This is part two of my China Eastern vs Korean Air report. In the first section I go into a little bit more detail as to why I took the flights and give some in depth details about the route as well as giving a report on the China Eastern Boeing 737-800 flight I experienced from Seoul Incheon to Kunming.
This can be found here: China Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-Kunming
I had never really expected to take this flight, whilst I had long wanted to visit Yunnan (something I achieved in my previous report) I had always found Korean Air’s fares to China from Korea to be significantly higher than those offered by Chinese airlines.
At the start of April, I came to the realisation that I would have a week or so off university at the end of May. Now, I had thought of heading for some relaxation time in SE Asia namely Malaysia or Indonesia however flights there were unreasonably expensive. Realising that flights back to my native UK were only a little more expensive I decided to head back to my hometown to spend a few days with my parents. Now, when looking at flights between Korea and destinations across the world on Skyscanner, in many cases China Eastern and China Southern tend to offer the cheapest fares (especially when looking at flights to the UK). The former usually offer a fairly boring routing of ICN-CAN-LHR however at times China Eastern can offer some pretty indirect interesting routes for example OKA-PVG-KHN-KMG-ICN or in this case ICN-KMG-PVG-LHR. After seeing that the first flight would be operated by Korean Air, I decided to book these flights via online travel agent Omega Flights. Booking via Omega Flights was straight forward although when I sent them a message using their online form I never heard back.
As my ticket for the Korean Air flight over to Kunming was sold under the flight’s China Eastern flight number, the functions available on the Korean Air website such as seat selection and online check in could not be done. I believe this is the case for all tickets sold with codeshare flight numbers operated by Korean Air as I had experienced the same issue when flying from ICN to CDG with tickets sold by KLM, with an Air France flight number and operated by a Korean Air aircraft. However on that occasion I was able to select a seat via Air France’s site. The chance of me ever being able to do anything via China Eastern’s site were nil and so I resigned myself to the fact that check in and seat selection would have to wait until I arrived at the airport. However, for passengers flying on Korean Air flights with tickets sold under Korean Air flight numbers seat selection can easily be done free of charge when purchasing the tickets or at a later date up to 48 hours from the flight’s departure. Online check-in can also be done up to 48 hours before the flights departure time. As you’d expect from a major airline with a good reputation, their website is easy to use and everything seems to work well.
Journey to the Airport
Even though I'm pretty loyal to the all-stop airport train (as those of you that will have read some of my precious reports will know). For some variety, I thought about using the express non-stop train that runs from Seoul station to Incheon Airport for about twice the price. Seeing as I would have luggage their 'City Airport Terminal' check in facility would come in handy. As the name suggests this facility allows passengers to check in their bags at the station, ride the train luggage free and go through the express immigration and security lane at Incheon. This facility can only be used by Asiana, China Southern, Jeju Air and Korean Air passengers. Seeing as I had a China Eastern ticket on a Korean Air flight some research was needed to find out whether I could use this facility. As it turned out, I could not and so I decided to settle for my usual preference of the all-stop train.
Soon enough the departure day came, the skies above Seoul were clear and the weather was hot and sunny. After a morning at university, I headed back home, had a shower, changed my clothes and packed my bags. I left my house at 1330, catching Line 2 to Hongdae before transferring onto the Airport Line. Unfortunately for me, all seats were already taken. I thus had little choice but to plonk my bags down and stand until seats became free. After departing Digital Media City we entered the green open space that separates Seoul and Ilsan before crossing the wide Han River where a Jeju bound Korean Air Boeing 747 could be seen climbing upwards. We then entered the subterranean world before emerging again near Gyeyang, a mostly residential area in the north of Incheon.
During the journey I checked my flight using the Korean Air app to get an idea of how busy the flight would be. Four hours before departure and the ticket price was around 490000 KRW with 9+ award seats available it did not seem as if the flight would be incredibly busy. The wifi that usually works well on the AREX trains suddenly started playing up and so I turned my attention to the television screens which were playing the news. Stories included a remembrance service for the late president Noh Moo-hyun and news about the North's latest missile tests before switching to the ICN arrival boards, public service announcements from the government, a video about about Dokdo, a promotional video for Jeju, an Asiana A350 advert and a tourist video about Portugal.
After arriving at the airport station I headed up the moving walkways to the bridge that connects the airport with the station. As I was flying with Korean Air, I followed signs for the airline’s check in desk which took me away from the main bridge and along a smaller link which leads directly to the Korean Air check in desks. Wanting to select an exact seat, I decided to try my luck with the check in machines. Surprisingly it appeared these would allow me to check in for all my flights although an error message soon flashed up and it turned out that as my Chinese visa had to be checked by a check in agent, I would not be able to use these to check in. Although I was able to add my Korean Air Skypass number to my booking through these machines. I trekked over to the economy class check in desks where a fair-sized queue could be seen. This took about 8 minutes to go down before I was called to the front. When I reached the front, I was greeted by a trainee being supervised. She seemed to be a little inexperienced and was a stumped with my MU booking and the fact I had already semi-checked in using the machines however she was polite and friendly and I can't really blame her for being new. After five minutes and some intervention by her supervisor I received my boarding pass, my seat had been changed to one ten rows further forward however at least I was still by the window.
The terminal was fairly empty, which I have noticed is the norm for mid-week afternoons outside of the peak holiday seasons. Landside the terminal was clean and tidy as per usual and there was plenty of space to wait during the five minute period whilst your luggage in scanned. After a five minute wait, I headed straight to the empty security area which took around two minutes to pass through. From there it was onto immigration and after having my passport and ARC examined I headed airside, the entire train to airside experience taking no more than twenty minutes.
As per usual, despite the quiet landside area, the airside area was significantly busier although the number of passengers decreases as you head down each pier and I had no trouble in finding somewhere to sit down. As I explored the terminal I passed a gugak performance and a royal parade, such performances are seen regularly airside in the main terminal and they offer those passengers transiting on Asiana and Korean Air who don’t have the time to leave the airport a small glimpse at a modern interpretation of traditional Korean culture. Other performances performed by singers, pianists and string quartets can also be regularly seen across the airport. For those not wanting to pass the time by watching these there are many shops and restaurants or for the non-shoppers there is fast, free wifi offered throughout the terminal.
After purchasing an overpriced sandwich from Paris Baguette for 7000 won I headed to my pier and watched the traffic departing to destinations across the world from a wide range of airlines. From the pier I was waiting on, Korean Air flights to Auckland, Bali, Bangkok, Busan, Danang, Hong Kong, New York and Yangon were readying for departure. At 1700, I watched as the aircraft scheduled to be operating our flight was towed away to a remote stand. After some investigation, I realised that gate 25 was actually a bus boarding gate. The lack of views and the already crowded nature of this gate meant that I decided to wait upstairs in the main area. I was rather surprised to find that we would have to catch a bus to the aircraft as this was a first for me at Incheon, however I am certainly not complaining about this!
A shady 77W
A sleek 748
A large whale
Looking inside the terminal
At 1755 I headed back down to the crowded waiting area where passengers for the 1900 flight to Beijing as well as for our flight to Kunming were waiting. After having my boarding pass inspected, an airport worker cleared me to head down to the bus boarding gate where twenty passengers were already waiting. In the next fifteen minutes before boarding began, only three more passengers joined us. At 1810, we boarded the waiting bus before we pulled away from the main terminal. Our short journey to the aircraft took us along the edges of the terminal, passing Korean Air Boeing 737s and Boeing 777s before arriving at gate 1 where the jetbridge appeared to be under repair, hence our bus journey. As we disembarked the bus, our shiny sky blue, silver and white Boeing 737 could be seen basking in the early evening sun.
The mighty 777 waiting for its next flight
Korean Air has a relatively large fleet of 40 Boeing 737NG aircraft 737-800s, 737-900s and 737-900ERs. This fleet can be split into two, those non-Sky interior PTV-less 738s and 739s delivered between 2000 and 2009, and those Sky interior PTV fitted 738s and 739ERs delivered from 2011. The former usually stick to operating domestic routes and short haul routes from Busan to Japan and China whilst the latter tend to operate international and domestic flights from Incheon. As of May 2017, these ICN based aircraft operate a diverse selection of routes to Cambodia, China, Guam, Japan, Myanmar, Palau, Russia, Taiwan and Vietnam. With the longest flight being a 2325 mile 6H10 trek across East Asia and the shortest being the 165 mile 55 minute hop to Daegu.
Pulling up to our 737
The aircraft taking me over to Kunming was to be Boeing 737-8Q8 HL8224, the third aircraft of the batch of Sky Interior fitted Boeing 737 delivered to Korean Air. The aircraft made its first flight on the morning of Friday the 1st of July 2011 departing Renton flying to Boeing Field via Paine Field and was delivered to Korean Air on the 19th of July. The aircraft is fitted with 12 business class and 126 economy class seats all of which are fitted with PTVs. As of May 2017, the aircraft was involved in one fairly serious incident during its life, this occurred during the early hours of the 5th of July 2015 when upon landing in Guam in the midst of poor weather conditions after a flight from Busan the aircraft veered off the runway and hit a sign before returning onto the runway. In the week prior to my flight the aircraft had travelled around 23000 miles making 25 flights between Seoul Incheon and Busan, Daegu, Guangzhou, Ho Chi Minh City, Osaka Kansai, Qingdao, Shenzhen, Taipei Taoyuan, Wuhan, Xiamen and Yangon.
After waiting on the steps for a while and passing the selection of Korean, Chinese and English language newspapers, at 1820 I stepped onboard the aircraft and was given a greeted in both English and Korean. I first passed through the small business class cabin before entering the economy section of the aircraft. The exit row seats appeared to be fully occupied by the cabin crew operating the return flight and a couple of pilots could be seen sitting further down the cabin.
The old-fashioned but comfortable looking Boeing 737 Prestige Class seats
Unlike on Korean Air's larger aircraft which feature blue and brown seats with blue seats towards the front of the cabin, their newer Boeing 737s only feature blue seats. Each seat featured the airline's block pattern with some blocks shaded lighter to created triangles. I personally find this pattern to be a little boring although I wouldn't really call it ugly or displeasing to the eye. Standard economy class pillows and packaged blankets were placed on each seat.
Your standard uninspiring class economy pillow
The seat itself was comfortable with a fantastic amount of legroom. Every seat features a standard sized touchscreen PTV with a controller beneath this and a USB port to the right. The seat pocket contained a copy of the airlines’ Morning Calm magazine, written in both Korean and English and a Chinese version of this magazine as well as a safety card, Skyshop catalogue and Beyond entertainment guide. The seat, as well as the entire cabin appeared to be spotlessly clean and there were no signs of any wear and tear anywhere I laid eyes upon in the aircraft. The only negative was that my window appeared to be a little scratched.
Just after I sat down another semi-full bus load of passengers arrived at the aircraft. By 1830 all passengers were aboard and so the doors were shut. There were no more than 50 passengers onboard however the aisle seat on my row ended up being filled. Roughly 75% of the passengers were Chinese and 25% were Korean, I appeared to be the only person aboard that was neither Chinese nor Korean. The majority of people on the flight appeared to be leisure passengers and the average age was, at a guess, around 47. As soon as the doors were closed a welcome announcement was performed in Korean, English and Chinese before the long and slightly dated looking safety video was played. At 1836 we pushed back and our two CFM56 engines roared into life. Despite being very close to the threshold of runway 33L/R, we made a ten minute taxi to runway 34. As we taxied past the satellite terminal, the deep blue mood lighting was switched on and an announcement claiming we were ready for takeoff was made.
Ready for departure
At 1853 the pilots set takeoff power and we shot off down the runway. After an unsurprisingly short takeoff roll we rotated into the sunny skies above Incheon. After departure we made a slight left turn before turning again to fly parallel with the border as I had done several weeks ago. As per usual, our climb seemed to be fairly shallow which allowed for good views of the islands beneath us and North Korea in the distance. Six minutes after departing, the seat belt signs were switched off and several passengers moved towards the empty seats at the rear of the cabin. As we continued to climb the crew came around offering water and juice hinting at the commencement of the meal service once we levelled off at our cruising altitude.
Looking down at the new terminal
Unlike on the previous flight, our flight plan seemed to be taking us directly west towards northern China instead of flying south to Jeju and then onto Shanghai. At 1915 the captain performed his welcome announcement in Korean and English detailing our flight time, giving us plenty of details about our flight and thanking us for flying Korean Air. After a short crossing of the Yellow Sea, parts of Shandong around Weihei became visible although the cloud soon swallowed up any view of the land we had.
At 1924, the meal service began, drinks and food were both served from one trolley, achievable given the lack of passengers on the flight. After waiting for a few minutes, the crew reached my row and I was served by a Chinese cabin crew member who seemed to have some difficulty understanding some of the Korean passengers, resorting in intervention by the purser. The options for the meal were beef or pork with rice. I opted for the beef, which, like the flight I had taken on China Eastern was served in a bulgogi sauce with rice and green beans. The side dish consisting of a of mozzarella salad seemed to be a little higher in quality than that offered on MU. Passengers were also given a warm bread roll with butter and lychees for desert as well as a cup of Hanjin Jeju Pure water, something I have only ever seen on Korean Air flights. Unlike the plastic cutlery offered on China Eastern, the meal was served with packaged metal cutlery, nicely branded with the Korean Air’s Taeguk logo. After most passengers had finished eating, the crew came around the cabin with red and white wine, although by the looks of things, most passengers appeared to reject this. Instead, tea and coffee appeared to be a far more popular option. Overall the quality of the meal was good, my only complaint would be that the portion size was a little small. Also, despite most passengers finishing their meals within fifteen minutes of these being handed out, it did seem to take quite a while before the trays were cleared away. Two more rounds of drinks were offered later during the flight.
For the duration of the flight, the PTVs worked well, the screen quality was good and they were highly responsive to touch. In terms of content they had plenty to offer with 55 films (33 new Hollywood films, 8 older Hollywood ‘classics’, 6 European films, 4 Korean films, 3 Chinese films and 1 Japanese film plus plenty of television programmes and music. As I have mentioned before with Korean Air, my only complaint is the lack of Korean films. Despite the popularity of Korean films within Korea and across Asia, as well as the reputation of Korean directors across the globe, it seems a little strange that only four Korean films are offered. As of May 2017, a short Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics advert is played before each video. I watched the film Hidden Figures during the flight and found it to be fantastic, definitely one to watch!
Standard economy class headphones, I opted to use my own headphones instead
In terms of seatback literature, Morning Calm is your typical airline magazine although it doesn't seem to feature an endless number of advertisements as with the magazines of many other airlines. The May 2017 issue featured travel articles on the Netherlands, Chile and Italy and other articles about a social network organised running group in Seoul, Korean Buddhism on Mt Jogyesan, the Chinese paper art of jianzhi, the NZ International Rugby Academy, cooking with fern plants as well as news and information about the airline. These articles are offered in Korean and English and a condensed version of the magazine in Chinese is placed in seat pockets on all flights to/from China.
Rest of the Flight
Outside, we remained at dusk for quite a while before the sun finally sunk beneath the cloud layer. Thanks to a thin layer of misty cloud our view of the earth was largely obscured as we cruised high above it at 32000 feet. At 2000 Korean time as we flew above Jinan the aircraft hit a sudden patch of turbulence and the seat belt signs were switched on although this bumpy patch didn't last too long and within 10 minutes the seat belt signs were switched off again.
A couple of hours into the flight I decided to head to the toilets. Upon arriving there, a cabin crew member insisted on opening the toilet door for me. I found the toilet to be in a clean state and well stocked with packets containing toothbrushes and toothpaste, likely to aimed at those on the overnight flight back to Incheon. When I returned to the main cabin I decided to take a seat a little further back so as not to disturb the person in the aisle seat and get a slightly better view. Although at this time the crew came around and ensured all passengers closed the window shades. The crew then distributed Chinese immigration forms and the mood lights were switched back on before the cabin fell to near complete darkness. When one of the cabin crew members noticed I wasn't filling in a form she gave me a pen, not realising I wasn't filling it in due to the fact my passport was in my bag under my original seat where I'd return for landing. About twenty minutes later we hit a small patch of turbulence which resulted in the lights coming on at full blast in order for the crew to check seat belt signs are fastened. This happened once again forty minutes later.
The clean and well stocked bathroom
Around forty minutes away from landing the cabin lights were turned back on and a final drinks service was made. Thirty minutes prior to our arrival the captain came on the PA announcing 'cabin crew, prepare for landing, kamsahapnida'. Immediately after the cabin crew made an announcement regarding our arrival in Korean, English and Chinese before going on to make a symptoms announcement and warning us to avoid mosquitoes. Notably, there had been no automated announcements on this flight, whereas on the China Eastern flight many of the announcements were automated.
As we sank lower nothing could be seen of the ground due to the darkness outside. As we passed 17000 feet with 20 minutes to go the sudden extension of the speedbrakes could be felt. I also remembered that due to the airport's relatively high elevation there we were closer to the ground than it seemed. We then hit a severe patch of turbulence as we descended through the clouds during this time the mood lighting was turned to an intense blue. Suddenly, at 2151 our gear lowered and we began a steep descent, the earth still not visible due to the thick low lying clouds. Around a minute from touchdown the bright lights of the area surrounding Kunming Airport became visible and at 2155 we came back to earth with a large thud followed by some heavy braking. As we taxied off the runway the crew thanked us for flying with Korean Air before Korean Air's classical music played throughout the cabin. Seven minutes after touching down we pulled into gate 107 at the international wing of the airport next to a Lucky Air 738.
After pulling into the gate there was no sudden rush to disembark which was a good job as the cabin doors remained shut for about five or so minutes after the engines were shut down. Eventually I reached the front of the cabin and thanked the same two crew members that had welcomed me aboard before stepping off onto the jetway and up into the terminal. It was a fair walk to immigration through a chilly, largely un-heated but modern arrival area. When I arrived at immigration there was only one person ahead of me in the queue. Despite having a valid visa, as I was only passing through China I applied for a 72 visa free transit and after being sent to a man standing at a high desk who asked me if I was going to London this was granted although I did have to leave China by the following day, hardly 72 hours. Within 15 minutes of disembarkation I had made it to the baggage claim area where I found my bag already spinning around. From there I headed outside and walked down the hill to the airport hotel.
The cold walk to immigration
The spacious and modern arrival area
There is honestly nothing I can really complain about with regards to this flight, Korean Air lived up to the same level of service I have experienced on previous flights with the airline.
CREW – 9/10
The crew were very welcoming and appeared to be constantly on the lookout for anyone that needed any assistance. Top marks to their attentiveness for offering me a pen when they realised I was not filling out the immigration form. With regards to the crew insisting on opening the toilet door for me, this was a little awkward as I have never experienced this on any other airline.
FOOD – 9/10
The food itself was delicious and very high in quality, despite the relatively small portion sizes I cannot say anything bad about the food itself. Top marks as well to the fact that drink rounds were offered regularly onboard the aircraft.
SEAT – 10/10
There is nothing I complain about in this category, Korean Air offers a fantastic amount of legroom and it was nice to receive a pillow and blanket for the flight. As one ought to expect, the area around the seat was spotlessly clean and no signs of wear and tear were present.
ENTERTAINMENT – 8/10
The PTVs were responsive throughout the flight, the only thing in which Korean Air loses marks for this category is through their non-provision of more Korean films. Their inflight magazine is good with seemingly fewer advertisements than on those of many other airlines across the world, and the provision of a Chinese language magazine on flights to/from China (and a Japanese language edition on flights to/from Japan) indicates that the airline caters for a wide range of passengers.
Given the superior Skytrax rating of Korean Air when compared to China Eastern, as well as the notably better reviews one can read online when reading about the airline, it is no surprise that I found Korean Air to offer a better experience on the route. The flight was far more comfortable owing to better seat quality, the cabin appeared to be much cleaner and in far better shape and the and the IFE ensured the time to pass quickly. The cabin crew appeared to be very polite and attentive at all times to passengers whereas on China Eastern they did not welcome passengers, rudely pushed past them on the ground and were invisible for much of the flight. Sorry China Eastern, but Korean Air definitely wins in this instance.
Please note, the photos of many reports seem to no longer be working however these photos can be viewed on my blog Forever in Y
Korea DomesticAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju
Short HaulCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.