On my flight to Saigon from Houston, I have a 16-hours overnight layover at Seoul Incheon Airport. Initially, I planned to explore Seoul for the layover. But no tour is available when I landed at 4PM. I decided to take it easy and rest. I’m very glad I did. Incheon is the airport made for transit passenger.

Seoul Incheon Airport

Walkway of Seoul Incheon Airport
Walkway of Seoul Incheon Airport

Compared to the world best airport, Singapore Changi Airport, Incheon does not win in terms of appearance or size. But for utility and comfort, I do not see other airport offering as much as Incheon. I have been to Changi Airport several times as a transit passenger. It was impressive with the butterfly garden and beautifully decorated wait areas. It even offers free tours. But I don’t really need all these great things.

After spending 12 hours on a plane, what most people need is a place to rest. Incheon is designed for this purpose. Here are the reasons why Incheon is a place for transit passengers to rest and relax.

SkyHub Lounge

On the flight from Houston to Seoul, Korean Air gave me two meals. I enjoy the foods but they were too little for a flight that long. I was very hungry. I found a few fast food restaurants but I refused to eat them. I looked around until I found SkyHub Lounge. It’s basically a buffet and drinks for people who subscribes to a yearly access pass. But as a transit passenger, I was able to pay about 23 USD to get in for three hours.

 

The buffet consists of mostly healthy Korean foods. I tried almost a little of everything including salad, soup, fried rice and what appears to be General Tso’s chicken. Everything tastes much better than a typical Asian buffet in the US. I can’t comment on how authentic the foods are, but there were a lot of Korean in the lounge. The only thing I didn’t like is the limited selection of foods.

There is a fridge full of soft drinks and juice. Next to that, there is a beer fountain and a shelf of wine. I don’t drink so I can’t comment on the quality. Coffee and tea are also available. Yes, there is ice cream machine.

$23 is a reasonable price for a buffet of this quality in an airport. They made much profit from me because I don’t drink.

Free Shower

After eating the buffet, I decided to try the free shower. I didn’t have to wait long before I was given a small towel and a shower room. The room is like a bathroom in a hotel. It has a toilet, washbasin, cabinet and shower area complete with soap and shampoo. The room is very clean. I felt very relaxed to take a warm shower after sitting for over 10 hours over the Pacific Ocean. The shower opens from 7 AM to 9 PM.

Sleeping Area

Since I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, the I was very desperate to find a comfortable place to rest. There are plenty of flat sofas with pillows that people can either sit or lie down on. I tried to sleep on this, but people would constantly walk by and make noises. Then I found a sleeping area that is enclosed by three sides of walls to keep the area dark. Not many people walk by here. It was quiet and dark enough to keep me asleep for about seven hours.

Massage Chair

After I wake up, I went ahead to stretch my body a bit with a massage chair. The massage chair massages all the upper body parts including neck, back and shoulder. It felt like someone really massaged me. The only problem is, there is just one working chair in the area I was at. I think there were four more chairs that do not work.

Reliable and Fast WiFi

After I rested up, I was ready to work. Incheon really represents Korea’s telecom infrastructures. The WiFi’s speed and response are faster than usual (compared to the US). The signal covers the airport well. At one point, the WiFi fails to connect. I was able to connect to another WiFi connection and still browse the web.

Not all WiFi are created equal. In Los Angeles Airport, I was asked to watch an ad to get 15 minutes of WiFi. After the time is up, I had to watch the ad again. In San Franciso and Houston Airport, I had to agree to the terms of use before I can connect. There is no hassle in Incheon. Once I connect to a network here, I get access immediately.

Facility

About 2 hours before boarding, I explored the airport. The building design is simple and easy to navigate. There are two rest and relax areas on the fourth floor that are mostly identical. Every place I went to seems clean and well maintained.

The shops on the third floor are mostly designer’s brands. There is a Korean cultural shop where traditional souvenirs and arts are sold.

Robot Kimbap

As I walked to the boarding area for my flight to Saigon, I passed a Korean restaurant “Robot” at Gate 15. The only English part of the name read “Very Strong Restaurant (R) Robot.” I found that really strange. I mean, how can a restaurant be strong. And what does a robot has anything to do with food? The sign further explains that their foods are very healthy. It can make me strong like a robot. Since I work in a robotic lab and have seen how often robots break, I strongly disagree with this marketing message.

But I went ahead and ordered a “Spicy Stir-Fried Ramen Tteokbokki” for $4.50. It has two chili icons next to the name. I wasn’t disappointed seeing how the soup look. It was like red like magma from hell. The taste was true to its appearance. I’ve had authentic Korean foods in the US before but they were never this spicy. I guess this is what “very strong restaurant” means.

About halfway into eating this, I had to take off my hat to wipe the sweat off my head. The restaurant staffs were laughing. For this, I rate this dish a four (hat off spicy) in term of spiciness. Since this is the first time I rate a food’s spiciness, here is the scale I will use.

  1. Politically correct spicy: The food is spicy enough to call it spicy. But it probably will never offend or make anyone cry.
  2. Baby spicy: Only spicy enough to make a baby cry.
  3. White man spicy: Spicy enough to make a white man (or anyone who doesn’t eat spicy food regularly) cry.
  4. Hat off spicy: Spicy enough to make me sweat and take my hat off.
  5. Jack spicy: Spicy enough to make me cry.
  6. Unbreakably spicy: Too spicy for me to finish the meal without drinking more water than the food itself.

Most spicy foods in the US range from one and three. In Thailand, spicy foods range from thrree and six.

The only disappointment I had with the ramen is the amount of carb in the serving. It looks as though everything except for the two quail eggs are carbs. It was very tasty so I ate the whole serving.

Free tour

I didn’t make it to a tour. Should you be interested in going, note that there are several tours starting from 7 AM to 3 PM. Tours range from 1 to 5 hours. You must have some kind of visa that allow you to enter Korea. See Incheon Airport’s tour page for details.

Summary

  1. Free shower
  2. Free sleeping area
  3. Free massage chair
  4. Free transit tour
  5. Free, fast and reliable WiFi. Don’t need to sign in or accept any terms to use.
  6. Free desktop internet cafe that does not ask you to sign in
  7. Moderately priced Korean buffet – SkyHub lounge
  8. Easy to navigate due to the airport’s simple layout and assistive kiosk. Sleeping area, shower, and the buffet are grouped together.
  9. Mini-museum of Korean culture. Even though I didn’t get to go explore outside, I was able to see a sample of Korean culture. Makes me want to visit again.
  10. Clean and well-maintained facility
  11. Beautiful Korean women.
  12. Power outlets are hard to find in both rest and boarding area. Some airports, such as San Francisco International Airport, have working desk with outlets in the waiting area.

Incheon ranks 2nd after Singapore Changi Airport in the world best airport of 2016 by SkyTrax. But when it comes to the world best transit airport SkyTrax ranking of 2016, Incheon is it. My experience as a transit passenger agrees. Take advantage of all the amenities Incheon offers.

Feel free to share your experience at Incheon Airport.

 

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