While checking in for the returning flight, the KAL employee at the desk had a bit of an issue with the Korean's passport for some reason. She took the passport, went to another desk to talk to a superior, called a number, and then returned and checked in the Korean. The entire sequence took perhaps 10 minutes.
Then the KAL employee apologized profusely for the 10-minute delay and "upgraded" the Korean to an exit row, which makes a world of difference in a 14-hour flight. She also explained that there was no seat available in the Business Class, and the Korean would have gotten it if there had been one.
Why can't American airlines do this? This is not about money. It costs Korean airlines and American airlines the same to give an upgrade to someone. This is not about unions either -- airlines in Korea are also heavily unionized. This is about the mentality of being able to recognize that 10-minute delay is a meaningful delay (although the Korean did not consider it to be meaningful,) and doing everything one can to do something about it. This is about mindset and attitude, the lack of which is pissing off American flyers.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.