Asiana vs. Virgin

Not only do I have some time to kill before leaving for training, but I also found my camera cable during packing so figured now’s the time to get that post nailed…

Last time I came to Japan, I flew Asiana. I chose them because they were cheap-ish (I think they had a special offer running) and because they were recommended by my friend Sam, air travel geek extrodinaire. OK, if I’m honest, the fact that they’re Korean also figured in my decision-making process. They’re a five star airline (like Quatar and a few others), the only noticeable effect of which is that you get a menu card in your seat, and that everything is particularly clean and shiny, especially the cabin crew. The menu was a choice between Western or Korean food, and clearly I went for the latter. It was good – bibimbap, buloggi, kimchi etc. The entertainment system wasn’t bad – your own screen and remote control, but the games were really basic and the system not personalised to your seat as it was on Virgin.

Which brings me to my recent flight. Last time I flew with Virgin (to New York), I just wasn’t impressed. The cabin was dirty and I found a used cup wedged down the side of my seat, and there were crumbs on the floor. The staff weren’t particularly good, and the food pretty crappy. This time however, things were much improved. Over half of the staff were half Japanese, which probably helped on both the efficiency and presentation fronts, and they were all adorned in those uniforms in the latest TV ads. There were a surprising number of Japanese travellers so I guess it was important to have some native speakers on board.

The entertainment system was excellent – a list of 30 odd movies that you could watch when you wanted, and pause when you went to the bathroom or ate, hundreds of TV shows, loads of music, seat-to-seat messaging, decent video games (also some seat-to-seat multiplayers) and loads of information channels. It was impressive, even though my system crashed and had to be rebooted at one point. I couldn’t sleep at all (despite taking a sleeping pill and listening to their “sleep meditation” relaxation audio thingy) so watched three films – Slumdog Millionaire (not bad, but not worth all those Oscars), Wushu (Chinese film about a bunch of kids at a Wushu school – good fun) and The Flavour of Happiness (a Japanese film about a woman who quits her job to work in a Chinese restaurant – very good).

The thing that tipped me over the opinion-changing edge, however, was the food. They had a staggering four options of meals, three of which were Western and the fourth was just billed as a “Japanese bento box”. Feeling adventurous, I opted for that, although the fact that the Western meals had a Gu branded chocolate pudding nearly pulled me the other way. This is what I was presented with:

It’s even branded! Inside the brown package (some kind of leaf) was steamed rice with black sesame seeds. The bowl on the bottom right is soup (they add water to some kind of dehydrated miso before they give it to you) and on the bottom left is even a little mochi! The inside:

Top left are some fried things and braised lotus root, top right some cold soba (the sauce for which is in a bottle above the soup bowl), then bottom left is salad and a gyoza, and bottom right are pickles. They even served green tea. Very pleased with my meal – filling but healthy – perfect for a plane.

So, to conclude, Virgin aren’t bad at all, and at 200 squids cheaper than Asiana, are good value to boot. Yay Richard!

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