Thai Airways, Business Class – Boeing B 787-8: Bangkok to Perth

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Transfer in Bangkok

It’s just coming up to six in the morning and I feel like the lead villain from Zombie Apocalypse – assuming, of course, that the lead villain of such a movie would himself be a zombie. I’m bleary eyed, my tongue feels like it needs a shave and my body obviously didn’t get the memo that we’re in a different time zone. Get with the programme, brain!

I still have forty minutes to go before boarding is called for my flight to Perth, so I figure I might as well go scavenging for coffee. The Royal Silk lounge is the very exotic and elegant sounding name of the not so exotic and certainly not at all elegant Thai Airways Business Class lounge at Suvarnabhumi airport. By the time I get there, the place is crawling with likeminded travellers, all of which look as though they might be befallen with the curse of the undead. And what a cursed hovel it is, too. I mean, yuk! The seats are so worn and filthy they’re sticky…I think I’ll just grab a quick Coke Zero, and then I’m out of here.

Boarding

Boarding for the flight to Perth starts at 0640. The flight is departing from gate E3. To access the lounge, I have to undergo a further check to ensure that all liquids are properly stowed in a sealable plastic bag and do not exceed 100ml. Apparently, this is a requirement imposed by the Australian government.

Our aircraft is parked on a remote stand, so we’ll be boarding via bus. My spirits temporarily revive at the prospect of getting up close and personal with the big shiny aeroplanes. But no such luck. The B 787 is simply too big. Or rather, I would have to stand further away. But the ground crew are not having any of that, because they don’t want passengers milling about on the apron – and my midnight oil is well and truly spent for me to want to argue with them.

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The Cabin

How many different cabin layouts does Thai Airways have anyway? Their Boeing B 787-8 has a capacity of 240 seats in Economy Class and 24 seats in Business Class. The seat width in Business Class is 20 inches, the pitch is 60 inches and when extended into a bed, the seat has a length of 78 inches.

The seats are configured in a rather traditional 2 + 2 + 2 set-up. I’m guessing this is the regional Business Class configuration. After all, the flight time to Perth is only 6 hours and 15 minutes. The seat pairs on the port side of the cabin are turned slightly towards the windows. The middle row of two and the row on the starboard side are turned towards that side of the aircraft. Furthermore, the two seats on a pair are slightly staggered and there is a small separator between the seats. Even as I write this up, I’m still trying to figure out what the point is of having such a seat design and cabin layout.

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In the bed positon, the seat is comfortable enough. My only complaint is that there isn’t enough space for my feet. I wear a size 46/11, which I don’t think is exceptionally big, and it’s a tight fit to find a position in which my tootsies aren’t being squashed.

The Crew

As on the previous flight, menus, a pillow, a blanket, the amenity kit, and ear phones have already been placed at the seat. The cabin attendant brings me a warm towel and a glass of sparkling mineral water. When she comes to take my food order, I tell her that I’m on the verge of passing out and will, therefore, not be eating.

Amenities

The design of the amenity kit itself is different to the one on the previous flight. The content however, is pretty much the same.

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The Meal

As soon as the wheels leave the ground, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land for a few hours. Once I awake hours later, one of the cabin crew immediately comes to ask me if I’d like to eat. Figuring it might revive the spirits, and yes I do so enjoy my food, I agree. Again, as on the previous flight, I take the Thai option which consists of

  1. steamed rice with steamed spinach with chili and garlic,
  2. a soup of chicken meatballs and tofu,
  3. some cold chicken salad with chili, and
  4. a beef green curry.

For dessert I have custard with fresh fruit and a mango and passion fruit salsa. Again, the quality of the meal is very good. The tastes are nicely balanced and there’s touch of spice in the curry.

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There is only one meal service on this flight.

Arrival

We arrive in Perth just after 15h, slightly ahead of schedule. The airport is not very busy and I am through immigration and customs fairly quickly.

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Getting into Town

In Perth I’m staying at the Aloft Hotel, which is easily accessible from Terminal 1 via bus line 380. The journey will take about 15 minutes and costs AUD4.70.

Conclusion

So what’s the final verdict? What I definitely liked about my Thai Airways experience is that you can make the journey from Europe to Perth in just 19 hours. The food on both flights was really very good and of a high quality, I thought. On the downside, I found the whole experience rather bland, quite as though they weren’t even trying to make an impression. And the lounge in Bangkok was just a dive. That place is in serious need of an overhaul!

Thai Airways, Business Class – Airbus A 350-900: Milan Malpensa to Bangkok

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Introduction

Today I am travelling from Milan’s Malpensa airport to Bangkok. The flight is operated by an Airbus A 350-900. I must say, I’m quite taken by the A 350 – it’s width gives it a very spacious feel and it just comes across as being a lot more solid, or less flimsy, than the Boeing 787, which I always find has the look and feel of a narrow-body.

Check-in

I check out of the Sheraton at around 09h45 and make my way to Terminal 1. Thai Airways checks in on row 16, which they share with Qatar Airways. Check-in opens three hours prior to departure. There are two Business Class counters, both of which have thick and rather grubby looking carpets laid out before them.

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Both counters are attending to passengers when I arrive, but I figure it won’t be long before it’s my turn. Or maybe not. The lady working the check-in counter on the left is obviously related to Little Miss Chatterbox. Oh hell…’veramente, senza occhiali…niente…bla bla bla…ieri sera, nel treno aveva ritardo…bla bla bla…’.

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Eventually, the lady on the other counter takes pity on me and figures I probably do actually want to take the flight, considering that I’ve bothered to make the schlep out to the airport this morning. So she issues my boarding passes to Bangkok and my final destination, tags my hand luggage and sends me on my way.

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Oh yeah, in case you’re wondering – no online check-in is available for Thai Airways ex Milan.

The Lounge

There is a dedicated fast track for First and Business Class passengers. But the lines for passport control can get rather long when the airport is busy.

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Thai Airways uses the Pergolesi lounge in Malpensa, which is a contractor lounge operated by the Milan airport authority if I’m not mistaken. The lounge is located behind passport control. To be honest, it’s really not much to write home about, so you may want to skip this one. First of all, and I know others may have different priorities for a lounge, there are no windows – it’s basically just one big, gloomy room. The food and drinks selection is limited to things like fruit salad, sandwiches, focaccia and cake.

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Wifi is complimentary, but be warned that electricity plugs are in short supply in the lounge.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 12h35, thirty minutes before departure. First, passengers with children are invited on board, followed by Business Class passengers. The airbridge is attached to the L2 door, which means that Business Class passengers turn left as they step aboard, while Economy Class passengers take a right.

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The Cabin

The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors. I’m seated on 14B, which is an aisle seat on the port side.

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Thai Airways operates the A 350 in a two-class configuration with 289 seats in Economy Class and 32 seats in Business Class. The seat is fully lie-flat and horizontal; it has a width of 20 inches and a pitch of 44 inches in the seated position. In the lying position, the seat has a length of 73.5 inches.

The Business Class cabin is laid out in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration, so that every passenger has direct access to the aisle.

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When I made the booking for this trip, only aisle seats were available – which are the B and J seats on even numbered rows and the D and G seats on uneven numbered rows. Before the flight, I was concerned that I might feel a bit exposed, especially with the seat extended into a bed. But turned out not to be an issue. First of all, the seats are staggered, with the seat on the other side of the aisle slightly further back to give you a bit more privacy. Secondly, the shell of the seat curves around the side of the seat, so that when you extend the seat into a bed, you’re partly shielded from the aisle.

A pillow, a blanket, a thin mattress, the amenity kit, earphones and the menus are already at my seat when I arrive. Soon after, I am brought a lightly scented hot towel and my choice of drink.

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Amenities

The amenity kit is by FURLA and comes with the usual complement of items for which I have no use, except perhaps for the ear plugs and eye shades. In addition, and I think Thai Airways deserve some serious brownie points for this, they also provide slippers in Business Class.

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The Meal

The meal service begins with a drinks round. I have a Coke Zero, which is served with a bowl of mixed nuts.

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Thai Airways offers Western and Thai menus. For both menus there are two options for the main dish. Although strangely enough though, there are no vegetarian options. I decide to go with the Thai menu.

The First Course

The first course is smoked salmon in a yuzu ponsu dressing, with avocado and crème fraîche. The starter is identical for both menus and is really very tasty, with the avocado blending nicely with the salty smoked salmon.

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The Main Course

The main course consists of a range of dishes:

  1. a green pork curry
  2. steamed rice with pak choi
  3. a clear soup with shitake mushrooms and a cucumber filled with minced pork
  4. a small bowl with a spicy chili sauce

These dishes are also very good. The curry is flavourful and spicy and actually tastes like authentic Thai food.

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The Cheese

After the hot meal comes the cheese course, which is served with grapes, dried fruit and crackers.

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Dessert

And then finally, for dessert, I have the taro in coconut milk, which is just weird and rather bland.

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The Inflight Snack

A few hours after the first meal service, I start to feel peckish again. So I order the noodle soup from the menu. Now this dish has some serious umpf – God it’s spicy! The noodles are served with boiled egg, crispy onion flakes and bits of minced pork.

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The Second Service

The second service starts just over two hours out of Bangkok. A flight attendant brings me a hot towel and takes my order for a coffee and orange juice.

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Shortly after, the tray is delivered. I’m quite surprised by how extensive this second service is. The tray contains

  1. a bowl of fruit,
  2. a yoghurt with müsli,
  3. a bowl with bread and pastries and
  4. the hot meal – which consists of a large portion of scrambled eggs, a pork sausage, bacon and cherry tomatoes.
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Arrival

We land at 05h10 local time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bangkok airport looking so deserted and quiet. Eventually, our aircraft comes to a standstill on a remote stand. But unfortunately it’s still too dark for me to be able to take any decent pictures.

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The bus spits us out at international arrivals, which is located more or less in the middle of the D concourse. From here I head two floors up to security and then from there to the Thai Airways Business Class lounge. I now have slightly more than one hour to make my connection. The transfer in Bangkok is fairly painless, but it’s not very well signposted.

Conclusion

Thai Airways provided a solid product on this flight. The seat was comfortable, the crew were friendly and attentive and the food was actually very good. All in all though, I don’t think that my flight in Thai Airways Business Class on this flight was anything outstanding. I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly with them again but I certainly wouldn’t avoid them either. I just don’t think they can keep up with the likes of Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways, both of which, in my view, clearly have a superior product in terms of hardware and software.

Austrian Airlines, Business Class – B 777-200: Bangkok to Vienna

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Introduction

I’m in a bit of a state today, I must confess. On Sunday evening I visited the Peninsula’s gym for a workout. The gym they have there is rather well equipped and what’s more, I had the place all to myself. But I think I may have overdone it, because this morning I’m feeling decidedly sore all over. So I decide to spend my last day in Bangkok lounging by the pool and generally taking it easy.

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Honest, I used sunblock, I kept my t-shirt on most of the time when I was out of the water and I sat in the shade in one of those cute little mini cabanas. And still I managed to get a really bad sunburn.

Occupancy at the Peninsula is rather low right now. For one, because the rain season is about to begin, so not that many tourists visit around this time of year anyway. For another, no matter how much calmer the situation is since the Junta took over, the political unrest has certainly had an impact on the number of visitors to the capital.

But for me all this is good news, because it means I am granted late check-out from the hotel at 20:00.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: BMW 7
Journey time: 30 minutes – a new record, it can take you as much as an hour and sometimes even a bit more when there is no curfew in place
Cost: included in the room rate

The problem with big German cars is that they’re really very quiet and you barely notice the speed at which you’re actually going. At least that is the only explanation I have for making it from the Peninsula to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport in 30 minutes flat! And I really don’t think the driver was speeding. It’s 20:30 and the curfew doesn’t come into effect until midnight.

Five minutes before we reach the airport, the driver calls ahead to let the hotel’s porter at the airport know that we’ll be arriving shortly. And indeed, as we pull up outside the entrance for check-in row G, he’s already expecting us. The chauffeur opens the door, wishes me a pleasant journey and bids me good bye.

The nice thing about staying at a hotel like the Peninsula is that once we enter the building, the porter makes a beeline for the Austrian Airlines Business Class counter, as though it doesn’t even occur to him that I might be travelling in Economy. Well, fortunately I’m not.

Check-in

Location: row G, which is also where Lufthansa and Swiss check-in, the staff manning the Austrian Airlines counter is wearing a Lufthansa uniform
Facilities: I get an e-mail inviting me to do web check-in, despite the fact it won’t work for my connecting flight from Vienna to Luxembourg.

The porter places my suitcase on the scales and waits patiently in the background until I’ve finished. He then accompanies me to the security check, where he bids me goodbye and takes his leave.

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There are various security checkpoints at Suvarnabhumi airport. To access the Premium Lane, you must obtain a voucher from your airline at check-in. Immediately behind security is immigration.

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The Lounge

Location: one floor down from check-in
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge (Star Gold)
Facilities:
various food stations serving a wide selection of hot and cold European and Asian dishes, workstations, wide selection of papers and magazines
Internet:
good wifi connection, password required

As you come out of passport control 2, you will find yourself in front of a huge piece of artwork, which depicts a scene from Siam’s ancient mythology.

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If you want to do some shopping, this is the place to be, with many designer shops on both sides of the hall. The artwork kind of marks the halfway point, so don’t worry that you might be missing some of the good shops on the other side, they’re the same ones.

Keep walking east. At some point you will come across the signs for the Thai Airways lounges on your left. These will lead you to an escalator which takes you one floor down. As you come off the escalator you will find yourself right in front of the reception area of the Royal Silk lounge.

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The lounge is positively enormous. So far I’ve only ever used the First Class lounge in Bangkok, which is already rather large. But this is huge. I did at some point intend to take some pictures, but eventually I figured it made no sense, because the pictures can hardly do justice to the size and length of the lounge.

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There is quite a variety of choice in terms of food options. I go with some sticky rice and tandoori chicken. This being Thailand, when you have tandoori chicken it’s actually rather spicy, not like the lame stuff they often have in airline lounges.

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Boarding

Priority Boarding: Yes and no. Bangkok uses closed gates. From what I can tell there’s no priority lane for Business Class passengers to access the gate. However, once boarding starts, premium passengers are invited to board first. There is a dedicated airbridge for Business Class passengers.

The exit from the Thai Airways lounge is near gate D01, my flight this evening will be departing from gate D07. It doesn’t sound like much of a trek, but given that every one of these gates is capable of handling a B747, they are generously spaced out. By the time I reach the gate area, most of the regular passengers have already boarded. From what I can tell only the staff travellers are still in the gate area, waiting to find out if they got a seat or not.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1
Seat: staggered layout, very similar to what Swiss has
Pitch: 40’ / bed length 78’
Width: 19.37’
Facilities: power outlets, reading light, overhead lamp, shoe net
Audio and Video: audio and video with touch screen functionality

The Business Class cabin is completely full this evening, not an empty seat to be had. Later on, during the flight I go check out the little mini Business Class cabin behind the galley, and there too every seat is taken.

But apart from that, this seat is really growing on me. It’s very comfortable and there’s plenty of stowage space. My only complaint about the seat is that the mechanism to open and close the tray table is a bit cumbersome and not at all intuitive.

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The Crew

Okay Austrian, you win! As on the outbound flight, the crew this evening are really excellent, very friendly and charming. The young ladies working the Business Class cabin are doing a great job in attending to the passengers. There is one tall girl in particular who is all smiles, competent and efficient. Nothing every seems to be too much trouble and what ever request you have, she takes care of it immediately.

The Meal

Pre departure drinks: yes, I have the orange juice, there is also champagne and a signature cocktail
Pre meal drinks: yes, another OJ and a glass of water, served with a dish of nuts
Choice: three choices for the first course, four choices for the main, five choices for dessert
Delivery:
individual service, separately laid out table
Type of meal:
dinner
Menu:
there is a menu for the drinks and food plus another menu for the coffees

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The Soup

Red lentil soup with olive ciabatta croûtons. I start with the red lentil soup, which is very rich and tasty. The ciabatta croûtons give the soup an interesting twist. In fact I would say the soup is truly outstanding.

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First course

Potpourri of smoked salmon carpaccio with capers, chives and crème fraîche, a thick slice of salmon with grilled fennel and lemon, a thin slice of salmon with a sauce Hollondaise on a bed of frisée salad. The salmon starter is also good, although the tartar is a bit bland and doesn’t really taste of anything much, other than salmon. But the Hollondaise sauce with the thinly sliced piece of salmon is very good.

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At some point during the meal the tall flight attendant approaches me and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. Eventually she ends up convincing me to try Almdudler, a very typically Austrian soft drink made of herbs from the Alps. It’s rather interesting and reminds me a bit of the Kinnie we have in Malta or the Italian Chinotto, but less bitter and not quite so strong. Later on during the meal she stops at my seat to inquire if I like the Almdudler and if I’d perhaps like another.

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The Main Course

Fillet of beef with a sesame and soy chutney, green asparagus, red pepper coulis and potato terrine.

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Dessert

Austrian bread and butter pudding, chocolate cake, macadamia nut parfait

I still can’t decide which is my favourite, the macadamia nut parfait or the bread and butter pudding. Don’t get me wrong, the chocolate cake is also very good, but ultimately, after such a meal, it’s just a bit too rich for me.
IMG_2772The dessert, once more, is an absolute delight. It really is quite amazing how they manage to pack so much flavour into each dish, particularly given that your sense of taste is considerably diminished at an altitude of 39’000 feet.

I’ve already changed into my shorts and a t-shirt. So once the meal is over, I slide my seat into bed mode and go off to sleep. Once more I manage a solid six hours of peaceful respite, despite the fact that my back is still quite sore from the sunburn. I awake just under two hours out of Vienna.

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The Second Service

Menu:

  1. a bowl of fresh fruit
  2. müsli
  3. a selection of breads
  4. an omelette with mushrooms, mozzarella, a spinach-filed tomato and toast
  5. coffee, orange juice, mango smoothie

As soon as the tall flight attendant becomes aware of the fact that I’m awake, she brings me a hot towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I decide to go with the mango smoothie, which is pleasantly sweet, rich and creamy.

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Arrival

We arrive in Vienna bang on time. It’s just gone 05h45 and the place is still fairly quiet. I make my way through security and then from there up to the Austrian Airlines Senator Lounge in the Schengen area. Now all I have to do is wait for my onward connection.

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Conclusion

Once more Austrian Airlines manages to impress me with the quality of the food, the comfort of the seat and, above all, the professionalism and courtesy of the crew. From what I can tell Austrian Airlines has really understood what it means to cater to the business traveller. The service is swift and the crew is friendly but without being intrusive. Now let’s see about transferring in Vienna…