Korean Airlines Review: Is Korean Air the Best Airlines?

Korean Airlines review flight attendants
Korean Airlines review: flight attendants & hospitality


I’m sharing my Korean Airlines review of my economy class experience traveling Asia.

With some airlines, you have bad days.  Maybe you’ve got a grumpy flight attendant flashing attitude or you’re matched with a smaller domestic flight with lousy seating and lame food choices.  But whenever I’ve flown with Korean Airlines, I’ve had a consistently same experience– impeccable. I’m not saying Korean Air will never have a bad flight, but so far I’ve not experienced anything bad enough to change my feelings about flying with them.

My first impression of Korean Airlines as the Best Airlines of Asia

I first flew with Korean Airlines during Chuseok, while living and teaching English in Korea in 2010.  I thought my vacation in Jeju Island was set when I booked my flight. But Korean workplace schedules can change at the last minute. I needed to change my flight dates and when I requested the change, it was easily done with NO change fee– I would only need to pay the fare difference. This was a time when U.S. airlines had instilled baggage and change fees and neither felt cheap. It started this thing with me that as long as I booked with Korean Airlines my flight dates had flexibility should I need. For that reason, Korean Air became my best economy airlines and best airlines, period .

Recently I flew with Korean Air from Honolulu to Colombo with a layover in Incheon Airport Terminal 2.  The first leg was from Honolulu to Seoul — a whopping 9.5 hours. My second flight from Seoul to Sri Lanka, was approximately 11+ hours.  Both were long haul flights and I was glad to be flying with Korean Airlines.

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 Read Things you MUST KNOW about Layovers & Connecting Flights
Incheon Airport Terminal 2
Incheon Airport Terminal 2

 Korean Airlines Review: Is Korean Air the Best Airlines of Asia?

I’ve flown a gamut of premium carriers like Japan Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Asiana Airlines from Hawaii -where I’m based- to Asia. Of those, Asiana Airlines (and maybe Japan Air) comes close to matching Korean Airlines in price, hospitality and value. As a premium carrier, Korean Air is not always known for its budget prices, however, there are times their prices drop to entertain budget travelers. I’ve definitely flown with them more times than any other carrier in its league.

Korean culture is strong in hospitality and this is where I feel Korean Airlines surpass other airlines carriers.  The Korean way of dealing with annoying or reactive customer situations is very Confucian, like the values of their culture- the client is always right and emotional balance is preferred, giving way to a high standard quality and convenience.

Flight attendants adopt a neutral but pleasant demeanor, which means you won’t get toothy smiles or a casual joking nature from them but you will get a “country of the Morning Calm” politeness and welcoming hospitality.  I have never seen a grumpy or reactive Korean Air flight attendant displaying that they are having a bad day.

The visual design elements of the Korean Air branding is both calming and soothing. Flight attendants are tightly uniformed and groomed in calming colors of turquoise, white and tan.  Short hair can be worn down, while long hair must be put up in a bun. Skin complexion is light and bright (easily remedied with Korean BB cream– I’ve gotten a Michael Jackson glows on my ruddy complexion and I still use them). Female attendants wear a tailored pencil skirt with a lovely hair ornament which hints of modern sophistication while echoing back to tradition. The entire aesthetic and lets you know that professionalism is taken seriously. It reminds you of older days when flight attendants wore tailored uniforms, which perpetuated glamorous values, which made being a flight attendant a popularized status as air models.  Read tips on Korean etiquette and culture

11 Reasons why Korean Airlines is best airline for economy travel in Asia

China Airlines and Asiana Airlines have a pretty darned smooth economy experiences if you’re traveling Asia.  Emirates Airlines economy will make you feel luxurious if you’ve booked your flight on an Airbus going to the Middle East! Turkish Airlines economy was only really great when I had a super long layover and wanted the free transit hotel (read for more on free transit hotels).

Where does Korean Airlines economy class stand in comparison?

1. Airbus experience: What type of plane does Korean Air fly?

The Korean Airlines fleet uses an Airbus A330-200. It is a wide body plane with USB charging ports and a 110V electrical outlet in First and Envoy. No 110V outlet in economy class though (bummers, right?)

The Airbus experience isin my opinion– the aircraft you want to keep your eye on, even if you are flying on other carriers, because it means S P A C E and it’s a natural upgrade if you’re sitting in economy class seats.

Wider seats, a bit more legroom. I booked an Airbus flight on the princely Qatar Airlines and they changed the aircraft at the last minute and the seats were cramped as sh**, making it a horrible long haul flight for me.

2. Seat Comfort & Leg Room on Korean Air

Seats are comfortable and spacious. At 5’8″, my knees felt like they had at the very least, six inches or more of space before hitting the seat back in front of me. The seats were wide and there was a lot of leg room for me to stretch out and wiggle in despite the fact I had my carry-on between my feet. Even if you’re in the back row, there is space to comfortably recline.

korean airlines seat review 2
korean airlines seat review 2
korean airlines seat review leg room
korean airlines seat Airbus review leg room: That’s a lot of room: see how far the front seat is from my seat

3. Korean Airlines In-flight Entertainment

You get your own entertainment system console with USB charging port. Complimentary headphones come with a newly packaged ear cover for sanitation. This means you’re not sharing earwax with someone. Interestingly, my entertainment system only allowed me to choose between Korean and French, but I am not sure if this was a momentary bug or something they switched onboard later, as I did not have a problem watching Hollywood movies spoken in English nor did I find a problem with navigating.

4. Korean Air Hospitality

You will get enough water and snacks onboard and if you are traveling with a baby, not only do they have a fold down crib seat for a mother to take rest, but I’ve also seen them bring a gift bag of organic baby food for the baby. Shocking to say the least! I wished I were a baby just to sample the quality of that baby food.

5. Korean Airlines Food & In-flight Meal Menu

My favorite part of flying Korean Airlines is its food. You will largely get Korean food. But if you’ve never tried Korean food, do not worry.  As a once expat living in Korea, I’ve not known a fellow newbie foreigner to not like Korean food. It’s highly flavorful and pleasant. For the foreign traveler who has never tried Korean food and does not know if they will like it, the easiest thing is to order the Bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish with rice, veggies, soy oil, sesame seeds, beef (vegetarians can pick this out– that is what I do) and it comes with a gochujang paste. Bibimbap is a special dish which must be mixed together so they give you instructions on how to mix it- it’s really a cute touch.  Or you can watch my Korean Airlines video review at the bottom of this post. Some lovers of Asian and Korean food will actually save this bottle of paste because it is very tasty and flavors other foods and rice.  The meal also came with seaweed soup and fruits.

Korean food also comes with banchan or sides of pickled veggies. Again, it is highly flavorful. This was also the first meal of two major meals and one breakfast snack.

Ordinarily, Korean food tends to be spicy– very spicy– but Koreans tend to understand foreigners may not appreciate that palate so the food are modified for foreign taste buds.

korean airlines food review
korean airlines food review
Read Survival Tips for Vegetarian Travelers

6. Korean Air In-Flight Hospitality Goodies

Korean Air offers an in-flight hospitality bag for all passengers. Economy class passengers get disposable flight slippers in a plastic reusable pouch and Jeju Pure water bottle (Jeju Island is said to have good water).

korean airlines hospitality bag review
korean airlines hospitality bag review

7. Checked Baggage & Carry On Fees

If you’re flying Economy class the good news is that you are allowed one checked baggage and one carry-on (plus one personal article). If you wanted to travel with your pet as carry-on baggage, you would pay a $200 USD fee. For specific baggage fees, check here.

8. Free cup of noodles

One thing I didn’t know about but I’ve just heard from someone else that Korean Air does is they give you cup of noodles if you ask for it! Test that out and let a grrrl know!

9. Free City Tour for Layovers

Korean Airlines partners with Incheon Airport and Korea Tourism to offer guests the option to take a free/inexpensive city tour. There is a schedule of times and you’d apply at one of their kiosks. You can read more about it on my free city tour guide.

Read My guide to surviving layovers & how to maximize them

10. The Korean Airlines hub is Incheon Airport

What partially aids Korean Airlines in being the best airlines of Asia is that its airport headquarters is Incheon International Airport.  When I see Incheon Airport on my flight itinerary as a layover, I say Bring it!  and maximize my layover to visit Seoul

Incheon Airport is one of my favorite airports to experience a layover in due to food, shopping, airport entertainment (they have sleeping pods, a virtual game room, a jjimjilbang or Korean spa and free showers in Terminal 2), inexpensive and direct public transportation to Seoul, and free to inexpensive city tours for long layovers.

I had a decent layover in Incheon Airport Terminal 2. Enough to tour Terminal 2 (watch my video below), film a 7 Eleven food haul video and take a free shower (ps unfortunately, you need to provide your own towels)!


See my list of airport with sleeping pods

11. Korean Airlines is part of the SkyTeam Alliance

If you’re traveling to Asia a fair bit, then Korean Air rewards program merges with SkyTeam Alliance. So carriers like Delta, China Eastern Air, China Airlines are regular faces to Asia. This means reward points can be shifted to aid a free flight with Korean Air or one of its partners.

1 Thing to Dislike about Korean Airlines

Honestly, I find it hard to dislike Korean Airlines when hospitality and incentivized “gifting” is part of their cultural ethos. In Korean culture, they reward you for your loyalty by giving complementary service and products, so you keep coming back. Korean Air sorta adopts a similar policy.

1. Ticketing Fees for Changes

If I really had to nitpick, I’d say the only thing I might not like about them is that they now charge fees for ticket changes. Before, it was free to make changes, so if anything happened in schedule plans, you could easily change your schedule with no questions asked. You would simply pay the difference in fare. Today, there is a ticketing fee for changes:

Economy Class: USD  50-100 based on applicable fare rules.

First/Prestige Class: Complimentary or between USD  50-150 based on applicable fare rules.

Okay, now seriously, a lot of U.S. air carriers charge as much if not more, so even this fee for Economy Class is not a deal breaker for me.

Watch video: Korean Airlines review + Incheon Airport Terminal 2


Planning a trip to Korea? Here’s posts you may like:

Essential travel tips for Seoul

Things you MUST Buy in Korea

Should you Rent a Phone or Buy a Korean SIM

Other Airlines Reviews

Turkish Airlines: Is Economy worthwhile on a long haul flight?

Getting a Turkish Airlines free transit hotel

China Eastern Airlines: The best budget airlines ?

Emirates Airlines:

korean airlines review the best airlines in the world
korean airlines review the best airlines in the world

korean airlines economy class review

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