Is Korean Air’s prestige class worth every penny?
By Kim Da-ye
The global financial crisis in 2008 changed the way a lot of businessmen travel. A large portion of those who could fly business class for a long-haul flight now sit squeezed into economy class.
So when it comes to paying more than four times as much as for an economy class seat, business travelers ― or their employers ― wonder if it is really worth the money.
For Korean Air’s newly renovated “prestige class,” that’s a mixed story. This reporter tried the prestige class on a 10 hour and 30 minute journey to the U.S. and a 13-hour one from the U.S.
The core ― and the best ― part of the so-called “prestige” class is the seat that transforms into a bed.
On the arm rest is a cluster of buttons that change the seat to a beach-bed shape and then to a flat bed. You can also adjust the angle of the headrest and the footrest electronically.
The bed is great, but could improve further because it is slightly tilted downward and a long sleep could cause the passenger’s back to hurt. Korean Air has actually begun upgrading this Prestige Plus seat to the Prestige Sleeper seat which becomes fully flat.
The seat comes with a socket fitting various types of plugs as well as two USB ports. This is useful for businessmen who need to work on laptops throughout a long-haul flight.
However, iPhones and iPads do not get charged on those ports, so if you plan to recharge your smart devices on board, make sure to bring an adapter.
This reporter also liked the travel kit provided to business class passengers. It includes a fine toothbrush, a comb, eyeshade, facial cream, eye gel and a lip balm. The last three are by Davi, a luxury skincare brand created by a Napa Valley vineyard owner.
The brand isn’t familiar, but must be aiming at big spenders, considering that a 60ml jar of the cream sells for $120 on Korean Air’s on-board duty-free shop.
Business class meals provided during the flight to the U.S. met expectations while those on the return trip were mediocre. A Korean miso soup served for breakfast was exceptional with its abundance of fresh seafood including scallops, crab, prawns and small octopus.
Needless to say, the other big advantages business class passengers enjoy is that they check-in at a separate counter, receive more mileage, carry larger baggage, use the lounge at the airport, board the plane before economy class passengers do and use separate toilets.
The toilets didn’t differ much from those in economy class except for the provision of body lotion from natural skincare maker Jurlique.
The rest depended on the cabin crew. The already nice Korean Air flight attendants were even nicer to business class customers.
They would hang passengers’ coats upon boarding the plane, greet each of them, take away plates as soon as passengers finished their meals and wipe the toilets each time a passenger used it.
On the way to the U.S., however, the cabin crew served the dinner late at night at a painfully slow pace. Checking each wine glass for stains left this reporter starving.
All in all, is it really worth to pay over 5 million won exclusive of taxes for a prestige class seat rather than some 1 million won for an economy class seat?
The seat that transforms into a bed does make a difference, but the rest does not because economy class has also improved significantly.
The “New Economy” class has slimmer seats that results in a larger space between seats. The upgraded seats also come with 10.6-inch high resolution LCD screens while the audio and video on demand system, and the choice of movies and other entertainment programs are identical for both economy and business classes.
The renovated seat also comes with a USB port and a jacket hanger. Some advanced aircraft models even come with power outlets that allow passengers use their laptops.
Furthermore, Korean Air’s flight attendants are known for their high standard of services anyway, and the airline’s signature dish, bibimbap, does not differ much between the two different classes. The classic Korean rice and mixed vegetable dish in prestige class is nicely presented on ceramic ware, but doesn’t taste a whole lot better than its economic counterpart. In business class, instant noodle is also served in ceramic ware with assorted pickles.
Ask yourself a simple question. Do you want to pay an extra 4 million won for a good sleep and a nice environment to work in? Of course, for some, the exclusivity of business class may be just priceless.