The first part of my long trip from Washington, DC, to Jakarta was a 14-hour flight from DC to Seoul. Looking back and thinking about what I remembered about the experience made me think of some things that make me look forward to experiencing an international flight (in comparison to typical domestic, shorter distance flights).
When you think of international flights, two things that come to mind are typically the long distance and the time it takes to complete the flight. As such, the obvious emphasis from the airline perspective is to ensure that the flight is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible for the passengers. This means wider seats, longer leg room, selections of in-flight entertainment, and good food/refreshments. Very different than shorter distance flight where typically the passengers care more about getting to the destination as fast as possible, and the airlines try to maximize the load and have expedient turnaround.
Another aspect with international flights that sometimes become the differentiator for the airlines is the cultural/national influence of the carrier’s country of origin. For some of them, the airline and the service it provides represent their country/culture, so they would take it seriously and serve with pride (I don’t think you would see this from any of the US-based carriers). For me personally, this aspect I think makes a big difference between a flight experience that is simply good to the one that is memorable. I think my first flight experience on Korean Air was an example of that.
The first impression on the aircraft was good with modern, clean, and spacious cabin of their Boeing 777. The boarding process was efficient, the flight attendants were welcoming with smiles, and as the result the passengers seemed to be happy to start their journey. Then there was the Audio Video On Demand (AVOD) system, which has the job of occupying the passengers mind during the flight to make the long flight seems to pass quicker. It did a good job for me, as I was able to find a couple of movies I had not seen, and found all kinds of music from various Asian countries to listen to.
Then there was the food. On a 14-hour flight, we went through some snacks and several meals. So there were several occasions where they needed to provide good variety of food that the passengers would enjoy. With Korean Air (and similarly, with some other Asian carriers), they would provide options for either western-style menu or Korean-style menu. This is to address both the westerners who don’t really care for trying Korean food and also the Korean nationals and others who actually are looking forward to having their national dishes. I think this part was one of the highlights of these international flights, as you get to try something that’s unusual for American experience.
Lastly, another factor that may make an international flight memorable are the passengers themselves. Depending on the flight route, you can expect different demographics making up the list of passengers. For example, going from DC to Seoul, you can expect to find a majority of the passengers being Koreans who are going to their home country. It was interesting to people watch and see how people from different cultures behave.
I took the photo below just before we took off. There were two mothers traveling in this long flight with their young children. They were given the bulkhead seats as the Korean Air flight provided the bassinet to place their little children in so they’re comfortable during the flight. These two little kids did very well during the flight and didn’t cry or got upset at all. And they made for a fun source of entertainment from watching them play and make facial expressions.