MIAMI — Following the series of articles on Airways‘ adventure in Korea, which covered Flying the world’s most spacious A380 from Atlanta to Seoul, and a fun Low Cost flight from Seoul to Sapporo (JP) on Jin Air, it’s time to unveil a unique review on Korean Air’s Boeing 747-400. This very particular flight, from Sapporo back to Seoul, we sat on the upper deck of this magnificent jetliner in the most private way. Hop on and enjoy another Airchive flight review!
Flying the 747-400 for the first time.
Looking back at my traveler logbook, I have almost all types of current and old aircraft checked, leaving just a very few for me to hunt and fly on. One of the airplanes I never managed to get myself on is the mighty Boeing 747-400. Airlines are beginning to phase out the queen of the skies and, as they do, I freak out with every second that life takes away from me.
Thanks to Korean Air, and a large load of pure luck, I was booked on the afternoon return flight from Sapporo, which fluctuates randomly between a 777-300ER and a 747-400. Coincidentally, the latter was scheduled as my ride back to Incheon.
Sapporo’s airport is one magnificent marvel. The domestic terminal is separated from the international by an incredible shopping mall which has more restaurants than any shopping facility in America. All of the Japanese cuisine restaurants offer everything from the most extreme raw dishes to the most elaborated and exquisite courses. In addition, Japanese airline ANA has it’s very own museum situated next to the airport’s viewing terrace, a combo that would make any aviation enthusiast lose control.
After spending some time spotting some Asian action at Sapporo’s tarmac, I went to the international terminal and checked in for my flight to ICN. At the check-in desk, the station manager approached and welcomed me, asking for my passport and for seating preference. Given that the star of the day was the queen of the skies, I didn’t hesitate in asking for a seat in its glorious upper deck. The station manager advised me to sit on the lower deck as service is supposed to be better, but since this would be my first (and who knows if last!) time on the 747-400, I didn’t pay attention to his kind advice and chose seat 16A – the very first seat behind the flightdeck door.
Boarding pass in hand, I went ahead and cleared security and passport control. Once through,it was up the stairs inside the terminal with a course set straight to the Royal Lounge, which hosts premium passengers from all carriers at CTS.
Once inside, my thirst took me straight to the traditional Japanese beer draught dispensers. Given our location, the beer that was being offered was the world-famous Sapporo. Being one of my favorites, I ended up enjoying six of these amazingly chilled glasses full of the magnificent Japanese brew, along with some nuts sitting in the outer terrace of the Royal Lounge.
At exactly 13.55, passengers were called to board flight KE766 to Seoul. I bid farewell to one of the best airports I had seen and went straightly to the gate, anxious and excited to finally board the aircraft I had been chasing for so long.
At gate 65, the agent scanned my boarding pass and I began walking to the jetway. As I reached the dividing point between the front and rear jetways, I happily turned left and reached the L1 door of the prettiest and most respected aircraft in history. A group of four flight attendants, all wearing the most spectacular uniform in the airline industry (personal opinion!), greeted me at the door and one of them escorted me to my private upper deck. Private? Yes. After I climbed the stairs, the responsible FA informed I was the only passenger booked in the top floor, making my first experience in such place the most exclusive one could ever ask.
When I reached the very first seat, I realized the engines and wing couldn’t be seen from the window. With 24 seats, all available for me, I went back six rows and chose seat 21H, good enough to spot some wing/engine action during takeoff and landing.
With some time to spare, I went back to the main deck to photograph the First Class cabin and the main Prestige Class cabin. The ultra spacious 747 is configured to provide maximum comfort to its passengers in medium or long haul flights.
Once the door was closed, our 747-400 pushed back from the gate. With its engines spinning, we began taxiing to Sapporo’s main runway. The Japanese ground crew did the traditional salute to all those looking out the windows (what a nice thing to see!) and we reached the runway less than 5 minutes later.
This particular aircraft (HL7494 – CN 27332 / LN 1067) was delivered to Korean Air in 1995, making it an 18.5 years old 747-400. Currently, the airline has 32 in operation.
As we taxied to the runway, the purser of the flight came all the way up to my seat to welcome me on board. She offered all her assistance with any questions I may have had, and promised to take really good care of me throughout the flight. What a fantastic touch.
The 747-400 lined up with the runway and began powerfully rolling as its four engines delivered the most unique concert of music. Less than 35 seconds after releasing the brakes, the light loaded airliner took off to the skies with the happiest person alive on board it’s upper deck.
Korean Air Prestige Class Service
After a rocket-like climb out, we leveled off at 36,000 in less than twelve minutes. Immediately, my exclusive butler-like FA began the in-flight meal service. For this trip, she recommended the traditional Korean dish, “Bibimbap,” to which I gladly agreed and expected to eat, given that I had skipped this option on the A380 flight from Atlanta to Seoul (read below).
The tray came pre-arranged with a very nice soup, a sealed white rice container, the Bibimbap dish (quite well decorated), and two side dishes on top. In addition, I was offered some Bordeaux wine or a traditional apricot wine made in Japan. I chose the exotic apricot wine and was not disappointed.
The FA was kind enough to provide me with instructions on how to prepare the Bibimbap dish. I followed it diligently and enjoyed Korea’s most symbolic meal on board my dream plane. The quality of the food was astonishing, and I was completely satisfied with the meal service that had just been provided.
Following the main course, the FA brought a plate of fruit consisting in melon, apple and grapes, all very fresh and tasty. Fruit in east Asia is very expensive, with mangos costing up to $60 a piece, and melons $40 each. I see fruit now with different eyes.
This excellent meal proved that even on regional flights Korean is up the standards of great in-flight cuisine. That, on top the very comfortable Kosmo Sleeper seat (pitching at 60″), made it a memorable experience.
Exploring the 747, in-flight.
As soon as I finished the excellent meal, I went to the main deck to capture in images the different ambiances of this incredible aircraft.
The economy cabin was almost 100% full, whereas the Prestige Class was hardly occupied. The First Class cabin was off-limits for us, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to see it.
A few minutes after I finished touring the 747, we sadly began descending towards ICN. Our route of flight bordered the Japanese coast until it’s southern area, where it took us straight to Seoul.
The pilot announced an on-time arrival and thanked all passengers for choosing Korean Air for their travels to Incheon. Almost as soon as the captain made his announcement, the aircraft began descending elegantly through a thin layer of clouds that covered the eastern region of South Korea. As speed breaks were deployed and our massive airplane began to slow down, the slats and flaps indicated that our pilots were configuring the plane for an imminent arrival into Korea’s most congested airport.
After a few turns, the 747 lined up with the runway and performed an incredibly soft and slow landing. It’s very low load, along with a quite strong head wind, allowed our plane to stop in less than 4,000 feet of runway, applying very little thrust reversers and breaking action. This was one of the most impressive landings I have ever been on. What a way to live my first 747-400 experience!
Once cleared out of the runway, taxiing to the gate took about fifteen minutes. My private flight attendant came to my seat to say goodbye and sadly my experience was officially over. Before the doors were opened, the purser came back to my seat to thank me for flying with them and with their ever present smile, said goodbye in wonderful Korean.
Korean Air has proven to deliver a consistent and quality product in both their A380 and 747-400 aircraft. This consistency has the flight attendants signature all over it, as these fantastic ladies are never seen sitting down in the allies, but always looking out to offer the best possible service to their passengers, always with their signature smile and the most eager attitude one could find anywhere in the world.
The Boeing 747-400 is one of the most spectacular airplanes I have flown. The powerful takeoff out of Sapporo, my private upper deck and it’s amazing flying capabilities, are just some of the facts that will make this an irreplaceable aircraft.
The cabin configuration is exactly the same that KE offers in its other long-haul aircraft, which in my opinion, should be replaced with newer concept premium seats and IFE, all to give its passengers the most up-to-date technology in an airline capable of delivering one of the best services in the aviation industry,
In comparison to the Airbus A380, the most noticeable factor I could come across is the noise level in the cabin of the 747, which is definitely loud enough to have an effect on long-haul flying. Other than this tangible factor, it wouldn’t be fair to compare interiors, as the Airbus is at least twenty years younger than the Queen of the Skies.
Korean Air is among the best airlines in the industry. Consistency and on-time performance are their signature and this is surely enough to place them up the ranks of the industry’s leaders.
Special thanks to Korean Air, who provided the flight at no cost to Airways, and Ashley Chung for their hospitality and for making this report possible.