In December 2020, SkyTrax, one of the most prestigious airline rating organizations bestowed its highest rating of 5-Stars on Korean Airlines. Currently, only 11 airlines enjoy a SkyTrax 5-Star rating. Barring other changes, the merger between Korean Air and Asiana Airlines that should be completed in 2021 will reduce the number of 5-Star airlines to 10.
SkyTrax is a London-based company that has published quality ratings for global airlines since 1999. Its 5-Star rating is reserved for airlines providing the highest level of aviation services and products. No U.S. based carrier earns more than 3-Stars.
These are the airlines currently recognized with a SkyTrax 5-Star rating.
ANA All Nippon Airways
Cathay Pacific Airways
SkyTrax Ratings Methodology
In late 2019, Skytrax auditors travelled on Korean Air flights as unidentified “mystery shoppers” for three weeks. Because of Covid, the results were not announced until December and all other 5-Star ratings have been rolled over without new evaluations.
SkyTrax evaluated the quality of products and customer service in all areas, including check-in counters, lounges, seating, in-flight meals, in-flight entertainment, cabin crew services, and in-flight service items. SkyTrax ratings are not based on customer reviews.
The announcement notes that this rating reflects Korean Air’s excellent service qualities, comfortable seating such as first class Kosmo Suites 2.0, and an in-flight entertainment system that offers a variety of content. The airline also offers in-flight menus using seasonal ingredients and select-wine lists. Korean Air has won awards for its bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish. while continuing to introduce new services such as baggage loading notification system to improve customer convenience.
It is interesting that Skytrax gives Etihad and Emirates only 4 stars. Those airlines have first class and business class products, lounges and services that are worthy of 5 stars. Does the use of rating agency consulting services play a role in the ratings? One wonders.
The SkyTrax rating for each Korean Air product and service in first business and economy classes is here.
I have flown on Korean Air quite a few times over the last 15 years and multiple times on all other SkyTrax 5-Star airlines, except Lufthansa and Hainan. Korean Air’s best attribute is the service of the cabin crew. Korean Air cabin crew are clearly worthy of a 5-Star rating.
Korean Air also deserves high marks for having a very modern fleet and outstanding seating arrangements in all classes of service. The Kosmo Suite 2.0 is one of the best first-class seats on any airline. I experienced the older Kosmo Suite and thought it was outstanding.
Kosmo 2.0 adds a door for greater privacy and an upgraded appearance.
While Korean Air’s best first-class seat is unsurpassed, food and beverages in first class is outstanding but just a tad below what I’ve experienced on ANA, Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airiness. On the other hand, Korean Air creates salads and desserts for first class passengers at their seats. That is a level of personalized service those other carriers don’t match.
Korean Air business class (Prestige Class) also features one of the best seats available, the Apex Suite (Prestige Suite). This seat does not have a door but by being located far from the aisle, window Prestige Suites offer more privacy than other seats that are enclosed.
A feature that distinguishes Korean Air is the bar on its A380 aircraft. Korean Air is the only Asian airline and one of just a few worldwide that outfits some of its planes with a bar and lounge area. The Celestial Bar, which is sponsored by Absolut Vodka, features vodka drinks and light snacks and is staffed by a flight attendant during flight. It is a great place to hangout and converse with fellow travelers while stretching one’s legs.
Korean Air also deserves high marks for its economy class product and service on long-haul international flights. Coach passengers receive amenity kits including eye masks, slippers and dental kits. They also enjoy generous seat pitch and width. Unlike most airiness that have reduced seat pitch to 31 to 32 inches of leg room, Korean Air provides 33 to 34 inches of pitch in economy.
Korean Air has retained a 3-3-3 seating arrangement on its 777s whereas many other airlines are using a 3-4-3 arrangement. Consequently, Korean Air 777 economy seats are 18 inches wide compared to 17 inches on the vast majority of other airlines. On a transpacific flight of 12 to 16 hours, a little more seat width and pitch makes a big difference in comfort.
I agree with Korean Air’s overall 5-Star rating. It delivers excellent customer service and flies a comparatively young fleet that offers passenger-friendly seats and seating arrangements. Korean Air also benefits from operating its primary hub at the new Terminal 2 at Seoul/Incheon International Airport (ICN). Terminal 2 was opened in 2018 just before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Terminal 2 is one of the the most attractive and efficient terminals in the world.
Lounges are the only major area where Korean Air fails the 5-Star test in my view. Korean Air’s Prestige Lounges and First Class Lounge in Terminal 2 are significant improvements but are still not on par with lounges of some of its 5-Star airline competitors like ANA, Cathay Pacific, and Singapore Airlines.
Asiana Airlines and Korean Air should complete their recently approved merger later in 2021. That merger should solidify Korea Air’s place as one of the world’s best airlines. How would you rate Korean Airlines?