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Trip Report: Economy and Business Class on Korean Air's Boeing 737 MAX 8

Trip Report: Economy and Business Class on Korean Air's Boeing 737 MAX 8

BY SANGHYUN KIM Published on February 24, 2024 3 COMMENTS

In June 2022, I had the chance to fly on Korean Air's Boeing 737 MAX 8. Boeing was returning the 737 MAX to service around this time after multiple fatal crashes forced the company to ground the aircraft entirely. Korean Air received its first 737 MAX, with registration HL8348, on February 11, 2022. HL 8348 was almost three years old at the time, based on its assembly date of April 2, 2019. I flew round-trip on the 737 MAX: one way in economy class and the other way in business class.


Photo: Caleb Fleming | AeroXplorer




I booked both tickets from the Korean Air website. This flight was also my first solo flight and my first time on a (kind of) brand-new airplane, so I decided to treat myself with a little present: I booked the inbound flight in Prestige Class (Korean Air's name for business class). The outbound flight was booked at the saver rate (fare class "T"), so I was not getting any miles for that flight, and the seat selection was not free. I decided to select my seat at the airport.




First Trip Details:


  • Origin: Gimpo International Airport (GMP)
  • Destination: Jeju International Airport (CJU)
  • Aircraft Type: Boeing 737 MAX 8
  • Registration: HL8349
  • Flight Number: KE 1265
  • Departure: 6:35 p.m. Korea Standard Time (KST)
  • Arrival: 7:45 p.m. KST
  • Class: Economy
  • Seat: 39F


I arrived at Gimpo International Airport 50 minutes before departure and acquired my ticket from a self-check-in kiosk. Boarding passes for Korean domestic flights are in the form of a receipt, which differs from the typical thick paper boarding passes.


A boarding pass for economy class | Photo: Sean Kim


I passed security and went to the gates, where I found a bio information saving machine. I used it to save my bio information to the Korean Airports System, which saved me a ton of time on my Korean Domestic flights afterward. All you have to do is scan your boarding pass and palm, and you are ready to go.


Getting my bio information saved | Photo: Sean Kim


After that, I still had time left to eat dinner at Jeju. So, I went to do some Korean plane spotting from the gate. I spotted a new T'way Air Airbus A330-300, which was second-hand from Air Asia.


A T'way Air A330-300 (left) and Korean Air A220 (right) | Photo: Sean Kim




As it became time to board, I headed towards my gate, number 9. This is a remote gate, meaning I had to board a bus to go to the plane. On my way to the plane, I spotted an HL8350, which I will be boarding on my flight back to Gimpo. Next to HL8350 was a Jin Air Boeing 737-800.



A Korean Air Boeing 737 MAX 8, with registration HL8350 | Photo: Sean Kim 


As I got off the bus, I got a nice picture of HL8349, the plane I will be boarding for this flight.


A Korean Air Boeing 737 MAX 8, with registration HL8349 | Photo: Sean Kim


As I boarded the aircraft, I noticed the stellar interior of this brand-new three-year-old plane. This was my first time aboard a brand-new aircraft, and there was no wear and tear; it was just stunning. There were not too many people onboard as Jeju Island is a leisure destination, and most people board morning flights to the island. This flight was departing at 6:45 p.m., so it made sense.


Economy class on Korean Air's Boeing 737 MAX 8s | Photo: Sean Kim


I was seated in 39F, which was over a wing. As we were readying for takeoff, the (then new) safety video started playing over the seats, as the Boeing 737 MAX for Korean Air does not feature any personal IFE screens. The previous safety video fits Korean Air much better, but it has changed to an all-new metaverse theme. However, I still think the old version was the best for Korean Air.


Playing the safety video | Photo: Sean Kim


We soon took off into the sunset.


Takeoff | Photo: Sean Kim


In Flight


As this was in June 2022, people still practiced precautionary measures for COVID, and the aviation industry was no exception. As with the rest of the world, the pandemic hit Korean domestic flights, and all in-flight services were suspended. Accordingly, this flight did not serve beverages or snacks; only water was available when requested.




However, I could use the lavatory, which had a cool ambient light, before locking the doors. I snapped a picture of myself and used it as a profile picture for social media.


Inside the lavatory | Photo: Sean Kim




As this was a short flight, after looking out the window for a while, we landed at Jeju International Airport.


Landing at Jeju International Airport (CJU) | Photo: Sean Kim


We were dropped off at a remote ramp, so we had to deplane using stairs again, riding a bus to the domestic terminal.


Deplaning | Photo: Sean Kim


After I passed the baggage claim (as I did not have any bags checked), I came across the Welcome to Jeju sign at the airport. This was my 8th time in Jeju Airport because Jeju Island is an extremely popular leisure destination for Koreans, although I was heading right back home this time. The Seoul-Jeju route is the world's busiest by passenger traffic.


The welcome sign at Jeju Airport | Photo: Sean Kim


Second Trip Details


  • Origin: Jeju International Airport (CJU)
  • Destination: Gimpo International Airport (GMP)
  • Aircraft Type: Boeing 737 MAX 8
  • Registration: HL8350
  • Flight Number: KE 1278
  • Departure: 9:15 p.m. KST
  • Arrival: 10:15 p.m. KST
  • Class: Business
  • Seat: 07A


I returned to the airport to get my boarding pass, again at a self-check-in kiosk. This time, I was in business class and was granted Sky Priority and lounge access. Unlike most U.S. domestic flights, Korean domestic flights give you lounge access if you are in a premium cabin. Korean Air calls their lounges “KAL Lounge.”


A boarding pass for business class | Photo: Sean Kim


However, unlike international terminal lounges, domestic terminal lounges merely serve as a place to quietly rest and get hydrated, which means that these lounges do not have any hot meals. They usually serve snacks, chips, some beverages, and water, with sandwiches being the best option. I wanted a proper dinner, so I headed to the restaurant on the departures floor, next to the lounge. There, I had sea urchin seaweed soup, a staple of Korean cuisine.


Sea urchin seaweed soup with sides | Photo: Sean Kim


Then, I headed over to the airport observatory adjacent to the restaurant. I asked a couple to take a photo of me at the observatory.


At the airport observatory | Photo: Sean Kim


Finally, I headed to the KAL Lounge. I visited this lounge three years ago on a family vacation, and this time, the lounge was no different from that time, despite the COVID restrictions. The lounge was quiet and had some snacks and beverages. I was unable to get a high-quality picture of the lounge.


Snacks and beverages in the lounge | Photo: Sean Kim


There was also a lot of seating, with lounge chairs and small tables. I could get some study done here while waiting for my flight.


The lounge seats | Photo: Sean Kim


While studying, I noticed it was already past boarding time, so I rushed to security. Having saved my bio information at Gimpo, I could get past security in no time and board as the last business class passenger for the flight. I noticed that the aircraft was changed from HL8348, the first ever Boeing 737 MAX to be delivered to Korean Air, from HL8350, another Boeing 737 MAX 8 I have seen at Gimpo. 


However, I was thankful it was not changed to an older Boeing 737-800 or an Airbus A330-300. Korean Air flies A330s for short routes like this one and even flew Boeing 747s and 777s on this route before the pandemic.






I was selected for the first row in business class and the first row of the entire aircraft, which was, interestingly, 07A rather than 01A. This gave me even more legroom than the other business class seats. There was also a pillow waiting in my seat.


A pillow and large legroom in business class | Photo: Sean Kim


Boarding was finished about three minutes later, and the safety video was shown. We departed on time and took off 16 minutes later.


In Flight


For the seat controls, there were three buttons on the side of the armrest; the rightmost one was for the seat recline, which did recline significantly. The other two buttons were for the legrest and footrest; all three combined provided a comfortable ride. I do not have naptimes but could even dose off on this short flight.


The seat controls | Photo: Sean Kim




Before I knew it, it was time for landing, and we landed safely at Gimpo International Airport. However, the AirPods I placed on top of the armrest decided to "take off", so it flew off the short armrest and onto the floor.


My AirPods fell onto the floor when landing | Photo: Sean Kim


Thankfully, a business class crew member collected the AirPods and returned them to me as soon as she could move safely. I snapped a photo of HL8350 once more as I deplaned and came out of the air bridge.


HL8350 from the terminal | Photo: Sean Kim


My four-and-a-half-hour journey was finally completed, and I took the Seoul Metro home.


The metro station at Gimpo Airport | Photo: Sean Kim




This was a time when COVID-19 was still a thing, and it was sad to see a lot of flight services being reduced to an absolute minimum. However, I was still happy to embark on a round-trip brand new aircraft journey as my first solo flight! I still remember everything and think I will do it for eternity. Thank you, Korean Air!



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Sanghyun Kim
Hey! My name is Sanghyun Kim, and I'm an aviation enthusiast based in Seoul, South Korea. I like flying, flying, and flying. Umm, maybe I like cars too, haha. I became a writer for AeroXplorer to spread interesting information like they have wings! I hope they reach every single person that is interested in aviation. Thank you! . SkyTeam Elite (Korean Air Morning Calm Club)

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