Sunday, July 03, 2011

KAL v. United

Not too much time for blogging, but just had to get this off the Korean's chest --

Korean Air Lines from Washington D.C. to Seoul, for the Korean and the Korean Wife:

- 8 inches of knee room (for a 6' 1" man) and a seat that actually reclines to a comfortable degree.
- Free checked bags.
- Two in-flight meals that actually taste good, with a surprisingly decent Merlot.
- Periodic drinks and snacks, which include warm pastries and fresh fruit.
- Individually provided screen with on-demand movie options. (Watched Rango and The Lincoln Lawyer, and also Korean and American news.)
- Free newspapers (including three American dailies and three Korean dailies,) toothbrush and toothpaste.

United Air Lines from Los Angeles to Seoul, for the Korean Parents:

- Flight attendant spills water on the Korean Father, tells him "It's just water," and walks away after tossing him some napkins. The Korean Father briefly considered throwing the water back and telling her the same.

Please, someone tell the Korean why Americans cannot figure out how to provide a good flight experience.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I refuse to ride american carriers when possible. My first flight to Korea was 13 hours with less than an inch of space in front of my knees... and i'm 4'11" and a 125 pounds. How would someone who was 5'11" and 200 pounds sit like that? Not to mention that they had a selection of 4 (crap) movies that played on repeat for the length of the trip. Nowadays I try to fly singapore to SFO since they're usually cheap and the service is amazing. This summer, though I'm trying the other way and going British Air through England.

  2. There's a reason why United Airline is cheap. lol

  3. I don't know. For me flying from Boston, singapore air is still cheaper than any US carrier that I can find...

  4. @l46kok seriously. My wife and I went to Korea over the Christmas holidays, flew United. Never again. Not worth the savings.

  5. I've taken United, Delta, some other tiny US airlines...all crap. Then I took Asiana Airlines from Seattle to Incheon and hands down, best service ever. And I heard KAL is even better.

  6. I just flew to Korea in March on Asiana Airlines, and I can admit that I was appalled after flying 15 hours from Incheon to OHare at the service on United from Chicago to Kansas City. I would have rather flown the 15 hours all over again versus that 45 minutes.

  7. My father is a pilot for United Airlines and, sadly, I've heard about people like that flight attendant before.

    Please tell the Korean Father to report this incident. The company isn't going to do anything to actual fix problems like that until they get enough complaints.

    You paid for your tickets, the least you deserve is a "sorry" and a napkin.

    As for the individual TV screens, that depends on the model of airplane. About 80% of Boeing 777 planes have this feature, so in the future, try to book a flight on a 777 and it's a good chance you'll get your own screen.

  8. I flew United to Europe and had the same exact experience as you did with the KAL minus the free papers. Maybe that was because it was actually subcontracted to KLM (Royal Duch Airlines).

  9. Was this in coach or business class? If you get that sort of service in coach, I'm all for going KAL over another airline.

    Last year while in LAX I saw folks who worked for KAL in the same gate area when I was flying China Air to Taiwan. Smartest looking people I have ever seen. I was trying to figure out how the flight attendants kept those neckerchiefs so stiff. I just stared at the guy at the counter while waiting for my flight for four hours. KAL sure employs good-looking people.

  10. One word to explain such poor service on US based airlines, "unions." US flight attendants are old, obese, and very, very angry individuals. It begs the question, if you hate your job so much why do it?

    Fly any Asia based airline (JAL, KAL, Asiana, China Air, Singapore) and the customer service is leagues better than United, American, or Delta.

  11. All I can say is that we returned to America stating numerous times that Americans could learn a few costumer service tips from Koreans. We loved KAL.

  12. It's the nickel-and-diming. Union or not, many companies in America have developed an attitude that they can make more money by charging you more for things and you'll just go along with it, or providing you less. You've already bought your ticket, and you're stuck. They are insulated from competition by the fact that other American competitors in their field do this, too.

    In some areas, it's starting to change. In Honolulu, we have no real choice but to shop at WalMart, and I must say that WalMart has actually been trying to go in the opposite direction, prompting their staff to be ready to happily and knowledgeably answer questions and show you where stuff is (a big change).

    But the airlines, as long as Delta/Northwest, etc., do the same stuff, we're stuck. In fact, that's what I was told at the Honolulu Airport's Northwest terminal when they had raised the cost of baggage without telling us: "All the other airlines do this, too." As if that makes it okay.

    Actually, at the time, they didn't all do it. Southwest Airlines (which, unfortunately, no longer plies the route between Hawaii and the Mainland) allowed three free bags.

    But I digress. I do like KAL food, as far as airline food goes. Cathay Pacific was also very good, and the same with Singapore. I have not really had an outstanding meal on an American airline flying trans-Pacific.

  13. For balances sake, I recently flew to South Korea on Delta (had to connect in Detroit) and I personally found the service fine. Didn't measure the leg room in coach, but on both flights national and international we had the individual screens with a wide selection of movies, music and more. There was a small snack on the national flight and 2 meals plus snacks and a mini lunch on the international. I found the food good in quality, though I'm not known to be picky. The flight attendant service was also polite.

  14. Last year I traveled from Utah to Mumbai, India on Delta. The service was ok, the food was ok. But the comfort level was horrible. I was so cramped on our return flight that I ended up sleeping while standing in the pass through by the bathroom. I woke up walking down the aisle, patting other sleeping passengers on the head.

    I figured that the lack of comfort coincided with my seat in coach. I will never fly coach again.

    As for the stewardess's attitude, there are rude people everywhere, Americans haven't cornered the market on that (yet). Maybe a little Confucian understanding would help American corporations get on the right track as far as customer service is concerned. It would probably help a bunch of problems in the corporate sector. But I think you've already written about that.

  15. I haven't flown with KAL for some time; glad it is on par with what I remember. I recently took Asiana to Seoul and I had a very pleasant flight (save the unpleasantry involving some thoughtless azoomas and azossis). The seat is a bit cramped in the coach as with all other airlines, but I had access to on-demand movies -- which matters a lot when you are stuck in a closed space for 13 hours. The flight attendants were very polite. One time they forgot to serve us breakfast in the row I was seating and at least three of them came by to apologize and to offer us croissants which were reserved for first class passengers. I couldn't care less about the food, but I was very impressed with how they handled their error.

  16. That is why I fly business class when my wife and I fly to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

  17. though i agree w/ the service and cramp seats and all..but u get what u pay for KAL almost twice the cost vs. UAL round trip SFO. thx.

  18. I had a similar experience flying Air France vs. an American carrier. Air France had everything you described and extremely friendly staff. On the ride back the airline staff couldn't figure out where everyone's seat was supposed to be (isn't this their job?) even if we wanted to watch the inflight movie we could not because our earphone jacks were messed up and when we had the nerve to complain we were ignored until they finally asked us "We can give you a drink if that's what you want." So they just assumed we wanted free alcohol? Very offensive. Eventually my fater got ahold of the head stewardess who did manage to find a way that we could BOTH listen to the movie as well as gave us icecream and candy but it took non stop bitching and ranting on his half. Anyway you look at it American airlines are dirtier, smaller, and less accomodating on a customer service level than most foreign carriers.

  19. United really sucks. I've been to Japan and back about 5 times in the last 3 months and while I can say that American Airlines is somewhat decent for international flights, pretty much all other American Carriers are horrible.

  20. The flight was economy class. And the Korean's Parents' flight cost only $300 less than the Korean's, which probably only accounts for the distance between DC to LA.

  21. I've never really had a bad international flight on American, but I suppose they pale in comparison to Korean Air and Air New Zealand.

  22. I went to Seoul with KLM, from Mexico (Mex-Amsterdam-Incheon)and it was a very good experience, specially because I got my seat upgraded for free :)
    The food was good, had a personal screen with a variety of Movies, Music, Language lessons and games :)
    I didn't really mind spending almost 24 hours on a plane. :P

  23. Korean Airlines is so awesome, even economy class.
    Though the food sucked, but airplane food always sucks.
    The personal entertainment center is great. A lot of recently released movies and TV shows, plus games you can play with the person next to you, which was great for my brother and I.
    And I remember when I was in elementary school, the flight attendants were always nice to me.

  24. In America, being a flight attendant is a semi-low wage job nobody wants to do, while the burn-out employees are protected by strong unions... while in Korea "stewardesses" are a hightly sought after career in which model-quality 20-something women compete for.

    Hence, the different attitude and experience.

  25. . chris . wrote:
    thoughtless azoomas and azossis

    azooma = flying ajumma

  26. United is terrible. I've flown with them maybe six times and every time something went wrong. On a flight from Halifax to New York, we were literally on the plane about to take off when the pilot told us we all had to get off and get on another plane because the smoke detectors weren't working. Another time, we waited an extra hour on the ground after landing because we couldn't move twenty feet to get to our gate. On the other hand, I flew Continental to China recently and it was fine - decent food, on-demand movies. No space, though - there never is. And now United is going to drag Continental down...

  27. I've never flown KAL, but after all this testimony I really want to! My family usually flies Southwest because they allow 2 free checked bags and have great prices if you book early enough. Our experiences have always been very pleasant with them. Although I don't think they do international flights at all.

    I flew United just a month ago and was also unimpressed. Really, the worst part was the behavior of the flight attendants. One of them actually scolded a customer before we took off because they hadn't closed the overhead bin. It wasn't even full and people were still boarding, so it made sense to leave it open. Plus, I feel like that's what the flight attendants do. She was actually very rude about it and had a horrible tone. Then the same attendant told other people to get up and do it for her because she was short. It was apalling, since I have never seen service like that before.

  28. What's the difference in price?

    All American airlines are pieces of shit because of the union. Don't give me the lowly paid excuse. They don't get lowly paid. They get paid very well for their education level. In fact so well that most of them stay on 10+ years and hence why all you see is older attendants. These unions are pretty much untouchable, can't be fired. A bunch of fucken assholes. Flying American is like going to the DMV. I will go as far as saying its a form of welfare (like most lowly govt. jobs).

    Here's my KAL experience. KAL to Taiwan. Had a small incident with ticketing where they didn't have my name on the system. It got resolved timely however and I got on my flight. 2 weeks later some Korean dude and one of the attendant came to my house Taiwan to apologize and give me a voucher. That's service.

    Why does the airline industry in America have to be co-opted by retards.

  29. How come Starbucks can hire good employees most likely paying them way less and the Airlines can't? Union. Fuck Unions.

  30. Sorry to throw water over the union-hate, but KAL is also heavily unionized. It's something else.

  31. A few thoughts:

    The in-flight entertainment systems are a reflection of fleet age. The older planes don't have them, but the newer aircraft such as the Boeing 777 will be equipped with them. You see this equipment appearing on domestic legacy carriers too for their long haul flights.

    I think a lot of the decline of US airlines is a matter of their age. Most domestic carriers are saddled with a variety of things: older fleets, pensions, etc. Therefore, in order to stay profitable, they nickle and dime their customers to try and maintain profitability. Unlike international flights, margins are extremely tight on domestic flights. As one airline gets away with it, the other follow suit in a continuous race toward the bottom. Perhaps competition from foreign carriers may put pressure on service, but I doubt many foreign airlines would be able to maintain the same levels of service if they had to fight in the fierce US domestic market.

    US domestic passenger ticket purchasing habits don't help either: even if they say they want better service, ultimately most passengers continue to pick flights based on price. They'll choose $5-$10 cheaper fare over any differences in service.

    My question is this: is part of this driven by employment options? In the United States, the quality of nursing, secretaries, stewardesses, and other traditionally female careers seems to have dropped as women's career opportunities expand. Why be nurse when you can be the doctor? The boss instead of the secretary? Why settle for stewardess when you can be the pilot instead? Perhaps in East Asia, the labor market is still not as good for women versus the Western World, and thus, you still see a better quality of worker.

    Then again, maybe it's simply a matter that American service culture has pretty much collapsed over the last fifty years.

  32. Proly responding to customers. Int. flight has more sophisticated customers.

    To be fair if you fly regional in China on flights known to have working class customers the service is also shit.

    So attendant who worked the Alabama to Hicksville flight who transferred over to SFO Seoul proly brought her 10 year hardened asshole attitude over.

    But still fuck unions. They are part of the problem. When people can't be fired they will act like it. Not to mention how post-9-11 they all of a sudden got even more license to be assholes.

  33. I think the biggest problem is that at least half the people in America just can't do their jobs anymore. I catch editing mistakes in newspapers and magazines all the time. My grandfather owned an apartment complex which my mother now runs, and the management positively sucks- I could do a better job, and I'm only 20, with no degree and no experience. I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that nobody cares here anymore. The work ethic in this country is deplorable.

  34. I honestly think it's just an issue with United. I've had nothing but the worst customer service with United, but other US carriers were fine. It's not as amazing as Asian carriers in terms of service, sure, but I had an OK time and the stewards and stewardesses were pleasant. On United, I had some steward yell at me (I had forgotten my purse and was retrieving it while moving back in the aisle...) and just act like cold robots.

  35. I enjoyed my KAL flight from DC to Seoul until a roach crawled across my lap during the first food service. It took everything in me to not scream bloody murder and claw my way to the aisle. Luckily the girls at both sides of me were good sports during my silent freakout moment. It could have been a total fluke, but I wasn't able to relax for the remaining 15 hours of my flight.

    Other than that, I was surprised at the leg space on KAL - the economy easily rivaled the "upgraded" economy seats you have to pay extra for. The food was tasty and plentiful, and KAL had a nice entertainment selection.

    My sister and I got a random bump to Prestige Class while traveling from Seoul to Tokyo - now that was super nice!

  36. Korean airlines are excellent.... namely because the airhostesses will give you their telephone numbers and email address. AND AND AND! They will actually meet you in Seoul for a few bottles of Soju. Though being the gentleman (haha) I was it went no further than this.

    But American airlines, pah, you should fly Central Asian airlines.... that was to say... interesting.

    I.e. they used padlocks on the doors and a metal rod to lock us in. The seats were not bolted to the floor properly and on take off leaned back 45 degrees. You could see wiring through the missing panels and gaffa tape everywhere.

  37. The American service mentality often (foolishly) suggests we must sacrifice comfort for cost. I do not understand why United et al. must hire such unaccommodating staff, or why they must pack the economy travelers in like sardines. I gave up on all U.S. air companies. If I am not traveling internationally, I just take the train.

  38. Flying Korean Air in 2011 reminded me of what flying domestically in the U.S. used to be like 20 years ago; polite stewardesses, meals, movies, a general pleasant environment. I've flown internationally quite a bit, but Korean Air takes the cake for the best international flight I've ever been on.

  39. I won't agree that all Asian airlines are great. China Eastern sucks ass, for example, but then again, it's a lot cheaper to fly China Eastern from Seoul to Shanghai to LA than it is to fly Seoul to LA direct on Korean Air.

    You get what you pay for? Not hardly ... because the overwhelming sentiment is correct. Korean Air and Asiana are oustanding airlines that jump through hoops to make your flights comfortable. It's fucking outstanding, actually.

    The one thing I don't get is why the price to fly from LA to Seoul seems to be about $200-$300 cheaper than the reverse. I always fly to Korea on Korean Air, but I wind up taking China Eastern back because the prices get jacked up ...

    Maybe someone can explain that to me.

  40. I agree laurana1

    Dealing with Verizonwireless or insurance companies, I am surprised to see how incompetent some people are. I don't know what it is but some are just incompetent and don't care. Dump mistake made that I have to clean up.

    Flew Asiana in june 2010. Great service. My inflight entertainment system froze so I buzzed for the stewardess. A second after I buzzed for help, a stewardess flipped the curtain aside and started walking briskly towards me. The response time was like a second.

    I read a great quote by someone on the internet. 'I'm told US economy is driven by service sector, so how come I get lousy service?'

  41. Korean Airlines is amazing!
    And yea...I never liked American airline companies where not even the peanuts are free.

  42. I love KAL!
    When researching prices I've found KAL to be comparable to US carriers and KAL is non-stop from NYC to Incheon.
    When I used United we got a TINY bag of peanuts. When my husband asked for another bag he was told he'd have to wait to see if there were any left.

    Honestly, I don't just think that it's a airline thing. I might get bashed but I don't feel that Americans have the same pride in what they do and care to do a job well, regardless of what it is.

    I hope you are taking KAL back, too!

  43. ...There's also the exchange rate to consider. Relative to an airline based in America, a Korean Airline can spend less USD on employee salary, and still make those jobs more attractive than they would be in America. Hence, similar ticket price in USD = more perks and better service on a foreign airline.

  44. ...There's also the exchange rate to consider. Relative to an airline based in America, a Korean Airline can spend less USD on employee salary, and still make those jobs more attractive than they would be in America.

    Not really...the difference in the value of the dollar to the won is negligible...

  45. Oh man, all of these comments and this post scare of what may be coming my way in a couple of weeks. My Korean boyfriend and I will be flying Incheon to Boston via United. Trust me, it was not by choice. It was nearly impossible find any flights, especially with our budget limits. So scary...I've previously flown Singapore and JAL, both with pleasure.

  46. Aaron said: in Korea "stewardesses" are a highly sought after career in which model-quality 20-something women compete for.


    I've been flying back and forth to Korea for around 30 years. I think what you said was true 20-30 years ago - but not anymore. Most of the stewardesses you see these days on KAL and Asiana are nice looking - but they don't pull the same crowd they did before.

  47. I fly United exclusively (or Star Alliance) because my mileage card is with United, and they are usually the cheapest.

    I have used ANA for domestic in Japan and Asiana for Japan - Korea.

    There's an "experience" created by flying ANA or Asiana. You're on a flight with beautiful, tall, women (I've never seen a male flight attendant on ANA or Asiana, but they may be there).

    There are newspapers, books for children, interesting (seemingly fresh) meals, etc.

    However, these are all things I'd expect to see at a nice hotel in Japan, or a good restaurant in Korea.

  48. Asian culture puts more value on service and respect. I'd actually prefer Asiana over KAL though ^^

  49. Thankfully your parents didn't get the same treatment as Louis CK

    NSFW if your work frowns on crude language.

  50. I agree too, I like Asiana airlines! But, I remember flying United (I'm American) and I had some middle-aged, big butted female flight attendant push the cart down the aisle, hit me with her big butt, then gave me a dirty glare for getting in the way of her large arse!

  51. I agree that the food and good looking stewardess are on the Asian airlines.But do you really think it's worth the extra cost of $200 to $300 per ticket? I'll wait until arriving to my destination for food and good looking attractions.


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