In this report, we’ll see what it’s like to fly with one of South Korea’s two major full-service carriers on the busy Manila-Seoul route. Welcome aboard Asiana Airlines Flight OZ704.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This report covers the outbound leg (MNL-ICN) of a MNL-ICN-MNL round trip journey. Click here to read my review of the return leg (ICN-MNL).
For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (OZ) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Asiana Airlines”.
Airline and flight number : Asiana Airlines (OZ) 704
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN)
Date : Thursday, 15 February 2018
Scheduled departure time : 0020
Actual departure time : 0027
Scheduled arrival time : 0505
Actual arrival time : 0448
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Boeing 777-200ER
Manufacturer : Boeing Commercial Airplanes
Registration number : HL8254
Passenger capacity : 301 (or 302) – 24 Business Class and 277 (or 278) Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
HL8254 is of fairly recent vintage at less than 6 years old (as of this writing). The relative freshness of the aeroplane will become more apparent once you’ve seen the images in my next flight report, which will cover the return leg on another OZ B777 that’s nearly twice as old (with antiquated fittings to match).
My uncertainty over the capacity and seat count (and, as we shall see later, even the AVOD screen size) stems from the fact that OZ operates no less than 5 variants of the B777, some of which are near-identical save for minor differences in layout. I was half-asleep at the time and didn’t survey the cabin in detail, so it’s difficult to tell from my memory and photographs alone which type this specific aeroplane belongs to. Based on various clues, I’ve deduced that HL8254 is equipped with either the “301 Seats” or “302 Seats-I” configuration described on the OZ official site, though I’m unable to narrow it down further in the absence of additional information.
PRICE AND FARE CLASS
The total amount I paid for the round-trip flight was USD 322.78. My ticket was booked through the official website as part of a discount campaign coordinated with a local credit card issuer; hence, the fare is significantly less than what one would normally pay for an OZ round-trip economy class flight on the same route (approximately USD 400 and up). This price is all-inclusive, save for the travel tax of PHP 1,620.00 that Filipino citizens – with certain exceptions – must pay when flying out of the country. (Most airlines don’t offer the option to pay this tax when booking online, so it’s usually paid right at the airport before check-in.)
On this route (MNL-ICN), Economy Class passengers are entitled to a free check-in baggage allowance of 1 piece, weighing a maximum of 23 kg and with total outer dimensions (i.e., the sum of the bag’s length, width, and height) under 158 cm. The equivalent carry-on allowance is also 1 piece, but with a maximum weight of 10 kg and total dimensions of less than 115 cm.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on OZ’s official website.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
The MNL-ICN leg of our flight departed from Terminal 1 of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL). The smallest and oldest of MNL’s three main international terminals, T1 is regrettably typical of this airport’s ill-equipped, ill-maintained, and increasingly overtaxed infrastructure. That said, a major refurbishment completed a couple of years ago has made the experience somewhat more pleasant – perhaps even more so than at MNL’s much larger but depressingly bland T3, or at the architecturally superior but facilities-short T2.
I shan’t say much more about the airport here, having already remarked (and occasionally ranted) about the same in previous flight reports. As for the general appearance of T1, not much has changed since the completion of a major refit a couple of years ago, so I’ll recycle some older images to give the readership an idea of what the interiors look like.
The main check-in lobby (taken on 30-09-17).
Some of the check-in counters (taken on 27-06-15).
Airside, after immigration and security (taken on 27-06-15).
The check-in process was pretty much as one would expect at any airport. Well, perhaps a bit slower than I’d experienced on previous flights. From my observation, many of the passengers on OZ704 were merely transiting through ICN on long-haul routes to, say, the US, and were hauling rather prodigious quantities of luggage; this might account for some of the congestion.
Passengers checking into Economy Class were marshalled into a single snaking queue that would gradually distribute itself between several counters. Separate queuing points leading straight to the agents were set up for internet/mobile check-in, high-tier loyalty club members, and Business Class passengers.
Not surprisingly, the high-tier and Business Class counters weren’t particularly busy, so some of the overflow from the Economy Class queue would be redirected there as needed. I, for one, was invited to use the Business Class counter, though there was obviously no added benefit involved vis-à-vis the Economy Class counters (apart from the classy blue carpet under my feet, haha).
The assigned boarding bridge was Gate 9, which was especially convenient for Business Class and high-tier flyers using the nearby OZ lounge (MIASCOR). That said, it was your typical T1 isolated lower-level side gate with stairs (no escalators!) leading down to the waiting area, which had seats and dustbins and a flat-screen TV … and not much else. Not even lavatories. Should any, er, urgent personal needs arise whilst waiting, one would have to surrender one’s boarding pass and rush back up the stairs to use the washroom.
I didn’t snap any photos of the gate on this occasion, but here’s a shot of a nearly-identical side gate in another part of T1 (taken before a different flight).
Lower-level boarding gate (taken on 02-12-17).
Boarding was organised along the usual lines, with different classes and seating locations called up in turn.
Depending on the specific aircraft, Economy Class seats on an OZ B777-200ER are 17.7-18 inches wide and offer 32-34 inches of pitch. The installed equipment likewise varies between planes, and quite starkly too if a newer and older bird are being compared. (Case in point: the under 6-year-old B777 covered in this post, against the nearly 11-year-old B777 that will be documented in my review of the return flight.)
Let’s take a look at the seats installed on the aeroplane I flew in.
Now for a wider shot of the cabin, taken with the lights dimmed for nap time. My assigned place (window seat 22A) was located near the wing in the forward area of the economy section; business class is just beyond the partition you see in the distance.
The seat back is fitted with an AVOD unit (more on that later). The pop-out controller is mounted underneath the screen, tethered by a retractable cord. Coat hook on the left, two ports for electronic devices on the right.
The tray table is of a bifold design, which frees up more real estate on the seat back for the in-flight conveniences we’ve seen above.
There’s also a power outlet fixed to the seat frame near the floor (with a rated output of 110V, 60Hz).
I’ve seen interior images of other OZ aircraft (the A380, for example) showing footrests installed in the economy cabin. Alas, those are not in evidence here.
Lack of footrests aside – and I suspect few would miss them on a regional flight of just 4 or 5 hours’ duration – I found the seat quite comfortable indeed. There was a reasonable degree of recline, and the pitch was more than adequate to accommodate my not-particularly-large frame. That said, this is still a cattle class seat with all the expected limitations, so passengers requiring more space might consider investing in a bulkhead or exit row seat.
Speaking of which, here’s a rather fuzzy shot of the bulkhead seats in row 10 (to give readers some idea of what to expect in those parts).
We were herded through the business class cabin after landing at ICN. This allowed me a very short peek at the best (and, of course, most expensive) seats in the house.
Now then, let’s move on to my favourite part of the flight: the meal service.
CATERING, AMENITIES, AND SERVICE
No printed menus were offered for our perusal. The cabin attendants merely stated the two available options for breakfast (fruit platter or rice porridge) as they pushed the cart down the aisle.
Truth be told, I was initially disappointed with the courses on offer. I’d hoped for something more substantial, such as the do-it-yourself bibimbap I’d read about in accounts of other OZ flights. Then again, this is an early-morning meal service on a short regional hop, so one’s expectations should be tempered accordingly.
Now fruit’s not really my thing, so I went with the porridge. Here’s the meal as served…
…and with the lids off. Note that there was more than one type of beverage on offer; the Coke tin visible in the upper right-hand corner was my choice for this meal.
Time for a closer look at the main course, sealed and revealed. The sachet on the side contains a small quantity of sesame oil.
I must say, the porridge turned out to be far better than I’d anticipated. It was of a thick and hearty consistency, not watery swill. Though they’re not visible in the images above, there were some large slices of king oyster mushroom mixed into the rice. The flavour was on point, delicate but not underwhelming, and a light drizzling of the included sesame oil really tied everything together. I’d have asked for a second portion if that were possible (or if I had the gall to do so).
Hot beverages (including coffee) were offered towards the end of service. For my part, I wanted to get some sleep and decided to pass on the usual post-breakfast dose of caffeine.
No amenity kits were supplied. Then again, I wouldn’t expect any airline to hand out amenity kits (at least in Economy Class) except on long-haul services. Pillows and plastic-wrapped blankets were laid out on each seat.
As for the cabin crew – well, I don’t usually have much to say about that side of things, and this flight is no exception. I’m a fairly undemanding and mildly anti-social passenger who tends to avoid speaking with the flight attendants (except, say, when stating my meal preferences), so it’s hard for me to gauge their performance. That said, from what I can overhear and observe, I’d say their service was thoroughly polite and professional. The staffing for each route also takes potential language barriers into account, with Korean, English, and Filipino all used for announcements and interactions.
OZ’s lack of hard-product consistency extends to the MNL-ICN-MNL route, where (as in my case) one might encounter a full-featured AVOD system on one flight, and be saddled with an ancient channel-based PTV on another. For this particular leg, a relatively new bird (HL8254) was working the route, and this fact was reflected in the modern IFE equipment installed.
Let’s have another look at the seat back image I posted earlier. The centrepiece, of course, is the 10.6 or 11.1 inch AVOD unit with a tethered remote control unit. (I’ve mentioned earlier how I’m not 100% certain which OZ B777 sub-type this particular aeroplane is, so both screen sizes are possible candidates.)
As you can see in the picture, the usual basic cattle-class headphones (not noise-cancelling) were stuffed into every seat pocket ahead of take-off, rather than being distributed by the cabin crew.
HL8254 is fitted with the newer of OZ’s 2 AVOD systems, pre-loaded with a decent selection of videos and music (both Korean and foreign). Details of what’s available are posted on OZ’s official website.
In any event, the age and features of the onboard IFE aren’t of much consequence to me – that is, not on regional runs of fairly short duration. Considering the time spent on the inflight meal, the time spent on napping (almost a necessity given OZ704’s schedule), the time needed to fill out entry and customs forms … all told, there really won’t be much of a window left in which to make full use of the entertainment system. But on a long-haul journey, I shall be much happier to have the modern equipment fitted into ICN-bound HL8254 than the ancient PTVs installed on the much older HL7755 I rode back to MNL (more on that in my next flight report).
All that said, regardless of a flight’s duration, I do appreciate having onboard IFE for one particular purpose: viewing the real-time location map to check on our progress. Knowing precisely how far we are from the destination is one of those admittedly trivial things that, I find, can add positively to the experience. (There are also certain pre-landing routines, ranging from form-filling to medication to skin care, that I find much easier to time if I’m aware of the remaining distance.)
LCCs deserve a lot of credit for making travel more affordable, and I’m happy to make use of their services for most of my journeys. On the other hand, there’s still something to be said for flying on a full-service airline, and especially one of OZ’s calibre. Comfortable, slightly more spacious seats; a proper in-flight meal; professionally rendered service; and – if you’re the sort of chap who needs it – a complete IFE experience: there’s a whole host of things that can help tilt the balance. And if one’s timing is perfectly right, special discounts (such as the one I took advantage of) can bring full-service fares down to within striking distance of LCC prices, making the substitution even more tempting.
Of course, I’ll readily admit that the regular round-trip fares charged by OZ on this route (upwards of USD 400), whilst not unreasonable, are expensive enough to tip the scales in favour of an LCC. But if there’s a suitable discount available, and in view of my positive first-time experience with OZ, I’ll be more than happy to fly with them again.