Thursday, November 22, 2012

New Zealand 2012 - Part 1: Asiana LAX to ICN

Part 1:  Asiana Airlines First Class – Los Angeles to Seoul
Part 2:  Asiana Airlines BusinessClass – Seoul to Sydney
Part 3:  Air New Zealand EconomyClass – Sydney to Auckland to Christchurch
Part 4:  Winetasting in Waipara
Part 5:  Exploring Christchurch
Part 6:  Air New Zealand EconomyClass – Christchurch to Queenstown
Part 7:  Winetasting in Otago
Part 8:  Exploring Queenstown
Part 9:  Hilton Queenstown
Part 10:  Overnight in Sydney
Part 11:  Singapore AirlinesFirst Class – Sydney to Singapore
Part 12:  Singapore Airlines First Class – Singapore to San Francisco

The idea for this trip to New Zealand coalesced when Singapore Airlines was conducting maintenance on their reservation system over a weekend which enabled frequent fliers to finally book premier cabins on the airline which regularly does not happen.  It took me several minutes of looking online for some award redemption opportunities that weekend and I was able to not only get flights booked into Singapore first class, but also into Asiana’s first class – arguably two of the best first class experiences in the flying community.  I was only able to get the initial awards to Sydney and back due to routing rules of US Air’s mileage redemption, but I was then able to use one-way reward tickets with United miles to complete the rest of my journey to the south island of New Zealand. 

Although it was stressful completing all the work I needed to do before I headed up to LAX, it was extremely nice to know I would be away for a while to rejuvenate.   The SuperShuttle arrived promptly at my house just before 8am and soon I was off to LAX for an 11:50am departure.  The other passengers on the shuttle were a family of six all headed to Hawaii for their Thanksgiving break.  They were dropped off first at Terminal 2 and then it was my turn to head into the Tom Bradley International Terminal – almost 3 hours before my flight was going to leave. 

The check-in process was quick and efficient and soon I was going through security (too bad they don’t have Pre-Check here) and up to the Star Alliance Lounge.  I wrote about the lounge in previous blogs so I will spare the details other than to say that they served a very good pasta e fagioli.  I pre-hydrated with several bottles of water and headed down to my gate, arriving just as boarding commenced. 

This Asiana flight was on one of their 747-400s and the first class cabin is in the nose of the plane.  I showed my boarding pass to the flight attendant greeting everyone at the door and was directed across the plane and to the left towards seat 2K.  These first class seats are mini-suites, angle slightly towards the window and raised video monitor.  The angle of the seat combined with the narrowing of the plane’s nose provided great views out the windows on taxi and take-off.  The crew had already left a pillow, blanket, headphones, and amenity kit on the seat.  Only four of the ten seats were occupied today.  


After I reached my seat one of the two flight attendants working the cabin introduced herself and offered something to drink.  Unfortunately, LAX won’t let them serve alcohol on the ground so I settled for water.  I was also offered hot nuts which were served directly into a ramekin at my seat.  She also took my roll aboard carry-on bag and placed it in the front closest as the overhead bins are small and barely fit my backpack.  Pajamas were provided which I changed into quickly.  The design and color blended in with the cabin interior which wasn’t a positive in my mind.  Plus, the XL was even a bit small for me.  They also didn’t start the In-Flight Entertainment while on the ground which I disliked.  The doors to the aircraft were closed on time and we began to taxi out to the south runway and quickly took off climbing slowly out of LAX airspace before making a turn north and heading up the CA coast.


One of the best parts of Asiana’s first class is the service that is provided by the flight attendants.  You are always addressed as Mr. X or Ms. Y and just before the safety briefing was shown, they stood in the front of the cabin and bowed.  Each time they would bring something to your seat for you, it was offered on a silver tray.  They insisted you tried the wine before pouring a full glass and would apologize profusely if a drop landed outside the glass or if the bread wasn’t placed properly on a plate.  Every item was meticulously places on the tray table, in the right order, facing the right direction – a very different experience from American carriers.

The IFE started once you could activate electronic devices.  The selection of movies and television shows was very good although the interface was terrible.  You either had to lean forward and touch the screen or use the cursor wheel on the remote which would slowly move a mouse icon around the screen.  There are many ways they could simplify this effort.  For the first part of the flight I watched the Avengers. 

The flight menu and wine list were handed out by the purser and drink service immediately followed.  I started off with the Meursault as I reviewed the dinner options. 

The dinner services started off with the place setting, including a small bottle of oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.  The breadbasket was offered next and I selected some garlic bread and rolls.  The appetizers included three different plates.  The first was a small bite duo of smoked salmon on toast with some fish eggs, and a cured beef wrapped around asparagus.  The salmon was blah and I didn’t get much flavor from the beef, more salt though.  The strip of Parmesan cheese on the plate was pretty tasty.


Caviar was up next and they included blinis in addition to the toast and typical fixings.  They also serve the caviar in an individual container for each person rather than plating it for you. 


The final starter (not pictured – I always miss at least one course) included slices of scallop over a quinoa salad and pumpkin reduction.  This dish was actually pretty tasty despite the scallops which I’m not a fan of. 

The soup course followed with a very delicious carrot soup.  It was creamy, flavorful, and the bits of chopped scallions added the slightest crunch.  I would’ve had seconds if offered. 


The salad was next in a balsamic dressing.  The salad was good but it would’ve been much better without all of the fancy lettuces included.  Plus, there were large leaves on the bottom of the bowl you had to cut prior to eating the salad. 


Finally, after all that food the main course came along.  I selected the beef tenderloin and was asked how I wanted it cooked.  I’ve never had that asked before on a plane.  I asked for the steak medium and it came out that way – the best beef I’ve ever had on an airplane.  The broccoli puree was also very tasty although I would’ve preferred a silkier texture as it still had a few bits in it.  I had a glass of the Chateau Gruaud Larose with the meat.


A pre-dessert selection of cheese, veggies, and fruit was next on the menu, and then it was finally onto dessert which was a chocolate mousse “cake” with vanilla cream.   And to cap off the dessert, I had a couple glasses of the Jackson-Triggs Ice Wine.


After finishing dinner and the Avengers I asked for turn down service at my seat.  The flights attendants quickly put my seat in the fully flat position, laid down a mattress pad and blanket and let me slide into the seat.  While the service and food were great, the seat is where issues arise.  It is an older design and does not have the same amount of comfort as the newest Lufthansa seats or even newer United BusinessFirst seats.  I could easily stretch all the way out with a couple inches to spare and could also sleep on my side without difficulty.  One problem every airline seems to have is that the cabin gets incredible hot for me and I have trouble sleeping.  Even after the crew is asked to lower the temperature it doesn’t help.  I was able to get about 4 hours of sleep before waking up and playing a few games on my phone.  I was able to fall back asleep again for an hour or so before the arrival meal was served.

The lights in the cabin were turned back on and the flight attendants passed out hot towels and set our seat tables again.  We would be having a late lunch as our arrival time into Seoul was in the late afternoon.  This meal was smaller than the first thankfully with just three courses starting off with a marinated shrimp salad – not my favorite. 


The main course was very, very good.  The pork was cooked perfectly and the cilantro butter infused a tremendous amount of flavor in the meat.  The best part of the dish though was the cornbread – buttery and delicious.  I want the recipe. 


Dessert was a fruit tart which was ok.  The chocolate mousse was much better. 


Another unique aspect of Asiana airlines is that they provide a gift as a thank you.  I had the option of a scented candle or a CD of a young pianist.  I went with the CD as it is much easier to get into my carry on bags.    I won’t be able to listen to see if it is any good until I return to CA. 

We headed into ICN from the southeast and had a slight delay due to airport traffic.  After landing it was a short taxi to the gate and soon we were exiting the plane with a bow and thank you.  I headed through the transit security point which was painless compared to US practice and headed to the Asiana Lounge which was on the upper level of the terminal.  The lounge was fairly crowded and had a decent amount of noise throughout.  I did check out the food options available and there were several hot and cold foods available although I couldn’t eat after my last flight and knowing I had another meal coming up in a couple hours.

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