Unimpressed by OZ Business Class

Old Feb 12, 09, 9:32 pm
  #1  
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Unimpressed by OZ Business Class

(Apologies for aping this thread title...)

I recently had a chance to enjoy Asiana for the first time, on the return portion of an intra-Asia award ticket in C (cashing out UA miles before the January 1 devaluation). My girlfriend and I were headed to a friend's wedding in Taipei, so I arranged the outbound NRT-TPE flight on NH (flawless as usual) and the return on OZ through ICN.

Having heard much of OZ and its "five star" status, I was looking forward to the experience. All in all, it wasn't that bad, although it wasn't anywhere near "five star" in my eyes. Three and a half, maybe. Here's how the trip went for us:

TPE-ICN: OZ712 (A321), seat 1A

Seat: I've had better, but it worked for this relatively short flight. The A321 has a funny little regional C seat which resembles a domestic F seat in the United States. It was upholstered in an odd yellow fabric which had a 70s retro look to it, and seemed pretty old. Oddly, the seat seemed to have been stripped of certain functions: the middle armrests flipped up to reveal a dusty strip of Velcro where one might expect to find an IFE controller, and there were metal plates which appeared to be installed in place of flip-out cocktail tables. It was a rather sad effect overall, but didn't make the seat any less comfortable for a hop across the water.

Service: Pretty good. The ground staff at TPE had our boarding passes printed out and ready when we arrived at the check-in counter. I was a bit annoyed when our FA took my wine and coffee without offering a refill. Minor issues, but still the sort of thing that a frequent traveler notices.

IFE: It works, and it looks better than a projector, but that's about the best I can say. The A321 has overhead LCD screens, which on this flight played the European prank-comedy clips that are so popular with international airlines. It's passable for a short flight, but nowhere near the in-seat video offerings on other TPE carriers these days.

Food: Choice between beef and seafood in a sort of internationalized style that reminded me of transpac catering between Japan and the US (where you can easily have passengers of a hundred nationalities and culinary preferences). Tasted good, and the champagne was very palatable as well. I did find myself wondering why they use such enormous saucers for the coffee cups--they make it really difficult to have two cups on the center table at once after the meal is finished. But that's just a quibble.

ICN transfer

I've used the HND-GMP run for my previous Korean travels: this was my first visit to ICN, and I had heard many good things about the airport. I should have managed my expectations.

The fun started when I finally got through the endless line to the lone transit security checkpoint. I had a couple of shopping bags from TPE, a camera bag and a jacket. The security warden, a small young Korean woman, started speaking to me in Korean, indicating that I should take off the jacket. I complied, set my bags on the shelf at the closer end of the X-ray belt, took off the jacket and placed it on the belt. She shouted at me in Korean, pulled a basket out and indicated that I should put the jacket in the basket. So I complied and then placed the basket on the belt along with my other bags, which made her shout again and pull the bags off the belt back onto the shelf: apparently she didn't want my belongings to be scanned until I went through the metal detector. Finally I walked through and she let my bags through the scanner.

I don't think I have ever experienced a security screening that rude anywhere in the world, and I include a number of TSA-operated facilities in that statement. The other thing that gets me is that the security scanner would be barking in Korean at a red-headed Irish-American transfer passenger who is not entering Korea and who looks about as Korean as Marvin the Martian. Can't they get anyone capable of civilized communication? A little bit of English wouldn't hurt either.

Finally we made it into the terminal, and after a run through the duty-free shops (which must be making a killing since they price everything in USD), we paid a visit to the OZ C lounge by the immigration checkpoint. Admission was quick and friendly, but once inside I felt a bit underwhelmed, for a number of reasons:

1) The lounge is on a great piece of real estate upstairs, overlooking the terminal and apron area, but for some reason they decided to install a giant wall of fake bookshelves to block the view for two-thirds of the room.

2) The seating is far too cramped. Armchairs are clustered in so close to each other that one has to climb over their neighbors to get in and out. The tables are solid and have no room for stretching legs out underneath. It's nice to have a bit of personal space between flights, but this lounge doesn't seem to have much of that on offer.

3) While people were serving themselves in the food/drink area, one of the employees pulled in a giant cart to restock the food table, making it nearly impossible to pass between the food table and the drink bar. OK, maybe the staff are doing the best with what they've got, but still, can't they find a less intrusive way to do this?

Pretty soon, it was time to move on. Ground handling was efficient and we settled right in to our long-haul C seats for the not-really-long haul to Tokyo.

ICN-NRT: OZ108 (A330), seat 1G

Seat: The A330 used on this run has a faux-flat seat, which for some reason uses the same old-looking yellow upholstery as the regional C seat. I had problems adjusting the position of the tray table, which seemed to be stuck at a distance suitable for a sumo wrestler. But the quality of the seat didn't become really apparent until we had a rough landing at NRT, and the lining on the aisle side of the seat shell fell off entirely. Scary! The FAs picked it up at the end of our landing run and held on to it up front for the rest of our taxi.

Service: Here the experience unraveled pretty early on.

My girlfriend and I were seated across the aisle from each other, with strangers next to us. While we were still on the ground, I asked the FA if it was possible for us to be re-seated together. She came back a few minutes later, with a big smile on her face, and cheerfully said "No sir, all the seats are occupied!" I didn't mind the response, but the delivery confused me for a moment; since when is an FA so happy to tell someone they can't have what they want?

Then, some time later, after we had finished our dinner and were settling in for the last hour of the ride to Tokyo, she came back. "Actually, sir, there's a pair of seats open in the last row if you would like them." Well, thanks for telling me that when the trip is more than halfway over. She went on to provide a rather nonsensical explanation (as I see it): "We knew that you were traveling together, but thought you were just friends. We didn't know that you were a couple. If we did we could have seated you closer together." OK, remind me to get that note in our PNR next time.

IFE: There's AVOD on this flight, but just about everything is Korean. If you like Korean film, the system is great. If you want to watch something non-Korean, your options are a two-day-old CNN broadcast, an episode of CSI Miami and a couple of short documentary features. I found myself longing for the IFE on United, which is a bad sign.

Food: The meal choice in C was essentially "beef or beef" (the entree choices were roast tenderloin or bibimbap). As a beef eater, I didn't have much reason to complain, but I would be angry if I didn't eat beef and had this menu as my only option. Again, the food was excellent quality, and the red wine was up to snuff. The FA even gave me a first taste, sommelier-style, before pouring the full glass, which was a nice if unexpected touch (I was personally more interested in browsing the AVOD than in negotiating the subtleties of wine, but I guess the ladies aren't mind readers.)

Conclusion

Asiana isn't bad, but it isn't particularly great either. In my mind they compare most closely with a European mainline carrier, where you know you're going to get something decent but shouldn't expect anything particularly special. I would rate them above UA but below NH in terms of intra-Asia service quality.
joejones is offline  
Old Feb 12, 09, 10:13 pm
  #2  
 
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Thanks for the report. I'll be curious to read responses and add my own based on long-haul. In general, I've found all intra-Asia regional flights to be about the same (yes, even UA!) The seats aren't that fantastic, the service varies from wonderful to abrupt (yes, even SQ!) and it's basically "just another flight." In the end, schedule makes the biggest difference followed by price.

Obviously I'm spoiled rotten

PS Smiling employees delivering messages you don't want to hear: better or worse than rude employees delivering messages you don't want to hear?
MKE-MR is offline  
Old Feb 12, 09, 10:19 pm
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Ok, I understand your frustrations and angers for your bad experience with transfer security officer who didn't seem to be having a good day.

But, your narration on OZ experience, it really sounds like you are being PITA with everything OZ provides to you.

For instance, if you guys wanted to sit so close together, why didn't you do online seat selection before your flight? With the actual flight time being somewhere around 2 hours, can you actually watch something?
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Old Feb 12, 09, 11:32 pm
  #4  
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I couldn't do online seat selection because the tickets were bought with UA miles, and UA doesn't let you choose seats on *A awards. Not OZ's fault, but my gripe is not that they didn't seat us properly to begin with--my gripe is that the FAs dealt with the question very poorly when we asked them about it.

Sure, you don't *need* much AVOD on a short flight, but why waste a new AVOD system on selections which will only interest a fraction of your passengers?

Honestly, I'm not a very difficult customer. I would fly OZ again if they were really cheap. But given a price-competitive choice between OZ and another decent carrier on the same route, I would probably choose the other carrier, simply because OZ seem to be poor in areas which other airlines get right.
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Old Feb 13, 09, 10:28 am
  #5  
 
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Originally Posted by joejones View Post
I couldn't do online seat selection because the tickets were bought with UA miles, and UA doesn't let you choose seats on *A awards.
You can't do it online, but just call up OZ and get seats. I did that for an OZ HAN-ICN flight (part of a *A award), which BTW had very good food and service. YMMV, I guess, always applies.
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Old Feb 13, 09, 12:37 pm
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Originally Posted by Chapel Hill Guy View Post
You can't do it online, but just call up OZ and get seats. I did that for an OZ HAN-ICN flight (part of a *A award), which BTW had very good food and service. YMMV, I guess, always applies.
Yep, same experience here, when you make the award with UA, they can also give you the OZ PNR #, if not, then ask them. It is easier to have the OZ PNR # when you call OZ to bring up your reservations. I am able the get seat assignment for all of my flights on OZ ORD-ICN-HKG and back. The same apply to other *A member.
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Old Feb 13, 09, 1:34 pm
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Originally Posted by joejones View Post
I don't think I have ever experienced a security screening that rude anywhere in the world, and I include a number of TSA-operated facilities in that statement. The other thing that gets me is that the security scanner would be barking in Korean at a red-headed Irish-American transfer passenger who is not entering Korea and who looks about as Korean as Marvin the Martian. Can't they get anyone capable of civilized communication? A little bit of English wouldn't hurt either.
Interesting report, however, why do you consider Korean less civilised than English? I hate to say it (and I am guilty myself), but it is always good if you try to learn at least a few words of the language of the country you are visiting.
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Old Feb 16, 09, 1:35 am
  #8  
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I wasn't referring to her choice of language; I was referring to her shouting at me in a language which I was unlikely to understand. Apologies if I unintentionally offended anyone. (I like Korean and have attempted to start studying it on a couple of occasions.)
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Old Feb 16, 09, 4:14 am
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I'm really surprised at the situation at the transfer security checkpoint. I've never run across security personnel at ICN who couldn't speak English. By chance were you there around January 25-27? I ask because that's the lunar new year and one of the biggest holidays of the year in Korea. Koreans typically go to their hometowns at that time. Granted an airport needs to be able to operate effectively 365 days a year, but if a lot of the regular security personnel took off during that time they may have possibly had non-regular employees filling in.

Overall, I rate ICN airport very high, probably the best airport in the world for it's size in my opinion. I think it's also won some awards along those lines. I prefer it over other well-liked Asian airports such as SIN, HKG, BKK, etc. But then again it's quite a bit smaller than those so you can't really compare the two as smaller airports are easier to manage than the mega-sized airports.

Regarding the fabric and it's color, I don't find anything wrong with it and it doesn't look old at all to me. The first time I saw it, along with their economy class seats I thought they looked rather new in fact. But then I'm weird about a lot of things so my opinion might not count for much. I am not a big fan of OZ's business class seats on the A320/A321, mainly due to lack of recline, limited seat pitch, and no leg rests, only foot rests. But then again I haven't seen any regional business class on any airlines that I'd say is fantastic.
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Old Feb 16, 09, 8:18 am
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Originally Posted by A_Lee View Post
I'm really surprised at the situation at the transfer security checkpoint. I've never run across security personnel at ICN who couldn't speak English....

Overall, I rate ICN airport very high, probably the best airport in the world for it's size in my opinion.
Agree completely.
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Old Feb 16, 09, 7:45 pm
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I don't love the transit setup at ICN. The lines are shorter by far at places like HKG or even NRT (at least at NRT there is a Biz/First shortcut which I did not find at ICN). But the rest of the airport is clean, quiet, and well laid out.
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Old Feb 16, 09, 11:58 pm
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I think that the segments were too short for you to really experience Asiana at it's best. The security is a pain in the neck, but it seems no less efficient than otther airports. It's just been reintroduced at Munich for example and it's chaos.
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Old Feb 17, 09, 12:22 am
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Originally Posted by MKE-MR View Post
I don't love the transit setup at ICN. The lines are shorter by far at places like HKG or even NRT (at least at NRT there is a Biz/First shortcut which I did not find at ICN). But the rest of the airport is clean, quiet, and well laid out.
Totally agree, HKG is really fast and efficient, NRT there is a separate line for F, 1K and GS, ICN has none, one line for everyone, the problem is there is no table around the xray machine, pax has to wait until you get to the machine to get your computer, 3oz bag liquid, jacket out, hence slow down the whole process.
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Old Feb 17, 09, 1:10 am
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Originally Posted by mcg1000 View Post
I think that the segments were too short for you to really experience Asiana at it's best. The security is a pain in the neck, but it seems no less efficient than otther airports. It's just been reintroduced at Munich for example and it's chaos.
but being Germany, organised chaos....
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Old Feb 18, 09, 3:02 am
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For the FA, I think most would rather her respond with a smile than a surly grumpy attitude (see UA dragons)

As far as English AVOD selection, you were on ICN-NRT, not ICN-LAX, so I would not have expected the programming to be English dominant nor would it disappoint me either....
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