In my previous post, we’ve seen what it’s like to travel with Asiana Airlines from Manila to Seoul. Now let’s see how they fared on the return flight – and along the way, learn more about one method to skip the long queues at Incheon Airport.
Welcome aboard OZ703.
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 return leg (ICN-MNL) of a MNL-ICN-MNL round trip journey. Click here to read my review of the outbound leg (MNL-ICN).
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) 703
Route : Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN) to Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Monday, 19 February 2018
Scheduled departure time : 1920
Actual departure time : 2011
Scheduled arrival time : 2300
Actual arrival time : 2254
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Boeing 777-200ER
Manufacturer : Boeing Commercial Airplanes
Registration number : HL7755
Passenger capacity : 300 – 28 Business Class and 272 Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
At close to 11 years, HL7755’s age is nearly twice that of the aeroplane I flew to Seoul in (HL8254). As far as appearance goes, it’s in decent shape both inside and out, but there’s one thing that routine maintenance alone can’t overcome: namely, the dated cabin equipment and fittings. We’ll have more to say (and see) about that later on in this post, particularly where the seats and IFE are concerned.
Now then, let’s have a look at our bird. Here she is at ICN, before departure…
…and here she is again, comfortably berthed at MNL after our arrival.
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 (ICN-MNL), 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 ICN-MNL leg of my flight departed from Terminal 1 of Incheon International Airport (IATA code: ICN), South Korea’s largest airport and the main global gateway to its capital Seoul.
ICN’s brand-new T2 opened just last month, but only Korean Air and three of its fellow SkyTeam alliance members are currently assigned to the new premises. All other carriers, OZ included, are still based in T1.
I didn’t check in at the airport on this occasion, though. To avoid ICN’s infamous queues, I made use of the Seoul Station City Airport Terminal: a special facility that offers early pre-departure services (free of charge) for passengers travelling on certain Korean airlines. I’ve known about the CAT for a long time, but this would be my first ex-ICN flight with any of the participating carriers, hence my first opportunity to try out the service.
As of this writing, the list of airlines accommodated at the CAT includes Korean Air, Jeju Air, T’way Airlines, Eastar Jet, and of course OZ. Further details (including operating hours, exceptions involving codeshare flights, check-in deadlines, etc.) are available on the AREX website’s CAT page.
Bear in mind that due to enhanced aviation security measures imposed by the TSA, Seoul Station CAT check-in services are temporarily unavailable for flights to the United States (including Guam and Saipan), except for those operated by OZ (which will continue to be served until 30 April 2018). Passengers travelling to the US will need to check in at ICN instead.
Oh, and one other caveat. In addition to a flight booking issued by one of the participating carriers, you’ll need to show a paid ticket for the AREX express rail service from Seoul Station to ICN. Note that this is the faster (and more expensive) non-stop train to the airport, not the slower (and cheaper) all-stop train that plies the same route. A ticket for the latter won’t qualify you for CAT services.
The process is quite simple. First, purchase an Express Train ticket (again, NOT a cheaper all-stop train ticket!) from the AREX manned counter or one of the nearby ticket machines.
Next, queue up at the CAT counters serving your airline. After stamping your AREX Express Train ticket, the agent will go through the usual check-in procedures (baggage tagging, boarding pass issuance, etc.).
You might also be asked to wait nearby – I can’t recall exactly how long but it was in the order of 10-15 minutes – whilst your check-in luggage is scanned and inspected. If your name isn’t called by the stated time (which means that the scanners haven’t detected anything suspicious in your bags), then you’re free to move on to the next stop…
…the Seoul Station branch of the Incheon Airport Immigration Office. Don’t worry, it’s right between the AREX ticket counter and the CAT check-in area so there’s no need to run around in search of the place.
After your passport is inspected and your boarding pass stamped, head down to the Express Train platforms and take the AREX to ICN. (Note that there are two AREX stops at ICN, one for each terminal, so make sure that you’re getting off at the correct station for your airline.) Once there, you can avoid the check-in counters and bypass the long, snaking queue for the final security check…
…because the CAT stamp on your boarding pass will allow you through the so-called Designated Entrance, normally reserved for special users such as flight crews and diplomats.
There’s still a queue there, of course – but you’ll find it much shorter than the monster main queue nearby.
And that’s it. After the usual security check and immigration process (just a quick formality since I’d already been to the immigration desk at the CAT), I was free to roam and relax in T1’s vast airside zone.
After a delicious dinner and the usual round of airport sightseeing, I made my way to Gate 24…
…where I saw the following message posted on a notice board.
Riiiight. Well, can’t be helped. And later that evening, OZ703 still managed to land in MNL a few minutes ahead of schedule, so all’s well that ends well.
Boarding wasn’t conducted according to the expected sequence (i.e., rows at the back then moving forward). Instead, everyone was invited to board at once, regardless of seat assignment, although the gate agents marshalled the crowd into orderly queues so that the process wouldn’t dissolve into a scrum. Passports were also inspected at the gate (in addition to boarding passes) so this imposed an extra control on the flow of people.
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 my previous post, against the nearly 11-year-old B777 documented in this report.)
Let’s have a look at the legroom. Not all that different from the last plane, except that window seats on this bird suffer from a major flaw: a metal box (probably for the IFE or some other onboard system) screwed into the floor. This, er, whatever it is, takes up a valuable bit of real estate where one’s carry-on bag (or feet) would normally go.
I’m not certain if all window seats on this specific sub-type of OZ B777 are affected, but the image above is of the row ahead of me – and there’s also a box in my own row. Reason enough to suspect that it’s not an isolated case.
Now for a wider shot of the cabin. My assigned place (window seat 21K) 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 a rather ancient-looking PTV (more on that later). The pop-out controller is mounted on the armrest, tethered by a retractable cord.
Unlike on the newer B777 HL8254 (the aeroplane featured in my previous flight report), Economy Class seats on the much older HL7755 aren’t equipped with power outlets or ports for electronic devices.
Despite the outdated equipment, 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.
Now then, let’s move on to 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 dinner (seafood with rice, or chicken with potatoes) as they pushed the cart down the aisle.
For my part, there really wasn’t any choice to be made. In view of my intense loathing of seafood, it could only have been the chicken.
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 in the plastic cup on the upper right-hand corner was just my choice for this meal.
I wasn’t too optimistic about the chicken at first glance, but it turned out to be quite good. Plump, moist, and perfectly cooked all the way through. I was also satisfied with nearly everything else on the tray, except for the bread roll (a little overbaked).
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 caffeine.
No amenity kits were supplied. Then again, I wouldn’t expect any airline to hand out amenity kits in Economy Class, except on long-haul services. Pillows and plastic-wrapped blankets were laid out on each seat prior to boarding.
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, an older bird (HL7755) was working the route, and this fact was reflected in the outdated IFE equipment installed.
Let’s have another look at the seat back image I posted earlier. The centrepiece, if one might call it that, is the 6.5 inch PTV, controlled using the handheld remote embedded in the armrest.
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.
Now here’s the thing: HL7755 isn’t fitted with a proper AVOD system. What it has is a broadcast-style stream where all programmes play continuously and one flicks from channel to channel until something of interest pops up (much like watching the telly at home). 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. But on a long-haul journey, I shall be much happier to have the modern equipment fitted into ICN-bound HL8254 than the old PTVs installed on this aeroplane.
Despite the older plane and the outdated IFE – which, as I’ve mentioned earlier, isn’t even a critical piece of equipment on a regional flight – I’d still give my experience on OZ703 an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Good food, professional service, a comfortable seat … everything I’d look for in the air was present and correct. The world-class facilities available at the airline’s home base (ICN) also did much to improve the experience.
Now then, the ultimate question: shall I fly with OZ again? All things considered, I’ll probably continue to give most of my business to LCCs on this particular route – simply because the less I spend per flight, the more flights I can take overall. (A key consideration for any aspiring frequent traveller without deep pockets.) That said, whenever I feel inclined to treat myself to a full-service experience on the MNL-ICN-MNL run, I’ll think of OZ first.