Seat 35D/ 51B
Boeing 777-2D7, HS-TJE “Chaiyaphum”
Flight time: 2hrs approx.
Ah… it’s the end of one of my numerous trips to Bangkok. The wonders of this vibrant city has never failed to amaze me - from the smells to the friendly locals, never fail to attract me to come back every few months. My outbound trip from Singapore was unremarkable. I flew up on a 747-400, within which I experienced one of the widest seat pitches I have ever seen in my life (take a cue AA and Malaysia Airlines!). However, my return flight was something that was of interest to me, because today, 28 Aug 2000, was my very first time on board a Boeing 777.
Barely 3 weeks after I returned from Australia and Langkawi, I left the crowded Singapore for a shopping trip in Bangkok. I had a lot of leave to burn! That return trip was covered in a trip report (SYD-MEL-KUL, SZB-LKW on Malaysia Airlines). Let’s zip forward in time and now I find myself stuck in a jam leaving the service apartment in Sukhumvit. My ride to the airport took me almost an hour and a half.
Alighting at Terminal One, I rushed to the check in area to find it empty. Bad news… I was very late. TG 409 was scheduled to depart at 1500H and it was 1415H – no thanks to the traffic jam in Sukhumvit! Luckily, I was still able to check in at the nearest desk. Thai Airways uses common check in desk in Terminal One for First, Executive and Economy Class. I was not expecting a window seat even though I asked for one. True enough, I was assigned seat 35D.
I paid for my airport tax of 500 baht at the ATM machine and proceeded to join the long queue at immigration. It was rush hour at the airport and I noticed a large group of Caucasians in the queue were holding boarding passes for a Cathay Pacific flight to Hongkong. The line didn’t seem to be moving…
“Pro-sah… kling klang koong kang pling plong pang blah blah blah….. (the Thai language has never failed to amaze me because every time I hear it, I keep thinking there are musicians behind the speaker strumming their instruments with graceful dancers in the background)
Your attention prease, Thai Airways International, is paging for passenger Soh… passenger Soh… joining Tee-Tzee four geero nai, to Shing-ka-poh, prease ploceed to gay ee-leh-wen for boarding.”
I snapped out of my amazement for the language when I realised that they were actually paging for me! I urged the immigration officer to expedite his formalities but he gave me the “who-told-you-to-be-late” look. I practically ran around the departure hall looking for Gate 11 because suddenly the whole area became a blur.
I manage to make it to Gate 11 and ran past the ticket agents. Just before I entered the aerobridge, something made me stop in my tracks. I looked out of the window and there was it – HS-TJE, christened Chaiyaphum, a Boeing 777-2D7. A rush went through my head when I suddenly realised that this was the first time I was going to step on board a 777!!! Woah! I was greeted, clasped hand Thai style, at Door 2L and the stewardess gracefully reached for my boarding pass. I took a breather and peeped into Executive Class cabin, wondering at the 2-4-2 configuration. Seats looked wide and were upholstered in dark purple velvet.
Photo © Arthur Yu
I walked down the aisle, panting while searching for 35D. Looking back, I saw a friend sitting in 51C and made a mental note of it. I quickly settled down and relaxed. I immediately found the seat very uncomfortable! Cushion is hard and the adjustable headrest was just two oval shaped thingies that folded upwards to hold your head, not wrap around it. Seat pitch was a reasonable 33” though, configuration was 3-4-3.
The safety video was played as we pushed back. Two graceful Thai women filled the screen explaining the safety features of this modern aircraft while smiling and gesturing in Thai and English. I wouldn’t mind going through an emergency with them! Looking around the cabin, it looked very bright and airy with the entire overhead compartments closed, because they closed upwards into the ceiling. Very spacious!
This flight was very full looking at all the seats filled. My amazement with the largest twinjet in the world was destroyed when the flaps were deployed. “BBBRRRRRRRRRRR” this loud whirring sound filled the entire cabin I thought something was wrong!
Nevertheless, we powered down runway 21R and lifted off into the evening skies. After the seatbelt signs were turned off, I went back to row 51 and said “hi” to my friend. Surprisingly, he told me the seat next to him was unoccupied to I ended up in 51B. Much more legroom as it was an emergency exit row, next to Door 3L.
The Thai stewardesses wasted no time in starting drink service. Dinner followed soon and there was no choice, the selection for today’s flight was “keet”.
“Keet suh (sir). It’s ee-tah-lien (Italian)”
Just as my friend and I were wondering what was an Italian “keet”, we opened the small dish on the tray presented before us and realised what that smiling stewardess meant to say was “quiche”! But how did “Italian” fit into the equation still puzzles me till this day.
A second drink service came around, as we were busy chomping down the “keet”. The same stewardess saw me eating it with much passion, she smiled and said, “you like?”… It was delicious.
“Just For Laughs” was screened from several TV monitors mounted strategically along the ceiling. This kept us occupied for most of the 2hr flight. Our flight path was pretty direct flying over the Gulf of Thailand towards the town of Kota Bahru and approaching Singapore via Rwy 20R, covering a total distance of 897 miles, or 1443km. After the trays were cleared, I stood up and stretched as the uncomfortable hard cushion was making my butt numb.
Descend happened soon and the TV monitor was turned off. Headsets were collected and I realised that the cabin crew changed back to their golden threaded suits, wrapped in a gold scarf with a fresh orchid pinned on their left chest! They wore a boring light purple blouse outfit when they were serving. Now here they were, decked out in their finest like they were attending some festivities, gently bowing while handing out fresh orchids from a basket to the female passengers. Hey, what happened to the males? Don’t we get one too?
All too soon, flaps were VERY noisily deployed and we slowly descended for Changi International Airport. A sloppy looking male steward plonked himself onto the jumpseat opposite me and strapped himself. A smooth landing on Rwy 20R ended this flight from the “Land of Smiles”. We slowly taxied for disembarkation at Terminal One.
Verdict: Thai has excellent in-flight service and this remains the airline’s strong point. I rate the service 7/10. I would definitely recommend this airline to anyone, just not the 777!
However, my first experience on board a 777 was somewhat marred by HS-TJE. Uncomfortable seats notwithstanding, I thought there was too much hype about the 777. Yes, it is the world’s largest twinjet but it felt the same within. Space is the plus point and the overhead compartments did give an illusion of SPACE after they were closed.
And the sound of the flap deployment! Urghhh… another one of my disappointments. I very much prefer the silent flaps of the A340, thank you!