- I flew Korean Air’s Airbus A380 on a 14 and a half hour flight from New York City to Seoul, South Korea.
- The A380 is beloved by passengers and aviation enthusiasts but has been rejected by airlines due to its expensive operating costs. Airbus will stop producing the plane in 2021.
- I had a fantastic flight on Korean Air’s Airbus A380, with exceptional food, comfortable environment, and a bit of drama that comes from flying in the world’s largest passenger jet.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I booked the longest flight I have ever taken just three days before take-off.
The Friday before my Air China flight to Seoul, South Korea was set to depart, Air China alerted passengers that certain flights were eligible for a full refund due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. My Monday flight was on the refund list.
I was ready to double down on the Air China flight – which I had originally booked for just $US415 – until a coworker told me that there was a direct flight to Seoul on Korean Air available for $US668. It was on the Airbus A380 superjumbo jet, the largest passenger plane in the world.
The Airbus A380 has been largely rejected by the airlines, due to its expensive operating costs. Airbus struggled to sell the massive, expensive plane for years until finally surrendering with an announcement last year that it would stop making the A380 in 2021.
However, my more aviation-obsessed friends promised that the A380 was actually a treat, with two levels of seating, an onboard duty-free store, and a bar for prestige-class flyers. I decided to take their advice, and got a full refund on the Air China flight and booked the Korean Air flight aboard the Airbus A380, swapping a layover in Shanghai for a 14 hour and 25-minute direct flight to Seoul.
Previously, the longest flights I had taken were a bit over 13 hours, so I was slightly nervous about the long solo voyage. However, there was no need to worry – the A380 was a delight, even in economy. In fact, instead of leaving the flight desperate to be on solid ground, I would have been happy to spend a bit more time exploring the massive plane.
Here is what it was like to fly in the largest passenger jet for 14 and a half hours.
I arrived at JFK Airport a little after 8:30 am for my noon flight. I took the subway in from my apartment in Brooklyn, and actually made better time than I had expected.
I had booked the flight through Delta and checked in at the Korean Air section in Terminal 1. Only Terminals 1 and 4 at JFK are able to handle the superjumbo Airbus A380.
I breezed through security, making me wonder if it had actually been a good idea to arrive more than three hours early for the flight.
I killed some time by taking selfies in the shockingly well-lit airport bathroom, planning to document my unravelling on the 14-hour flight.
When the A380 arrived, I was eager to get a look at the plane that I would be trapped in for the next 14 hours. It was hard to capture just how massive the superjumbo jet is, but the two gates and the long line of people waiting on the stairs give some perspective.
The Airbus A380 is more than 236 feet)long and has a wingspan of nearly 262 feet.
The number of — very chic — flight attendants needed to staff the flight also helps give some idea of how big the plane is. It takes a lot of staff to deal with more than 400 passengers.
A crowd of more than a dozen flight attendants clustered at the gate as passengers waited to begin boarding.
The long line of people waiting to board the flight also offers a good representation of how many people can cram inside the superjumbo jet. Distracted by the flight attendants’ uniforms, I ended up near the end of the line.
We boarded amazingly quickly, likely because of the numerous staff assisting and hurrying us along the way.
To get to economy, I walked past first-class, filled with enviable “Kosmo Suites” complete with seats that lay fully flat.
Still, my seat did not look too bad either.
The overhead compartments were impressively sizable — I had checked my carry on bag that I sometimes struggled to cram into overhead spaces, but it would have easily fit on the A380.
There was plenty of leg room. According to Korean Air, the jet has 33 to 34 inches between seats in economy.
Korean Air supplies economy passengers with slippers, a blanket, headphones, water, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. The blanket was particularly impressive and thick.
I put the slippers on immediately.
I had a window seat over the wing, which offered me even more space on my right side.
Korean Air’s safety video heavily featured K-Pop group SuperM. It was delightful. The woman sitting next to me and I almost start applauding at the end but stopped when it is became clear we are the only ones who were so moved by the video.
The plane took off from New York just after noon. I busied myself with the Sky Shop cataloge and began considering which movie I should watch on the in-flight entertainment panel.
The first meal arrived about an hour and a half after we took off. I picked bibimbap out of the handful of options — and was very pleased with my decision.
Before I even dug into the food, I was impressed by the fact that the meal was served with real silverware.
Passengers mixed their own bibimbap, combining vegetables and beef with a container of rice, a packet of sesame oil, and gochujang sauce.
The gochujang sauce was served in a very cute little package and gave the dish a nice kick.
The result was an impressive medley of flavours that avoided many of the aeroplane food pitfalls. The rice was filling and wholesome, but not clumpy or soggy. Veggies were hearty, as opposed to limp or slimy, with the mushrooms, in particular, standing out.
It wasn’t the best bibimbap I’ve ever had, but I’d definitely eat it again.
The sides were not quite as strong, but also appealing. The seaweed soup was a warm and lovely dish.
The pickled veggies were fantastic, with bright flavours and a nice crunch.
I was not as impressed by the pineapple, but I was also just pretty full by that point in the meal.
After the meal, flight attendants came around offering everyone tea. I had — foolishly — asked for tea to accompany my meal and had been denied, so was excited to finally get a cup. (Other passengers ordered wine or soda with their meals, but I stuck with water.)
Soon after the meal, lights began to dim on board. With a 14 hour time difference, it was crucial to try to adjust to the time zone shift in the air. Before trying to fall asleep, I decided to take a chance to explore the bathroom — and the rest of the plane.
I had heard that there was a staircase at the back of the plane, connecting the first-floor economy and the second-floor prestige class sections. I decided to venture, walking past row after row of economy seats. I found the staircase but my path was blocked! A group of teens laughed at me as I backtracked.
My pride damaged by the teens’ mockery, I settled in to finish watching “Jesters: The Game Changers,” a Korean movie available on the flight. The movie selection was ok, but not exceptional. It was also notably international, though American movies still made up the majority of options.
At about 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time — or 6 a.m. Korean Standard Time — I decided it was time to try and sleep on the fully darkened plane. I popped a NyQuil and snuggled into my window seat.
I promptly passed out for three hours.
Seven and a half hours into the flight, attendants brought around rolls and juice. The roll was a pleasant, meat-and-carb filled affair, and I was able to use the mini cup holder for the juice. I downed it all and tried to fall back asleep.
The gap between my seat and the side of the plane meant I had more room — but made it hard to get comfortable. Like the passenger in front of me, I ended up contorting my body in some strange ways, but eventually dozing on and off for three more hours.
Hour 12 of the flight meant it was time for breakfast — or was it lunch? This meal was not quite as impressive as the bibimbap, with fairly standard beef and rice and a perfectly satisfactory roll.
The cake looked a bit better than it tasted.
I decided to skip the salad after I realised I couldn’t quite place the ingredients. All in all, a fine meal, but it did not measure up to the first.
With my time on the plane running out, I decided to overcome my fear of being bullied by teenagers and once again check out the back of the plane.
This time, I realised the empty area in the back of the plane was not just a meeting place for cool teens — it was Korean Air’s Sky Shop! Sadly, there was no merchandise for sale the day I was there.
On other flights, Korean Air sells duty-free items such as alcohol and cosmetics in this mini shop at the back of the plane.
I did not make it upstairs, although I heard some suspicious bumping and banging around. Clearly, someone was having a lot of fun and I was excluded.
My flight landed in Seoul’s Incheon Airport almost exactly on time, reaching the gate at 4:33 p.m. local time — or 2:33 a.m. back in New York City.
As I prepared to depart the plane, I thought about how short the flight had seemed. The quality meals, forced faux night for sleeping, and my walks back and forth on the superjumbo jet had helped the 14 and a half hours go surprisingly quickly.
But, as I walked past first class, I realised I had unfinished business upstairs…
Instead of trying to make a run for it, I asked a flight attendant if it would be alright for me to take a walk around upstairs — it was, after all, my first time on a double-decker plane. Since the prestige passengers had already departed through their own gate, she said that would be fine.
With no one left on the plane, there was a clear path down the aisle, showing how far the Airbus stretches, with row after row of seats that fully recline.
Prestige class passengers also had access to a larger movie screen. According to Korean Air, there is 74 inches between seats and each seat is 21 inches wide.
I even made it back to the bar area — the forbidden zone at the top of the staircase. It was not clear if it had even been in use on this flight, and it did not look like the super classy cocktail lounge I had been imagining.
Despite all my jealousy, I found I couldn’t really complain about missing out on the prestige experience.
I made if off the 14 and a half hour flight, feeling pretty much fine. Writing this a day later, I can say that while I’m a little jet-lagged, I adjusted to the 14-hour time difference surprisingly well.
There were not a ton of random perks or fancy add-ons on my Korean Air Airbus A380 flight. Instead, the flight was exceptional because it took what I expected from an airline and did it just a little bit better. And, for me, the drama of being on the world’s largest passenger jet probably helped speed things up as well.
I’m travelling around Asia for the next few months, and don’t have another long flight for a while. However, after this one, I am certainly going to be keeping an eye out for the Airbus A380 and Korean Air options when I am booking in the future.
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