A decidedly blah Korean Air experience – Part 2 Manila to Seoul

Read Part 1 here

Back to the airport now in Manila and getting ready for my return trip.  Fortunately I had been able to find reward inventory in Business Class for the return so my hopes and expectations were slightly higher.  Of course, knowing what I did of the lounges I should have been more guarded but I wanted to believe that the blah experience thus far was because I was in the back of the plane.

Manila’s airport is quite lively late at night.  There are wide-body flights headed to Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Korea (3 flights) Singapore and several other destinations.  That meant plenty of people around and no seats to be found.  Since the check-in counter doesn’t open until around three hours prior to the flight that meant I was stuck sitting on a baggage cart for about an hour waiting for the agents to arrive.  Part of that is my fault – I chose to arrive early so that I could do the drive to the airport in daylight- but it was still annoying.  The staff had a bit of a show that they performed when opening the check-in counters (it was all in Korean but the rest of the passengers applauded so I guess they did well) and then I was finally able to deposit my bag, collect my boarding pass and head through immigration and to the lounge. 

The dining spread at the Korean Air lounge in Manila

Finally, a lounge with food and a full complement of booze.  Sure, the brands were less than exemplary – Absolut vodka, Gilbey’s gin and a local rum that was passable but unremarkable – but at least there were options.  They also had some actual food options beyond packaged snacks.  Nothing truly delicious, but a bit of food to tide me over.

I wanted to pick up some alcohol at duty-free but I wasn’t sure if I would be permitted to carry it through the security screening passing back through Seoul so I asked at the desk.  You’d think I had asked the woman the answer to the meaning of life or some other such complicated inquiry.  The response started as a simple “I don’t know” and only when I pressed did she make an effort to find out.  All of their flights go via Seoul.  This seems like the kind of thing that passengers might ask rather frequently.  I didn’t expect it to take 20 minutes to figure out an answer.  I helped myself to some snacks since they actually had some available and eventually got the answer to my question so I headed out to buy my booze.  I wish that the answer had been more accurate.  I was able to clear security in Seoul with the duty free just fine but upon boarding my flight to the USA I learned that they only permit duty-free purchased in Seoul to be carried onto the planes bound for the USA.  Even though the bottle was in the stupid tamper-proof bag and was purchased 10 hours earlier.  Fortunately they were able to check it for me but I have no idea if it will arrive in one piece or not. 

I also asked about postcard stamps.  I had finally found cards and written them but had yet to find stamps.  The guy at the information booth in the airport said that I should be able to find them past security.  I couldn’t.  I asked at the lounge and she said that they were sold at a store there but she didn’t know which one.  Based on the trouble with the duty free inquiry I didn’t push it any farther and resigned myself to the fact that I likely had postcards that would never be mailed.  Still, not the type of service I had expected to receive from the folks in the lounge.

First and Business on a KE A330

Midnight rolled around and I wandered over to the gate area and made my way into my seat.  Not the most comfortable in the world – recliner style – but it would do for the 3.5 hour flight.  In truth, I tried to stay awake for the dinner.  I actually went so far as to tell the flight attendant that I wanted the bibimbop option.  And then I promptly fell asleep.  Again they were very apologetic that they were unable to serve me since I was asleep and I once again explained that the sleep was more useful to me than the food.  Smiles and nods all around and then I was off to the rather pedestrian lounge that I’d spent so much time in on the outbound journey for another shower and an attempt to make a breakfast from their meager offerings.  I also needed to see about my seat on the upper deck of the 747. 

I’ve only had a few opportunities to sit on the upper deck.  There was the United fare mistake to New Zealand a couple years ago but we were stuck downstairs in both directions on that flight.  And then there was this trip.  I reserved a seat upstairs in advance and everything was looking so good.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  At the counter in the lounge they explained to me that there was no upper deck.  Suffice it to say that I was very confused.  It was definitely still a 747-400 plane but there were no upper deck seats.  “How is this possible?” I asked.  “The upper deck does not exist,” was the reply.  Once we got past the part about how they couldn’t simply remove the bubble from the top of the plane I was able to show them a seat map and they looked it up some other way on their system.  Apparently the upper deck was being used as overflow seating for economy customers on this flight.  So it was back downstairs, albeit to a lovely bulkhead window seat, for me.  Walking through the cabin I can see why – not an empty seat to be found in the economy cabin.  I’m still annoyed; another chance at flying upstairs lost to the fickle whim of the travel gods.

Three beers and a shower in the lounge later I wandered out into the terminal in one final effort to find stamps and mail my postcards.  I was successful!  Cards posted and the clock rapidly approaching noon had me on my way to the gate area to board the flight.  Strange coincidence at the gate area.  There was a guy struggling with his phone charger in the lounge so I lent him an adapter to use.  I ended up standing next to him in line to board the plane.  And then I found myself sitting next to him on the flight.  Just one of those strange coincidences in life, I guess.

More coming in part 3…

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.