Asiana Airlines Review: 5 Flights

Asiana Airlines review
Rolling to the gate next to an Asiana 747 at Tokyo Narita.

This just wouldn’t be an Asiana Airlines review without mentioning my breakfast choice: spicy octopus with rice. Yes, this is my kind of airline.

This is just eight hours into my handful of Asiana Airlines flights spanning the Pacific, with shorter flights to Jeju Island and Tokyo. During these five flights, I got to know Asiana pretty well. And I have some impressions to share about how Asiana Airlines scores for international flights. I admit, I have no other Asian airlines to compare it to. But it stacks up well for any airline, winning a number of Skytrax awards over the years. To get much better, you’d have to step up to Emirates business class, which has an impressive reputation with flyers.

1. Let’s loop back to that food. Other meals including a traditional bi bim bap, bulgogi, and tempura chicken and shrimp. Most of the meals included fresh fruit. Hands down, it was the tastiest and healthiest airline food I’ve ever encountered. It easily dethrones the Qantas meals, which were decent but nothing memorable. But I’ll never forget spooning marinated beef, bean paste and rice into a huge lettuce leaf, folding it into a burrito and munching away. I was more than a bit amused that, half the time, the flight attendants didn’t ask if we wanted to the squeeze tubes full of tasty hot chili sauce. They probably hadn’t encountered many Arizonans -- many of us crave spiciness in any form.

The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777, Asiana Airlines review
The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777

2. In-flight entertainment was everything it should be for international flights. I caught up on my silly superhero movies, plus the latest Star Trek. No hiccups from the equipment at all, and it was easy enough to work. I might’ve expected Asian airlines to be even more slick and hi-tech. But it was just solid, no-fuss equipment.

3. The cabins were immaculate whether I was aboard an A320 or a 777. Asiana’s 767s are probably no spring chickens, but they looked great. A question for Asiana – I could’ve sworn our 1:30 flight (Oct. 15) from Narita to Incheon was a 767 configured in 3-3-3 rather than the usual 2-3-2. Was I overdosing on the spicy chili sauce, or is that some unusual 767? Bottom line: Whatever I flew, I have to mention the cleanliness in my Asiana Airlines review.

4. From the check-in counter to the cabin, every Asiana employee was helpful and welcoming – no exceptions. They were all efficiency, and they said everything with a smile. They weren’t quite as jocular as Air New Zealand or Qantas, but who is?

Asiana Airlines review
Dinner is served – bi bim bap! I usually take other travel bloggers to task for posting food photos – but I think this warrants breaking my own rule. I mean, steamed pumpkin, kimchi, fresh veggies … that’s out-of-the-ordinary!

5. There was a bit of weirdness the moment our flight pushed back from the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX on Sept. 30. We’d only moved a few feet when I felt the plane lurch. This led to a few announcements about tire changes, which made us a bit more than two hours late. I didn’t mind, even though international flights are long enough with no delays. I took advantage of the time to read and doze. I’m really curious about what it takes to change tires on a 777 at the gate. Kind of cool, really! Oh, and props to my mostly Korean fellow passengers. They took the delay announcements in stride. Does this cost Asiana Airlines review points? Not really. They seemed to make the time up in the air. And really, we still arrived in the early morning hours.

6. There are only two things that prevent me from flying Asiana Airlines every chance I get: First, Seoul is its only hub. Second, I always love trying a carrier based in the country I’m visiting. So if I go to another Asian country, I’d want to fly some different Asian airlines just to sample its airborne culture. Asiana’s competitive fares and excellent in-flight service would give me second thoughts about booking on another airline if it’s possible to use them, though. A follow-up Asiana Airlines review would also be interesting.

Asiana Airlines review
Our ride … with all the sweet hook-ups.

7. Something else odd – most of our international flights were only about 75 percent full. The busiest ones were the flights to and from Tokyo. But the trans-Pacific flights had plenty of empty seats. That’s very nice, of course, since it gave Sarah and I some room to stretch out.

8. In one way, Asiana Airlines might learn from fellow Asian airlines JAL and ANA: Both these Japanese airlines sell small trinkets with their logos on them at Narita. Asiana should do the same at Seoul. I would definitely add an Asiana t-shirt to my collection of airline stuff – if one was available.

I can honestly say that Asiana deserves its Skytrax Airline of the Year award for 2010. I always insist that getting there is part of the fun, and that my vacation truly starts when I step aboard the plane for international flights. Asiana did everything right and put the Republic of Korea’s best foot forward. Maybe next time, I’ll get to try some other Asian airlines, too.

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High School Reunion, Tokyo Style

David Zee Frenchman and Wandering Justin in Tokyo, catching up on nearly 20 years.

I have a lot to say about my trip to the Republic of Korean and Japan – including hikes, cityscapes, people and a whopping dose of enlightenment.

For now, though, here’s my major highlight – a reunion with a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 19 years. Davíd (aka Zee Frenchman), myself and Farhad – whose parents are from Iran – were pretty much Larry, Moe and Curly … though we had an occasional Shemp and Joe along. Throughout my junior and senior years of high school, we ate lunch, went bowling and engaged in fun verbal fisticuffs. By the time Davíd returned to France (after nearly being my college roommate), I felt like part of his family. Farhad actually did join me for a year in the ASU dorms.

I found Davíd online a few years ago and we had some sporadic contact. Just weeks before our trip, Sarah said “hey, isn’t The Frenchman in Tokyo?” YES! The light bulb went off, and I sent messages to not only his last-known email address, but his sister’s, too. It so happened that I sent it to one of those addresses people have and rarely check (I’m also guilty). By a stroke of luck, he happened to check it. And the reunion was on!

When we checked into the Sakura Hotel near Jimbocho Station, one of the managers came out and informed “Sarah-san” that a friend was looking for us. Moments later, David was there. Sarah returned from a quick freshen-up to find us about to dive into iced coffees before heading out on a quick jaunt of Tokyo sites.

Farhad, David Zee Frenchman and Wandering Justin circa 1992. NOTE: My mullet is hidden as a ponytail in this shot.

Even after nearly 20 years, the rapport was still there – the jokes, the banter … but we also mined a thread of serious conversation as the day went from Electric Town to dinner with his wife, Mika (who makes one nice couscous!). We discovered a similar political  direction and outlook on life, and I spied more than a few items on his book shelf that any visitor would also find on mine. Of course, he’s still a Magic: The Gathering-playing nerd!

Through it all, Sarah-san enjoyed a nice screen of two six-foot-two-plus gaijin trying to clear a path for her on the crowded Tokyo streets.

The sights and sounds themselves were something to behold. But even better? Having an old friend leading the way, reminding me of crazy things I said earlier in my life and forgotten (believe me, I returned the favor).

We ended the reunion at TY Harbor Brewing Company a few nights later, with Davíd treating us to some Japanese craft brew and tasty vittles. I look forward to welcoming him back to the States sometime to reconnect him to the rest of the old high school crew and to introduce him to some new friends (Beware, Stacy … your reputation precedes you).

Ten Days of Transportation

Since I left on Sept. 29, I have sampled all sorts of travel. A brief so-far recap:

-1 leg on US Airways

-3 legs on Asiana Airlines

-1 leg on Air Busan

-1 leg on the KTX high-speed train from Busan to Seoul

-A nice little boat tour of Busan

-Too many taxi and subway trips to count

I’ll have lots to say about all this – and some photos. Quick thoughts:

-Asiana Airlines deserves its Skytrax awards

-The Busan metro system rocks my socks off

-The KTX is ludicrously cool. It is a jolt of high voltage frankensteining my inner train-loving 3-year-old boy back to life.

Travel Writer Annoyances – Haggling Abroad

I don’t fly 7,500 miles to haggle in a fish market. Apparently, that’s a highlight of any trip if you happen to write  Frommer’s travel guides. At least that’s what I can infer from my Frommer’s South Korea travel guide.

I guess the writers think this all somehow makes them more worldly, this process of saving a few won on a kilo of mandarins or a dried hunk of squid. It’s literally nothing to the bank account, a dollar here and there. But these travel writers make it sound like it makes them plugged in.

Oh, please. I’ll bet they turn to jellyfish when faced with a real haggling challenge. So here’s a word for you Frommer’s/Lonely Planet/Insight guide types: Save your haggling “skills” for a worthwhile opponent who really is sucking undeserved money out of your pockets … someone like the finance manager at your car dealership.

That’s right – stand up to those characters. Show your steely-eyed bargaining prowess when it counts. Do your homework. Come prepared. Rebuff questions like “what do you want to pay a month?”. Say no to inflated destination charges. Don’t let anyone get away with running a credit check when you have your own financing lined up. That’s where you’ll save enough to finance at least part of your next trip if you really know how to drive a hard bargain.

But seriously – lay off the little old ladies trying to make a living. Shell out your 3,000 won. Take your bag of mandarins. Enjoy the Vitamin C. And maybe drop in and comment about why you take such pleasure in putting the screws to someone for a slightly better deal on a bucketful of fish parts/vegetables/knick-knacks. ‘Cause I can’t figure it out.