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Review: Korean Air 777 Business Class (ICN-HKG)

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Review Overview

Korean Air's older 777 business class isn't anything special, and the 2-3-2 configuration is uncompetitive on a longhaul. On this short Seoul-Hong Kong flight, though, I couldn't ask for more.


After visiting both of Korean Air’s dismal new lounges at Incheon Airport, it was time to head home to Hong Kong. I got to gate 252 and enquired to the gate agent if I could be assigned a first class seat, since they were selling them as business class seats on our flight (I did something similar on our outbound flight on the 747-8, and got lucky). Unfortunately I got a firm no from the gate agent – while he was cold, the gate agent showed me the system on his computer screen to prove that those seats were reserved for full-fare business class passengers (we were booked into the lowest fare bucket), which I thought was a very responsible thing to do.

While the majority of “our” gate area faced parked at the gate next to us, from the corner of the gate area I spotted the 777-300ER that would be flying us home.

a group of airplanes at an airport
Korean Air Boeing 777 Seoul Incheon Airport

I was “gate lice” for around 10-15 minutes since I wanted to get better cabin pictures, and soon they started up boarding for the infirm, followed by business class passengers. There was a rather old man in a wheelchair that had brought his family of around nine people, and they were all seated in business class, which I found rather interesting (and was happy about, since I always feel terrible when an infirm passenger is seated in economy).

Korean Air 607
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Origin: Seoul Incheon (ICN) Gate: 252 Dep: 19:45 (20:00)
Destination: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 34 Arr: 22:30 (22:10)
Duration: 3 hr 40 min (3 hr 10 min)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER Reg: HL7784
Seat: 15A (Business Class)

While first and business class boarding happened through door L1, the crew were folding up the old man’s wheelchair by the gate, so I backtracked to the second door where they were boarding economy passengers and entered the plane through there.

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Cabin and Seats

To the left was a two-row business class mini-cabin. I wanted to be seated there, though unfortunately the seats had been blocked for frequent flyers from the very beginning, and were taken by the time check-in rolled around. The mini-cabin featured two rows of business class seats, for a total of 14 seats.

a row of seats in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Mini-Cabin

As I took the above picture, the crew stopped me, thinking I was taking pictures of them. However, once they saw that I was just trying to get a cabin picture, they let me proceed. This was one of the most conservative crews I’ve had in terms of being in photos, which I’m not complaining about, as I know some people are more comfortable with being “on camera” than others (though presumably they hadn’t been flying as cabin crew for a very long time, as I can assure you that I’m not the only person who’s ever photographed a Korean Air cabin in the past).

I was seated in the main business class cabin, which was much larger and consisted of six rows for a total of 42 business class seats. We were on one of Korean Air’s older 777-300ERs featuring forward-facing fully flat seats in a 2-3-2 configuration. (Their newer 777-300ERs feature Apex Suites, similar to what I sampled on my outbound flight to Seoul.)

a row of seats on an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Cabin

While most of Korean Air’s ultra-longhaul flights are now flown with the newer and much more comfortable/spacious Apex Suite, many of their flights to Europe and even some of their flights to the U.S. are still run by this product. It’s worth noting that all of Korean Air’s A380s feature the same business class seat, despite the cabin being laid out in a more spacious 2-2-2 configuration.

a person standing in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Cabin

While these seats are out of date, they were more than fine for our three-hour flight from Seoul to Hong Kong. The front row window seats are marginally more enclosed than the rest, since there’s an extra “partition” by the screens embedded in the armrest. Unfortunately that comes at the cost of being able to use the screen during takeoff and landing.

a seat in a plane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Seats

For some reason most of the seats were blocked off for selection on our flight, so I was limited to the windowside pairs in the last and second last rows of the big aft cabin (which is my personal preference since I don’t feel “watched” and the seats around us are more likely to be empty, though my parents don’t feel the same, as they like sitting further forward). I was seated in 15A, which was the left window seat in the last row of the cabin.

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Seats 15A and 15B

While this configuration is decent if you’re flying in one of the windowside pairs and seated next to a loved one, it’s a shame that Korean Air continues to fly planes with middle seats in business class on 10+ hour flights.

We were fortunate that the seats directly across us were empty (an older Korean guy was seated on the very right, while there was a younger lady seated in the aisle seat of the right windowside pair). That’s an advantage of picking a seat in the last row, in my opinion.

a row of seats in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Row 15

I’ve flown this seat plenty of times, though hadn’t done so for a few years prior to this flight, so I had some reacquainting to do.

Since the seats are (basically) fully flat and face forward, there’s an endless amount of legroom, since the space in front of you is less “confined” (though obviously it’s shared with a seatmate). While I’d fly Korean Air’s newer Apex Suites any day, some people actually prefer this configuration if the flight is likely to be more than half empty, and I can see why.

a person's legs in a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Legroom

To my left was an armrest, where the seat controls were located.

a close up of a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Seat Controls

To my right under the armrest was the remote control for the TV in front of me, which wasn’t touchscreen.

a close-up of a control panel
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Remote Control

In front was a shoe compartment of sorts, which was useful, since the airline offers slippers to all business class passengers.

a white rectangular object with a metal foot rest
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Storage Compartment

To the right of my seat was also a substantial privacy partition, which afforded quite a bit of privacy, especially in bed mode. While some seats in this configuration are outfitted with privacy partitions that might as well not be there, Korean Air’s old business class seats don’t have this problem.

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Privacy Partition

Also to my right was a good adjustable reading light.

a close up of a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Reading Light

Below that were two USB power ports, with an extra 110V power port under the seat. I appreciate that Korean Air offers two USB ports for business class passengers. That’s very useful, especially considering the amount of gadgets that business travelers travel with nowadays – while I bring my own USB four-port hub on every flight, you shouldn’t have to BYO in business class.

a close up of a wall outlet
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class USB Ports

The tray table folded out of the right armrest, and was very sturdy.

a white rectangular object with a metal frame
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Tray Table

While I was perfectly happy in my spacious window seat, I know that solo travelers stuck in a middle seat in this configuration wouldn’t be as thrilled as I was. I remember being impressed at how much space this seat afforded a few years back, though there’s no denying that nowadays a forward-facing fully flat seat without direct aisle access is no longer competitive. Fortunately Korean Air’s new 777s, 787s, A330s and 747-8s all come with Apex Suites, which feature direct aisle access and are substantially more private.

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Amenities

At my seat was a tiny pillow, which was fine for our flight, as it had sufficient resilience (i.e. better than your average crappy, overly soft economy pillow) – though I’d prefer to have a more substantial pillow on a longhaul flight. Korean Air offers the same small pillow on shorthaul and longhaul flights, and I wouldn’t appreciate having such a tiny pillow on a 15-hour flight.

a white pillow on a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Pillow

I had similar thoughts regarding the fleece blanket on offer – fine for a short flight, but they use the same blanket on their longer flights, where it would’ve been subpar. Most airlines use legitimate duvets for longhaul business class flights nowadays, so it’s interesting how Korean Air has missed the memo in that regard.

a blue blanket on a chair
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Blanket

There were also slippers in a disposable drawstring bag in the seat pocket in front of us, which I appreciated.

a grey and white slipper
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Slippers

Headphones were located in the small storage compartment under the armrest. I actually thought they were better than the headphones offered on the outbound (I recognised from previous flights that these were from Phitek, so they’re pretty good, pretty sturdy business class airline headphones), but they still weren’t industry leading.

a pair of black headphones on a white surface
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Headphones

A flight attendant walked past my seat and gladly obliged to take a photo of me (for the Gram – follow me at @alvinythk), though afterwards was sure to warn me that I couldn’t take pictures of crew on the flight.

a man sitting in a plane
Yours Truly in Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class

Touring Korean Air’s 777 Economy Class

Since Korean Air’s top-tier elites boarded along with the business class line and there were no infirm passengers in economy, I got to check out the empty economy cabin during boarding as well. Korean Air’s 777s feature two equal-sized economy cabins, with 227 seats in a spacious 3-3-3 configuration (their new 777s also feature the same 3-3-3 configuration, while the industry standard continues to shift towards a tighter 3-4-3 configuration).

rows of blue and white seats on an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Economy Class

The forward cabin featured seats with blue seat covers, while the aft cabin featured seats with brown seat covers. As you’d expect for an aircraft that also flies longhaul flights, there were PTVs and USB charging at each seat, and shared power ports between seats.

rows of seats in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Economy Class

While Korean Air’s economy seats aren’t the most pimped out (with zero storage for small items, and no footrest), they do feature a very substantial 34 inches of seat pitch (the industry standard is 32 inches), making them some of the most spacious, legroom-laden economy seats out there.

a person's legs and a seat with a magazine in the back
Korean Air Boeing 777 Economy Class Legroom

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Pre-Departure Service

Not long after I settled in my business class seat, the cabin service manager introduced herself to me. I was offered a menu, followed by a pre-departure drink and some nuts. The cabin service manager briefly explained all the options on the menu to me and took my order, which I thought was a nice touch.

a green menu with text on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Menu

Korean Air serves honey roasted peanuts from Fisher pre-departure, before the meal service, after the meal service, and before landing. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture until I was basically done with my pre-departure beverage (I chose orange juice) and nuts.

a glass of orange juice and a package of food on a plane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Pre-Departure Beverage

Our Departure from Incheon Airport

I had a clear view of the setting sun outside from my seat, 15A. Being at the back of the rear business class cabin on the 777 has its downsides – the biggest being that you’re overwing, which means any views of the city during takeoff and landing will be obstructed. If you’re flying somewhere scenic, that might be something to at least take note of.

an airplane wing in front of a tower
Views from Seoul Incheon Airport Terminal 2

At this point the cabin manager came onto the PA to advise that we would have a “five-minute delay”, as they had to “offload some passengers from the cargo hold” (presumably that meant that they were offloading the baggages of passengers that couldn’t make their connection).

a group of airplanes parked at an airport
Korean Air Boeing 737 Seoul Incheon Airport

Eventually we pushed back at 8 PM, and made our way past Incheon’s Terminal 2 towards runway 16. At the same time the safety video was played.

a large building with lights and cars
Taxiing Seoul Incheon Airport

This involved passing Terminal 1, where we saw heavies from various different airlines, including Asiana and Emirates A380s.

an airplane at an airport
Taxiing Seoul Incheon Airport

The Emirates A380 was even outfitted with an awesome wildlife livery.

an airplane on the runway
Emirates Airbus A380 Seoul Incheon Airport

At around 8:10 PM we took off from runway 16, where we came across some nice sunset views.

an airplane wing with lights on the side
Takeoff Seoul Incheon Airport

an airplane wing with a city in the distance
Views upon Takeoff Seoul Incheon Airport

an wing of an airplane
Views upon Takeoff Seoul Incheon Airport

Around five minutes after we lifted off the seatbelt sign was retracted, and the captain came onto the PA to announce our flying time of three hours. The PA was a little muffled so I couldn’t hear everything that he said, but he also mentioned Hong Kong’s temperature and the one-hour time difference.

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Inflight Entertainment

I didn’t have the chance to check out the inflight entertainment system even though it was turned on right after the safety video (I have too much fun on flights), though based on previous experience (including my outbound flight) the options weren’t anything extraordinary. I liked the interface of the airshow, though.

There was no WiFi onboard this 777.

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Recline and Bed Mode

In the meantime I decided to test out the seat’s recline. The seat has a programme recline preset that can be reached at a touch of a button (you don’t have to hold on to it while the seat is reclining), which I found quite comfortable:

a seat on an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Reclined Preset

I then had a look at the seat in bed mode (I’d actually checked out bed mode earlier in the flight so I could get a better-lit picture, and even got a few weird looks from bypassing economy passengers). Korean Air’s 777s have seats that aren’t completely flat – they’re offset by a couple of inches. Since the plane flies nose-up at a slight angle anyway, I’d consider these seats fully flat, and have no qualms sleeping in it.

a two beds in a plane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Bed

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Bed

While the seat isn’t very well padded, it’s still a comfortable surface for sleeping. It’s worth noting that these seats aren’t the sturdiest, though, as you can’t put too much pressure on the “foot” area of the seat. While it’s still ultimately comfortable in bed mode, newer renditions of forward-facing fully flat seats such as LATAM’s A350 have sturdier seats.

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Bed

It’s worth noting that there are seat controls by the “headboard” that can bring you back into the upright or relax position, so you don’t have to reach down to access the seat controls when you wake up. I found that quite thoughtful, and once again they could be accessed at a touch of the button (you didn’t have to hold it until it reached the respective preset positions).

a close up of a white object
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Bedside Seat Controls

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Lavatory

I also visited the lavatory at this point. While I wasn’t a fan of the flowery wallpaper, the lavatory itself was kept clean at all points of the flight.

a sink and toilet in a bathroom
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Lavatory

I also went by one of the windows near the galley so I could photograph the amazing sunset over Seoul on the right side of the plane, which I wasn’t able to do from my seat (while I knew which side the sunset would be on, I didn’t know the sun would set as late as it did, so neglected to factor it in when selecting my seat on the flight).

a view of a city from an airplane
Views upon Cruising to Hong Kong

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Meal Service

Around 15 minutes after we lifted off the meal service started. The menu on our flight read as follows:

a menu of a restaurant
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Menu

Here’s the alcohol menu (I didn’t catch a non-alcoholic menu anywhere):

a menu with glasses on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Wine List

First off we were offered a hot towel.

a white towel on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Hot Towel

Then we were offered a pre-meal service beverage (presumably you could get it with Fisher branded nuts, though I wasn’t proactively offered). I ordered a guava juice, which was refreshing, even though it wasn’t freshly squeezed.

a glass of pink liquid on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Pre-Meal Service Beverage

The appetiser was a marinated shrimp dish. I found the shrimp to be fresh and perfectly cooked (which isn’t hard to do, since airline seafood is usually cooked in a water bath, ensuring efficiency and consistency). Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the bland, boring vegetables that came with it.

a plate of food on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Appetiser – Marinated Shrimp

Then it was time for the main course. Since Korean Air didn’t feature steak on this flight and their other food options are usually rather mediocre, I went back for Korean Air’s signature bibimbap on this flight. I remember it being very good the first time I had it, and a little less good (though still delicious) the second time I had it. Prior to serving me the bibimbap the flight attendant asked if I’d had it before, which I had (on past Korean Air flights, as well as on the ground in South Korea).

Turns out I really enjoyed my bibimbap. While the ingredients aren’t the best you’ll find anywhere (and Korean Air doesn’t feature a traditional bibimbap, as the rice hasn’t “crusted up”, since that would require having stone bowls at high temperatures and thus would be impossible mid-air), Korean Air still features a very flavourful bibimbap in business class. A tip is to mix the side dishes offered into the concoction as well, since they’re packed with flavour – in this case we were offered dried anchovies, which went into the bibimbap and gave the dish a whole lot of flavour.

a plate of food on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Main Course – Bibimbap

While I knew the bibimbap would be at least pleasant, I was surprised when I realised how flavourful the soup was, which was a bonito broth. Bonito is basically dried fish that has a wonderful smoky flavour, and the definition of a good chef in northeast Asia is one that can make a good broth with it. While this broth probably came out of a package, it was delicious nonetheless.

a bowl of food with a spoon
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Main Course – Bibimbap

While the anchovies I added into the bibimbap gave it an amazing depth of flavour, next time I’d omit adding the mini bitter melon of sorts, which was a little too bitter for me.

a bowl of food on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Side Dish

Alongside that was a little ramekin of spicy pickled vegetables, which were also very good. These were served during the appetiser, and you’ll get them by default if you order the Korean option on the menu (though I guess you can ask for them as well if you opt for a Western option).

a bowl of food on a table
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Side Dish

Meanwhile my dad opted for the bulgogi, which was the other Korean option (bibimbap is served in business class on basically every Korean Air flight, but this was the first time I saw bulgogi in the menu). While slightly too watery, he enjoyed the flavour, and the beef was moist.

a tray with food on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Main Course – Bulgogi

Afterwards we were served a choice of vanilla and chocolate ice cream from Häagen-Dazs, which was the perfect consistency (as opposed to being rock hard, which usually happens on planes).

a cup of ice cream on a plate with a spoon
Korean Air Boeing 777 Business Class Dessert – Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

Overall I found the meal very filling. It’s worth noting that while I find Korean Air’s Korean options and beef tenderloin dishes to be consistently well-executed, the same can’t be said for any non-beef, non-Korean dish. I can’t speak for the chicken and fish options offered on this flight since no one in my family ordered them, though I’ve had consistently bad experiences with both proteins on Korean Air in the past.

Korean Air’s 777 Business Class Service

Service during the meal was friendly but not very attentive. A big oversight was when the crew was clearing my table after the dessert, when she took the plate, the finished ice cream, and the spoon, but not the tablecloth.

Touring Korean Air’s 777 First Class

After dinner, I asked the crew if I could check out the first class cabin (since it was sold as business class on our flight). While the middle pair in the first row was occupied (by presumably higher-revenue business class passengers or Korean Air’s own frequent flyer elites), the rest of the cabin was empty. The crew told me to be wary not to disturb the two passengers seated in the first row, though allowed me to take pictures otherwise. I was so impressed that the crewmember I asked even came up to assist me in my picture taking, and offered to recline the seat into a bed for me, raise the privacy shield, close the peephole between first and business class so people seated in the first row of business class wouldn’t get in my pictures, etc..

Korean Air’s first class cabin features eight open suites in a 1-2-1 configuration.

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class

Some of these pictures are better lit, since I managed to snap a few shots during boarding. Here’s one of the windowside suites. The seats don’t feature a lot of privacy (nowhere near as much as their new suites, which I ended up flying in on the outbound), though they’re still wide and spacious, substantially more so than business class.

a seat in a plane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2A

a seat with a pillow on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2A

While the seats don’t have doors, there is a privacy partition that goes up for some extra head privacy, which I imagine would be appreciated if the cabin was full.

a seat with a pillow and a light blue pillow on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Seat 2J

While the window seats would be best suited for solo travelers, there’s a huge partition between the two middle seats should you be seated next to a stranger, so overall you still have a good degree of privacy (that’s not to say that this is anywhere close to a world-class first class product, though).

a seat in a plane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Seats 2D and 2E

The seat controls were intuitive, and the privacy shield seat controls were well-differentiated.

a close up of a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Seat Controls

Each seat featured a large TV, as well as a large ottoman that could basically double as a buddy seat.

a seat with a screen on it
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class TV and Ottoman

Each seat also featured a large, though not especially strong reading light, which I’ve heard complaints about in the past from people actually flying this product (since it gets in the way, and limits the amount of side storage there is, since it’s basically in the middle of the entire side platform).

a light on a seat
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Reading Light

Obviously the first class seat also converted into a fully flat bed, and it also seemed to be slightly slanted towards the ground, to make up for the plane’s upward tilt.

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Bed

While you get direct access, a lot more width and all, the biggest difference between first and business class is probably the copious amount of storage space, with three separate compartments to store personal items (there was one in front of the reading light as well, which I forgot to photograph).

a bathtub in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Storage Compartment

a seat in an airplane
Korean Air Boeing 777 First Class Storage Compartment

I found the first class product quite comfortable-looking (the seat was well-padded, though I was only in it briefly), but didn’t think it held a candle to their newer first class product, or any of the better first class products out there. It’s worth noting that if you’re flying on the airline’s flagship A380, you’ll get pretty much the exact same seat. So yeah, unless you’re in economy (due to the 34″ seat pitch), neither of Korean Air’s premium cabins on their older aircraft are competitive anymore.

This is far from their worst first class configuration, though – their A330s and regional 777s feature the same seats in first and business class (the same business class seat that I was in on this flight, except in a 2-2-2 configuration), whereas their new A330s and 787s feature Apex Suites in both first and business class.

Landing at Hong Kong Airport

Back at my seat I tried to work, though within five minutes I gave up, reclined my seat, and slept very comfortably for an hour. Around 40 minutes before landing the pilot came on the PA to announce that we’d be landing soon (which was what ended up waking me up), though it wasn’t for another 15 minutes until the seatbelt sign was turned on and the cabin was actually prepared for landing. I appreciate that there’s some padding between the initial landing announcement and the actual seatbelt sign being turned on so passengers can get settled for landing, though didn’t think as much as 15 minutes was needed, especially on a shorthaul flight.

The interaction between Hong Kong’s night neon glow and the translucent clouds gave us a beautiful view of Hong Kong upon descent.

a city lights and clouds from an airplane
Views Upon Landing into Hong Kong

a city at night with lights
Views Upon Landing into Hong Kong

At 10 PM we touched down into Hong Kong, and made the 10-minute smooth taxi to gate 34. From there we walked over to immigration, and it took another 10 minutes to get our bags. After that, though, we called an Uber, and were on our merry way home.

Conclusion: Korean Air’s 777 Business Class

While Korean Air’s old business class product is no longer competitive, this was still a great three-hour flight. It’s always nice to have a comfortable fully flat bed on a shorthaul flight, considering that in Europe business class passengers get an economy seat with an empty seat next to you on a flight of the same length. You’ll never be able to get as good a nap on an intra-Europe three-hour flight as I did on this shorthaul intra-Asian flight.

If I had this seat on a longhaul flight, I wouldn’t be as impressed, though – even on this short three-hour flight, Korean Air continues to operate plenty of flights with Apex Suites to Hong Kong, so I’d still try my best to get on one of those flights if I could. I’d also probably choose the A330 or the 777-200 over Korean Air’s older 777-300ER (all three aircraft fly regularly to Hong Kong) – while the seat is the same, they feature more intimate cabins of 14-18 seats, while here there’s a higher chance you’ll be stuck in the large aft 42-seat cabin, which isn’t as private.

The food and service on this flight were great as well, though you do have to choose the “right” meal in Korean Air business class. The bedding was fine for this short flight, but would’ve been lacking on a longer flight.

Overall, Korean Air offers a competitive shorthaul product, especially considering that all the aircraft they fly to Hong Kong have at least fully flat beds (Asiana and Cathay Pacific both fly less comfortable recliners on some flights between Hong Kong and Seoul). I need to try Asiana sooner or later given their competitive prices, though I can’t imagine short intra-Asian flights can get much better than this.

Read more from this trip:

For those who have flown both Korean Air and Asiana, which airline offers the better product in your opinion?

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