After a quick hotel check-out and a brisk walk to Seoul Station, I made it in time to catch the next departing AREX "Commuter" train. It's way cheaper (3,850 won) than the faster "Express" (8,000 won) and given the 10-minute difference only, I don't see the need to shell out more money. Fifty three minutes later, I was entering Incheon International Airport, recently proclaimed as the "2012 World's Best Airport" according to both Skytrax and Airports Council International.
Indeed, some airports have evolved from being merely transit points to being veritable destinations on their own. Singapore's Changi (Terminal 3 especially) bowled me over as do Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok and Canada's Vancouver International Airport. While I only had 2 hours to experience South Korea's main airport, I was duly impressed by the cutting-edge facilities and technology in use. Since I was on a layover, I didn't have to check in. My boarding pass had already been issued in Singapore.
Lounge - There are English signages all over so it wasn't rocket science figuring out where the lounge was. It involved going up a flight of escalator and through a walkway just above the shopping arcade. Friendly Asiana ground agents ushered me in. The lounge has panoramic views outside. There's a decent amount of seating even on a busy morning. Bookshelves on either side and a grand piano give it a homey feeling.
|Asiana Airlines Business Class Lounge|
The buffet station had some warm breakfast items but I wasn't hungry. A cup of cappuccino was all I had as I sat on one of the bar stools facing the tarmac. Wifi is complimentary. There are showers and even "sleeping rooms" (if only the lounge is open 24 hours, perhaps I might have considered sleeping there).
Boarding - Even before the flight was called, I left the lounge and walk about 10 minutes to the gate, excited at the thought of flying another airline for the first time. Economy class passengers have already made a queue in anticipation of a lengthy boarding process. First Class & Business Class passengers had a separate line.
This being a US-bound flight, there were stringent passport checks and secondary carry-on inspection right before heading to the plane - a Boeing 777-200ER. A purser and a flight attendant warmly greeted me and promptly directed me to my cabin.
|My seat at 6A|
|Business Class cabin|
The Seat - Asiana Airlines is in the process of upgrading its Business Class cabins. Unfortunately, those planes that have already been fitted with the new seats haven't served New York as yet. On this flight, the 'old' pod-style seats were still in use. I was seated on 6A. It may have obvious signs of wear and tear but still very functional even when converted into angled lie-flat for sleeping.
There's a 15-inch personal TV with AVOD (which I find later on lacks the punch of the more entertaining offers found in Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Singapore Airlines). Drinks and hot towels were handed out as my seat mate settled in. Amenity kits and menu cards were distributed as well. I love wearing slippers on long flights (I usually bring my own) and I'm glad Asiana provides them on their premium cabins.
The Flight - After all ground formalities have been completed, the flight left as scheduled for the 14-hour journey to New York. In-flight service began as soon as we were in cruising altitude. This being essentially a day flight, we were being served lunch and then breakfast 2 hours before landing.
Having not eaten anything Korean during my overnight stay in Seoul, I vowed to eat any Korean dish up in the air. Thankfully, Asiana menu was offering "Western" and "Korean" lunch entrees. I chose "Ssambap" which I honestly didn't have any knowledge about until I read the menu - "steamed rice topped with grilled Bulgogi beef and bean paste, wrapped in various kinds of leafy vegetables". There was even an instruction on how to eat it.
|starter: Tomato Olive Tortellini with Crispy Bacon|
|starter: Eggplant Roll with Soybean Paste Sauce|
|soup: Butternut Pumpkin Veloute with Ginger Compote & Asparagus|
|main course: Ssambap|
|dessert: fruit slices & Korean Court Cake 'Kkultarae'|
|snack: ramen noodle|
|breakfast starter: fruit slices|
|main course: Seafood Crepe|
The Arrival - As it happens with East-bound flights from North Asia, I find it weird arriving into New York almost at the same time as we have departed. We left 10:30am Sunday and arrived 11:00 Sunday - the very same day. Even weirder last year, I left Tokyo at 6:50am and arrived in New York at 5:35am - also the very same day. Nevertheless, I'm always happy when flights arrive safely. After flying a total of 20,751 miles on this trip, I'm finally back to where it began.