben, I was confused for a second! I can’t believe all these people picking apart your report. I doubt they can speak two languages fluently like you can!

  21. Looks very nice! I wonder if the crew read your Chinese Southern review and was keeping their eye on you 😉

    P.S. Reading light placement makes no sense — what they have in business class seems way better although business class itself seems kid of meh at 2-3-2 config.

  22. @ Callie – Seriously? We’re not being mean or anything, and just so you know I speak three languages fluently.

    Just because we’re making corrections doesn’t mean we’re being overly picky, just means we spotted a few mistakes (that everyone makes) and decided to change it to make it perfect. Though perfection can never be achieved, we must strive to get as close as possible, you see.

  23. What an excellent trip report! Thank you so much, it is incredibly helpful as I am currently looking into options for Brazil-California. The choice between AA and KE seems obvious (I know neither, but AA doesn’t look that great).

    Being a foodie (and living in Paris) I find the menu somewhat disappointing in not giving choices for anything other than main course, and the desert is really frugal. The wines are actually rather mediocre (we buy stuff like that at the petrol station after hours when the real shops have closed), but the selection is wide.

    Hilarious to see – again, from a French foodie perspective and without any judgement attached to it – how you (rightly!) make a negative comment about only Lipton tea available but then you order Diet Coke and Champagne at the same time! Over here you’d get shot for that 😉

    But the world is a diverse place and I find it fascinating how different cultures relate differently to food. And, no, I am not one of those who think that my perspective on food is the only right one!

    Again, thanks again for your TR, I’ll surely read many more of the other ones you have done

  24. Lucky, don’t know if you noticed but I thought I’d let you know–it looks like Korean has further downgraded the aircraft on this flight. In looking at flights in July it appears they’re operating an A330.

  25. Ben,
    My flight JFK-ICN (01/2016) has an equipment change from an Airbus 380 to a 777-300ER. Your photos of business class present a 2-3-2 arrangement which jives with their web page layout. But when I talk to KAL they insist the layout is 2-2-2 for this flight. Do you know if KAL has multiple versions of their 777-300ER ?

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