Economy Smartium on Asiana A350Flight Details
Airline: Asiana Airlines
Flight Number: OZ 211
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Route: San Francisco (SFO) to Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Duration: 12 hr 00 minBackground
I wanted to fly on the Airbus A350 ever since it was introduced into service. Asiana Airlines changed their SFO-ICN flight from B777-700LR to A350-900 for the 2017 winter season, this presented the opportunity to try out the new aircraft.
When I went to book the flight on Asiana's website, the seatmap preview showed all window and aisle seats in Economy class were taken, and I was not going to fly 12 hours in a middle seat so I decided to pay the extra $150 for Economy Smartium (Economy+) which had window seats wide open. Asiana's website does not offer an option to select special meals while booking, but a quick phone call to their Customer Support had the helpful agent reserve Asian Vegetarian meal (AVML) for me in 30 seconds. At the Airport
As I was flying on the weekend before Christmas, anticipating a huge crowd for check-in and security I decided to reach SFO airport a full three hours before departure, but turns out Asiana passengers are not as impatient as me- the check-in counters had just 2 passengers in line so dropping my check-in bag and getting boarding pass took all of five minutes, and the security took another twenty.
Asiana operates out of A gates at SFO which has the sole Priority Pass lounge at the airport, operated by KLM/Air France and also used by Asiana and Korean Air. I was lucky to get entry as the lounge soon got overcrowded and they stopped allowing Priority Pass users to keep remaining seats of paying premium class passengers.
The lounge overlooks A gates hosting a 777 party- with Phillipines Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Southern and China Airlines 77Ws at 4 adjacent gates. After an hour at the lounge I walked down to the gate to find Asiana and Korean Air flights both to ICN departing within 30 minutes of each other docked next to each other!
There was a ginormous queue of 100+ passengers formed already, but Asiana allows Economy Smartium passengers to use Business Class boarding so I just walked past the snaking queue into the plane with no wait!OnboardThe A350 cabin looking bright, in fact a bit too bright. It can do with better mood lighting
On the Asiana A350, the first 4 rows of main cabin are Economy Smartium with upto 4 inches of extra legroom and a little more recline than regular Economy rows. Rows 10 is bulkhead, row 11 has misaligned window, row 13 onwards the wing starts blocking any view outside. Row 12 in my opinion is the best in Economy Smartium. Every seat had a pillow, blanket and amenity kit placed already. Economy Smartium amenity kit. Regular economy also gets slippers but thinner than these.
We were pushed back from the gate on-time at 23:35 but made to wait in the alley until 23:50. During this time the super long redundant safety video with every sentence repeated in English and Korean alternately was shown. I hate this format as viewers listening in either language lose focus midway over and over. After a very long taxi, we took off at 00:16 from RWY 28R
A few observations about the cabin- there are no individual AC vents, and the reading lights are enclosed inside a glass cover so you cannot change the angle of the lights. On the plus side, the cabin is amazingly soundproof so much so that the takeoff roll at full thrust sounded like cruising on idle power!Hello Rolls Royce Trent XWB! How big are you!
As soon as we reached 10,000 feet the cabin manager informed meal times and that they will be showing a video about duty free shopping. Thanks for the heads-up, because the video is annoying and everyone is forced to see it, stopping whatever else you were watching. The crew also distributed arrival cards for everyone ending their journey in Korea.
Meal service began immediately after, with special meals like my AVML served first. Like every AVML meal ever on every airline, the main course had rice with two contraptions supposed to be gravies, and the usual accessories. The food tasted strictly average, nothing to rave about neither to complain. On the other hand, the regular meal included a Korean option which included some elaborate setup with a giant bowl and something in what looked like a toothpaste tube!Every Asian Vegetarian meal ever. Specimen A
A word about the seats- the slimline seats are pretty hard and feel hollow if you poke the seatback cushions. The tray table in Economy Smartium does not come close enough to eat comfortably unless you bend forward. The Economy Smartium seats with the extra legroom are also begging to have a footrest under the seats in front, hopefully someday they will add it.Economy Smartium legroom
The IFE touchscreens are nice, big and responsive. The movies collection is in a few dozens, not hundreds or thousands like Emirates, but my favorite part of the IFE is the airshow which includes multiple angles and a fake-cockpit view with HUD showing airspeed, ground speed, altitude, vertical speed, wind and heading over Google Earth overlay.IFE for avgeeks
Since this was an overnight flight, I spent most of it sleeping, waking a few times to walk the length of the plane. The cabin crew, like other east Asian airlines, was amazing at providing the service they are trained for, even doing water and orange juice rounds every couple hours for the entire cabin, just don't expect to indulge in small talk with them in the galley- that makes them uncomfortable and you will end up feeling awkward too.
With 3 hours left in the flight, I decided to purchase the inflight wifi 1 hour package for $11.95 just to try it out. The wifi worked, but when I tested the speed I got a blazing fast speed of 1.9 Kbps (Yes, Kbps, not Mbps!). It was useless for anything beyond messaging or emails.Blazing fast wifi courtesy Asiana!
Second meal was served two hours before landing. Once again, my AVML was served first, and once again an airline decided that people who eat Asian Vegetarian meals eat rice and curry for every meal of their life! This was supposed to be "breakfast" meal but I got the exact same concoctions- rice and two (different) curries that is more of a lunch/dinner fare. Every Asian Vegetarian meal ever. Specimen B
Before landing, once again a few "mandatory" advertisement videos were shown over IFE overriding everything else anyone was watching, followed by a rather amusing thing- a video tutorial of "finger exercises" supposedly helping overcome fatigue of a long flight. It was quite a scene watching several dozen passengers "exercising" following instructions on the screen!Finger exercise time! Everyone has to watch it, no choice!Mayhem at Incheon
We landed in ICN before time to a dark, rainy, foggy airport, and as soon as I got data working on my phone, was greeted by bad news- my connecting flight from ICN was rescheduled back by 3 hours, extending my 7 hour layover to 10. Oh well. At this point I had no idea what was about to hit me.
I walked out into the terminal straight to the first Asiana transfer desk to evaluate my options, but the girl there was 0% interested in helping anyone, just shrugged off and told us to pass transfer security and go to the departures area. Reaching there made me realize I was in for quite a ride- ICN was hit by snowstorm a week ago and the delays from that day were still cascading, with almost every single departure delayed anywhere from 1 to 24 hours! Merry Delayed Christmas from Incheon!
Asiana was doing a terrible job of helping passengers, staffing their transfer helpdesk with only two agents at their main hub! After several complaints from angry passengers they added two more agents but the lines still took hours to get to an agent for rebooking options. I tried my luck but there was no earlier flight available, so I resigned to spending 10 hours in the airport.
Incheon Airport offers free transit tours for passengers with long layovers, but with it raining and -10 C cold outside, I was not too keen on doing that. However, I did do the guided Airport Korean Culture tour offered by the staff which was pretty fun- I ended up making a traditional Korean art souvenir, got to see some historical Korean art pieces, experience a short PSY concert in VR (virtual reality) and take pictures with the "royal family" as a part of some kind of parade!I made a thing!Royal intervention for harrowed passengers