In September 2016, on a trip from Atlanta, GA to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam via Seoul/Incheon (ICN), I visited the Korean Air First Lounge at ICN.
ICN opened in 2001. Since 2005, ICN has been rated as the world’s best airport by one or more of the ratings agencies. I know I really like it.
Finding this lounge is easy. It is located one floor above the concourse in the Main Terminal at the junction of the pier for gates 12 – 25.
There are signs below the overhead walkway pointing to the escalators to the First Lounge. The lounge is just above the Korea Cultural Center, a treasure trove of Korean culture in the middle of the airport.
The Center stages regular demonstrations of traditional Korean music, dance and other ceremonies.
The KAL First Lounge
I will forego the suspense of this review and say upfront that I was surprised to find that the KAL First Lounge at ICN is barely better than the KAL Prestige (business class) lounge. The Prestige lounge actually has better bathrooms.
After taking the escalator to the upper level, you walk across the bridge to the lounge.
Upon entering, simply present your boarding pass to the agents. They verify the admission criteria and confirm the departing gate and time of your next flight. The agents also have outlet adapters if you need one. There is no waiting in line here. The agents are very courteous and willing to help.
Admission to the First Lounge is limited to Korean Air first-class passengers and top-tier and million-miler Korean Air frequent flyers. And that results in the best attribute of the KAL First Lounge — it is uncrowded.
On the other hand, the Prestige Lounge must accommodate a much larger set of passengers including SkyTeam elite plus passengers travelling on coach tickets.
After entering the First Lounge to the left is a conference room, an eating area, and then the main seating area. To the right is a luggage storage area.
In contrast, the Prestige Lounge gets a lot of use.
For a first-class lounge, the decor in the KAL First Lounge is rather plain and sterile. Compare the Asiana business-class lounge in the Main Terminal at ICN.
The main seating area of the First Lounge has a view of Main Terminal gates.
Food and Beverages
Food and beverages are located behind the main seating area. The food in the First Lounge is pretty basic but better than the Prestige Lounge. Liquor is the same, although that is not a bad thing if you like 18-year-old Ballantine’s scotch. The wine selection is much more extensive in the First Lounge.
While the beverage selection in the First Lounge is nearly on par with other international first-class lounges, the food is only what I would expect to find in an average Asian business-class lounge.
Bathroom and Showers
The bathroom in the First Lounge is a typical public restroom with a row of urinals, toilets in closet-like stalls, and several sinks for washing hands. In contrast, the Prestige Lounge has about 10 individual, private bathrooms with toilet, sink and even electical power.
There are only a couple of shower rooms in the First Lounge since there are fewer customers here than in the Prestige Lounge. I did not try the showers here but assume they are equivalent to those in the Prestige Lounge. The showers in the Prestige lounge are quite nice.
The First Lounge lacks many of the amenities of a good first-class lounge. There is no restaurant with an a la carte menu, no one to give massages, no salon and barber shop. The only amenity I found were two massage chairs in a room near the bathrooms.
These chairs can provide a surprisingly good massage.
Service is one area where the First Lounge excels. Because there aren’t many passengers in this lounge the agents are able to provide individual attention. They found me in the lounge and informed me that my flight was slightly delayed. They came back to tell me when my flight was ready to board.
The KAL First Lounge at ICN provides peace and quiet for working or relaxing and that’s the primary function of an airport lounge. Though as far as delivering the kind of experience that makes a first-class lounge a destination in and of itself, this lounge falls short.