Think Twice about Flying Korean Air with a Toddler

Our family of three travelled to South Korea in October 2018, during Autumn. Grace was about 16 months old, double the age of when she first flew to Japan. From Singapore to South Korea, we flew Korean Air with a toddler and were in economy class. On top of it, a red-eye flight.

After we arrived at Incheon International airport, we took a train to Gimpo airport and took Korean Air’s domestic flight to Jeju. This multi-city booking with Korean Air is comparable to separately booking budget airline for the domestic leg. In any case, with a baby and extra luggage for the baby, a budget airline is not ideal for us. Moreover, in the same booking, Korean Air gave us a good connecting flight timing, accounting for the time to travel from Incheon to Gimpo airport.

Our Flight with Korean Air
Singapore (6hrs15mins) > Incheon > (1hr10mins) Jeju

Snapshot: Our Experience with Korean Air 

In summary, unpleasant. (Our photos are deceivingly happy. Always a ‘Say Cheese’ moment.)

Korean Air gave us a bad start and thus the whole experience. The service of the flight attendants on our first flight (red eye) could be improved. To cut them some slack, I think it was the circumstances that made us expect more from them. Grace was running a fever that day, and she needed a good sleep. However, the airline didn’t provide a bassinet for our red-eye flight.

Other than these, Korean Air is generally good for parents with children. So if you are thinking of bagging that enticing Korean Air deal to Incheon, it’s still worth it. Or probably you should decide after reading this entire post.

Update – 22 Dec 22: I am still receiving backlash after years of posting. I am taken by surprise by how some people interpret this post so differently from what I meant it to be. My purpose was to tell fellow parents what they should take note of and okay I admit, also to have an outlet for me to vent. So I will turn off the comments for my mental health. For genuine questions and comments, you can send me a message via the website or social media.

Update – 27 June 19: After travelling on Singapore Airlines (SIA) with a toddler recently, I realised that Korean Air is more child-friendly than SIA in terms of entertainment (e.g. kid’s earphones and toy sets) and food (the packaging and food contents). We had the usual good service on SIA, but not much thought was given to the young passenger. Korean Air provided a trash bag and a box of tissue for the child but we had to specifically request them from SIA. We got off the wrong footing with Korean Air and they caught us on a bad day, otherwise, I would have given Korean Air more credit than in this post. 

About Bassinet 

Departure Flight: Singapore > South Korea

My eyes squinted open to dim galley lights piercing through the darkness of the plane. A heavy weight was pressing upon my chest, it was baby Grace’s head. Her head rested on me, while her legs dangled off at my knees. She was for the moment peacefully sleeping. It had taken forever to cajole her to sleep, not forgetting the pressurising flight attendants. More on that later.

Then I took fifteen minutes to unwind myself to sleep, only to have five minutes or so of good rest. My body was on the brink of entering into a deep sleep when numbness radiated through my left arm and woke me up.

In my tiny economy seat, I gingerly adjusted and lifted my baby, careful not to knock into the sleeping mother and toddler to my right, my sleeping husband on the left. I stealthily manoeuvred my arm out, but it took simply a slight twitch to shake her up to loud cries.

She cried like she just had a nightmare, while in fact, my nightmare had resumed. In a cabin full of people sleeping and trying to sleep, I was sure I was the subject of all curses.

“Ouch!” I uttered under my breath, careful not to irk them further. My baby had scratched my arm in defiance, or she was simply being angry for having her sleep disturbed, like the other passengers. I bled a little and cursed the airline for not providing the bassinet. I too hit myself on the head for packing last minute and leaving no time to cut her fingernails.

(Failed) Bassinet Request 

So hubby emailed Korean Air to request the bassinet and received an email. We read the first half (as photo above), and assumed it was a confirmation email. It was so long, we only scanned through the rest of the email (photo below), thinking it was the usual ‘terms and conditions’ kind of text.

We were so wrong. A super important point was buried in the wordy email. Because there’s no ‘Firstly’, we didn’t look out for a ‘Secondly’ in the email. Apparently, we had to reply to the email with our baby’s height and weight to confirm the bassinet request!

It was on us for not replying to the email, but it felt like we were penalised for clicking ‘I Agree’ to the lengthy terms and conditions. Or that penalty for being the layman who did not scrutinise a professional wordy legal contract.

Korean Air could have avoided this misunderstanding by requesting upfront for our baby’s height and weight or for our reply to confirm. Or to simply bold and underline the required course of actions from us.

No Bassinet for Departure

Grace in a stroller at Changi Airport’s Terminal 3. She was so excited before the flight!

With a feverish baby on a red-eye flight, having no bassinet ignited the hulk in me, regardless who was right or wrong. Initially, the counter told us there was no bassinet and to check again at the gate. Then the staff at the gate told us there was and asked us to board the plane first.

But there was no follow-up. So we requested for bassinet again and the flight attendant looked at us blankly and said there was none. Apparently, if you don’t request the bassinet, Korean Air will not bring the bassinet with them from Korea. Like what… Why did they give us false hope, saying there was a bassinet? And don’t they even have a spare one in case of emergencies or damage to the requested bassinet?

What’s more, there’s another mother and baby sitting beside us without a bassinet. Imagine the squeeze in the 3-seater row. Don’t even get me started on the seating arrangement (Next Section: Middle Section Seating)

Remember to request a bassinet from Korean Air and REPLY to their email!

Return Flight: South Korea > Singapore

The return flight was better in all ways. After the hoo-ha of the departure flight, a staff ordered a bassinet for our return flight. But we didn’t really need a bassinet this time round. We got an empty seat beside us, for free! The rainbow awesomeness of it. Our toddler loves to have this space of her own. Her butt just could not stay planted on our laps for long. So she made herself comfortable in the free seat, and we didn’t need to struggle with a wriggling daughter in our arms.

Where was this bassinet when we needed it the most for our red-eye flight?!

It’s still good to have a bassinet though, and another playground to plant our hyperactive toddler in. Regardless, this was a day flight, so I was less stressed about her disturbing others. When she’s bored, we just walked her up and down the aisle to burn off her energy.

Middle Section Seating for Our Flight

Korean Air Seating Arrangement

Grace struggled, knocked her head against the armrest of the plane seat, and cried even harder. I tried to thrust her into my breast again. That was supposed to calm her down to sleep in a quick and easy manner. ALAS, in a plane full of sleeping passengers (seemingly full capacity), this method did not work this time.

She tried to peel off the nursing cover and get out of it, while I struggled to keep her under. From the corner of my eye, a man was staring in my direction. Was my breast exposed when my baby tried to remove the nursing cover? Could he have seen anything in the dark? When finally my baby succumbed to nursing and slept, a shadow walked past us, creaked open the toilet door near us, and shut it with a thud. A burst of cries erupted again.

I so much preferred the seating arrangement we had with Singapore Airlines when we flew to Fukuoka. Two-seater with one bassinet by the window. I could sit at the window seat to nurse while my hubby blocked intrusive views from the aisle.

Flying Korean Air Economy with a Toddler

For Korean Air, it’s a triple whammy.

  1. The bassinet rows of Korean Air are in the middle section of the aircraft, with 3+3+3 seats across.
  2. Every bassinet row can install two bassinets side by side, great for twins to sleep in, but not so great for two little crying strangers.
  3. Lastly, for our red-eye flight, the bassinet row is just beside the toilet cubicles, imagine all the noise of the opening and closing of doors, and the lights shining into our faces. How can my light sleeper baby have a good sleep?!

Red Eye Flight (Yay or Nay?)

Our red-eye flight was particularly bad because of the mother and toddler seated right next to us. Our two toddlers sleeping in our arms would sure to knock or kick into each other. Hence, hubby sat in the middle to “separate” us. But I too exposed nursing Grace in the aisle seat. So in the end, I moved back to the middle seat and we were uncomfortably cramped up, all the while trying to avoid knocking into the other mother-child pair with Grace.

We preferred a red-eye flight because we don’t need to entertain her for the whole flight journey. She has no screen time at all, so we literally have to be her entertainment and that’s tiring. So with her asleep, we could rest for a while. I’m still in the ‘for red eye flight’ camp. Just that, I have to make sure I get a bassinet!

Of course, if it’s a day flight, she has a bundle of energy to entertain us with her cute antics. Like her in the photo below, wearing toddler headphones provided by Korean Air.

About Korean Air Staff & Policy

Flight Attendants on Red Eye Flight

“Everything alright?” the flight attendant asked, smiling politely at me. Her well-painted face made her skin so fair and smooth that it reminded me of a porcelain doll, and of a famous Korean actress. I said yes, forcing a smile, while I tried to keep my restless baby on my lap and hushed her protests.

Five minutes later, the same lady came by to check on us again. Or was it another one? They looked quite the same to the anxious and busy me. This time, I was bouncing my crying baby in my arms to calm her down. I nodded in a bid to shoo her off.

Yet another few minutes later, someone came to ask if I needed her assistance. In the midst of trying to thrust my baby towards my breast, hoping she would nurse for comfort and calm down, I glared at the flight attendant and gave a curt yes.

Were the staff seriously trying to be really helpful or pressurising me to shut my baby up? The latter seemed more like it while I was in that situation. Because, what can they do? Comfort the baby better than her own mother? Helped me to nurse? I seriously don’t know how they were trying to help. In the dark plane full of sleeping passengers, I was trying my best to calm a baby. I was already feeling bad for disturbing the others. So they were not making me feel any better.

Grace with Robot at Incheon Airport

Baggage Allowance

Korean Air is very strict on their checked baggage allowance. For economy, each person can check in only 1 luggage piece of 23kg for travel from Singapore to Seoul. No combining of allowance with fellow passengers, even if the two of you have 15kg and 25kg each. No wonder I see quite a few people re-packing their luggage at the counters.

We fell in the “oh shucks” category. But good thing, we have Grace with us. That’s why the ground staff was kind to extend grace and let the luggage through. I can’t imagine having to rearrange our belongings with a toddler, a stroller, and a few pieces of hand luggage. Logistics nightmare. But the staff did warn us that we might not be “let off” for our domestic flight that departed from Gimpo airport.

Ground Crew at Gimpo Airport

The ground crew at Gimpo airport was helpful in getting us to catch our domestic flight. Otherwise, we would have missed the flight and messed up our car rental and schedule. More on this is in the Domestic Flight section below. One thing is for sure, good we didn’t go for budget airlines.

Food and Entertainment 

Flight Meals

Food-wise, the breakfast for the red-eye flight was not fantastic. The meal is as the photo above. Convenience food plated nicely as a good proper meal? Instant porridge with a packet of seasoning could be tasty, but not appealing to the severely sleep-deprived us. We noticed a few passengers opting out of their breakfast too.

The meal for Grace was not that great either, though it was put inside a cute box with a design of Pororo the Little Penguin (two photos down). She ate only a mouthful or two. All three of us simply had no appetite after a rough night on the flight. Perhaps the food would do better if we are feeling much better.

Entertainment for Children

Singapore Airlines gave Grace a small soft toy, while Korean Air provided a nice doodle book kit! This can keep a toddler entertained longer than a soft toy. However, Grace was still too young to hold a pen to doodle. Hence, we had to find other ways to keep her entertained – like playing with toddler earphones Korean Air provides for children’s screen time.

Help for Mummy

On our return flight, we were given a big nice plastic bag as a rubbish bin, and a box of tissue for baby/toddler use. Quite surprised by the sudden hospitality of Korean Air because we were not given these during the red-eye flight nor on Singapore Airlines.

Korean Air (Domestic)

When we reached Incheon international airport, hubby and I had diarrhoea and felt like puking. This is perhaps due to the over-tiredness from having one hour of broken sleep. Poor Grace was also cranky the whole night, because of her disturbed sleep and fever.

And so with the toilet runs, the diaper changing, and buying of breakfast, we ended up late at Gimpo airport for our flight to Jeju. I literally ran with Grace in the baby carrier from the train station to the check-in counters while hubby caught up with us with two big pieces of luggage, strollers, and other bags. As I ran like mad through the super duper long run, I thought to myself, “Shucks, don’t let us miss this flight as we did in Australia.”

The clock was ticking, fifteen minutes to departure time.

I was so relieved when the helpful ground staff proceeded to help us check in and allow our (overweight) luggage in. One staff brought us through the security counters and directed us to the gate. Phew! Glad they were not like the staff of Jetstar Australia, who scoffed at us and waved us away.

As we trudged through a plane full of seated passengers, I wondered if they were waiting for us to board or was the plane just late. During the flight, we were served peanuts and drinks. Good thing we did not book a budget airline. With our luggage, a budget airline’s domestic fare added up to be about the same as Korean Air’s (through multi-city booking).

All in all, we count our blessings for safe flights! Be sure to bookmark the Overview Itinerary of South Korea as I update it with useful information.

Do you have anything to share about Korean Air or questions? Send me a message via this website or social media. Love to hear from you. :)

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