Carrier: Asiana Airlines (OZ)
Flight Number: OZ 602
Route: Sydney (SYD) – Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Duration: 10h 0m
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Cabin Class: Business
Seat Number: 10B
A new review after a million years?! You bet! Even better, there’s plenty more ahead.
During southern winter, Asiana Airlines typically operate a (relatively dated) 777-200LR aircraft on the SYD-ICN route. This aircraft, although ageing, features similar seating to what is found on the carrier’s newer A380 and A350 aircraft. About 3 months out from this flight, we received an email indicating that the aircraft-type had been changed to a 747-400, as a result of maintenance. Also in the email was:
“seat configuration will be changed from a single to two seaters. Also, the recline rate of the chair will be changed from 180 degree to 167 degree.”
Gutted. We’ve gone from an old aircraft to an even older aircraft with an even worse product. Thanks, Asiana. But it wasn’t all so bad. 747’s are a rarity and there’s quite a degree of nostalgia associated with flying the Queen of the Skies. Even more so, we’d been allocated exit row seats on the upper deck. Winning! Another point to note is that OZ’s 747’s have a First Class cabin, however they do not regularly sell First Class on the Sydney route. Hence, that cabin (which is nestled in the nose of the 747 and features fully flat seats) is simply sold as Business. Even after asking different people several times, there was, unfortunately, no avail in securing those seats. The airline reps advised that these seats would be given to passengers with the highest booking class or highest frequent flyer status. Fair enough. Nothing beats the 747 upper deck, though!
Check-in was a breeze at Sydney Airport, with almost no line in any class. As a Star Alliance member, OZ recommend using the larger (and nicer) Air New Zealand lounge. However, in keeping with Star Alliance rules, the neighbouring Singapore Airlines lounge will also open its doors.
Upon boarding through ML1 we were directed through the first Economy cabin and up the stairs to the upper deck. Business is only located up here and, unlike other airlines, Economy is situated in the section between First Class and the staircase.
The cabin felt spacious, airy and open, whilst also being exclusive and intimate. With just 5 rows in a 2-2 configuration, a very wide aisle and significant space around the emergency exit the cabin felt more roomy than modern-day Business Class. L’Occitane amenity kits were left on the seats, along with slippers, a mid-sized pillow and duvet. The kit, whilst having painfully dull packaging, contained good quality socks, along with a dental kit, eyeshades, tissues and L’Occitane creams and lip balm.
Welcome drinks were served on the ground, and menus were distributed after takeoff. As a nice touch, the crew handed each passenger the menu already open to the first page in whichever language they spoke. The Business Class cabin manager also took it upon herself to speak to every passengers and personally welcome them aboard, really enhancing the soft product.
The seat itself was pretty comfortable, given the aircraft’s age (despite the airframe being 20 years old, there had clearly been a cabin retrofit within the last 10 years). It had generous recline as an angle-flat sleeper, with several re-set relaxation/ dining positions. the control panel was situated right on the centre armrest, meaning passengers would persistently start moving the seat inadvertently. The side armrests could also be electronically lowered and raised. One of the major drawbacks is the astounding lack of storage. Whilst the widow seats have large side-bins (due to the curvature of the upper deck fuselage), the seats themselves have no storage compartments, cupboards or holders whatsoever apart from the front seat pocket (which itself is not present in the exit rows). All the latest Business seats have a strong emphasis on well-designed storage options to ensure everything has its place, and its clear this particular product is many generations behind.
The product uses Panasonic’s eX2 IFE system which debuted on the A380 in 2007. Something to note is that the emergency exit seats have much smaller arm-rest mounted monitors (the same size as Economy Class), whilst the regular seats have larger, seat-back screens. They are all touch screen and have remote controls. Neither the control nor the screen were particularly responsive to inputs, and for the 50% of buttons that did work, a large amount of pushing and banging was needed. Definitely showing its age. Further to this, OZ surprisingly does not provide noise-cancelling headsets, which are most definitely the norm for business class. The headphones, whilst better than Economy, are notably sub-standard, and you’re far better off bringing along your own set with a two-pin aircraft adapter. In terms of content, Asiana really falls. Whilst there is a wide range of Korean entertainment, there are limited options for Western ‘palates’. To make matters worse, these options are almost never updated. Having flown with OZ approximately 5 months prior, I noticed the vast majority of the Western content was exactly the same and hadn’t changed a bit. Couldn’t be more grateful for downloadable Netflix shows.
There are 2 lavatories on the upper deck, with one by the staircase and the other right next to the flight deck door. They were spacious enough, however were likely left out of the refurbishment. All Business Class lavatories have a fixed basket filled with L’Occitane products, shaving kits and other essentials.
Lunch was served in several courses consisting of an amuse-bouche, starter, soup, main, cheese plate and dessert, alongside bread baskets, tea and coffee and a selection of apéritifs. Passengers could opt for a Korean selection or traditional Western choices. Having chosen the steak (understandably never a good option onboard aircraft), the whole meal service proved quite average. The starters were plain, the steak over-cooked and under-garnished, and the dessert was smaller than what you’d normally get in Economy Class. Thankfully, though, the service was properly carried out without trays and using a restaurant-style trolley rather than a normal meal cart.
Following the meal service, the lights were dimmed and passengers were left to rest. Anyone who appeared to wake up after a nap was immediately approached by the crew and offered snacks and drinks. Again, service levels have proved relatively high across the board with OZ. Resting proved easy, despite the slightly lumpy, sloping bed.
The cabin lights came back on about 2.5 hours prior to landing, when the crew commenced a snack service. Orders were taken in advance, and the whole thing was carried out quite quickly, thanks to the small cabin.
A few things to note from this experience. Whilst good, service levels are noticeably different from higher ranking carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Even in Business Class, the crew fail to even attempt to address passengers by name. There is a less proactive effort in clearing up rubbish and offering additional items during meal services. Whilst they do their job well, few of the crew seem to have passion and enthusiasm for what they do and make little-to-no effort to engage with passengers other than to see what they want to eat or drink. With regards to the hard product, judging OZ based on this 747 is admittedly unfair. The carrier has just 2 of these aircraft in their fleet, and have made significant updates in the newer generation of seats. Food, whilst acceptable, is not Business Class standard, and certainly has a lot of development to undergo. Solid effort, Asiana, but you’re not quite there. Yet.