I’ve flown with a number of airlines to Korea through the years – but until last weekend, the country’s flag carrier wasn’t one of them. In this report, I’ll give a full account of my first flight on Korean Air (IATA code: KE), and we’ll see if the experience was positive enough to keep me on board as a potential future passenger.
Welcome aboard Korean Air flight KE 624.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, pricing, 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 first segment (KE 624 / MNL-ICN) of a MNL-PUS journey, which in turn was the first half of an open-jaw MNL-PUS/ICN-MNL itinerary. Separate reports will be published for the ICN-PUS and ICN-MNL flights.
For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (KE) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Korean Air”.
Note: All times are local. Please note that Manila, Philippines (GMT+8) is one hour behind Seoul, South Korea (GMT+9).
Airline and flight number : Korean Air (KE) 624
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN)
Date : Friday, 01 February 2019
Scheduled departure time : 2300
Actual departure time : 0005+1
Scheduled arrival time : 0400+1
Actual arrival time : 0418+1
KE 624 (MNL-ICN) is the first segment in the first half of an open-jaw MNL-PUS/ICN-MNL itinerary. The next segment, KE 1401 from ICN to my final destination of Busan-Gimhae (IATA code: PUS), will be the subject of a separate flight report.
Briefly, KE 1401 is a Transit Exclusive Domestic Flight: a special type of domestic service operated solely for passengers transiting from international flights via ICN to either Busan or Daegu. Since ICN is a purely international airport, KE 1401 is handled as if it were an international flight, with immigration/customs checks carried out at PUS (not at ICN) and passengers disembarking at PUS’ international terminal (not at the domestic building).
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Boeing 777-300
Manufacturer : Boeing
Registration number : HL7573
Passenger capacity : First Class 6 + Prestige Class 35 + Economy Class 297 = Total 338
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
Here’s a shot of HL7573, parked at ICN Terminal 2 just after our arrival. This Boeing 777-300 is something of a veteran at nearly 19 years of age, but (as we’ll see later) the interiors appear to be well maintained.
There are 42 Boeing 777 aircraft in the KE fleet (not counting 12 freighters). Four are of the 777-300 variant, fitted with the 338-seat configuration found on today’s aeroplane.
I booked my ticket as a rewards programme redemption. For illustrative purposes only, here’s the fare breakdown for a nearly identical itinerary on the same flight dates as mine, albeit with a different ICN-PUS schedule as my own flight (KE 1401) was already fully booked and unsearchable. These details are based on a KE website enquiry done on 05 January 2019, with the lowest available Economy Class fare selected.
– Base fare = USD 396.00
– Carrier-imposed fees = USD 26.70
– Taxes, fees and charges = USD 39.95
– Total = USD 462.65
Note that my itinerary (and the sample fare shown above) includes an additional ICN-PUS segment, tacked onto the initial MNL-ICN run as a Transit Exclusive Domestic Flight. Compare this with a simple MNL-ICN-MNL round trip on the same dates, which is priced as follows:
– Base fare = USD 360.00
– Carrier-imposed fees = USD 25.80
– Taxes, fees and charges = USD 35.48
– Total = USD 421.28
Bear in mind that the total price for each of these trial bookings does NOT include the PHP 1,620.00 “Travel Tax” that residents of the Philippines (with certain exceptions) must pay when flying out of the country.
On this route, Economy Class passengers are entitled to a free check-in baggage allowance of 1 piece weighing 23 kg. The carry-on allowance is 1 piece and 1 additional small item, with the total weight of both put together not exceeding 12 kg. There are also limits on the dimensions of each piece of luggage.
Batteries (and electronic devices containing batteries) are not permitted in checked luggage. These must be transported onboard in one’s carry-on bags.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on KE’s official website.
KE flights out of Manila use Terminal 1 (T1) of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL).
Click here to read a detailed report describing MNL T1’s departure facilities.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
The check-in counters used for my flight, numbers 67 to 78, were at the western end of T1’s main hall. Note that the counters for future flights (even under the same code) might be in a different location.
Separate lanes were set up for premium cabin passengers – specifically those travelling in First Class or Prestige (Business) Class – and upper-tier rewards programme members. As a member of the SkyTeam airline alliance, KE’s counter arrangements are normally aligned with the group-wide SkyPriority programme of benefits for elite passengers.
Next to these was a counter reserved for passengers who had already checked in online.
Economy Class passengers (myself included) made use of the remaining counters. If memory serves, the one on the far left was set aside for people with special needs. I do recall seeing wheelchair-bound travellers queuing up thereabouts before the counters opened.
I was issued two boarding passes, one for KE 624 (MNL-ICN) and another for KE 1401 (ICN-PUS). Since KE 1401, whilst technically a domestic flight, is operated as an international segment, the counter agent tagged my checked luggage all the way to PUS. N.B.: KE advises on its website (via the FAQs under keyword “baggage”) that passengers connecting to Transit Exclusive Domestic Flights should request check-in staff at their point of origin to tag luggage straight to the final destination, perhaps anticipating that some agents overseas aren’t aware that these quasi-international transits (with no intermediate customs barrier) are qualified for automatic baggage transfers.
Then came the wait. Have a look at my report covering MNL T1 to see what facilities are available on the ground prior to departure.
Our assigned plane docked at Gate 5 after arriving as KE 623 (ICN-MNL). Side note: the members of K-pop group BLACKPINK were on that flight, and I caught a glimpse of them being ushered by security personnel from the boarding bridge along the arrivals corridor (amidst a flurry of camera flashes). At first, I had no idea who these celebrities were – the K-pop genre is of fairly limited interest to me – and I only learned the details after the fact. Indeed, I’d originally thought that the uniformed officers waiting near the gate were preparing to escort a deported criminal off the plane, haha.
A separate lane was provided for premium/tiered passengers and people with special needs. Boarding for Economy was organised along the usual lines: back of the plane first, moving gradually towards the front rows.
Two aerobridges were deployed, one leading into the front cabin (for First and Prestige) and the other a little further aft (for Economy).
SEATING AND CABIN INTERIOR
Detailed descriptions of our aeroplane’s seat equipment – as well as a cabin layout diagram – can be found on KE’s official website.
The Economy aerobridge fed us through HL7573’s second port-side door, just forward of the last two Prestige Class rows, thereby denying me the chance to peek into the small First Class cabin near the nose. Based on information from the KE website, that part of the plane has a single row comprised of six “Sleeper” seats in three pairs. Each seat has 83 inches of pitch and 20.1 inches of width, can lie flat at 180 degrees, and is fitted with a 17-inch personal IFE monitor.
Aft of First Class is the Prestige (Business) Class section, containing 35 seats in five rows of seven units abreast (2-3-2). The first three rows are forward of the aircraft’s second door, with the last two rows behind; this allowed me to steal a couple of quick shots as I hurried past them towards/from the Economy cabin. (Note that I took the second picture after we landed, which explains the cabin’s unkempt appearance.)
“Prestige Sleepers” have 74 inches of pitch and 20.1 inches of width, with a 15.4 inch LCD screen for entertainment. One might note that the seats themselves are all but identical to their First Class counterparts, not merely in appearance but even in width, the differences being limited to the legroom and the size of the personal monitor. This, coupled with the lack of direct aisle access for some seats (even in so-called First!), does diminish the attractiveness of KE’s premium product somewhat, although the problem is mainly confined to birds fitted with older cabin equipment. On aircraft featuring the latest interiors – KE’s B777-300ER (277-seat version) and B747-8i, for example – the hard-product differentiation between First and Prestige is more pronounced, and other features (such as aisle access) are improved for both classes.
Back to our own aeroplane now. I continued aft into Economy, with 297 seats divided into three cabins (separated by the spaces next to the aircraft doors). The seat equipment appeared to be pretty much identical all throughout, save for the upholstery: a rich brown in the middle cabin…
…changing to a deep blue further aft, in the rear cabin to which I’d been assigned.
I was seated in 56A, behind the wings in the last passenger cabin. My preferred place would have been above or (even better) forward of the wings – good for stability and an advantage when disembarking. Alas, the flight was nearly sold out by the time I booked and most of the remaining seats were clustered near the tail.
Here’s a picture of the area, looking towards the front from my seat.
Quite decent exterior views, with wing intrusion easily avoided by angling one’s camera a bit back. At least, the views would have been quite decent if this were a daytime flight. Given that the sun had long retired for the evening by the time we took off, there was nothing visible outside after we’d reached cruising altitude.
But just to illustrate, here’s a (reflection-marred) shot of ICN’s gleaming Terminal 2 – KE’s new base of operations – taken after landing.
A typical Economy seat on HL7573 has 33 inches of pitch and 18.1 inches of width, with a promised recline of up to 118 degrees (though I didn’t push mine back that far). Quite comfortable in terms of space, especially down in the leg area which exceeds that offered by three of the other airlines I’ve taken on this route.
The seat back is fitted with a 10.6 personal IFE screen. The pop-out controller is mounted underneath the screen, tethered by a retractable cord. Coat hook on the left, USB port 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 above it.
A shot of the overhead panel.
Now then, if one is faced with urgent needs of a personal nature, there are nine lavatories in the Economy section to choose from. Four at the end, next to the galley near the tip of the fuselage; one (on the starboard side) is reserved exclusively for women. Another lavatory can be found just aft of the wings, and the remaining four are between the front and middle Economy cabins.
I don’t normally document the interiors of aeroplane toilets, but here’s an image I snapped on a visit to the privy.
Nice touch with the dental hygiene packs.
Prestige Class passengers have exclusive use of two lavatories next to the second door (the starboard one is an accessible toilet). First Class passengers have their own throne room – no doubt made of jewel-encrusted gold, flushed with rose-scented mineral water, and staffed by a retinue of flunkeys ready to do all the scrubbing and wiping that we peasants must do ourselves (yes of course I jest) – near the cockpit door.
Sorry to keep you waiting, folks. I know you’re only interested in the food. (^_^)
Two options were offered in Economy Class on KE 624. I can’t remember the one I didn’t choose, though I suspect it was a Western-style course.
My selection: the classic Korean mixed-rice dish bibimbap. Here’s the meal as served…
…and with lids off, before I tossed the separate components together.
The unsullied bowl of ingredients seemed like a work of art when first presented to me…
…but a few brief moments of furious mashing soon transformed it into an image of wanton chaos and destruction.
A dog’s breakfast it might seem visually, but this was an incredibly delicious result, with the spicy gochujang and fragrant sesame oil binding the whole dish into a flavoursome whole.
Incidentally, we were provided with real metal cutlery – not reusable plastic utensils.
Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages were offered with the meal, my choice being tomato juice. Another drinks run featuring hot coffee and tea was carried out towards the end of service.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE AND AMENITIES
Pillows, blankets, and headphones were laid out on each seat ahead of boarding. Interestingly enough, the headphones required some minor assembly. The foam earpiece covers were packed in a little plastic bag of their own and I had to slip them into place before use.
No other in-seat amenities, but I wouldn’t have expected more in Economy on a regional flight anyway. In that regard, the dental kits in the lavatory really felt like an added bonus.
Arrival cards, customs forms, and (not shown here) health questionnaires were distributed during the flight. Since ICN wasn’t my final destination, I ended up not completing the paperwork until just before my connection on KE 1401.
The cabin crew were generally polite and professional. By and large, they appeared to be more warm and genuine in their interactions than some KE flight reviews appear to suggest (“cold” and “standoffish” were amongst the adjectives I’ve read in passenger comments). That said, experiences will vary from flight to flight, and it’s possible that concerns expressed elsewhere over crew performance are perfectly valid.
I do agree with reviews commenting on the relatively poor English of some cabin attendants. It’s a mixed bag of course, with certain staff members more comfortable in the language than others, but some announcements were so hopelessly garbled that pre-recorded messages might have done a better job.
SEAT POCKET CONTENTS
The seat pockets on KE 624 were practically filing cabinets with all the printed material they contained. Normally one picture will do, but let’s do this in four.
First, a bilingual notice (Korean on the other side) detailing high-risk locations for infectious diseases, plus the usual safety briefing card.
Next, we have an air sickness bag and airline equivalents (in sticker form) of those signs used on hotel bedroom doors.
Now for the inevitable – and incredibly thick – duty free catalogue, with accompanying order slip.
And finally, we come to the leisure component of this haul. An entertainment magazine (with details of what’s available on the IFE system), a bilingual Korean-English edition of KE’s in-house magazine Morning Calm, and a Chinese translation of the same (though this seemed to include only selected content from the full version).
Let’s have a look at that IFE screen.
Movies, TV shows, music and all the rest. A decent range in terms of breadth, but surprisingly lacking in terms of depth. Not as many Korean film or TV offerings as one would have expected from the Korean flag carrier. The TV series that were available (whether Korean or foreign) tended to have just one or two episodes in the deck – much to my frustration when the single uploaded episode of a show I was watching ended on a cliffhanger. If I were stuck on board for a long-haul flight with nothing more than this, I might end up looking at alternative options for future journeys.
Having said that, on a regional hop of this length (about 4 hours), I’m quite happy to live without IFE. After moving past the unresolved cliffhanger, I peacefully spent the rest of the flight either eating or asleep with the screen playing the real-time route map.
This was my first time on a KE flight, and I’m pleased to report that the experience was almost entirely positive. Minor hiccups regarding IFE and onboard communication aside, virtually all aspects of KE 624 met or exceeded my expectations. Even the hour-plus delay on the departure end was of almost no consequence, as we ultimately arrived just 18 minutes behind schedule (and delays at MNL are often due to runway congestion that’s beyond airline control). The comfortable seat with generous legspace compared quite favourably against most of the other airlines I’d flown with before on this route. As for catering – a key selling point in my book, haha – KE’s do-it-yourself bibimbap stood out as the best dish amongst all the in-flight meals I’ve been served on my many hops between the Philippines and Korea.
Given the right schedules and prices, I’ll gladly fly with KE again on this route.