Well, some friends of mine are living in Seoul for the next two years, so it provided the perfect opportunity to visit Asia for the first time! The Memorial Day timeframe worked best for me, because of the holiday and the more mild weather before Summer. I also wanted to go to another city while I was over there – I considered Hong Kong and Japan, but ultimately went with Hong Kong (mostly because it was my first time to Asia and I figured it would be a little easier for me). It was set then!
I shopped around with airfares, and went with NW even though it was a little more expensive than other options. However, the fact that the open-jaw (SEA-NRT-ICN, HKG-NRT-SEA) was relatively painless, the fact that I could earn EQM on AS and pick preferred seats with my existing status, and the fact that it was the shortest routing made up for it! I learned that intra-Asian airfares were pretty expensive – a one-way ICN-HKG was almost $600 (and roundtrip a lot more), so I used Alaska miles and flew CX. It sucked that it cost 25,000 miles, but that’s the same price as a domestic roundtrip, which typically is more in the $300-$400 range, so it seemed a fair deal to me (plus I still have 160,000 miles leftover anyways). Plus, I always wanted to try CX so here was my chance! So with that in mind, here it goes!
Segment #1: SEA-NRT
NW Flight #007
May 23, 2007
Airbus A330-200, Seat 12H
Sch Dep: 2:40pm Act Dep: 2:50pm
The lines at check-in weren’t actually that bad this time; I was a little worried because when I took NW on SEA-AMS back in December, the lines were over an hour. But that was during the holiday season, so that must have been the reason. Things were quite organized this time, with no more than a 15 minute wait. The biggest problem seemed to be large groups of non-English speakers checking-in with tons of luggage. I will say that I feel sorry for the NW check-in and gate agents – their uniforms are terrible! They’re basically walking around in bright-red granny sweaters and skirts. NW really needs to update their image.
Made my way to gate S1 in the N Satellite. Shopped around in the Duty-Free shops for a bit. I always thought SEA’s duty-free shops were an embarrassment until I got to NRT (more on that later). Didn’t buy anything though – mostly because I knew that I’d have to go through security again in NRT. Then I just waited in the gate area for awhile. I walked down to S-16, and noted that Asiana was boarding for their non-stop service to ICN. I considered flying KE or OZ, but they weren’t as convenient on an open-jaw as was NW (plus neither is daily, so it makes it harder to plan). The passengers boarding OZ were almost entirely Asian (whereas about 50/50 on the NW flight), so the OZ flights must cater more to the VFR crowd.
Boarding started, and similar to when I flew SEA-AMS-SEA back in January, it was business class, and then all rows. I’ve always thought it was strange that DL uses 8-9 zones on a 737, but NW boards an entire widebody at once. Oh well. Got on board and took my seat for the next 9 ½ hours. If you’ve never been on a NW A330, you should try to get on one sometime. These planes are very nice. The legroom isn’t amazing, but the seats are very comfortable, the planes very clean, and they have an awesome AVOD entertainment system. Just make sure you use seatguru, because the IFE boxes are BIG and really restrict legroom in the window and center middle seats. While we were waiting for pushback, the FAs came through with printed menus and headphones for the flight. Newspapers were also offered in English, Japanese, and Mandarin.
We pushed back on time, and viewed the NW safety video (which is EXTREMELY cheesy – another area in prime need of updating). We would be taking off towards the South today, and taxied out. We stopped past the N Satellite for about 10 minutes, with the pilot explaining that we would by flying over Russia today and had a 10-minute air traffic control delay, which was somewhat normal for this flight. We took off shortly thereafter for our 9.5 hour flight to NRT. I have always been impressed by how quiet the A330 is during takeoff – really a great plane.
Announcements were made once we were in the air, and about 30 minutes after the FAs came through with a hot towel service. Shortly thereafter, they came through with a drink/pretzel service. One annoying thing about all this was that at the same time, the PTV system was showing a bunch of ads, and then this stupid in-flight exercise video – and you can’t change the channel. So it really seems that you can’t use the IFE until about 45 mins in the air (which doesn’t really matter on these long flights, but it was kind of annoying on the NRT-ICN sector). After the first drink service, the FAs came through shortly thereafter with the dinner service. As I mentioned above, there were printed menus on this flight (and the return flight to SEA). I think they print the menus for Asia only, because they didn’t have these on the SEA-AMS-SEA flights I took a few months prior. I really appreciate them, because they elaborate on the “beef or chicken” question. They were printed in English, Japanese, and Mandarin, so I’m assuming the language issues unique to Asia are the motive for including them on Asian routes only. The menu was as follows:
Beef Stew with buttermilk biscuit roasted potatoes and vegetables, or
Chicken Sukiyaki with carrots, mushrooms, and sticky rice
Mid Flight Snack
Cheddar cheese and bacon omelet, or
Fried rice with teriyaki pork
I chose the chicken, and it was actually quite good. After the meal service and everything was cleared, the duty-free started. This is always annoying to me, because this is when I’m ready to sleep, but they turn the lights back on and make all kinds of noise trying to sell you stuff, but no one ever seems to be buying. Luckily it only lasted 15-20 minutes or so. I should also point out that the FAs had sent up a very small snack area in the back galley, with a few bottles of soda, water, ice, cups, and pretzels. Certainly nothing exciting, but at least nice you help yourself to something if you desired.
I slept for awhile, and then took advantage of the IFE. I put together an mp3 playlist, and then played around with the map for awhile. It’s cool how you can zoom in and out, and check progress – although sometimes I think this makes the flight seem longer because you see how slowly you’re moving. After that, I decided to watch a movie or two. The new release movies weren’t any good, so I watched “The Fugitive” and “You’ve Got Mail” – seen them before, but they’re pretty decent compared to what else was being offered. During this we got the “mid-flight snack” which was an ice-cream bar. Unfortunately it was so frozen that biting into it, it was crunchy – airlines still can’t perfect the art of serving ice cream in the air. Oh well, did the job. The lights were turned off throughout the flight, but the FAs came through several times with water and coffee for those who wanted. But the water was from “the tank”, and didn’t taste good. I also saw the FAs refilling the “bottled water” bottles with tank water.
About 90 minutes before landing, the FAs came through with another hot towel, followed by “breakfast”. I thought breakfast was amusing because it was about 10pm in Seattle, and about 3:30 in the afternoon in Tokyo. I went with the Omelet and it was very good as well – kudos to SEA’s catering! Included with the omelet was fresh fruit, a sausage link, and a pastry. After the meal, the trash was collected, and we started descent to NRT. Landing was smooth, and we taxied for only a short time to gate 21.
Upon arrival at NRT we had to go through a security check, which took all of 5 minutes. Honestly, what’s the point? All this does is add a hassle for people who have already gone through security, and make life tough for people who want to shop at Duty Free shops. I seriously see no benefit to this – we’d already all gone through security in SEA. That said, the security personnel were very friendly and efficient, and good-looking too! The TSA could certainly learn from the folks at NRT.
I was surprised that NRT had such a poor selection of shops and restaurants for such a major hub! Almost nothing to eat at this place – a McDonalds, noodle place, and a few others if you were willing to walk for about a ½ mile. Very disappointing. Also, the duty free shopping left lots to be desired – very poor liquor selection. After shopping at and connecting at airports like AMS and LHR, NRT was a definite letdown (except for the short taxi times and lack of a departure line, which was a nice change from the aforementioned places). That said, I went to the Noodle place which was actually really good. It also introduced me to the Asian bottled green tea – which became my drink of choice for the rest of the trip.
Regardless, the layover was only about 90 minutes, which was perfect. I shopped around for a bit, and soon it was time to resume my “direct” flight to Seoul!
Segment #2: NRT-ICN
NW Flight #007 (continuation from SEA)
May 24, 2007
Airbus A330-200, Seat 12H
Sch Dep: 6:50pm Act Dep: 6:50pm
I boarded the plane and took my seat. Interestingly enough, on these “direct” flights, NW only lets you pick one seat for the whole journey. So, for example, if I had wanted a different seat on this leg, too bad unless you want to call or deal with the gate agents. Not that big of a deal.
This flight was also extremely full, but noticeably full with Koreans. I saw very few other Caucasians or other non-Koreans on this flight. Just speaks to Korea’s homogeneity I suppose. This flight was staffed mostly by Asian FAs, with only one or two American ones. I assume that these flights are staffed with NRT-based FAs other than a couple of Americans to keep the union happy. Either way, the service was great. The NRT FAs definitely were more cheerful than the American ones.
Pushback was on time, and shortly we were in the air. For an airport that is so slot-constrained, NRT seems to run like clockwork (as compared with LHR).
This was only a two-hour flight, with a meal service, so the FAs had to get busy quickly. There were no menus on this flight, and only one meal option. The meal was some sort of pre-packaged sushi rolls that were wrapped in plastic – you were supposed to roll up the plastic and then take it out, and supposedly then you had sushi. Not my favorite, that’s for sure. It was accompanied by fresh fruit and some sort of cold fried-chicken, which was actually pretty good. There was a drink service before the meal, and the FAs came through with tea and coffee afterwards. As with the flight from SEA, the AVOD was activated once in the air, but we had to sit through the 20 minutes of ads and “exercise video”, which I was already annoyed with. Oh well, I wasn’t too focused on the AVOD anyways given that I was excited to get to Korea and there was only an hour or so left after the meal (plus it had the same crappy movies as the flight from SEA).
We began decending into Seoul, which was cloudy with light rain at the moment. I got a glimpse of Seoul through the clouds, which looked a bit like Las Vegas in the 5 seconds that I could see it (lots of neon and lights). We approached ICN from the SEA, landing to the East. We kept getting lower and lower over the water, finally landing
I walked to immigration, which had no line at all. ICN was really quiet at this hour, which was a good thing. My friend who is living there said that lines at immigration/customs can be really bad. I had heard that ICN was a very nice airport, and I had heard correctly. Even though it was nighttime, I could tell that this was really a beautifully designed place. After immigration, I went to the bag re-check and customs area, which was very nice with high vaulted ceilings and lots of space. Bags came out not long after, and customs consisted of handing a form to someone who wasn’t even looking in my direction. I was probably out of the airport 45 minutes after landing. I came out of customs to a huge audience (I always hate coming out of international arrivals to be met with a couple hundred people watching me as they wait for their own friends/family!). Met my buddy and was glad to finally be there!
Seoul was an amazing city and I had a great time. It was a great introduction to Asia – so many new sights, sounds, and smells, but great to be staying with someone who was living there and could show me around. It definitely isn’t the first place on a tourist map, but I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in Asian culture and isn’t scared of a place with a language barrier.
Well, that’s all for now - this thing took me over a month to write . I’ll write the remainder of the report soon if interested:
[Edited 2007-07-16 05:59:05]