Edited by: Nick Ellis
& Keri Stooksbury
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Airline: Korean Air
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo
Flight #: KE2106
Route: Tokyo (HND) to Seoul-Gimpo (GMP)
Date: April 25, 2023
Duration: 2hr 25min
Cabin and Layout: Business class, 2-2
Cost: 22,500 SKYPASS miles + $62.96 in taxes & fees
Korean Air is known for its classic sky-blue livery and seats in various shades of blue to match. In the fall of 2022, the South Korean flag carrier first took delivery of its newest narrowbody aircraft, the Airbus A321neo.
While the exterior of this new aircraft may look familiar, the seats boast a complete redesign. In the Prestige Class (i.e., business class) cabin, there’s a sleek look and feel, featuring black and gold accents, Bluetooth connectivity, and even wireless charging ports (more on this later).
And although it’s a relatively short hop from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND) to Seoul’s Gimpo Airport (GMP), I decided to splurge on a business class ticket. Not only did I get to enjoy lie-flat seats for the 2.5-hour flight, but I got to enjoy a traditional Korean meal and personalized service onboard — all on the airline’s very first Airbus A321 aircraft (registered HL 8505).
I was very much looking forward to flying on the next generation of Korean Air during my recent trip to Seoul. Keep reading to learn about my experience on the carrier’s newest aircraft from Tokyo to Seoul.
I had only flown Korean Air once before — way back in 2010 with my brother. At the time, I was too young to understand points and miles to the degree I know now.
However, my mom (thankfully) signed us up for Korean Air SKYPASS loyalty accounts. This meant we earned a solid number of miles from that lone round-trip flight more than a decade ago. Between my brother and me, we accrued nearly 25,000 miles from those economy tickets.
Korean Air’s SKYPASS loyalty program is one of the most lucrative out there, with a clear award chart outlining reasonable redemption rates:
|Arrival Region||Season||Economy Class||Prestige Class||First Class|
North America/Europe/Middle East/Oceania
However, it can be difficult to earn SKYPASS miles unless you fly with Korean Air often. In 2018, the airline ended its partnership with Chase Ultimate Rewards — its only major transferable point partner besides Marriott Bonvoy, which offers a less-than-ideal 3:1 transfer ratio.
Not only are they hard to earn, but SKYPASS miles expire after a decade, and there’s no way to extend their shelf life. While our miles technically should have expired in 2020, Korean Air extended miles for 3 additional years due to the pandemic.
Since my brother had no intention of ever using these miles, I was lucky enough to combine our miles with Korean Air’s generous family pooling policy and find a great use for them.
On a recent trip to visit family in Seoul, I flew from New York (JFK) to Tokyo (HND) on ANA’s “The Room” business class. Surely, I would’ve been fine to fly to Seoul in Korean Air economy for just 15,000 SKYPASS miles. But for only 7,500 more miles (that were expiring that summer anyway), I splurged for Korean Air’s Prestige Class.
For a total of 22,500 miles and roughly $60 in taxes and fees, I thought this was a fantastic redemption. Compared to the cash rate of $900, I redeemed SKYPASS miles at a rate of more than 3.5 cents per mile. That’s about double our current estimations of SKYPASS miles at 1.6 cents apiece!
If I had elected to buy this ticket with cash, I would have used The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel (up to the first $500,000 spent per year; then 1x points).
I arrived in the early morning in Tokyo after my flight from New York and made my way through the 90-minute immigration line at Tokyo’s busiest airport.
Despite it being around 6 a.m. and having just flown for 14 hours, I felt well-rested as I deplaned my ANA flight and navigated the terminal to my next flight on Korean Air.
I made sure to give myself plenty of time on the ground as my next flight was on a different carrier (not to mention a different airline alliance altogether). Once I cleared immigration, I picked up my checked bag and had to recheck it through Korean Air for my flight to Seoul.
The airport wasn’t busy upon my arrival, perhaps as it was too early for flights to depart. However, as the morning rolled on, the check-in counters and security lines were slammed — so I was glad I had 4+ hours to transit.
There was nobody at the Korean Air check-in counters when I first arrived. However, there was a sign that showed the check-in hours for upcoming flights.
My flight was the first of the day for Korean Air. For the 9:20 a.m. departure, the counter was open from 7:05 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. I had about an hour to kill, but there was plenty of seating and outlets landside, with fast and free airport Wi-Fi.
Just past 7 a.m., I moseyed back over to the check-in counters. The line was long, wrapping around a few times. However, as a Prestige Class customer, I could use the dedicated Sky Priority line (for SkyTeam Elite Plus members and more), which had only 1 other passenger waiting.
Prestige Class customers can check up to 2 bags that are 70 pounds (32 kg) each. Traveling with just a checked bag and a personal item, I was happy to free myself from lugging my big suitcase around the airport.Hot Tip:
Most South Korean airlines (including many low-cost ones!) will allow passengers to check at least 1 bag free of charge. Therefore, most people will check their carry-on luggage that could fit in the overhead bins. Perhaps this is why boarding and deplaning are so efficient in Korea. Plus, I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for my checked bag at baggage claim.
While my bag was well on its way to the aircraft, I also received a printed boarding pass and a KAL Lounge coupon. Security and immigration took another 45 minutes as the airport was entering peak morning hours, so again, give yourself plenty of time to transit if you find yourself in a similar situation to mine.
Despite what the lounge coupon says, there aren’t any KAL Lounges at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. However, the KAL Lounge pass provided me with access to the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge.
The JAL Sakura Lounge was gorgeous, offering tons of seating areas and natural light as it overlooked the tarmac. At check-in, the agent graciously let me know that my gate would be another 8- to 10-minute walk. This was a nice heads-up for passengers gauging their time between delving into another round of snacks or drinks.
While I only had 30 minutes to explore the lounge before my flight, I took a quick peek around. From à la carte dining to pour-your-own wine to luggage lockers, it only made me realize that Japanese airport lounges are on a different level.
I didn’t realize I’d be getting a full meal onboard my flight, but I got to enjoy a few bites of my Japanese bento box breakfast. There was a small assortment of seafood, a bowl of rice, and miso soup.
It’s definitely worth it to get to the airport early for the JAL Sakura Lounge. However, my next flight was calling — but there were plenty of moving walkways to get me there quickly.
Boarding began promptly at 9 a.m., first serving passengers who needed extra time and assistance getting settled onboard. Then, it was time for Prestige Class and Sky Priority members to join the line.
The gate agents expertly boarded all guests in under 15 minutes, setting us up for an early departure out of Tokyo.
It’s not often that you can lie down at 180 degrees for a flight under 750 miles. However, the carrier delivers with an intimate business class cabin, with just 2 rows of seats on board this single-aisle aircraft.
Walking through this section, I immediately thought of Starlux, the new Taiwanese airline startup that’s all the rage after it inaugurated long-haul service from Los Angeles (LAX) to Taipei (TPE). Starlux’s A321neo offers strikingly similar amenities in its business class seats, from the small privacy wall to the wide inflight entertainment screens.
However you may feel about Korean Air’s existing pale blue business class seats, the new, all-black seats with gold trim are surely visually appealing. Even the rest of the cabin got a new look, though the multi-colored seats are a far cry from Korean Air’s classic color palette.
Korean Air’s Prestige Class is separated from the front galley and the rest of the cabin by a set of cream-colored curtains. Interestingly, the first row isn’t labeled as row 1. Instead, the business class seats span across rows 7 and 8.
There are just 8 seats in Korean Air’s Prestige Class. Compared to the 174 seats in economy, you’ll receive dedicated service from the flight attendants at the front of the cabin.
While I prefer to sit near the window, only aisle seats were available at the time of booking. Though with a 2-2 configuration, I didn’t have to worry about stepping over anyone while sitting in the aisle.
Not to mention, the pod partially blocks one of the windows. Therefore, I didn’t mind missing out on the window seat this time around. The seats are cloth, although the leather headrest is adjustable.
Additionally, Korean Air attempted to provide a little privacy with a semi-opaque privacy divider. Though with the narrow seats, you’ll likely bump elbows (or phones) at the wireless charging stations on the arm rests.
Each seat featured a considerable 63 inches of pitch in full lie-flat mode. However, at just 19 inches across, these new Prestige Class seats may feel a bit narrow.
Under the giant 4K screen was a small shelf, as well as a spacious footwell with space to store your shoes and a personal item. The seat controls featured the necessary buttons that had preset settings for takeoff and landing, reclining, and fully flat.
When in lie-flat mode, the bed offered the right amount of firmness and support. The only mishap to note was when my neighbor needed to use the bathroom. However, I’m sure that it was more troublesome for him than it was for me sitting in the aisle.
Overall, the new Prestige Class cabin offered a nice balance of at-seat storage and roominess for spreading out.Hot Tip:
Want another step above Prestige Class? Check out the best ways to book Korean Air’s first class on select long-haul routes!
At my seat, I found a plush light-blue pillow, a nod to Korean Air’s classic colors, as well as a large, fleece blanket that kept me incredibly warm throughout the flight — but no amenity kit. If you want to take a nap, the pillow and blanket will surely help you fall asleep faster.
Besides the practical items, the more exciting amenities to note were the massive technological upgrades Korean Air has included in its new cabin.
This was definitely the first airline that I’ve ever flown to feature a wireless charging station. Though I had to take off my phone case to charge my phone, I wish more airlines would follow suit.
Besides the attempt to divide the seats with the privacy “wall,” there was a small compartment that was an excellent use of the shared space. This is where the headphone jack and USB-C charging port were located, the latter of which is becoming more and more popular among airlines.
There was also a universal outlet with yet another USB-C port on the shared console.
Additionally, a pair of slippers and over-the-ear headphones were located at the footwell. However, when browsing the shows and movies on the inflight entertainment screen, I didn’t use the provided headphones.
That’s because I was able to connect my AirPods to the inflight screen — what a treat! The screen measured a whopping 17 inches and boasted a crystal-clear 4K interface. There were more than 100 Korean and English movies to choose from, but I opted for one of my favorites (“La La Land”) for this short flight.
The remote, located conveniently next to the seat, offered a mix of a touchscreen panel and real buttons. I thought it was a nice touch that it stated the route up top, although the time displayed was off by a few hours.
The tray table folded out in 2 parts. It even featured a flip-up stand where you could comfortably watch something on your tablet or phone.
The flight wasn’t perfect on all measures, but it came close. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi was inoperable throughout the entire flight. However, Korean Air will finally launch inflight Wi-Fi on international flights starting July 1, 2023.
Inflight Wi-Fi seems like something that should have come on delivery of these brand-new aircraft, considering how forward-thinking the rest of the amenities were. But, better late than never, I suppose.Hot Tip:
If you’re flying from the U.S. to South Korea on Korean Air, read all about the carrier’s routes, fleet types, and seat options.
The forward lavatory was small but sparkling clean. There was a deep basin sink and a few amenities, including toothbrushes and mouthwash, that are typically found only on long-haul routes.
If there’s 1 thing I’ve learned about my motherland over the years, it’s that Koreans do not skimp on meals. The joy of dining, even at 30,000+ feet in the air, is ingrained in our culture.
It goes without saying that you’ll be well-fed on this short-haul route that’s only about as long as the flight between New York and Atlanta.
After swishing down orange juice as my pre-departure beverage (Champagne was available for those looking for a little bubbly), I was asked to choose between a Japanese or Korean meal. Since Korean Air’s bibimbap has practically become a cultural phenomenon, it was a no-brainer that I went for the latter.
With the meal arriving just 40 minutes after takeoff, the brunch course featured a tray of bibimbap with assorted vegetables, Hetbahn steamed rice, a packet of roasted seaweed, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and banchan (Korean side dishes). This is a staple meal my mother would make for me growing up, made artfully for inflight dining.
That’s not all, of course. The flight attendants delivered a refreshing beansprout and fish soup on my tray to wash down the rest of the meal.
Then dessert, in true Korean fashion, was a small plate of sliced fruit. I also enjoyed a sparkling Perrier water with my meal, but for beer and wine enthusiasts, the long list of libations looked intriguing.
Korean Air’s inflight meals may be one of the most tasty (and healthy) options I’ve had in business class.
The flight attendants on this Korean Air flight provided top-notch service that made my experience that much more memorable.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a “Gyopo,” a term used to label Koreans that live outside their native land. The flight attendants picked up on that quickly and appreciated my attempts at communicating in Korean (though they weren’t perfect) and switched to English when it was necessary. They were just as excited for me to fly to South Korea as I was to visit for the first time in years.
Or maybe it’s simply because the Prestige Class cabin was so small, with just 8 passengers to take care of. No matter the case, the flight attendants worked quickly to cater to every request, whether it was refilling a cup of peppermint tea or getting extra fruit to snack on.
We arrived at Seoul’s first international airport, Gimpo, a few minutes before the scheduled arrival time.
Since 2001, Seoul’s much-larger Incheon International Airport (ICN) has seen most of the nation’s commercial air service. However, Gimpo (GMP) is much more convenient to downtown Seoul and serves domestic or short-haul routes, such as to Jeju Island (CJU) or to various Japanese cities.
As I was on yet another international flight, that meant I had to pass through immigration and customs once again. However, the flight attendants gave us the necessary documents to fill out onboard, meaning that everyone was well-prepared for the process.
It took me just 20 minutes to meet my bag — and my family — on the other side.
Korean Air’s newest Prestige Class on the single-aisle A321neo is a knockout, bringing it up to par with similar offerings from competitors. The full-service meal and technological investments (save for the Wi-Fi) were terrific, and it was a delightful way to get from Tokyo to my final destination.
My only wish was that the flight was longer. However, funny enough, this was certainly not this aircraft’s shortest flight. In fact, the aircraft is intermittently being flown on one of the carrier’s shortest routes between Seoul and Jeju.
Fortunately, Korean Air will start flying its A321neos on its popular route between Seoul (ICN) and Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), where you can fully enjoy the amenities of Prestige Class for the 5.5-hour flight.
Korean Air has a bright future ahead, especially considering the upcoming merger with Asiana Airlines. Hopefully, the even-bigger Korean flag carrier will deliver its new Prestige Class cabin across even more aircraft.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
Korean Air calls its business class cabin “Prestige Class.” Whether you’re flying on a short-haul route or a long-haul journey across the world, you can expect lie-flat seats and plenty of amenities in Prestige Class.
Yes. Korean Air has 8 Prestige Class seats on its newest aircraft, the Airbus A321neo. These seats feature lie-flat mode, a 4K inflight entertainment screen, and more.
Korean Air started taking delivery of its Airbus A321neos in late 2022, and will receive 30 total by 2027. So far, Korean Air has used its A321neo to fly from Seoul to Jeju, Tokyo, Ho Chi Minh City, and more. Moving forward, you can expect to find this aircraft on routes to cities across China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.
Korean Air offers its own frequent flyer program, SKYPASS. It’s free to sign up and start earning and redeeming miles on Korean Air and SkyTeam-operated flights.
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