Korean Air was established by the government in 1962 with ownership passing to the Hanjin Group in 1969. Hanjin has overseen the steady growth of the airline and today Korean Air is one of the 20 largest airlines in the world linking all continents with Incheon Seoul, Korea’s ultra modern and efficient international gateway. The airline suffered a string of incidents including the infamous loss of a 747 originating from New York to Soviet jets in 1983. The airline has greatly improved its attitude to safety and operated without significant incident since 1999. Korean Air is the second largest member of Sky Team. Seoul’s proximity to its unpredictable neighbour North Korea means Korean Air flights quickly avoid border areas after takeoff to escape the North’s airspace. To compete with Korea’s high speed railways Korean Air launched Jin Air, a low cost subsidiary in 2007. Korean Air also operates an extensive, and profitable, airfreight subsidiary.
Korean Air flight crews are immaculately attired in one of the most fashionable uniforms in the sky. Most flight attendants look like they have just stepped off the Red Carpet at Milan’s Fashion Week. Miraculously female flight attendants maintain their perfect hair-do’s throughout long flights without a strand out of place. Crew are efficient, smiling, multilingual and no gossiping can be detected from the galley. Crew and service is faultlessly professional in all classes and a drinks top up does not result in a scowl.
Domestic air travel within South Korea is practically unnecessary thanks to their brilliant train service, however Korean Air have an extensive network. Surprisingly Korean Air offer some of the best connections of any airlines on some international unlikely routes. For example Tashkent to Los Angeles or Atlanta to Melbourne are best served by Korean Air. In Europe their service to Prague offers central Europeans the best link to the Asia and the Pacific. The airline also offers convenient links to several Russian cities and their China network is extremely comprehensive. Stopovers in Seoul are seamless and hassle free.
Korean Air is a competitively priced airline in all classes. In fact their premium classes can be cheap when compared to others and comes as a surprise to first time travellers. The airline is ruthlessly efficient, obsessed with punctuality, generous with baggage so is an overall value for money product.
Flights typically provide a choice between Korean meals and Western meals. Western passengers should try the Korean offerings which are very good and may prove quite novel. The Western choices are generally standard airline fare that is not particularly memorable. Serving sizes are moderate. Business and First Class catering is excellent.
Korean Air has one of the most readable magazines in the sky. Articles are genuinely interesting and researched think pieces worthy of a newsstand publication. The entertainment system is standard back of seat video movies and programmes together with a selection of audio choices. The airline is in the process of improving their entertainment service. Their system will break the boredom of a long flight and little else.
It is no exaggeration to say that Korean Air provide perhaps the best ground service of any airline (together with its other Korean competitor Asiana). Each flight is researched and ground crew know the passengers they are expecting. Each frequent flyer’s needs are specifically met and every legitimate complaint is treated seriously. Check in times are short and Korea’s airports work like clockwork. Baggage services are similarly close to perfect and if something does go wrong it is unlikely to be Korean Air’s fault but more likely a contracted third party. Korean Air also keeps a close eye on their contractors and request them to lift their game. Upgrades are done strictly according to company policy.
Korean Air offers their premium passengers a very good product which they appreciate by repeat patronage. Aircraft interiors and seat configuration is spacious, sophisticated and soothing at the same time, but not exactly luxurious. Korean Air lounges are immaculate and sophisticated and in remote airports where they don’t have their own, they typically use the very best available. The airline definitely prioritises its frequent flyers.
A Korean Air flight in Economy is a pleasant experience. Crew are attractive and provide something nice to look at, seats are comfortable, entertainment and meals are fine and baggage handling is efficient and generous. Because flight connections are so exact and the airline is so reliable Economy passengers benefit too. Flights are typically predominately Korean nationals, who are quiet and reserved. It is unlikely there will be noisy beer drinking backpackers annoying everyone else on board.
Korean Air has the perfect frequent flyer programme. Each boarding card shows the number of flights members have taken and how many Miles they’ve flown. 1 million Mile members exist and are recognised. The airline’s Skypass loyalty programme is as appreciated for the status is attributes to higher tier members as are the points flights earn. Individual points are worth little so only regular travellers will benefit. Their scheme is partnered to the other Sky Team airlines and other travel service providers. Upgrades and redemption flights are handled efficiently.
Korean Air sets extremely high standards for its entire staff, including its managers. While most airline staff executives around the world have an exaggerated view of their own worth and seldom have to bear responsibility for their own failings, Korean Air is not like that. Failure and incompetence are not tolerated and heads roll when performances are not met. Head Office keep a close eye on operations everywhere in their network and are as strict on themselves as their employees. Staff relations seem to be good and workers are generally proud to be wearing a Korean Air uniform.
Until 1999 the airline had a dismal safety record; a combination of pilot error, terrorist attacks, aircraft maintenance related issues and factors beyond their control. Korean Air has definitely lifted its game and is comparable to the best. Korean Air’s pilot errors have been blamed on former Air Force pilots they recruited being too exuberant. Korean Air takes security seriously and remains suspicious of North Korean agents who downed a flight in 1987.
Korean Air is a modern, efficient and pleasant airline to fly providing excellent service.
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