In the competitive world of airline travel Korean Air's new Airbus A380 raises the superjumbo stakes with fewer seats, more space and the world's first in-flight duty free shop.
It's also the first A380 to see the upper deck dedicated entirely to business class, although unlike Singapore Airlines' similar A380 layout the Korean Air configuration leaves room for a massive lounge at the rear of the upstairs cabin.
The South Korean flag carrier has already commenced its A380 services on the Seoul-Hong Kong and Seoul-Tokyo routes, with flights to Bangkok beginning in July, New York in August, Paris from late September and Los Angeles in October.
Korean Air has stuck to its conventional three-class cabin, eschewing the trend towards premium economy.
"Our market research has shown that premium economy often comes at the cost of economy and business class" an airline spokesman told Australian Business Traveller.
"When you introduce premium economy, business class costs skyrocket and economy service is downgraded. We have put more into our A380 economy class and we're keeping our business class fares very competitive."
With just 407 seats from tip to tail, Korean Air's A380 design is the least-packed of all airlines running the Airbus superjumbo. In comparison a Qantas A380 has 450 seats, Singapore Airlines 471 (or 409 in its second-series A380) and Emirates 489, with capacity maxing out at a packed 538 on board an Air France A380.
Korean Air says this isn't just about more space all around -- it also makes for faster boarding and disembarking, especially for business class passengers who can use the dedicated upper deck doorways.
The first class cabin has 12 'Kosmo' suites.
These aren't 'suites' in the same sense as what you'd experience on an Emirates or Singapore Airlines A380, of course – they have a much more open design, semi-cubicle design.
These are wide lie-flat sleepers surrounded by a hard plastic shell shaped like a bathtub -- a comparison made hard to resist when the reading lamp is shaped like a designer tap.
Each cubicle is equipped with a widescreen LCD display and Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
The upper deck is the exclusive domain of 94 lie-flat 'Prestige' business class sleeper seats in a 2-2-2 layout, with a privacy divider between seats and a 15.4 inch personal LCD screen stowed in the armrest.
These seats have 74 inches of legroom, although that's well under the 80 inches on a Qantas A380 and will call for gingerly stepping over a sleeping seatmate to get out of or back into a window-side A or K seat.
There are two -- yes, that's right, two -- lounges for these premium passengers.
The first, towards the A380's nose, is a small area where two people can gather for a chat or just to stretch their legs.
At the back of the upper deck you'll find the more spacious and salubrious Celestial Lounge, located where the Qantas A380 has its five rows of premium economy seating.
This area includes a bar which serves, among other things, six Absolut-based cocktails.
To top it off are new amenity kits created by exclusive agreement with Davi skincare -- with one kit for flights arriving into Seoul and the other for outbound flights, under the reasoning that your skin needs different treatment at different times of the day.
Downstairs, at the rear of the lower deck where the last two rows of economy might usually be, is the world's first walk-in duty free shop (well, more of a 'showcase' officially, as you can't actually buy the goods directly at the counter) lined with high-end cosmetics, perfumes and liquor to catch the eye and prise open the wallet or purse.
Heather Cho, from Korean Air's Catering & Inflight Sales Business Division, says the area will promote "new, existing and exclusive products" from the airline's duty-free range, which will also be complemented by the continuation of the regular cart service.
“We will display the best-selling items across all categories such as liquor, cosmetics, accessories and fragrances,” Cho says. "The whole design process was done five years ago and the planning took place before that. Finally it’s going to happen in reality, and that’s exciting.”
Each of the bottles on display is fitted with a heavy-duty magnet on the bottom to keep it in place during turbulence although the alcohol is also stowed on taxi, take-off and landing.
The showcase will be open for business for the duration of each flight and staffed by a full-time sales assistant. First class passengers will get first crack at it, followed by business class passengers and then those travelling in economy.
The economy cabin features new seats designed by Recaro which slide forward as well as reclining. There's 34 inches of legroom, or three inches more than cattle class on a Qantas A380.
Each includes a laptop AC power socket with a multi-country universal plug, plus a USB port for recharging your tablet or smartphone in-flight, while the 10.6 inch screen taps into the same video-on-demand entertainment system as even the most expensive seats on the plane.
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.