Date: 3 September 2012
Airline: Turkish Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 1H, window
Getting to the Airport
I arrived in Bangkok the previous night on the Egypt Air flight from Kuala Lumpur. Not really in the mood to cart my stuff all the way into Bangkok only to have to cart it back to the airport the next day, I spend the night at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi at Bangkok airport.
Around noon I pack my bags, check out and make my way to the terminal using the underground, and above all air conditioned tunnel from the Novotel.
Turkish Airlines uses check-in row S at Bangkok airport. When I arrive, there are already quite a few people checking in for the flight. It looks like there’s a larger group travelling today.
The check-in agent conscientiously checks my visa application for Vietnam and then duly issues my boarding pass. Today I’m on 1H, a window seat. He also hands me a priority pass to get me through security quicker. And indeed, for a change security is a breeze. Immediately behind security is passport control and then I’m airside.
I return to the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge I sat in a few days previously as I waited for my flight to KL on Royal Jordanian. I’m feeling much more awake today.
The Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge
When I arrive, the lounge is very quiet. There are only two more passengers there, which gives me an opportunity to take some more pictures without irritating anybody.
About 45 minutes before departure the flight shows up as ‘BOARDING’. Time to head for the gate. Once I’m inside the holding pen, it’s not that easy to take pictures of the aircraft. It’s an A340-300 and I’m delighted to see it’s wearing the STAR ALLIANCE livery.
There are some passengers wearing a Turkish Airlines sticker on their t-shirts, presumably in transit from Istanbul to Ho Chi Minh. I take this to mean that all passengers disembarked in Bangkok for the aircraft to be cleaned.
However, later on when I enter the aircraft as the first passenger through the L1 door, I am surprised to find that many of the seats in Business Class are already taken. I can only imagine that these were transfer passengers who simply elected not to deplane during the turnaround.
The cabin is a huge let down. Of course I am aware of the fact that the A340-300 still has the old Business Class. But that’s not really the issue. The cabin is just in a very sad state. First of all, there are bits and pieces of food littered around the cabin and the seat. And I don’t mean the ‘short turnaround, no time to clean’ variety of food, but more of the ‘can-anybody-even-remember-when-they-last-gave-this-cabin-a-good-scrub’ variety.
The arm rest on my left is broken. You can fold it up to reveal the remote control for the IFE and the power plugs. But mine won’t lock in the ‘down’ position. Every time I try to lean on it, it if flops open again.
Another interesting point is that the overhead bins of the middle row only reach halfway up the Business Class cabin, starting at row 3. Seeing as Turkish Airlines never had a First Class on this bird, I’m assuming this means that in its old configuration the aircraft only had three rows of Business and the rest was Economy Class.
As you may have gathered by now, I am not amused!
Oh, for heaven’s sake. You’d think we were departing for the long flight all the way back to Istanbul, judging by the pathetic crawl and subsequent climb we are treated to on this bird.
The crew is perhaps the biggest let down on this flight. I’m not entirely sure if they are uninterested in the passengers or in their job in general. When I step on the plane there is a flight attendant standing by the entrance. But she’s giving me the silent treatment.
Before we push back, the crew distribute the earphones for this leg. And what a low quality product they are! Honestly, I really don’t understand why they even bother at all, if this is the best they’re willing to do.
Generally speaking, the service is chaotic and unorganised. The male attendant working the left aisle starts serving the first three rows on his side with food. Half way through, he disappears and instead, out comes a female flight attendant distributing the hot towels, which they then forget about altogether on my row.
After that, the male attendant resumes his service, while the other side of the plane is still staring at an empty tray table.
Eventually, another female flight attendant appears and starts serving the food on our side. There is no ‘would you like something to eat’ or the likes, instead she silently plonks down the icy cold plate and moves on to the next row. And then nothing. At some point during the flight, she does manage to open her mouth to ask me what I’d like to drink. I ask for a diet coke. She vanishes again for quite some time. When she returns, she silently plonks a glass of sparkling water on my tray table, just as I take my last bite out of the sandwich.
Later on when the crew come round to collect the dishes, she removes everything without even saying a word. ‘Have you finished’ might have helped, as the guy next to me still has half a glass full of drink, which apparently he was planning on drinking, he tells me. Not quick enough, gone! Better luck next time.
The meal is okay, given the short duration of the flight and considering the Business Class cabin is nearly full. It consists of a sandwich and a piece of apple pie with crumble on it. I wasn’t expecting the full Do & Co experience on a flight of only 75 minutes, but when the sandwich is still so cold it hurts your teeth and gums, I draw the line.
The apple pie looks rather nice. It’s just a pity the crew doesn’t find it necessary to distribute a fork to eat it with. Of course, one might argue that I’m being picky here. But in fact most passengers in Business Class request a fork in the end, which leaves the crew running around the cabin with cutlery as the passengers get started on the dessert.
After the meal, we still have about 40 minutes to go to Saigon. As the crew don’t seem to be volunteering coffee, I use the call button to summon a member of the crew. To give them credit, two of them immediately appear from two different directions, which is more than you can say for some airlines. I ask for a coffee and get a reproachful look from the crew…
Eventually, the coffee arrives – with a plastic spoon. At the risk of sounding overly critical, I must say I really do think that plastic cutlery, plates and drinking equipment should not be allowed in Business Class. No matter how short the flight.
Eventually, we start our descent and I’m glad to see the end of this flight. At least the views outside are nice.
Ho Chi Minh airport is surrounded on all sides by densely populated areas, and on the approach we come in very low over a residential area that only ends just before the perimeter fence.
I collect my visa, go though immigration and then take a taxi into the city.
To be fair, one should not generalise based on the experience made on one flight alone, especially such a short one as the Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh sector. Nonetheless, as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And I am quite disappointed by the performance Turkish Airlines gave today on this flight. The hardware was old, dirty and worn and the crew very evidently couldn’t care less. Would I fly Turkish Airlines again? Hard to say, for sure they will not be my first choice when booking future travels.
Saigon is a charming city. I really like it. It has an old fashioned character about it that is an interesting mix of French architecture and red flags with the hammer and sickle I remember seeing on TV when I was a kid during the cold war and which I had already nearly forgotten had ever existed. How quick we forget!