I arrived in Bangkok earlier in the afternoon on a Swiss International Air Lines flight from Zürich. Two hours later I am scheduled to depart to Kuala Lumpur. This is my fourth visit to the city and I am hoping to finally get to see the Petronas Towers.
Date: 31. August 2012
Airline: Royal Jordanian
To: Kuala Lumpur
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 4K, window
I’m standing at the Royal Jordanian transfer counter. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a complicated check-in process. First the agent needs to see the original credit card with which I paid for the ticket. Then she does some more typing to verify if I, as a Maltese national, am eligible to travel to Malaysia without a visa. Once that’s done, she makes a couple of phone calls in Thai, no idea what that’s all about. And then she also needs to see the confirmation of my ticket to leave Malaysia to prove that I will only be staying for two days. Another phone call and then she issues me a boarding pass for a seat in the middle row. I explain to her that I would prefer a window seat, so she tears up the boarding pass and issues me a new one for a window seat on row four, the last row of Business Class. That is printed on a Royal Jordanian branded boarding pass. But she also needs to print a lounge access pass, which is however printed on a Thai Airways document…I’m half expecting her to look up from her screen at some point and say ‘the computer says no’.
But all is well and after some 20 minutes of hammering into her keyboard like the crazed woman locked up in the attic, I’ve finally managed to get myself checked in.
Incidentally, the Swiss ground attendant, duty-bound, stays by my side while all this unfolds. Eventually she collects my boarding pass and lounge access and asks me to follow her to the Royal Silk Thai Airways lounge.
The Thai Airways Business Class Lounge
The lounge is rather empty when I arrive. The Swiss agent hands the lounge access to the Thai Airways receptionist, wishes me a safe onward journey and then takes her leave.
My previous flight at its gate, still being offloaded. Regrettably there are these small dots on all the windows at Bangkok Airport, making it somewhat difficult to take any decent pictures.
By this time it’s 15h20, so in theory I only have 40 minutes before departure to Kuala Lumpur. But amidst all the typing and other shenanigans, the transfer check-in agent did find the time to inform me that the flight to Kuala Lumpur would be delayed by some 45 minutes.
At around 16h15 my flight is showing as ‘go to gate’. I’m also feeling a bit bleary eyed from the previous flight as the jetlag sets in, so I decide it’s best to go walk a little and enjoy the sights of Suvarnabhumi Airport. Some might call it industrial design. Whatever it is, I do not find it quite so attractive.
My flight is scheduled to leave from gate E5, which is in the same wing as the lounge and means I don’t have too far to walk. When I arrive at the gate, the aircraft is nowhere to be seen. So I ask the gate agent how long the delay will be, figuring we won’t possibly be leaving at 16h45. But she tells me the aircraft is on its way to the gate. Departure will be at 16h45. I doubt it.
Outside it looks as though the apocalypse is about to unfold. Dark and thick rain clouds are visible in the distance and the wind has picked up.
Eventually the aircraft arrives. The A330 is such a beautiful aircraft that wears the Royal Jordanian livery well. Unfortunately the lighting conditions and the grubbiness of the windows are not conducive to producing photos that will fully do this gracious bird justice.
Eventually boarding starts at 16h50. At the door I am welcomed by a female flight attendant wearing Royal Jordanian’s striking red uniform, which does have a certain retro chic.
As I board, I notice the slats are still open and the flaps are too, partly.
The floor area around the galley and doors has this rather odd wood-like finish, although it’s obviously not wood. Apart from that, the cabin is not exactly shabby, but it looks neglected. It’s little things really. I notice that there are a few screws missing in the seat back in front of me. Apart from that, the cabin design and colour spectrum is equally boring and bland to what you find on Lufthansa’s European fleet these days, shades of grey in grey.
Note that the overhead bin over the middle row are smaller in size. To open them, they slide down, similar to the ones on the B 777. The Airbus standard are bins with a door that opens upwards, which this aircraft has only for the bins on the sides of the cabin.
The seat seems okay for the short hop to KL but I’m not sure I’d want to sit in it all the way back to Amman. First of all, the pitch seems awfully tight. Secondly, the seat covers are leather, which has a tendency to make you sweat more, I find.
The seat also has power outlets.
There is also a blanket and a pillow at my seat when I arrive. In the empty seat in front of me both blanket and pillow have not been used and are still in their plastic covers. Mine are not, so I can only assume that they had already been used by the previous occupant of my seat on the Amman to Bangkok leg. And that I find rather an off-putting thought.
It doesn’t help that there is a faint stench of old sweat in the cabin, the kind of smell that somebody emits who probably last had a wash a few days before getting on a plane to Bangkok. But Royal Jordanian can’t be blamed for that and once the air conditioning comes on again, the pong nearly vanished completely.
Eventually we leave Bangkok at around 17h25, more than an hour behind schedule. The cabin manager is an elderly gentleman who sounds as though he’s been smoking Gauloise sans filtre for the last 50 years or so and has a somewhat questionable work ethic. He makes the usual welcome announcements in Arabic and English and obviously hasn’t got the faintest intention of apologising for the delay.
The crew on this flight consists of a combination of Arabs and Thais. The Thais seem friendlier. Even so, it’s difficult trying ‘to make contact’ with any of the crew. They’re not rude but they’re not overly friendly either. They’re just doing their job without any ambition of excelling at what they do.
Service begins with a welcome drink while we’re still on the ground in Bangkok. I have an apple juice with an ice cube in it. Don’t think I’ve ever seen such dark apple juice!
After take-off we are served hot scented towels.
Shortly after that the table is set with nice crisp linen.
To be honest, as far as both the crew, their service and the food were concerned, I was expecting very little or close to nothing from this flight. But perhaps that isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps that is also the reasons why I am very pleasantly surprised by the meal service.
A side note. When I enrolled for the BA Executive Club at the beginning of 2012, I somehow ended up with a Hindu Vegetarian meal stored in my profile for reasons I still do not fully understand. In fact, I only noticed when I flew from Amsterdam to New York on BA at Easter and I was served a Hindu Vegetarian meal on the Amsterdam to London City sector.
In any case, at the time I booked this leg with Royal Jordanian, the special meal was still in my profile. I have since removed it but obviously the change was not transmitted to Royal Jordanian. I did consider contacting them for a while, but then I figured I probably wasn’t going to get much to eat on the flight anyway, so that it really didn’t matter.
In hindsight I must say I’m very glad I didn’t have the special meal removed from my booking because it’s a very tasty and spicy meal I receive in the end.
The First Course
The meal is served in three courses. The tray arrives with a side plate with a bun on it, as well as a mixed salad with French dressing. As a first course there is also a plate of curried pumpkin served on a leaf of red cabbage.
The pumpkin is okay but a bit bland.
To drink I have a glass of still water and a glass of Pepsi Max.
The Main Course
Once I finish the first course, the plate is removed and I am brought the hot meal, which consists of a Dhal, a spinach and cheese dish, white rice and a roti. Not only is the food very flavourful and spicy, what I particularly like is that the dish is piping hot when it arrives.
After that the whole tray is removed. Dessert and tea/coffee are served from the trolley. Coffee is served in big mugs.
The dessert is tasty and quite unusual. It is some kind of rice and pistachios in a saffron and cardamon custard. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it.
The meal finishes off with another hot towel.
Outside the sun has already started to set. So I just lean back and sip my coffee while I watch the view and the beautiful spectacle of colours unfold as night descends upon Malaysia.
Passport control is a quick and easy affair. From there I head through customs and then I am landside. I take the escalators two floors down to the basement of the building to catch the KLIA Ekspres for Sentral Stesen or Central Station. From there I grab a taxi to my hotel.
This time I am staying at the Trader’s Hotel. The Traders is the Low Cost version of the Shangri-La. I like it. My room has excellent views of the Petronas towers and is only a stone’s throw away from Marks & Spencer and the metro.
The rooms are nothing special, compared to other hotels in the Asia-Pacific region. But they are clean and serve their purpose.
Royal Jordanian is somewhat hard to place. On the one hand, there is nothing overtly wrong with the product. And the meal they offer on the short leg from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur is pretty much on a par with what I experienced with Malaysia Airlines one year previously on the same route.
Even so, I can’t really say I like Royal Jordanian. The cabin is slightly grubby and the toilets are worse. The crew were reserved but not unfriendly. Would I use them again? Well, certainly not as a first choice.