Korean Air (KE) did an excellent job in bringing me from Manila to Seoul on KE 624, and they followed with a successful onward transit to Busan on KE 1401. Now let’s see if they can finish the itinerary – my first with this airline, by the way – on a high note by returning me safely, comfortably, and punctually from Seoul to Manila on the final, homeward leg.
Welcome aboard Korean Air flight KE 649.
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 second half (KE 649 / ICN-MNL) of an open-jaw MNL-PUS/ICN-MNL itinerary. Click on the next two links to read my reviews about the first two segments, KE 624 (MNL-ICN) and KE 1401 (ICN-PUS).
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 Seoul, South Korea (GMT+9) is one hour ahead of Manila, Philippines (GMT+8).
Outbound : Start MNL – KE 624 – Transit ICN – KE 1401 – PUS End
Return : Start ICN – KE 649 – MNL End
Airline and flight number : Korean Air (KE) 649
Route : Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN) to Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Wednesday, 06 February 2019
Scheduled departure time : 2005
Actual departure time : 2054
Scheduled arrival time : 2325
Actual arrival time : 2345
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Boeing 737-900ER
Manufacturer : Boeing
Registration number : HL8221
Passenger capacity : Prestige Class 12 + Economy Class 147 = Total 159
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
Here’s a shot of HL8221, parked at ICN Terminal 2 just before our departure. She’s quite new at less than 8 years of age, which is reflected in the fairly good state of her interiors (as we’ll see later).
Another shot of our bird, taken at MNL Terminal 1 just after I disembarked.
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 – open-jaw MNL-PUS (via ICN) and ICN-MNL – 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. 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 649 departed from the new Terminal 2 (T2) of Incheon International Airport (IATA code: ICN).
Click here to read my report describing the experience of departing from ICN T2. For the moment, let’s look at a small selection of images from that previous post to see what it’s like in this vast terminal.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
The airport check-in facilities for KE flights are briefly described in my report about ICN T2.
For my part, I made use of the City Airport Terminal (CAT): a special facility in Seoul Station that offers in-town check-in and immigration services for passengers departing from ICN on one of five Korea-based airlines (KE included). Click here to learn more about the Seoul Station CAT, which is conveniently located for those staying in the centre of the capital. Note that this is just one of three CATs in the wider Seoul area – the CALT facility in Gangnam-gu and the Gwangmyeong CAT just outside the city offer alternative pre-departure venues for passengers based in other parts of the metropolis.
In addition to freeing me from both my heavy baggage and the check-in queues at ICN itself, the CAT conferred one additional privilege: access to the special security/immigration entrance normally used by flight crews and diplomats.
After spending a couple of hours enjoying the cavernous interiors of T2, I made my way to Gate 252…
…where I was advised that our flight would be delayed.
In the end, the delay was less than an hour long, and our actual arrival in MNL was under half an hour behind schedule. Not a disaster by any means.
Due to our aircraft’s small size (meaning limited overhead bin space) and the fact that this was a full flight, gate staff announced ahead of boarding that those who wished to turn in their hand luggage for hold storage can do so free of charge. Unfortunately, the rather poor English of the staff member making the announcement left many people scratching their heads over what they’d just heard, leaving them either (a.) unaware that this offer was on the table or (b.) under the mistaken assumption that everyone had to turn in their hand-carried loads for deposit in the aircraft hold.
When boarding finally commenced, a special lane was used for priority/tiered passengers (including Prestige Class), with us poor peasants in cattle class jockeying for position in the general boarding lane.
The gate was equipped with two aerobridges, but only one was deployed since we were using a small aeroplane.
I assume those crystal glasses and bagged nuts on the right are for the gentrified elite in Prestige Class, whilst the paper cups on the left are for us common folk further aft (haha).
SEATING AND CABIN INTERIOR
Detailed descriptions of our aeroplane’s seat equipment – together with a simplified deck plan – can be found on KE’s official website.
The Prestige (Business) Class section is fitted with 12 seats in three rows of four units abreast (2-2). Every seat has 50 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width, with a foldaway 10.6 inch LCD screen for entertainment.
Note that the second picture below was taken after landing, which explains the messy state of the cabin.
Further aft is the Economy Class cabin, with 147 seats. Pitch ranges from 32-33 inches, with a standard width of 17.2 inches.
Here’s a shot of the bulkhead row (28)…
…and one of the exit rows (36/37). Note that the tray tables in these rows fold out of the armrests, which could make them feel slightly constricted.
Now we come to one of the regular rows. Decent leg space, and a promised recline of up to 113 degrees (though I didn’t push mine back that far).
The first picture below was taken after landing, hence the used pillow and blanket. Don’t take this as a sign of shoddy pre-departure housekeeping on KE’s part!
I was seated in 43A, right behind the wing on the port side. My preferred place would have been above or forward of the wings; better for stability and an advantage when disembarking. Alas, the flight was nearly sold out by the time I booked and the nicer positions (from my perspective) were no longer available.
Here’s a picture of the area, looking towards the front from my seat.
There was a fair bit of wing intrusion in the view from my window – not that it mattered much as it was late at night (too dark to see out for most of the flight).
Planespotting moment: Korean Air Airbus A330-200 HL8228, docked next to our bird at ICN T2.
The seat back is fitted with a 9 inch 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.
And here’s a shot of the overhead panel.
Now then, if one is faced with urgent needs of a personal nature, there are three lavatories in the Economy section to choose from (all near the tail). Prestige Class passengers have exclusive use of another toilet, near the cockpit door.
Two meal options were offered in Economy Class: a rice dish with either chicken or seafood (can’t quite recall which), and a noodle dish with beef. Red meat trumps white in my book, so beef it was.
The noodles were a disappointment – thin, dry, and lacking in texture – but the beef was sufficiently juicy and flavoursome to convince me that the choice wasn’t a mistake. Nonetheless, I regretted not being able to have another go at the delicious bibimbap served on KE 624 (MNL-ICN) a few days earlier.
Thankfully, I was also served a tub of sweet potato salad with almond slivers.
Moist, filling, and with a fresh natural sweetness, the starchy side dish helped supply some of the heartiness that the main dish lacked.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE AND AMENITIES
Pillows, blankets, and headphones were laid out on each seat ahead of boarding. Interestingly, 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 myself.
No other in-seat amenities, but I wouldn’t have expected more in Economy on a regional flight anyway.
Arrival cards were distributed during the flight, though I didn’t take one as most Philippine passport holders are no longer required to complete immigration paperwork when returning to home soil.
The cabin crew seemed thoroughly polite and professional. Then again, my interactions with them were almost nonexistent (being confined mainly to choosing my main course), but I saw or heard nothing that would give cause for concern.
SEAT POCKET CONTENTS
Let’s reach into my seat pocket and pull out all the goodies inside.
Ta-da! Well, no goodies – in that there’s no money hidden in there (haha) – but a whole lot else. KE’s in-flight magazine Morning Calm, a duty free catalogue, an entertainment magazine (with details of what’s available on the IFE system), a safety briefing card, and a notice detailing high-risk locations for infectious diseases.
All I wanted to do after dinner was sleep, so IFE played no major role in my KE 649 experience. That said, if it was anything like what I had on the outbound flight KE 624 (MNL-ICN), then my observations from that previous post might apply here as well:
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.
After landing, we disembarked at Terminal 1 (T1) of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL).
I’ve written a separate report covering the departures area of MNL T1. Since that post doesn’t cover arrivals, we’ll devote some space to the subject here.
The first stretch of the arrivals corridor runs right alongside the departures area, screened off by a glass and steel barrier.
Planespotting moment: a wide-body jet in Air China livery, possibly B-8579 (Airbus A330-300).
There are no travelators or people movers in T1. Nonetheless, it’s a fairly compact structure – the smallest of MNL’s three international terminals – so making one’s way around entirely on foot shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge.
Another planespotting moment: Jetstar Japan Airbus A320-200 JA18JJ, and an unidentified Japan Airlines bird (likely one of its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners) further back.
The immigration zone. T1 is now fitted with several unmanned “e-gates” for local passport holders (just barely visible left of centre in this picture). Shorter queues, and – barring complications – faster processing time.
The baggage claim area is fitted with prehistoric angled metal conveyors in dire need of replacement, preferably with flat-surfaced belts that have far less potential of causing damage to property.
The area after customs, with a design echoing that of the large check-in hall one level above.
A taxi stand can be found in the quiet, enclosed driveway just outside, with a separate pick-up zone for private vehicles on a lower level a bit further away. That last part is an unsightly, ill-maintained, perpetually packed and catastrophically chaotic piece of work; thank goodness I took a taxi home on this occasion.
This flight marks the end of my first full itinerary as a KE passenger. For the most part, it was a successful finish: a great airport on the departure end, a comfortable seat on a well-maintained aeroplane, a filling meal (if not quite as good as on the first leg), and an arrival that wasn’t as badly delayed as it could have been.
Given the right schedules and prices, I’ll gladly fly with KE again on this route.
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I think that Korean Air should resume their KE 649/650 flights since I saw that there was only KE 621/622/623/624 on the days that KE 649/650 are operated even by 2022.