Are you planning to take a trip to South Korea, for business or even for pleasure? I recently got back from Seoul and I have some hacks for you to be aware of.
First, in regards to flying there, I was able to get a round trip non-stop ticket from San Francisco to Seoul in Economy Class for only $998 plus taxes. And I was able to make this reservation just a couple days ahead of the flight. I found the flight through CheapoAir.com.
The airplane was a 747-8. The airline was Korean Air, a great airline with outstanding service. One thing you need to be aware of with Korean Air is that they base your carryon limits by weight. So if you have a carryon bag and a briefcase, they will weigh them together. If it exceeds that weight, they will require you to check your carryon bag. Check your particular airline to see what their requirements are.
My suggestion? I always carry spare underpants, undershirt, and socks in my briefcase/computercase. So if you are forced to check your carryon, and it gets temporarily lost, at least you will have a change of underwear.
Getting through Security
The security issue can always be a hassle. I use a fanny pack, also referred to as a waist pack, one with several pockets. All airports require that you take all metal out of your pockets, and many, including Seoul, require that you take everything out of your pockets. These packs are great for throwing in your keys, your coins, and your iPhone, plus anything else that might be in your pockets, like your passport. It’s nice to know that everything is in one place.
I never run my waist pack through the detector by itself; I always put it in one of those bins, along with my jacket and shoes (unless I’m leaving Korea – more about that later). Also, I always clip the strap together before running it through, so that a loose strap doesn’t get caught on anything in the X-ray machine. I actually had that happen to a pack once, a long time ago. The security guys kept running one of my shoes through the machine to knock it loose.
You don’t have to worry about the language issue for Korean Air as all the flight attendants speak English. When you arrive at your seat, you will find a blanket wrapped in plastic, a pillow, a large bottle of water, slippers, and headphones.
Every passenger gets a huge television screen in front of them, not the little screen you seen on several other airlines, but large screens that take up the whole width of the seat in front of you. I watched three movies on the flight back and still had time to get some sleep. They were showing such movies as The Revenant, Spotlight, and Concussion.
Transportation From the Airport to Seoul
There are various busses and subway trains that you can take from Incheon to downtown Seoul. I didn’t want to take any chances with getting on the wrong bus or train, and dealing with money and tickets when I first arrived. And I wasn’t sure about taxis. So I used a service called FuntasticKorea, which provides an airport transfer shuttle into Seoul. I paid for it ahead of time, ordering the small van to Gangnam, for 80,000 won (approximately $68).
They said that the driver would meet me at Gate 8 at exactly 90 minutes after my plane lands. This was to allow for getting luggage and going through customs and immigration. Sure enough, we both show up at exactly 90 minutes after landing time.
The ride was great. I was the only one in the van, and got to see the enormous number of buildings on the drive in.
There are plenty of great hotels to stay at in Seoul. I stayed at the Intercontinental Grand Seoul Parnas, one of two Intercontinental Hotels in Gangnam. There was a proximity advantage to staying at either of these hotels, which I will cover shortly.
None of the taxi drivers spoke English, at least none that I rode with. Here is a trick I used to give them directions. Since I had my laptop with me, and the hotel provided free wifi, I would look up on the Internet where I wanted to go. I would then copy the name and address of the location, go to Google Translate, paste it in to the English side on the left, choose Korean on the right and click Translate. Now the final step. I took out my iPhone and took a picture of the Korean language on the screen. I was then able to show the taxi drivers the picture on my phone with the address.
A convenient way to return to Incheon Airport is using a CALT bus. CALT stands for City Airport, Logis & Travel. CALT is located between both the Intercontinental Hotels and above the huge COEX underground mall. The CALT bus is non-stop and it is sit anywhere on the bus, not assigned seating. You can buy a ticket with a credit card at one of the machines there. The price is just 16,000 won (about $14).
The Most Important Tip of All
One other advantage of using CALT is that they have an immigration office right there, which can expedite your navigation through the airport. There is literally no line at the CALT immigration office. They print out your boarding pass and stamp it with a green circular stamp. This is important.
The bus ride was comfortable and arrived at the far end of the airport in about an hour and a half. So I walked up to the long line for security, showed the agent my boarding pass with the green stamp, and the agent literally walked me over to the “express” security line with only two guys ahead of me. I did not have to take off my shoes.
I then headed over to the Korean immigration department, and stood in the back of a long line. But I immediately showed my boarding pass to an immigration agent directing the line of people, and she sent me way over to the left hand side, which was the immigration line for diplomats. There was no one at all in line. I showed my passport and boarding pass with the green stamp, and the officer waived me through.
Returning flight time was 9.5 hours (going there was 11 hours). Immigration in San Francisco was semi-automated. That form you fill out on the plane is basically duplicated on the kiosk machines that basically ask you all the same questions. The machines print out an immigration receipt. You then stand in line and show the officer the receipt who tells you “Welcome home.”
Two more Tips
- Speaking of tips, do not tip anyone in South Korea. They consider it an insult. This includes restaurants, taxi drivers, and hotel workers.
- Don’t buy Korean currency at a currency shop in a US airport. I was charged a 16% spread plus a $9.95 service charge. I recommend ordering currency through your bank. Make sure you order it with enough days ahead of time so that you can get it before you leave. For many banks, it can take two to five business days for the money to come in.
Hopefully, you will have a trip to the clean, safe, and friendly country of South Korea that will be as enjoyable as mine was. Happy travels!