I wanted to start this blog post with a bit of an explanation on my point of view. I travel regularly for business. To give you an idea of how much I travel, I will have stayed 190 nights in hotels in 2012. When I fly for business, I can only book coach airfare, but I can use my own miles to upgrade. I regularly upgrade myself to business class. One time a year I take a major vacation and I fly in first class. It’s a treat, an experience, something that I don’t take for granted or experience on a regular basis. I’ll be honest, I’m jealous of some other bloggers who seem to always fly in first.
I redeemed 160,000 miles (I flew just over 120k butt-in-seat miles this year) for a first class trip to South East Asia this month. As tired as I am of flying – and this is actually the first year I can say I’m a little burnt out on air travel – I have been looking forward to flying first class on Asiana. For me, flying first class is still a thrill and something I get very excited about. The point of view for this review (and any future first class reviews) is this: if you’re going to splurge and spend 160,000 miles (or whatever it takes to get a first class ticket to your destination), is this the airline you should spend it on. So here is the review:
I arrived at LAX and checked in at the Asiana Counter. There was no one in the first class line and one person at the first class counter. While I waited, and it was only about a 3 minute or so wait, a staff member chatted with me. The staff was quick and helpful and I was checked in within minutes. They handed me a boarding pass, bag claim tags and a pass to the Star Alliance Lounge. That was it, nothing else. All of my comparisons here will be based on first class flights with Singapore Airlines and Thai Airlines in previous years. On both of those trips, someone escorted me from check-in, through security and into the lounge; not only in Singapore and Thailand, but in the US as well. Not this time, not with Asiana.
I got through security pretty quickly and headed up to the lounge. I checked in at the desk and they pointed me towards the first class lounge. This lounge is shared by all Star Alliance Partners flying from the International Terminal at LAX. The first class lounge was small and ordinary, I thought the United First Lounge at LAX was much more lux and welcoming. I waited for my flight and enjoyed some sparkling water and the free internet. About 10 minutes before boarding time, an agent from Asiana came over and told me it was time to head to the gate. That was it, no escort from here either. I did notice agents from other airlines escorting 1st class passengers to their flights however. And again, this is something I had experienced with Thai and Singapore.
I walked the short distance to the gate and noticed that people were already lined up everywhere. I asked an agent where the first class boarding line was and she pointed me over towards a line that said “First & Business Class & Star Gold.” There were about 50 people in that line already. I went to the desk and asked if I needed to get in that line or if they would call for first class. They said I should just get in that line. There was in fact no special boarding for first class, which seemed quite odd, I mean, even US Air board 1st class first. The line went pretty quickly and once onboard I was escorted to seat 2k in the nose of the airplane.
The seats were what I call lie-flat pods, they’re not suites but do offer some degree of privacy because they’re angled away from other seats. They were almost exactly the same as the lie-flat pods on US Air Envoy and United Global First. They were nothing like Singapore First. What is the difference from United First and US Air Envoy seats? Asiana seats had more storage in the seat area, both US and United are missing that. United has a massage feature, neither Asiana or US do. Asiana’s seat has a metal foot rest (more on that later.) They all have different in-flight entertainment systems. Those were really the only noticeable differences.
The crew and flight attendants were very nice, helpful and went above and beyond to make sure everyone was comfortable and had what they needed. There were only 3 people in first and 10 seats. In addition to an amenity kit, which contained Bvlgari products, they provided slippers and pajamas. I will be giving away all of these items in a contest this month so stay tuned.
The food on the flight was awesome- nothing like the slop I had on my domestic US Airways flight the previous day. This is what you imagine first class food and service to be like. We were served lunch, a snack and dinner.
Lunch was the largest meal. They set the table with an Italian silk table cloth (yep, I looked at the label), salt/pepper, butter and oil/vinegar and carnation. The service started with an appetizer of Smoked Salmon and Roe and Aged Beef wrapped around Asparagus. I liked the salmon quite a bit, but wasn’t a huge fan of the beef. That was followed by a quinoa and scallops. I didn’t eat the quinoa and because it had tomatoes in it, and I’m allergic – so no report on that. Then we were served caviar. Yum. What can I say, I love Caviar and this was probably my favorite course. A hot carrot soup followed. For the main meal I chose to have the Chicken with Morel Mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes and veggies. The mashed potatoes could have used a little more mashing, but otherwise, it was really great. As if that wasn’t enough food…there were still two more courses. A cheese and fruit plate was served with crackers and breads and then dessert was served. Dessert was a chocolate mousse. The consistency was very odd and I didn’t love it. It really didn’t matter though because I was stuffed. There was a ridiculous amount of food and it was a great service.
After the meal I watched a movie and decided to get some work done. The outlets in my seat weren’t working so I moved to another seat to work – that wasn’t a problem since there were 6 open seats (at some point the in-flight doctor had joined us in first class and was getting some shut eye.) About ½ way through the flight, just after we passed over Anchorage, Alaska, they served a snack of turkey and cheese on a croissant and fruit and cheese. The pictures don’t really represent what the view was actually like. The moon was full – or at least looked full – and was huge. It did make me remember how much I really love Alaska and I decided that in 2013 I will vacation there again. Ironically, all of my vacations are planned while I’m on vacation.
After that I decided to see if I could get a little sleep. I asked the flight attendant if there was any bedding and she said no. Again, comparing to my previous two first class experiences and every single trip report of Ben’s that I’ve read (OneMileAtATime) I thought there would be bedding. This is where I would like to make a comparison between US Air Envoy and United Global First. As I mentioned above, the seats are basically the same. One difference is that Asiana’s seat has a metal foot rest where the other two don’t. Up until then I loved the foot rest and thought it would be great if the US Air and United Seats had them. After tying to sleep I changed my mind. It’s not so comfortable resting your leg(s) against a metal foot rest. I ended up with a lovely print on my leg when I woke up. So I think I’ll go back to preferring the US Air and United version of the seat.
Throughout the entire flight the flight attendants were continuously checking on me and refilling my sparkling water. There was never a time when my glass didn’t have water in it and they made sure I always had ice too. It was very impressive service. About 2 hours before landing another meal was served. It was called dinner because it was about 5pm local time – but in my mind it should have been time for breakfast. The dinner started with a marinated shrimp appetizer that was very good. They served hot bread with butter and balsamic vinegar/oil. For the meal, we had coconut shrimp with fried rice and vegetables. Yep, both the appetizer and meal was shrimp – which was great for me because I love it – but probably not the most well thought out menu. I enjoyed the coconut shrimp and fried rice. The meal concluded with a fruit tart. It was actually pretty good and I ate most of it unlike the chocolate mousse from earlier.
Before landing the flight manger thanked each of us personally for choosing Asiana and gave us a gift – a Tuscan scented candle from Ferragamo. That was very nice and very unexpected – this is one place that Asiana stands apart from Thai and Singapore Air. I will also be giving this away soon too!
When we departed the plane I expected there to be someone who would escort us to our next stop. But alas, no, there was no such service. Again, something that I had expected based on flights on Thai and Singapore. In fact, when I flew US Air Envoy and switched over to Lufthansa Business Class there was someone to meet me and show me to the lounge. And I don’t really consider US Air Envoy a “first class” product.
So, what’s the bottom line? The service was wonderful – I expected nothing less based on previous experiences in Asiana Business Class. The food was also great. However, the extras that have become synonymous with first class international air travel – especially on Asian carriers were just not there. For 160,000 miles I wanted those extras, the special treatment that goes along with the thrill of flying first class. I would absolutely fly Asiana again in business class, but wouldn’t book first on them again based on this experience. I could spend the same number of miles and fly United Global First without the perks.
I know there are going to be critics who say “don’t complain, you were in first” or “I’m sure someone from coach would have been happy to switch with you” and yes, both of those statements are true. However, the point of this post is that I still find it thrilling to fly first class; it’s a treat for me. I had to fly a lot of miles, collect a lot of miles and redeem a lot of miles for this trip and the purpose of redeeming for first is so that you (I) can have that fantasy, magical experience associated with flying first class. If you have the chance to fly first class internationally – and I know I’m lucky that I have had that chance now 3 times – and want that want that amazing experience that people talk about, my suggestion is to fly Singapore Air, Thai Airways or Lufthansa First Class within the Star Alliance.
My return trip will be in Thai first class so it will be interesting to compare the experiences as well.